The deathly-chilling December gusts cruelly enveloped her near-bare form, but this was not her primary concern.
She muttered a silent curse as her eyes assessed the state of her wounds. The bleeding had stopped, though she was far from happy. The true hazard, she knew, lies within the fleshy surface that her limited vision could gauge. She needed alcohol and sterile bandages to keep possible infection at bay.
But she was flatly denied this by her captors. In an act of ruthlessness, they stripped her of her weapons and left her with nary a coat when she was cuffed next to the barrels of wine and oil extracts at the tail-end of the convoy. She overheard the soldiers discussing her fate, each one more torturous and painful than the last. The enthusiasm for conceiving the most fitting punishment for the woman who took out dozens of their men in previous combats was fervently shared by the whole Sound patrolling troop.
She needed to prepare, she knew. Her capture was part of her plans to bring her closer to the completion of her mission. However she needed to rally up her strength first. She needed to find medication—which was only available in the warm, cozy carriages of the soldiers ahead.
The image of warmth, wine and blankets temporarily distracted her; but her stringent discipline—developed by years of battling for her very life—wrestled control over her senses just as quickly.
Her brown eyes were drawn to the barrels again. Oils. Various trees grew in swampy banks of the Sound nation; foremost among them is the Snow-in-Summer—the Tea Tree.
Better a small chance of killing these little bacterial monsters, she thought as she clumsily nudged one barrel over the edge, than none at all.
A moment later, Tenten was smiling in satisfaction as the clear antiseptic oil slid out of the barrel's small crack and bathed her wounds.
The Trump Card
A/N: Amidst my KH addiction, I felt I wanted to write that one certain scene. I went back and forth between NejiTen and GaaTen, but in the end, the former won. The loose ends were harder to tie together because of it, but heck, I just wanted to write something smexy (and possibly age-inappropriate) for my Naruto OTP.
It's been awhile since I last wrote something NejiTen, so yes, OOCs may and will occur.
In what seemed like hours of her stay in the carriage, she had more or less visually mapped the area in her mind. The sound of the water coming from the south told her that they were about to cross the Valley of the End, which meant she was very near to Fire Country, where her safety lies.
But she only had about a few hours to conduct her mission, too—the mission she spent weeks of preparation on by gradually eliminating and thinning down the Sound forces until they become more manageable to take on all at once.
And only then would she be able to face her true target. Konoha's traitor. According to her briefing, a prominent Konoha figure was in talks with the Sound Village to take advantage of the turmoil that Konoha was weathering at the moment.
Her heightened senses alerted her to the sound of footsteps heading her way. Quickly, she feigned exhaustion as she arranged herself in a crumpled heap.
Soon enough, she heard the boisterous laughter of men as they maliciously ogled her form. She heard suggestions of taking her to the woods first for a little side trip, but more voices argued that she was too much of a bacterial hazard in her wounded state. In the end, the men elected her to be sent to the carriage stationed ahead.
"Here she is!" One soldier bellowed as she was thrown into the waiting coach. She fought to regain her center of gravity as more men lewdly called her names from behind.
"Enough." An old woman, garbed in outlandishly fuchsia overcoat and full skirt, glared at the soldiers. "Get out of my salon!"
"Crazy hag!" barked one soldier before the group departed, still cackling.
The old woman's heavily made-up face turned to her. The sharp, aged eyes studied her carefully, suspiciously. And then she shook her head. "Many girls are sent to me as unwilling gifts for Sound's wealthy clientele, but you are different. Unwilling, certainly, but still very different."
She refused to comment.
The matronly woman walked up to her and untied her arms. "I do not know what you are up to, lass, but I have a feeling that this will be the first and last time I'll see you. In that case, I must best doll you up. I am the Sound village's most skilled dresser, you see."
"Thank you," she murmured when her arms were freed from the bounds at last.
"Bless your plucky soul, lass," she replied with a smile, before motioning for her to sit down before the large vanity mirror—the roomy carriage's only furniture.
