Speechless

It is a beautifully bright and warm sunny day, in the springtime of their youth, but for once he has nothing to say.

Tenten thinks this is strange, but she also thinks that feeling her own blood soak down her clothing is strange as well, so perhaps it is a strange day. Having spent the last seven years under his tutelage (and the start of her real life as she knew it), with his watchful eye on everything she has done, it was only fitting that he was here at the end. She had expected something more from him in this moment, knowing how likely it was to come, and yet he still never fails to surprise her. The sensei that wailed at the wilting of fresh cut flowers, the comrade that grew teary eyed when seeing butterflies flap their wings, the friend that cried in joy or sadness at just about anything… Now instead there was the grim faced man that rapidly tied bindings around her torso, trying to stop the bleeding before it was too late. This man had nothing to say.

Funny, she'd always thought she'd die in Neji's arms, not Gai's.

"Did I get him?" Tenten asked wearily, fighting the growing dizziness as she swayed on her knees. All around them were bodies, thankfully not Lee's and not Neji's, although Leaf had lost some good shinobi that day. Every weapon she had ever had was scattered amongst the carnage. "Gai sensei? Did I get him?" She tugged on his sleeve, like a child looking to make a parent proud. Dark eyes met hers, then looked away before she could read what she saw in them, and he nodded gruffly.

"Yes, Tenten." His words sounded like him, but his rough tone did not. He sounded preoccupied. "Your strength and bravery have won Leaf the battle this day."

"Hmmm," Tenten managed a tiny smile. "That's good." And then she promptly collapsed.

Strong arms caught her long before her head hit the ground, and Tenten wondered at the feel of them as they wrapped around her. True, her sensei had spent many hours of their time together clinging to her, but his hugs were more like Naruto's when he had been a fresh genin, meaningless beyond the simple emotions that stirred them into being. But this was the first time that he had ever truly held her, and Tenten wondered if maybe she had been missing out all those times she had ducked away.

"Tenten?" A deep growl of frustration made his chest rumble, and she realized that her face was buried against him. "Tenten, you must not allow yourself… you cannot… Tenten? Tenten!"

"Hmmm?" It was warm in his arms, and she was wet and cold. There had been pain, but already that was slipping away. She just wanted to sleep.

"Tenten, you must stay awake, the medic team will be here soon. You need to stay awake!" Gai was talking loudly now, but he always talked loudly so it did not bother her. Everything was normal. "Tenten, talk to me, say something." The support around her flexed, drawing her closer. She sighed in contentment.

"How come I never knew you felt so good?"

Once again, he was silent. Maybe it hadn't been the thing to say, but on the outskirts of Tenten's mind, she realized that she might not have that many chances left to say what she thought and Gai had always understood her even when he didn't.

"…It never occurred to you to try," Gai finally whispered, sounding old and hardened. Tenten craned her head around, blinking away the growing fuzziness as she met his eyes. They were familiar and yet not. She'd seen that look before, but never in Gai's eyes. Then she remembered and it made her sad, so she reached up to lightly touch his face. He really was handsome, when you looked past the hair and the smile.

"Don't look like Kakashi senpai, sensei," Tenten said with a little quirky grin. "He holds onto his hurt, but you don't. That's why you're going to win."

She was shaking harder now, hard enough that her teeth were chattering, but he was holding her so tightly that it didn't matter. She wondered if she should apologize for bleeding on him, but then it wasn't going to embarrass her at all in a few moments, and there had been enough apologizing between them throughout the years. She didn't want that to be the way things ended. She wanted him to be bright and loud and happy, and she didn't know how to make that come back and she was running out of time to try.

"Don't give something for me to hurt over… Tenten, I must say… after all this time I've wanted to say but never could… Tenten? Tenten!"

Silence, then, "I wish I had known… your arms… Gai sensei… I really should do a hundred laps on my hands…"

Had she really rendered him speechless? What a truly strange day.

"You'll have to… for me…"

Finally, thankfully, the shaking stopped, and there was only the warmth and his embrace. The smile she gave to him was the last thing she did.

Kakashi had taken out three rouge nin in his attempt to protect the medic team that raced to where Gai's turtle summoning had told them, but in his heart he had known it was probably too late. They had been too far away, and they had been delayed too many times. Yet hope for his friend, hope for the young woman his friend had cared so much about had driven him forward. When they topped the hill and saw what was left, Kakashi had decided that he hated being right. The medics sighed the soft sounds of those used to seeing such things, moving through the fallen systematically to find any survivors. If they noticed him disappear, following Gai's barely visible tail away from the mess, then they don't look up.

It will take Kakashi a while to find them, resting several kilometers away on a rock overlooking the valley. It is a beautiful view, and something Gai and Tenten could always appreciate together was a beautiful view. The warm spring breeze plays over their faces as the older shinobi cradles the body of the last student he would ever take gently to his chest. Tomorrow he will do those laps, the remainder of his grief stricken team alongside him. A week from now he will challenge his rival to a drinking contest that would continue until Kakashi was sure he had cried his last tear that night. Two months from now his friends will stop secretly trailing him around, because he was finally, slowly starting to smile again and starting to laugh again and starting to shout out his life to the world again.

But today? Today Maito Gai holds her brokenly and has nothing to say.