Author's Notes: Sequel to "After Sundown Comes the Night" although it takes place chronologically before "Sundown". I wanted to go back and explain some of the things that happened in that story and this is what came of that desire. There will also be a third part to this just so I can say I've finally finished a trilogy. I know, I know, contain your surprise. And enjoy the apocalypticness!

WITH NOT A STAR TO SEE BY

The ambush comes in the small hours before dawn. Their crumbled world is still and silent, a light rain falling against the rubble of what used to be the Hokage's office building. A rosy tint paints the sky to the east. Then -

- a scream.

Neji is awake almost before he knows it and crouched on the balls of his feet. He can feel shapes moving in the twilight, coming for them and he has no time to wonder why Ino didn't raise the alarm for a flurry of shuriken fly at him from the dark. He puts one foot over the other and spins in place, the bright flare of the Kaiten shielding him as his chakra deflects the attack. Then he is moving, darting and ducking as his hands find arms and legs and abdomens, sealing tenketsu with the barest of touches.

It becomes clear that an entire squad of Sound-nin has found them and the camp comes alive with shouts and techniques. To Neji's right, Kiba and Akamaru take down two of the enemy, both of them baring their teeth in similar snarls. To his left, Lee is fighting without his leg weights and making short work of anyone who dares get close enough.

Not Eagle then. Surely their attackers would have been higher ninja if they had come with Sasuke and his team of—

An explosion in front of him pushes him back on his feet, a hail of loose stones and broken mortar raining down on him. Another wall cracks and crumbles and Neji puts a hand up to protect his eyes. Dust blooms around him and he can hear Lee's ragged cough echoing his own even as they push forward.

Neji's foot finds the crushed body of another Sound-nin and he steps around it, lifting two fingers in the process.

"Byakugan."

Colors invert and expand, giving him a complete view of the battlefield. They're outnumbered but the Sound is clearly outmatched, giving ground as Konoha ninja use the broken landscape against them, fierce and with nothing else to lose. Kiba and Akamaru's animalistic fighting style is spreading fear through their enemies and Lee's steady avalanche of physical techniques makes them hesitate to close with him. Ino…

Neji flicks his eyes and finds her at her station. His mouth tightens.

She's slumped at the base of a tree, no sign of injury but for the blood trickling out her mouth and from her ears.

Neji's skin goes cold. If she had mind-jumped into the first of their attackers, it was very possible that one of their own had, unknowingly…

Movement northward catches his attention and he tenses at what he sees. Two Sound-nin are escaping, hauling a familiar figure gagged and tied with wire. She's struggling but one of her arms doesn't seem to work and his vision reveals that it's broken in two places.

Without a word, Neji moves.


She's hunched over his form, her fingers clenched in his sleeve. There is blood in her hair as it falls freely, wildly, around her face and her amber eyes are wide with remembered horror. She makes a high, thin sound in her throat. Across from her, Lee is just as stricken, white-faced and silent as he kneels by their teacher's body. Only Neji remembers that it's not over. His eyes tell him they have fifteen minutes.

"Tenten…" His voice sounds odd to his ears, empty and uneven. She blinks up at him, sending tears cascading down her cheeks.

"Neji," she whispers, "Gai-sensei, he… he…" Her whole body quivers and her expression crumbles. "Neji…"

She says his name as if she believes he can fix it, that he can make things right again. He has never really known the true extent of her faith in him. He sees it now in her pleading gaze and it humbles him, molds him. He understands what he must do.

Pain, anger, grief – he shoves those things away. He cannot fall to them, not yet. His teammates are still alive, still with him, and he will not lose them. Of everything that has been taken from them, he will not allow the enemy to take this away as well.

He holds her devastated gaze. "He's gone, Tenten," he tells her quietly.

He sees the moment her heart breaks.

Her mouth opens and suddenly she is crying, sobbing so hard he feels his chest ache in answer. He has never seen her weep before, not truly. A few tears of pain when she was hurt, but never these great tears of rending grief.

She clutches Gai's hand and rocks on her knees, shoulders shaking. "Gai-sensei…no..nonono…"

It's almost too much. Neji feels himself giving in, unraveling, and he can't. There's no time left.

"We have to go," he says hoarsely. "They're coming."

Neither of his teammates appears to hear him, so he bends down and grabs Tenten by the arms, pulling her to her feet. She doesn't fight him and he stands there for a moment, holding her by the elbows. Her fingers curl into his shirt.

