Hyuuga Neji hesitatingly knocked on his former teammate's front door. Sighing, he examined his surroundings as he awaited a greeting.
The neighborhood was somewhat hidden deep within the inner cities of Konoha, and thus there was little to no traffic on the stone roads. Rolling hills, trees, and other vegetation were everywhere, which put the nineteen-year-old at ease. He didn't want to have to picture his friend in a rough environment; it was too hard for his mind and heart.
The house was small and cozy, with flowers lining the perimeter. On the cement porch that he was standing on, a small welcome mat was placed in front of the door. He made sure not to step on it; afraid he might tousle it and rip away at its warmth. He was becoming anxious as he stared at that mat, placing his feet everywhere around it, but never touching it. He tried to keep his feet still, and instead his hands began to sweat. Cursing, he shoved them into his pockets and inhaled.
How long did it take for her to open a damn door?
"Ah, sorry. Were you waiting long?" Neji looked up at Tenten with a frown before stepping inside, she moving aside to let him in.
"No." She smiled before closing the door behind him, and he couldn't help but notice her appearance. Her hair, which was normally done in tight buns, was loosely braided. As usual, her face was free of makeup, but noticed sheerness was in her lips. She had shed her usual outfit and replaced it with a slim tank top and cargo pants.
"Sorry for the short notice, but I just thought it was important." Tenten began, not noticing his analytical stare. She moved into the kitchen, Neji following, and placed her hands atop a cardboard box that was poised on the kitchen counter. "You left some...Personal items behind." She said, choosing the rights words as she pushed the box over to where he stood on the opposite side of her. "I just thought you might want them before you...You know, leave."
Neji stared at the box before opening it, only for his eyes widen a fraction. He hadn't realized how many pictures he had accumulated over the years, and he took one out in awe. This one was framed, and it was of his and Tenten's old team; Team Gai. He stared at it, recognizing the face of Rock Lee, another former teammate, and the three's sensei, Matio Gai. Neji felt the ghost of a smile penetrate his face as he placed the photograph back inside the box.
Nothing else really mattered inside; undergarments, some old weapons, more clothes, and an old katana that was broken in half. Neji held the broken blade in his hands, remembering what had broken it in the first place. He felt Tenten's eyes on him, and he looked up to meet them. "I had forgotten about this."
"I'm not surprised." Tenten replied, "It was two years ago."
Neji wondered if his teammate realized his lie. The truth was, he had never forgotten. But, now was neither the time nor the place. Instead, he merely placed the blade back into the box and closed the cardboard together. "Thank you for putting everything together for me." The words slipped out, and he mentally cursed himself; he wasn't supposed to thank her. He was supposed to be angry, upset.
"No problem." Tenten smiled, "It's getting late, though. Tell Lee that I said hi." Neji was surprised, but he nodded dumbly.
"Right. Good night, Tenten."
"'Night, Neji." And he gathered up the box and left, leaving Tenten to stand in the kitchen. She listened as the door quietly clicked shut, and she sighed before leaning against the counter, staring at the white tile with deep brown eyes.
She placed her face in her hands and exhaled again; it had been harder than she thought.
"Ah, Neji-kun, you're back!!" The only reason Neji had opted to room with Lee in this apartment was because of the Hyuuga estate. Neji couldn't help but continue to feel caged by that large, invincible entity, even though relations between the two branches of Hyuuga were improving. It only reminded him of the past, and it fueled his want to be free.
Although sharing a two-bedroom apartment with Rock Lee was not Neji's first choice of housing, it was the closest he could get before being able to purchase a home on his own.
"...Did you wait up for me?" Neji asked, suspicious, as he set the cardboard box on the couch in the main room. Lee sheepishly grinned before leaning over to peer at the box in curiosity.
"Oh, so it's official now?" Neji grinded his back teeth.
"I don't think a box represents anything. Now, go to your own bed; I'm tired." Lee sighed before looking up at Neji with large, black eyes.
"Neji-kun, you really shouldn't let such a majestic thing go to waste...Gai-sensei would be so disappointed!"
"I don't give a damn what that eccentric old man thinks; just leave me be." Neji spat out, much more venomously than he had intended. But, it didn't show, and Lee let his lower lip tremble before he stood up and walked over to his own bedroom, pausing only to scoff.
"Maybe it was your short temper that made Tenten-chan--"
But Neji didn't hear the rest, for he collapsed onto the couch and pulled a pillow over his head, blocking out everything.
Neji waited at the training grounds, frowning. She was late.
