Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto in any way, shape, or form. All characters used belong to Masashi Kishimoto.
AN: Hi! This is something that's been plaguing my mind for a while, and I finally decided to write it out! It's my longest oneshot to date, and I'm really happy about it!
This story is set in a world based upon a deck of cards. Everyone is a single card, and relationships with other cards are determined by number and suit. The two Jokers are supreme rulers, and all power goes down from there. "Matching" is when cards form permanent partnerships with other cards; it can be compared to modern marriage in that sense.
I reference a lot of characters and jutsus in this, so tell me how many you find!
House of Cards
by insert cliche
The ground was littered with fallen leaves, and the Five of Clubs cursed her luck as she tried to walk silently through the barren field. The leaves were too damn loud for her liking - one misplaced foot and she would alert her companions to her location.
It was a good thing I left the larger weapons behind, she thought. The racket those blades made could raise the dead.
She crept towards the small armory near the forest, and upon her arrival, peered in through the dusty windows. It was dark inside, and she knew that she had been the first to try and enter in over two decades. There was rust on all the hinges, and she counted at least ten rat-created holes at the bottom of the wooden wall.
Five reached for the doorknob, but suddenly found her arm being taken captive by an unknown grip. A heartbeat later and she found herself inside the shed, trapped in the arms of a Face card.
She tried to yell, but a hand was clapped over her mouth before she could make any more noise.
"Shhh." The whisper was low and urgent, and she recognized the voice immediately. "Do you want to let them hear us, you idiot?"
It was the long-haired, white-eyed, and extremely annoyed Jack of Spades. Five relaxed into his almost-embrace before turning around and glaring at him. He took the hint, and uncovered her mouth to let her speak.
"What the hell was that? Did you want to give me a freaking heart attack, you idiot?" She was silenced with a single glare.
"Shut up already. I'll give you answers."
The girl complied, albeit reluctantly. She was finally starting to relax once more, but a single sentence shattered her sense of peace entirely.
"The Red Joker found out."
"What? Tsunade-sama found out?! How the hell are we going to keep this quiet now?" By this point, she had completely forgotten about potential heart attacks.
"Calm down. I didn't finish."
There was silence as the girl stared incredulously at her companion. Then she huffed, crossed her arms, and glared at him to continue.
"As I was saying, Tsunade-sama found out. She forced me to tell her everything."
"Then what? Hurry up, bastard, you're still giving me a heart attack."
"She told me that as long as our combat quality stays unaffected, she will keep it a secret." The unsaid '...from the Black Joker' lingered in the air.
"But what do we do? Your...partner," she spat the words out like poison, "is getting antsy."
"I can't do anything about Temari. She has Orochimaru on her side."
"That doesn't stop me from hating it."
"Tenten." She gasped at his use of her real name, and looked up into his eyes. "Just keep it secret. I'll figure something out."
"We'll figure something out," she corrected. "I'm not going to let you kill yourself for me, Neji."
Then he grabbed her by the collar and kissed her.
"Tenten!" The yell carried through the main hall of the Club Complex, and everyone glanced up at the diminutive figure standing by the doorway. The Seven of Spades was tapping her foot impatiently by the doorway.
Five looked up, and nearly sprinted to the door once she saw who was waiting for her. "Hanabi, what are you doing?" she whispered hurriedly.
The short girl glared up at her. "I want to talk to you."
Tenten glanced around. "I really can't come right now," she hissed. "I have to...um..." she trailed off, trying to find an believable excuse.
Hanabi's glare intensified. "Now."
Tenten hit her forehead in exasperation. "Later, okay? I'll find you after dinner, how's that?" She started to walk away without waiting for an answer.
Hanabi smirked. "I saw you," she sing-songed.
The effect was instantaneous. Tenten whirled back around, grabbed the little girl by the arm, and dragged her away.
"Hanabi, you said you saw everything. Why, then, are you pestering me?" Tenten was starting to get annoyed at Spades in general. They were always so superior, always pulling rank and doing other stupid things.
