Author's Notes: Some NejiTen angst. This is a companion piece to Nami's artwork, "After Her Mission." You can see it here: nami86. /art /after-her-mission- 94822498 (just paste into browser and take out the spaces.)

Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto and am making no profit from this fan fiction.

A Matter of Deserving

By Nessie

Blood cakes her hair, clumping her mussed buns and releasing the sharp scent of death into the air around her. That is worse to Tenten than the numerous cuts and bruises decorating her arms, neck, and cheeks. They sting, but the pain is faint, and they won't leave scars. Her heart is more seriously wounded by far.

She is briefly tempted to stop attending to her injuries, to put the bandages and salve down and let the marks remain. Her blood would stain the sheets in the Hyuuga guest room she soundlessly entered an hour ago. Her jaw pulses from clenching it all night so that the agony she wants to scream out – not the physical but the lashing, biting inner hurt – will stay locked deep inside, and the Hyuuga clan will go on sleeping peacefully.

The hall door opens, as part of her had expected, and a tall figure dressed for bed stands before her for the first time in a month. Time on a pillow has disturbed his sleek fall of dark hair, and the silver in his eyes glimmers strongly enough to rival that of the full moon outside, her only light to work by. Lighting lamps had seemed foolish. Light is for those who deserve it.

"Tenten..." Neji's whispers disperses somewhere in the space between them. Usually, she would reach for him. Usually, it would be their room she takes care of herself in. His breathing in the dark is always more soothing than any ointment.

She does not deserve that either.

Tenten's hands stay at the front of her shirt. The thin camisole, worn beneath her protective Jounin vest, was torn in the back by an enemy's jutsu she barely managed to dodge. And in her dodging it, she opened her charge to the attack; a young girl, no older than eight, who was on her way to meet her father in the Land of Earth. But the mission had been miscalculated, falsely planned, and Tenten had failed. Her eyes still carried the miserable images of small arms stretching out to her before...before they had...

She was left in the dirt, their jeers still ringing in her ears, and by the time she had walked through the gates into Konoha, it was too late to make a report. There was only home, the massive compound appearing ghostly beneath the moon.

Neji could ask about all of this, Tenten thinks as he approaches and sits gingerly beside her. He could ask, she would voice all of it, go through every gruesome detail of the battle that made her feel helpless, like a murderer in a different way. How they had let her live just for the humiliation of it. But Neji does not ask.

He takes the roll of bandages from her and places two short strips in a cross just beneath her shoulder to cover a gaping wound, followed by the warm press of his lips. Next he wraps her right wrist. She digs her fingers into the fabric of her camisole. She expects the questions he's holding back.

"I love you," he says softly, watching her profile in the moonlight. Tenten's eyes close, tears escaping from beneath her lashes. Her face angles toward his, but she won't sink against him. Not yet. A few more moments of painful tribute to the ruined mission, and then she will let him heal her as only Neji can.

She forgets, sometimes, that he is the one person in this world who dark rooms and quiet crying will not hide her from. It is not a matter of deserving.

The End