Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto, nor any places, things, charcters, or ideas therein. The aforementioned belong to Masashi Kishimoto, Viz Media, Shonen Jump, and TV Tokyo, not me. I am writing this fic for entertainment purposes only, not monetary gain.
Summary: At the center of every labyrinth is a monster. Political intrigue, arranged marriages, and the search for a place to call home: A story of happiness and heartbreak, tragedy and hope. NejiTen
Warnings: Violence, secondary character death
Pairings: Neji/Tenten, Asuma/Kurenai, Tsunade/Jiraiya (others to be revealed - to give them away now would ruin the plot of the fic!)
Chapters: 40 (plus epilogue)
Dedication: To Mama Jo - my mother, my best friend, my fellow writer, my beta, my cohert in all things fun and only slightly evil: I love you so much, and I hope your birthday is a happy and wonderful one! This fic is for you!
Author's Note: This fic is only slightly alternate reality, inasmuch as there are no ninja. I thought of this fic whenever its b-day recipient and I were talking one night, and I built the rest of it around her original thought. However, I think all the characters are still recognizable as themselves, and I like to think I retained the essences of what make them - well, themselves. It may seem slightly confusing at first, but I promise the setup of things will be explained as we go along, so I really hope you'll stick with me. This fic is finished, so I promise I didn't fall off the face of the earth - I just wanted to make sure I had this done before I began posting it! You can expect updates every Sunday on a once-weekly format like the manga, unless otherwise stated. So until next week, thank you for reading, and I really hope you enjoy Labyrinth!
~Home (Sweet Konoha?)~
The closer they got to the gates of Konoha, the longer and quicker Tenten's adoptive older brother's strides became. As she all but trotted to keep up with him she resisted the urge to grab his backpack and haul him down to a more comfortable pace. Not only was it highly possible she would immediately have to duck an automatic defensive response, but she truly did not want to hamper in any way his joy in finally coming home. She knew Kakashi had spent his younger years in Konoha, his birthplace. He'd never exactly explained the details of why he'd left, although Tenten remained deeply grateful that he had; otherwise, she'd probably still be an unwanted street urchin begging for or stealing food - or even worse. His reasons for returning, however, were very clear. Jobs had been spotty at best for both of them the past few months. Kakashi hoped returning to Konoha would bring them some semblance of steady employment.
By this time the gate guards had gotten to their feet, curiosity obviously aroused. Snatches of their conversation began to reach her sharp ears as the two men came several steps out into the road. "Hey, is that-?" "Naw, can't be-" "But look at that hair! It's gotta be-" "KAKASHI!" On that simultaneous shout, they sprinted the last few steps and then just pounced. There really wasn't any other word for it, she decided.
Despite his chosen profession as a bodyguard-for-hire, Hatake Kakashi possessed an almost preternatural ability to become friends with whomever struck his fancy. Only in this case, she mused as she half-listened to the conversation, it seemed Kakashi knew these two from "the old days." During the ensuing backslapping and happy catching up, Tenten leaned against the wall of the guard shack and watched the unaccustomed, exotic, tantalizing vista visible to her through the massive but wide-open gates. The brightly painted, splendidly designed buildings made for a nice change of pace after the dry, monotonous brown of Suna, their last stop. Crowds of prosperously-dressed people walked everywhere, talking and laughing in the most carefree manner imaginable as they went about their business. The high humidity made the air feel heavy and slightly sticky, especially compared to Suna's desert climate. But the abundance of shade trees did a lot to offset the heat; plus a gentle, steady breeze blew through, providing some relief while making her nose twitch at the intoxicating blend of scents it carried. If every day in Konoha were this spectacular, Tenten had a feeling she wouldn't want to leave. She'd been in the aptly named Leaf Village for all of ten minutes, and already she loved it. How could Kakashi ever bear to leave this place?
"So, why're you back in town?" one of the guards asked. Her attention captured, Tenten tilted her head so she could better hear her brother's response.
"Work's been scarce in the surrounding lands." Kakashi sighed gustily. "So my kid sister and I packed up and came here. It's a long time since I was last in Konoha. I'm hoping things won't be as dry here as it is everywhere else."
"Huh? Kid sister?" the other guard said interestedly. "I don't remember you having a kid sister!" A face appeared in her peripheral vision, studying her intently. "She sure doesn't look a thing like you!"
Smothering her instinctive urge to backfist the peeper in the nose, Tenten put on a polite smile and returned to her place by Kakashi's side. The silver-haired, masked man tossed his arm around her shoulder as he laughed. "Kotetsu, Izumo, this is Tenten. I adopted her a few years back, taught her a few tricks of the trade. She's almost better than me now!"
