Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto, nor any characters, places, things, or ideas therein. The aforementioned belong to Masashi Kishimoto, Viz Media, and Shonen Jump. The song Going Under does not belong to me, either. It belongs to the wonderful band Evanescence. I am writing this piece for entertainment purposes only, not monetary gain.
Summary: They were both bleeding. Her throat was raw from screaming, and deep inside she knew that she was betraying everything and everyone. But she would save him. She had to. NejiTen
Warnings: Violence, Manga chapter 539 spoilers
Author's Note: This was done for the one-week Manga Chapter 539 challenge in DA's NejiTen group Bladed Love. I was left slack-jawed and wide-eyed after reading the chapter, and when I saw the contest, I just had to submit something. If I could make one suggestion to the reader, it would be to listen to the song Going Under by Evanescence while you read this. I was listening to it while I wrote it, and I think it really adds to the fic. Thank you so much for reading, and I hope you enjoy!
*~Screaming, Deceiving, Bleeding For You~*
Numb. She was numb all over, limbs frozen and heavy with shock, staring disbelievingly at her friend.
Haruno Sakura had to grab Tenten's shoulders and shake her furiously before the brunette kunoichi could concentrate on her words. "Tenten! You have to do this. You're the only one who can."
The only one who can get close to him. The only one who has a prayer of defeating him. Tenten felt her hands curl into fists, fingernails biting into the skin of her hands so hard she left indentations, so hard she almost drew blood. "No." She didn't know if she was turning down the mission or denying the cause for it. "No!" This time she screamed the word.
The pink-haired medic shook her again, harder. "Tenten! You have to do this. He's killed so many medics already, and he's going to kill more if he's not stopped. And we all know you're the only one who has a prayer of getting close enough to him to stop him." Her green eyes shimmered for a brief moment, then hardened. "You have to do whatever is necessary to stop him. Even if it means..." She didn't finish, but she didn't have to. They both knew that whatever is necessary included killing.
Tenten's stomach rolled violently, forcing her to have to swallow hard twice in a row to hold in her last meal. "No," she whispered again. "I-I can't do it, Sakura."
"You have to." Sakura's eyes were hard and cold, filled with the harsh truth they'd all been exposed to since the start of the war. They were holding themselves to standards, but the enemy wasn't. They would do whatever it took to win, even if it meant killing innocents. "He's the enemy now, and we have to face the truth of that."
Yanking herself away from the other woman, Tenten took three deep breaths to try to calm herself. Then she picked up her scroll and hefted it over her shoulder. "Clear the area as best you can," she said coldly. She forced herself to shut down, mind and soul, to see this as nothing more than another mission. Another kill. "This will be dangerous."
"Tenten?" Sakura's voice sounded uncertain, but Tenten didn't turn, not even when she whispered, "Good luck."
She forced herself to keep her steps measured and determined as she crossed to the tent where Neji had last been seen. Despite her seeming calm, her heart was pounding, her hands shaking. Seven times out of ten during their sparring matches, Neji beat her. Those three precious times, she had just barely won, and that was when the Hyuuga had been fully aware of himself. Tenten refused to believe that he was doing this of his own accord - he was under a genjutsu, and that was that. All she had to do was break it, and then...
And then they would face whatever came after that, just like they did with everything else.
Trying to sneak up on Neji would do her no good if he had his Byakugan activated, but she attempted it anyway. Her sandals made no sound on the grass, and only the barest brush of fabric-on-fabric whispered in her ear as she shifted her scroll, holding it under one arm as she grasped two kunai in the other hand. The metal felt icy against her skin, like she was holding icicles instead of weapons.
"I know you are there."
The voice was just as cold as her kunai, and though she'd been expecting it, her heart still skipped a few beats.
"Only a coward hides in the dark, striking from the shadows."
It's not Neji. Maybe if she thought those three words enough times, she'd believe them. Swallowing once more to fortify herself, Tenten gripped her kunai tighter and stepped into the tent.
The first thing she saw were the bodies. The second was the blood staining every surface, splashed on the floors, the beds, the walls...
