A/N: Have you ever explored your flash drive/ hard drive and found something you barely even remember writing? I wrote this Feburary 4, 2008-- almost a year ago. Lawl, whoops. It needed a lot of cleaning up before it was even halfway decent for publishing, which might be why I just let it sit for so long. Takes place directly following episode 135 (aka the end of the canonical anime episodes).
Shinseikatsu -- New Life
by Jade Rhade
Emergency Room 7
Tenten pressed her hand against the seam of the double doors, glancing up at the brightly lit sign above. Bright red, the sign was; a glowing beacon warning of the critical condition of the patient within. With a sigh three parts exasperation and one part concern, she stepped back and took a seat on the bench against the wall to her right.
She had already gone to see Lee; he was all right, considering everything he'd gone through in the past few weeks. But now that one of her team members seemed to finally be out of serious danger, the other had gone and charged headlong into it. Tenten shook her head at the absurdity of it all. Lee's recklessness was no surprise, but Neji's? The strongest, most sensible member of her team lay near death from volunteering for a hopeless, almost suicide mission. Had the concept been suggested to her even a couple months ago, she would have laughed. Now it was all she could do to keep from tearing up. She sighed again, then flicked her eyes up as someone crossed the small waiting area.
"Hyuuga-sama!" Tenten quickly leapt to her feet and offered a short bow.
Hyuuga Hiashi looked surprised for a moment, then sat himself on the bench against the wall opposite her, face smoothing into impassiveness. "Please, you need not rise," he stated. "We're both here for the same reason." His milky-white eyes searched her face. "And you are?"
"Tenten, sir," she answered, lowering herself back down and crossing her legs. "Neji is on my team."
"Ah," his face cleared with recognition at last. "You are the weapons kunoichi, then."
"Y-yeah..." This was almost surreal; here Neji lay in the emergency room, and she was having a civil conversation with the head of the Hyuuga clan. "Why are you waiting here, sir?" she questioned tentatively. "I'm sure the hospital staff can notify you when he regains consciousness."
"I could say the same for you, Tenten," he pointed out with eyes so much like Neji's own.
Her own eyes narrowed in annoyance as he avoided her question, but for the third time in as many minutes she sighed, turning her gaze to the floor. "Hyuuga-sama... have you ever woken in a strange place alone?"
He was silent for a moment, and when he looked up to meet her eyes again, she saw understanding. "Indeed I have," he said simply.
It was overstepping her bounds to pose a question directly to a clan head, especially one so revered as Hyuuga, but she couldn't resist. And besides, something told her that he would answer. "And yourself, sir?"
Hiashi-sama stared at the far wall down the corridor as if lost in distant memory. "Neji... may not live through this," he said bluntly. Softly. With an air of sad finality, speaking more to himself than to her. The air of a man too accustomed to tragedy, his voice reminisced. "I would rather be here to learn the truth. As I said, we are here for the same reason, Tenten."
The kunoichi swallowed hard and didn't look up, pressing the heels of her palms against her eyelids, feeling tears welling up in spite of herself. "What am I, a stupid rookie crybaby?" she muttered angrily under her breath, roughly fisting her tears away.
Seconds ticked by slowly, lengthening into minutes. When she was at last certain of her self-control, Tenten stretched her arms over her head, feeling the unhappy protest of muscles too long in a cramped position.
The movement attracted the attention of Hiashi-sama, who had his eyes locked on the wall in pensive thought. "Tell me, Tenten," he requested, yanking his gaze back to her. "Does Neji... still hold a grudge against the head family?"
Tenten paused mid-stretch and lowered her arms. "I think... he will begrudge the head family for the rest of his life," she admitted carefully.
"I see..." Hiashi-sama returned to his study of the wall. Almost imperceptibly, his shoulders slumped.
"Still..." she added slowly. "I don't think he retains his bitter hatred. Not since the Chuunin exams." She bit at a thumbnail pensively. "It's almost as if... he made peace with something from his past. I guess."
"Is that so?" Tenten looked up, and chocolate brown met milk white. "That boy... he may very well inherit the Hyuuga clan."
Brown eyes widened, a thousand thoughts visibly flickering across them. "Sir?"
