The Training II
“The worst way to miss someone, is to be sitting beside her, knowing, that she could never be yours.” -Gabriel García Márquez
Tenten must have blinked ten times in a span of two seconds after Sai had blurted his unbidden demand. Surely she hadn’t heard him correctly, for there was no way in hell this… this idiot had asked her to take off her shirt! Had the request come from the lips of a pervert such as Jiraiya or Naruto –Kami, even Kakashi!—she would have believed it, and would have been quick to act accordingly. But this was Sai!
The same guy who is ignorant enough to believe his teammates’ ways –two of them being renowned perverts of Konoha!—could be the accepted and ‘expected’ manner in which a man should act! The most reasonable part of her argued.
But… could Sai really be that stupid? A huge part of her was reluctant to believe poor Sakura had to deal with two idiots and a rather gloomy guy in every mission. That was not even counting her lazy, perverted teacher! No wonder she developed a split, royally evil personality!
I must have heard him wrong, Tenten insisted, deciding the best course of action would be to simply find out by the easiest way possible. “Could you repeat that, Sai?” She kept her voice soft, back as stiff as a table, and her tone so curt, it would’ve probably made Neji proud.
Sai’s freakish smile did not waver in the slightest as he repeated cheerily, “I asked if you could remove your shirt.”
Tenten’s left eye twitched sporadically and a bright blush rushed to cover her entire face at his words. When she started seeing red, Tenten knew she needed to control her anger before she lost her mind to the raw, primal impulse that demanded the object of her annoyance be destroyed. It was tempting, but it was also wrong…
Thus, she partook in her ritual of breathing profoundly and thinking about things that would calm her down. Like, for example, Neji’s peaceful sleeping form. Little by little, the hot anger that had threatened to consume her began dwindling. After a moment, she was no longer crimson on the face and the altered veins that had popped out of her brow had disappeared, leaving perfectly smooth skin behind.
Granted, overall she may have seen outwardly collected, but the anger was still there, palpitating to the rhythm of her heart, waiting with barely restrained anticipation to be used for punishment. The anger coursing through her body, however, was no longer hot and distracting as it had been mere seconds ago. Instead, Tenten –using lessons from both Neji and Ibiki—had transformed it into a cool rage that was strong enough to lend power to her punches; but which was void of the volatile factor that would impede her from thinking logically.
Satisfied with her control, she decided to breach the subject of her discomfort with as much civility as she could muster. So slowly, so as to make the action as menacing as possible, she cracked her knuckles and each and every one of her fingers. Then, she raised gaze and locked it with his. Icy brown met stony dark in complete and utter stillness.
“You better have a damn good explanation for asking what you did,” she hissed, sharp icicles coming out of the depths of her eyes. If looks could kill, Sai would definitely be, perhaps not dead, but ardently clutching certain parts of his anatomy.
Sai tilted his head at the change in her attitude. After a moment, his brows raised slightly, signaling that he probably understood why she was pissed. Indeed, he may not have been the brightest crayon of the box, but even he couldn’t be that stupid.
“Oh, you thought I wanted to see your other buns!” he declared with a grin so wide, his eyes closed completely.
Then again, Tenten had been known to be wrong before. Today, evidently, was no exception. Twirling the kunai she had yet to put away expertly between her nimble fingers, she narrowed her eyes.
“You have five seconds to explain yourself,” she warned in a tone she had always reserved for her enemies, “after that –and if I do not approve of your reasoning—I’m going to introduce you to your own blood, pal.”
The socially awkward ninja must have felt waves of her chakra cracking in the air, because he immediately raised his hands in a placating manner. “Relax, ANBU operative, I hold no desire to see your naked buns. I simply need access to your back,” he explained serenely.
For his sake, she chose to ignore the first part of his speech and concentrated exclusively on the second. “What for?” Tenten stopped playing with her kunai when she realized that Sai was too entranced by her skill to continue.
Sai heaved a low sigh in either disappointment or relief, she was not very sure. Before she could prompt him further, his expression switched to his usual stoic demeanor and he continued, “My Jutsu is pretty much a natural system of communication. If done correctly, it should allow us to send and receive messages via chakra channels. However, for it to work properly, I need to mark you with my special paint,” he raised an inkwell for emphasis. “This way, I’ll be able to connect my chakra to yours whenever we are to correspond.”
“And this… mark has to be on my back?”
He nodded, “Right above your vertebrate column, below your spatulas --precisely atop the sixth, seventh and eight thoracic vertebrae.”
“Why there?” she asked, her anger vanishing completely to be replaced by building curiosity sprinkled with a taste of excitement.
