Need to Be Strong

A fan fiction by Sequ3stered

[[ Summary ]] Weakness is a terrible affliction that influences even the proudest genius ninja to his determined teammate. What would one go through to achieve true strength...and love? NejiTenten. [Complete]

[[ A/N ]] Remember, there are spoilers here on out, and some from the manga. Most of these will be around the end of the fic, but I'd just like to warn you so you won't get snappy with me later. I scanned it for errors, but if you find one, please (politely) tell me. Some things I'm not quite sure about---like how long it was from the scene where we begin to the Chuunin Exam main matches. Well, hope everyone enjoys it. And, yes, the song "Need to Be Strong" is from the first Naruto OST.

[[ Disclaimer ]] I do not own Naruto or any of the recognizable characters, places, etc. Although, like everyone else, I wish I did. :D

Key:

'Thoughts'

"Dialogue"

Chapter One: Weakness

(Takes place right after the scene in the anime where Tenten is training with Neji; episode 55.)

"You've surpassed the human capabilities..."

"I must've used too much chakra..."

"Are you okay, Neji?"

No response.

A long and heavy sigh escaped Tenten's lips as she slowly dragged her feet to her teammate, lying in his self-made crater. She'd already worn herself down by training with him, and her skin prickled miserably as she prepared her body for more physical exertion. Her lips mouthed words that would've had Gai-sensei hopping.

With a last grumble, she flexed her fingers and got to work, hoisting him over her shoulder and lunging forward. Damn, he was heavier than she'd expected. At a speed only a Shinobi could achieve, she launched herself on to the nearest tree's lowest branch and made her way to the Konoha Hospital.

Tenten landed in a cloud of dust before the front door, and shot inside---well, "shot" as quickly as a girl carrying a body could. A nurse, clipboard in hand, cheerfully greeted her with an automatic smile and nod. "May I help you?"

"Do you think you could give him a room? I'll pay, of course..." Tenten's voice skittered. She'd been stripped of her allowance last week when Lee had begged a free lunch from her. "I mean," she announced clearly, "send all expenses to Maito Gai. He will gladly supply the cash for whatever is necessary."

"Ah, I see. I'll do just that, my dear." She waved at a fellow worker for a stretcher. She began to examine his body for the worst injuries. "Ah! He is a Hyuuga...I know what this is about. The Chuunin Exam's main matches are coming up; he isn't the first one to collapse. He is in the Chuunin Exam, right? It should be illegal to send children into such a dangerous thing! Shame on his teacher...By the way, are you participating?" The nurse halted in her clucking over Neji to flick her eyes to the girl.

Something yanked at her stomach, and Tenten reeled over inwardly. "No, but I---I didn't go for it---yet---you know---it's said to be quite tough---"

The nurse's lips lowered and her eyes assumed a bewildered appearance, as well as a slightly suspicious one. "But the Chuunin Exam is taken in threes. If you aren't on his team, then what---"

Tenten waved hastily as she dashed towards the hall. "I'll come back when he's ready for visitors! Meanwhile, I think I'll go visit Lee!" Her right hand, before the nurse could say anything, had already scrawled her name into the register, and she bounced over to the room she'd faithfully gone to daily.

'Whew.' She brushed back her bangs, soaked with perspiration. She emitted a grunt of frustration at the chair near the window, and collapsed on it.

"Aigh, Lee, you're so lucky. From what I hear, you put up an amazing fight against that Sand boy. Me---I lost so quickly it wasn't even interesting. If only I'd lasted a bit longer, I'd be able to say proudly that I had participated." 'And Neji might not have thought I was...pathetic...he won't ever...'

There was a long silence.

Tenten glanced over at the bed, which she had ignored as she had rushed in. Lee...Lee? There was no one in the bed.

"WHAT THE HELL?!! LEE?!" She peered out the open window, and she saw pink. Then, as her eyes focused in, she noted that the pink-haired Genin that Lee'd fallen hard for---Sakura-san, he called her---and the blonde Genin that had been in the prelims were sitting there. Finally, she realized that the body before them was none other than Rock Lee, clad in a robe. This having happened in the span of a mere second, she tumbled out of the window, intent on reaching them with haste.

Moments later, she too was squatting at his head, eyes widening as she observed and analyzed the situation. Tenten reached out tapped the boy's shoulder. He didn't stir. "Damn!! First Neji, then this complete moron; what next? I can't believe he tried to train while he was still healing! Idiot! IDIOT!!" Several more curses came from her throat before she noticed Sakura was silently holding the tears back, and the blonde one had a complex and jittery expression drawn on her features.

"He'll get up and realize how stupid he was," she said brusquely. "And I'll make sure he never does it again. Oh, yeah, and who are you again?" So, it was not the most considerate thing to say, but Tenten's nerves had already been stretched; what with the short conversation with the nurse and the shock of finding Lee outside. Although she knew Sakura's name, she didn't know the other girl.

"Haruno Sakura," she said softly, not truly noticing how rude Tenten's question had been.