His eyes never left her own. "He is the strongest in our family. And maybe... just maybe..." Hiashi-sama added, again, seeming more to himself than to her, "it's finally time to change the destiny of Hyuuga."
"Hyuuga-sama... Why are you telling this to me?" Try as she might, she could no more keep suspicion from her voice than she could have kept her earlier tears from her eyes.
"Perhaps I just thought someone should know." His eyes continued to gaze steadily into her own. "Perhaps you, Tenten, have more of your fate entwined with ours than you know."
She flinched and looked away, a curse rising to her mind. What had that man seen with his eyes of insight? The question was cut off as the light above Emergency Room 7 flickered and went out. Voice lodged in her throat, Tenten lunged to her feet, hand against her heart.
After an eternity and again, the door creaked open and a woman Tenten tentatively identified as Shizune, Godaime Hokage's assistant, emerged, face lined and careworn. Her eyes immediately fell on Hiashi-sama, and she inclined her head. "Hyuuga-sama."
"How is Neji?" His voice remained steady, even as his knuckled whitened from gripping his knees.
"He'll be alright," she smiled distractedly. "If you'll excuse me, I must inform Tsunade-sama." Shizune brushed past them, breaking into an utterly undignified dash in the direction of Emergency Room 6.
Legs weak, Tenten slumped to the bench. "That's a relief," she breathed, closing her eyes and resting her head against the wall. Her eyes snapped open again as, with a rustle of cloth, Hiashi-sama levered himself to his feet.
"If you'll be staying with him, I must return to my clan." He inclined his head the slightest bit. "It was good to speak with you, Tenten-san."
The addition of the honorific barely registered. Protocol demanded she rise to her feet and bow, but all she could do was nod weakly. Against all odds, both her team members were alive, and her relief was tangible. Shakily, as Hiashi-sama disappeared around the corner, she stood and peeked into the room. The sight was enough to take her breath away. It looked less like a surgery room and more like a wizard's lab. Bright green symbols had been painted on the floor, firelight providing the only illumination. In the center of it all lay Hyuuga Neji, unconscious but clearly alive, his Cursed Seal standing out on his pale skin like the brand it was, sweat sheening his half-naked body. Barely conscious, he groaned and coughed.
"Ready?" one of the white-clad medics questioned as the group of them knelt next to the young man. "One, two, three, up!" They lifted his limp body onto a waiting bed and began to wheel him toward the door.
Tenten stepped to the side to let them pass, her eyes drawn to the circle of raw skin by his heart, standing out clearly against the sweat covering his bare chest. "Neji," she whispered, fingers against her lips. "Doctors!" Tenten crossed her arms over her chest, unintentionally allowing her voice to take an air of defiance. "Where are you taking him?"
One of the medics stopped and consulted his clipboard. "Room 213, but I'm afraid we can't permit visitors when he's still in critical condition. You can check back tomorrow, if you like."
"That's fine," she replied automatically, already thinking ahead. "Thank you." Tenten watched the go, then headed in the direction of the hospital cafeteria. Let them try to keep a ninja from entering a room she wanted to be in.
Not one of the dozens of medics attempted to stop the brazen young woman striding down the hall as if she owned it, carrying a tray of food and ignoring all those who's eyes were drawn to her. As was human nature, since she looked like she had a purpose, she must have one; and not one of the authorized medical personnel even thought of questioning her as she let herself into Room 213 and let the door click shut behind her. The only sound to be heard was the soft, steady beep of the heart monitor and the hum of equipment, almost to quiet to hear and almost immediately tuned out.
"Easy," Tenten smirked, crossing the room and setting her tray down on the small table between the bed and the window. She dragged the chair away from the wall and plopped it next to his bed. "I'm going to be right here to scold you when you get up," she told him, seating herself and resting her chin on her fists. "Really, Neji, you're supposed to be the sensible one." She brushed a stray strand of hair away from his face. "You idiot." Her hand paused near his face, then she snatched it back and grabbed an apple from her tray. "Idiot," she repeated.
