Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.

Summary: Tenten is sent--virtually alone-- on a mission to the Sand country. Little does she know that she will find something she has always wanted there… (GaaraXTenten)

Author's Note:

Firstly…The beginning was stolen form my other story "This is Me." I'm pretty sure I can do that, with it being my story and all…

Secondly… This one is for my new friend FalconFire. It's weird, I never thought I'd write a GaaTen and now I'm working on one that's probably going to be a few chapters long. Just like when I started "Weak" and thought it would only be 3 chapters long and it's now 10 chapters and not done… Enough rambling and here we go!

Artificial Heart

by MT Pocketts

Why do I bring myself this pain?

It's like I hate myself today.

This feeling digs a hole

Deep inside my soul.

I can't make it go away

I hate myself today.

Now he's leaving me here,

I surrender to the pain

Because I hate myself today.

Why have you gone?

You know how much I love you,

And you're still walking away.

This is why

I hate myself today.

"Neji," Tenten came up to him as he meditated. The Hyuuga opened an eye in annoyance to glare at her and she seemed to falter under his gaze. He ignored it, since she was never one to be awkward. "It's lunch time, maybe you should take a break."

"Hn," he replied and closed his eyes once more. He didn't need to see her face to know she was glaring at him.

"You need to eat," she said, wishing Lee and Gai had not left so soon. Then maybe they could get him to eat something. But it was just her now, and it seemed like he never listened to her.

"Why do you care so much?" he asked her, and looked up to see the faintest blush in her cheeks.

"It's because I…I…" she trailed off and looked away. Neji slowly began to regret asking her.

"Tenten, don't-"

"I love you Neji," Tenten admitted and her blush deepened as they both stared at each other. She couldn't believe that she had actually said it and he was trying to come up with a response of some kind-- anything to make the atmosphere less tense.

"I…I'm sorry-" he started and in an instant her eyes flooded with tears. Tenten ran away as he finished, barely listening to his words.

-x-X-x-

The brunette sat upright in her bed and breathed a sigh of relief. Why did she keep having that dream about that day? Tenten couldn't help but feel dumb for how she had acted. She had run away from him like a pathetic schoolgirl. She was too weak. His words had cut her deeply, even though she was not sure that he had actually said them.

'It's not that I don't like you, I'm just not looking for a girlfriend right now.'

She rolled over and hid her face in her pillow. Of course he didn't feel the same way. This was Neji! Did he feel anything? He had looked so honest, if she did not know better it might have seemed like it hurt him to say it too. Tenten groaned at the very idea. He would never feel bad about what he had said to her. Because he was the Hyuuga Neji, and he could not feel things the way she did.

"How stupid could I be?" she frowned and finally managed to drag herself out of bed, get dressed and go into the kitchen to make herself breakfast. Tenten found the house to be painfully quiet, as always. Something about her dreams of the problem with Neji made her remember it even more. She could not remember a time when the house had not been quiet, or when it had not been so cold.

A small part of her mind, deeply tucked away, recalled having a family here. A father who came home from rough missions so that he could see his girls, a mother who smiled with pride when Tenten brought home drawings she had made for her, and her baby sister….

… Tenten threw a senbon out the window without looking and heard the usual, dull thud in the fence. She did this whenever the painful memory of her sister came up, and by now the needles were beginning to form the kanji for "ambition," since it was all she had now.

Although this toss of the needle had also brought the sound of a shriek, and she turned with a sigh to see who was outside her home. Sure enough, Lee waved at her joyfully from the window before Tenten told him to come in. It had almost become a routine by now. Her green-clad teammate would show up in a unique fashion, and she would invite him in for breakfast.

This had started a week ago, after the feud with Neji. Tenten knew Lee had noticed the tension during training, and somehow the boy also knew that what she needed now was a friend more than anything. They never talked about it, but they did not need to talk. Lee was there and he understood, that was enough.

"Tsunade-sama wants to see you," Lee said as they sat down to breakfast this morning.

"What for?" Tenten could not help but hide her eagerness at the mention of her idol.

"I don't know, Gai-sensei told me that she had wanted to see all of our team. But he had to leave on a mission with Kakashi, and Neji is with his uncle and cousins for some family thing," Lee explained.

"And you'll be…"

"I'm supposed to be resting up at the hospital after a training accident yesterday, she let me go just to get you," Lee grinned.

"Lee! What happened this time?"

"I guess I pulled something while running laps, it was had to walk at first," Lee said while trying to remember. Tenten sighed and took away their breakfast plates, Lee just waited patiently as she rinsed them off.

"Let's get you back then, I'll go to the office after I see you check back in," Tenten said to Lee and he nodded obediently.

-x-X-x-

When Tenten finally found herself in the Hokage's office, there were two more familiar faces there for a meeting as well. She instantly recognized Naruto, who was happy to flash her a friendly grin, and the more laid back Shikamaru who looked like he would rather be taking a nap. The Hokage and her assistant Shizune seemed happy to see Tenten, who was like a balance between the polar opposites in the room.

