Author: Tanya Lilac
Word Count: 3001
Summary: Tenten had no idea what she was getting into when she decided to
rescue a Hyuuga princess locked away in a tower. Unfortunately, the 'princess'
was not a princess, and didn't need her help as much as Tenten had liked to
Chapters [on ff.net... I could have sworn I already put it up here...]: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4
Sadako entered the room a few moments later, Hitomi in her wake.
“It’s only been four hours since she first got here, and she’s almost dead?” Hitomi shook her head and pulled back her long hair with a ribbon. “Neji-san, I must ask you to leave. You may return in a few hours.”
Neji looked at Tenten and sighed. Hiro would have to be dealt with, eventually.
“Hitomi-san, Sadako-san.” He bowed and left the room, Sadako locking the door behind him.
“We need to get her out of this dress and on the floor. We’ll also need those white candles.” Hitomi had already removed the dress and threw it onto the other side of the room. Sadako had spread a sheet on the ground and was gathering candles. She knew very little magic, but they would need a lot more to banish Hiro’s poisons. Hitomi had seen many of his victims and knew it would be a long process.
The two women placed Tenten, now clothed only in a white tunic, on the ground and lit the candles. Hitomi massaged her temples before focusing her eyes on Tenten’s body, seeing through flesh and bone.
“Sadako-san,” Hitomi stared unseeingly at Tenten’s skin. “Your hand, please.” Hitomi had placed a hand over Tenten’s knee, where Hiro had first touched her, and over her ankle. “I need you to hold your hand over her forehead and make sure that no matter what, she sleeps through this. She’ll be losing blood, and it won’t be very pleasant.”
Hitomi poised her fingers over Tenten’s skin and smiled grimly. She had become a lot more accurate in drawing out Hiro’s poisonous intent lately. Tenten would not die unless she wanted to give up the fight.
Exactly three hours and twenty three minutes later, a sweaty Sadako opened the door of Tenten’s bedchamber, admitting a gruff Neji who had stopped pretending that he could not care less. She was his obligation- and his protection- he had reasoned. Any harm that befell her would be his fault.
“How are they?” Neji looked at Sadako who was opening the windows to let in the cold breeze air out the room.
“Tired. Tenten will have to sleep for the next few days.” Sadako sighed. Hitomi had finished cleaning the blood away and burning the now poisoned, blood soaked sheet.
Neji looked over to the young witch. She smiled up at him and gratefully accepted the cup of tea that he offered.
“Thank you, Neji.” She sipped at the hot brew. “Hoshi-san’s, I gather?”
“Yes,” Neji replied, “she seemed to know exactly what was going on. Word spreads faster than I remember, these days.”
“Well, this is such a big event. Perhaps, if Tenten-san had not been so vocal about Hiro’s forwardness, then we may have been able to slip away quietly. I’m not saying that I would not have done the same thing, but Tenten is in our hands now. She is not under the protection of Konoha’s laws.”
“The Hyuuga clan has long been a private family. You of all people should know that, Neji. We are above the law. Anything that happens within these walls, stays within these walls- unless we wish it.” Hitomi sighed as she looked over at the bed where Tenten lay, sleeping. “She’s strong. However, I’d keep an eye on whatever Hanako will throw her way.”
“Hanako? What does Hanako have to do with anything?” Neji asked.
“For the past few years, Hanako has slowly been swaying the younger males of the clan to her side. Of course, Hiashi-sama says nothing. Hanako is manipulative, cunning and seductive. Hiro is just one of her bedmates and lapdogs.” She looked at him directly. “But you are her prize. It is you that she desires above all else, Neji. I care not what you do with her, but should Hanako manage to eliminate Tenten completely, there is absolutely nothing preventing them from locking you up again.”
Neji remained mute as he looked over at the knight who had so brashly rescued him, and back at his cousin. He took her hand. It was warm, but weak after her exertions. “Thank you, Hitomi-san,” he said formally. He had closed her off again.