He turned towards the tree again and began to slam his palms into it repeatedly, brow furrowed. He knew she wouldn't back out of a mission over such a petty thing, but at each blow to the tree, the small sense of doubt in the corner of his mind continued to grow.
Bark was beginning to lodge itself in his palms, and he finally pulled away. Sighing, he looked over the area again; except for the summer sun, it was deserted. His frown deepened as he began to pick the wood out of his hands, only to pause as another person entered the grounds. Neji stood up, a little hopeful, only to scowl at Uzumaki Naruto. "What are you doing here?"
"I'm your teammate, idiot." Naruto reminded him, and Neji blinked. He had forgotten. "But, I saw Tenten on my way here, and she told me to give this to you." An envelope was held out to him, and Neji eyed it jadedly before taking it.
Neji stuffed it inside of his shirt, eyes stormy.
"Neji, are you--"
"Go home, Naruto." Neji's jaw was set tightly, and he walked away from the blonde. Naruto watched in a stupor as Neji broke into a sprint, only closing his eyes when the dust from the road blew into his face.
Tenten held the other half of the katana blade in her hands, turning it over and over again so that it caught the light.
It had all happened so fast; too fast for both of them. That was why they needed the separation; they needed time to adjust. They had grown up too fast together.
Tenten was snapped out of her reverie by the sound of her front door being pulled open, and she immediately sat up from her bed. Before she had a chance to stand, however, her bedroom door was kicked open, and all she could do was stare.
Neji's ANBU mask was tied to his hip, and his cheeks were slightly flushed from his sprint to her home. His new katana was in hand, and Tenten momentarily wondered what he had used it for. He dropped it, however, and stalked over to her bed, eyes narrowed. He didn't speak, and Tenten finally was able to. "What are you doing here? Your mission..."
"No, our mission."
"...I'm...You know that Naruto's your teammate." Tenten fumbled out, standing from her bed; they were inches away from each other, and neither let up. "You shouldn't be here." Neji wasn't looking at her, though; he was staring at the broken off katana blade in her hands. She noticed and her cheeks burned as she tried to hide it behind her back, but he had already grabbed onto it, his hand over hers.
"...You had it? For all this time?" Neji inquired lowly, staring at his reflection in the blade. Tenten swallowed.
"Do you...Remember what I said? When this happened?" His voice was getting husky, and she forced herself to shake her head. She wanted to know if he remembered. "...I still believe in what I said." So, he did.
"I...You're making Naruto wait. You should leave."
He was in a stunned daze, and he reached out for her. He placed a hand on her hip, only to pull it back when she stepped away, right up against the bed. His arm fell, and so did his eyes.
"Tenten!"She watched, horrified, as Neji jumped in font of her, using his katana to force back another. She was immobilized by the loss of blood, and could only watch in a petrified state as Neji's blade began to crack.
"N-Neji..." In what felt like slow motion, Neji's expression changed from determined to shock as his katana broke in two, the S-class criminal piercing the young ANBU in the chest. Neji was only stunned for a moment, however, and he quickly dropped the broken blade and grabbed onto the one that was slowly tearing into his body. But, as he began to try and pry it away from him, he found that it slipped out of his chest on its own.
Neji looked up to see the missing-nin fall onto his back, Tenten breathing heavily as she collapsed as well, holding her right arm. "Neji! Neji, are you..." Before she could finish, she was enclosed by darkness.
She woke up the next day in the Konoha hospital, but she immediately closed her eyes as she heard the doctors behind the curtain. "Amazing. Even with this fatal wound, he managed to carry her all the way back here. Simply amazing."
"And they both lost substantial amounts of blood. It's a wonder they're even alive."
"Why?! Why would you do something so stupid? Why?!" Tenten rested her forehead on the edge of Neji's bed, crying into the thin hospital sheets. "How could you..." Neji looked down at her before sighing and using his hand to tilt her face up towards him.
"I...Am just a fool in love."
"Neji this mission is of utmost importance."
"Now...I picked you because I know you can handle it. But, Neji...I want you to know that there is a ninety percent chance that you will be fatally injured, or even killed."
Neji nodded solemnly."Yes, I'm aware."
"Now, as for your teammate, I've selected Tenten, since you two are compatible--"
"No, I can't accept that." Neji interrupted quickly, "Please reconsider."
Tsunade stared at him over the tops of her hands before closing her eyes, "I predicted that you would object, and luckily, Naruto is free for the mission. But, Neji," She reopened her eyes, "I already spoke to Tenten about the mission…"
"She had agreed to go with you if you had allowed it."
He didn't say anything to her about it. He couldn't.
Instead, he allowed himself to be taken prisoner by her stare, her lips, her eyes...
