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Fanfic: The Woman Warrior; Chapter 2: Fear

Title: The Woman Warrior; Chapter 2: Fear
Author: meepers369
Pairing: Nejiten
Summary: AU. Being a woman warrior is not easy during times dominated by men. A retelling of Mulan.

Read the Previous Chapter | Backup on Fanfiction.net



The fear of my body betraying my secret accompanied me during my entire journey. Though we would be still far from combat, I was deathly afraid of being injured and forced to reveal my secret. I would volunteer to be a scout, to be on the foraging party, to be a messenger, all useful excuses to be far from others and conceal my body in solitude. When the monthlies came, I had to be even more discreet. I would request solo missions, and on those nights I would curl up under a blanket of stars, sorely missing the warmth and comfort of the massive shared tents.

Several times, I came close to being discovered. Throughout my journey, a few people did come to know my secret. It was harrowing each time my body was discovered, but these people came to be my confidants, soothing a long and torturous road.



The first was accidental.

When at camp, I found myself in the company of the exuberant Lee, who was a wonderful, if not an overly excitable and exasperating friend. His antics made me laugh, but I would just as often have to drag him out of some new trouble he invented for himself. Once, he accidently set all the horses free. Another time, he spilled our entire supply of rice. The whole camp would rage after him in these moments of clumsiness, and in the end, I would be his only help in tidying up his messes.

Unfortunately, our closeness also led to the first case of my discovery. One hot, sticky summer night the camp marched wearily to stop by a stream, upon which the entire camp gratefully and promptly marched into to cool themselves down. I refrained, of course, choosing to settle in the cool shade of a large tree. Lee goaded everyone into a waterfight, and chaos ensued. I watched enviously, but fearful of my secret being revealed, chose to silently set up camp instead.

At night, when everyone bar a few sleepy guards were awake, I slipped off a distance away, desperate to receive some of the relief that the stream gave. (I also hadn't bathed in weeks.) The water was blissfully cool, and I congratulated myself on escaping far enough from the camp to have some moments to myself when I heard rustling from the bushes.

I reached for my weapons. When Lee popped out of the bushes, I realized my mistake in not reaching for my clothes instead.

"SURPRISE!" he exclaimed enthusiastically, clearly about to jump into the stream and begin a round of splashing. Instead, he gaped. "Buh…buh...buh...BREASTS?!?!" He began opening and closing his mouth like a dead fish, pointing at my chest, and I decided grabbing my weapons was a good idea after all. I knocked him out with a dull thud to his head.

When Lee finally came to, I had my clothes on and a weapon to his neck. "Why did you follow me," I hissed.

"You weren't at the water fight today!" he exclaimed. "I could not let my dear friend miss the youthful excitement we had! Later I found out you were the first to be setting up the camp! So when I saw you sneaking off to the stream I knew you must have been terribly upset for being ignored! So I followed you so that you would have someone splash water at you! Splashing water at yourself is not much fun, after all." Here Lee began to turn an odd shade of red. "But uh...I guess...water splashing wasn't what you had in mind."

I gave him my fiercest glare. "You tell anyone -- ANYONE -- and I'll use you as target practice. Understand? NO ONE else knows about this." Lee nodded vigorously, and looked suspiciously close to tears. I sighed, letting my swordpoint leave his throat. "I'm sorry I hit you."

Lee actually burst into tears. "Oh my dear, dear Tian! I will not tell anyone of your unfortunate circumstance! How hard it must have been for you to be without a confidant, to whom you can share all your secrets! How terrible it must have been to have to hide your blossoming beauty! And among all these terrible men! I will keep you safe, be your soulful, loyal, secret-keeper, I promise!"

It wasn’t what I had wanted, but afterwards it did feel better to have one person know my secret.



The second was beyond my control.

It was only the third month of my time with the camp, but I was asked to join a highly selective party of soldiers on a special mission. At least according to Gai, my numerous successes in my solo missions and scouting parties had brought me to the attention of all the captains in the camp. I warily joined Kakashi, the only high-ranking captain on the mission, along with several other foot soldiers that I did not recognize to fetch Shikamaru, the stratagems master that had mysteriously disappeared when the call for war came.

"It's not THAT much of a mystery," grumbled Kiba, an awfully loud boy accompanied by his faithful dog everywhere he went. "He saw war coming, and probably thought avoiding war was less troublesome than helping in it! Lazy ass, he was the same way in school."

Kakashi smiled. "Well, let's see what Lady Ino says first. If she doesn't know where he is, then your Akamaru can track him."

