Author's Note: Lyrics from "My Paper Heart" by the All-American Rejects
Chapter 10: My Paper Heart
Please just don't play with me
My paper heart will bleed
Why don't you just stay with me
Please, I beseech you
"Gaara-san, I was hoping to ask if--"
She was stopped mid-question by Gaara tripping and heading forward. Tenten reacted, leaning forward to catch him only to find that when he landed in her arms his lips were pressed against hers.
The nurse hastily pulled the two apart and got Gaara set up on his crutches again. Tenten made up an excuse to get away and headed for her room. Her face was burning, and she knew that Temari had been completely right.
Gaara watched her go with his mouth hanging open for a time. Had they really? Had he just?… He needed to lie down again. By the time the nurse was convinced that he was alright, Tenten was long gone. Gaara sighed in futility. She'd be gone within the hour, by his estimate. He paid little attention to the exercises the nurse had him do, he knew he'd be fine soon. What else was Shukaku good for, if not helping to fix ridiculous injuries that no one else could survive? He didn't care right now, he knew he'd be fine. But what about Tenten? After all, he'd just… He couldn't even think of it.
Until he got back to his nice comfortable bed in his room, Gaara grumbled enough to get the nurse to leave him alone that much faster. He glanced over at the morphine drip, wondering if he could qualify what he was feeling right now as enough pain to have that turned up.
The trip home was exceptionally quiet. Lee had unconsciously chosen a spot between Neji and Tenten in formation and she couldn't be more grateful for it. Every step closer to Konoha felt like another of her sutures being replaced, Tenten didn't need Neji analyzing her every move right now. Even she didn't want to think about what it could mean.
By the time the group had arrived, it was late evening but they were required to report to the Hokage anyhow. Tenten went along out of duty, though she knew she'd have no useful input. All she could think about was the Kage that wasn't here.
Shikamaru handled the debriefing for the most part, since he was the initial team leader. Tenten was only half-listening, and found herself staring off into the view from the Hokage's balcony. She was pretty sure that was the direction the Sand village was in.
"Tenten," Tsunade called her name, sounding annoyed. Shikamaru subtly elbowed her to bring her out of her daze. She blinked and focused on Tsunade's expression.
"I do hope I'm not interrupting your daydreaming."
"No Hokage-sama, I'm sorry, it was a long trip."
"Alright… I assume you're feeling better, since you were well enough to make it back to Konoha," Tsunade paused as Tenten nodded. "Good. Now, did the Kazekage explain the details of our agreement concerning your health?" Oh no, here it comes… Tenten cringed at the thought. She knew it was coming now.
"No. He only told me about my staying with his family until I'd been healed."
"Well, I'm sure you're aware that you were an exception to the normal rule in this case. With his family… That's unusual. Normally a Kage would charge us for a hospital stay," Tsunade thought, and Tenten could feel all eyes watching her some way or another. "But you were very lucky. Normally for hiding such a serious heart issue you'd have been stripped of your rank, but the Kazekage argued on your behalf. He claimed they had healers who specialized in this kind of medicine. I've heard of them, they're supposed to be brilliant."
"Heart condition?" Lee was looking shocked, Tenten tried not to notice. Instead she'd focused on the part where Gaara had kept her job for her. How on earth had he done that? And why?
"They were, they did a great job. They said they'd never seen a heart patient turn around so quickly before," Tenten spoke quietly.
"Good. But I'll still need you to demonstrate for me, just to be sure you're in full health. And remember, never push yourself too hard. You can't do your job if you're putting yourself in harms way."
"Alright, you all may go for now."
Tenten realized she'd never been happier to leave her idol's presence before.
The group filed out in silence, everyone planning on heading home and finally getting some rest. Tenten and Lee turned the way down to the street their houses both occupied, walking together in comfortable silence.
"Tenten," Neji called after her, he was behind them since his house was in the opposite direction. She was a little surprised by the final breach into speaking again, but none the less she turned to see what he had to say. "Are… Are you ok?"
She smiled at him and nodded. His face was emotionless as always, but he returned the nod and started to walk away.
"Neji," she called, and he paused to listen without looking. "I'm still your best friend. I'll never be too far away to come running if you need me."
He made an amused sound and nodded, continuing on his way.
Tenten knelt, completely exhausted from the demonstration Tsunade had requested. Shizune immediately began the check up on Tenten's vitals. This would determine if Tenten got to continue in her career as a ninja, she could only control her nerves so much now.
