if you want to enjoy this, do read the times. —raspberry.

this fic was inspired by KNO, who gave me the idea of Retrograde as writing a fic backwards.

present time...

"Tenten, I—"

"Don't say it,"

"But—"

"Dammit, Neji! Don't say it! Don't say it now! Don't break me again. You're not going to break me when we're going to die. You don't get to say it. You don't get to be selfish. I want you to die and know you never told me because I can't die like this. I can't die knowing all the stupid shit you put me through was for nothing because you could have loved me then, you could have loved me a week ago, you could have loved me yesterday, but you are not going to love me seconds before I—"

"Tenten—are you—no—no, no, no, this can't happen—TENTEN!"

one day ago…

The words were at the tip of his tongue.

I love you.

It would be a nice moment to say it. The skies were clear. The birds were singing. Her eyes were closed, letting the exhaustion sink in. They hadn't sparred like this since—since the incident. But it would likely be their last.

War was on the horizon. The attack was tomorrow. He had spent weeks preparing but he didn't feel truly prepared. Not when she wasn't going to be by his side.

Then again, the fault was his.

He drove her away.

Tenten hadn't been by his side for weeks.

The only reason they sparred today, the only reason he could think of, was because no matter how strained their relationship was, they'd still be teammates. They would still be Neji and Tenten. They'd regret it if they didn't and someone died tomorrow.

"Tenten?"

Her name came out as a breath. It was his only breath before the air in his lungs seemed to be permanently knocked out of his body. Neji hadn't ever felt so scared. He didn't deserve to tell her. He didn't deserve to tell her at all. Not when he hurt her like that, insisted it ruthlessly. He didn't get to fall in love with her. Not after the incident.

She turned her head towards him, her brown hair loose on the grass. He felt his stomach flutter. She looked beautiful like that. Was she beautiful because he loved her or did he love her because she was beautiful? Yet her eyes were duller than before, tired, older, sadder. He could barely recognize her as such. He did that to her.

"Yea?" her voice was dull too.

Neji turned his head away. "You've improved."

He heard the rustle of her sitting up. "I know."

two days ago…

She was stronger than this.

Tenten was stronger than waiting around, sulking, hoping for him to give her a chance. She was above crying herself to sleep for countless nights and wondering why. It didn't matter. It shouldn't matter. A guy wasn't going to define her. A guy wasn't going to hold her back.

Yet still, every time she thought about him, a crushing weight would drop to her shoulders and she wanted to crawl in a hole. She could barely breathe. Her vision would go blurry. Damn him. Damn love. Damn not being able to let him go. Damn needing him so much that she couldn't beat him up. Damn not letting Lee hurt him.

Why couldn't he love her?

Tenten screamed and threw a kitchen knife towards the door. Watching it dig into the door was satisfying. She took out a bread knife, did the same. Each knife in the drawer disappeared and dug into the wall until there was one blade left, a tiny paring knife.

She stared at it, realizing that she had lost her mind so easily, the proof being the neatly lined blades stuck into her door. If she let this knife stay, at least she had some self-restraint. As if love ever had restraint. Tenten threw the paring knife to the door with so much force that it would easily cut through the wood.

Suddenly it opened.

A part of Neji's long bangs were chopped off, nearly cutting his ear. His eyes were wide, having just dodged it.

"What is it!" she hissed.

He blinked a few times, then relaxed a little. "I was just wondering if you'd like to spar tomorrow, being that the war is coming."

They hadn't sparred in ages, she realized nostalgically. She wanted to refuse. Her heart couldn't take it. To be honest, she'd likely burst out crying in the middle of it. That would be humiliating.

But something in his eyes, a tinge of regret, made her nod. They may never spar again. She wasn't going to be prideful enough not to acknowledge that. "Five?"

The unspoken words of as usual hung in the air.

"Five it is." Neji glanced at the door, examined the blades, then left the room without another comment. How could he go so easily?

Tenten burst into tears again and buried her face into her hands. How did she ever end up so hopeless?

seven days ago…

"She insisted,"

Neji turned his head to look at Lee. The whole mission, he had been more quiet than usual. Fewer rants about youth, less energy. But then again, everything had been strained since the incident.

"I'm not sure I understand."

"Tenten insisted that I didn't beat you up," Lee said.

Neji looked down, shameful. Somehow, even filled with spite, she was a better person than he was.

