Standard disclaimers apply.


By Cassandra's Destiny


Hyuuga Neji was happy to be finally back in Konoha, where everything was familiar. He had to admit though, that after spending years in the Sand village on a mission, everything there, too, became familiar.

But there was still no place like home.

The day he returned was the was the first day of Spring. Of course, Gai-sensei and his favorite student insisted they celebrate the youthful time of Spring… simply because the flames of youth were burning in their souls and they wish to spread the power of youth to all the unsuspecting villagers of Konoha.

Before Neji walked into the main hall of festivities, he bumped into a girl with long brown hair. When she turned to face him, he made out what she was wearing: a classic red Chinese cut dress that went to her knees, hugging her body in all the right places. Neji then knew he was mistaken. This was no girl… she was Tenten, a full grown woman.

"Neji!" She beamed at him upon recognition. Neji could neither move nor reply. He was too captivated with the sight before him: his old sparring partner, his best friend… his ex-girlfriend. With all those random thoughts popping inside his head, Neji didn't notice she was already wrapping her arms around him, practically clinging on to him for dear life.

"I can't believe you've come back! You look as fantastic as ever…" And she looked up to him, her eyes visibly softening, her beautiful brown eyes gleaming with happiness. With a slight tug on his collar, she slowly closed the gap between them. "I missed you." She whispered, her warm breath tickling his face.

Before Neji could react, she pulled away, her lips curling into a sincerely beautiful smile. With that, she ran away to the hall, disappearing in the pools of ninjas and other guests.

Good ol' Tenten. Neji thought. She was the first person to know him, the first person he ever let in. And she didn't mind. She didn't get mad, didn't resent him…and he loved her for that. But he was Hyuuga Neji and he had responsibilities. He knew that if he wanted to be a successful shinobi, his heart could never be anywhere else but his work. So, before he departed for his long mission, he went to her house and told her he wanted to break it off. It was simple, really. He straightforwardly told her he didn't want to see her anymore, and that her presence by his side was no longer necessary. It was not like he required a response whatsoever, so after saying what he had to say, he left.

Neji wouldn't deny, however, that during his entire stay in Suna, he never forgot about her. Every kunai reminded him of Tenten; and when you're a shinobi on a mission, kunais are obvious companions. Every shuriken, scroll, bo staff… every single weapon in the world reminded him of her. But he knew he had responsibilities. He knew he had obligations, a destiny he had to follow, and he cared for her too much to tie her to his cage.

No, Tenten was a free spirit. She was not one made to be held in captivity, especially by his own. She may not realize it, but his departure was for the best. He was protecting the wonderful life she had ahead of her, her wonderful life of freedom… without him.

Sighing to himself, Neji went through the entrance door. He wandered aimlessly, with a tinge of hope of finding Tenten. Even if they're not together anymore, he still wanted to know how she was. After all, they have been good friends since their genin days. And last time he checked, there was nothing wrong with asking how an old team mate has been in his absence.

Soon enough, a seemingly horrid thought crossed his mind; the thought of Tenten having had found her special someone made his stomach drop. But instantly, he dismissed the idea and proceeded with his search.

The lights in the room were beautiful. The décor screamed springtime of youth. Almost naturally, what better way to remind him of that than the green beast of Konoha, Rock Lee – him and the rest of the used to be genins: Naruto, Sakura, Kiba, Hinata, Ino and the others.

"Neji! You've finally returned. I trust your mission was a success…" If only Lee had stopped there, Neji would have had the impression he did some growing up. "And the fire of your youth has been made known throughout Suna!" He gave him his nice guy pose.

Neji saw Lee hasn't changed his youthful attitude. He still wore the same green spandex suit and his hair was cut in the same fashion, only now, he had a jounin vest to wear over his super fashionable and highly efficient suit. He looked like the same person, but underneath the youthfulness in him, Neji knew the nice guy pose wasn't just a façade. Why, if he wasn't the cold and stoic Hyuuga Neji, he would've openly laughed at his display.

"It was all good, Lee. Thank you for asking."

Consequently, as if on cue, everyone around him began bombarding him with questions.

"How was the weather in Suna?"

"Do you think missions like that are still offered?"

"Did you learn cool new moves there?"

"Do they have tasty snacks there?"

"Have you seen Hiashi-sama already?"

"Is that Temari girl still pinning for Shikamaru?"

The last question made him smirk, which was gone unnoticed, saved for Shikamaru. The two of them had developed some sort of bond in the past years. For little does everyone know, Shikamaru spent an awful lot of time in Suna, visiting a certain Sand kunoichi, who happens to be the sister of the Fifth Kazekage.

The questions continued coming but Neji didn't mind. However, as soon as his gaze fell on a kunai that Chouji dropped when pulling out another bag of chips, he had to ask. He simply had to.

"How is Tenten?"

They fell silent.

Neji took the hint. He knew he has never been the talkative and sociable type so, of course, when he asked them a question, they'd be dumbfounded – it's a pretty logical theory, the only one in fact. So he went on. "I saw her outside before I got in the main hall. How is she now?"

It was weird. One moment, all their mouths were nearly agape; the next moment, all their eyes were glued to the ground, and a pregnant pause followed. It was Lee who caught Neji's attention when he shifted uncomfortably. And, gathering up his courage and walking up to him, Lee placed a hand on his shoulder.

"Neji." Came his firm tone, sadness evident in his voice.

"Tenten passed away four years ago. The night you left for Suna, she followed you without orders, left the village unaccompanied... and she got ambushed by a band of missing nins."

Neji was not able to protect her after all.