Disclaimer: Naruto does not belong to me. Some lines there were also inspired by a book I read in my younger years.
II made some few revisions here because I supposed it was a question how he really died in the end...so I hope I had given a simple explanation about the matter...
Every shinobi sighed with relief as rain began to fall down, as it washed away the blood. The battle was won. Akatsuki was defeated.
It was not an easy win as there were casualties but with teamwork, they were all able to bring down the remaining Akatsuki members who were extremely strong that it seemed impossible to defeat them.
But Konoha spirits never required giving up in the face of a battle and every ninja knew that so they fought their hardest, tried their best.
In the end, teamwork paid off what with a help from the other villages as well.
Tsunade sighed and looked up as the cold relentless rain poured down, tears streamed her eyes. She had watched battles before, participated in some and she would say this is the most intense battle she had ever witnessed in her entire life as every ninja stepped into the front line, willing to defend the village which her ancestor created.
An ANBU appeared in front of her. "Godaime."
"Report everything," she said casually as her eyes caught a figure from her right. She would admit that this battle would never have been decided without him.
Traitor he may have been but it was his teamwork with Naruto that finally decided to end Madara's life. She would not pry as to why he decided to help for she understood. The bond he severed years ago in search for power was too strong that it finally overpowered the anger and hatred he felt inside.
Uchiha Sasuke had decided to turn his back against Akatsuki and became an affiliate just like his brother was when he was alive. For Itachi, perhaps for Konoha and for Sasuke perhaps for the same reason as well but with another one. For friends.
He caught her and nodded once as he helped a comrade of his who aided him in battle as well. She would be thankful for them and she would decide later what to do with them because the fact still remains that he defected his village to seek out Orochimaru.
"So far all those wounded are being held up in the hospital as we speak and the medical ninjas are tending to them. No death reported yet," the ANBU answered and Tsunade nodded.
It was a miracle if she may call it. It was a miracle that no one died despite the brutality and viciousness from the Akatsuki. A smile curved her lips…the battle is over…
Neji leaned on the nearby tree while trying to regain his strength. He had seen his sensei fight an Akatsuki member before although the one he fought was merely a doppelganger but the fact remains that every Akatsuki member has a hidden strength…monstrous in fact…
Fighting one is tough. His eyes scanned the area. Despite the heavy rain, he could still smell the stench of blood as it seeped into his nostril. In his life as a jounin and being in a countless number of covert missions, this was the first time he experienced a battle so fierce, so intense and so brutal as death is just behind, stalking…waiting for someone he would take…
He sighed in relief as his eyes sought the others. They should be somewhere.
"All remaining ninjas here should gather at the front gate of Konoha," came the announcement as every one nodded and headed there.
Neji did a last minute survey of the surrounding before finally following the others. But as he jumped from one tree to another, he felt like there is something amiss. Did he miss out something? He scanned his surroundings as he passed by and he came beside the other members of Rookie nine.
"Neji, good to see you are alright," Shikamaru said.
To say the least, he was surprised to find a great number of surviving ninjas. He never knew they would make it out alive which would already be considered miraculous given the fact that Akatsuki members were insanely strong.
"Every one who requires medical attention should go directly to the hospital. Medical ninjas are all inside," Tsunade announced in a steady voice. "This battle is over."
Everyone dispersed and Neji caught sight of Uchiha and his three apprentice just as they were about to turn away.
"Uchiha," he called the rogue ninja and said guy stopped on his track with an emotionless face.
"What do you plan now?" he asked casually. He was not friends with him in the first place yet he just felt compelled to ask about it as he too watched his battle with Naruto against Madara. A death match to say the least…
"Nothing that concerns you," he said. "We have no business here so we are leaving."
He glanced at his three companions then raised his brow at the redhead. "What is it now Karin?"
There was a look of confusion on her face as she focused on something, probably sensing someone's chakra. Neji just waited then groaned at the loud voice.
He spun around to find his teammate beside his sensei, both wearing a very bright smile and Neji merely looked at them. He wondered how the two could look so very much alike from the outside to inside.
"I'm so glad my youthful student is alright," Gai said.
They turned at the sound of snort from the redhead.
"You really should not rejoice so far. I sense someone Sasuke. From over 1000 miles from here. She's dying."
Something tugged at Neji's chest the moment her words came out and he faced his teammate with a question. "Where's Tenten?"
