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Flight of Fancy

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Tenten sped through the woods, a heavy bagful of scrolls on her back. After living in Konoha for years as a sleeper agent, she had finally blown her cover, and now her only goal was to get over the Fire country border and disappear into her homelands before she was caught.

Her departure from the village had been sudden and unplanned. By sheer chance, she happened to stumble upon a stack of ANBU Root documents that she simply could not leave behind. After all, they had turned out to contain the detailed plans of sabotage and bribery to overthrow the current ruler of her home country. An extensive list of Konoha spies posted within the country was also included. ANBU Root was going to plunge her home into chaos in the near future; there was no way she could stand by and let that happen.

During her years in Konoha, Tenten had made friends and advanced through the ranks to become a chuunin. She had been assigned in the team of a genius ninja by the name of Hyuuga Neji, and a somewhat less brilliant, but quite determined taijutsu specialist called Rock Lee.

Looking back, she somewhat suspected that Neji might have been assigned to keep an eye on her, just in case. Her cover had been close to watertight, but it did not hide her being of a foreign descent. Tenten assumed it would be standard procedure to be slightly suspicious of foreign shinobi in the village, even though she had grown up there in the care of loyal civillian co-conspirators.

Wearing a innocent, cheerful face had become second nature for Tenten, and she was confident that even if Neji was paying special attention to her, he would not have noticed a thing. They had not gotten very close, so most personal topics were extremely easy to avoid. In fact, she had been emboldened enough by Neji's desire to keep a distance between himself and everyone else to even flirt with him. The electricity between them was undeniable, but he had never given in to her probing innuendos.

All that had just become meaningless, in any case. She now was a fugitive, and pursuers would follow soon. She readjusted the shoulder strap on her precious cargo, and focused on getting a move on.

Despite making good speed, she had not gotten very far from the village by the time she felt someone slowly closing in on her. When she realized who it was, she grit her teeth.

Hatake Kakashi. The laid-back, chronically tardy jounin in charge of Team 7 was gaining on her. How someone with his speed was always late from meetings, she had no idea.

But having him on her tail at this point was bad. He would catch up to her hours before she made it to safety. She swiftly prepared a strategy for facing him, and adjusted the direction of her mad dash through the trees to pass through a slightly more open area.

Once she had reached a suitable position, Tenten hastily prepared her equipment for battle and hid the bag of documents so that she could grab it on her way forward. Mere seconds after, she felt that her masked opponent had arrived within range.

Tenten's own techniques involved a combination of long-range and close-range attacks. Besides his speed, she recalled that Kakashi was equipped with a truly nasty close-range attack capable of passing through even hardened metal. In other words, close-range combat was right out. No matter; she was quite capable of raining sharp death upon the gray-haired jounin between the sparse trees.

"Yo." Kakashi called out.

"Kakashi-sensei." Tenten's reply was brief, but courteous; they both knew what this was about, but there was no particular reason to be coarse about it.

"No chance you'd come along quietly, I guess?" Tenten smirked inwardly at the faintly hopeful tone of Kakashi's voice. The lazy...

"I'm afraid not, Kakashi-sensei." She pulled out a selection of shuriken and lobbed them his way, more to signal that she did not have time to chatter than to expect a hit. Kakashi was not serious yet either, she could tell from his stance and the fact that his other eye remained covered by his hitai-ate. It might be that she could catch him by surprise by a furious attack and then retreat in the confusion.

Thinking fondly of this possibility, she absent-mindedly dug out a few kunai, using the movement to hide her pulling on the invisible strings bound to the shuriken to turn them back towards her opponent.

To her surprise, they caught him square in the back and neck, drawing a splattering of blood and a gasp from the man.

A very surprised-looking Kakashi disappeared in a puff of smoke, to be replaced by a log via a quick kawarimi technique.

Tenten immediately tensed, extending her senses. Kakashi had disappeared; there was no knowing what direction his counterattack would come from.

She did not have to wait long for it. Kakashi leapt at her from the branches of a nearby tree, a kunai in hand. She parried it with her own kunai, and swiftly retreated from him. Kakashi was barely tall enough to be towering over her; it was not any ominous aura of his that intimidated the younger kunoichi, but she knew that at close range, she could not reliably counter his attacks.

When she turned to face Kakashi again, she felt something that made her blood turn cold. Another shinobi was quickly closing in on them. It was none other than her team-mate, Neji.

