Title: Linger
Pairing: NejiTen
Summary: Tenten returns home after the war, and everything reminds her of him.
Disclaimer: Naruto, not mine since 1999.
Note: NejiTen just kills me and Tenten deserved better, dammit. References "Warrior," chapter 3 of my drabble series, but works as a stand-alone.

The walk home is the longest and emptiest of Tenten's life.

There's nothing to do but think and remember.

Each and every one of her weapons has been meticulously picked up off of the battlefield and lovingly reholstered. For a while, it was enough to keep her mind occupied. It was a decent distraction, even if nothing really works.

She's almost angry that the war is over. Not because she's upset with the outcome, but because she wants something to hit, something to hurt. Everyone else has seen enough violence to last them for years, but all Tenten wants to do is lash out. She wants to break somebody, make them bleed, destroy them.

Maybe then somebody will know how she feels.

Konoha is much the same as it has always been, even in ruins.

The dead are buried, the rubble cleared, and buildings rebuilt. People move on and heal and start to forget. They smile again and work together in a show of unity that Konoha hasn't seen in years.

Tenten hates it.

She hates how they can smile and laugh and act like there isn't a giant gaping hole in the world. In her world. She knows that it's war, and people die, but Neji doesn't die. Neji has always been the one constant in her life, her shield against Lee and Gai's insanty of youth, the one person who was always supposed to be there.

And now he's gone.

She visits Gai in the hospital, but finds that she has nothing to say. She helps Lee with his rehabilitation, but her heart isn't in it. She cleans her weapons and re-sharpens them and throws them at the walls and breaks everything in her apartment because what's the point anymore.

Everywhere she goes, she feels his presence. When she passes by the academy, she remembers how he was the golden boy that all of the instructors loved. When she walks past Team Gai's meeting place while refusing to look at it, she remembers the faces they used to make at each other during Gai's sermons on youth. Konoha's front gates remind her of their first mission, when she was nervous and he praised her skills with weapons in a subtle attempt to boost her confidence.

The one place she can stand to be is their training ground. She doesn't care if other people use it, its the one place that's theirs. She empties her weapon holsters and her rage against the forest, anything to ease the sharp, aching pain in her chest. She's taken to sleeping there, lying amongst her weapons littered across the ground.

Tenten is afraid she's forgetting how his voice sounded. And the exact pearl-grey shade of his eyes and that arrogant smirk he'd wear every time she challenged him to a spar. She hears him in her head shouting the number of palms he's using in his Sixty-Four Palms technique. She remembers what it felt like to have him closing her tenketsu when she wasn't fast enough to dodge.

And she remembers how gently he held her when she was injured.

She has to press her fists against her eyes to keep from crying. She's a strong kunoichi, she refuses to cry. The accidental tears that leak out from behind her clenched hands don't count.

She manages not to cry until the day that Hinata finds her in the forest, gives her Neji's forehead protector, and tells her that they're sisters. Then everything pours out of Tenten in a flood. She's angry at Neji for dying and leaving her, and she misses him. Hinata tells her that he loved Tenten, that he didn't get to say it, and she hates him for that too. But not as much as she hates herself, because she didn't get to say it either.

But she lets it go because she doesn't really hate him, it's just so unfair. She clutches his forehead protector and makes a promise to herself and to him that she will continue to get stronger. She will make him proud of her.

And then when it's finally her time, they'll meet again, and this time she'll make sure he knows what she should have told him the first time.


"Mmrph." Tenten groans and rolls over in bed. "What?"

Chocolate eyes meet lavender-tinted pearl. She blinks sleepily. "Wha's wrong?" She snuggles into a warm, hard chest. Solid arms wrap around her waist and she feels lips pressed to her forehead.

"You were dreaming. Sounded like a nightmare." His long, coffee-colored locks tickle her bare shoulders. Tenten frowns in perplexion, remembering. "Oh. Yeah, it was awful. You died on me."

Neji snorts. "I would never do such a thing."

Tenten giggles and nuzzles her husband's neck. "I know, right? Ridiculous. Now go back to sleep, we've got to get up early for Hizashi-kun's academy graduation tomorrow."

"Hn." They fall asleep together, warm and alive, and free of nightmares.