It took them a couple of seconds to finally realize something. They have never seen her since they were gathered there. Usually, she would come to them with her usual sunny smile.
He activated his Byakugan as he left the group to go to the place the redhead referred to, his heart throbbing nervously inside. He does not know but fear started to grip him.
The others were following behind him he knew that but what he cares more for the moment is Tenten.
He is closing in so his Byakugan could already detect her and to his horror, it was Tenten.
"Neji! Wait up!!" he could hear Lee but he paid no heed. His mind began to wonder how Tenten ended almost at the outskirt of Konoha and why he never even sensed her before.
Neji ran breathlessly, his legs cramped from the long-run. Then he stood on the branch to scan the clearing until his Byakugan saw her. For a moment, he just stood there as if unsure if he saw the real thing.
Then with perfect, horrified clarity, he saw the fallen body hidden behind the big rock.
He knelt down to check on her pulse immediately as his teammate opened her eyes, smiling a little at the sight that greeted her.
In a suspended animation of the heart, Neji heard the others approaching as his eyes met hers.
"Hang on," he rather said as he tried to scoop her up in his arms. She needed to be treated immediately. He glanced over his shoulder as Lee and Gai landed on the ground followed by Uchiha and his comrades.
"Karin," Sasuke muttered the name and said redhead knelt down beside Neji and offered her hand. Although not understanding, Neji just watched.
"Bite it," Karin said. "I'm not a medical ninja but I can offer my chakra."
Tenten smiled a little, her sight starting to get blurry as she stared at Neji instead. "Neji…"
"Do what she says Tenten," he ordered but said woman made an effort to shake her head.
"Tenten, don't be stubborn," Lee interfered and stood behind Neji as Gai held Tenten's head to steady her.
"I-I am also strong, right?" she asked instead, her chocolate brown eyes seeking reassurance from her sparring partner.
"Of course you are," he said. "You have always been strong. Now Tenten, bite her hand as she said."
To their astonishment, tears streamed down her face and for the life of him Neji felt something stir inside him. He had never seen Tenten cry before…she always has the smile plastered on her lips…even when she lost to Temari during the Chuunin Exam, she never cried despite the pain she suffered from being publicly humiliated by the ninja from the Sand Village.
"Being in Team Gai was an honor," she whispered croakily as her eyes started to shut. Neji felt panic inside him and he tried to shake her.
"Tenten, don't close your eyes. No matter what, do not close your eyes," he ordered.
"I always wanted to get stronger too like Sakura, Hinata and Ino and my strength relies on weapon," she continued softly, barely audible in fact but still enough to reach their ears as they listened to her.
"You also grew up for the past three years and improved Tenten," Gai said to assure his student that she was not weak. How could they have failed to notice something?
Tenten tried to nod. "I'm never special but with you, I feel g-great."
"Stop talking and just bite her hand Tenten," Lee said but she mumbled something that they were not able to catch as her eyelids finally shut and her breathing was cut.
They were suddenly numb in horror when they realized she had already slept and not to be disturbed forever.
"Tenten," Neji tried to revive her on his own but there was no response from her.
Gai was staring at his student like he had seen a ghost. Lee's mouth was wide open in shock while Neji held Tenten closely to him as he wracked her body against him, his stiff shoulders starting to shake.
This moment…the whole scene had surely taken in a couple of minutes he later learned when he could bear to think of it all…
Within those minutes, he would remember always in agonizing detail…he would remember cradling her against him as his tears started to fall down, each drop falling into her peaceful face…for a lifetime, he would remember holding her close to him, wracking her and begging her not to die…he would remember the blood…so much blood on him, on the ground, as it run down her beautiful face in rivulets…as the cold, relentless rain continued to fall, as he cried out uselessly to the maker and any deity he could remember…
For a lifetime, he would remember the shouting, the sobbing and the clinging to the dead shinobi as someone tried to pull him away from her, probably his sensei's or he would learn later to be Kakashi…for a lifetime, he would remember the awful finality of what had been done as it seeped into his mind…
All of those he would remember most…especially the deadly cold of the hateful knowledge flooding into his mind...
That is what he would remember most when he could bear to think of it all…that hateful knowledge that she died in his arms as she fought courageously the Akatsuki woman on her own…
It had taken him too long to come out from the darkness when he saw his teammate as broken as him.
