Author's Notes: Well, here I am again. First, I must give thanks to Farli from Livejournal for supporting me and generally being very appreciative of this little idea of mine. You have no idea how much you helped me.
Next, the setting of this story is in the future. Neji, Tenten, and Lee are around twenty. The age really isn't that important, just the fact that they are adults is. Also, this fic was heavily influenced by the song "Fields of Hope" by Tanaka Rie, which you should all go out and listen to if you can. It's just beautiful. I'll probably be putting it up on my journal when I get a chance so stop by if you want it.
Other than that, sit back, relax and please enjoy.
Crossing the Acheron
She woke aching, her body pulsing with every slow heartbeat against that tightness in her chest that always threatened to send her into tears. She moved slightly under the covers, dropping a palm against her collarbone, trying to swallow past the stone of grief lodged in her throat. Her skin felt cold and she trembled, smiling painfully in the darkness. She must have been dreaming about him.
The moon had risen outside, sending its silver white rays into her bedroom and slipping over her rumpled sheets and one slender leg that had somehow come uncovered. The household was quiet with the heavy stillness of a place that knows little joy and less laughter, the air somber and thick and without noise or interruption. Even the chirping of the crickets outside could barely be heard, the night wind bringing her only the scent of dying summer through the open window.
She lay there for a few minutes, head tilted to one side as she watched the stars move through the glass. She woke like this sometimes and in the last year she had come to understand that those dreams would never leave her. She had thought so at first, everyone telling her that she would move on, that the void in her heart would lessen. Time, they said, you just need time. She had listened to them to them only vaguely, knowing in her soul she didn't deserve those words of pity. She had no real right to her sorrow, no real claim to the scarred and scratched forehead protector that sat on her nightstand. Still, she had wanted to have it, begged to actually. If that was all she could get of him, then she would take it.
She imagined sometimes that it watched over her.
Not at night though. The evening was the time her memories were the strongest and she found herself dreading them as much as wishing for them. Days passed when she was sure she would one day die from the never healing wound she carried, and then the twilight would bring her his face and the feel of his hand against her cheek and she would lock those sensations in the cage behind her eyes, waiting until the moment when she could pull them out again and examine them in the starlight like pearls.
Shaking her head slightly, she sat up, moving her legs over the edge of the bed to stand and cross the room to the sliding door, catching her reflection in the mirror as she did so. She halted, struck suddenly by the face that stared back at her, dark eyes too big in a face that looked… weary. Her long hair was disheveled, falling around her shoulders in untamed waves and tangles. She frowned suddenly as she realized how prominent the bones of her shoulders and face were. She had certainly been losing weight lately, but it was only natural after everything she had been through. Still, her image was disconcerting. When had she begun to disappear?
But the answer to that was too simple and so she put it out of her mind.
Careful not to touch the rice paper, she opened the door and padded down the hallway, bare feet silent against the cool wooden floors. She had only to go a few feet to the room next door where she leaned forward to peek inside, a tender smile curving her lips as she stepped inside.
"I didn't think you would come tonight," she said softly, her voice pitched low so as not to disturb the other sleeping members of the house. Lee looked up at her from where he sat, an answering smile flashing at her from his expressive face.
"I just got back and I didn't want to go home just yet," he replied as she came to his side, that hole inside of her losing some of it's ache at the way Lee's bandaged arms so carefully held her son, Keiki's small fingers wrapped around one of Lee's. He was sleeping soundly, something he thankfully did on a regular basis, and the soft baby sounds he made were instantly endearing. Not that Lee needed to be charmed. He had been enchanted with Keiki the moment he had been born, probably because he had been the one beside her as she delivered him. She smiled inwardly remembering the way her friend's eyes had streamed tears when she had first allowed him to hold Keiki. His words then were still branded into her mind. I want to be there for him, like Gai-sensei was there for me. I want him to know there's nothing he can't do. Besides, I made a promise, and if I can't keep it then I lose one hundred fights to Neji. An awkward smile. I won't lose this time.
"He missed his uncle," she whispered, touching her teammate's shoulder. Lee grinned. "How did the mission go?"
"Good. But that's to be expected since Sakura was with us." She didn't miss the note of pride in his voice when he spoke. Even after all this time, he still loved that girl. "Back without a scratch!"
She doubted that but she smiled anyway. "I'm glad." Something in her tone made him turn to look up at her again, his expression turning serious.