He stood in the center of the tent, pale eyes burning with cold fire, blood (not his own, surely not his own) shining bright red on his pale skin, soaking into the bandage on his cheek. Even his headband hadn't escaped the deluge.
It was harder to keep telling herself that this was not Neji when she was faced with his familiar, beloved features, even if they were twisted with evil intent. Neji, what has happened to you...?
His lips twisted in a chilling smile. "So they sent you."
Tenten's chin lifted slightly. "I came of my own accord." Not entirely true, but she didn't want him to know that she wasn't there by choice. He would know her weakness, if he didn't already, and she couldn't afford to give him that upper hand.
"Hmm." His eyes trailed from her scroll, to her kunai, to her face. "What are you waiting for? Try to stop me, then, if you dare."
Don't make me do this, Neji. Please, just snap out of it on your own! Shifting her foot to brace herself, she pulled her arm back and snapped it forward, releasing the kunai to test Neji's reaction time.
He laughed as he easily batted the weapons away. "I expected better of you, Tenten."
Whatever it takes. Sakura's words echoed in Tenten's head, making her grind her teeth angrily. Pulling free her scroll, she tossed it into the air and summoned several weapons. Only a second after each hit her palm, she sent it flying toward Neji.
The first two kunai had been intercepted with nothing more than a flick of his hand. But now he was moving his entire body, twisting and ducking and spinning to avoid the weapons. Some he sent ricocheting back toward her, but years of practice kept her moving in anticipation of that trick.
Tenten slowly worked her way around the tent, keeping Neji distracted with her weapons barrage. If she could just get behind him long enough to send a senbon coated in sleeping potion through his blind spot, she could subdue him and stop his attack without having to hurt him or, worse, kill him. Hopefully Neji wouldn't expect anything like that, since she hated using his blind spot against him and usually avoided doing so. It made her feel like a traitor to use it, since he'd trusted her with its location so she could help him with his defense. Now she would be forced to use that against him, and it was making her feel sick again.
Neji came out of his spin with his back to her. Perfect! Tenten threw the senbon, using a chakra string to drive it into Neji's blind spot and into the back of his neck, close to his shoulder.
He grunted in surprise, hand flying up to feel what had pricked him. As he pulled it free, he spun to glare at her, lips drawn back from his teeth in a primal snarl. "Fighting dirty, Tenten?"
Guilt smoldered hotly in her chest, but she forced herself to push it down for the moment. "You must be stopped." Tenten tried to keep her voice professional and even, but this was much harder than she'd even expected it to be. All I have to do is keep him occupied until he goes to sleep, she told herself. "Enough people have already died, Neji."
Without taking his eyes off of her, Neji flicked the needle away. "You expect to stop me with one little senbon? You're going to have to do better than that. I know you're holding back on me, and while that gives me an upper hand..." He shrugged. "I'm disappointed." His right foot slid, shifting his body into a lower, familiar, stance.
Eight trigrams, sixty-four palms. If he starts that, I'll never be able to avoid him. And if he closes all my chakra points, I'm as good as finished. Neji would have enough time to complete the jutsu before the sleeping potion took effect, and depending on how fast his heart was pumping it through his veins, he might even have enough time to kill her before he lost consciousness. She was going to have to do something quickly to keep him from starting the jutsu.
Tenten summoned another kunai with her left hand and three shuriken with her right. Grasping her weapons tightly, she took two quick steps to the side, pretending to attempt a retreat to his right. Neji's eyes followed, and his body shifted to compensate for her movement, ready to charge.
Now! She hurled the three shuriken at him, watching triumphantly as his gaze briefly left her to track the trio of stars. In that split second, she charged forward, following their path directly toward him. Her only hope now was to do something completely unexpected. Since her taijutsu was fairly weak, resulting in her using it as little as possible, she was hoping her charge would be surprise enough.
Neji shifted positions and thrust his hand out toward her, using the stance he'd already assumed to slightly change his jutsu. "Eight trigrams, air palm!"
She saw the shuriken abruptly shift trajectory a moment before the wall of air slammed into her. Her feet lost traction as she was lifted into the air, sending her spinning away from her target. Too slow!