"I would have. I really would have." his teammate growled. "I wasn't going to listen. I was going to tear you apart and it would have nothing to do with our rivalry. The only reason I didn't was that she insisted. And I know that if I did, she would still be there to dress your wounds and wrap your bandages."

He bit his lip, knowing it was true. Tenten couldn't hate him. It would be easier if she could.

"She still loves you, just as much as she did. I don't understand it, not the slightest. But you can still hurt her. And I swear, Neji if you hurt her again—"

"I won't," he said softly. "And if I do, I won't fight back when you punch me."

That was when she came back, carrying firewood. "How's dinner coming along?"

"We're almost done," Lee smiled.

Sometimes, Neji felt like beating himself up.

ten days ago…

Someone was at her door. Again. She really didn't have time for this. Her immune system wasn't that perfect. Even if she was faking illness, couldn't they give her the benefit of the doubt?

Like Neji had.

She wanted him to notice. He believed it with a single glance at her. Tenten told him she was sick and he nodded, leaving without a second word. He left so easily.

"Come on, Tenten, I know you're not sick. I just want to talk."

It was Lee's voice. She didn't respond. "If you don't open the door...I'm going to break it down."

Still, she did not say a word.

"Tenten, I'm kicking the door down in three, two, one…"

"The door's unlocked!" she shouted, anger seeping into the entire apartment building.

Everything was silent for a moment. Lee slowly entered her apartment and into her room. He crawled in bed next to her, taking in her appearance.

"No wonder Neji believed you were sick. You look like you had all the youth sucked out of you."

Tenten shot her teammate a glare. "Maybe because I am sick."

"Yes, but even sick you'd go to training. So why?"

She sniffed, rolling onto her side. Everything was here again. She could feel, and that was the worst part. "I can't face him."

"Neji?"

"It's exhaustion. Loving him is exhausting. Hating him is exhausting. I'm exhausted, Lee. I'm so, fucking, exhausted that I can't even cry."

"You sure you don't want me to punch him?"

"I want to say yes. I really do, but don't. It doesn't change anything. I—just need to be alone, Lee."

"He doesn't deserve you."

"I supposed he thinks so too. How could Neji fucking Hyuga deserve someone as little and unimportant as me?"

eleven days ago…

"Fuck,"

Neji watched as Tenten barely missed Lee's kick, being skimmed by a punch. The two were pretty evenly matched against each other but she had endured a few more hits than usual.

"Great job, Tenten, Lee, you are brimming with your usual youth!"

He hadn't sparred with her for a while. Only would fight her if Gai said so. He missed her. He really did. And Neji regretted everything he had said and every way he hurt her. Nothing was the same. She refused to train with him alone. He didn't blame her.

Yet his pride was too strong for him to apologize. Why couldn't she understand why he did it? Couldn't she see that he was dying too?

"Your defences are weak," he stated. The small smile at her sensei started to fade the moment she heard his voice. It broke him, just a little, every time something like this happened.

"I know," she said coldly. "Sometimes I don't expect certain attacks. You would know, right, Neji?"

Lee and Gai watched with dismay. It had gone on like this for a while. They knew enough of what had happened. What could they do? They worked together fine. They were still professional. Both knew that the problem was much too delicate to touch. The retorts were about more than just training.

"Not everyone can block any hit coming as you do, Neji."

Did she know that sometimes, if he lowered his defence too early or late, she would land a hit on him too?

thirteen days ago…

She could hear him from miles away. Tenten gulped with each passing step. He approached her as she skipped rocks, watching as they hopped further and further away until they were so small she could no longer see them. He was behind her, breathing down her neck.

Tenten bit her lip and inhaled, trying to steady her breathing. He knew he affected her. Yet she wouldn't allow him the satisfaction of it. Yet surely, he noticed how tense she was. Nothing escaped those eyes, after all.

"I preferred training when it was just you and me," his voice was gentle, the voice he seemed to reserve for her. She wanted to cry and melt and punch him, but none of those things happened. She was just so confused.

"Lee and Gai-sensei are better than you give credit for."

"Yes," he admitted. "But they are not the only ones I fail to give enough credit to."

His lips brushed the shell of her ear to the side of her neck. Tenten slowly tilted her head back, sighing. She was strong enough to push him away but chose to take this gesture one last time.

"I'm trying to do what you asked of me, Neji. You make it very difficult."

"I never asked you to do anything."

"You and I both know that's not true," because what he had made clear to her was more of a demand.

"Tenten…" as if he forgot how to use words. Like he remembered how easily she'd melt into him every other time.