"I'm Yamanaka Ino," said the other. "You're from his team, right?"

"So?"

"Can you tell us---" started Sakura "---can you tell us why he did that?"

"Did what?"

"Pushed himself so hard," finished Ino. "Why he had to do that when he was so obviously...down."

Tenten averted her eyes and stared blankly at her fingertips. "They're stupid fools to think they can do things like that without consequences. But they do it to prove that they're better than before." Only now did she notice the flower clamped in each of their hands. 'Were they visiting someone else?'

A woman in the nurse's attire skidded towards them, followed by men in medical uniforms carrying a stretcher. "Out of the way! Lee-kun!" A rather rebellious sensation rippled to her waist, and suddenly, her tongue tasted the bitter tang of blood. She'd bitten too hard, and this scene was going to either make her throw up her lunch or screech her lungs out at those...idiotic males who thought they were almighty.

She dashed out of there, soon back in the hospital, where she skillfully evaded the curious nurse from before and made her way into Neji's room. The curtains were drawn shut tightly; however, due to the bright sunlight of the day, light spilled in easily.

"Neji? Are you awake?" Tenten eyed the figure lying in the bed, trying to decipher whether his eyes were open or closed. The sound of unsteady breathing tipped her off, and she smirked. "If you were awake, you could have just answered me, you know."

His eyes opened to the sight of his slightly exasperated teammate, the outline of her hair wound in their customary buns the only thing he could make out. His eyes were too heavy to make out her expression, but her tones indicated she was not exactly pleased. He struggled to slid upward and sit.

"Why did you take me here?"

'Because you were unconscious...and I didn't want to see you...like that....'

"Why do you think? You had obviously trained too hard."

"I saw what that Gaara was capable of. You have no idea what horror he has in him. If we are to fight, I am going to need everything I have."

"First you have to beat that annoying little rookie Genin; why not think about that first?"

"He is no match for me."

Tenten agreed silently, but was incensed at the idea that her advice had been dismissed. 'He has no chance of winning against Neji, especially with his ultimate defense, but...'

"Why are you here?"

"To see if you were alright, what else?" The question had taken her by surprise, and her bewildered glance confirmed it.

Neji's eyes lowered briefly as he ignored her response. There were much more pressing matters that were at him at the moment, and he was in no mood to tolerate this. He'd been taken to the hospital like some---some common weakling---and the fact was, he was not grateful for it. The rational side of him understood Tenten's concern appreciated her gesture, but, the truth be told, he was fine (so he thought) now, and she had done it for nothing. Besides, he felt rather slighted, as though she had thought him not strong enough to take care of himself.

"I'm fine. You can leave now."

"But, Neji..."

"Just go. I need to think strategically. Your presence hinders my ability to think."

'What the hell is that supposed to mean?' Tenten sighed. Perhaps he was calling her bothersome, perhaps he was just saying she distracted him (hm, why?), but it was affronting any way. "I just wanted to see if you were okay. I didn't want you to be hurt badly or something..."

"I was just tired."

"You must be joking or something, Neji. You screwed yourself over!!! That was not just fatigue---that was what happens when you exceed your limits!"

"Your anxiety is unnecessary."

"Do you guys think you're invincible? You know what happened to Lee? He tried to train, and he's in an even more terrible state than before!!" Tenten clenched her fists, glaring at his composed figure.

"He was always a fool." Something of a cross between a smile and a smirk graced Neji's visage.

'Is that what he thinks of us? Does he really not care about us? But...I trained so hard to have him acknowledge me after that battle with that Sand girl...' The female ninja crossed her arms over her chest, as though to create a barrier between her thoughts and reality. "You need to rest. You're not going to do anything unless you're going to rest---"

"I see where this is leading, now..."

"What do you mean?"

"You're too weak for me."

With that, he turned away and cast his ivory pools hellward. Tenten's arms fell limply, her jaw slackened in shock. 'How did he see through me? How did he...know...? I've been hiding this for so long...how could he know?'

Tenten's features a not-very-flattering hue, she swept out of the hospital without another word. What could someone say to something so blunt like that? Nothing. The person would not be able to respond. She couldn't even be angry with him. All that was left was a hollow feeling residing inside her.

Tenten followed the dusty path to a peaceful spot with a bench, and slumped upon it, lacking dignity and words. 'I've been creating these new jutsus for nothing, then...all that hard work after my failure at the prelims, and it was for nothing at all...'

A bird chirped in its comfortable position, singing gaily about the weather. The irony of it was, as soon as it began to whistle out the notes, the sky darkened almost instantly and water began to seep from the clouds.

"I'm too weak? I'm not...weak..."

---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ----

So! It isn't the longest chapter in the world, but I think that for a first chapter, it does pretty well. This was just the beginning. I'm looking forward to writing the next chapter. If anyone cares, that is. ;D All writers know that the best inspiration is (positive) feedback--you know where this is headed-------Please review.

(Coming soon) Chapter 2: Don't Call Me Weak