"Tenten?" She didn't stop, and he was breathing even heavier. "W-What..." She just hushed him gently, smiling as she planted kisses along his neck.
"I want to..." And then it happened. Neji suddenly sat up, causing her to blink as he grabbed her by the shoulders. He stared at her before diving in, drowning in what could only be described as Tenten.
They were both awkward at first, trying too hard to please one another. But later on they developed a rhythm in the sounds of stripping each other's clothes off and heavy breathing. He was hovering over her, his long hair brushing against her skin, when he asked her again.
"Are you sure you want to do this?"
"Neji…I have to…Before you leave." His hands were on her hips when she said that, and they immediately flew away from her when she finished. He pulled himself away from her, suddenly cold. "What's wrong? Neji?" She sat up, confused, and touched his cheek.
Why did he have to ask her? He should've just kept quiet and let things progress themselves, but of course, he had to ruin the night. He knew what she would say, and he knew what his reaction would be. Still, he had asked that inevitable question, and it had brought back his conscience.
He was reminded of the consequences that would be if the night continued, and Neji closed his eyes, pressing Tenten's hand closer to his cheek. He exhaled before pulling away from her, reaching for his clothes.
"Neji! Wait!" He continued to pull on his pants, inwardly flinching when he heard the hitch in her voice, "Did I do something wrong?"
"Then why…? Neji!" He was dressed now, and at her bedroom door. His hand was on the doorknob when she said it, "I love you."
He almost ripped the doorknob from the wood.
"Don't love me now, Tenten. Not now."
And he left.
Tenten stared out the window as she sat on the edge of her bed, eyes remote and distant. The sun was beginning to set, and she ran a hand through the empty bed sheets, biting her lip.
Neji had moved to the bedroom door.
"Why are you doing this to me?" Tenten asked quietly. Neji did not give her the pleasure of responding. "After all that's happened, you're still standing in the same place." She looked over her shoulder, "What more do you want from me?"
"I just want you to understand." Finally, she smiled. Her lips curved in a sad, disillusioned manner that fit her features all too well.
"You didn't even read it, did you?" Neji put a hand on his left ribs, where he could feel the envelope resting against the metal armor and the fabric of his shirt. "You're keeping Naruto waiting." Tenten repeated. "Goodbye, Neji."
How long are we going to live? Isn't it reasonable to say that we might not even make it past twenty-five years of age, considering the amount of missions we have and the dangers of each one? Missions aside, who's to say another war won't erupt? How do we know that we'll continue on into old age?
We don't. We just don't.
Don't love me now, you say. You don't understand the impossibility of your words. You see, I can love you only now. The present is all we have. Our future is nonexistent.
We grew up too fast, Neji. We were killing other people at fifteen, and telling each other unknown feelings at sixteen. And now, at nineteen, we are living the lives of middle-aged men and women.
This is why I can't stop loving you now, Neji. If I stop loving you now, then I'll never love you again. I'll be dead before that.
So Neji, love me now, just as I will love you now.
The leaves were falling when Neji's unconscious body was dragged into Konoha by a wounded Naruto. Mild concussion, blood clot in the lungs, and two broken limbs, the medical-nins told her. It was a miracle he survived so long with the blood clot, they said.
They had no word to describe his ability to speak while in this state, miracle still being an understatement.
They gave her a note, stained with blood and dirt, and said that it was in his shirt and had her name on it. She had read it while standing, a mistake, for she fell to her knees weeping when she finished.
I read your note every night for a month while on this mission. Still, you don't seem to understand.
Someone helped her to her feet, led her to a chair, and explained that he would be going into immediate surgery.
I love you. What I said that night would never change that fact.
Another man rushed into the room, yelling for assistance. A lung had collapsed.
I couldn't take you that night, Tenten. Not because I don't love you, not because you did something wrong. But because I am a fool.
The door to the ER was left open, and she could see the medical-nin surrounding the table. She slipped inside, caught a glimpse of him, and nearly broke down again.
I thought you would break afterwards. And that if I were to die on this mission, you would fall apart. Now, after all this time, I finally realized that I am the weak-hearted.
Someone shouted at her, yelled for her to get out of the room. Someone else tried to pull her away, but she pushed and kicked and screamed. His head lolled to the side, and their eyes locked on one another. Blood was everywhere, even his lips as they curved up at her.
So, you were right all along, Tenten. Except, on one thing.
A low beeping filled her ears, steady as a drum. The man that was holding on to her let go.
We have a future, Tenten. So I will love you now, next week, next month, next year, next millennium…
His face turned towards her. She smiled and wiped at her eyes.