The one who had tried to get a good look at her arched his visible eyebrow. "Better than you?"
Laughing, the other shook his head. "Way I remember it, Kakashi was never anything special - right, Izumo?" He snickered.
"Right!" Izumo agreed.
Tenten felt herself bristling slightly, though she maintained her smiling facade. But a quick, barely perceptible tightening of her brother's fingers on her shoulder told her to relax as he said, "Very funny, coming from the two goof-offs who are on gate duty now. I was going to invite you out for drinks later, for old time's sake and all that, but I think you just ruined that." Keeping his arm around her shoulders, Kakashi turned her so they were both headed into the village. "Maybe I'll see you both around one of these days - back at the Academy, perhaps?"
"I know we were going to have to pay!" Kotetsu called after them, snickering again. "They call ducking out on the bill 'pulling a Kakashi' now, you know!"
Kakashi laughed and waved a farewell. As he and Tenten got out of earshot, he sighed contentedly. "Just what I've always wanted to be: famous. So, what do you think of Konoha, hmm?"
Tenten casually shrugged her brother's arm off her shoulder. "Except for the jokers at the gate," she grinned a little as he laughed again, "from what I've seen so far, I don't know how you could have left. It's so beautiful here! There's so much color everywhere, and everyone seems so, well, happy."
Briefly, a shadow flickered over the part of Kakashi's face she could see. But just as quickly it vanished, hidden behind his usual cheerful attitude. "Eh, there were a number of reasons." Nudging her shoulder, he pointed toward a tall building, towering above the rest and dwarfing the still-impressive fence ringing it. "See that? That estate belongs to the leading family of the village, clan by the name of Hyuuga. Interesting thing about Konoha: there was quite a battle to decide the village's leadership."
"So? Lots of other villages settled things the same way." Tenten had never received any "real" schooling since they moved around so much, but Kakashi had taught her how to read, write, and do math. He'd also shared with her little pieces of history about each country or village they went to, all of which seemed to have common beginnings. Each ruled by a leading family, the headship was invariably decided by one of two ways: either a majority vote of a council of elders selected the village head from the top clan; or the office passed down to the eldest child of the last head of the ruling family.
"Ah, but here's the interesting part." Kakashi raised one finger the way he did when he was going into "professor mode," as Tenten teasingly called it. "Two exceptionally powerful clans, the Hyuuga and the Uchiha, fought an extraordinary battle at Konoha's founding, both determined to become the leading clan. Ultimately the Hyuuga defeated their rivals. However, during the conflict the Hyuuga learned to respect the spirit and might of the Uchiha so highly, so instead of destroying that clan according to the usual custom, they made it the official police force for the village, second in power only to themselves." Dropping his hand, he tucked it into his pocket. "Even now, Konoha's one of the safest villages you'll ever visit."
"Interesting." Tenten let the silence stretch between them for a little while before she pointed out the obvious. "That being the case ... why, exactly, are we here?"
Kakashi paused, staring thoughtfully toward the largest building inside the Hyuuga estate. His eye not pulled shut by a scar crinkled shut as he grinned. "Because," he said simply, "I wanted to come home, and bring you with me."
Hyuuga Hinata nervously tapped the tips of her index fingers together, pale lavender eyes focused on the door of her father's office. She'd been waiting since just after midday for a chance to talk to him - nearly four hours, by her reckoning. Many people had been ushered into and out of the office by her father's executive assistant since her arrival. He'd been closeted with the most recent to come for the longest time of any, with no indication of the meeting's end in sight. She knew he knew she was there, even though she'd received no indication of it. While it was possible he intended the long wait to be a test of her resolve, she considered it more likely he simply didn't care to know what prompted her visit. Not for the first time, she wondered what her life would have been like if she'd been born the son he'd wanted.
Maybe, she thought miserably, I should just go home and wait for the evening meal to talk to him.
Sighing, she began to gather herself to leave, just as the door opened again. In contrast to the previous times, Hyuuga Hiashi appeared in the opening as well as his guests. The three men shared bows with each other, and then the other two - a harsh-looking man with black eyes and equally dark hair, the second possessing a kind face, wide dark eyes, and ruffled brown hair - departed. Hiashi stared after them, mouth drawn down in a deeper than usual frown, before he turned. "Hinata, come."
Jumping to her feet, she scampered after her father, very careful not to trip over the hem of her kimono. The assistant closed the shouji door behind her, then noiselessly went to his own desk in one corner. Before she could take more than a couple of steps, Hiashi had already knelt on a cushion and unrolled a scroll. "You wished to speak to me?" He didn't even look up at her as he spoke.