Tenten suppressed a frown. She could hope to incapacitate the lone jounin for long enough to flee from him, but against him and her team-mate she was more than just out-numbered. Like Kakashi, Neji was at his most dangerous at close range, but his Kaiten technique made him all but impervious to her long-range attacks as well. In their practice rounds, she could count with one hand's fingers the times she had landed a single blow on him. And even those few had been due to various distractions, such as a screaming Lee having been hurtled at him moments earlier by their enthusiastic team leader, Maito Gai.

She knew she could outrun Neji eventually. The few shinobi present in the village that would be able to catch her on her sprint included Kakashi, one boisterous boy from Team 7 with an incredibly powerful demon fox sealed within him, and her other team member, Lee - should he be running without the ridiculously heavy leg weights that he constantly wore. It was for the sake of exercise and a strange concept of honour, apparently.

Tenten had no particular use for glorified methods at the moment; she needed to get out fast, and was even prepared to go for solutions that might compromise her style. She pulled out two scrolls of weapon summoning, made the seals and ran up a tree to launch herself high in the air. From the peak of her trajectory, she released the twin scrolls. Within seconds, the air was gleaming with a lethal concentration of sharp, jagged blades.

As she was falling, Tenten flashed through the seals of a bunshin technique, leaving a clone of herself behind to guide the flow of metal in the air. Once on the ground, she dashed off again, barely even slowing down to grab her concealed bag along.

The distraction had proven successful, and for a while she felt she was putting a respectable gap between herself and her pursuers. And a gap she would need, as Neji's range of swiftly detecting which way she had gone was broader than Kakashi's. Of course, failing that they could look for her with the help of the latter's tracker ninken, but she was hoping that summoning the dogs and catching her scent would be a slower option.

As the surge of adrenaline from her brief battle was wearing off, despair crept up and sank its bony claws in Tenten's chest. Her home was not one of the great shinobi nations; why would Konoha turn against it, and even go through such an elaborate plot to put it to ruin? As the initial cold dread was starting to dissipate, she found herself feeling angry and appalled at the same time. And how many of the people she had called her friends in the village were in on the plan, in quiet or vocal approval of it?

Would Neji have approved something like that? She had to admit that she had no idea; despite having spent so much time physically near Neji, she never was sufficiently close to him to figure out what was really going on in his head. The pale-eyed young man was a mystery to most people, if not even himself. His subservient position as a branch member of the powerful Hyuuga clan, known for its excellent skills of observation, had schooled him well in hiding his emotions. Letting his superiors catch sight of his anger would have been a dreadfully bad survival tactic.

Sooner than she had wished, she again sensed Kakashi gaining on her. As expected, Neji has fallen behind, not being able to keep up with the older jounin's extraordinary speed. She mapped out the area again in her mind and diverted her course in preparation for another battle.

This time, she managed to reach a sizeable clearing among the trees just when she could feel Kakashi's chakra signature a stone's throw away. Once again, she set the bag down, hastily concealed by some bushes, and checked her equipment. A few quick traps for good measure, maybe?

Tenten watched Kakashi reach the edge of the clearing, and pause there. He sidestepped a bit to avoid a warm welcome she had set up, involving a handful of exploding tags she had scattered around the perimeter. When he stepped away from the shade of the trees, Kakashi's posture had changed from before; he meant business, now. His other eye was uncovered, the blood red colour of the permanently activated Sharingan clearly visible.

When she caught sight of the Sharingan, Tenten could not help but pause and wonder at the rare bloodline ability embodied in the famous copy-nin's eye. It was said that the Sharingan allowed, among other things, its wielder to learn any technique they observed even once, and that Kakashi had already learned innumerable techniques that way. The ability also made it easy to follow and even predict the movements of one's opponents.

The red-and-black colour of the activated Sharingan was in stark contrast to the hereditary eye power of the Hyuuga clan. Neji's eyes, like those of most of his relatives, were a disturbingly pale white. Before she managed to get too distracted by comparisons of the truly fascinating eye colourings of her two pursuers, Tenten tore her own, quite regular and brown-eyed, gaze away from the mesmerizingly beautiful mismatched eyes of her present enemy.

Who knows what could have happened in a different life, at a different time. But right now, Tenten knew she had to focus if she wished to keep on living at least her current life.

She would have to release another massive weapon attack. She grimly released her large tool summoning scroll from its straps. With a few seals, she threw her scroll in the air, releasing a storm of weapons moving at extremely high speed, directed at her enemy in an unavoidable pattern. To extend the range of damage, the weapons carried tags to produce an explosion upon impact with the ground or their target. She hardly ever missed her target, but it never hurt to be sure.