Lady Ino, I gathered, was the famously beautiful wife of Shikamaru. She was also famously welcoming to any handsome man in her bedchambers. She was known to take anyone to bed, even enemy statesmen. She had no single lover, but she did have some favorites. (Kakashi was apparently one.) She also had absolute power over Lord Shikamaru. He was known to submit to almost every single one of her demands. At the very least, he overlooked the hoards of men she welcomed to her bedroom. (Possibly as a result, he was hardly home.) As some of the others in our small group murmured of Lady Ino's beauty and infidelity, I couldn't help but note that the men in our current company were all quite good-looking, including Neji, a boy my age who joined our company the same week as I did. I would catch myself watching his profile as he walked silently, aloof from the conversation. (I couldn't help but wonder what this said about me, a girl hiding in men's clothes. Did this mean I was an attractive man? The thought horrified me.)

When we arrived at the Nara estate, a feast was waiting us. Our travel-weary group wasted no time in stuffing our faces. Throughout the meal, Kakashi chatted merrily with Lady Ino. At the end, he said something that sent our jaws dropping.

"What do you think of the boys I brought you today?" asked Kakashi to Ino, with a grin. "Any one of them suit your fancy? Or shall I suffice tonight?"

Lady Ino was truly a beauty, the dream of all men. I could almost feel the lust in the female-starved soldiers elevate to a tangible level. She looked each one of us over with her bright blue eyes, with a dangerously seductive smile. To my horror, she stood up and wrapped an arm around mine. "I want this one, Kakashi! Can I have him for the night?" I tried to protest, but she slid away with a laugh. "I must go prepare tonight, but I except you in my chambers, Tian!"

"Before you say anything -- no, you cannot refuse." Kakashi smirked at my dismay. "You realize she is the fastest hope for getting Shikamaru to join us? We need you to get that promise from her, soldier." I nodded glumly, feeling the heat of everyone's envy turned on me. Kakashi merely looked bemused. Somehow, I got the sense that he planned this.

I had only began to consider my chances with deserting the mission when one of Lady Ino's maidservants captured me, and led me to her room.

Lady Ino welcomed me into her chambers, smiling coyly. "Come closer, I want to see you properly," she purred. I must have showed my embarrassment, because she laughed gleefully. "A shy one! How adorable, you're turning such a funny color. Calm down, I just want to talk to you…for now." She beckoned me to her bed. I followed slowly, feeling each step grow heavy with fear. I had to keep up my charade, somehow, but how could I without offending this dangerous little wife of Shikamaru, who was supposed to hold immense sway over the missing tactical genius? I had to some how please her, and convince her to make Shikamaru come with us. Her invitation to her bedchamber, however, suggested only one way to please her--a way that I could not manage.

We reached her bed. She sat upon it, smiling at me seductively. It made me feel sick. "Ah…Lady Ino, forgive me, but I had only come to discuss the issue of your husband's whereabouts..." Ino waved away my attempts to speak. Instead, she patted a spot on the bed next to her.

"My dear Tian, I know why you have come. Trust me, I just want to talk." The way she said it was sugary sweet, like that of a siren. It was tingled with amusement, but showing a definite trace of impatience. Yet beneath the layers of expression, I heard a tone of…sympathy? I had kept my head down the entire time, trying not to make eye contact with this powerful lady, but now I looked at her directly. Her lips were in an impatient pout, but her eyes showed compassion. Understanding, almost.

"Sit down," she directed. "I just want to talk."

I surrendered, sitting gently on her bed's covers. They were as brilliantly colored and as animated as she was, decorated in a rich floral pattern. As soon as I sank down, Lady Ino nodded to her attendants, who left the room and shut the doors firmly. A quiet descended in the room. I braced myself for Lady Ino's seduction efforts. They would be in vain, but I had to somehow respond to them.

To my surprise, Lady Ino made no further movements, just watched me intently with a curious side-tilt to her head. I didn't have anything to say, either. From the moment the servants closed the door, I knew I had little chance of keeping my secret. As I traced the floral patterns on the bed with my eyes, I realized that while Shikamaru was heralded as the tactical genius, his seemingly frivolous wife was a master at human manipulation. I inwardly cursed my ineptitude at escaping this fate, but quickly discarded the useless thought. Instead, tried very hard to school my features to be free of fear, and ran through the possible options for me. There were miserably few.

"So how does it feel to be the only girl among an army of men?" she asked softly. I stared at her, astonished. She smiled slightly. "It's okay, you can talk freely in here. From my bed, anyone trying to listen from the doors or the windows would be unable to hear anything."

"Oh." I must have sounded suspicious. She smiled wickedly at me.

"It's convenient. No one would question the presence of Shikamaru in my bedchamber, after all. Nor do they question the litany of men who like to visit me here. Let's just say, it would be natural for them to talk in this chamber. And if the talks are highly important government secrets and military stratagems, well, no one has to know, right?"

So this is how Shikamaru orchestrated and passed on his mastermind strategies. My mind was reeling. Lady Ino smiled. "You can relax here tonight. Your secret is safe with me."