"Neji, please…Gai-sensei…"

For her, he softens his words. "I know," he tells her, "but he would be disappointed if we died here. We have to go."

More tears fall, dripping onto his arms, but he feels her agreement. He turns his head, looking down at the last member of their three-man team.

"Lee."

He doesn't move, doesn't acknowledge them. His hands lay slack at his sides.

Tenten clears her throat. "Lee." And because it's Tenten and she is miserable, Lee slowly looks up, glassy-eyed. Her voice cracks. "We have to go."


It had happened before, Sound-nin abducting Konoha shinobi from the field. Neji did not know what happened to them, but none of them had ever returned.

That thought gives him speed and he catches the small band of Sound-nin before they can get too far with their prize. He takes down the first with a hand to the ninja's neck, closing off the tenketsu there, disabling any sound techniques he might use with his voice. Tenten manages to wriggle out of the second man's hold, falling heavily to the ground at his feet and giving Neji enough room to lean over and stop his heart. The Hyuuga doesn't wait for him to fall, but turns back to the first enemy and sends a palm of chakra to the center of his forehead. He drops instantly.

Tenten is struggling against the binding wire when he finally kneels by her side. He cuts it with a kunai and feels his expression tighten at the fine welts over her arms and legs. She cradles her broken arm against her chest as he reaches up to pull out the cloth they'd gagged her with.

"Neji," she pants, and he makes her take a quick drink from his canteen. "They surprised us. Are they still…?"

He turns his gaze back towards the battleground. "No. They've fled. We've won this round."

He doesn't mention Ino and Tenten relaxes a little. Her eyes flicker up to his. "Can you set this?"

They have no medic, haven't since the first few days when they had been scattered and separated by the destruction of the village. He takes his kunai and cuts a branch from a nearby sapling while Tenten takes out the roll of bandages she always carries with her. She grips his shoulder when he snaps her bones into place and passes out for about half a minute, limp and exhausted. When she comes to, he rips the shirt off one of the corpses and makes a sling for her arm, earning himself a wane smile.

"Let's go," he tells her quietly. "They're looking for us."


Later, in the empty remains of a house, Tenten interrupts his struggles at mediation to kneel at his side and wrap her arms around his neck, pulling him into her so that his head rests against the curve of her throat. His hands fall limply into his lap.

"I'm sorry," she murmurs. He exhales soundlessly.

"For what?"

"For not…letting you be sad." He hears tears in her voice again. "You were the one looking out for us today, while Lee and I were…" She swallowed. "I'm sorry. It wasn't fair of us." Her fingers unconsciously smooth his hair and he closes his eyes.

"Nothing is fair anymore," he replies and her embrace tightens briefly.

"I'm sorry," she repeats, whispering, and Neji stays and lets himself be comforted just this once.


By the time they return to camp, all signs of them ever having been there have been erased. The bodies have been drug out of sight and everyone is packing what meager belongings they have. Movement is what keeps them alive now. They cannot afford to stay in one place too long or risk exposing their supply lines and plans.

Lee jogs up to them, his worry easing when he sees they are mostly intact. "The Kyuubi is on the move," he reports. "The snake, too. This area will be crushed by nightfall." Whenever Sasuke and Naruto met, buildings toppled and stone itself caught fire. It was time to be gone. "One of the genin reported Akatsuki to the north. A squad is preparing to fight them at nightfall."

Neji makes some quick calculations in his head. "We should join them." Lee nods but there is a hesitant look on his face. Neji frowns. "What?"

"Ino's dead," Lee answers, eyebrows drooping. Tenten inhales sharply. "She did a mind-transfer at the time of the attack. We…" He shakes his head. "She could have been any of them…"

"She…She would have let us know, wouldn't she?" Tenten asks hopelessly, "If she were in the body of a Sound-nin, why would she let us attack…" She couldn't finish.

"Accidents happen in war," Neji says finally. It is a lesson they had learned even as children. Tenten turns her head away.

"I won't believe it."

Neji doesn't press her. Instead, he watches as Kiba and Akamaru split off to search for their missing teammates, and Chouji refuses to leave Ino's side. Neji says nothing, simply gathers Tenten and Lee with a glance and they depart.

"It…doesn't feel right to leave him," Tenten says a moment later, referring to Chouji. Neji doesn't look back. He agrees but in this place of downed dreams, everyone has their own priorities. His is to keep his teammates alive and to fight against the people who want to destroy them.

Anything else must be left behind.


He remembers Gai's hand falling heavily on his shoulder and Gai's expression being as serious as Neji has ever seen it.

