“For strength to bear is found in duty alone, and he is blest indeed who learns to make the joy of others cure his own heartache.” -Drake
She was gliding through forest with unparallel speed. It was so hard keeping up with her, that trying to catch her seemed close to impossible. But with enough effort, as experience had taught him time and again, possibility could be found within impossibility.
So he followed. He followed while his agile prey ran, jumped and swung off the branches as though she’d been born to the greenery around them. Her movements were like water: graceful, smooth and uncontested. It was a hunt. A race that was thrilling but also tiring and scary.
Grunting, he forced his lungs to draw in deep breaths without lowering his speed. Soon enough, he began to close the distance that had. Despite the darkness blanketing them, he could still make out her supple silhouette. As if nature had resolved to bow to her, she was framed by a halo of glowing moonlight.
Oh, how alluring this creature that kept trying to elude him! How tempting she was, even when everything was pointing to her inaccessibility --or rather ‘because’ of it. Wasn’t it said that only sacred things were worth touching? And he wanted –no, he needed her!
So he persisted in his hunt despite his tiredness. As he studied her, it drew on him that she wasn’t nearly as exhausted as him, which was odd, considering she’d been exerting her body for just as hard and just long as he had. Yet she appeared quite collected as she kept on bouncing away from him like a slippery pixie. She taunted and excited him at the same time.
He grunted, feeling the muscles of his legs protesting. There was fire racing through his veins as his limbs began to tremble. A chill dropped down his spine, icy fingers snaking around his drumming heart, caressing its core and injecting an unwelcomed feeling-- Trepidation…! If he didn’t capture her now, he would lose her!
Gathering all his remaining energy, he pushed his sprint past the limits of his body. He reached for her, palm spread in an effort to stop what seemed inevitable… Kami! She was just in front of him, brown hair gathered in messy buns by the side of her head, teasing him as the tendrils that had escaped their hold brushed against the tips of his oversensitive fingers.
Another grunt escaped his lips, echoing around him as though he was standing inside a closed room. Teeth grinding together, jaw locked in place, he reached for her arm… Almost there!
As if time had slowed to give him a chance to really see her, he noticed how even at night her pearly skin glimmered like silk, muscles rippling under that layer of shiny moonlight. Then time resumed its quickened pace and his hand touched, then closed and zealously latched his fingers unto… Nothing!
The image –her image, crumbled and shattered right before his widened gaze. A gust of wind slapped across the face. Mother Nature uncaringly blew the pieces –that dusty, ashy substance that was her—away, to vanish within the darkness ahead, around, below, above, outside, inside…
His eyes welled with tears, aching as he valiantly tried to keep them at bay. His mind was screaming, whispering, sobbing –plainly denying what had just happened. Even so, he understood with painful lucidity what it meant, even if part of him was obstinate in his defiance.
Tenten –his Koishii, was no more. She’d left him. And the abandoned Hyuga felt completely lost…
Hyuga Neji woke up startled. His body bolted upright, digits clutching fiercely at the blankets covering him. Confused, he noticed a number of things that were so odd, they rendered him speechless. His breath was shallow, his heart was drumming, his cheeks were moist and his milky eyes were aching perhaps not painfully, but certainly uncomfortably. Anxiousness, a rather alien sentiment for him, was swirling within him, making his stomach clench uneasily. Disorientation was next to settle in, making panic rise for a second before being quenched by rationality. He was alone, no threat looming nearby.
He remained perfectly still and squinted at nothing in particular, trying to recognize his surroundings. When his eyes focused and his mind cleared from the haze of his dream –no, his nightmare, he sighed. Lying back down, Neji closed his eyes and tried to gather his scattered wits. He took some calming breaths while he was at it. Slowly, his body began to relax, until all tension was mercifully stripped from his sore muscles.
Kami, the last time he’d experience such an intense nightmare had been when his father had left him to accept a sentence he did not deserved. The same sentence which had, demanding his blood, garnered him a painful death at the hands of an enraged Clan.
It was merely a dream, he told himself, tiredly brushing at his face with slightly trembling hands. When he recovered most, if not all, of his composure, images of his midnight visitor waltzed into the forefront of his mind. Discarding everything else that was bothering him, he concentrated solely on that soothing memory.