"How did you know?" I whispered.

"I've been told I can read the minds of people," Lady Ino responded mysteriously. "It's apparently a family trait." Ino proceeded to reveal a hidden bedchamber next to her dresser, with a small cot nicely made. "You can sleep here tonight." She smiled gleefully at my astonished face. "It's perfectly safe, Kakashi and others sleep there every time they come!"

When I woke the next morning, Lady Ino was already up, in the middle of her apparently very long make-up and dressing procedures. She spoke to me while her attendants bustled around her. Her voice was back to sugarly sweet seduction, but her words were full of meaning. "You're welcome to come here every night while you're here." For that week, except for the last night when she took Kakashi instead of me, I slept soundly like never before. At night, we would chat sometimes, but she would never push me to reveal my background, instead telling me interesting tidbits about the men in my camp, useful information about their personalities.

Once, I dared to asked about Shikamaru. Her face contorted almost unperceptively into great sadness, but she immediately hid it behind a scowl and an impatient shake of her head. "That lazy bum! He'll come around soon enough. You needn't worry about it." I learned then of her childhood, of Shika-Ino-Cho, the three who always played together. "Chouji runs the supplies for you guys. He makes sure no one goes hungry," Ino grinned. "Our papas were great friends, so we were always playing together. And Asuma used to be our tutor." I gaped. Asuma, the large brawny man. Tutoring what? "Fighting, actually. The boys were taking lessons from him, and I threw a fit when I was told that it was unladylike to learn, so he taught me, too." She scowled. "That Shikamaru...always running off even back then. I was a more dedicated student than him!" She trailed off, her face in a rare moment, unschooled by her usual calculations, a mixture of longing and sadness.

My heart went out to her. I wondered if she knew those rumors that whispered of her easiness and her infidelity. (Of course she did. She probably started them.) I certainly wasn't free to be me, a woman hidden in a man's camp. But in many ways, Ino was less free than me. She was bound by her duties to her country to maintain an image of debauchery, unable to show her true emotions for her the one she loved.



The third was by choice.

Following a fascinating tip from Lady Ino, I went to the medic tent who took care of Kakashi's division. (She had said: If you're ever injured, visit the medic Haruno. Haruno is in exactly the same situation as you. We used to be...childhood rivals, until Haruno chose the harder path of medicine.) Inside, I found a pair of stunning green eyes on a face that I knew immediately to belong to a woman.

She took one look at me, and immediately rose to close the flap of the tent. "You're a girl," she stated flatly. "Why are you here?"

I shrugged. "Probably a similar reason to you. But I'm specifically in your tent because Lady Ino told me to." At this, Haruno's sharp eyes softened. Outwardly, she scoffed.

"That pig. What game is she cooking up now?"

Afterwards, I would go to Haruno to tend my injuries, and no longer lived in fear that I would be discovered that way. She, in turn, confided in me, and we forged a friendship bonded by secrets.



There was one person who I wanted so badly to reveal my secret to, but never did.

Neji was cold as the ice his eyes seemed to derive their color from. At first, he spoke little no one, even when Gai addressed him. He was meticulous and methodological in everything he did, and took great care of his appearance. He also excelled at everything -- from barehand forms to weaponry to tactics -- clearly a product of his education. I admired him at first only from afar. Others quickly dismissed him for being too cocky, too arrogant of his abilities, but I sympathized with his situation. It was much like my own time in my village, when the other kids and adults would keep distance from me as a result of jealousy and apprehension. Such a hard exterior could only be a product of strong inner turmoil, and from my experience, a rough childhood.

His cool composure would only be broken by Lee's wild antics. I don't think Neji had ever met anyone like Lee before. (Though, how could anyone else be like Lee?) Instead of being intimidated and cowed by Neji's automatic glares, Lee became more fired up in his presence. When Neji was haughty and dismissive of Lee's feeble attempts at fighting him, Lee only trained more to work up to the next challenge. With my usual presence around Lee, somehow we three fell into a dysfunctional sort of family. I watched out for Lee's back during his insane stunts, I provided sparring practice for Neji, and Neji goaded Lee when he was weakened into a new strength.

Over time, I fell in love with Neji's strength, his intelligence, his softening heart. It helped that he was quite handsome. At first, I ignored them, thinking the feelings to be a short crush that would subside after a while. But with each day, they came stronger with each new discovery of his gentleness that he tried so hard to hide. I cursed these feelings that came unbidden in the middle of the night. Several dreams involved my dramatic reveal and his astonished appreciation for me, as a female warrior.

The thoughts were complete nonsense. If he knew my true identity, he would more likely look down upon me, like the other villagers did, for being a woman playing men's games. So I would lay quietly at night, planning ahead the days with how to hide my secret.


...


Notes: Neji...I'm crushed. At least there's still AU. ;___;

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