Tenten woke slowly, still coming to terms with where she was. She was lying in a feather down bed. The sheets were not rough and brown like her bed in Konoha- they were snowy white and plush… almost cloudlike in their luxuriance. She could smell lavender candles burning… and there was a complete lack of noise. The silence was deafening. Tenten opened her eyes, flinching against the harsh morning light. Everything felt heavy. Her tongue felt heavy, her legs, her arms, and her head. The last thing she had remembered was floating away… right after Hiro had ‘poisoned’ her, or so Neji had told her.
“How are you feeling today?” The voice was too loud. It belonged to Sadako, Tenten remembered after some thought.
“Bad.” Tenten’s mind struggled to form the word, the letters rolling clumsily around her heavy tongue.
“Hmm… it seems like you’re still feeling the after effects. Your pupils are still dilated and your heartbeats are still very slow. You should rest some more.”
“Sadako, wait.” Her response came faster this time. Tenten’s eyes adjusted to the light after a few more blinks. “Before… I never-”
“You don’t need to.” Sadako smiled. “Get more rest.” She turned away, but Tenten still had more questions.
“How long was I out for?” Tenten asked. Sadako picked up a mug of some hot, glutinous liquid. Something told Tenten that it would not taste very well.
“Drink,” Sadako commanded, handing Tenten the mug. With a grimace, the young woman complied and sighed once the medicine had been downed. “It will make you sleep for a while longer. You’re still going to need to rest, for now.”
The heaviness was coming back again.
It took far too much effort to form the words.
Sadako waited a bit longer. She knew the effects of the potion would now render Tenten immobile for the next few hours at least.
“Three and a half days, Tenten.”
The young woman was asleep again before she could begin to panic.
A few hours later, Neji entered the room and sat on a chair Sadako had pulled up beside the bed. He sighed heavily, placing his head in his hands.
“Feeling guilty?” Sadako asked. She took a seat opposite him on the corner of the bed.
“Not particularly,” Neji replied as he looked up and smirked. “I am just already sick of this life.”
“It does not bring me pleasure to tell you that you will be staying here for a long time.”
Sadako rolled her eyes and her glance fell upon Tenten, still sound asleep. Her fist clenched. “Hiro… is evil. He… he has changed so much over the last three years.”
Something came over Neji’s expression. It was slyness, Sadako realised. He paused meaningfully before beginning, “So I take it that-”
“We don’t feel the same way about things, Neji!” Sadako snapped. “When you disappeared, it broke my heart. I was a child; and you… you were filled with anger and resentment. You still are. Some say that you haven’t changed, but you have. You can hide your emotions a lot better now than you did before, but it is not a good thing. When you let your guard down, all Hitomi can feel is the scorching heat that your rage imprints on her mind.”
“Sadako,” Neji began softly, but she cut him off.
“You have no idea how long I dreamed of you saying my name like that. And then, I realised I was simply in love with an idea of you. You cannot come back after six years and expect everything to be the way that it was! You can’t just sweep me off my feet now that we’re older and just pick up where we left off!”
“Do you think that I was off, cavorting around the world, indulging myself in good food, drink and women?” Neji asked, his temper rising. “Is that what you think? I was alone, those six years, with nothing save my sanity to keep me company.” He lowered his voice. “It was Tsukino who took me. She put me in that god-cursed tower and I … she kept trying to break me, bend me to Hiashi’s will.”
“How did Tenten get involved?” Sadako’s curiosity was aroused, in spite of her anger.
“She… received a message that I had written a few days before. I had believed that I had needed help. And she had a grand plan in her mind to rescue a Hyuuga princess.”
Sadako snorted. “I suppose she had the shock of her life, then.”
“She was not half as shocked as I was. I had not realised that a sparrow would have brought me someone as unintelligent as a ‘farm girl’ with bad dress sense. She almost struck me for that, I think. But I was livid when she cut my hair. I was absolutely angry beyond words.”
