Disclaimer: Naruto belongs to Masashi Kishimoto.
Time seemed to expand and collapse simultaneously in the instant between the point at which the bone snapped and the point at which the pain registered.
That instant gave Tenten just enough time to bite back the cry of pain that threatened to escape her mouth, as she watched the leg move dangerously out of joint, bending under the force of her opponent's blow. Tears of pain sprang to her eyes.
It shouldn't have been like this. The mission was simple: just deliver a merchant quickly to a neighboring village, keep him safe from bandits and then return to Konoha. It was simple. In theory.
In reality, however, everything had spiraled rapidly downward from the moment they saw the merchant safely to his destination. First, Lee had gotten lost, which meant Tenten and Neji spent hours trying to track him down. Apparently, he had been under the impression that he was taking a shortcut, and that his teammates had been following him the entire time. This, in turn, made Neji even more irritable than usual; consequently, his focus on the mission had wavered, leading them into the situation in which they now found themselves. Tenten, exhausted from the extra travel and Lee's constant apologetic chatter, had fallen asleep on watch. A group of rogue shinobi seized the opportunity, attacking the camp while they slept. The melee that ensued was nothing less than chaos.
Tenten was struggling through combat, only half-awake and not at all equipped to fight three opponents at once. She was making careless mistakes, one of which had resulted in the broken leg that throbbed red-hot with pain. Now, it was just dead weight, clinging like a fallen tree trunk to the ground.
Two of her original opponents now lay lifeless, but the third still advanced, a hulk of a man with the raw strength of a bear. He leered down at her, a mace hanging like a child's toy from his fist. Tenten tried in vain to get away, but her leg was refusing to move. She scrambled for something, anything, within reach, her hand finally closing around a kunai. She had one shot to get this right – and the rogue shinobi was edging closer.
He was mere inches away from her when her hand whipped out and a silver blur flew toward its mark, lodging securely in his throat. The man gurgled, his eyes wide with shock – he was dead before he even hit the ground.
Tenten reveled for a moment in the small triumph, but a dreadful realization brought her celebration to an abrupt halt. She watched, stupefied, as the man staggered and stumbled, his monstrous form unable to resist the tug of gravity. Tenten did her best to scoot away, but it was useless; the leg wouldn't budge and she could only drag it a few centimeters without it exploding in throes of white-hot pain. She watched in silent horror as he fell, the entirety of his weight crashing onto her unresponsive leg.
This time, she couldn't suppress the scream.
Farther off in the clearing, both of her teammates turned, instantly on alert. Lee, as if the scream had given him an extra shot of adrenaline, finished off the last of his opponents with a massive Leaf Hurricane; Neji, who had been attempting to hold off the majority of the enemy combatants, sent three of them flying into the trees with a near-perfect Kaiten. There was a sickening simultaneous crunch, and then silence.
Tenten had buried her head in her hands, so she only heard their footsteps as they approached. Lee was the first to reach her. He immediately sprang into action, attempting to displace the body of the shinobi that covered Tenten's leg.
A fresh wave of pain spiraled up her leg, and Tenten bit her lip so hard it bled, just to keep from screaming.
"Lee." A solid hand fell on her shoulder, and Lee stopped in his tracks. Tenten glanced up to see Neji crouched beside her. She had never been so glad for his intervention.
"Don't move him until we know the extent of the damage." Neji's Byakugan sprang to life, and he examined the leg carefully. The smallest of frowns marred his smooth features, and he stared at the injury for a moment longer before he spoke.
"Lift him from the side, Lee." He gestured to the man's broad shoulders. "That should lessen the damage sustained by removing him. Be careful."
Almost as an afterthought, he turned to Tenten. "This will be painful."
Tenten nodded, biting down harder on her lip. Rivulets of blood trickled down her chin, but she didn't care; at least it gave her something else to concentrate on.
Painful was not the word to describe having the shinobi lifted from her shattered leg. Excruciating might have been more apt; she couldn't suppress the tiniest of whimpers as they finally uncovered her injury.
It was a gruesome sight. She had to turn her head away from the bruises and blood, still slightly in denial that the deformed object she had just seen was her leg.
"I think I'm going to be sick."
Those were the last words that managed to escape her mouth before another white wall of pain enveloped her and consciousness faded into blackness.
Tenten blinked into wakefulness; it was still light outside, and she no longer sat in a pool of her own blood, though her clothes remained caked with remnants of the battle. Lee sat a few yards away, watching her with concern. When he noticed that she was awake, he immediately sprang to her side, eyes wide.
"My dearest teammate! Are you alright? Can you feel your leg? Is there anything I can do to ease your pain? Just believe in the healing power of youth and you will—mmph."
Tenten clamped a hand over his mouth.
"Say one more thing and you're going to need the healing power of youth." She croaked.
Lee nodded sheepishly.
Tenten sunk onto the makeshift pallet they had apparently constructed. Though he was far too enthusiastic, she had to admit Lee's questions did have merit. She moved her right leg – the working one – and it seemed to be fine. When she tried the other, however, there was no response, just a strange tingling sensation from underneath the bandages.
"You should not be trying to move that." A calm voice from behind her noted with slight irritation. Tenten looked over her shoulder to see Neji approaching. He leaned down next to her bandaged leg, checking to see that the bindings still held.
"We've done what we can, but anything further is beyond my expertise. We need to get you back to Konoha immediately."
"Then let's go." Contrary to the orders he had just given her, Tenten sat up and began to try to stand. Though both of her teammates immediately sprang to help her, she moved too quickly and was on her feet before they could do anything about it.
She attempted to step forward with the left leg, and instantly realized her mistake. The numb feeling reverted to a shooting pain and it crumpled beneath her, sending her sprawling.
A strong pair of arms looped around her torso, keeping her from collapsing completely.
"I told you not to move it. I assumed you understood that standing on it was out of the question as well."
Tenten felt slightly dizzy, and she had a feeling it was more than just the pain. Lowering herself to the ground, she slowly disentangled herself from Neji's steadying grip.
"Tenten." Even Lee looked at her skeptically, and she frowned.
"Well, we have to move somehow!"
Lee and Neji exchanged glances, then looked back at her. The fact that Neji and Lee were in agreement about anything —without her interference— was more than a little disconcerting and Tenten tried to move away from them as quickly as she could, but with a crippled leg, she was no match.
Before she could even protest, the two boys had succeeded in lifting her onto Neji's back. She had no choice but to wrap her arms snugly around his neck, lest she go tumbling backwards into the dirt again.
Lee gathered up the rest of their belongings, and Neji turned his head to look at her.
"Are you prepared?"
Tenten grimaced. "As I'll ever be."
It was going to be a long trip home.
A/N: Just a bit of an idea I've been tossing around in my head for a while. Will be a multi-chapter (in case that wasn't obvious), but it will probably be fairly short, nowhere near the length of my others. Hope you all enjoy!
Update: Revised Chapter 1 published 16.10.2013