Tenten could hardly recognize herself beneath the long, shimmery veil that covered the upper and lower portion of her face. Her eyes were made up heavily in a courtesan manner, which was explained to her would appear more dramatic from the distance.
Clothing-wise, the outfit was technically a bit of an improvement. Her lithe body was scantily draped in translucent fabric and nothing else. But she would gladly take anything at this point.
Though more importantly, her wounds were nursed and soaped properly by the kindly dresser who only asked to be called Madam. The Madam declined her request to be bandaged because the woman disliked how it clashed with her "artistic creation", but the rest of the first-aid measures were applied on her.
She silently wished she did not need to leave the safety and protection of the Madam, but soon, she was being roughly ushered out by the Sound nins.
It was time for the ball that no Cinderella would dream to attend. The entertainment of Sound's honored guest has commenced, and she, along with the other young female prisoners will be the show's star performers.
A tent was erected in the middle of the camp. Inside, a hearty feast of roasted meat, salads and chilled wine awaited the guests. In the center of the tent was a platform where she and a dozen other equally-barely dressed girls were instructed to stay. They were then told to wait for further orders from the dinner's host.
As girls fidgeted and wept, her eyes busied in studying the interior of the area. She memorized the entrances and exits; as well as possible obstacles and hiding places she could use during her escape. She selectively observed the faces of the guests pouring in, assessing people she could merely avoid, and those she needed to take down.
Her eyes swept the small table at the dimly-lit corner, where a lone man sat. She could not see the man's face from her spot, but she knew he was not wearing the customary Sound nin uniform. Dressed in a simple white garb, he was content to silently observe the crowd's rowdy atmosphere.
He seemed to have sense her, for he turned her way. For what seemed like eternity, they wordlessly locked gazes, each waiting for the other to back down. Just then, the lights went out.
Hyuuga Neji knew that the Land of Sound was notorious for having a peculiar barbaric streak amongst its people, but he never really comprehended the extent of it till tonight.
After the host proposed a toast for "the good health of their friend from Fire Country", the host wasted no time to signal the highlight of the evening—a ceremony called the Baptism of the Twelve Virgins. Neither religious nor sacred in nature, it was, as explained to him by one elderly Sound councilman, a euphemistic reference to the tradition of "presenting" young women to the esteemed men and guests of the Sound Village.
Prostitution, more or less.
He harbored no desire to take part in a ceremony meant to amuse the Sound natives more than their foreign guests, but something captured his attention.
At the angry bark of the host, the women began to sway. Their faces varied from shame to distress to fear, yet one face stood apart from the others—the face of the girl who refused to wither at his steady gaze.
The veils kept everyone from guessing what emotion lurked behind the forbidding fabric, but his trained eyes could see that everything in her was calm and calculated. Even the flow of her chakra showed that she was an expert at making use of precise amounts that matter most in various situations. Her eyes were abuzz as a bee, discreetly scanning the perimeter.
Unfortunately for her though, she was also quickly gaining unwanted attention. Her body lacked natural grace that the seductive beats of the music warranted; at this moment, she uncannily reminded him of a water buffalo's pathetic attempt to fly.
He shifted from his seat, catching the attention of the host. The male grinned and drew towards him with a welcoming smile. "Why, hello there! Would you like to be acquainted with one of our girls?"
He nodded curtly, and pointed directly to the beast of flight.
"Hello?" A female voice echoed in the darkness of the improvised suite that consisted of a small shack with a scarlet mattress in the center of the room. The only source of light was the gas lamp by the table, and this, too, was some distance away from him.
"Come in," he replied, but he made no move from the corner where he sat.
"S-Sir, I beg for your gentleness. I-I am shamefully inexperienced," she stammered.
"And shamefully unpersuasive, too," he replied matter-of-factly. "What do you really seek, Leaf-nin?"
The meager light revealed the girl. She was covered in a ridiculously scanty piece of shawl that left virtually nothing to imagination. But her auburn eyes burned in the highest intensity of indignant pride. It amused him, truth to be told.
"What is your name?" he asked evenly.
"Panda-chan," she replied curtly. It was apparent that she would prefer death over giving him something as priceless to her as her true name.