“Because that’s not only where the yang point of the spirit way is located, but it is also one of the major chakra points: the one of the heart,” Sai said, twisting open the black inkwell he’d shown her.
Tenten chewed on her lower lip. Well, his reasoning was sound enough to merit giving him a chance. Not to mention that part of her mission required her to help this guy with his jutsu which, reflecting upon it, could indeed come in handy. After all, how else would she be able to communicate with him after getting caught?
“Fine, just give me a second,” she said, standing up and vanishing behind the bathroom door. Once inside, she pulled her sweater off. She was wearing a white and thin undershirt below that, but this one she didn’t take off. Instead she folded it over her breasts, revealing her entire mid drift and, thus, bearing naked the spot where he’d said he needed to mark her.
She scrunched her nose at that last thought. Marking sounded like such a perverted word. It ruthlessly reminded her of Neji’s curse, the mark that served as a constant reminder to both of them that his life was owned by another. Tenten was not keen in belonging to anyone other than her Hyuga lover. So was this mark truly necessary? And, if so, then how did it work exactly?
Having Sai being able to intrude upon her apartment was one thing, but granting him the freedom to dive into her most private thoughts –including her sentiments, secret desires and even fears-- was not appealing at all. Resolving to ask for a more detailed explanation, she spun on her heels intent on returning to his kneeling form. As soon as she’d stepped out and into view --feeling quite self-conscious at how much skin she was displaying-- she felt his dark gaze zero on her. He was seizing her up in such a way, that she was hit by a tsunami-like wave of heat.
“I must admit my style of clothes would undoubtedly become you,” he complimented with a smile that was peculiarly different than his average expression. It seemed real, for one, but there was also something else there, something she had only seen in Neji before…
No way, is that—does he—what the—lust? Even when unvoiced, her words seem to tumble over each other without making much sense. Tenten folded her arms across her mid-drift, concealing as much skin as possible. The fact that he was unashamedly flashing her his abs was not helping in breaking the sudden tension floating in the atmosphere.
Interestingly enough, however, if she were to objectively compare his body to her secret lover’s, the latter would definitely win. Not because she liked him more, but because below all those layers of baggy clothes Neji was so fond of, laid a sculptured body of marble worthy of being praised by Kami-sama himself. The brutally detailed and vivid image of Neji’s naked body made her present blush intensify and a dreamy --surely also goofy-- smile steal over her features.
“We should commence,” Sai’s baritone promptly destroyed, much to her chagrin, her very happy and very graphic fantasy.
She sighed with unbidden melancholy. Tenten realized just then that she missed Neji’s constant presence. A lot. When she had been training under Ibiki, he had kept her so engrossed in his lessons –plus the pain helped a great deal in distracting her mind from banal musings—that she had barely had the time, energy or willingness to think about him. Now, unfortunately, the passionate sprite has settled again in the forefront of her mind, persistently making her aware of the fact that he was not there. It was upon arriving at this epiphany that she was forced to acknowledge that she could never be happy without him. Perhaps she too was needy in her own way…
Plopping down on the ground, Tenten decided best to address her main concern before it was too late. Thus, before Sai could move closer to her, she asked, “How exactly will this tattoo of yours work?”
“It will allow me to connect with your chakra, therefore receiving messages that way.”
“But… how? I mean, how will I be able to send you messages, for instance?” she prompted.
“We all have the ability to control our chakra flow, correct?” he told her, glancing serenely at her sharp profile. She nodded, twisting her face a bit more to be able to look at him through the corner of her eye. “With enough training –which, naturally, you’ll have to accomplish in a week—you’ll learn to control your chakra inwardly to such an extent, that you’ll be able to –simply phrased- morph your energy into figures or words.”
“I see… So with this tattoo you’re going to be able to see my chakra?” Tenten tried to picture that.
“In an indirect way, yes. If my assumption is accurate, when I connect my chakra to yours, my energy should mimic yours, therefore allowing me to see or feel –however you wish to put it- what you’ve written.”
“Ah, right… this hasn’t been tested, huh?” she mumbled.
In the pause that followed Tenten decided to ask two final questions before accepting the fact that she was about to become a guinea pig for the most unemotional shinobi of the Leaf. Though the fact that if something wrong were to happen –in which case, the man would probably just brush it aside with an oops, before moving on to find some other subject-- should worry her, she realized… it strangely didn’t.
“Are you going to be able to connect with me whenever you want, even without my consent?” she asked and quickly added, “And would this tattoo be permanent?”