"And you? Have you been sleeping?"
"A little." She left him and knelt by Keiki's cradle, running her fingers over the polished wood absently. Lee's eyebrows drew together and he gave her the look that had gotten him named "hot-headed" in the Academy.
"Tenten, you must take care of yourself. Neji wouldn't want you to be like this."
She exhaled slowly. "Well, we'll never know, will we." He fell silent and she graced him with a flat gaze. "There's nothing to say he would even care." She laughed bitterly and it hurt. "I was the one that cared." Her voice dropped. "Too much. Always too much."
"You shouldn't say that," he said sternly. "Keiki wouldn't be here if Neji hadn't cared."
Instead of arguing, Tenten took Lee's naivety in stride. Her reply was simple. "We shared one night, Lee. He never even knew…" She trailed off as she looked at her son. Lee's voice was gentle.
"He loved you, Tenten."
She closed her eyes briefly and when she opened them he was rising from the chair, Keiki's small head resting against his shoulder. She pulled back the baby's blankets as Lee laid her son gently back in his bed, tucking him in until he was just a small little bundle under her hand.
"I'll come back tomorrow," he said and she stood to walk him to the door, letting herself be hugged when they reached it. "Please take care of yourself, for Keiki's sake." He winked at her suddenly and flashed her a thumbs up. "If you don't, I'll send Gai-sensei over here for a pep talk."
This time her laugh was amused. "Then don't worry, I'll take care of myself."
He saluted jauntily and disappeared into the night, ignored by the Hyuuga servants and the ever watchful Branch members. They allowed Lee to come and go as he wished, mostly out of respect for the fact that he had been Neji's teammate, and that he had also been the one to bring back the news that the genius of the house would never return home.
It was thanks to him she had Neji's forehead protector.
She really owed Lee a great debt. After… Afterwards, he had stayed with her ceaselessly, and when she found she was pregnant with Keiki, he had been the first to know. They had always had a sort of sibling relationship with each other, sometimes overprotective, sometimes bickering, but underneath was the bond of being comrades. He had been by her side when she moved into the Hyuuga compound at the patriarch's request, helping her ease into a life of the soon-to-be mother of a Branch family member.
The Hyuuga's accepted her, after a fashion. They knew her child to be Neji's and they certainly weren't going to let her raise the child by herself, not considering the tremendous potential he was likely to have. No, a Branch member Keiki would be and the life would be the life of his father. Truthfully, Tenten was not afraid for him. If the curse seal was his destiny, he would fight it just like Neji had, and if he was lucky, Hinata would revolutionize the clan when she took power. Until then, the Hyuugas looked after her, the Branch family members especially. Hiashi, too, had been interested in Keiki from the moment he learned she was pregnant. She supposed it was because he was the son of Neji, and not because the child was his nephew, but she could never be quite sure. Hiashi was a hard one to read and she had only spoken to him twice the entire time she had been living there. She didn't mind either. If they forgot she existed, so much the better.
Walking back into the baby's room, she sat down in the chair Lee had vacated and rested her head against the back of it, watching Keiki sleep the deep sleep of the innocent.
Perhaps that was why she didn't sleep anymore. She was stained.
A year before…
"The Devil," she said with a slight smile, flipping the card over with practiced fingers. "An insurmountable obstacle in your past, but there are ways around it. " She turned another card, finding it reversed. "The Three of Wands. You're quite arrogant, Neji, and you're not admitting the truth about something." She smirked at her teammate's expression and sat back, eyeing him with amusement. "You're the one who wanted me to read for you," she reminded him. "It's not my fault if you don't like what you hear."
They were sitting on the floor of her apartment, surrounded by pillows and the discarded weapons and scrolls of their complete mission. They were both weary but still strung with the bone deep tension that always accompanied a hard battle and so were too awake to sleep. Neji's suggestion that she do a fortune telling for him had come as a surprise, but a welcome one. Being as sensitive to fate and destiny as he was, he had always had a curiosity about her hobby. It was fortunate too that the reading so far seemed to be accurate, though she wondered what truth he was in denial about. It looked like this reading would be as profitable to her as it was to him if it gave her any insight to what he was thinking.
Sitting across from her, Neji scoffed quietly but didn't reply, simply motioned for her to continue. She smiled and flipped the next card.