"I can't change how I feel. If I could, I would. I'm making more sacrifices than you are But you make it hard. I'm trying, Neji. I'm really trying for what you want."

His body pulled away from her. "I don't know what I want anymore."

Me.

Want me.

"Then tell me when you know."

sixteen days ago…

"Neji, Tenten, why don't you two practice your combination jutsus?"

Neji wasn't going to object. He wasn't going to object to anything their sensei asked them to do. Because at the end of the day, no matter if their rank was the same, Gai would always be their superior.

"I'd prefer not to, Gai-sensei," Tenten replied. It came so easily to her to say that. Had she been over it already?

"Will you spar then?"

She shrugged. Neji knew only to comply.

Lee and Gai watched as they readied their positions. He activated his Byakurgan. Tenten held out a small scroll in front of her.

He stepped to the side. She repeated his motion, They circled each other until she gave the slightest twitch of her finger.

The scroll twirled around, unravelled, and weapons shot through what seemed to be thin air. He deflected all of them and the real fighting began.

It felt normal.

Tenten didn't hold back nor give it all.

How could she seem so fine already?

Neji felt anger and hurt hit him with force. He started attacking at a quicker pace. She accommodated. It was until the point where he continued to fight and he sealed all of her tenketsu. She could barely move a muscle.

And that was when her guard broke.

He could see her eyes getting glassy. "Were you fucking trying to kill me?"

Because he never dared to seal all of her tenketsu. He had only sealed three or four before.

"I—"

He unsealed them quickly but she didn't bother to move. She stared up at the sky, looking lost. Neji was wrong. She wasn't fine. She was just damn good at pretending she was. So once again, he had hurt her.

"When will you have enough, Neji?"

twenty days ago…

She didn't like this very much, to be honest.

Gai and Lee wouldn't admit it either, but even they preferred the old training routine. Tenten could only stick with it.

Maybe it wasn't the training itself. It was the environment. Their whole team knew that this constant group training was not because they chose to, but because of Neji and Tenten's strained relationship.

She was like, afraid of him now.

It was hard not to be.

She feared everything, how powerful he was, how beautiful he was, how much control he had over her. He would so easily hurt her. He had hurt her. And when he was angry, especially at her, she was terrified. But then it hurt her some more.

Tenten knew that she really wasn't afraid of Neji, just afraid of being emotionally hurt, and he was the only one able to do that.

With a sharp glance, she saw that the purple bruise on his cheek, the one she gave him, was starting to fade just a little.

Sometimes, she wanted to hurt him in a way that wasn't physical. The way he had with her.

twenty-two days ago…

"Why?"

Neji had pulled Tenten aside, in an alleyway. No one batted an eye. One, because residents didn't care about men and women alone in alleyways in the worst way possible, and two, Neji and Tenten alone together was hardly something to be concerned about.

At least they thought.

She had just returned training with Gai while Lee and he were alone, sparring. He never sparred with Lee. It was intense, filled with strange words, and their rivalry had been pretty dangerous. Tenten always ate lunch at the dumpling place so it was easy to find her.

"Why what?" she replied, though he knew she understood him.

"Why would you stop training the way we used to?"

"You know why."

"I don't," he said insistently. Or he just wanted confirmation. A part of him didn't want it to be true.

Tenten tried to jerk herself away from him. Yet he held his ground, now pinning her to the wall, almost threateningly. He glared at her, an attempt to draw a response. Glaring usually worked on her, she usually always gave him an answer he wanted.

He got an answer, alright.

"You do!" she suddenly shouted. "You know that I can't function properly when we're alone and that half of the time is spent wanting to beat you to a pulp and the other half is spent wanting you! But you don't want me other than my body! Why the fuck do you care, Hyuga? Because you think it's my fault. I think it's your fault. You made me want you! You were the one who hurt me! You were the one who made me like this. Because all the time, all the fucking time, I feel dead inside. I am so dead inside and you're asking why I don't want to feel dead inside? It's your fault! It's your fucking—"

He didn't know what else to do other than to kiss her.

To be honest, Neji didn't know an awful lot about anything other than the shinobi world other than kissing her.

Her words had stabbed him in the gut. He deserved them. She stabbed him over and over and told him why she stabbed him and made his insides crawl with guilt. Neji couldn't handle it anymore. He was selfish so he kissed her, an attempt to make the pain stop.

It worked for only a moment.