A dreamy smile quirked his lips, making the hard lines that had marked his desperation, disappear under a serene expression. Rolling onto his side, he touched the space where she had gone to sleep a handful of hours ago. He stroked it with reverence, fingers barely brushing upon the surface –not wanting to destroy the slight indentation that her body had left like a print on sand. Mild disappointment made him press his hand more solidly onto that fragile surface. It was no longer warm, which suggested that she’d left quite a while ago.
It drew on him just then how very unwelcomed this feeling of sleeping to the sight of her face but waking up alone actually was. This was, after all, the very first time this happened to him. Normally, it was him who woke up and left before his Koishii. Did she felt like this every time he did it? Did she felt this… this damn thing he could not quite describe, but which was definitely accompanied by a tingle of annoyance and disappointment? Maybe it was… abandonment?
Neji heaved a tired and oddly nostalgic sigh. Closing his eyes, he allowed the scent of her –which was still thankfully present—to envelop him in a loving embrace. After a while, his body began aching in protest to be up and about. Knowing that the sooner he got up, the sooner he would be able to see his little minx, he climbed out of bed and made a beeline for his bathroom.
Hesitating on whether to have a relaxing bath or a quick shower, he soon resolved on the latter since he wanted to leave the compound as soon as possible. Getting under the warm pelting, Neji leaned onto the wall and allowed the steamy water to wash away the reminiscence of his worry.
Methodically, he began to wash his body and hair without paying much attention, his mind wandering to other issues. Though they hadn’t said anything about their plans for the day, it was obvious that he would meet Tenten in their training ground –as was the established routine from their Genin days, and thus, unalterable unless previously specified. Gai and Lee, after finishing their warm-up laps around Konoha --much to the despair of its early raising citizens-- would most probably join them for their training session. Though they were no longer a team and Gai was no longer, officially, their sensei, they had been unable to break apart.
Yes, though he would first die than admit this to anyone but Tenten, even he, Hyuga Neji, was unwilling to break all bonds with the two obnoxious beasts. That didn’t mean that he wasn’t tempted –most of the times, as a matter of fact- to close all the chakra points of the hyperactive, bowl-cut males. Fortunately for the oblivious pair, Tenten was always there to dissuade him from taking that course of action.
Indeed. Only she held both, the power and the skill, to keep him serene even after his patience had been worn thin. Be that a deed accomplished by his teammates or by another unfortunate soul –Naruto, Sasuke, Ino and Sakura some of those belonging to this annoying group—Tenten would always be able to calm him down with a beaming smile, a bat of an eye or just a brush of the shoulder. Yes, his koishii was just that special.
Stepping out of the shower, he toweled himself dry, smiling as his mind was again invaded by images of his lover. Naturally, with the discipline he’d built over the long years, he managed to do the impossible and stop his mind from prancing around images of a beautifully naked Tenten. It wasn’t so much that he was embarrassed by those thoughts. No. The thing was, if he were to allow his primal instinct to do as it pleased, he would be forced to take another shower –this one with the disadvantage of being cold.
Wrapping the towel precariously around his hips, he proceeded in stepping out of his bathroom and back into his room. He had intended to make his way to his closet, when something unusual caught his eye and sidetracked him.
Approaching his desk, he gazed at the small, white envelope that was sitting above his folded clothes. As soon as his eyes fixed upon it, his spine straightened and every muscle in his lithe body tensed. That unwelcomed sentiment that had visited him in his sleep came back to haunt him. It was as if something inside of him already knew what this meant.
Trepidation…How queer and yet how fitting… The fear of finding out that something had changed for the worst began to palpitate to the beating of his heart. Solutions were hurriedly offered in whispers; the strongest ones demanded that he burn the letter, so that he would forever remain ignorant of its possibly unwanted contents.
Apprehension and a feeling of betrayal fought for dominion of his heart, prompting a thin sheen of cold sweat to break out on his forehead. The feeling began to intensify until it was almost oppressive. His knees threatened to buckle, but he managed to step back towards his bed, before they gave up altogether. Falling heavily onto the mattress, his eyes stayed fixed on the item that had unmercifully stolen his short-lived happiness. For a moment, he tried to make sense of his baseless panic.
I’m being irrational, he argued angrily, trying to steel himself against the message that was held inside the flimsy envelope. Surely she must have written a short letter to apologize for leaving him, right? After all, she always seemed to know much more about him than himself! So perhaps she’d guessed that he would feel dejected when waking up alone? Of course! That had to be it!
