Something Better

By Jia Zhang

Epilogue - Strangers


I'll always remember these times
Even when they fly too fast
But that's how it seems to stay now
There's no way to bring it back
I watched you turn away from me
And though it was no surprise
I wish I could see you once
From someone else's eyes

They were children once, and they loved each other innocently, unaware as to the degrees their love and passion would one day become. When they had been children—unique children nonetheless—everything was so much simpler. Everything was easier. They had no worries of the boundaries in which they were castrated in. Locked forever up high in a birdcage—they were oblivious to the song they constantly sang. When they were children, they were always together, and they basked in the time that was offered to them. They enjoyed every moment with each other, oblivious as to how much that would come to mean, and how much of those precious memories they would be able to hold on.

When they were children, nothing in the world mattered to them, because they had already found that special someone.

That was when they were children…

But people grow up, whether or not we wanted to.

And grow up they did, shaped and tormented by the yellow brick road of their fates, that seemed to spiral down nowhere, far past that glistening Emerald City. When they were children, they loved innocently, but once they grew up, everything changed. The roads they took parted from each other, perhaps never to meet again. When they grew up, they were met with other responsibilities, destinies in which they must fulfill. When they grew up, the innocent love they once shared was torn into shreds, red velvety fabric ripped and frayed into little pieces of crimson. The love they once shared as children was broken, and they, as adults, were mere reflections of their former selves.

Everything changes when you grow up, people you once knew may not be the same person you know so many years later. The weight of time, and the tides of life, crushes what our original structure used to be. What we once were as children, we could never be again. We can never have those sweet moments of holding hands, of sharing laughter, of simply being with one another. That is what they lost—their time, their childhood…their happiness.

They were now older, changed and transformed—no longer were they the innocent lambs of their golden ages. They now had children themselves, and they had new responsibilities to conform to. They had a new pathway to follow, which would lead them only further from each other.

Perhaps, someday they would recognize that they had lost something precious—when they were older, even wiser, to see that the other half of their soul had been torn away from them. They may wish to try to gain that back, but it simply may be too late, and time has already swallowed whatever hope of true happiness they once had. Maybe, they would remember all those sweet memories; remember their love for one another. Childhood romances never last, they say, but it doesn't make them any less real, any less passionate, any less special…any less destined.

Maybe, it would be sudden, a catch of the eye, a touch of skin, a simple word uttered…to bring it all back again.

But until that happens, they were nothing but strangers to each other.

We might as well be strangers
And I know we can't be friends anymore
There's no happy ending here
Can you tell me, what's the point?
From birth we're dying, what's the use in trying?
So we might as well be strangers

Their lives had gone on…

Her heart had been broken, shattered completely to the point of no resolve. For so long, those around her were terrified of what she may do, but none of them realized the degrees as to how truly devastated she was. Everything she had thought to be true unraveled to become nothing more than a mere façade. Her wondrous and fantastic love story became just a cruel and twisted version of Shakespeare's great tragedy. For so long it had hurt, so much that she wished it to be a real wound. For so long she couldn't stand the site of him…and she constantly wondered "why?".

But hearts are broken, and hearts are mended…slowly, very slowly and softly, so did her's. She grew up, learned to overcome the painful heartbreak of her childhood. She grew to be a different woman, stronger and braver than she ever could have been. Time passed, and life moved on for her. Slowly, her wounded heart began to love again, and slowly it began to heal even more…

Slowly, she began to lose that taste of her first love.

She had met him rather coincidentally, a partner on a mission. He was kind, soft-spoken, rather silly, but that had made her laugh, after such a long time of silence. He was gentle, and sweet…but brave nonetheless. He was never someone she had expected herself to fall in love with after her first heartbreak, but maybe that was better…this man who would hold her heart in his palms gently, softly, careful as to never wound it again. He became her confidant, her new best friend…her new deep love. She had grown up, her priorities changed, and so did whom she had come to love.

And she married him one spring day, when the cherry blossoms bloomed in full, and the colour of the wind was pink and spelled sweet like cake. She married him, surrounded by friends, teachers, parents, and those who cared about her. She finally took the first step in getting away from that heartbreak. She had fallen in love again, and she was happy again. She didn't want to think about anything else. She didn't want to worry about anything else.

This was a time that she deserved to be happy.

And she did.

She became a mother, of a little boy and a little girl. She lived in a good family—with a good husband, and loving children. She was happy, to be able to enjoy this sweet fantastic elixir again, to be lost and preserved in her chrysalis of euphoria. She never wanted to be torn away from this feeling again.

But things of happiness never last long…

She became pregnant again, with her third child. Once again, she felt joy and she glowed…but the village came under attack, and through the heat of the battle she was forced into premature labour. The child did not survive. Her happiness was torn away again…

And she was forced to confront her past.

You're broken, and I can't seem
To do anything right for you
I'm just another obstacle
The Queen of Superfluous
Help, so go, get on with it
I'll stay out of the way
It's not like I want to go
But why should I stay?

He had been there, unexpectedly, coincidentally, and rather distasteful in all. He was there, to save her and the midwife, to protect her as she gave birth…to watch as she wept for the death of her child. He watched her fall apart, all over again. But this time, it wasn't over him—it wasn't over the past they had shared, but the life she had worked so hard to reconstruct, to build after having everything shattered. She had found love again, found the happiness she so rightly deserved, only to have that broken as well.

And even now, he wanted to hold her so much, to comfort her, as she shattered into pieces. He deserved this kind of pain, not her, never her, that was what he thought. But the life he got wasn't what he wanted, but it was what he had to live with.

