A/N: To Kazahana Yukina: Thank you so much for your prompt (sapphire) and your patience. I really appreciate it! I hope you enjoy this!
And I hope everyone else enjoys this as well!
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.
She is sitting along the bank of a creek, among wild brush and tall grass, one leg bent at the knee and hugged to her chest. She is exhausted, her ankle either broken or horribly sprained. She takes in slow, controlled breaths, trying to overcome the shocks of pain. She has lost all sense of direction, having outrun the enemy by way of a twisting complicated route. She does not know where her comrades are, if they survived, if she herself will survive.
Another shaky breath and the world turns around her. She is on the verge of unconsciousness. Biting her bottom lip, she shifts her position and peers at her reflection. She brushes away as much dirt as she can with the back of her hand and picks at fragments of God knows what that have ended up in her hair. Tentatively her fingers skim the surface of the creek, her throat aching from dryness. She takes her time gulping down handful after handful of water, teeth chattering from the cold temperature. Finally, she unfolds her leg, hissing in pain as she places her bad foot into the stream. She relaxes back against a tree trunk, closing her eyes, trying to recall the map Lee had shown her before they split. It is to no avail. The pain in her foot keeps her from concentrating on anything else. She is dreading getting up, but she forces herself to stand after another minute, holding on to the trees for dear life as she limps.
One step, then one more, and all of a sudden another sharp pang of pain shoots up through her leg and she feels something snap. Her heart skips a beat then everything is black.
Neji takes the lead, stepping into the Hokage's office first, Tenten following at arm's length. Lady Tsunade is in her typical attire, her desk littered with papers (Tenten discreetly watches Neji as his eyes narrow at a pair of lottery tickets carelessly thrown atop a pile of classified files. Then he takes note of the many empty bottles of sake underneath the desk and nearly wrinkles his nose in disgust. The Hyuuga has never been particularly fond of Lady Tsunade, though he shows her all due respect. )
The blonde woman tosses Tenten a yellow envelope, beginning to talk as the weapons expert breaks the wax seal and pulls out a thick packet of papers.
"Lee has already gone ahead," the woman informs them, tapping her cherry red nails against the rim of a sake glass. "Any questions?" (Since rising in rank, they have learned that comprehensive mission briefing is done really only for genin. Now they are simply given written instructions as well as the expected time frame of completion.) Neji scans the papers over Tenten's shoulder, eyebrows furrowing as she flips through sketches.
"It says here that this rogue shinobi does not have any identifying physical attributes, but is notorious for his many disguises. He is also highly skilled at chakra suppression. How exactly are we to know we have apprehended the correct man?" the Hyuuga asks, taking the papers from his female partner's hands and flipping through the sketches again.
"It'll be difficult. Be alert for suspicious behavior. That's all I can say. " With this advice, Tsuande waves the two out of her office. As Tenten closes the door behind her, she cringes as the Hokage yells for more sake.
Neji waits by the stairs for her to catch up and the two walk down together. Once outside the building, he turns: "We should depart as soon as possible. Lee has been instructed to stay at the inn in the next village over only till sunset. We'll depart in forty-five minutes.
Tenten nods, taking the papers from him and placing them back in the envelope. "See you at the gate," she tells him before they both part for home.
When she opens her eyes again, she can no longer hear the rushing water. Instead, she is wrapped in a warm blanket, lying inside a canvas tent. She struggles to sit, panting when she accomplishes the feat. She cannot recall the last time she has felt such pain. She has misjudged her injuries.
Suddenly, there are calloused, heavy hands pushing her back down, and she feels disgruntled that she had not sensed the man before. "Neji," she says, staring up at lilac eyes. The Hyuuga is looking down at her with a worried expression, and he moves to check her legs.
"How do you feel?" he murmurs, his deft fingers undoing the bandages around her ankle to check the wound. She does not answer immediately, taking in her surroundings. She can hear the water now, though it is a faint sound in the distance. "I'll need to wash this soon, or you'll risk infection. But first, eat." He shoves in her hands what looks like over grilled fish. She does not do further inspection however, as her stomach grumbles in protest.
Neji redresses her wound while she devours her meager breakfast. His own appearance is quite haggard, but he is in better shape than she.
"Where's Lee?" she asks suddenly, the feeling of anxiousness growing in her gut fading (she hates feeling forgetful).
"He's with the evacuated villagers."
"Tenten!" Lee exclaims excitedly, rushing to greet his female teammate. Neji enters the small rented room after her, and the bushy-browed man beams at him too. "It has been so long since we've been on a mission together!"
"Lee, we went on a mission together last month," Tenten reminds him, gently prying his arms from around her.
"My point exactly, Tenten."
Tenten rolls her eyes exasperatedly, glancing over her shoulder at the stoic Hyuuga. She is surprised, though not at all disappointed to see the ghost of a smile on his lips as he watches her and Lee's antics. It is then she remembers just how much they've all grown up. She holds his gaze for a moment and knows he's thinking the same. Then she turns back to her other teammate.