Sharp pains appeared in her shoulder, chest, and upper left leg a mere breath before her head slammed into the metal frame of one of the beds. An explosion of white stars temporarily blinded her as her entire body went limp, lungs seizing in surprise.
Her vision cleared slightly as she finally managed to suck in a gasping breath. Black dots still danced along the edges of her vision, threatening unconsciousness. Something warm and sticky dripped down the back of her neck. Blood.
Tenten's vision blurred. Through the sudden obstruction, she saw Neji start toward her, right hand drawn back close to his chest. He's going to kill me. She tried to move, to reach for the holster in her leg that housed more kunai, but her body refused to obey her commands. Neji...
The last thing she saw was his hand rushing toward her chest.
Unexpectedly, the screaming cocophany in his head stopped. Neji drew in a sharp breath in surprise, suddenly aware of the heaviness in his limbs. He realized he was running forward, hand drawn back and ready to deliver the Gentle Fist to...
He tripped, and he let his body fall, delivering the intended attack into the ground instead of his target. For a moment he lay still, shivering, vision blurring into double as he stared at the slender, pale hand lying limply a short distance from his face. Tenten...?
Despite his lethargy, Neji shakily pushed himself to his hands and knees so he could crawl over to her. Three shuriken had buried themselves in her shoulder, chest, and upper leg respectively. Blood stained her headband, the neck of her shirt, and the metal rails of the bed she was leaning against - she'd struck her head, hard, somehow.
What happened? Were ... we attacked? Neji fought against the fuzziness in his mind, groping for recognition of his location. A - med tent? Confused, he stared around at the blood spatters on the wall, the floor, his own clothes and skin, undoubtedly originating from the dead bodies littering the ground close to the entrance of the tent. But how? And where - where's the attacker?
A recent memory flashed through his mind: him charging for Tenten, ready to execute the Gentle Fist. His hand reached up to grasp his head - which was still mercifully free of the screaming that had been keeping him utterly occupied for the past ... how long? - trying to remember. Trying to rationalize his actions, to find another explanation for what he suddenly knew was the truth. "Me...?" A chill raced through his veins and up his spine.
He'd attacked Tenten. He'd hurt Tenten. He'd tried to kill Tenten.
No. Neji shook his head sharply, managing to clear away a little more of the fog. Forcing strength into his shaky arms to still them, he carefully shifted Tenten into his embrace and lifted her. Pain zinged through his body in response, but he clenched his teeth and forced himself toward the doorway to the tent. He had to find a medic. He had to help Tenten, to save her from the injuries he'd caused.
He literally had to save her from himself.
The outside air felt surprisingly cool against his skin, briefly revitalizing him. Neji turned his head to the right, then the left, scanning the eerily empty area for anyone who could help. "M-Medic!" His voice was nothing more than a hoarse whisper, barely carrying a stride or two past his body.
Stumbling forward a few more steps, Neji used the feeling of the fresh blood oozing through the thin cotton of his top to his skin to keep him moving. Got to find help. Anybody, please! Clearing his throat, he tried again. "Medic!" Better.
No one responded. Are they all dead? Neji went to his knees in the dirt, wincing as he hoped the impact had jarred him more than it had Tenten. "Is anyone there?" Again his vision blurred, and the world appeared to be spinning around him, tipping under him. Keeping one arm around Tenten, he planted the other against the ground to steady himself.
"Put her down, Neji, and step away."
Neji closed his eyes and shook his head again, but this time it didn't help. He squinted up at the figure standing above him, getting his eyes to focus just long enough to see the kunai pointed at his throat. "Help her," he whispered. "Please."
"Put her down and step away, and I will." The voice was edged with steely intent, but Neji thought he heard a soft hint of concern there, too.
Tilting his head down, Neji focused on keeping himself upright so he could wrap his other arm around Tenten again. Bracing himself and her, he eased her to the ground, wishing he had something to protect the wound on the back of her head from the dirt as he reluctantly slid his arms away. Unable to stand, he used his arms and legs to propel himself backward, away from Tenten. Now, help her.