Hinata scurried across the room to kneel across the desk from him, wishing she had a fan or something like it to occupy her hands. Feeling the uncomfortably familiar heat of a blush creeping into her neck, she mashed her index fingers together again. "I-I want t-to go t-to the market t-tomorrow," she whispered. It took all the courage she'd gathered to make that one simple statement, but now the words were finally out, she felt ... relieved. The knot of tension in her stomach eased, letting the queasiness she'd been fighting ever since morning finally melt away.
"Send one of the servants." Hiashi's voice carried the note of finality that stemmed in equal parts from his own nature as well as his place of unquestioned authority as the head of the family and the village.
Determined not to lose her courage, Hinata curled her hands into fists and forced her shoulders to straighten a little more. "I-I want t-to go myself," she said with all the firmness she could muster, all the while wishing she could say what was really in her heart: I want freedom, Father, and self-confidence, and a servant can't get that for me!
Hiashi's eyes, even paler than her own, snapped up to meet hers, flashing in annoyance as they narrowed. "Why is it so important that you go yourself? What is so urgent that someone else cannot take care of it for you? Someone whose job it is to do it for you." His voice carried a warning.
She expected that response. It was nearly word for word the same he'd given the last several dozen times she'd wanted to do something outside the compound. "I'm not asking t-to g-go alone. Of c-course I-I'll t-take guards with me."
Lowering his gaze again to his paperwork, Hiashi shook his head. "Tell one of the servants what you require, and it will be gotten for you," he said. Once again, his voice rang with finality.
That was that. Once Hiashi denied someone something twice, there was no changing his mind. Hinata stood, bowed, and turned to go. Sighing, she murmured a goodbye and left the office. Again, her father didn't even look up. The assistant smoothly rose and opened the door for her. She hadn't any nerve left to look at the man to see if there were any hint of pity in his eyes, or only contempt.
Outside the waiting room door, the two guards who had come with her earlier fell into place behind her. As she made her way back across the Hyuuga grounds from her father's office in the administrative tower to the sprawling main house, she mentally replayed the scene. Hinata could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times she'd been outside the gates. Even within the house, let alone the open grounds, she was seldom unaccompanied, other than in the privacy of her own quarters. Hiashi was nothing if not careful. Some even, in whispers of course, called him paranoid. Seeing trouble or danger around every corner and behind every bush, he, Hinata and her younger sister, Hanabi, never went anywhere without at least one guard. Once inside the house, she went straight to her rooms. One of the guards closed the door behind her, closing her back into her obsessively protected solitude.
Going straight through the suite into her bedroom, Hinata knelt next to her low bed. Even though she knew no one could hear or see her, she fought her second battle of the day, this one to keep from giving way to tears and despair. Raking her lower lip between her teeth, she used the pain as a focal point. Slowly her shuddering eased as her breathing steadied and the burning in her eyes receded.
Only when she felt calm again did she reach under it and withdraw the bundle of clothing Ino had smuggled in to her. With soft fingers, she unfolded the garments, smiling at the difference between them and what she wore at the moment. These were some of Ino's own clothes; expensive and well-made, of course, but flamboyantly modern rather than elaborately traditional. She fought back a surge of nearly hysterical giggles.
After so, so long, she'd gotten up the courage to leave the estate anyway, in defiance of her father's prohibition. She knew the guards' schedules as they made their rounds; she knew with bitter intimacy every nook and cranny of the estate; she knew to the inch and second where and when to execute her plan. She'd been careful to establish a habit of occasionally skipping breakfast to give herself as much time as possible. Sooner or later she would surely be missed, but whatever punishment she'd receive would be worth it. She just had to find out what life was like outside the gates!
And tomorrow, she would.
Leaving her brother asleep in their small hotel suite, Tenten left at sunrise to visit Konoha's marketplace and rustle up some food for breakfast. They'd done some rudimentary job-searching the day before, but without any promising leads. She wasn't holding out great hopes considering what Kakashi had told her, but she could definitely understand his wanting to come back home. Especially since home was Konoha, one of the most beautiful villages she'd seen in her nineteen years of life.
Despite the early hour, the marketplace bustled with activity. Tenten wove her way through the crowds with ease, doing her best to blend in while she looked around her. Everywhere she turned, Tenten met smiling faces, friendly laughter, and bright colors, a mix that made her relax a little. Even if they didn't find work in Konoha, she hoped they'd be able to stick around for a while. Maybe they could even open up that dojo like they'd talked about a time or two.
Yes, we've had a lot of good times, seen and done a lot of interesting things. But I can't remember anyplace we've been as someplace where I'd want to put down some roots. Here in Konoha, though - I think I could settle down here and be happy.
