Notes: My apologies for not posting anything here lately. I do most of my writing on my LJ, the link to which you can reach from from my profile if you're so inclined. This is something that had been hanging around on my hard drive for awhile and I finally got around to finishing it. Enjoy.
Lee sits in his hospital bed, pillows propped behind his back, his loose robe mostly hiding the bandages around his chest and arms. He's not looking at her, his gaze pointed out the window and into the gardens where sunset is falling. She shifts in the old chair by his bed and grimaces as a muscle pulls in her bruised back. She's supposed to be recovering as well, but she has it much easier than Lee. Much, much easier. She's seen his x-rays.
"You have to got to overcome this, Tenten," he says, finally turning his head. His dark eyes hold a bit of their usual steel. "You must learn to defeat the wind."
It's there, in Konoha's dim medical ward, that Tenten sees true strength for the first time.
When Neji is laid in the middle of a regeneration seal with a hole in chest, Tenten is made to stand outside. She's not family, not blood and - though she can see no other Hyuuga in sight - not allowed inside the chamber where the jutsu will be performed. She knows a little about what they will do. They will use a part of Neji, himself, to save him and it will take hours, and probably several shifts of medic-nin. She can't quite grasp that at the moment, however. All she can think is, I wasn't there, I wasn't there.
Because of all the times she's guarded his back, it took the one time she wasn't for an enemy to discover his blind spot.
Hollow-eyed, she waits.
She hears the news come in as she sits there, brought by harried nurses and loud families. She learns that Chouji, too, had been grievously hurt and near death, and that only the timely appearance of some of the Sand-nin had kept the others from suffering similar fates. It pains her then to think that Neji had fought alone. That he had killed his opponent made her proud, but it was little consolation. Neither she nor Lee had been able to help him.
She falls asleep at some point, curled up awkwardly in her chair, and wakes in the very gray hours of the morning when a nurse touches her shoulder gently. She's handed a cup of coffee and told that Neji is being moved to a room.
"May I see him?" she croaks, still hoarse with sleep and worry.
The nurse smiles at her kindly. "For a moment. It's after visitor hours."
The lady walks her down the hallway to the patient wing and stops before one of the doors, her hand on Tenten's shoulder. Through the glass window in the frame, Tenten can see medics fluttering around Neji who is lying unconscious, his hair six inches shorter than usual. There are bandages around his shoulder and chest but even from a distance she can see he's breathing easily. She exhales.
"Yes. He will make a full recovery." The nurse pats her shoulder. "He seems to be a very strong young man."
"He is," Tenten whispers, and watches him through the small window until the nurse shuffles her out. She walks home half-asleep, the coffee gone cold in her hands.
The first time she trains in the wind tunnel she dislocates a shoulder.
She'd gotten the location from Gai, the "tunnel" being a small valley between two mountains. There is a river at the bottom of the valley, full of rapids and white caps and fine white mist blown up from the never-ending wind that drenches her in moments. The narrowness of the valley forces the western wind to howl through the gorge, creating a natural wind tunnel. It isn't perfect - the wind did die occasionally - but it is the best she can do. Live practice isn't an option.
It's here that she will find her strength, she thinks. Here where she will overcome her limits.
She snaps her shoulder back into place herself, and if she passes out for a few seconds, well, there is no one else to see.
"What have you been doing?" Neji asks bluntly when he sees her, white eyes narrowing over the bruises along her collarbone, the various cuts down her arms. She grins.
The look on his face is worth the small deception.
However, she really is flying kites.
Using chakra strings.
In a wind tunnel.
At first, it's like trying to hold on to a thread in a middle of tornado. The strings cut her hands, her fingers until she's forced to wrap the ends around her wrists, leaving them just as bloody as the rest of her. Her shoulders ache with the strain of holding the lines and she grits her teeth against the wind, her eyes trained on the flying patch of color overhead.
The strings teach her the shape of the wind, the flow of it. In directing the kite, she feels the plummet of a head-on fight and the soar of a win. She slowly comes to understand that the wind is all angles. It can't be fought toe-to-toe, she must approach it from the side, a razor sharp cut that slides between the currents. Only then can she hope to control the flow of the fight, to move between the wind and not stand against it.
After three days of kite flying, she pulls in the kite and takes out a scroll.
"You're training," Neji says, and there is no accusation in his voice. He says it as a mere statement of fact but she smiles anyway and takes a sip of her tea. They are sitting together at a table outside of Lee's favorite restaurant where they'd come to celebrate his birthday. She and Neji had opted to step outside for some fresh air while Lee and Gai showered each other with tearful hugs inside.
"Yes," she admits, tilting her head back to look up at the starry sky above. She's not sure what else to say. Neji has always been her training partner but this is something she knows she must do alone, without his help.
And perhaps he knows this too, as he doesn't seem irritated that she didn't tell him. "The scars?" he asks.
She glances over to give him a lop-sided smile. "Trial runs." The fine white scars on her wrists will fade in time. She barely notices them, most days.
A comfortable silence falls and Tenten tilts her head back to look up at the night sky again, listening to the sound of Gai's proud boasting inside, Lee's muffled but jubilant response. It's a nice evening, a calm one, and she can't help but savor it. Soon enough there will be another mission, another battle, and she will be ready for those things, but at this moment she is content to be sitting there with Neji, her loved ones nearby. It's enough.
"One day, you will show me." Neji's voice is full of confidence, a smug note tucked into the smooth, low tones of his voice. She laughs softly and lets the night wind tease through her hair.
"Yes, one day you'll see me," she promises. She feels his gaze then but she keeps hers on the stars, a secret smile curving her lips.
One day she'll show him what the wind has taught her, a strength made of smoky wings and steel blades and the pure determination that both Lee and Neji have given her.
With that, one day she'll soar.