The two girls were sitting in an indoor training ground, surrounded by abandoned weapons. Tenten was sitting on a tree trunk, while Hanabi was sitting on the ground polishing her new sword.
Hanabi was strangely serious. "You are with Neji."
Tenten sighed. "I won't deny that. Now do me a favor and keep it a secret, will ya? If Orochimaru hears about it, I'm dead."
"And Temari," Hanabi corrected.
The taller girl groaned. "And Temari. Now please, please promise me that you won't tell anybody, okay?"
"...fine. But I wanted to tell Nee-san."
Tenten smiled at the mention of the ever-gentle Nine of Spades, but frowned at the girl sitting in front of her. "You can't, Hanabi. The fewer people who know, the better." When Hanabi nodded her understanding, she got up and brushed her pants off. "I'll see you around, okay?"
She was two steps away from the door when Hanabi spoke again.
"Do you love him, Tenten? He's almost like my brother, and I don't want you to hurt him."
Tenten smiled at the younger girl's rare show of compassion. "Don't worry about me hurting him, Hanabi. I'd never try and hurt him on purpose. It's probably going to end up with him hurting me. And as for the love..." She stopped speaking for a moment to contemplate her next words.
"I'd like to think that Neji and I...that we have something between us."
Neji was not mad. He was most definitely not pissed at the Black Joker. He absolutely did not want to rip the bastard limb-from-fucking-limb.
"Sooo...Neji, Jack of Spadessss." Orochimaru's hiss echoed through the hall.
The man was sitting on his golden throne, leering down at the boy in front of him. The Red Joker, who was sitting next to her fellow ruler on her own finely decorated throne, was staring impassively at the Face Card kneeling in front of her.
Surrounding the Jack were the four Kings, each in their respective seat. Three of the four Queens were also present. Neji felt the white-eyed stare of Spade King Hyuuga Hiashi on his head.
"My lord." He addressed Orochimaru politely, letting his well-bred manners command his every action. "May I inquire after the reason for my summoning?"
"Of courssse," the Joker hissed. "After all, a sssummoning is not a daily occurence."
"Orochimaru, just get to the point, will you? This is taking much too long already." It was Nara Shikaku, the King of Hearts.
"Yesss. It has come to my attention, Spade, that you are the only unmatched Face Card. Missss Temari has been waiting impatiently for yearsss, but still you wait."
"Please pardon my ignorance, my lord. I did not know that I had a time limit for my matching."
This time, it was the Queen of Clubs who spoke. "There isn't one," Inuzuka Tsume said, "but Oro-chan's getting annoyed at how uneven the deck is." She grinned, her unnaturally sharp canines showing from the corners of her mouth.
Orochimaru glared at Tsume, but did not comment. Instead, Tsunade was next to speak.
"I have a feeling that War will soon be upon us. And as all of you know, matching cards forces both cards to recuperate and start fighting together. If we were to lose Neji's skills right before War, there would be severe consequences for any side that holds him."
Everyone listened carefully. The Red Joker's predictions were almost never wrong, and her logic was impeccable. It had been widely acknowledged that Neji was the best Jack in the Deck.
"Then what are you proposing?" Hiashi asked.
"We should attend to this problem after our next War." Tsunade then directed her stare to Neji, and he knew she was speaking to him alone. "This will give everyone some more time to think upon the matter."
It was nighttime, and Neji had just snuck into Tenten's small room through her open window. He found the girl sleeping peacefully, her hair unbound and shimmering around her face like a tangled copper halo. He was loathe to wake her up, but the matter at hand was urgent.
He shook her shoulders gently. "Tenten. Wake up."
She did so slowly, her eyes fluttering open to look at him. When she realized what was happening, she shot up abruptly.
"Neji? What the hell are you doing here?"
"Shhh. Just listen to me - I can't stay long."
He watched her settle into a comfortable seated position. When her eyes met his again, he continued.