“And now… you’re back here.”
“I had no choice. She seemed determined to take me back to the castle, as if I wished to be here.”
Sadako looked away, and Neji fractionally regretted his careless words.
“I’m sorry, Sadako. It was crass of me, I know.” Neji apologised, a bit too hastily.
She didn’t respond.
“Forgive me,” Neji tried again, but it was useless.
“You’ve been here long enough. Any longer and people will start to think that you really are involved with her.”
“I am no stranger to gossip circles, Sadako,” Neji replied wryly.
“Good evening, Neji-san.” The new arrival startled the pair.
“Hitomi-san,” Neji immediately rose, and Sadako stood and curtseyed.
“Neji-san, Sadako-san,” Hitomi smiled, shutting the secret passage behind her. A light scattering of dust had gathered in the lace of her gown.
“I had forgotten completely about that secret passage,” Neji nodded, bemused. “It’s been a while since anyone has had to use it.” He looked over at the dragon tapestry that concealed the door. Hitomi’s silent entry had unnerved him; next time something like that happened, the intruder might not have such benign intentions.
“She seems to be healing quickly.” Hitomi remarked as she walked over to Tenten’s bed head. She opened the young woman’s eyes. “They are still a bit too unfocused, even in her sleep.”
“I had to give her another sleeping potion,” Sadako said. “The next time she wakes, she will be fine.” She hesitated before standing. “I’ll go get some tea.”
Hitomi nodded absentmindedly, and Sadako left the room.
“Hitomi-san, may I ask you something?”
“You may ask, but whether or not your question is answered shall be up to me,” Hitomi replied crisply. She seemed to already know what Neji would ask her.
“She says that my anger is unbearable for you.”
“That was not a question, Neji-san.”
She still did not trust him, Neji knew. He was far too aware of her powers and she was far too aware of his intention to keep his thoughts locked up. While she respected his decisions and avoided prying where she could, Hitomi knew that Neji’s thoughts were too dangerous to keep to himself for too long.
“I intended only to ask you if it was the truth.”
“You know it is the truth, Neji!” Hitomi snapped irritably. “You annoy me with your persistence and cunning games and closed mind. I do not understand why you must keep all of your emotions locked away- can you not forgive and let everything be?”
“You do not understand-”
“You forget yourself entirely if you say that, Neji!” Hitomi hissed. “You have no idea what my father and my brother sacrificed for this family! First their sanity and then their lives- and for what? A mere, useless trinket!”
“You are the one who does not understand! You do not even know-”
“Hitomi-san!” Sadako interrupted their heated conversation. Hitomi had been skirting on very dangerous territory. Neji stood when Sadako re entered the room with the tray of tea.
“I believe I should take your earlier advice, Sadako-san.” Neji inclined his head in her direction, and she curtseyed quickly, balancing the tray precariously in her arms. “Hitomi-san,” Neji murmured quietly, bowing.
“Neji-san,” Hitomi replied. Neji left the room and both women exhaled in relief. Sadako shot Hitomi a worried look and they both knew that the longer they were going to be forced to keep this secret from their cousin- the longer Tenten would have to keep this secret from Neji … the more unpredictable he would become. He’d have to find out one way or another, and Neji would be far from pleased if he found out that Tenten- a stranger- had known the truth behind his father’s death before he had. “I shouldn’t have been so brash,” Hitomi sighed. “He can be so unreasonable.”
“I know,” Sadako sipped at the tea. “I just… I just wonder what he would have been like, had Hizashi-sama not…”
“Sadako-san!” Hitomi’s whisper was fiercely shocked. “Please, you know the price of such risks! You truly are a fool!” Sadako bowed her head, contrite. Hitomi was right, as usual. “Someone else calls for me,” Hitomi said, rising suddenly. “Tenten-san should be fine within a few hours. If she’s got her appetite back, then she’ll be better than expected.”