She gasped and pressed against him. Her body was the only familiar thing he knew. Maybe that was why he grew so attached. Her lips were warm and like a small home. Maybe that was why he was still attached. Yet she had realized what he was doing.

Neji could only imagine how bad it seemed.

That he was only kissing her to shut her up. That he didn't give a shit about her space. That he didn't care about her, only her body, like she feared.

Tenten kneed him in the groin and punched him square in the jaw. He fell to the ground and blacked out for four seconds. She was gone by the time he regained consciousness.

twenty-three days ago…

He did it again.

Tenten couldn't understand how easily he could make her feel like shit.

Unintentional or not, it worked. The moment he looked her in the eye, her heart dropped.

"Your accuracy is off," he took note. It was a harmless one. A comment he would have made yesterday and would make tomorrow.

Tenten wished that if she explained that her eyes were a little blurry because she had been crying all night, she wouldn't seem weak.

"I'm not always perfect."

"Your accuracy always is,"

She glanced at him, feeling dead. He stared straight ahead. Neji knew she was watching him, he always knew, but didn't do much to say something. He didn't care, never did.

"Go again," he said, standing up.

"Neji, I'm tired," she said softly.

"You're never too tired to spar again."

"But—" she didn't really know what to say. He was right. But still, he was wrong. She was only too mentally exhausted to spar.

Tenten reluctantly stood, locking eyes, trying to anticipate his next move but she was distracted, trying to find an ounce of emotion in them. She was desperate. She didn't want to believe that her attachment to him was completely and utterly hopeless, like a five-year-old in love with their babysitter.

He had already attacked. Tenten defended, but not well enough. It had only been a few minutes until she was pinned to the ground again. Neither were panting.

Neji looked pissed as he shook off her, gathering his stuff, leaving without a glance back. She didn't blame him. She hadn't tried her hardest, she had made things difficult.

They probably shouldn't be training together anymore.

twenty-seven days ago…

Maybe he did love her.

A plate came crashing to the ground, shattering to a million different pieces.

How could a realization come to him so suddenly?

Hinata, Hanabi, and Hiashi looked at him. He apologized, taking the broken pieces in his hand and dumping them in the garbage. Clearly, they weren't convinced that he was fine but knew better not to say anything. They had noticed his strange silence since the incident, knew something was off, but also knew not to press.

Maybe he was trying to convince himself he loved her, it would make sense, but he was not the type to do so. It was more likely for him to try and think that there was nothing at all. So had he been trying to convince himself that he didn't love her all this time and had tied himself into this mess?

Neji hadn't been able to sleep.

He told himself it was guilt. Because she was his comrade and he was supposed to protect her, not hurt her. Yet he would turn around in his bed and he expected to be able to wrap his arm around her muscular waist, then be filled with an unfortunately deep sense of regret and longing.

It hadn't been just the bed.

He expected vanilla in his shower. Fried rice in the corner of his desk. A scream of his name randomly. A surprise slam of his door.

Tenten had unknowingly fit herself into his life and he was so used to how it was that he didn't know anything else.

He missed her lips, soft and welcoming. She made him feel safe, now she made him feel dangerous.

Neji had fallen in love with Tenten, but he hadn't known until he pushed her away himself.

thirty-one days ago...

"I look like shit,"

"You do."

At least Ino was honest. Tenten appreciated that. And she preferred this honesty rather than Neji's honesty.

"I told you it was a bad idea," she muttered.

"You said it was a totally good idea," Tenten shouted. "You said—"

"It was a good idea until you caught feelings, Tenten!" she yelled back. And from the moment those words escaped the blonde's mouth, she regretted it.

Tenten screamed and started to punch a pillow. "Fuck, Ino! I know! Don't you think I know? Neji's already made that obvious!"

Ino just sat there, feeling empathetic. Tenten wasn't going to cry. She wasn't at the point where she could do that. Instead she ate ice cream and punched pillows and screamed at the world.

"Lee wants to talk to you, he's worried."

"Don't."

"Why?"

"Because he's too much. He'll try to blame it on Neji and will make things worse," Tenten admitted. "You just feel what I'm feeling. It's easier."

Ino was silent for a moment, then spoke up again. "I don't get one thing."

"What?"

"How did you fall in love with Neji Hyuga?" she whispered. "You didn't have feelings for him before. Not even a little bit. And it was just sex for him this whole time. So how did you just—fall in love when nothing other than the fact that you two were fucking, changed?"

That was when her heart clenched and could no longer find the energy to punch her pillow. A tear slipped past her eye.