The figure - Sakura? - knelt next to Tenten, hands already moving to heal. Neji felt two pairs of rough hands grasp his arms as his grip on the world began to slip away. He surrendered, knowing he could now that Tenten was going to be safe.
Tenten slowly woke to the soft murmur of voices and a dull ache in her head, shoulder, chest, and leg. Cracking her eyes open, she scanned the immediate area, searching her memories for what had happened.
The med tent. The bodies. Her desperate (failed) gamble, trying to destract Neji from killing her before the sleeping potion took effect.
Hissing in pain, Tenten pushed herself up into a sitting position so she could better see the med tent. Fewer beds than she'd thought were occupied, the figures beneath the sheets all asleep or unconscious. At the far end of the tent, a curtained-off area guarded by two well-muscled ANBU caught her attention. Neji.
"Tenten!" Suddenly Sakura was there, blocking the brunette's vision. "I'm glad you're awake, but you shouldn't be sitting up yet."
Shoving the pink-haired medic's hands away, she pointed toward the curtained area. "Neji?"
Sakura's green eyes hesitantly flickered between Tenten and the ANBU. "...Yes," she said reluctantly. "He passed out right after we got to you. He's still unconscious. One of the Yamanaka scanned his mind, and he seems to be freed from the genjutsu that was making him attack the medics. But we're not taking any chances."
Without hesitation, Tenten pushed away her sheets and swung her feet over the edge of her bed. Sakura let out a sound of disapproval, planting her hands on the older kunoichi's uninjured shoulder to hold her down. "You shouldn't be moving," she warned.
"I have to see for myself that he's okay," Tenten said. Looking up into her friend's eyes, she let her expression plead for her. "Please."
Once more Sakura glanced over her shoulder, seeming to be wavering.
"If it were Naruto, wouldn't you want to know?" It was, perhaps, a low blow. But Tenten had to know that Neji was all right. That she had not killed him, and just didn't remember. That everyone was not lying to her to protect her.
A heavy sigh shivered out of Sakura. She shook her head once, disapprovingly, but then leaned over and slid her arm around Tenten's waist to help her stand. The two of them slowly made their way across the tent, the medic nodding once to the ANBU before they ducked behind the screen.
"You can't stay long," Sakura warned. She helped Tenten sit on the edge of the bed, then stepped back. "He's restrained, but if you feel the slightest bit in danger, call for the ANBU. Understand?"
"Yes. Thank you."
Sakura muttered something under her breath grumpily before vanishing through the curtains. As soon as Tenten was sure she had gone, she turned to Neji, trying not to think about the ANBU right on the other side of the partition.
More bandages had been added to the one on his cheek. He'd been changed into fresh clothes, the blood cleaned from his skin, his headband removed from his forehead, baring his curse mark. His expression was mostly peaceful, with only slight wrinkles around his eyes and mouth to indicate stress. Other than that, the only thing that seemed wrong to Tenten were the restraints around his wrists and ankles.
Leaning forward, she brushed a stray lock of hair off Neji's face. "Please be normal again," she whispered. "I can't ... stand the thought of you still being under that genjutsu."
Neji didn't move. His eyes didn't open. But to her surprise, he did speak. "I hurt you." The whisper was soft and filled with pain.
Once she got over her shock of realizing he was awake, Tenten shook her head. "That wasn't you. It was a genjutsu."
"I tried to kill you." His voice was a little louder now, shaking with anger.
"It wasn't you." Tenten refused to back down. Her head was throbbing, but now more with anger than actual pain.
Finally, Neji opened his eyes. "Perhaps it was a genjutsu, and someone else was controlling me. Regardless, had it not been broken, it would have been my hand that killed you. It was my hand that hurt you. That ... killed those medics." Jaw tightening, he turned his head away and closed his eyes again. "Please leave, Tenten."
Ignoring Sakura's earlier warnings, she boldly slid her hand into Neji's. The angle was awkward because of the restraints, but she refused to let go even when his hand went rigid against hers. "No. I refuse to leave until you understand that I don't hold you responsible for what happened."