"She's in top shape," Shizune reported proudly. Even Tsunade smiled when Tenten sighed with relief.
"Alright, then let me buy you some dumplings for putting up with our little test, Tenten-chan," Tsunade offered.
"That would be great, thanks!" Tenten got up and wiped her brow with the back of her hand. The three walked over to the nearest restaurant and sat down, waiting for service. Tenten was drinking the offered water greedily, and Tsunade was smiling knowingly. She ordered for the whole group when the server came by and waited for Tenten to relax before speaking.
"So I found the Kazekage's request intriguing," Tsunade tented her fingers and leaned forward slightly on the table. "He really wanted to be sure you kept your rank in the village."
Tenten blinked in surprise, waiting for Tsunade to continue. She really couldn't think of anything to say in response.
"I've never heard the Kazekage, or a Kage in general, defend a shinobi from another village so fiercely before," Tsunade appraised Tenten's reaction. "Any idea why that might be?"
"You know, he contacted me again before your group returned. He asked that I give you that check up to be sure you could handle keeping your rank." Again, she gauged Tenten's reaction. She seemed to get what she was looking for in the way that Tenten's eyes kept getting wider. "Now, I don't know what happened. But, you've always been a very confident girl. And you'd have to be with that team of yours. I'm guessing whatever you did left an impression on the Kazekage."
"Actually… I'll be spending Christmas with him and his family," Tenten smiled shyly.
"Only Christmas?" Tsunade asked knowingly. Tenten stared back at her questioningly. "Look… Its not everyday that you can break down the wall of someone like Gaara who's been living behind one his entire life. He clearly cares for you. From one woman to another, if you want to be with him… I say, go for it. The Leaf will support a transfer to a friendly village, if you're willing."
Tenten was speechless. Tsunade again just watched the girl's reaction. Move to the Sand village…? It seemed crazy.
"I don't think I could move…"
"Go see how it feels. You don't have to decide right away," Tsunade smiled and reached over to grasp Tenten's hands comfortingly. "He's given you back your heart, and your life. Its worth a shot."
Tenten couldn't help but smile at the way Tsunade had put it. Her vision went blurry, her first clue that tears were building in her eyes.
"Take a week to break it to your team and pack. I'll handle the rest," Tsunade winked at the kunoichi and with perfect timing, the food arrived.
Neji arrived early to the scheduled training time, but was surprised that Tenten had beaten him to it. She was leaning back against a tree, with two large bags at her feet. He had to do a double take to be sure that the bags were actually there. Were they going on a mission? He couldn't have missed that.
"Tenten?" he got her attention and gestured to the bags. She looked down and smiled, biting her lower lip slightly.
"I'll tell you when the others get here, alright?"
"Hn…" Neji muttered and took a seat at the base of another tree. He heard her giggle slightly, which meant it definitely was not a mission.
Once the whole group had arrived, Tenten cleared her throat to get Gai's attention. Neji stopped meditating and got up to hear whatever announcement this was.
"I have something to tell you all… I'm leaving," she looked at each of the others as she said this. She lingered on Neji for a bit longer, some concern present in her gaze. Scenarios started to run through his head. He suddenly pictured their team as team 7, with Tenten as Sasuke, himself as Sakura and Lee as Naruto. Neji quickly banished the thought, it would certainly cause a scar later.
"Tsunade mentioned you'd be announcing this," Gai admitted rather calmly. Tenten nodded.
"I'm not sure if I'll be staying, but it could be awhile before I come back. I'll be on call for out of country missions with this squad specifically," she turned to look at Neji specifically. "And its only the Sand village if you need me."
"When do you leave?" Lee looked oddly ready to cry.
"Now…" Tenten smiled sadly and walked up to give Lee a hug. Gai wailed and hugged the two at the same time, complete with sunset backdrop. Neji just stared. He never expected Tenten to join one of the youthful embraces.
"Neji! Join us! We're saying farewell to one of our own!" Gai called to his third student, who shook his head. Tenten rolled her eyes and grabbed him with one arm, dragging him into the group hug.
Temari had volunteered to help Gaara with his paperwork today. He was recovering well, but he was still on bed rest and low stress. Needless to say, someone had to help with the paperwork so that he didn't overwhelm himself with every treaty. He'd finished the first pile of the day and dropped it into one of the conveniently located boxes next to his bed. With a grunt on annoyance, Gaara dragged the next stack closer to himself.