Very well, I shall play your game as you wish, he decided as he turned his gaze to the moonlit night skies. "Panda-chan, at this moment, you have become mine. As my retainer, you shall refer to me as your master."
"Never!" she hissed, eyes crinkling in anger.
"Do not be so hasty to reject my generosity, woman," he replied coolly. "At this point, you can only choose to become either my slave or theirs.
"Should you refuse me, I ask you to consider this: for the next ten hours as you travel back to your own village, you will be left under the care of the guards. They are free to do anything that they want with you. Anything." His last word was uttered emphatically.
He watched her reflect over his words, and the transparent woman she was, he could puzzle out her mind's inner workings with ease. She was assessing which escape route to choose.
Ah, but he would not expect less from his wily prisoner. She only understood two things: triumph, and the path towards it. It was not so dissimilar from his own way of thinking, admittedly.
Perhaps that was the most logical, most acceptable explanation he could afford for wanting to save this unusual woman. Yet despite this, something was persistently gnawing in his mind...
"And should I choose to become your ward?" she grudgingly asked after momentary deliberation.
"Under my care, I shall have the liberty to do anything that I want with you." He smirked. "Anything."
Her grip on the flimsy fabric tightened unconsciously. "I will fight you."
"Oh, but I will want that, believe me," he said, idly eyeing her struggle to remain composed. "I will not want it any other way."
When her forehead creased, that was when epiphany dawned on him.
The male maintained deliberate silence. His countenance was concealed by both the darkness and the mask from the festivities, while his voice betrayed no true emotion when he talked. Yet this only served to make the decision-making process all the more difficult.
To fight against one person is always advantageous over fighting scores of guards... but this man... he's dangerous... Compared to him, it seemed a more sensible idea to negotiate her freedom through the hundreds of guards waiting outside.
She was about to reply when all of a sudden, he wordlessly got up and seized her arm with urgency. She choked back a yelp when her wound reacted in pain.
Then with the same amount of roughness, he shoved her down to the bed. Her back had barely touched the sheets when his weight fell on top of her. His hand imprisoned both her arms above her head as his other hand cupped her face forcibly. Then without prelude, his lips conquered hers.
For a second, she was left in daze as her senses went on overdrive. But when she recovered, she wiggled wildly underneath him, desperate to break away from his grasp. But his body felt like steel clamps on hers; he was immovable.
His kiss deepened, and it threatened to erode her last reserve of willpower. For despite the struggle, a part of her found that she was enjoying what he was making her experience. Throughout the years, she thought she had everything but buried female sensuality, or any forms of yearning for it.
But by his ministrations, she felt herself come alive in ways she would have never imagined.
She then realized his hands were no longer holding her back. She was free to move away. Yet for the life of her, she found herself clasping him shoulders and pulling him closer to her. He felt her moan like a wounded animal, and her heartbeat raced. She mindlessly arched herself to meet his body, aware that her near-nakedness was slowly bursting into white-hot flames.
Then suddenly, he pulled away. She moaned in displeasure, earning a husky chuckle from him. Disentangling himself from her, he gestured to the door. "He's gone."
"W-What?" He? He who? She struggled to retrieve her coherence back from the hazy cloudy state of mind she was in just minutes ago.
"A Sound nin," he replied simply before he headed to the makeshift latrine.
It didn't take long for reason to return to her. Cheeks flaming, she realized that she would have given herself right there and then to a man she barely knew had the man chosen not to stop. What was I thinking?
The man returned, holding a basin and some towels. He took one look at her flustered state and he immediately knew what she had on mind. He sat down and placed the basin on her lap. "Let's talk in whispers," he murmured.
"W-What? Why?" She ran a hand through her disheveled hair in confusion.
"Because that's what lovers do," he said lightheartedly. "They'll suspect that something's amiss when they don't see us locked in a passionate embrace."
"A-Are they watching us?" she asked, wide-eyed.
"Unfortunately, they were." He washed the hand towel in the basin thoroughly as he spoke. "They were afraid that you were doing something else other than entertaining their esteemed guest."