Even so, as time ticked by and the afternoon began to give way to evening, Tenten had to admit to herself that she wasn't staying there from pure compassion anymore; now this was just pure stubbornness- a contest of wills she wasn't about to lose. With that thought, she briefly wondered with a faint sense of horror if Gai-sensei were influencing her, and she shuddered, turning her gaze out the window. The sun was taking on a shade of brilliant orange.
Her train of thought, at the moment consisting of nothing more than contemplating what she should obtain from the cafeteria, was rudely interrupted by two short knocks at the door. "Neji-kun," a female voice called.
"Tch!" Tenten immediately dove to the floor and rolled under the hospital bed, knowing that there wasn't much to hide her there; all the nurse would have to do is look down, and she would be discovered. Breath caught in her throat, she realized the chair had been pulled away and wasn't in the same spot it had been in earlier.
Fortunately, this nurse seemed less observant than most, her entire attention on her patient. "Aah, not conscious yet?" she muttered, crossing the room. Tenten's stomach growled at the smell of soup, anxiously listening to the clatter as this new tray was set atop the one she had brought in earlier. "I suppose you'll eat this when you wake, Neji-kun." The nurse paused by the side of the bed, ostensibly checking his charts, then the door clicked shut. Tenten waited another thirty beeps of Neji's heart monitor before rolling out and resuming her seat.
"Look at all this trouble I'm going through for you," she muttered, flicking his shoulder. When he didn't move, she stole the tray and took a quick inventory. "Crustless bread, skinned apple slices, broth... I don't envy you your menu, Neji." Despite her words, by the time she'd put the tray back, the bread and half the apple slices were gone. "Serves you right for napping," she decided, standing and popping a final apple slice in her mouth. She clasped her hands behind her back and pulled wearily, then propped her elbows on the windowsill. "So, Neji, what now?"
To her surprise, a groan answered her, and she whirled around to see his eyes struggling to open. "Neji!"
"Ten... ten?" His voice cracked, and he licked dry lips, eyes finally focusing on her. Neji pushed himself up and grimaced in pain, slumping back down with a hand on his chest.
"Lay back down, you idiot!" She crossed her arms and tried to glare. "The medics were working on you for hours and you're still injured!" When he didn't change his position, she sighed and propped his pillows behind his head and pushing him back.
"I see..." he managed, then his eyes widened and he jolted up. "Then Sasuke-!"
Tenten pushed him down. "You're in no condition to be worrying about others." She turned and picked up the paper cup of water from the nurse's tray.
"He's gone, Neji." The kunoichi spun to face him. "All of you were almost killed for nothing."
Neji's fists clenched at the sheets. "I see..." he repeated softly.
"But," Tenten leaned over him and held the cup to his lips. "You all somehow survived your stupidity. That counts for something."
Neji wrapped his fingers around hers and drank deeply. "So, Naruto and the others-?"
"Chouji and Naruto are in about the same shape you are," she explained. "Kiba and the dog's injuries are severe but not dangerous, and Shikamaru only has bruises and a broken finger." She took the cup away as he started to cough. "Slowly, Neji! If you die now, I'll be arrested for murder."
He slumped back against the pillows, closing his eyes and wincing. Bringing a hand to his forehead, his eyes flew open with alarm. "Where's my forehead protector?" Almost reflexively, he clapped his palm over the curse mark as if to hide it.
"With the rest of your clothes," she answered, tilting her head and studying him carefully.
"Would you... get it for me?"
With a nod, she stood and retrieved it from the folded pile set neatly in the open wardrobe. Her fingers clenched the fabric, stiff with dried blood and torn from battle; she handed it to him silently.
He took it without looking at her, without taking his hand from his head. Looking as if he were going to tie it to his head, his lips twitched at its ragged state.
Soundlessly, she reached behind her into her equipment pouch and withdrew a roll of bandages. With delicate fingers, she pried his hand away and sat beside him, carefully wrapping his forehead so the brand wasn't visible. "There." She smiled sadly and tucked them away. "Better?"
With a grateful nod, he shakily pushed himself back to a more upright position against the pillows, staring into the dried blood almost filling the engraved leaf on the forehead protector. "So, Sasuke's path led him into darkness," he murmured. "And we couldn't bring him back."