Breathing in and out profoundly, he got into a state of semi-meditation. His heart decelerated until it was beating rhythmically and his harden sinews unstrained little by little. When he was certain that his strength had returned and his mind was at ease, he stood and casually approached the object of his discomfort. He allowed no hesitation to stop his movements this time. Instead, he quickly took the envelope and opened it to reveal the single page inside. He took it out, unfolded it with slightly trembling fingers and read…
~Three days later~
Tenten stopped when she noticed the sun retreating for the day. She was tired. From the moment she had parted ways with a rather solemn-looking Sai a day and a half ago, she’d been unable to get a good night’s rest. At most, she was able to pull three straight hours of sleep before her own survival instincts prompted her to wake. Too bad she couldn’t turn those off. After all, her mission was to get captured, no sense fighting the inevitable.
From the moment she left Konoha and Neji, she had ceased to be Tenten, the weapon specialist. Even her usual attire and hair style had to be shed in order to keep her pretence. Now, she wore her hair braided at the back, with the tip of it reaching down her lower back. Her attire was all dark in color, as oppose to wearing the white and wine uniform she’d don partly because white was Neji’s color of choice. How pathetic of her, huh?
Anyways, getting back on the subject, Tenten was actually wearing something which she was sure Ino would love. Perhaps if it all went well and the attire was not shredded by those who were going to torture her, she would give it to the blonde.
Fat chance of that happening, she thought as a bitter laugh came, unbidden, past her lips. To her credit, the clothes weren’t slutty. She was wearing a very tight body suit below a dark grey colored yukata. The black suite covered her from wrists to ankles and all the way up to her neck. It was made of thick wool in order to provide much needed warmth.
Now, according to her cover story, she was supposed to be a loner, ergo why Sai wasn’t around. She was said to be a kunoishi who was not so much a deserter from a hidden village as a freelancer. To make this more believable, Tsunade had ordered some of her ANBU spies to scatter rumors about her supposed strength, creating a legend of this new persona even before she had stepped out of her village. Since her Hokage was not the only one that wanted this mission to be successful, other hidden villages had sent their own ninjas to spread rumors about her amazing skills.
So now, here stood not Tenten but Motou Gin –the “silver origin” according to the meaning of her name. Funny, how even this created persona had been given a last name when her real self lacked one.
She sighed and shrugged unceremoniously the bag of supplies she’d been carrying. Automatically, she proceeded in taking out a blanket and some dry, hard and salty meat she’d come to despise. How could she not when it had constituted her never-changing meal for the last three days!
Popping a piece into her mouth and chewing absently, Tenten wrapped the blanket around her and cuddled into it in an attempt to ward off the dropping temperature. Since she didn’t want to attract the eye of unwelcomed guests, she decided against making a fire. Of course, the laziness that prompted said decision could also be credited to the fact that she could barely keep her lids from drooping. That was just further proof of how very exhausted she was.
Just as she began to settle more comfortably against the protruding roots of a huge tree, however, the breaking sound of a branch brushed away all ideas of sleep. Her body tensed like a bow and, in a blink, she was crouching low with a sharp kunai on hand.
Palpable silence and complete stillness ensured, as the full moonlight provided at least enough light for her to make out if there was an intruder nearby. Perhaps fate or Kami had decided to allow a small advantage by igniting purple fire inside the full moon?
With measured movements she reached for her bag and unstrapped the sword it held, careful to keep her kunai at the ready. Unfortunately for her, the scrolls she’d brought were small and the most basic ones. Given that Tenten had created quite a reputation, the Hokage had been unwilling to risk the Akatsuki recognizing her. Thus, here she was, with only a handful of senbon, kunais and a kodachi at her disposal. With nimble fingers she strapped the short sword to her back and patted the bag that was tied around her thigh, where her senbons were kept.
The crunching sound of leaves and branches breaking under a clumsy stalker made her twirl around to face a some bushes. More crunching noises followed from every direction. Tenten assumed that whoever had been stalking her had decided to stop hiding. Her throat constricted and dried as the implication. This was it! This was her final night of freedom!
Against her wishes, her feet began to move –her mind making the decision to flee as her brain sent the blood used for digestion flowing to her feet, preparing the limbs for a sprint for survival. She was gliding, barely touching upon the branches as she moved through the forest with amazing speed. But she was being pursued. She could feel them watching her, their eyes boring into her back, scanning her body with avid interest.
