Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto

You rock, Yugao! Thanks again for betaing.


There was always a moment, a split second while she was fighting, when Tenten realized how fragile everything was. It flashed by each time, coming quickly and going just as fast, so she barely had time to recognize the thought before it was gone.

It was a feeling she got sometimes just before she threw a handful of kunai in order to block another ninja's weapons – the instant when she raised her hand and thought about how the slightest tilt in her wrist could cause her to miss her mark. Or when she leaped off the ground and flew, the wind rushing past her face, knowing how easily she could fall.

She never thought about it afterwards. Yet in the middle of the next battle, it would always come again, that single moment when she see the world with different eyes – eyes that didn't see what had happened, or what she had to make happen, but what could happen.

It was after a battle against a trio of Rain ninja that she caught Neji watching her. She might have noticed him sooner, felt the weight of his pearl eyes on her, but she was still seeing the blinding white of the enemy ninja's blade – still feeling the sudden surprise she'd felt as she was jerked backwards from the force of his blow. Still thinking what would have happened if she had not brought her own katana up in time to block it, or if she had been a second slower twisting away to his second stab.

Her fingers drifted down to feel the hem of her shirt, torn from catching on the ninja's blade. If she had slipped a little on the ground – if she had hesitated at all before dodging to the side – the smooth metal of his weapon would have cut past the fabric of her clothes.

"Tenten," Neji said, and she was suddenly aware of her teammate's steady, unrelenting gaze, and the level tone of his voice. She looked at him, remembering where she was.

Her hand tightened around the hilt of her katana. She raised it to her side, maneuvering the long weapon so that the tip of the blade neatly sliced away the stray threads which dangled from the rip in her shirt. They fluttered to the earth, like wisps of forgotten thoughts, already being left behind.

Neji did not move when Tenten stepped forward, her shoulders set. He watched silently as she pushed off the ground and into the trees, the dust settling in her wake.

Neji could see weakness better than anybody. Despite his strength, he'd felt it often enough, and he knew how it was to catch a glimpse of the fears hovering in the shadows, fears you tried to make yourself believe didn't exist. No matter how hard you tried to cover your tracks, they were always there – footprints following you everywhere you went. You had only to turn around to see what you left behind.

Still, he said nothing as he followed his teammate into the forest. He had fought his demons on his own.

There was no reason why he should help someone else fight theirs.