"Kazekage-sama?" a messenger appeared in the doorway, looking reluctant to enter.
"Yes?" Gaara didn't look up.
"You have a visitor."
"I'm on bed rest, send them away."
"Kazekage-sama, I don't think you want this one to leave…"
Gaara put down the papers and glared at the messenger. "Excuse me?" The messenger turned whiter than the paperwork on the bed, and Temari began to look back and forth between the two nervously. The situation quickly changed when a few of the recognizable guards were tossed past the door. Temari was on her feet with the fan in hand, standing protectively in front of Gaara's bed. The messenger hadn't moved and remained standing there pale and nervous.
And then, Tenten appeared in the doorway pushing the messenger aside with the guards. Temari let the fan rest as she relaxed and sighed with relief.
"Honestly guys, you've really got to work on that security issue. What if I'd really meant to hurt you?" Tenten teased.
"I think its more likely that they've been told not to hurt certain bun-haired Konoha kunoichi," Temari laughed.
"Aww, how sweet," Tenten grinned and bounced over to Gaara's bed, staring him down. He seemed to still be processing the fact that she was actually here.
"You… Came back," was all he could utter. "Early."
"Well… I missed you guys," Tenten looked at the two siblings in the room. "I don't really have a family in Konoha, but… I feel like I've got one here. I feel like I belong."
Gaara continued to stare at Tenten, and she stared back with a smile. Temari watched the two and grinned, grabbing the completed paperwork box and excusing herself.
"I hear I'd have lost my rank if it weren't for you," Tenten brought up, waiting for him to say something. Gaara remained silent, blinking at her like she was a delusion from the pain medication. "So… How can I thank you?"
"Just don't give up…" Gaara said.
"But, I have to ask…" Tenten glanced down, playing with a loose thread in the blanket. "Why? Why would you do that for me?"
"For you," was all he'd say.
Her eyes drifted back up to his as she studied his gaze. Tenten carefully scooted closer, putting one hand down on the opposite side of him. He did nothing as she came closer to him, as she placed one hand on his cheek to tilt his head when she brought her lips carefully to his.
At her touch, warmth exploded through his body. Gaara brought his arms up to wrap around her, pulling her closer. Their kiss deepened until Tenten accidentally hit one of the spots where he was still sore.
"Oh, I'm sorry," Tenten pulled back, looking where her hand had hit his chest.
"No…. Thank you…" Gaara was still for a moment before he looked back up into her eyes, pale meeting deep brown. "How long are you staying?"
She grinned. "As long as you like."
"Good," he took her by the hand and pulled her closer again.
"And this one's for Tenten, that's for Kankuro…" Temari was under the Christmas tree sorting through gifts. Kankuro was passing them to each designated spot while Tenten and Gaara sat together on the couch.
"Here…" Gaara handed Tenten a small red box with a green bow. She grinned as she took it and shook it gently. "Come on, open it."
"But I left yours under the tree," Tenten gave him her best sad look, but it didn't work. He gave her a steely gaze back until she started to unwrap the gift. Her jaw dropped as she pulled out her very own Sand headband.
"You know, in case we borrow you when Konoha's not using you…" Gaara explained with a pink tinge in his cheeks.
"It's perfect, thank you!" she gave him a kiss on the cheek. Then she pulled her Leaf headband down to wear as a necklace as she tied her new headband on. He grinned slightly as she did so. "Now… For yours…"
"You said it was under the tree," Gaara sounded confused.
"Just hold on," she winked at him as she started folding her red wrapping paper. He watched over her shoulder until she bounced in her seat with a happy squeal. "Done!"
Gaara blinked as she shoved an origami paper heart in his face. "A paper heart…"
"My paper heart," she corrected with a devious grin. "Just don't break it, ok?"
"Heh, I'll try," Gaara smirked and tucked the heart somewhere safely as he turned to kiss his Tenten.
Author's Note: A few special thank yous now that we're done...
A big bear hug to FalconFire for the request. Thank you thank you thank you! I think this is my favorite story to have written so far!
Another hug for my twinny, without whom this story wouldn't be over yet.
And lastly, to LostSoulofRegret. We didn't really talk much, but, your reviews always made me smile and remember why I was writing this story. Thank you!