"Take care of them, Neji," he had said. "I know that I haven't always been as attentive of you as I should, but it was because I always knew you didn't really need me." His teacher's gaze moved to where Tenten sat re-wrapping Lee's arms. "Because of that, I am certain that you will be alright, whatever happens." His grip on Neji's shoulder tightened briefly. "So take care of them, my student. One day, they might be all you have."


Neji doesn't let them approach until he's activated the Byakugan to see what awaits them – a rag-tag team of their ninja fighting the sharp-toothed member of Team Eagle and Madara. Neji grits his teeth and focuses on the masked man only to have him turn, a single whirling iris searching for the source of the gaze he feels.

In answer, Neji closes his eyes and feels the Sharingan pass over him.

"What is it?" Tenten asks, her voice little more than a whisper.

"Uchiha Madara." A foe they can't hope to defeat. Even Neji, with his pale eyes, knows that man's Sharingan is stronger. Madara's had decades to perfect his technique. Neji is seventeen, and the Byakugan is no defense against Tsukiyomi.

The Leaf-nin fighting him are going to be slaughtered.

Neji turns his head and takes stock – Tenten with her broken arm that can't be jostled without causing her extreme pain, and Lee with his sad eyes and broken spirit. Only Lee would be able to fight at his usual strength and even then it is a risk. Lee was reliable but he took more risks now that…now and a battle with Madara was going to be risky enough without him getting himself killed.

Take care of them, Neji.

"I'm going down," he says steadily. He's already picked out the path, the Byakugan showing him the way. "If I can hold him, you two can get everyone out."

Tenten's voice is incredulous. "Neji, what are you…?"

"Have them retreat for now," he orders, "or they're all going to die here." He moves forward, focusing on the field below when Tenten grabs his sleeve, halting him.

"Stop it!" she cries, and there's fear there and he can only think look what this war has done to us. "You're not going down there alone! You can't! We're in this together, we'll all—"

"No."

Both he and Tenten turn to look at Lee in surprise.

"I can't use genjutsu and your arm has just been set, in close combat you'll be in agony," he says, holding Tenten's gaze. "I don't like it either, but it has to be Neji."

Neji feels something rock hard settle in his chest and Tenten's mouth works but nothing comes out. Lee's bandaged hand claps his shoulder once and Neji hides a flinch at the familiarity of the moment. Almost, he sees Gai before him.

"Good luck, Neji," he says, solemnly.


Tenten is singing in the dark.

Her voice is untrained but sweet, and most of all, heartfelt. She sings softly and sadly and forgets some of the words but Neji hears what her music is saying anyway.

Their teacher, their north – their father – is dead.

They're on their own.


Tenten is unconscious for four days. Neji goes a bit mad.

He's angry and worried and the emotions build up inside his careful walls. He paces the lower floor of an abandoned hotel, ignoring the pain that radiates across his chest. He's wrapped the sword cut as best as he can but there is not much he can do without more supplies and he's unwilling to leave his teammates alone.

Lee is out as well. Something to do with his chakra system and the opening and closing of Gates. Neji can see it he just doesn't know how to fix it.

And Tenten… Tenten never moves, barely breathes but Neji knows her mind is in overdrive, reliving torture after torture, trapped in the nightmare of Madara's eye. Neji still sees it, the moment when she threw herself in front of him, catching the Uchiha's horrific gaze in his place.

They had lied to him.

Both of them had joined the battle against his wishes, despite Lee's words on the hill, and now Neji might never have the chance to ask them why.

On the fifth day, Hinata stumbles across their hideout and saves them all.


Tenten pulls Lee's arms over her shoulders and positions him on her back before slowly standing, diverting chakra to her legs and spine to help her bear the extra weight. There are circles under her eyes but her arm is as good as new and she smiles gently at him when she catches his look.

Hinata had been unable to fix Lee and his stifled chakra. They need to find Tsunade, Shizune, or Sakura to make him well again and the only place they might find them would be Konoha's new base in the middle of the Forest of Death.

Neji doesn't appreciate the irony.

"Are you ready?" he asks.

"Ready," the kunoichi answers.


"Neji?"

He shifts slightly, letting her know he's awake.

"Do you think Gai-sensei will be proud of us when this is all over?"

He is silent a moment, looking up at the stars twinkling above them. Next to Tenten, Lee turns his head, intent on his answer.

"No," he says finally, and brings his gaze down from the sky. "He's always been proud of us.

Now we must be worthy of it."

END.