They had made a silent pact not to talk about the Masked Woman. She had seemed disappointed by Neji's lack of resistance, so had proceeded to mutter things in his ear that Tenten couldn't hear. But Tenten was fairly certain that the words weren't polite conversation. Neji's squirming and beet-red face was evidence enough of that.
It was also deeply concerning that not once since their first interrogation had she ever mentioned the stolen scroll.
But they weren't going to talk about the Masked Woman.
"Well," suggested Tenten. "Maybe it really was just water..."
Neji didn't reply immediately. He sat cross-legged with his hands resting in his lap, mirroring her, their knees very nearly touching. The shinobi's head was bowed, his face concealed by the shifting shadow of his hair.
"If we had been drugged the effects would have shown themselves by now. Also, the substance was tasteless. We were merely given water, I suspect, to keep us alive."
His tone was sharp and short, and dripping with impatience. Tenten smirked.
There was a certain distinctive bite to Neji's words that occurred only on one particular occasion. It had taken Tenten a few years to pick up on it. At first she had privately delighted in her discovery; that despite his best efforts to conceal it, Neji was in fact human.
Best of all, he himself didn't seem to realise that this verbal cue even existed. Tenten enjoyed a brief period of time where her entire team feared her for her ability to read minds. Eventually she grew tired of the game, and passed on her wisdom to the long-suffering Rock Lee.
Neji in this state reminded Tenten of other times.
Namely times when they weren't being kept in a cell by a psychotic masked nymphomaniac.
"That makes sense, I suppose…" said Tenten, eyeing him musingly. "So I guess that means they'll have to feed us eventually too, huh?"
Neji nodded very slowly.
"Perhaps," he muttered sulkily. "Perhaps not."
"Well I for one can't wait," Tenten jostled his knee none too gently with her own. She smirked when he winced. As tired as Tenten was she would make him suffer a little before she was satisfied. He was being rude, after all. "You're always foul when you're hungry."
Neji lips twitched into a shadowy smile.
At that moment, a small moan from the corner of the room sent them both scrambling across the floor.
"Lee!" Scooting closer, Tenten gently pulled at his shoulder, turning him onto his side.
Rock Lee was a far cry from being in a good state. His cheeks were flushed and burning with fever, and his forehead damp with sweat. Tenten grimaced. His eyelids fluttered, and for a moment an electric jolt of excitement stabbed at her belly: was he finally coming around? Neji drew a sharp breath from behind her. They waited.
The ball of nerves inside of Tenten turned to an icy stone, and she felt her whole body slump with the sudden weight.
"What's wrong with him?"
She was dimly aware of something lightly tickling her arm: Neji's long hair fell over his shoulder as he leaned in close, peering closely at their friend.
Tenten's eyes twitched from Lee to Neji. Out of all of them, Neji probably had the best idea of anything close to medical skills, and so when it came to matters of health his word was taken as gospel. It was stupid, really, thought Tenten angrily. She had always been so caught up in how poor she was at medical ninjutsu, that it had never occurred to her to at least bother learning the theory behind it. She could be helping right now. But no: she was just sitting there, gawking, and being useless. Oh, how she hated being useless. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
"The fight with the Masked Man drained his chakra almost completely, hence his initial unconsciousness. However, he appears to be struggling to recover enough to wake up, probably due to the lack of sustenance."
The rock in Tenten's stomach dropped a little lower.
"Isn't there something we can do?" she said impatiently. "Anything? Can't we give him some of ours?"
"Enough to bring down the fever, but we need to think of our own reserves. We are the only chance he has at escape. And our own circumstances are… Also less than optimum."
The shinobi raised his shoe-rigged hands as best he could over Lee's forehead. They trembled with the effort.
"Nope," Neji stared as Tenten bumped him aside. "I'll do it."
He bristled, and the kunoichi snorted.
"Don't give me that: I'm in the best condition out of the lot of us. You save yours. But…" She fidgeted. "I could use your help. I've never done this before."He frowned, but muttered a disapproving agreement. Tenten scooted closer to Lee and raised her hands uncertainly.
A condescendingly loud sigh was not wholly unexpected. It was an odd sight, as her shoes came drifting into her vision, filled with pale fingers that gingerly pulled her own over to a spot directly in the middle of Lee's brow. Tenten's lips twisted in concern at the heat of Lee's skin.
"Gently pool your chakra into your fingertips. Slowly. And hold it."
Tenten did as she was told. A soft blue glow began to emanate from her fingers, adding an eerie light to the room. She glanced quickly to her left for further instruction: Neji's pearly Hyuga irises seemed to swirl with a strange radiance, reflecting the ever-increasing blue.