"Seven of Wands," she announced, "Defiance. It drives you." Next card. "The Sun." She hesitated briefly but then continued before he could question her. "You're annoyed about something you should be happy about, an achievement perhaps. Joy itself seems like an obstacle." He grunted and she glanced at him before continuing. "Next, the Nine of Wands." Her eyebrows rose and she felt her heartbeat quicken despite herself. "There is someone in your life who brings you reassurance in times of stress." She laughed lightly to divert attention from her own thoughts. "Gai-sensei perhaps?"
Surprisingly, instead of glaring at her for her bad joke, his gaze was dark and smoky, complete calm even though the look made her whole body tingle. "I don't think so," he answered flatly, and she had to look away or be seared by the power of his eyes. He was tired, she told herself, they both were. It had been a long mission. She was just imagining the want she had seen in his face. That was it. Just her imagination.
Clearing her throat, she turned the next card. "The Four of Swords," she told him. "You should enjoy a quiet, peaceful interlude." Again she hesitated, remembering the second meaning to the card and Neji caught the pause.
"What is it?"
She jumped despite herself, finding that he was right beside her, his moon silver eyes watching her carefully. When had he moved? "It's nothing," she replied, swallowing at his nearness. When she reached out for the next card, her fingers trembled.
"Last card," she said softly, "Judgement. You're going to have to make a decision that will affect the rest of your life." She gathered her strength and met his gaze. "Don't ignore it. It could be a fresh start for you."
And then they were staring at each other, too close and too tired, their minds lacking their usual restraint. She could see nothing but the perfect oval of his face, the fall of his dark hair over his shoulders, the bandages on his arm as he lifted a hand to touch her cheek.
"I must make a decision?" he murmured, and the deep tones in his voice made her shiver. Her chest suddenly felt heavy and she struggled to remember how to speak.
He closed his eyes and leaned forward. "I make it."
Cards fluttered to the floor as she was pressed back into the pillows, Neji's body covering hers as he kissed her with such surety that she felt herself melting into him until she wasn't quite sure where she ended and he began. His hands were on her waist as hers curved around his neck, her breath coming quick and fast as his lips moved to her neck.
"Neji…" She had to think. If only her mind would stop whirling. But she had wanted this for so long her body was reacting without her. Still, she had to tell him. "Neji," she gasped, and felt one of his hands slip under her shirt. "Neji, the cards…"
"I don't care," he said against her skin, pulling away for a second to look at her with such barely concealed passion that his eyes appeared almost lavender. "Tonight I make my own destiny." And he descended onto her, kissing her until she couldn't remember anything except the feel of his arms and the windy smell of his clothes.
On the floor, the angel of Judgement watched and weighed before it was covered by abandoned clothes, forgotten.
Forgotten until the next morning when she woke alone with a hastily scribbled note that he had been called away on a mission.
Three days later, a broken Lee stood on her doorstep and handed her a tarnished forehead protector and begged for her forgiveness.
Neji was dead.
She wasn't sure what happened directly afterwards. She thought she might have fainted because the only thing she remembered was the terrible pain that had blossomed in her chest, the anguish of knowing something beautiful before it was ripped away forever. The worst part was the fact that she would never know. She would never know how he felt about her, never know if she had just been an outlet for everything he always keep in, just a girl that happened to be there at the specific moment Hyuuga Neji realized his own power. Had it been the mission? Had it been all the years built up between them until they could only surrender? Had it been fate?
There was also a small amount of guilt concerning the cards. She had never told him the secret meanings behind them, the image they had created slowly within her mind. Sitting in that chair, watching their son she could appreciate the irony though.
The Four of Swords, a trip to the hospital. The Sun, the arrival of a child. And Judgment, the one card that could speed up all the rest, a sign that his fortune would come to pass sooner rather than later.
It had not been much of a surprise to find that she was pregnant five weeks later.
"Perhaps fate decided I couldn't have both of you," she whispered out loud. "Maybe your father left because you were coming." And maybe Neji had indeed made his choice that night, one that had not only affected his own life, but hers as well.
She only knew that she would never read fortunes again.
"Good night, Neji," she said to the moonlight and closed her eyes, for only in her elusive dreams could she still feel him.
A single voice of prayer disappears,
And I start again, continuing trying by myself.
Someday moving towards a green morning, I will overcome the nights,
Because that is a place that I have to find alone.
To be continued…
1. Acheron, river of woe in Greek mythology.