"Alright, now that the available ones are here…" Tsunade began and stood up to face the group.

"Yeah!" Naruto cheered, but those present chose to ignore the outburst.

"Your mission will be in the Sand country, mostly surveillance work. Part of your job--" the Hokage indicated Shikamaru and Tenten for this part, "-- will be keeping Naruto from being noticed in his orange."

"Hey!" Naruto glared at her and received a smirk in return.

"Good, so you were paying attention…"

"Ob--"

"So what exactly will we be doing in the Sand country?" Shikamaru cut in before Naruto could make another outburst.

"Right, you'll be watching for signs of arson--"

Tenten flinched slightly at the idea of fire, her least favorite element.

"--There have been problems… We have reason to suspect that there is more to the story according to information we have gathered," Tsunade explained.

"So we're basically seeing if information was accurate and what might be happening?" Shikamaru wanted to know and Tsunade nodded.

"When do we leave?" Tenten asked. Shizune told the group that they would be leaving sometime today and returning in at least a week. Shikamaru muttered something about missing his troublesome father's birthday, and did not notice the dark glares sent his way by the two orphans in the room.

'I'd kill to be celebrating a birthday with my dad… or mom… or sister… Just one more time…' Tenten thought and turned to leave as they were dismissed.

-x-X-x-

It was so dark out that she could not even see her hand if she held it in front of her face. But there was heat; so strong, thick and overwhelming that you could almost taste it. It burned her nose, and then she heard the scream. A flash of orange followed a crash in the front room, and the cry of pain had been her final wake up call.

That cry was the one sound that would haunt her for the rest of her life.

Then there was yelling. Voices calling out in panicked, strained tones hoping to grasp on to something already lost. She could hear her own voice among the chaos; searching for the one crying out. Searching for the person most precious to her.

Orange and yellow had flashed once more, a crackling sound engulfed the house and dust arose from the other side of the building. She had fallen to her knees with the force of her world crashing around her.

Another scream; another cry for help from that innocent, sweet soul she loved caused her to move once more. She ignored the ash in her eyes, she ignored the things falling around her, she ignored the heat prickling at her tender skin. She just went on.

When she reached the source of that voice, the sight that lay before her had--

-- "Tenten!" Naruto had greeted her animatedly, pulling her from her memory and shaking away the pain and guilt that came with it.

"Hey Naruto-kun," she greeted him plainly, though managed a small smile.

"Have you seen Shikamaru yet?" he asked her, but the Nara appeared and answered for her.

"I was right behind you, you should really work on paying attention to your surroundings," Shikamaru teased and they were on their way.

An hour later…

Tenten said nothing for most of the way and was comfortable taking the back in their group as they traveled towards the Sand country. It was where she seemed to be most comfortable, as that was her place in her own cell. After all, someone had to cover Neji's blind spot.

She wondered what the rest of her team was up to, this had to be her first mission with out them. Something felt odd being without them, over the years they had basically become her family. They were the people she fought with and protected, and they protected her as well. Was that what having a family was like? If her sister was still around, is that what things would have been like with her?

Tenten pushed the thought away, and with it the vision of tear-filled chocolate eyes and the memory of hopeless cries in the dark. She had spent all these years building up her defense, blocking off her heart, working to become a great lady ninja so that someday she could protect people. Tenten would protect someone's precious person; since she had failed to protect hers all those years ago. Yet somehow she kept wanting to see more of Neji's soft side. That sly smile he wore when Lee was challenging him, the soft concern when she lost in a spar, and the look on his face when Gai had announced they would be skipping training to celebrate Neji's birthday. She found herself reminiscing over those precious few moments, and somehow they had withered away every brick in the wall around her heart. Now Tenten found herself vulnerable, every day she was adding senbon to the kanji on the fence outside her window. Perhaps it was time she had a break from her team, and she was grateful that she was with others she knew relatively well.

"I think we're about there…" Shikamaru had stopped and was now surveying the area. He had become the default leader of the trio, since he was the first to become a Chuunin.

"Did she expect us to check in with Kazekage-sama?" Tenten thought aloud, realizing that the new Kazekage was actually their old acquaintance from their first Chuunin exam: Gaara.

"I don't see why we shouldn't," Shikamaru admitted and Naruto lit up, neither of the other two really understanding why he was so friendly with Gaara but still finding his enthusiasm endearing. Tenten thought back to her fight with Gaara's sister Temari during the chuunin exam. It had really only bruised her ego, but the hurt returned occasionally even though Lee and Neji kept telling her that--

No. Not back to a thought about Neji. She stopped herself before she could let the memory sting again.

The group continued on, Tenten managing to find the area around them a good distraction from the thoughts. They were still in a relatively forest-like area but it was slowly opening up as they grew closer to their goal. She listened to the wind rush past her face, even though they had slowed down it still felt nice against her skin. They went through the last of the branches before they would have to go down to the sand and walk, but something seemed to make Tenten feel uneasy.

It was then that she heard a twig snap, far below them.