Title: Kill the Messenger
Characters: Tenten, Neji Hyuuga, Rock Lee
Summary: Years of training taught her that sacrificing one's life for the village is noble, and something that a ninja should be prepared to do. Yet all the while Tsunade was speaking, all she could think of was: she and Lee won't make it back to Konoha alive.
Warnings: Tenses may/might vary. No, it's not intentional, but it's my weak point. Apologies shall/should be in order.
Kill the Messenger
/Oh my God, this hurts like hell
I had that dream again where
I was lost for good in outer space/
Four pairs of eyes stared—two in surprise, one in understanding, and the last one in mild consternation. Light gray orbs stared back defiantly.
A sigh escaped the Hokage's lips, and she hid her brown eyes beneath pale yellow locks. Maito Gai chose to remain quiet, and even Rock Lee had no words to dissipate the foul mood in the room.
It was the weapons specialist who broke the silence.
"What do you mean 'no'?" she hissed, despite herself.
Her frown deepened. "This doesn't even concern you."
Gray orbs locked with brown, and for one painful minute, everything in the world froze in midstep. A few seconds running the second minute, Tenten realized the futility of their staring exercise, and tore her eyes away, turning to the Godaime instead.
"Tsunade-sama, please forgive his insolence," Tenten said, just the tiniest bit of exasperation in her voice. "And please consider what I just said."
And she turned and locked eyes with Lee, but saw that the thick-browed boy was giving her a stare of worry himself.
Tenten sighed. "Not you too." I'm doing this for you, damn it, was what she really wanted to say.
Lee opened his mouth to answer, but realized that for once in his life, he couldn't find the right words to say. He turned to his mentor, silently asking for help, but Gai, in a moment of out-of-character-ness, merely shook his head and smiled quietly, sadly.
Tenten sighed again. She understood how her teammates were feeling—she really did—and given a choice, she wouldn't want to accept the assignment either. But it was a necessity, and only a few kunoichi could do the job—and even fewer were dispensable, like her.
When Tsunade explained the gravity of the S-rank mission half an hour past, Tenten's insides curled up, and she resisted the urge to run out of the Hokage tower and lock herself in her room. She wanted to scream It's unfair!, but grace and dignity, mingled with her sense of honor and loyalty to their cause, forced her to swallow her objections, hold back her tears, and stand still as the Hokage finished her explanation. When Tsunade finished, Tenten found herself nodding, answering a silent "I understand," all the while curling her fists in maimed protest.
It should be an honor—dying for a cause. Years of training in the Academy taught her that sacrificing one's life for the village is noble, and something that a ninja should be prepared to do. Yet all the while Tsunade was speaking, all she could think of was: she and Lee won't make it back to Konoha alive.
Tenten guessed that she wouldn't be so aggravated had her life been the only thing that would be on the line. It was one thing to sacrifice her life for the village, but dragging Lee along with her was a different matter altogether. Tenten saw him as a brother, a friend, a comrade, and she trusted him with her life, as much as she trusted Neji and their former sensei-turned-team-leader. She didn't want Lee to waste his life away; he wasn'tinsignificant, not like her. Konoha would mourn his loss, but they would barely remember her once she died.
She wondered vaguely if there was a chance that she could take the mission alone, better me than him, and when she voiced out her suggestion, the Hyuuga prodigy sounded off his objection with a monosyllabic word.
"Neji," Tenten hissed again, a warning tone in her voice.
Neji refused to meet her glare, and addressed Tsunade instead. "I have another proposal," he said, in that matter-of-fact tone of his. "Send me along with them."
Lee made a move of protest, but Tenten was quicker. "Are you out of your mind?" And when Neji finally turned to look at her, all fury let loose. "I am trying to get Lee out of the mission, and you volunteer yourself? Do you want to die so badly?"
There. It was out in the open. What Tsunade had avoided saying, what everyone understood from the beginning—Tenten all but screamed at her teammate. Tsunade kept her eyes closed, and even Gai followed suit.
Two words, and Tenten mellowed down a bit. "No," she answered quietly. "But a kunoichi has her responsibilities, and I'm not deluded enough to think that I am exempted from that."
It was Neji who broke his gaze this time. He turned back to the Hokage, and continued, "Sending me along with them raises the success rate of the mission." And the probability that they both make it back alive was the unspoken explanation.
"You're a member of the Hyuuga Branch Family," Tenten interjected. "You don't have to waste your time for a mission that I can handle by myself." I don't want you to die for my sake was what she really wanted to say.
"A shinobi has responsibilities, and I'm not deluded enough to think that I am exempted from that."
"Enough." Tsunade's voice sliced through the tension, even before Tenten could bite back a reply. All eyes turned to stare, and the Godaime stood up from her chair, her mind made up.
"Tenten," Tsunade started, but Tenten knew her mission already.
"Reconnaissance and assassination," she answered, nodding her head gravely. "I understand. I'll send the scroll via raven the second I get it, and proceed with the execution of the targets. You can count on me, Godaime."
The Hokage nodded, and Tenten felt some of the burden lift from her heart. She didn't want to die alone, but she didn't want her teammates to die either. She realized she was prepared—that her objection only really started when Tsunade mentioned that Lee will go with her. But now that she was sure that both her teammates, friends, were out of harm's way, she felt that she was ready—ready to die alone, ready to commit to a suicide mission for the sake of a noble cause. She could do it, prove to everyone that she was a good ninja, a great kunoichi, and that she was capable of protecting those she cared for, those people who…
"Lee and Neji will go with you."
Tenten blinked, unsure of what she'd heard. That was not part of the plan. The mission was to get intel and kill, and be ready to die if things do not pan out. The mission did not involve backups; she wasn't expecting, hoping (or maybe she was, just a little bit), to get out of it alive.
Tenten glared at the Hyuuga prodigy. Damn you, she wanted to yell at him. Instead, "Tsunade-sama, please, I can do it by myself, I don't need any…"
"Yes!" It was Lee this time.
Damn you both. "Godaime-sama, please…"
"Yosh," Gai chirped in, but something caught in his throat.
"Neji, Lee, I entrust the safety of Tenten to you both." No fancy words, no catchphrases about flowers and youth, just a simple, direct-to-the-point instruction. Return safely, all of you.
"Yes, Gai-sensei!" I will protect them with my life.
"Hn." I won't let you die alone.
"This is not happening." Damn you all.
/Tell me, doctor, how to shake
A waking nightmare that is only
Worse when I am sleeping/
End of Part One
Update as of 08/04/11:
Eheh...I revised the storyline a bit, because after rereading it in an attempt to write the third chapter, I realized that I won't be able to finish the whole story in three parts. That, and the idea of Tenten seducing a target did not sit as well with me as it did when I started this story months ago.