"Orochimaru wants to match me with Temari as soon as possible." He heard Tenten curse.
"Fuck. Now what?"
"Tsunade-sama delayed it until sometime after the next War."
Tenten sighed. "Thank goodness."
"But we have only until the next War, Tenten. According to Tsunade-sama, that's not a lot of time. And we still have to deal with...Tenten? Are you listening?" He found her staring off into nowhere, her eyes like glass marbles. She was thinking, and her strange gaze unnerved him.
"Neji?" Her voice was low, almost mysterious.
"Remember when Rock Lee accidentally went outside the box? Remember how he came back?"
"He told me that he walked through flames and survived."
Silence settled over them like a thick down quilt. Neji stared at Tenten, and Tenten stared out her window at the night sky.
"Neji? Would you leave with me?"
He grabbed her by the back of her head and turned her face to look at him.
"Don't ever doubt that I won't come with you." His voice was passionate, brimming with grief and longing and unreleased tension. "Don't you dare, Tenten. I've been pulled in too far to leave you now."
She tilted her face up to kiss him. When their lips were mere breaths away, she looked into his gray-white eyes and said one last thing.
"War! War! All cards to the battlefield!"
The cry rang out from the watchtowers, and cards poured out from doors of all kinds. Most of them were armored, and those who hadn't prepared hurried around suiting up. Tenten ran to find Hanabi, who she knew was in the bathhouses.
"Hanabi." Tenten grabbed her friend by the arm just as the shorter girl ran out the door, fully equipped and ready to fight. "Wait."
"What, Tenten? We have War on our hands!" The smaller girl pulled at her arm, but was unable to free herself from Tenten's iron grip. She was pulled into a small alley.
"Listen, okay? I have a plan run away with Neji, and I need help."
It took Hanabi a few moments to comprehend what had just been said. Tenten waited patiently.
Suddenly, she was all ears. "What do you need?"
"Just...keep Temari away, will you?"
"And if I don't see you again..." Tenten's voice got quieter. She kissed Hanabi quickly on the forehead.
"This is my goodbye."
The cards had gathered in the battlefield, lined up by suit and number. The Jokers were sitting in closed tents on opposite sides of the field, and a tall man with long, white hair stood in the center. The Moderator was here, and War had begun.
Slowly, the cards were dealt. Each called card walked to their given side, and waited inside the tents. Tenten saw Neji get shuffled off to Orochimaru's. Later, she was called to serve on Tsunade's side.
And War began.
Neji watched as fighters walked out of the dimly lit tent onto the battleground. Sometimes, they came back with a prisoner at their side. Other times, they never came back. He had gone out to fight two or three times already, but his opponents had always been numbered and weak. The only fight that he had engaged in that even resembled a battle was against a loudmouthed, orange-wearing Two.
Suddenly, the card at the door yelled. "Backup! There's an equal match out there!"
Neji found himself appointed as the trump fighter, and rushed out with three of his comrades. The extras stayed behind, lingering on the sidelines with the retired fighters, and Neji marched out to meet his opponent.
It was Tenten.
Neji wasn't very surprised - he had known that there would have to be some kind of major confrontation during the War. So he settled into a comfortable stance, blade held high, and waited. He saw Tenten do the same, her armor glinting in the evening light. The two fighters stared each other down, and waited for the other to make the first move.
He finally decided to start the fight, and he flew at her head-on to test her defenses. For all that had happened between them, they had never actually fought. He was looking forward to what would go down between them.
She parried quickly, and slid out of reach. Neji watched her run to the edge of the rectangular arena, and wondered what was going to happen next. It was already becoming evident that she was a long-distance fighter, a stark contrast to his preferred short-range style.
A knife flying at his head disrupted his train of thought. It whistled shrilly past his ear, and from the smirk Neji saw on Tenten's face, it had been aimed to miss. He crouched down into a lunge, sword at the ready, and prepared for her next attack.
