Title: Set Apart
Theme: 1 - I Set You Apart
Word Count: 1225
Notes: Rather dark, especially for Neji. Not a happy fic. Also, not a fic with a title that's all that original.
with rains that might put out the sun and clean the sky of stars,
rains like the fall of ruined seas from secret worlds above,
the roaring of the rains of God none but the lonely love.
-the Last Hero, Chesterton
The sky was a boiling cauldron of dark-grey, the color of wet steel. The promises of a storm were scribed in the air, which was cool and damp and very still. Clouds like foreboding mountains moved sluggishly across the horizon, lit up now and then by the white blaze of lightning-bolts. The growling of the distant thunder served as a morose background music. More than one person, eyes gazing on the weapon-colored sky, thought the day was entirely too suitable.
"We are gathered here today in remembrance of a brave kunoichi, one in whom Konoha took great pride – "
They gathered in a loose circle around the memorial-stone, uniformly clad in mourning-black. They huddled close to one another, seeking comfort from the reminder of death in the proximity of those still alive. The Hokage, a tired look in her brown eyes that not even her famous jutsus could hide, spoke the elegy in a voice that seemed on the verge of trembling.
"Though her blood came not from Fire Country, she was nonetheless one of us in a way that no one could dispute. She was our mistress of weapons, our dragon of steel – but most of all she was our friend and comrade."
There was an audible sob from one of the mourners, and the others gulped and shifted nervously.
"She died in battle, brave until the end, using her sacrifice to ensure the success of her mission. Her teammates would not be here today if it were not for her…"
Eyes flicked towards Lee and Gai and Neji. Gai and Lee stood close to each other, eyes fixed on the new, beloved name inscribed onto the memorial-stone. Known for their loud, dramatic bawl-fests, the tears now slipping silently and despairingly down their cheeks were a striking and sad contrast. Taijutsu-trained fists were clenched hard enough to whiten the knuckles – blood dripped down from Lee's fist.
Neji stood apart.
"…and I know that she would not regret it, that is the best death she could want – in honor, in battle, and for those she loved best. She told me, herself, once."
More worried eyes were now resting on Neji. They knew what she had meant to him – what they had meant to each other. He had needed her so much - the word was almost 'dependent'. His visible jealousy whenever another male talked to her – and sometimes even when other girls did – his insistence that he be the center of her attention and the way she always was his - those little quirks were - had been - an on-running joke among the others, but the implication -that for Tenten even Neji's cool temperament would be compromised…
She had been his everything.
Yet he stood there, his eyes dry, his expression flat.
"…and so we lay to rest – " That was a purely rhetorical statement, as there remained no body for them to lay to rest. "Tenten of Konoha. May the gods watch over her."
They murmured the ritual response softly. "May everlasting light shine upon her."
Then the funeral was over and they were going slowly away, their movements quiet and subdued. Their eyes kept glancing backwards at the one figure still standing, silent and unreadable, at the memorial-stone.
The skies blazed, and the storm descended on them.
The rain was cold and sharp as it drummed against Neji's skin, feeling like tiny icy needles shattering into shards of wetness. He paid it no heed as he stared at the memorial-stone. When he raised his head he was alone, and the rain had turned his hair black and heavy. He flung it back, a sheet of water shimmering from it, and swiped his hand across his face to wipe off the rain.
He turned and began to walk into the forest – where he and Tenten had trained, flitting from tree to tree, dodging strikes and weapons, laughing and shouting and fighting. Later it had been where they went to be alone…
He shook his head, flinging the memories as well as the rain away.
He stops in front of a wooden cabin, set far back in the woods and as lonely and isolated as if it were on a mountain-top. The rough log construction of the cabin belies the modern, almost-luxurious interior, all varnished wooden floors and walls, softened by throw-rugs, accented with dark slate. There are skylights and solar panels set into the rooftops, and huge plate-glass windows.
And there are seals etched in unending strings around the structure.
Several large ones are carved into the brushed-steel door, and Neji pauses to admire the skill in which they'd been placed, before placing his hand on the central seal and letting a pulse of his chakra move through his hand and into it. The seal glows white for a moment, the faint illumination receding as the door swings smoothly open without a sound.
Neji walks inside, ducking his head casually as a kunai whistles past. His pale eyes follow backwards along its trajectory until they rest on the thrower – a slim, pretty girl, eyes bright with angry tears, who had thrown the kunai with every intention of hurting him.
"Now, Tenten," he murmurs, walking closer. Tenten backs away from him, raising a katana in obvious threat, until she is pressed against the wall, shoulders hunched defensively. He doesn't like that – but he knows it will take some time for her to understand.
"Get away from me," she hisses.
"Why are you so angry?" Neji asks, in a soothing way that he would never have used for anyone else.
"Why?" Tenten says in a high, incredulous voice. "Why! Because you've kidnapped me and locked me away and sealed me so I can't escape!" she screams at him, raising the katana over her head – the seals on her wrists now easy to see. She rushes at him, the blade making silver crescents as she employs it with all the fatal skill of a cornered blademaster.
But he is Hyuuga Neji, and he is one of the top shinobi of Konoha, and it isn't long before he has her pinned to the ground, face-down. She is crying, hard, her sobs making her slender – hasn't she been eating? – frame shake underneath him.
"Neji…why? Why? Let me go…"
"It's for the best," he whispers, leaning down to press a small kiss to the back of her neck. That had always used to make her smile, and reach for him with sparkling eyes…now she only cries harder.
Neji knows how quickly the ones you love can be taken away from you; he knows how cruel the world can be. And he knows that he cannot – cannot – let Tenten be taken away from him.
And so he preserves her, hides her away where it is safe and she will never leave him, where their world will only be for the two of them.
He sets her apart.
I rent her from her red-roofed hall, I rode and saw arise,
more lovely than the living flowers the hatred in her eyes.
she never loved me, never bent, never was less divine;
the sunset never loved me, the wind was never mine
-the Last Hero, Chesterton
Funeral rites drawn from requiem mass, since I don't have experience with anything else.
Edit1: Fixed a problem with tenses in the last bit.