Sai thought about it for a moment. “For the first question, I believe I won’t be able to access your chakra without some sort of acceptance or permission from your part. However, I must warn you, I cannot be a hundred percent sure, since I am basing everything on my hypothesis. The second question I can answer with confidence. The tattoo, as you’ve chosen to refer to it, can be removed but I’m the only one who can do so.”
Tenten nodded, digesting everything and simply hoping that this might not be as bad as she’d originally predicted. “Alright then,” she relented, trying to quell her sudden nervousness. The thing was, Sai was assuming a lot of things and that wasn’t helping in reassuring her that there was nothing to fear.
“Excellent, but I think it would be easier if you lie down,” he pointed out, getting his tools ready.
With a small shrug of fake casualness --with which she hoped would shield how dubious she truly was-- she did as told, crossing her arms and resting her head on them. Shortly thereafter, she felt Sai settling beside her. He folded his legs, visually exhibiting his confidence; possibly for her sake if nothing else. Tenten watched him through the corner of her eyes with silent expectation. He reached for a brush and slowly dipped it in the black bottle of ink.
“Any preferences?” he asked, switching his attention from her back to her slightly flustered face.
“I-I can choose?” Surprise and delight dripped off her tone in equal amounts. Never mind that this could hurt or mess the cleanness of her back, she could chose!
He nodded almost carelessly, “I don’t see why not.”
Tenten chewed on the inside of her cheek as she tried to come up with a symbol that could represent her. After all, if she was going to have something in her back, it might as well be something she liked.
And something Neji might like too, a sly voice inside her head offered.
Tenten’s eyes widened. Indeed, she would need to have a very good explanation why she’d decided to get a tattoo, especially because Neji would be seeing it when he returned to Konoha and, ultimately, to her bed. Before she broke into a cold sweat, a cunning idea brushed her worry aside.
I’m such a genius! She boasted silently. “Can you draw a kunai but replace the hilt with the upper part of a bird with open wings?”
To her, this would represent the ideal symbol for them. Him flying --finally free to do as he pleased-- but taking her along for the ride; not forgetting about her devotion to him as they soared through the vast blue sky. It was perfect. It was faultless, really. Him graceful, elegant, beautiful… and she… well sharp, ungraceful, but strong enough to win her place by his side. It was so absolutely perfect, that even the icy Neji would be moved by it.
Sai nodded. “It shouldn’t be a problem. Now, stay still so that I don’t mess it up.”
“I’ll stay so still that you’ll think you’re painting on paper,” she beamed.
“Hardly,” she heard him state.
“Hey!” she scowled, cursing the fact that she couldn’t give him a proper glare without breaking her neck in the process.
He tilted his head to one side, as though unsure why she had taken offence. “Your skin doesn’t feel rough like paper. Your skin is smooth and soft,” he amended, sliding a finger down her spine for emphasize. It was a butterfly touch, but it still made her shiver and –against her wish- blush.
Note to self, it is better to ignore Sai’s comments if I want to avoid more awkward situations from here onwards…
“I’ll get to work now, ANBU operative,” he said, his voice and attitude thankfully back to being business-like. Perhaps he sensed her discomfort? After all, her back did stiffen considerably…So, in tensed silence that slowly switched to companionable, Sai began the first step of his jutsu, the first work of art that would require the participation of another person: Linking Chakra no Jutsu.
Hyuga Neji sat crossed-legged just outside of the meeting room. He couldn’t believe he’d actually told them how he felt for Tenten! Naturally, he was faced with different reactions, but overall it had gone better than expected. While some had merely taken the news as an interesting -exciting even- change. Others, he could tell, had not been pleased upon learning that the object of his affection was a Clan-less girl who was, on top of that, a kunoichi.
It was not until they pointed out that such a weakling would taint the Clan, that the string that was holding his control in check had snapped. Before he knew it, he was standing up and glaring at them with such crispness, that the fires of hell would have been frozen on the spot. The discussion that had been raging became a hushed conversation then…silence. The only Elder that had yet to state his mind was Hiashi himself, but, by that time, he too was waiting to see what Neji would do.
Neji had stared them down, hard. His full lips became a thin, scornful line that spoke volumes of his displeasure. In quick, curt sentences he informed of Tenten’s accomplishments, of her spotless record and the strength that she’d constantly shown. He made no secret of the fact that they’d been training together since their Genin days and that, despite her lack of a blood-line limit, she’d been successful in keeping up with him; a deed some of the Hyugas could never attempt, let alone achieve! He had gone as far as to hint that, should they chose to discard Tenten, he would leave the Clan. Even if by pulling such a stunt, he was to be murdered.