His face was impassive as he stared at the smiling girl in the frame. He was oblivious of his surrounding. His eyes were just on the portrait of the only woman he allowed to come close to him…
Today was her funeral and everyone wore black…everyone gathered and stood side by side as they came to pay their respect to the fallen warrior, each holding a white rose…just like they all did when the Third Hokage died…
Today it was Tenten. Neji shut his eyes tightly as his fists clenched tightly. Just like last time when Sarutobi, the Third Hokage was buried, it was raining.
This time though, the rain is heavier, the sky darker as if heaven itself is mourning for Tenten, as if heaven itself felt the heavy loss from the Hyuuga boy.
Tsunade stood in front as she tried to find words to say. Inside, she felt something clutch at her. Tenten, the Weapon's Mistress…
"Today," she began and had not realized her voice was croaky and she had to hold to something for a support. She took a deep breath. "Today," she repeated and shut her eyes as tears fell down. Warriors were not supposed to cry for a fallen warrior…
Tsunade once again took a deep breath, hating herself for being so weak right now. "Today, we shall honor the death of a ninja who had gone on her own to finish one Akatsuki while not relying on other's help.
Today, we shall honor a ninja who was brave and true…Tenten, the Weapon's Mistress. For everyone, she was merely a shadow of Team Gai. She tried so hard to improve and she did. There was no one else who could use a weapon as precisely as her.
Tenten, she was a strong girl too. She may only have weapons as her specialty but she had always been special and she died without knowing that. While others relied on their family jutsu, while others had someone train them, Tenten climbed the ladder on her own.
It was our deepest regret that one unique girl as her died for what we have all stood for."
She looked up while willing herself not to cry anymore but she could not help it. Tears still flowed down.
"This monument would be in commemoration of someone we had all failed to notice, of someone who had lived behind the shadows. This monument will be to remember someone we had all forgotten. This is for Tenten."
She bowed slightly and stepped down while preventing herself not to cry. She could hear the other girls sobbing as well.
Neji heard all of it and would even want to say something but he kept it to himself. Tenten might have been unnoticed by the others but not Lee, not Gai and definitely not him. He watched her improve. He helped her train. He saw her hard work.
And he knew all of it.
So he knew how she felt for ranking fourth in the list of female ninjas. Sakura may have been trained by Tsunade, Hinata may have her Byakugan, Ino may have her family jutsu but none of the three can ever compare to Tenten who improved without anyone's help.
Tenten, for him, was the strongest even before they participated in the Chuunin Exam and he recognized her strength. He acknowledged it.
He did not pay attention to those who came to pat him on the shoulder as they shared their condolence. His eyes were still focused to the framed portrait of the smiling girl.
When finally alone, he let the tears fall down as he knelt on in front of the gravestone. Lee and Gai were just behind.
More than anyone else, the three of them knew what Tenten had gone through especially since her loss from Temari. They knew how she hid her pain inside while maintaining her smile.
More than anyone else, they were the ones who knew of her desire to get stronger…so more than anyone else, they were the one who felt the raw pain inside…
For Konoha, they lost a warrior who specializes on weapons for offense and defense…
For Team Gai, they lost a teammate, a friend…a sister…
For Neji, he lost the only person he allowed to be inside his world…he lost his sparring partner, his best friend.
His pain of losing his father can never compare to the pain he felt right now for it was a different loss.
"Thank you Neji. It is enough to know that you recognize me. You've always been my good friend. I'll be watching over you. And you owe me an answer still."
Those were the words she mumbled before her last breath and only Neji caught it.
"You've always been the strongest Tenten," he murmured now as his tears continued to fall down. Always the strongest…
"And you will never be forgotten."
He watched her pant hard as he merely sat under the tree while she practiced with something else.
"I need to improve more," he heard her mutter under her breathe. "I need to catch up with everyone else. I always seem to be the one left out."
"What are you mumbling about?" he pretended not to have heard her while inside, he felt sorry for whatever she was feeling right now. She had no right to feel so down because she is already special to him and Team Guy…she does not need to be Tsunade's apprentice, she does not need to have a family jutsu like Hinata and Ino…because she has something none of the three females can ever have…
Surprised she might be, she only offered a smile then laid on the grass as she looked upward. "Neji…?"
"If ever something happens, will you ever forget me?"
He does not know what surprised him. Was it the question or the way she asked it? She sounded strange, unsure in fact…
"What made you ask that?" he asked with a raised brow and she shrugged carelessly.