"Jeez!" Tenten shook her head and moved the pillows to better accommodate the shift. "If you'd filled me in before leaving, I could have told you that. Idiot!"
"What do you mean?" His eyes narrowed as he glanced up.
She again pressed the cup to his lips. "We all have to be free to choose our own path, light or dark," she said gently. "Sasuke has chosen a different path from us, but who are we to take it away?"
He pushed it away with a grimace at the movement. "But-!"
"What would you do even if you managed to bring him back, huh?" Tenten snatched the cup away, feeling her vision start to blur. "Would you lock him up so he would never leave the village again?"
"But, Tenten-!" He tried to raise himself up on his elbows.
"No, Neji, listen to me." The flimsy paper cup threatened to collapse as her fists tightened. "You can't tell someone they have the freedom to make their own decision, then tell them their choice is wrong and they have to pick again! His path may be evil, but it is his choice." Her brown eyes now clearly brimming with tears again, she whirled around and slammed the cup on the tray. "You and the others almost died, Neji." Tenten swiped furiously at her eyes.
"Tenten." She could feel those cursed eyes of insight boring into her back; even without Byakugan, his gaze was formidable. His voice was soft but cut like a blade. "If it were me, would you follow?"
With a crackle of plastic, she deftly tore the spoon from its packaging. Crumpling it up, she threw it and the lid of the disposable soup container in the garbage. "I would have stopped you before you met up with the enemy," she stated coldly. "Sakura had the chance but failed. Then she didn't even go after him with you, anyway."
"Not what I asked, Tenten." It was his voice that irritated her the most; completely calm, as if instructing a student on the proper way to hold a kunai. She could feel her feet start to slip on this slope of an argument as she picked up the bowl and concentrated Chakra in her hand. "Would you, or wouldn't you?"
"Fine, then yes!" Tenten gritted her teeth and spun to face him, spoon clutched like a weapon. "Don't you get tired of being right all the time?!" She flipped the utensil over in her fingers and flicked it to land on his chest, ignoring his pained cough. "You better get out of the hospital quick so I can beat you up."
"And put me right back here? No, thank you." He cracked the tiniest of smiles. "Tenten, we've all been injured before. This is just yet another time. It's nothing for you to worry about."
"Who said I was worried?" Satisfied with the heat of the bowl radiating through her fingers, she glared. "I know that we've been injured before."
His eyes penetrated her as she sat on the edge of the bed, bowl in hand. "You left a 'but' at the end of that sentence," he pointed out.
"I'm going to kick yours if you don't eat," she warned, thrusting forward the soup.
Neji let the sentence hang in the air, then closed his eyes in weary consent. "Fine," he conceded, dipping the spoon in the bowl, letting an easy silence fall between them as he pretended not to see her wipe her eyes.
He set the spoon down when he was done. "Tenten..." almost inaudibly, he muttered her name.
Not hearing, she took the spoon and stared into the bowl with dismay. "You didn't finish it."
"I'm not hungry. Besides, you need something, right?"
"True enough," she agreed, not about to press the point where food was concerned. Ignoring the spoon, she tilted the dish and drained the contents in one gulp.
"Tenten," he repeated, louder.
"Mm?" She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and tossed the plastic across the room into the garbage can and turned to see him shifting down in bed again, pain and weariness visible on his face.
He met her eyes and held her stare for a few moments, just long enough for her to feel her heartrate increase. "Thanks..." he said finally.
The kunoichi smiled and shook her head to dismiss the feeling. "Neji, we're comrades. That's what we do," she answered simply. Her smile turned almost wicked. "And the medics said I couldn't come in until you were recovered."
"So... you came just to spite them?" A quick laugh swiftly turning into a cough, he shook his head.
"I'm a ninja," was her only response, grin widening.
Neji closed his eyes and leaned back without responding, managing to control his grimace this time.
Unbidden, the image of Hiashi-sama sprang into her mind. "That boy... he may very well inherit the Hyuuga clan." Hiashi's eyes never left her own. "Perhaps you, Tenten, have more of your fate entwined with ours than you know."
"Well, you rest," she ordered needlessly, pushing the thought to the back of her mind.
After all, that was a conversation for another day.