Although Tenten intended to go to shops only selling food, she found herself drawn into others, too. One was a dress shop. Though she preferred wearing pants and a loose top, since they were more comfortable and easier to move around in, she couldn't help but admire the beautiful fabrics, patterns, and colors of the kimono and yukata inside, as well as the eyecatching modern fashions. She also visited a flower shop, where she immersed herself in the sweet and spicy scents of a wide range of gorgeous blooms, some of which she'd never seen before, for a few wonderful minutes.
She chose a bookstore for her last pleasure stop. Whenever Tenten saved a little extra money, she would visit a bookseller and find a new novel to read. Kakashi did the same, though he usually bought the newest Icha Icha book. Tenten had no interest in the brightly colored tomes, and not just because she was not yet old enough to read them. She prefered something with adventure, mystery, maybe a little romance thrown in for good measure.
She spent the most time in the bookstore, browsing the shelves to look for something that caught her eye for the next time she had a little extra to spend. When she finally exited, Tenten realized that time had gotten away from her. Kakashi would be awake soon, and though she'd left him a note, he might get concerned if she was gone much longer.
Sternly curtailing the urge to make any more unnecessary stops, Tenten hurried through the market to make her important purchases. Once she had them all tucked safely away in the worn leather bag she wore over her shoulder, she hurried back toward the hotel, doing some mental number-crunching to figure out how much money she and Kakashi had left as well as what, exactly, she was going to fix for their breakfast.
Nearly out of the market, close by the dress shop she'd stopped at earlier, Tenten heard a soft cry of fear - or pain. Her head snapped in that direction, eyes seeking ahead of her into the dark alleyway from which the soft sound had come. In her hand she clutched the knife that dropped into her palm at a twitch of her wrist, the blade extended up over her wrist, hidden by her carefully turned arm.
"C'mon, girlie," she heard a rough male voice saying. "Pretty thing like you, you gotta be here to make some purchases. Whattaya say you give us your money instead, hmm? We gotta eat, you know, more than you need a pretty new dress or something silly like that."
"Yeah," a second voice, also male, agreed. "And after we got your money, I think we gonna party. Gonna have some dessert before breakfast."
Sliding silently just inside the entrance of the alley, Tenten waited a scant few seconds for her eyes to adjust to the semidarkness. The moment they did, she spied the assailants - two beefy, dirty men whose bellies seemed to indicate no missed meals - and their victim. Despite the fact that her back was literally against the wall, the well-dressed young woman's head was up, back straight and hands up in a defensive posture, shaky though it was. Her face, delicate as a doll's, was pale and determined, half-covered by midnight hair. Tenten noticed and filed her observations away in less than two second. Taking another step forward, she lifted her arm so the blade of her knife glinted in the single shaft of sunlight filtering into the dingy alley. "Problem, boys?"
Both men spun to face her, faces set in sneers of contempt. "Not with the police," one pointed out. "Too scrawny to put up any fight," the other agreed. "Let's get her!" they chorused. As one, they pounded toward her, heads down in a move that indicated they planned to use brute force to take her out.
Another quick flick of her wrist shifted the knife in her hand. "Run!" she shouted to the girl. Without waiting to make sure the other obeyed, Tenten easily spun away from the first thug's freight-train attack, allowing him to ram himself head-first into the wall behind her and stun himself. Using her momentum to swing herself around, arm first, she raked the blade of her knife across the other man's cheek, drawing a thin, stick-straight line of blood across his unshaven jaw. The second man's eyes went wide with shock and fear. Grabbing the arm of his dazed fellow and slinging it around his shoulder, he hauled him away around the corner and out of sight.
After making sure both men were gone for good, Tenten slid her knife back into its sheath and turned back to the girl, who looked to be about her own age. She stood frozen in place, her strangely-colored eyes as wide as the men's, only with admiration instead of fear. "Who a-are you?" she half-breathed, half-stuttered.
Tenten sketched a bow. "Tenten. I'm a traveling bodyguard-for-hire with my brother, Hatake Kakashi. We just came back to Konoha looking for work."
Just as quickly, the lavender-eyed girl bent in a bow of her own. "I-I'm H-Hyuuga H-Hinata," she whispered. "And I-I think my father will want t-to meet you."
*~To Be Continued~*
Author's Ending Notes: So, to reiterate, if anything seems confusing, I promise it'll all be explained as we go along. Also, this fic is sitting finished on my harddrive, so I'll update once weekly, on Sundays, unless otherwise stated for holidays or such. So, until next week, thanks for checking out my story, and I hope you enjoyed the first chapter!