Her cheeks burned, to her consternation. "Why, I never—"
"It's a compliment to your skills, Panda-chan. And they left satisfied, that is what's important." He squeezed out the excess water from the cloth. "I will not be giving you the privilege to choose at this point." She opened her mouth to protest, but he casually dismissed it. "You are wounded, exhausted and hungry. Under normal circumstances, I have complete faith that you can eliminate them all. But in your condition, I doubt that you will last very long."
She watched as he started to clean her wound. "I can't leave just yet."
"Is it because of our unfinished business?" He looked at her smugly. "I'm sorry, but I have a principle against making love to injured women."
"You're insufferable," she hissed hotly.
"And also," He gazed at her intently. "Because your target is still here, am I right?"
She did not know how to respond to that. He, in turn, began to dress her wound carefully. "You won't survive the battle, Panda-chan. You will be crushed with consummate ease."
"And who are you to tell me that?" she whispered furiously. If there was one thing she hated, it was being underestimated.
"Did the office not brief you properly?" The corner of his lips curved mockingly.
"I was not given a name—" she halted. "It's you, isn't it?"
His silence was affirmative. For a moment, she was confused, unsure of what to do next. For virtually the first time in her whole life as a nin, she was at loss as to what to do next. The man she nearly surrendered herself to was the man she had to take out.
"Now I know why they sent you for this mission," he murmured, shaking his head firmly. He picked up another roll of gauze to apply on her leg next.
"The Konoha traitor," she whispered, eyes shaking. Yet here he was, dutifully nursing her back to health.
"Is that my alias? How terribly uncreative," he rejoined. "No one but Orochimaru deserves that title."
"Why?" she said, ignoring him. "Why are you helping the Sound village?"
"So is that Danzo's press release?" he grunted as he snipped the excess bandages from her leg. "Unimaginative, indeed."
"Do not address the Sixth Hokage candidate so casually," she warned.
"My apologies," he said soothingly as he finished wrapping her remaining open wound. "Rest, Panda-chan. I will send you home tomorrow."
"Stop treating me so condescendingly!" she hissed.
He looked at her earnestly. "That is the last thing I will ever do to you. " Then in a softer tone, he added, "Goodnight."
"W-Wait! You can't leave me just like this!" She needed his name at least.
He placed his hand on her hair and messed it in ill-restrained fondness. "Like I said earlier, I intend to finish what I have started soon. You have my word."
She looked at him through narrowed eyes. "That is not what I meant." To which, he chuckled again.
Hyuuga Hinata worriedly looked at the sleeping woman that her cousin just brought in clandestinely that morning. "She's not healing as quickly as most are because she lacks nutrients and sleep."
"Danzo sent her to a wild goose chase," Neji muttered. "Both of us, at that. I knew there was something suspicious about the sudden invitation from Sound."
"What does he stand to gain from having you assassinated?" she asked, her quiet tone failing to hide her anger.
"The Hyuuga clan is wary of his intentions, though not quite vocally," he explained. "His distorted viewpoint counts anyone who was not for him as against him, so he wants to stir up domestic problems among us as a distraction."
She is his trump card against me, he thought. For Danzo figured that behind the machinations of the clan's decision lies the true mover of things. In the Hyuuga clan's case, it was him, the Branch child member.
Danzo fancied himself as the omnipotent chess player, with everyone in the village as his chess pieces.
By bringing Tenten into the fray, Danzo intended to accomplish at least one of two things.
Should Tenten succeed in orchestrating the kill, the Hyuuga clan will be thrown in turmoil, while the death of a handful Sound nins will be pinned on one rogue Konoha-nin. Sound country will then find more reason to affirm Danzo's dreamed centralized governance of the continents.
Otherwise, Danzo would have left a taunting challenge for him and his clan to try and mess with his plans.
"Will you tell Tenten-san what the true name of her target is?" His cousin asked cautiously.
What for? He shook his head. "I will deal with Danzo on my own terms." And then...He turned to the woman who was still in peaceful slumber. That'll be the time that I'll make true on that promise.