disclaimer: I own none of these characters.
iv. Tenten and Neji are thrown back off the bench. Tenten hits her head on the corner of a building and her vision suddenly goes black.
When she awakens, it can only be moments later. There are people and flames and Tenten can't tell if the people are on fire or not. She hears the distant wailing of a fire truck. Her head pangs at every movement. Something wet is on her forehead, and Tenten brushes her hand at the spot. She is unsurprised to see blood.
She looks around, every movement sluggish and delayed. Neji is lying facedown about a foot from her. Tenten crawls to his side and lets out a cry of frustration as she searches for a pulse.
She doesn't think she can bear to go through this trauma again.
- o -
Hours later, they are in a quiet and clean hospital.
Tenten's head is bandaged, as well as her arms and hands from being cut by flying shrapnel. She flips her phone over and over in her hands, waiting. By her side, Neji is still asleep from surgery. Tenten stares at him for a while before looking away, walking over to the window. She can see the harbor from here, though she can no longer make out the smoke from the explosion. Night has fallen.
Her phone buzzes in her hands and Tenten immediately picks up.
"Gai?" she asks.
"Tenten, what happened?"
Tenten sighs, feeling moisture pool behind her eyelids. A few tears slip down her cheeks.
"Gai . . . I'm so sorry. For everything," Tenten says.
Gai's voice is tense on the other line. "Tenten, just tell me what happened."
Tenten retells the entire afternoon, describing the freighter and its crew in detail. She reports what elements she can about the explosion and the aftermath. She looks over her shoulder at Neji as she defines his injuries.
His eyes momentarily crack open.
Tenten watches him as Gai tells her their next steps: The nearest department of PSIA agents will come to the hospital to take statements and maybe take a sketch of the captain from the freighter. The entire PSIA will be notified of the terrorist group and will begin working to track down the culprits. Gai bids her goodbye reluctantly, and Tenten wonders if it's because she's already been fired.
She sets the phone down and goes to Neji's side. He regards her tiredly.
"How are you feeling?" she asks tentatively.
Neji shrugs, then winces—he received a large piece of shrapnel to his shoulder; his suture is fresh.
"How are you?" he replies, his lips dry and cracked.
"I'm fine." Tenten pauses. "That was Gai on the phone. They're sending some local PSIA agents to take statements."
Neji leans his head back deeper into the pillows he's propped up on.
"Your surgery went well, if you're curious," she continues, picking at a loose thread from the bedsheets. "We were really lucky, so I'm told."
"I'm sorry," Neji says abruptly.
Tenten raises her eyebrows, flinching from the cut on her head. "For what?"
"For not being more cautious. For dragging you to Hamada."
"If I hadn't been here you would probably be dead," Tenten says. "Maybe my being here was meant to be."
Neji breaks their gaze, his mouth a grim line.
"That explosion wasn't meant to go off. I'm sure they'll be in big trouble with their boss. Freighters are expensive. And so were all those bombs."
"Something's been bothering me about that," Tenten says, chewing on her fingernail. "If those bombs were meant for somewhere else, then where? Surely, they wouldn't have sailed them all the way to Chongjin. What purpose would that have served?"
"Maybe that was where they were headed on paper. Busan is close. So is Sapporo." (1)
Tenten mulls this over. "What could their end game be?" she wonders aloud.
She and Neji look at each other, searching for answers.
- o -
The PSIA agents arrive several hours later, close to midnight.
Neji has dozed on and off since first waking. The nurse had come in several times during the night to check his charts, giving Tenten curious glances. Tenten ignores her, scanning her phone for new messages from Gai. He hadn't reached out since their first phone call.
The questioning went on until almost three in the morning with Neji and Tenten taking turns at answering.
When they had exhausted their list, the agents left with grim faces. Tenten wasn't sure if it was for she and Neji or from the information they'd given them.
She looks over at Neji wearily, leaning against the wall.
"That was tiring," is all he says.
"Are you sleepy? Or hungry? I can try and find a vending machine?" Tenten offers.
Neji shakes his head. After a moment, he says, "You said PSIA has you meeting with a psychologist. What do you talk to them about?"
Tenten smiles uneasily. "You're half-dead in a hospital and you want me to divulge my therapy meetings to you?"
"I'm far from half-dead." He hesitates for a moment. "You don't have to tell me."
"This isn't a very fair conversation," Tenten says, diverting. "I know next to nothing about you since you left high school."
Neji leans back, smirking softly. "There's nothing to tell. I went to college, I graduated, I got a job, I almost got blown up today. It's been straightforward."
Tenten chuckles. "You know what's funny? We get to high school and we have all these aspirations about college and adulthood and career—and often, it never turns out like that. We waste so much time."
Neji levels a gaze at her. "Yes, we do."
Tenten chews on the inside of her cheek absently and answers his previous question. "There's nothing to tell. And you should sleep."