"I do, and so does everyone else." Neji looked at her again. "I don't remember all of what happened, but what I do makes me know that I have several people's blood on my hands. I almost had your blood on my hands. I am a failure as a shinobi, as a teammate, as your friend. They will not let me go back out onto the battlefield, not as much of a liability as I am. They might not even let me be a shinobi again, even after this cursed war is over."
"We all take risks every day." Tenten's heart clenched painfully as her insides twisted. Neji was trying to take full blame for what had happened, despite the fact that he had been a tool, not the instigator. It made her furious, and she determined that if she ever found the person who had cast the jutsu, she would make them regret their actions.
"If I were stronger-"
"This is war, Neji. Every time we step onto that battlefield, we run the risk of falling under the enemy's jutsu, of being killed. This might happen again, to someone else, but now we know what to look for, to be on our guard here. In the end, the jutsu can be broken. We know it's possible. And I promise you, even if they don't let you go back out on the battlefield, I and all the others will make sure those medics did not die in vain. We will find the real culprit, and we will make sure that he pays for his crimes." Now Tenten was clutching Neji's hand in both of hers, holding his eyes firmly with hers, forcing him not to look away.
Sighing, Neji closed his eyes and nodded once. She didn't know if he was giving in just to satsify her, or if he really agreed, but at the moment, he seemed to have dropped his argument, and that was good enough for her. Leaning back slightly, she loosened her grip on his hand, allowing the pad of her index finger to brush circles against his palm. "Tell me, Neji ... how did you break the jutsu?" She knew there was no way she could have done it, because she was unconscious before it broke, and the sleeping potion had not yet taken effect enough.
Neji's fingers curled around hers, stilling her soothing motion. "I don't know."
She tried not to feel disappointed. "That's all right. We'll-"
He interrupted her. "But, if I had to take a guess, it would be ... that I saw you there, and for the briefest of moments I thought you were dead." His gaze lifted to hers once more. "There is no genjutsu in the world that will keep me from somehow managing to protect you, Tenten. They can try all they want, but if I were to lose you..." His voice broke, eyes shining with an unnatural pearly gleam that she had never seen before.
Tenten knew, in that moment, that Neji was no longer dangerous, and had not been for a long while now. Shifting, she eased her body to rest precariously on the edge of the bed, allowing her head to fall gently on Neji's shoulder. "Whatever happens ... we both know that there are some things in this world stronger than the enemy."
He shifted as much as the restraints allowed to give her a little more room on the narrow cot. "Love." The whisper was a mere breath against her ear, meant for her only.
She closed her eyes and rested her forehead against Neji's jaw. "Yes," she agreed, just as quietly.
Sakura looked up at the ANBU, who were very carefully keeping their masked faces turned forward. "Any problems?" she asked.
"No, ma'am. Everything is quiet." Was that the slightest hint of mirth she heard in the Panther's voice?
"Hmm." Hooking a finger around the edge of the curtain, she drew it back and peered inside.
Despite the restraints and the narrow cot, Neji and Tenten had managed to both fit on it. The kunoichi lay with her head on the shinobi's shoulder, eyes closed, hand curled in his, breathing the even rhythm of a comfortably sleeping person's. Neji's head rested against Tenten's, his body relaxed for the first time since he'd been brought in the night before, the anxious lines around his eyes and mouth gone at last. Sakura knew then that he was no longer dangerous. She didn't know how, or why, but the genjutsu had been broken.
And Sakura was pretty sure that Neji would not fall under such influence again. She made a mental note to undo the restraints as soon as the two woke, then allowed the curtain to fall closed again.
Turning, she pinned the two ANBU with a direct gaze. "Thank you for your dedicated service. There is no longer any danger here. You are dismissed." Sakura's last act before she left the sleeping couple alone was to pin the curtains shut with a hastily penned Do Not Disturb sign.
Perhaps, she thought as she went to attend her other duties, there are more powerful, unexplainable, things in this world than the enemy's methods.
Author's Ending Notes: I very seriously doubt if the next chapter of the manga will be anything like this, but the NejiTen fangirl in me really hopes the resolution will be something like this ... or at least have a lot of NejiTen. And end happily. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this piece, and thank you so much for reading!