"Keep it steady, Tenten."
Tenten jumped a little, eyes snapping back to Lee. Focus.
"Now, very carefully, release."
A strangle trickling sensation, as if she were a pipe funnelling water, ran down her arms. Tenten shivered. The glow about her fingers pulsed, and waned as the light faded into Lee's forehead. He sighed, his shuddering ceased, his breathing evened, and his skin cooled beneath her fingertips. The light faded.
"Well done," said Neji quietly, from somewhere in the dark.
Tenten grinned. Relief flooded through her as she told herself firmly: he'll be alright. It was a small victory, but it filled her to the brim with optimism.
"You're going to feel a little… Tired."
Almost the instant the words left Neji's mouth, the kuniochi was hit by a sudden wave of exhaustion. She wobbled on her haunches for but an instant before falling heavily onto her bottom. She blinked – were her eyelids always this heavy? She sincerely hoped that her eyes were having trouble adjusting to the dark, and that she wasn't about to faint. That would be embarrassing.
A single "whoa" took a monumental effort on Tenten's part. Neji snorted.
"Don't patronize me," she said thickly, frowning as his face slowly reappeared before her. "I told you I'd never done this before."
"And I said that you did well, Tenten," he mused.
His eyes were crinkled at the corners, Tenten groggily observed: that meant he was happy. He too, despite everything that had happened, was greatly relieved that Lee was that little bit better.
It seemed to Tenten that, in that moment and despite everything, they could do anything.
A thought occurred to her then, as Tenten found herself distracted once again by the pearly glimmer of her team mate's eyes in the greyscale dimness.
"Hey, Neji… Do you know where we are?"
The shinobi frowned at her.
"As in," she began earnestly, all exhaustion suddenly gone- she'd been awake for almost the entire time that Neji had, and he hadn't mentioned it… Had the idea really not occurred to him at all? A little balloon of hope began to inflate within her chest. "Have you used Byakugan at all since we've been in here?"
Neji shook his head, his eyes darkening.
"No," he answered simply. Tenten waited to see if he'd continue with an explanation of sorts: no such luck. How helpful.
"Well," she pressed. "Why not? If we knew where we were, we could work on-"
"The walls are flowing with chakra."
Ah. Tenten stifled the urge to slam her already sore head into something. Of course. She'd assumed that the tingle of energy she'd sensed when she'd initially awoken in the cell yesterday had been simply due to the chakra-infused chains around her wrists and ankles. The thought hadn't even crossed Tenten's mind that the walls were equally unbreakable, perhaps if not more so. And forget trying to see through them.
"Fantastic," she scowled, more to herself than to her companion. "I guess even you can't see what's going on out there, can you... So much for that plan."
Tenten was so immersed in bitter disappointment (both with the fact that an idea of escape had been so quickly crushed, and in herself: of course the genius of the team would already have thought of that, and immediately dismissed it as ridiculous, stupid!) that she didn't notice how Neji's shoulders tensed and how his eyes hardened with marred pride. She did notice however, when he barked his Kekkei Genkai into life.
Tenten jumped at the fierceness of the command. She watched him anxiously, twisting her fingers in anticipation, as the veins crackled beneath Neji's skin like bolts of lightning. Anticipation for what, she wasn't quite sure. Neji himself had reminded her on several occasions that to look through chakra-infused walls was impossible. Since the Byakugan picked up chakra signatures, trying to see beyond such a wall was a similar effort to trying to pinpoint a raindrop from behind a waterfall. Yes they were desperate, thought Tenten, but was there any point in bothering? Rashness wasn't at all Neji Hyuga's style, and she wondered what on earth had gotten into him all of a sudden.
After a few seconds of nothing unusual, he narrowed his eyes, a slight tick causing his eyelids to flutter. A trickle of apprehension ran down Tenten's spine in time to the first bead of sweat that crawled over Neji's brow.
"Maybe you should stop," Tenten said slowly, her eyes raking over the shinobi with growing concern. He ignored her.
Five minutes slid by. Though not officially an expert, Tenten had seen Neji use the Byakugan over the course of nearly a lifetime. She had seen him use it in darkness and in light, to look through walls of steel and stone alike, in a matter of seconds. This wasn't normal. The muscles in his neck and face were beginning to bulge, purpling with effort. The shinobi's breathing occurred sporadically in short bursts. When had he started to shake? The veins about his straining eyes multiplied, running over his cheeks in a rapidly expanding web.