Neji's mouth purses, but he does not protest. Tenten crosses the room to the window again, her eyes stinging from exhaustion. When she looks over her shoulder ten minutes later, Neji's eyes are closed. Whether he is asleep or pretending, Tenten has no idea.
- o -
In the morning, Neji is discharged, his clothes bulky underneath from the bandages. The PSIA agents from the night before had given them instructions and resources on returning to Tokyo, and Neji and Tenten take a taxi straight to the airport.
Their flight is quiet. When they arrive in Tokyo, it is the middle of the afternoon. A PSIA car is waiting for them outside the airport to take them to headquarters.
Neji looks over to her during their ride and says quietly, "I'll vouch for you, you know."
Tenten gives him a tight smile. "You don't have to do that. I'm already fired anyway."
"Maybe not," he says.
Tenten shrugs and turns to the window, watching the buildings flit by, her hands resting in her lap.
- o -
By the end of the day, Tenten is fired. True to his word, Neji vouches for her, but the disciplinary board had already made up their minds prior to their return.
Tenten cleans out her desk and shakes her head with a small smile when Gai offers to walk her out of the building.
Gai tells her at the end of the disciplinary meeting that he has contacts who would hire her. Tenten leaves with a pocketful of business cards.
Neji is standing in the lobby when the elevator doors open. Tenten flushes from embarrassment.
"I'm starting to get sick of seeing you," she says jokingly.
Neji regards her, a serious expression on his face.
"Let me buy you dinner," he says.
Tenten blushes again—this time from flattery.
"That's not necessary," she stammers.
"It's the least I can do."
Tenten winces. "I don't do pity dinners."
"This isn't out of pity."
Tenten raises her eyebrows, clearly challenging that notion. Neji raises his chin slightly in pride. "You can only feel sorry for yourself for so long, Tenten. It's time to let go."
"What are you, a therapist?" she shoots back, hating the heat that floods her face.
Neji eyes her, a slow smirk forming at the corner of his mouth. "No. Just a friend."
- 6 months later -
Tenten stirs her noodles with a pair of chopsticks, thoughtful. Rain runs in rivulets down the window in front of her. From her street-facing seat, Tenten watches Tokyo turn shades darker as the sun sets. Tenten inhales the steam from the ramen, and her mouth waters.
Tenten glances at her watch. 7:30 pm. She decides to wait another five minutes out of politeness.
At 7:36, Tenten is happily slurping up her noodles when he arrives. He shoots her an amused look—the slightest quirk of an eyebrow—before going to order his own meal.
Tenten smiles sheepishly when he sits next to her a few moments later, carrying his own bowl of noodles.
They eat in silence, watching the street.
Tenten finishes first and asks, "How was your day?"
Neji nods, setting his chopsticks down. "Long. Mountains of paperwork, as usual."
"You should request a vacation," Tenten says.
Neji raises his eyebrows, a smile tugging at the corners of his lips. "What did you have in mind?"
Tenten shrugs, eyes gleaming. "I hear Thailand is lovely this time of year."
Neji peers outside at the rain that is still falling. "Isn't Thailand supposed to be lovely year-round?"
"Something like that."
Neji smirks at her answer.
"Shall we go?" Neji asks.
Tenten nods and gathers her things, following him outside. They walk hurriedly through the rain to reach a main thoroughfare, and Neji hails a taxi.
"The airport, please," Tenten says as they slide in.
- o -
"I'm never leaving this beach."
Neji looks over to Tenten. She is laid out in the sand, her tanned skin gleaming with sweat. Her eyes are obscured by big, black sunglasses.
"You should put on sunscreen before you get cancer," Neji admonishes, withdrawing a hand from his book to toss her the sunscreen bottle he bought in the hotel lobby.
"I am immune to cancer while I'm lying on this beach. This is heaven."
Neji's forehead creases. He wonders if she's making a pun on purpose.
"Let's go swim," he says, standing from his beach chair and tossing the book onto a set of towels they brought down with them.
Tenten springs up.
"Race you," she says, and sets off, her long, athletic legs bounding across the sand.
Neji sprints to catch up, but Tenten dives into the water seconds before Neji reaches her.
They swim out a quarter mile from shore, heads bobbing in aquamarine water. Neji stretches out a hand across the water, and Tenten wordlessly glides into his embrace.
Their kiss is salty, with a lingering tang of the oranges they snacked on an hour ago.
"Who would have thought it," Tenten muses, her lips brushing his as she speaks.
"That something so delicate would end up unbreakable."
Neji smooths a hand over her back, his fingers resting on her spine. He presses his mouth to hers, not bothering with a reply.
They have all their answers anyway.
(1) Busan is a port city in South Korea. Sapporo is the capital of Hokkaido.
This short fic was loosely inspired by Taylor Swift's "Reputation" album. I hope you enjoyed.