Suddenly, weapons of all sorts and sizes were flying at him from every direction. Without missing a beat, he started pivoting on one foot and batting the blades away while spinning in tight circles. Metal clattered to the ground around him.
Once the onslaught had finished, he spun and looked around the entire field.
There was nobody there.
Then something landed on him from above, and then all he saw was darkness.
Tenten was sitting next to Neji when he finally woke up. She saw him groan and reach for his neck - maybe she had been a little bit too hard when punching him out - and watched his eyes snap open, the strange white irises nearly glowing in the dark.
"What happened?" he said hoarsely. "All I remember was fighting you and-" A shocked expression dawned across his face. "Did you beat me?"
The answer was pure and simple. "Yes."
"How?" Neji was incredulous. He was a Jack, and she was a Five. It was unthinkable that someone like her would be able to beat him.
Tenten put a finger to her lip and smiled. "Secret." Then her eyes hardened, and she stared at Neji with her most serious look. "Listen to me. I've got everything planned out."
Neji glanced at her. "I assume that something bad will happen."
Tenten winced. "Yeah."
"Then tell me."
It took her a while to answer. "I need you to let yourself get recaptured."
There was no response.
"And I'll come for you."
"Hanabi's still on this side; sooner or later, she'll be captured. Temari's over with the bastard, and it's unlikely that she'll be defeated. So I told Hanabi to keep Temari distracted. After you go back, I'm going to go after you. And at the next temporary truce...we leave."
"Sssoooo, Neji. How could you let yourself be defeated by sssuch a lowly number card?" Orochimaru was quite displeased at the unexpected outcome of the fight, and it showed.
At that moment, Neji was almost afraid of his leader. He had been chained and brought to the makeshift prison after his defeat at the hands of Nara Yoshino, Queen of Hearts. His armor had been stripped off of him roughly, and he stood in a bloodied tunic and shredded black pants, eyes lowered to the ground.
"What do you have to sssay for yourssself, boy?"
Neji flinched. "I will take my punishment as my lord sees fit."
"Good. Hiashi, come in."
The door opened, and the King of Spades walked in. He glanced at his subordinate's broken form, and averted his eyes. Orochimaru spoke again.
"I will be sealing this boy, and you, as his King, will take control."
Neji felt a fear akin to cold water rushing through his veins. If he was controlled by another, there would be no way out of the deck with Tenten.
"M-my lord," he began, "Is this really-" He was cut off by the cracking of a leather whip against his skin, and the blood that had started running down his back made him forget anything else he wanted to say. The pain was unbearable.
A brand was being heated over the fire; it was an X with two lines on either side. The Black Joker held it up, looking pleased at how it glowed a bright orange-red. Neji, still mindless with pain, did not notice anything.
The hot metal was lowered to the Jack's forehead, and he screamed.
"Let's see if you ever disssobey me again."
Hanabi hated Temari. She really did. The girl was self-centered, rude, and spilled blood without a thought. With such a person, it was easy to see why Neji didn't want to be matched.
But she followed the blonde in an effort to stop her from reaching the "prison." Just moments before, a brown-haired girl had sprinted by in that direction, and Hanabi knew that Tenten was looking for Neji. And since her friend had asked her to keep Temari away, Hanabi would do just that.
The girl didn't slow down. "What, brat? I've got stuff to do, and you're getting in the way!"
Hanabi searched her mind for something to say. "I...really like your fan," she said. "It's really big and...yeah."
Temari smirked. "You're not the only one who's been amazed by it. Now move along, little girl."
"C-can I touch it?" Sometimes, acting like a weakling was useful. Even if it was degrading.
She saw her target pause for a moment. "Sure," Temari said flatly. "Just don't take too long, okay?" The fan was lowered from the tall girl's back and unfolded.
Hanabi moved forward to examine the fan. She pretended to be in awe, stroking the fan reverently and acting like it was made of gold. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw that the Diamond was getting annoyed.
