- oOo -

I am strong.

-()-

She walked quickly, merely a shadow drifting through the dark, silent village. No one could really call that a simile... It was what she had been reduced to lately. She was hardly more than a black shape anymore. Her friends no longer knew her. Oh, but they tried. But they didn't understand...

-()-

I am independent.

-()-

Of course, that was a lie, and the point could be shot down immediately. They would say, "Sakura-san has been through the same, and much longer than you have! Get used to it... The hurt will pass." But, the woman in particular that they spoke of seemed much kinder than they. "Don't listen to them," she'd say. "It always hurts... But, you take it in stride. It just makes you that much stronger... and you have something to strive for."

-()-

I can do this.

-()-

She slowed considerably when reaching her destination. The kunoichi walked with quieter, lighter steps, weaving around the monuments that jutted above ground, her silence not entirely out of respect. She had long since lost the will to speak.She'd lost the will to do much of anything, really. But she'd done this... She'd needed to...

-()-

I can do this.

-()-

She finally reached the row she was looking for, and her legs automatically froze.

-()-

Can I do this?

-()-

She tried to move, but her efforts went in vain. It was like she was leashed by invisible strings, and she had just reached the maximum amout of space she could go. It was ironically like her own chakra strings that she prided herself on.

-()-

I can't do this.

-()-

Thinking it would help, she dropped to her knees. Thinking it might ease the pain, she clutched at her heart. It hurt so bad.

-()-

I failed the Chuunins.

-()-

What had she been thinking? Of course she wouldn't be able to follow through. She was weak, as had always been stated.

-()-

I burden my team.

-()-

She scoffed. Even after numerous years spent training with him, she was still weak. Even being his sole sparring partner, save his uncle, she still couldn't be strong enough.

-()-

I didn't become the Godaime's apprentice.

-()-

Even after watching him, day after day, collapse from exhaustion because she had caused it, she couldn't even make it to him.

-()-

I let Lee get hurt.

-()-

She blamed herself. Everybody knew it, and she let them. It was her fault that this had happened.

-()-

I let myself get hurt.

-()-

For the first time ever, she had been chosen as leader of the mission. For the first time ever, she was recognized by her fellow ninja as a capable human being. For the first time, she had something to make him proud of her. And she lost him.

-()-

But I lived.

-()-

In the end, they never found him. She wasn't good enough to keep him, so why should she have been good enough to find him? She spit the acrid taste of the lingering defeat out of her mouth and stood up on shaky legs.

-()-

We all lived.

-()-

She would do this one thing for him. She couldn't hold him anymore, she couldn't make him feel worth, she couldn't look into his white lavender eyes, ones that were so identical to his whole family, yet obviously unique (at least, to her). But she could do this; she could pay him this respect as she hadn't been able to do before.

-()-

I can do this.

-()-

She took one step. Then another. Then another. And many more after that. She began looking at the writing on the monuments, seeing the engraved letters even through the dark. Besides... His shone betteer than anyone elses.

-()-

I know I can.

-()-

She kneeled down by the stone, gingerly placing her hands on its rough top. "I did it," she said softly. "I finally came." And so did her tears.

-()-

Aren't you proud, Neji?

-()-

She rested her pale cheek against the cool stone and cried. She cried for so many things. Shimmering crystal beads rolled down her sunken, pale cheeks, murmuring and blubbering nonsense to the slab of marble that she embraced. Running her fingers over his name, she chanted it.

-()-

I hope so.

-()-

"Neji... Neji-kun... I miss you... Lee misses you... He says he misses me, too, but I don't miss me at all. You never knew how much you meant to me, and I never knew how much I meant to you, really. I never knew it would hurt this much... I took Sakura for granted. She made an effort to smile, even when she was torn apart... And I can't even do that." She laughed without humor. "I'm talking to your memorial stone, Neji, and not your rotting corpse, since they never found it. You were just... gone so long, without a word. You were asumed and claimed dead. Two years is a long time to wait." She was still as she felt someone approach her from behind. Lee had followed her? "Is that really you, Tenten? You've changed."

-()-

No... He was dead...

-()-

She didn't dare turn around. It was a sick, cruel joke, and whoever was playing it was going to regret it later. She'd just die and haunt them forever. "Leave me," she said coldly, "I want no part in your playing. It's not fair... It's not fair..." She felt like throwing up. But she couldn't; not in a place of utmost respect. She would be definling these graves, Neji's most of all. "I said to go!" Tenten cried, feeling the presence remain. "I thought you, of all people, would at least be happy to see me." Her eyes widened.

-()-

But he's alive!

-()-

Finally turning, her tears rapidly increased. "N... Neji?" Could she trust her eyes? She certainly couldn't trust her heart or her mind; it had created this image so often in her head that she feared madness. His taller, skinnier, battered, yet still handsome form was outlined by the stars. His eyes penetrated through the darkness, and she knew... It was he.

-()-

I know now what I'm supposed to do.

-()-

She stood up (though she didn't know how; her legs were made of nothing but mush by now) and stepped towards him. "If you are an illusion," she said softly, slowly making her way to the figure, "then I will die, you know." The figure nodded.

-()-

I won't let you down.

-()-

He watched intently at her fragile form as she picked her way through the graves to him. He wanted nothing more than to go to her to lessen her load, so she wouldn't have to reach so far to achieve what she needed... But he needed to know; would she be strong enough to reach him? Or... would she turn around... to be better off safe than sorry. To think that what she didn't know wouldn't hurt her. To not count him as important enough to risk her heart- to risk failure for her to thrive.

"Neji..." He refocused his unwavering gaze. She was almost to him. Close enough to touch, if he lunged. And he almost did... But, she did it first.

-()-

I love you.

- oOo -


Edit; As some of you know, I wrote this a while back after reading Link and Luigi's But She Didn't Kill Him. I had presumed it to be a NejiTen-bashing oneshot, because, quite frankly, it seemed to really dis the pairing. I (being the paranoid idiot that I am) wrote this just to get the anger out of my system, and ended up really hating on Link and Luigi as well as "justifying" my favorite pairing. Since it seemed like such a bashing fic, I presumed that she'd never read this one. I was wrong... again. Thankfully, I recieved a review by Link and Luigi, and it showed me just how wrong and childish I was to say such mean things about them. For that, I am truly sorry.

And I must say, whoever did send Link and Luigi any hate PMs or reviews-- why would you do such a thing? It's terribly disappointing, to both her and me (just knowing that I caused bad feelings between myself and a truly good author is horrible). Again, I apologize, and I hope any other rude people would do the same: But She Didn't Kill Him is a cliche-basher, NOT a basher of the couple.

-Bya-chan