"We need to start planning."
Tenten manages to struggle her way out of the blanket and joins Neji outside by the fire. He gives her a disapproving look, but does not make move to force her back inside the tent.
"Has the village been destroyed?" she asks, grimacing as she grits her teeth, trying to overcome the pain. Neji is surveying the area with his Byakugan, the veins around his lilac eyes more prominent as chakra pulses through them. He does not respond immediately, but when he turns to face her, his lips are pressed in a thin line and his knuckles are stark white as he clenches his fists.
They decide, after spending a few nights in the village, to search the surrounding area for the shinobi. They have noticed a few shady men lurking about (one in particular, a man with a sapphire pendant), and so, Lee remains behind to keep an eye on them.
There is a map of the forests plastered on the wall of a small local shop. Tenten spends a considerable amount of time studying it. (Neji takes a glance at it, but doesn't feel the need to commit it to memory. He has his Byakugan after all). At the break of dawn, she and Neji set out.
Tenten picks her way through bramble and bush, deciding too many things could be easily overlooked if she traveled by tree branch. All is quiet and so far, there have been no signs of human activity. Then, a blast sends adrenaline rushing into her bloodstream and she turns too quickly, hurting her ankle. She takes no notice of the pain, however, as she rushes towards the thick white plumes of smoke. Another blast and her heart begins to sink when she realizes it's coming from the direction of the village.
They have made a mistake.
Neji reaches to brush a few stray hairs away from her face, his jaw set. "Were you able to take a good look at the men that came after you?" he asks quietly. Tenten knows under his controlled exterior, white rage is bubbling. She nods.
"The one with the pendant. He was the leader."
Realization dawns on her too late, and she has already picked up quite a few pursuers. She spots most of the suspicious men from the village on her heels when she dares a glance over her shoulder.
The rogue shinobi had not been working alone.
Just as she turns her head back around and tries to pick up her pace (the throbbing in her foot is becoming more prominent) a blue glint catches her eye. The man with the sapphire pendant is leading the pack, and the pendant isn't a pendant, it's a knife.
She has convinced Neji to sleep for at least half an hour, and so she sits by the dying embers of the campfire, keeping first watch. It is eerily silent, and her senses, though dulled with fatigue, still strain to pick up movement. At the quiet snap of a twig, she is up with a kunai poised and ready to kill. She wants to call out to Neji, but she can't find her voice (she got up too fast, and now the pain is overwhelming).
She does let out a scream, however, when something hard hits her in the back of the head.
The world becomes a black abyss once again.
When she awakes, the sound of rushing water is loud to her ears. She groans and finds herself bound alone in the campsite. Neji is nowhere to be found. Grunting, she struggles with the rope around her wrists and ankles. It takes her a minute to pick up a faint flare of chakra nearby.
Black sandaled feet come to stand before her and for a moment, she thinks it is Neji. Then her gaze slides up to meet green eyes and a leering grin.
She protests as much as she can when she's tossed over the man's shoulder. She tries to ignore the faltering of her heart as her legs burn with pain. Without a moment's contemplation, she bites him.
The man screams, dropping her on the ground as his hand clutches his shoulder. The metallic taste of blood in her mouth is almost overwhelming. Whether it's his or hers, she doesn't have time to find out.
The man slips the sapphire dagger off the chain around his neck and looks at her with hungry eyes. She rolls around helplessly and finally manages to free her hands just in time to evade a lethal stab to the throat. She cannot bear to put her weight on her legs no matter how hard she tries. Tears build at the corners of her eyes from frustration and pain. She is sweating and panting and bleeding all over. Just when she thinks she can't fight anymore and shuts her eyes trying not to vomit, her assailant is knocked off his feet.
She is not sure how long the rogue shinobi and her teammate fight, but in the end, only the Hyuuga is left standing. (Though he promptly collapses into a heaving mess from exhaustion). She notices the sapphire dagger clutched tightly in his hand, so tightly that it has sliced half of his palm. He angles his head to look at her, asking her if she is all right.
She nods then passes out again.
"Tenten, our youthful flower, you are awake!" Lee shouts exuberantly, pulling her into a hug. Not a moment later, he is rather roughly jerked away from her by a disgruntled, heavily bandaged Hyuuga. After giving Lee a dark look, his lilac gaze slides to her face, surveying her.
She offers him a feeble smile, relaxing back into the cushy pillows of the Konoha General Hospital surrounded by her boys.
"Is he dead?" (She is talking about the rogue shinobi).
The Hyuuga nods then sends Lee to fetch her some water. When they are left alone, he speaks quietly, "I did not mean to leave you alone."
She blinks in surprise. He was trying to apologize to her. "I never once doubted that you were coming back for me."
The Hyuuga steps a little closer and reaches to gently intertwine their fingers.
They really have grown up.
A/N: I never expected to finish this today. Also, I want to explain a little symbolism about the sapphire. Sapphires represent faithfulness hence Neji's coming back to save Tenten.
Thank you for reading and please review!