She dreams of memory and happiness. She thinks she feels the touch of his hands on her skin and hears his whispers in her ear. "I'll marry you when I come home," he says and tears slip down her cheeks before she threads her fingers through his hair and kisses him.
Her dreams are sepia-toned, and like her, washed out. She's scared that she's beginning to forget, but she opens her eyes and realizes that she can't; the bulge in her stomach won't allow her. So instead, she allows the sharp edges of grief whittle at her heart until she packs a few things and flees.
His family would want their child; she refuses to give it to them before they ask. She will not chain her child to their destiny; she will allow him to fly free.
"What about you?" asks Lee. She has no answer for him, and he leaves her with a troubled look. "All I want," she whispers at night when she eats the dinner that Lee has given her, "is for my child to be happy the way you never were."
She begins to enjoy her new home in the forest; there's that would remind her of him. She hears the wind howl outside and wraps herself in a blanket and reminds herself of how lucky she is in her home of logs and warmth and sometimes throws a weapon at a makeshift bullseye so that she doesn't lose her edge.
Lee visits her once a week. He expresses worry for her condition, and she tells him that she's fine, the baby's fine and plasters a smile on her face. He isn't fooled, but leaves her with a brotherly kiss and supplies to last her for the week. "He wouldn't want you to do this," he tells her every time.
She knows this, and it tears her up inside. She smiles a sad smile (will she remember how to be happy again?) and answers, "But he's not here anymore."
Seven months have passed, and her back hurts almost as much as her heart when Lee tells her. "He's back," he says, and the hesitation in his eyes tell her as much as she needs to know. "They found him in a hospital in the Water Country."
"What's wrong with him?" she asks, stroking her belly and watching her friend stir the flames. The shadows flicker on the walls and if she wants, she can just make out her mutated shadow; she'll give birth to her child before she allows herself to transform, she thinks.
Lee looks away. "I'm sorry," he says, furrowing his dark brows with sorrow; he knows that his next words will cause her grief. She's permeated with a sense of false calm; she knows that she's living in the eye of the storm and that the worst will break on her before she's ready. "He's lost his memory."
She returns a month later with a swollen belly and mind. Her parents take her in when they see her (her mother was disappointed, but her father overjoyed; there's nothing you can do but love your prodigal child). She passes by him every day in the marketplace and it's not until she nearly trips that he notices her for the first time.
"Be careful," he says, catching her arm. She blinks back tears when he asks for her name, and lets them slide down her cheeks when he doesn't recognize it.
"I'm sorry," she apologizes, wiping her cheeks, "I think I'm just so close to my time that I've been moodier than usual."
He says it's fine. She wishes that he would use the sleeves of his kimono to wipe her eyes. Where did I learn to cry? she asks when he leaves her with wet cheeks.
She finds out that he's getting married in three days. Lee avoids her eyes, but she's too tired to care. She'll have this child and leave so that she doesn't have to face him.
"You'll still have the baby," Lee reminds her gently, holding her close so she can cry on his shoulder.
She closes her eyes and feels the breeze ruffle her hair. She'll name it "Hikari" if it's a girl and "Asa" if it's a boy, she thinks before she cries herself to sleep.
His fiancee is a lovely woman; she knows this because they have met.
Sometimes when it's warm, she goes outside and watches the children play in the park. It soothes her with the remnants of her childhood, and it grieves her to know that her child won't get to play here.
"They're lovely," someone says, startling her. She looks and sees a lovely woman with dark hair and eyes and porcelain skin. She knows that this is his fiancee, and wishes she could hate her, but she's too drained now to feel anything. "Oh, I'm sorry. My name is Rika."
She hesitates. Then, "I'm Tenten."
"Is this your first child?" Rika blushes. "I'm sorry, that was rude of me."
She shakes her head. "It's fine. Yes, this is my first." Her arm comes up to encircle her stomach. "My husband's dead," she volunteers softly. "It's okay," she says, absolving Rika of her unknowing sin, "But I at least have his child to remember him by."
Rika watches the children for a long moment. "I'm sorry," she finally says. Rika's a child; she has no understanding of grief, of loss, but Tenten also knows that Rika is already on her way to understanding love.
"Just treasure him," she says and leaves.
It's raining the night he climbs through her window. Her thin, cotton drapes flap in the wind and she watches him struggle with them before closing the window. There are two more days until the wedding.
"I remember," he says, dripping water on her carpet. His hair, weighed by rain and memory, looks darker than it really is but his eyes still burn her wherever they linger.
She gathers the scraps of her pride and hands them to him. "The baby's not yours," she tells him wearily and closes her eyes so that he can't see her lies for what they really are. "Go home and get married, Neji."
She feels the ice cold touch of his lips on her cheek but when she opens her eyes, all that's left are the stains he's left on her carpet and the open window. She shivers and closes the window to her happiness.
She tells Lee the next day and he yells at her.
"You could at least have told him that he was the father!" he screams, grabbing her shoulders and shaking them. "Why did you lie? Don't you love him?"
She laughs and it's a hollow sound. "I lied because I love him," she says. "Look at me; what can I give now that I've nothing left?"
"His child," answers Lee, placing both hands on her stomach. "Yourself. He's never asked for anything more than one of these things."
She opens her mouth to reply but words fail her and she begins to scream.
She loses fifteen hours of her life to pain and contractions. The pregnancy had not been easy, and her grief had made it painful, but she clings on with the stubborn will of a ninja. Lee leaves her side twice, once to find a medic and the second time to God knows where. He returns two hours later with a smile playing a the corner of his lips, but refuses to tell her where he'd been.
In fifteen minutes, she discovers what Lee has done. Neji bursts into the room, eyes wild and ceremonial garb in ruins. It's his wedding day, she remembers until another contraction makes the world swim with pain.
Lee crashed the wedding and told his former teammate that she was having their baby, that Neji better move his ass if he didn't want to miss the birth of his first child. Hiashi was furious when Neji couldn't speak his vows and threatened to cast him out of the family if he left.
He tore out of the temple and ran at breakneck speed towards the hospital. She lied to him, he remembered, and he nearly changed his mind until he realized that she was having his child, and dammit, he had to be there.
It's a boy and she smiles for the first time in months. "Asa," she names him and holds her arms out for him. Asa's father gives him to her, and she feels her heart beat again.
She spends her days embroidering her wedding kimono when she's not taking care of Asa or training with her husband (fiancee rather, but they're only having the ceremony for their families and Lee). She's designed the kimono herself (with help from her mother) and she enjoys making stitches in the red silk. She's threaded the needle with love and the holes in her heart close with every stitch she makes. Sometimes she wonders about Rika, but now she understands that Rika was too much a child to have ever made Neji happy.
"You're smiling," he says and she feels her cheeks flush as she quickly folds an undone section over her work to hide it. She hadn't noticed him entering the room.
"I'm not," she protests, but laughs when he quirks an eyebrow at her. "Maybe I am," she admits, and puts her work away so she can get up and kiss him.