The woman he married so early on born him a son very soon into the marriage. He was content to raise his child, to love him as much as his father once did. He was supposed to lead the family now—it would be his duty, with his son and wife. But it was never real happiness, not like the kind she had created. He didn't love his wife, not like how she loved her husband. He cared deeply for his son, but it couldn't compare to the love she had for the child she lost. But he knew this should be what he gets, for hurting her so badly—his placid and pleasant life, with no real heartbreak or tragedy.

He should count himself lucky.

He didn't like to see her cry—he hated to see her cry. It felt awful, even after all these years, to see the tears come from her brown orbs, to see her shoulders shutter as she whimpers so softly that you could barely hear it. He hated the torment it her eyes, the pain she had to go through. He knew that this was so much more painful than what he did to her—at least then, she could move on.

She would never move on from this.

After the rage of the battles was over, he went to see her in the hospital. He knew he shouldn't go see her. She should be with her husband, and not be reminded of him—the man who broke her heart, the man who watched her lose her child…he knew that he was a man that she did not want to remember. He was the man she always felt pain around. He knew that she wanted to be able to forget their past and to move on. But things are never quite as simple. She may no longer love him, but he would always love her. He would always keep his vow, to make sure that she was happy…yet, he had broken it—broken her once again.

He wanted to save her and her baby, to protect them both. But he couldn't, even though he was so much stronger than before—he couldn't save them. The child was gone, and she was left in shambles. He hated knowing the fact that he could've spared her the pain…to know that he could have made her happy…but he didn't keep his vow.

Sometimes, he wondered if he ever would be able too. She was so far away now, beyond his reach. For that one moment, when he saved her—he held on to her once more, felt the touch of her skin, her smell, the glow she had from carrying her child. But that was all torn away once again. If he could trade all of his happiness for her's, then he would be content. But his happiness wasn't really worth much.

He was afraid, of what he would say, of what she would say…if it would bring up such unpleasantness, or past nostalgia.

Because right now, she was a stranger to him. They had changed so much…he didn't know what to do anymore.

All he knew was that he needed to see her one more time—and this would be the last. After this, he could be happy just to see her content, to leave her be and let her be happy.

We might as well be strangers
And I know we can't be friends anymore
There's no happy ending here
Can you tell me, what's the point?
From birth we're dying, what's the use in trying?
So we might as well be strangers

And in ten years or so I'll see you
You'll call me what's your name
We'll smile
Faces rushing through our minds
Then we're gone again
…We're gone again

And he stepped in the clean white hospital room. She lay so gently on the bed, as her husband held her hand, his head rest softly on her shoulder. He felt a sudden tug at his heart as he watched them like this. He always feared one day that someone would take her away…he hated that thought. But after what had passed between them, it was expected. And he was happy that she had once again found someone to love so deeply—to forget the hurt he had caused and moved on.

She did. And he was back in her life again.

She turned to look at him, her eyes full of surprise. In her mind, she was questioning herself why he was here. Her husband seemed to have sensed it too, for he looked up to see him standing in the doorway of the hospital room. Slowly, he let go of his wife's hand and went to the man who saved her.

"Neji…Thank you…for saving Tenten's life. I don't know how to thank you."

"I am glad I was able to help in some way, Koyasu, and I'm sorry for your loss."

He nodded in thanks, quiet, somber. For a moment, he turned and looked at his wife, told her he was going to go get her something to eat, and that he would be back. She smiled at him, and nodded. And for the first time in a long time, they were alone together.

"How are you feeling…"

"I'm all right."

"That's good."

"I want to thank you for saving me."

"It was just my duty…"

It felt awkward, totally unlike before. He was talking to an absolute stranger—but everything was so familiar, as if nothing had changed at all. He didn't know what to do. He was scarred. He wanted to leave—she was all right, he shouldn't be here to remind her of her pain anymore. He should leave.

He turned to go.

"Why Neji?"

He stopped in his tracks. He turned back to her slowly, to watch her sit up, to see the tears pour down her eyes. They were red and swollen, just like when he told her that he didn't love her so many years ago.

"Tenten…"

"Why did you leave me, Neji? Why…why did I have to lose my baby…? Why does this keep happening? Why?"

Slowly, he went over to her and sat down gently on the bed. He held her softly against his chest as she cried, her breath in hitches, her tears staining his shirt. This was the opportunity he never got when he first hurt her, to comfort her, to hold her, to assure her that everything was going to be all right.

"I'm sorry…about everything. But, it will be all right. You know it. You're strong Tenten, and you have your family to support you. You'll get through it."

And for that moment, it would be an eternity for them, holding onto each other so tightly, afraid that if they let go both of them would shatter into pieces of stained glass.

But even eternity ends.

He released her, said his goodbyes to both her and her husband, and left the white hospital room.

They were once again strangers to each other, until one day where they would be able to touch again.

We might as well be strangers
And I know we can't be friends anymore
There's no happy ending here
Can you tell me, what's the point?
From birth we're dying, what's the use in trying?
So we might as well be strangers
Strangers
Strangers
We're strangers
Just strangers…


Fin


Author's Note: Haha! I've finally finished this little ficlet of mine. ((smiles)) I hope everybody enjoyed reading this as much I did writing it. I would like to thank Christine-chan for letting me use her two songs as the parts for Neji and Tenten, and to Sara-chan for letting me use her song "Strangers" for the epilogue. I would also like to thank my wonderful beta, K-chan, for betaing this fic for me. ((glomps)) I would also like to thank everyone who has read Something Better. I hope dearly you all liked it.

Arigatou gozimasu.

Jia Z.


© June 2005 by Jia Zhang. All rights reserved.