Once again, she did not have any reason to stay behind and watch the carnage. Despite the immense effectiveness of the attack, she prepared for the possibility that the special ops jounin would survive it and still be capable of fighting. Given that and the probability of further pursuers gaining on her should she tally, she was determined to get away from the site as quickly as possible. Grabbing her bag of Root scrolls once again, she left the clearing and ran, making a beeline for the border that would release her from this amok run.

Tenten did not feel Kakashi following her, which was a relief. She allowed herself a brief moment to regret that she would have to fight the people she had grown to like, and even admire. She had occasionally envied Team 7 - as well as some other teams - for their jounin leader, finding the leotard-clad, stubborn and extremely boisterous Gai-sensei in charge of her own team a difficult target for admiration. There was no denying his abilities, which actually had made him an enthusiastic rival of Kakashi, but his personality was sometimes quite tiring. There did not seem to be a shred of mystery about Maito Gai, unlike almost every other shinobi in the village.

In stark contrast, Hatake Kakashi, who both masked his face in dark cloth and concealed his thoughts under a cover of relaxed indifference, never failed to intrigue Tenten's inquisitive mind.

She caught herself getting distracted again. This would not do; she had to guard her thoughts more carefully or she would miss something. She focused on what her senses were telling her; apparently there still were no pursuers trailing her. She actually had a good chance of pulling this off.

After about half an hour of running, she had a feeling something was not right. True, there still was no sign of enemies, but the forest felt somehow... off. She had not been to this area for quite a while, but she distinctly recalled that she should have passed some bigger landmarks by now.

Then she spotted something that made her stomach knot and cold sweat broke in her palms.

She had seen these trees before. Several times.

She had seen these particular trees several times within the last fifteen minutes.

She was somehow running in a circle. But it was impossible; she had an excellent sense of direction, and had not been straying from her aim for the border.

Her entire body tensed as she shakily turned to look behind her.

A short way away, she could still see the clearing she had left half an hour ago, the clearing where she had left Kakashi to fend off her technique honed for utter obliteration.

She dashed into the clearing, and received an instant confirmation for her fears. Kakashi was still standing at the edge of the clearing, where he had settled before her attack. There was no sign of her summoned weapons, or craters left by explosions.

She was in a genjutsu; Kakashi must have caught her in one when she mistakenly looked at his bared Sharingan eye.

She cursed to herself as she concentrated to scramble the chakra flowing through her brain to release herself from the jutsu. She was badly out of practice; if there was a single class of techniques that team Gai hardly ever practised, it was genjutsu. Neji simply never seemed to bother; Lee was a genius of hand-to-hand combat and hopeless at pretty much everything else. And as far as she could tell, the only person Gai-sensei could mesmerize was Lee, who worshipped the ground their eccentric jounin leader walked upon.

"Kai!" As far as she recalled, she had done everything right, but nothing had changed. Kakashi was still looking at her impassively at the edge of the clearing. She was still inside the world he created.

The only way she could break free would be to distract the man who had imprisoned her. If a destructive attack had not done it, maybe she should try an opposite approach.

With newfound determination, she strode to the imaginary embodiment of Kakashi in the illusion she was trapped in. He just stood there; his eyes moved to constantly watch her, but he did not react to her proximity in any way.

Here goes nothing.

She took a hold of Kakashi's mask, pulled it down, and kissed him full on the mouth.

It certainly caught the illusory Kakashi by surprise. Smirking, Tenten deepened the kiss. It did not hurt that she had spent quite a while wondering what it would be like to kiss the man. Even if this version was really quite imaginary, she also knew that the real Kakashi was out there, in some form, seeing and experiencing this first-hand in his mind's eye. Or something.

She grabbed hold of the back of his vest and pressed her chest flush against him, quite aware of the further distraction that would provide. After an initial tensing, he relaxed and actually reciprocated the kiss, embracing her with a ferocity that momentarily broke the rhythm of her continuous attempts to rearrange the chakra flow in her head to break free of the illusion.

It did not seem to be enough. Oh well, she gathered, there was little more she could do now - and there were worse ways to go.

The kiss and the embrace went on; by now she just concentrated on enjoying the warmth radiating from him, fully expecting the scene to fall apart at any moment to release her into a far bleaker reality.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a baffled-looking Neji cautiously approach. She took a moment to marvel at the imagination of her captor to include such a vivid image of her flabbergasted team member walking in on their passionate smooching. She quite suspected Kakashi was getting a kick out of the idea; why else bother to think up such a detail?

The illusory Neji closed the distance between them and reached to touch the back of her neck with a glowing palm. Suddenly, everything went dark.