Title: Till Morrow Deep Midnight
Author: Pickled Death
Genre
: Drama/Romance
Rating: PG
Summary: one-shot; Neji x Tenten; in the outskirts of Konohagakure, a bird lies bleeding and broken. And he's won.
Author's Notes: Chapter…um…the one after Neji beats up Kidoumaru. Not my usual Tenten or my usual Neji. I blame ren1113…and the NejiTen community on LiveJournal.

You know you want to.

(cowers)

---

Close your eyes.

No. Don't.

The lids are heavy, weighted, but it's purely physical. You can fight this. Ignore the cold that nips at the frayed holes in your flesh, ignore the way the forestry hazes and refocuses like an illusion saturated in liquidated metal, and first and foremost ignore the way the air is tinted with the fragrance of your blood. Tinted. Barely take a whiff before you become intoxicated, drunk on life evaporated (quite literally, thank you). Tighten your jacket against the numbing cold—but, first and foremost, do you recognize the scent?

Blood smells like nickel. In your case, brittle nickel, enough to overtake your senses as easily as Sunagakure and Otogakure overtook Konohagakure, and twice as quickly. Like poison in your system, but it's really just poison in your ever-drying lungs.

You smile vacantly.

She made you bleed once.

You made a comment. Something distasteful and wayward, regarding brittle nickel and some crock about how it'd been a long time since you'd bled.

She said you smelled like gardenias.

Strange, you thought, and still think, because gardenias aren't native to the Fire Country, especially the innermost sects of it. It was probably a guess, or an obscure reference entertaining a wayward thought.

You have to repress another smile because it sort of hurts when you grimace like that, and when you twitch the muscles in your face. It's…wearisome.

Then you envision, allow yourself to be seduced by the taunting throes of memory, because things were simple, or something close to that. Seek revenge on Hinata-sama (or even Hanabi-sama or goddamn Hiashi-sama himself if you must), train, train, defeat Lee, bear a little more of your dreary and dreaded soul to her, but that's mostly purely on accident, because you're just a fool. Let your grip on your jacket loosen because you've overexerted your knuckles, for now. Carefully, carefully reposition your left leg, remove it from beneath you because every extra weight is a burden.

You remember her fingers threading absently through your hair, and you remember making a move to stop her from removing that elusive tie that bunches it all together somewhere near the bottom. You remember her fingers, callused, mimicking a placating touch, and you remember the way she batted your hand away because she was smilingly "indulging herself in long-repressed girlishness".

You don't remember why you let her touch you at all, but you let her and you don't seem to mind and she doesn't seem to care.

Really, when you close your eyes it's not that difficult.

·

·

·

·

He sat and felt the bark burn itself into his back, scalding and crushing.

The tree provided some degree of shade, which he found pleasing. His eyes, tenderized and overly sensitive, could not bear sunlight. The air was no longer stale, tempered by his soft but nevertheless unyielding breaths and cardinal complaints. Great effort permitted him to upturn his face, and the summer-bright canopy of forestry obscured his view of a bruised sky, but he envisioned.

A lone crow cawed. He swore this was some quirk of fate.

The sunlight, what little of it he could manage with his all-seeing eyes, was spun gold. Spun gold, like that which composed a harp; music-strings humming of souls ascending and descending to be issued by the whim of some prankster up high. God, he hated the sky sometimes, as useful a training tool it provided. Briefly, he found himself overwhelmed by the concept of dying alone, here, in the forest, perhaps drowning in a pool of his blood, and he becoming another name etched soullessly on the tiny stone memorial cradled by driftwood and ashes and cold, cold soil—

No.

No, he thought, eyelids flaring open, and he saw things, the hallucinations of a self-mutilator whose razor is the sharp edge of memory, the delusions a sane man would rant and rave about post-near-death experience.

Eyes in the bushes, chocolate and dancing with mirth and rather than vehemently reminding him he was on the verge of hell, they whispered, a hush of a whisper wrapped in a mystery he couldn't even begin to understand:

"I knew you could do it, Neji."

He didn't dare close his eyes, but burnt onto the backs of his eyelids was the memory of a smile not his own.

Tenten.

A stray gust signified a change in the wind.

His will, impudent and impertinent and destiny-defying as ever, signified a change in his heart.

Gradually, gradually, he summoned the strength to stand.

·

·

·

·

"Yes."

He—her consistency—was inconsistent.

The transformation had to have occurred somewhere between then and now; now, the sky sang nothing of defeat, did not mourn for the sudden shortness in his hair, for the patchwork regeneration in his shoulder and torso, for the waver in her voice she made no effort to hide. (i can't hide from you but i don't mind)

then why haven't you stopped trying

"You're alive," she said, gently, as though cajoling herself. She spoke so abstractly that he thought she was going to sing.

Strange, strange thoughts. As was the way of things, he ignored them and concentrated on her, solely her.

"So I am."

She smiled and made as though to cup his pale cheek, but thought better of it and drew her hand away without incident. (the only thing preventing me from touching you is me) "I knew you could do it, Neji."

"Do what?" he said, netting her sleight of tongue. "The mission failed."

"Your hair is short," she pointed out (letting my guard down around a mind reader), wrapping one of her malleable hair-ringlets around his split ends but never around his mind.

"So it is."

(if i loved you would you know?)

you don't?

(what if i was in love with you?)

you aren't?

"What was on your mind, while you were out there?" she asked distractedly, and he lingered on those words, danced around them in his mind and listened carefully beneath her wary tone and found absolutely nothing. So he waited and she interlaced their fingers without sparing him a second glance and bore the ringlet and her soul on his wrist (having fun reading me, now and here?) (i know you can.)

no, no i'm not having fun reading you, here and now

"You were," he replied, and allowed her to lead him away.

---

"And in the wood, where often you and I
Upon faint primrose-beds were wont to lie,
Emptying our bosoms of their counsel sweet,
There my Lysander and myself shall meet;
And thence from Athens turn away our eyes,
To seek new friends and stranger companies.
Farewell, sweet playfellow: pray thou for us;
And good luck grant thee thy Demetrius!
Keep word, Lysander: we must starve our sight
From lovers' food till morrow deep midnight.
" Hermia, in A Midsummer Night's Dream