"He was really gentle," Tenten said, voice high. "From the first time we—he was always gentle."

"Until yesterday."

"Even yesterday he was gentle. It was only after I told him I love him that it stopped."

thirty-two days ago…

Neji let out a tired grunt, rolling to the side onto his back. Beside him, she clutched the sheets to her bare chest, looking at him. Her breathing was starting to calm down, as was his.

They gleamed in sweat, his head was light from the shock of pleasure swarming over his body. He sat on the edge of the bed, nearly too tired to move.

"I love you."

The words came clearly from her mouth, without hesitation. Despite it, he had to blink several times until it got through to his head. Neji frowned, now confused. Why would she love him? They had only been having sex. He had not treated her differently apart from that.

Besides, he didn't even return those feelings.

"It's just sex, Tenten. Had I known you would catch feelings, I would have never fucked you in the first place."

Her expression broke, almost like he had stabbed her with her own kunai. "You don't feel anything? Anything?"

"You'd do better to stop assuming things about me. You don't know me as well as you think you do."

He expected her to scream at him. Call him an unemotional bastard. A sociopath who couldn't love.

But Tenten stood up and dressed at a rapid pace, her breath quicker than it had been only a few minutes ago when she had been pressed under him, chanting his name. He didn't like it when she was panting for this reason.

"I'm sorry," she squeaked.

And she left.

And something hurt inside of him. There was a pressure in his chest and it started to crawl to his neck and he gasped, pain burning everywhere. Neji couldn't let it out. He didn't know what it was.

All he knew was that Tenten loved him, Tenten left, and Tenten really did know him. She knew him better than he thought she did, not the other way around.

forty days ago…

She collapsed onto him.

He caught her.

Tenten could hear his heart pounding, unsteady, rapid, yet anchoring her to reality. She tucked a piece of loose hair, hair that he had let loose, behind her ear. When she felt like it wasn't a good idea to continue lying on top of him, she scooped her shirt and panties off the ground, throwing them on so she could remain a little more decent than she felt.

When she looked at him, he had put on a pair of boxers. Not that she was particularly looking there.

"What time is it?" he asked.

"1:30,"

They both knew that she wasn't going home tonight, not when it was this late. He lay back down and she did too, this time beside him. Neji rested his arm over her waist. She wished it meant more.

Even on missions, he put his arm there. It was just how he slept. If she pulled away he wouldn't even notice. Yet it felt like something, so she let it be.

"Did you use the bathroom?" he asked.

"Not yet."

Tenten left his arms and turned on the light, blinking to adjust. She went. When she looked at herself in the mirror, she splashed her face with cold water and rinsed her mouth with mouthwash.

What was she doing?

Neji did not treat her any worse or any better since sleeping together. But why did she feel like something was different? Maybe it was because the only time when things were different was during the act itself.

She liked the way he touched her, gentle, even when rough. Because even when pain soared across her body in ways that were less than romantic and definitely not traditional, there was always some trace of kindness in it, whether that would be a quick kiss after or a soft stroke over where he had been aggressive. Tenten liked the way she could make him sigh with a particular action and enjoyed playing around with when she would do such, just to make him gasp and say her name. She liked the way he did that to her too.

But nothing ever lasted long.

They were probably the only people in the world who planned every instant they had sex.

None of it was traditional.

How did they get from practicing for experience to just deciding to practice?

But Tenten didn't know what else to do, because even though none of this resembled love, she was in love anyway.

fifty-three days ago…

"I need to ask a favour."

"What is it?"

"I—someone, er...someone told me you were experienced."

"In what way?"

"Er—in—that way."

"I'm not sure I understand."

"Well, Kiba told Sakura who told Ino who told me—"

"Wait, they told you I was experienced in sexual intercourse?"

"Yes."

"I see,"

"Are you?"

"Somewhat, so what's the favour."

"Well, I—I'm going on a seduction mission and—I—I need—"

"You need experience."

Tenten didn't seem uncomfortable. Not even a little bit. Neji didn't understand. He was dying inside of mortification that he had come to ask her of this.

She tapped her fingers against the desk and shrugged.

"How experienced are you?"

Neji blushed. "I've never—"

"That's not what I'm asking," Tenten interrupted. "How experienced are you with yourself? Do you know what you like? What are you comfortable with? What do you want to try specifically? What are your boundaries?"

"I—I haven't really thought about it."

"Neji, I can't help you if you're as sexually awakened as a ten-year-old."