"It just crossed my mind."
"Out with it Tenten."
Silence stretched for a while before she sighed. "Nothing really…it's just that sometimes, I felt insignificant."
He noted the tone of insecurity so he sighed and stared down at her pretty face. Tenten was surprised at the gentle smile from his lips as his face blocked her view.
"Don't belittle yourself Ten. You have never been insignificant," he assured her. "You're a fool if you ever thought that."
Her grin spread across her face and he thought she had never looked prettier than that moment. "Thank you Neji."
He smirked at her and resumed his original position while Tenten remained on the ground. "I'll still try my best though. I would not want to disappoint you."
"As I have said, you don't have to prove something. You're stronger than them."
Tenten did not comment as she stared above. The sky was bright. "You have not answered my question."
"Yes. After all, having you, Lee and Gai as family, I would like to know."
Ah how many times had he forgotten the fact that Tenten is practically alone in the world? He shook his head and did not answer though as Lee and Gai arrived.
Odd that he had forgotten about that query which happened a few days before the Akatsuki attacked Konoha altogether.
He wished he had told her the answer she probably was waiting for…if only to let her know that she is always remembered…at least by him and Team Gai.
If there was one thing he regretted that moment, it was the simple fact that he was unable to tell her how special she was, how he loved her as a friend and more than that, how he would have wanted to train her more to get stronger if only to make her realize that she does not need to compete with the others…if there was one thing he regretted, it was the fact that he did not realize it sooner…or more like he let it go unnoticed…
They say the worth of someone is determined when he was out of your life already. Painfully, the others learned that the hard way…
Nearly twenty years later, when Neji was looking skyward as he waited for the stalking death to take him, as he felt his comrades fall down as well, a ninja of the younger generation asked what he would remember best in his lifetime.
"Tenten and that parting," he murmured and no one in those surviving ninjas but those who were with Neji before would know he was recalling with infinite detail the moment they have begun for him in that cold, desolate night when Konoha won the battle against Akatsuki.
A soft smile curved Lee's lips as he watched the peaceful face of his friend. He was the only one left among Team Gai. His sensei died along with Kakashi on a covert mission while trying to protect their students.
Perhaps it was guilt that made Gai do it for inside too, he felt like he was responsible for losing their little flower.
This battle too was just as fierce as the battle Lee witnessed in his life before yet less brutal. It was supposed to be a covert mission but somehow, along the way, they stumbled into traps laid down by the waiting enemies. Konoha ninja's are strong. Everyone knows that. Yet they are not invincible. Even someone who was called a genius was actually defeated.
He held Neji's hands. Lee wondered if Neji really lost or if he only allowed death to come to him instead. Lee would never know why. But one smple fact remains. Neji died with few other ninjas that day and it was painful for Lee. Everyone was taken away.
"You feel so cold Neji. I wish you do not feel so cold," he said steadily before the other shinobi came to take his rosewood coffin to lay him down beside Tenten. The other fallen ninjas were buried already and it was Hyuuga Neji, a jounin and ANBU who was buried last. From the trees, ANBU ninjas were standing from every branch as well to pay respect.
"I guess you had always wanted to be with her Neji," Lee said quietly. "You two have always been in synch. Perhaps you have always been thinking she was alone wherever she is. Perhasps even after all these years, you longed to be with her."
Lee looked at the one who patted his shoulder and nodded at Shikamaru. Only a few of them were left from Team Gai and Rookie Nine. The others had passed away as well from their missions…
To die in battle, to lose a warrior from operations...it was a fact that everyone learned to accept...it was a truth that can never be denied...however, if those fallen warriors were people you considered friends, family, comrades...it makes a lot of difference...it makes it more painful than it really is...
He glanced at the wonderfully adorned gravestone of Tenten. With every chance he gets, Neji would drop by here and lay down a single flower. Whenever Neji comes from a mission, he would first stop by the grave to talk to her. It had become a habit for Neji...as if he made a vow to her...of course Lee and even their sensei never knew of the secret vow but they had an idea...
"Tenten, we both miss you, you know," he said to the stone with a faint smile. "I guess Neji could not wait so he followed you there. We never forgot about you Ten. He never forgot about you. You always lived within his heart."
Usually, when Lee drops by the place, he had one flower with him but today and the days to come before he would follow later, he would always bring two….
For the unforgotten bond…
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