Neji wasn’t sure if it was his unspoken threat, or the fact that he was defending his woman with such reckless passion, what had caught Hiashi’s attention. Perhaps it was both things or perhaps something totally different and entirely his own. However, truth remains that he had accepted to discuss this matter in private with the rest.
Therefore, here he was, forced to wait outside while they deliberated whether he should be given the first scrap of control and freedom that he was, after all this years, finally asking for. Perhaps they feared that if they were to give in this time, then he would keep asking for more things in the future? But how could he possibly make them understand that there was nothing in this world more important to him –not even the desire to get rid of the curse that caged him—than the girl who’d given him her heart and taken his with a single, disarming smile?
The old Hyugas had taken wives out of catalogues, just like they had expected him to do. The concept of love was maybe alien to them. But that did not mean that the new generations should be obligated to assume such impractical traditions! No. He would change that. Not only for his sake, but also for Hinata’s and yes, even Hanabi’s sake. He would pave the way for them; unyielding to the thorns that he would certainly come in contact with as he cleared the way from the sharp, old obstacles that, once upon a time, had been the pillars of their Clan. Time asked for evolution, and Neji would work to gain just that. Nothing could possibly stay the same, it was an unalterable rule of life that would not bend even for the strongest Clan.
Naturally, Neji had been careful when leaving the Elders to their private meeting. He’d been weary of allowing them to see even a tiny glint of the sentimental turmoil that had laid siege to his heart. He felt so many things but presented none. His eyes were blank, holding in his feelings with fierce determination. And as he left, the Elders were unable to see the triumph, excitement, anxiousness and fear that battled for dominance inside him. But above all those, he could not allow them to see that his predominant emotion was hope.
Hope that they would allow him this small comfort. Hope that they would make his life bearable –happy even—if they were to accept his request. A request that was tiny to them, but which meant the world to him. If they were to do it, he would even swear to forget all about his revenge and do as they asked without challenging them at every turn. He would do it all for her. For the minx that had bewitched him so completely, that he didn’t mind submitting himself to her every whim and wish. Because beyond a shadow of a doubt, she was worth it. And he needed her to be his as much as he wanted to be hers.
The door behind him opened, making him toss aside his musings and switch his attention to the man who stepped out.
“Walk with me, Neji,” Hiashi ordered as he passed him by.
Neji was quick to gain his feet and, in his signature silence, he followed his uncle, wondering what the purpose was in visiting the inn’s garden. Kami, it was too cold to even enjoy! Surely, he could have easily addressed the issue as soon as he’d exited the meeting, right?
Standing before a small pond whose surface was mostly frozen, Hiashi finally faced him. His eyes, to Neji’s surprise, were not as stern as they were usually. Instead, there was a glint of something besides that constant intrigue that he could not yet put his finger on.
“For years you’ve believed in an unalterable fate,” his Uncle began, his eyes seizing him up without unlocking from his gaze. “And yet, today, you chose to defy it for no less than a woman. A woman that, although the rest of the Elders fail to see it, is very special.”
Neji’s eyes widened a fraction in astonishment. The fact that Hiashi had not included himself with the Elders’ did not go unnoticed. After a short pause, Neji breached the subject with a simple query, “And you, Hiashi-sama?”
He smiled ghostly and it was the first time Neji had seen his lips quirking in something that was not a scowl or a smirk. The dread that had been holding his heart captive seemed to melt under this unusual --but not unwelcomed-- change.
“She gave hope to a pessimist, life to a breathing dead… I would be unworthy of being the Clan’s head if I were blind to how special the person that could accomplish such a deed is,” he explained, his eyes twinkling with that indescribable glint that seemed so odd in someone so naturally stern. “Perhaps the Clan is in need of a fresh, strong and proud pine as oppose to another beautiful but fragile sakura tree?”
Neji’s breath caught in his lungs. Was he implying that— “You’re giving her a chance?” he asked, hoping and dreading the answer in equal amounts.
Hiashi’s eyes trailed to the frozen pond, taking in the coy fish that still managed to swim underneath the cold water –undaunted and undeterred by the weather. “She will be taken into careful consideration. As soon as we return to Konoha, we’ll seek her records, study her accomplishment and maybe even ask the Leaf’s Shinobi what their take is on her, especially her closest friends. Unless… you oppose this and decide to let her be?”
Neji smirked, but maintained his voice polite, “No. You can research to your hearts’ content, as long as none of the other Hyugas engage her directly. I have yet to explain to her what is happening.”