"That's enough!" the kunoichi squeaked loudly, her gut clenching fearfully. She scrambled onto her knees. Tenten's shackled hands hovered awkwardly in the air between them: she could feel the waves of chakra rolling off of him in an incredible volume. Her fingertips tingled in time to each swell. If she touched him when he was like this, what would happen?
But Neji continued to stubbornly ignore her. If anything, he increased his efforts to see through the impenetrable walls. His stoic expression cracked, replaced by a grimace. Red spots budded angrily in the whites of his eyes as the delicate vessels burst under the pressure.
Tenten wavered in front of him, wracked by indecision as nerves flooded her system. What should she do? On the one hand, she could shake him out of whatever silly state he'd worked himself up into, but if she let him continue, was it possible that the prodigy might be able to spot a weakness in the structure? A way out? An escape?
Her mind was made up for her when her companion's entire body shuddered violently, and his nostrils began to ooze thick, dark blood.
Fisting her hands into the collar of his shirt, Tenten shook her teammate like a rag doll.
"Neji! Neji, stop it!" she screeched. She yanked him towards her, rising on her knees so that her frantic brown eyes were level with his glazed and bloody ones. Tenten's heart froze in terror when, for a moment, nothing changed but for his heavy breathing to stop altogether.
"Neji!" Then he blinked, gasped, and pitched forward, his forehead slamming into Tenten's. Their headbands met with a scraping clink.
The kunoichi choked on a cry of relief, gently propping him upright by pressing her hands to his chest. Neji sagged against her, his ragged breathing gradually adjusting to a normal pace.
Tenten's eyes slid closed. Thank goodness.
"Fine," he wheezed. Tenten could feel his pulse steadying beneath her palm, and she wondered when hers would do the same.
"Fine? Isn't that a bit of an exaggeration?" she breathed. Neji's sternum buzzed under her fingers as he hummed in amusement.
When she opened her eyes again, Tenten took in their proximity with a rush of air from her lungs, causing the long dark strands framing her team mate's face to flutter. Though their foreheads were no longer pressed together, Neji's nose was barely an inch from hers. She swallowed.
Perhaps it was audible, too, because Neji suddenly raised his eyes to hers, and then she was temporarily lost in their pale depths. It was all very familiar. Tenten had the strangest feeling that this had happened before.
"WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?!"
Neji's head was suddenly lolling about wildly on his neck as Tenten shook him again.
"What kind of stunt was that, you moron!" she hissed fiercely. "Are you insane?! Were you trying to kill yourself or something?! Don't you ever do that again, or I'll save you the trouble and murder you myself!"
She dropped him, and Neji lurched backwards, his shoulders rigid with alarm. His face contorted in shock, as if the kunoichi had suddenly transformed into a gigantic spider.
"Well?" thundered Tenten. "Explain yourself!"
When her companion did nothing but stare at her, Tenten swore at him. When she reached forward to grab his collar again, she noted with a degree of smugness how the prodigy flinched.
"Sit up," she scoffed. "I'm not going to eat you, for crying out loud."
Neji cautiously shuffled upright, eyeing her cagily. He grunted in surprise as he was roughly yanked downwards.
"You've got blood all over your face, genius," said Tenten gruffly, raising her sleeve up to his mouth. The heavy chains made her clumsy, however, and once or twice she may have elbowed him in the cheek. Not that she would admit to it, of course, and Neji was in such a state of confusion that he didn't point it out. His perplexed condition didn't last long, however, and soon he was scowling at her.
"I was just trying to-"
"No!" snapped Tenten, raising her eyes furiously to his, jabbing a finger into his face. "I don't care! Don't you dare do that again, you hear me, Hyuga?"
He nodded stiffly, and Tenten lowered her arm. She sighed, and her temper abated somewhat.
"You scared me for a bit," she admitted bashfully, depositing her hands back into her lap.
Neji's expression softened.
"That wasn't my intention," he said gently. "I'm sorry for frightening you."
Tenten shrugged awkwardly, averting her eyes.
She started as Neji's knees bumped against hers. She looked up.
He was staring quite intently at a spot on the floor between them, his lips slightly parted as if he were about to say something.
"Tenten," he began carefully.
But there did not appear to be an end to that sentence. Typical, thought Tenten. The word even sounded flat with annoyance in her head. This was quickly smothered by the bubbling-over of her curiosity.
"Neji," she echoed. She tilted her head, trying to get a better look at him. He was very still all of a sudden. He took a deep breath.
"…I saw something."
AN: WHAT THE FRICK YOU GUYS. WHERE DID I GO. SORRY ABOUT THAT