Patchwork

By Nessie

When Neji turned thirteen, Tenten told him that she was working on a project. On a mission that year, the silk band holding his hitai ate over his Manji seal was torn by an enemy's kunai. And after defeating that very enemy with her personal assortment of weaponry, Tenten asked if she might have the ruined band as he would have to replace it anyway. He had given it to her, thinking nothing of it at the time. A cut on her hand trickled blood onto the dark material.

---

And he thought nothing of the threadbare handkerchief he nearly threw out when they were fourteen, nor anything of the sleeve of his thick jacket after giving it up in favor of more traditional Hyuuga clothing at fifteen. She had taken the items as though they were gems.

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Because her fights often involved sharp items not friendly to weak fabrics, Tenten had ruined various articles of clothing in her time. She once recruited Neji and Lee to help her box some old clothes she had planned to sell at a second-hand store; in adding a pink cotton blouse he remembered from their younger years, she had paused and then taken the shirt out again to store on a closet shelf. He shrugged and caught a carton of old shorts before Lee dropped them all over the place.

---

Team Gai battled a unit from the Lightning Country when they were seventeen. Neji made sure they were victorious before the dawn arrived, and Tenten's favorite combat attire had taken a shuriken's points. She took a piece of the hanging, burgundy satin in her hand. Neji had heard her murmur something.

"Perfect."

---

The day Lee became a Jounin, he offered her one of the many green training shirts he had in his possession. Tenten had thanked him, taking it and remarking on how well the color would look with a light blue. Gai just so happened to carry a light blue bandana in case there was an opponent to blindfold. Tenten had nipped it from him, practically giddy.

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At Hinata's nineteenth birthday party, Neji had been watching Tenten dance with Inuzuka Kiba and had somehow – and to this day he still could not comprehend how – spilled a pink-colored wine down the front of his stark white dress shirt. Tenten had needlessly begged him for it, and he had wordlessly handed it over at the end of the party.

---

At twenty, he fell in love with her. She was reclining on a grassy hill in the middle of a summer night, spending time with him before she left on a mission with Sakura. A firefly circled around her head, its golden light gleaming like stars in her eyes, and he kissed her right when the rain started. He missed her for the week she was gone and when she returned, he made love to her in her own bed. Just before the sun reached the horizon, when she thought he was sleeping, he saw her get scissors and snip off a section of the yellow sheet beneath their intertwined bodies.

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Two years later they were married. After the wedding, Neji presented her with an extravagant spear made by the Hyuuga family's personal craftsman – and a pair of shining silver scissors. He told her he had know idea why she was always cutting things up, but he would support her in it.

She had proceeded to have him hold up the outer skirt of her wedding kimono while she cut out a square from her underskirt's fabric. She placed it carefully in one of the suitcases she had brought to the Hyuuga compound. Then Tenten turned and allowed him to remove the rest of her clothing.

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His firstborn child, a girl, was as beautiful a contrast of light and dark as her father. She needed two baby blankets; one that Tenten went back to over and over again because she swore up and down that she couldn't get the piece she needed from it, and another that the child's mother was not allowed to touch when she held her silver scissors.

Neji eventually cut out a rectangle for her, and it was just right.

---

"Neji…Tenten…Lee. I'm dying."

Tenten cried for what seemed like hours over her teacher's weakening heart while the ailing Gai lovingly stroked his only girl's hair. When he was gone, his personal medic gave Tenten the shirt she had stained with her tears, telling her it was one of the last things the first Beautiful Green Beast had requested. She clutched it to her, showering it with the kisses a daughter might give.

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Their second child, a boy with Tenten's eyes, graduated from the Academy. Neji had told his son to give his mother the new pair of trousers he wore to the ceremony. Tenten had not looked so happy in a very long time.

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Lee married late, but he married nonetheless and refused to keep the black shirt he had worn at his own wedding. He instead trimmed a jagged triangle out of the back of the shirt and given it to Tenten with a note pinned on it.

Just so that I know what youthful purpose you've intended these things for over the years.

She laughed and laughed, refusing to answer any questions.

---

On the eve of their twentieth wedding anniversary, Tenten revealed to her longtime husband the only secret she had ever kept from him since they were twelve years-old. "It stopped being a project," she explained when Neji held up the enormous, warm-looking quilt in utter disbelief. "It became an obsession."

"Why was that?" Even as he spoke, Neji's calloused thumb drifted over the monogrammed initials of a handkerchief he had forgotten.

Tenten passed her hand over his cheek and met his eyes. "It tells how long anyone has loved me." Her smile was interrupted by Neji's kiss.

---

He asked her only once, when she was dutifully sewing a length of white ribbon (worn in their daughter's hair on her twenty-second birthday) around the perimeter of a square cut from their son's first ANBU uniform. "Will it be finished soon?" Indeed, the quilt was wide enough to wrap twice around both of their bodies.

Tenten had patiently set down her needle and taken his hand. "Part of me wishes it will never be finished. We're only forty-five." Pulling him down to her, she wound her arms about his neck. "It's practically just beginning."

---

She was wrong.

The sixth Hokage, who was by some miracle Uzumaki Naruto, sent Neji on a mission to the Sound's old base. Though Orichimaru was dead, there was a new disturbance of rogue ninja in the area that had apparently needed to make a point. Naruto informed her himself, saying that their children's generation would be the one to fight these new warriors. Neji had died honorably at the hand of one younger, if not stronger, than him.

Tenten had, to all's surprise, shed very few tears. On one of their frequent visits, Lee and his wife saw her take her scissors – the silver now tarnished after so many years of use – and cut the life-depicting quilt in half. She charged her and her husband's best friend with wrapping him in half of it just before he was buried. Lee did as she asked.

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Lee perished from a dagger's hit that had opened an old wound that did not manage to heal this time. As Gai, had done, Lee gave Tenten a shirt; but this one was the very first "Gai shirt" he had ever owned. Tenten, in turn, passed it on to her only daughter, urging her to begin a quilt of her own in memory of her surrogate uncle.

Neji and Tenten's daughter opened a crafts shop in Konoha only a few months later.

---

Not far behind her best friend, Tenten died of natural causes. Sakura, the best-respected physician in the country and the pupil of the late Tsunade, said she never was able to figure out what ended her long life. "Perhaps it ended when Neji-san died."

Hinata agreed, saying, "That was when she stopped adding on to her quilt."

At her burial, their son – ANBU's new leader – did with his mother as Lee had with his father and swaddled Tenten in the remaining half of what was now known as the Hyuuga Tenten Quilt. Only one patch was left out of the earth for the comfort of her children – the one that she never added.

The silk band of Hyuuga Neji's first hitai ate, stained with the young blood of the woman who had been his partner – from the beginning to the end.

The End