Time for desperate measures.
She slashed the edge of the fan with a small blade that had been hidden in her sleeve, and waited for Temari's reaction. The scream that followed was so loud that she bet the entire tent could hear it.
"You little bitch! You're going to pay!"
Tenten heard the shriek, and inwardly thanked Hanabi. She hoped that the little girl wouldn't be injured too badly.
There were too many cells in the prison, and almost all of them were empty. She cursed her bad luck with a long string of whispered expletives, and continued on.
A rattling of chains alerted her to Neji's location. Tenten rushed towards the end of the row, straining her eyes in the dark to find him. But when she reached his cell, the sight was awful to behold.
He was covered in cuts and dripping with his own blood. His arms had been chained behind his back, and the cuffs had been covered in spikes, to keep him from trying to loosen them. There was blood everywhere.
But that wasn't the worst part. Neji had been sealed.
There was a mark on his forehead; a glowing green X, with lines trailing off at the sides. It pulsed every few moments, and Tenten knew that each movement sent more pain through his body.
How did she not see this coming?
"Neji!" she choked out softly, her eyes brimming with tears. "Neji!"
He looked up at the sound of her voice. "Tenten," he said softly. "You found me."
"Neji! I'm so, so sorry! I didn't know they would do this, I thought it would be simpler, how do we-" Her voice increased in pace and volume, before she suddenly broke into tears.
"Tenten. I knew this would happen." She lifted her eyes to meet his.
"It was the easiest way," he said simply. He let her cry for a few more minutes, before reminding her about her mission. "Didn't you say you were going to free me?"
"R-right," she stuttered weakly, her voice from the tears. "D-don't move."
The door was unlocked with a stolen key, and Tenten walked in. She inspected the cuffs on his wrists for a minute before drawing two throwing needles out of her hair. The cuffs were easy to pick, and Neji finally slid his wrists out with a sigh of relief. He walked to the door.
The pair had just made it out the back door without being detected, when they were suddenly alerted to the presence of Hyuuga Hiashi. Neji froze, and Tenten stiffened at his side. No doubt she had just figured out that the King of Spades was Neji's master.
Hiashi regarded the pair with his usual silence. Then his hands moved to form the seal that would send Neji into waves of pain. The boy braced himself.
Tenten could do nothing but watch.
The handseal was released, and instead of pain, he felt his will being taken away. Whatever Hiashi said would become his command to follow, and there was no way out. Tenten wouldn't be able to help.
"Leave," the King intoned quietly. "And never come back."
They ran through the forest, stumbling through fallen branches, hurdling over bushes, and praying that nobody was chasing after them. They jogged their way through a miniature desert. They sprinted through the many streams that had started appearing, splashed through a miniature waterfall, and continued to run.
It would be a perfect time to use the phrase, "as if their lives depended upon it."
But there was no "as if." This was the real thing, and they would die if they failed.
Tenten was the first to reach the edge of the box. She saw the flames licking at the unseen border, trying unsuccessfully to get in and burn the deck. Strangely, she was not afraid.
Neji limped next to her. The beatings and the pain of running had taken their toll on his body, and he was exhausted. He let his slump onto her shoulder and snaked an arm around her waist.
She glanced up at him, and he looked down at her.
"Are you ready?" she asked. "After this, there's no going back."
He smirked, still not completely defeated. "There was never anything to go back to in the first place."
"Point taken." She grinned.
They regarded the flames in silence. This was their future, and they would burn away the past.
"One more kiss, and then we leave." It was not a question.
He turned to face her, and his hand crept up to caress her cheek. "Of course."
They kissed for one, two, three heartbeats before pulling away from the other. A few seconds later, and their eyes broke contact.
He offered his arm out to her. "Shall we, my lady?"
She accepted, and curtsied for effect. "We shall."
They walked forwards, arm in arm, and let the flames descend upon them.
Did you find everyone?
Please review! Any and all reviews are highly appreciated!