He had never been compared to a ten-year-old before. Not since he was four.

"I'm not looking for anything that uh—wild. I just want to know what I'm doing if it ever comes down to it."

"Ok, well what are your boundaries? Anything I cannot do under any circumstances?"

"I'm the one who needs help. You can set the conditions."

"There are no conditions to sex, Neji. Conditions are threats and that's rape. I'm not going to do anything you're uncomfortable with. We're talking it out now so there are no accidents."

He considered it. "I don't want a load to come with this. No obligations or feelings involved."

"That works," she said instantly.

"What about you?"

"As long as you don't talk to your guy friends about how I'm like in bed, I'm good. That shit hurts. I don't like to be hurt. Are we clear?"

"Perfectly.

thirty seconds later…

He didn't know how he did it.

They were both out of usable chakra from fighting. He didn't know how they managed to take down their last opponent when minutes ago it seemed too hopeless. The only explanation that was remotely possible was that they had finally remembered how to work with each other as well as they used to, became twice as strong in the knick of time.

But what was more surprising, was that as he couldn't feel her pulse, he had only gathered up the energy to lift himself over her, putting two breaths in her mouth and pressing into her chest continuously. Would anyone see them in the middle of the battlefield?

"I won't say it, Tenten," he said. She had to make it. She was right. They were going to die. He could barely move any way other than how they were doing. He could feel himself slowly bleeding out.

"I'm not going to say it because it would be unfair to you. I hurt you. So I won't say it. I won't say it to you today Tenten, I'll say it tomorrow. You're going to live. We're going to live. I'll say it then." his voice broke, he was feeling lightheaded. "You can't leave me."

Tears rolled down his face and onto her cheeks as he gave her another two breaths. "Don't you dare leave me."

She didn't say anything.

Neji didn't know how long he was there for, but he knew he was weak. He couldn't last much longer. Until he heard Hinata screaming for their names, then the bark of Sakura upon orders and orders, he had been holding his breath, trying not to think of the pain. He collapsed as they ripped apart her clothes, tending her wounds until they shocked her.

He strained to see if she was ok, even as they held him down and secured his neck. They told him not to move but he struggled. He croaked out her name over and over again. It was only until he heard a medic scream of a pulse that he rolled back, letting them put him in more pain before he healed.

four days later…

She woke up to a steady beeping, her pulse, and bright white lights. Tenten's mind was hazy, foggy, kind of like her vision. What had happened?

Snippets of memory came back to her, screaming medics, an achingly familiar voice, and that same voice being so gentle, so—

She had told him not to tell her anything for her sanity. Had that been the right thing? She regretted it now. She would have done anything to hear him say it. She would die again to hear him mean it.

Fuck her broken heart, it would break if she would never hear it in her lifetime.

Tenten already felt tears welling to her eyes until she heard a slight beep of another machine. She drowsily turned her head and saw a figure on a bed pressed against hers, clutching her hand, not that tightly, but tense, as if it was as tight as it could hold. It was a male, she could tell by the large size, and it was strangely smooth despite the bandages. The skin was his.

He suddenly sat up and she saw bloodshot and dark eyes, staring at her with shock. Tenten had no energy to muster out any expression or emotion. But he did.

Neji collapsed onto the bed again and he shook, heavy heaves raking across his body like it was too painful for him to bear. Soft sobs were just enough for her to hear but seemed to echo in the room. It was raw, completely open, and it confused her. What was he crying for?

It couldn't be her, right?

"Neji," she whispered, squeezing his hand back. "Why are you crying?"

He shook his head as if he didn't believe she was real. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry for everything."

"You don't have to apologize." Tenten murmured, reaching to let go but he held on tighter.

"I have to. I hurt you. I shouldn't have. I promised."

She remembered it, the boundaries they set. "I promised too. I'm sorry—"

"I love you. I should have said it sooner. I love you. I love you too."

Tenten suddenly started crying as well, rolling over to the side despite how painful it was. He held her with nearly limp arms. She buried her face into his chest, shedding what few tears were left, and let him hold her. It wasn't tight, not at all, but she felt like he would never let her go no matter what, and that was all that mattered.

"I had expected nearly a week for Neji to wake. It had taken two. For Tenten, I would have thought three."

"It looks like Haruno-san was right."

"She's always right."

"The human body sure does strange things with intimacy. To see them recover so much faster just because their beds were next to each other. I wonder what made their bond so strong."

"Yea, I wonder."

end