It was a hunt. Only this time, she was the prey. When normally she would have felt exhilaration mixed with some nervousness, now she just felt dread. Perhaps it was because she already knew the outcome? Because –much as she wanted to—she could not change what must be done.
This prey had to be caught but that didn’t mean she would make it easy for them. After all, she had an image to uphold. Never mind that she was not really Gin, she still had to play the role she’d been given. And she would do it with the perfection with which she’d always managed to wield steel. So she ran, trying to escape while preparing her body to attack if they were to catch up.
A whistling sound perforated the air around her. She turned on her heels –barely maintaining her balance—and brought her kunai up in time to redirect the projectile. Her eyes widened when she realized that, if not for her quick reflexes, the silver kunai would’ve pierced her neck.
They’re trying to kill me! A part of her yelled, shifting to cope her strategy to this new and unexpected eventuality. She’d been working under the idea that they would try to harm her as little as possible. After all she was a tool for them that they needed to maintain whole. For some reason that had changed and she had to do something about it! Her mission, ultimately, revolved around survival and that was exactly what she was planning on doing. She had to live. If only so she could see her Neji again…
As if spat by the higher branches of the tree she was perched upon, a figure jumped her. Before she even saw him, she had unstrapped the kodachi from her back. She brought the blade up in time to stop the kuma that was thirsting for her blood. Even in these lightless surroundings, she managed to make out the pattern of his dark cloak. It was black in color with figures of red clouds. She had been correct in her assumptions, then. The group attacking her was the Akatsuki. But if this was indeed true, then why were they intent on killing her instead of capturing her?
The man smiled down at her cruelly and spun in the air –as if gravity was not an issue- before coming at her again, his kuma at a ready. Tenten met his every attack with ease, dancing with this unwelcomed partner to the music of crickets and steel clashing against steel. When he came at her for the fifth time, she narrowed her eyes, finally finding her window of opportunity. He closed the distance, his kuma met her sword and, before he could move away, she brought the kunai she was still holding on her left hand in a sideways arch and down onto his neck. The blade plunged right through skin, veins and muscle as though the man was made of paper. Blood sprayed like a fountain as her kunai slashed his throbbing artery, making him wobble on his feet.
Tenten snarled at him in farewell before, feeling movement resuming around her, she continued her sprint. Strangely, this time, as kunais whistled by her, she noticed her pursuers’ aim had been drastically altered. Now, they were aiming for her limbs, trying to incapacitate her instead of killing her.
So they were testing me? Tenten tried not to panic when the adrenaline that had been coursing through her body began draining. Exhaustion was kicking in, stronger than the last she’d felt it. Her legs ached. There was fire dancing in every muscle as her lungs began to labor thrice as hard for breath. Sweat –thick and vexing—rolled down her face, threatening to blur her sight when they dropped into her blood-shot eyes. The dreaded time had come…
A pinch on her right arm made her wince, and she turned to inspect it only to find a senbon embedded there. The feeling of ants running around her arm, leaving a trail of tingling behind, signaled that the small needle must have been coated with a numbing substance. Another pinch, this time on her right thigh. Idly, she took the needle out but the damage was done and her leg began to numb. She knew her speed had lowered considerably when more senbons began to pierce her body. Her sight blurred somewhat and, unable to stop it, she pitched forward and off the branch she’d landed on.
She crashed on the hard ground with a thud and rolled around to face the sky, the gleaming moon smiled down upon her through the foliage of trees. Figures approached until she was surrounded by four warriors draped in darkness.
One of them came forward, looming just above her, irrupting into her line of vision. He stood there, tall and proud, with the moon making a halo around his head. How ironic that a monster would be, perhaps coincidentally, framed with a halo of a saint.
For a brief second, the image of Neji flashed before her eyes, his milky eyes gazing at her longingly…caringly…lovingly. Her lover always seemed to be the one most preferred by the moon. Though she was in grave danger, she couldn’t stop herself from wondering if her sprite was angry at her. Would he have understood if she had told him about her mission?
No, he wouldn’t. Heck, she herself had her doubts! But there was no use on thinking about that now. So, instead, she bid the image of the last she’d seen him –when she had said her silent goodbye—to be showcased inside her head, allowing it to fill her senses and to quench the horrible sense of dread. And with that beautiful image of the one she would give the world to, she smiled serenely before she slipped into unconsciousness.Tenten –no, Motou Gin, a freelancer of great skill, had at last been captured. The hunt was over and this prey was free no more...