Of course, Neji knew they would probably interview Gai and Lee. Though in any other occasion that would be enough to make him sweat, this time he wanted to treat them to a bottle of sake –except Lee, he would just get water. Why? Well because if there was one thing the Hyugas appreciated beyond power, it was beauty. Fortunately for him, Gai and Lee tended to use overly-romantic metaphors to describe Tenten and, for the first time, that would actually be useful. ‘A youthful flower blossoming in the field of battle’ would translate in Hyuga language as ‘a beautiful and strong kunoichi’. Which was, ultimately, the best description for his little minx.
Hiashi smirked. “That is acceptable. Then, we’ll let you know of our decision in around eight to ten days.”
Hyuga Neji bowed, this time showing real respect and great appreciation, “Thank you, Hiashi-sama.”
His uncle brushed his thankfulness aside with a curt nod, before taking his leave. Neji watched him go, allowing a true smile to quirk his lips.
“Almost there, koishii…” he murmured, touching the bandages belonging to his beloved.
If everything did go according to plan, then perhaps he would be able to propose even sooner than he’d thought. Hopefully, two weeks from now, he would be able to finally demonstrate to all that she was his and he was hers… Neji could hardly wait.
~Six days later~
Tenten could hardly believe it, but it was true! Her lips parted in a toothy grin as images flashed below her closed lids, almost as though they were painted inside her head by an outside force. Which was not that short from the truth!
Granted, it had taken her longer than Sai to control the jutsu, but she’d finally done it! Even if he was the one that needed to establish the link, the knowledge was hardly lowering her sprits or making her feel unfit for the task. After all, this was his jutsu and, consequently, he’d been working with it for far longer than she had.
“Alright, what’s the message?” she heard him speak somewhere to her right.
Tenten opened her eyes and turned to him before responding with a cocked eyebrow, “Naruto is dickless, huh? I don’t even want to know how you got that information.”
Sai’s lips quirked into that creepy smile of his, “At last you got the hang of it. I was starting to think you were as dim as the Uchiha traitor.”
Tenten sighed at his choice of words. No matter how many times she chided him for referring to his team in such terms, the oblivious male simply failed to understand what the problem was. Especially, because he considered his words true and, as he had often pointed out, he’d read in plenty of books that honesty was a quality worth having. At least the nickname he’d given her was much better and quite imaginative.
“Hey, Kunai-ishi,” he said, waving his hand in front of her face repetitively. “Has your span of attention been strained again?”
She sighed, trying not to take offence by his bluntness. “What was that… Sasuke-replacement?” she asked innocently, sniggering when his eyes narrowed. That was as real an expression of scorn he was able to manage.
Well, serves him right AND it is true, she defended. And even if the comment would have made her feel guilty in the past, her training with Neji, Ibiki and Sai had just changed that. She still had a conscience, only she was rarely reminded of it nowadays. Sai shrugged after a second, evidently uncaring about winning their staring competition, again!
“Let’s go,” he stood up and, without even waiting for her answer, he jumped out of the window and onto the rooftop of her neighbor.
Tenten rolled her eyes before crossing her room, closing the window and –ignoring Sai’s look of amusement- proceeding downstairs. Glancing around to check everything was in order, she exited through the door and locked it securely.
As soon as she was on the street, she felt her heartbeat accelerating, almost jumping out of her ribcage. She’d agreed to join Lee and team seven for ramen today. Truth was, she would have preferred to just wait in her apartment for Neji to return. However, knowing that her lover could be back until much later --middle of the night, most probably-- she had relented. After all, interacting with her friends outside of training should help time move faster. Hell, it could even shed some of the nervousness produced by thoughts of the mission ahead! Maybe it can even make her completely disregard it!
Hey, I can dream, she told that part of her that had snorted at the thought of her fears vanquishing merely because of a social outing.
Jumping down, Sai settled into pace beside her.
Tenten quirked a thin eyebrow. “What are you doing? Didn’t you say our training was top secret and all that stuff?” she asked, eyeing him guardedly.
Sai pointed out, “I just met you on the street, Kunai-ishi. And, according to the knowledge I’ve gathered, it is a usual thing for acquaintances to keep each other company if they meet halfway to their shared destination.”
Tenten shrugged, “Fair enough.” Let’s just hope Neji doesn’t see us. He can be very possessive sometimes. Not that I mind, she grinned at the thought. What she wouldn’t do to have him walking beside her instead of Sai…“Tenten...,” a smooth baritone called from behind her, making her freeze on the spot. Kami! She knew that voice. No, scratched that. She loved that voice.