She left brusquely, leaving Sadako with her own troubled thoughts.
Sadako stilled when she heard her mistress wake again. It had not been the best few hours since Hitomi and Neji had left. Both had left her shaken- there was just too much history, especially with Neji. Tenten’s colourful curses broke her reverie and she smiled in return.
“How are you feeling?” Sadako asked as she put her hand over Tenten’s forehead. Her temperature was down to normal and her eyes were definitely alert.
“Terrible,” Tenten snapped back as she glared. “And I’ll put it down to that foul potion you gave me.”
“What about Hiro?” Sadako picked up the tray of food and began to warm everything with her hands. Tenten watched disinterestedly as she began a rant about the “stuck up scoundrel” as she viciously wolfed down the warmed bread and thin broth.
“I can see that you’ve got your appetite back,” she remarked.
Tenten paused. She remembered only small parts of what had happened; she remembered leaving the dinner table… and Hitomi’s voice, somewhere. However, time was cruel. The world of the Hyuuga lay just outside her walls. A world of complex customs and traditions.
“I can’t stay ‘sick’ forever, can I?” Tenten muttered.
“Of course not!” Sadako grinned, “Especially since the Ball is only in a week and a half.”
“What?” Tenten cried, almost knocking the tray onto the bedclothes.
“The snowstorm that seemed to follow you two froze the lakes over completely. Our mages have been keeping it that way since, but that’s not the problem, is it?”
“What is the problem?” Tenten began to twist the sheets between her fingers. Sadako quickly placed the tray on a nearby stool before continuing.
“The problem is that you need to learn how to skate before the day of the Winter Festival, which is on the day of the Ball.”
Tenten was struck mute. This was not why she had chosen to become a knight.
“And…” She swallowed. “Who will teach me to ice skate?”
The young woman froze. Her day, it seemed, was only getting better.
Sadako stood hastily and curtseyed. “Neji-san,” she murmured.
Neji bowed back. “Sadako-san, Tenten.”
Tenten smiled at the irony. Something must have happened when she’d been recovering.
“In any case, it’s a tradition. As my guest, the task falls to me to teach you if you don’t know. And I see that you don’t know how to skate.” Neji stood at the foot of her bed and simply looked at her for a few moments. Her hair hung in limp, greasy strands, dampened with sweat. The colour in her cheeks had gone down slightly and her eyes shone, as if she was eager to be out of bed once again. Her skin was no longer as sallow as it had been a few days ago and he had to admit that she looked almost comical in her white nightdress.
His eyes began to wander and, catching himself at her neckline, averted his gaze.
“How are you feeling?” He asked, attempting to battle the oncoming awkwardness.
“Like I’ve had a hammer slam into my chest,” Tenten replied. “I’ve been lying around like a slug for the past three days, and it’s all because you did not have the grace to save me earlier.”
Neji smirked. “I take it that you’re fine enough to insult me, then.” He bowed. “I will see you tomorrow afternoon, out on the lake. I’ll send someone to take you out and get a pair of skates.”
Without another word to Sadako, he left the room as silently as he had entered. Tenten exhaled.
“I almost forgot!” Sadako opened the ornate armoire. “Hanako- the seamstress- sent your dresses over. Your ball gown won’t be ready until the day before. She said it’s proving tricky, but she can manage.”
The young woman could not care less. “I just want a bath,” she sighed as she slid out of the bed. Sadako rushed over to help her.
“I never said thank you,” Tenten murmured quietly. “To Neji, you or Hitomi, for what you did for me.”
Sadako smiled back as they shuffled slowly across the room. “We can’t have an honoured guest lose their life within our own halls, now, can we?”
AN: I’d like to say welcome back. This update is rather impromptu, but I thought it’d be rather fitting to finish this first arc-ish thing of Intrigue on Tenten’s birthday weekend sort of thing.
Questions? Critiques? Objections? Flames? Don’t hesitate to tell me. ^^