Author's Notes: Umm... What to say after seven or so months... Sorry? T_T I really do mean it when I say sorry, but I guess it sounds kind of insufficient for the amount of sorry I'm trying to express here. Life has been crazy hectic for me the past couple of months and I'm not lying when I say that I've never had this much shit and awesomeness happen to me in such a short time, ever. It's a long story and one that is perhaps not quite fitted for Author's Notes, so I won't go into detail. Just know that the saying 'what doesn't kill you makes you stronger', from my experience, is definitely true - it just takes a long time for you to realise it and get to a point where you actual feel stronger instead of just a big ol' mess.

Anyways, I haven't forgotten about you guys or this story, and I hope you haven't forgotten about me. I want to thank everybody that reviewed and read the story and messaged me about me having to continue or else 'breaking your heart' and whatnot. ;) It really pushed me to do what I love - which is writing. So big, huge, humongous, out of this world thanks go to; Manda721, Lioele, Ekun-Asha, Kunoichi-of-the-Leaf, eliace, , Sisterhood Of Traveling Kunai, frenchesca, .Koe, TheCynic'sDream, La Nuit Noire, senorita lopez, Aeraqua, Quill of Molliemon, Leona DragonBlood Aero, vinaduhhx3, maddie4president, DotsOnAWall, LovelyIAmNot, Shawnlina, Very happy randomness fairy, inuyashagirl22, mewmewmemint, Midnight Insomniac, coolprettyangel2006, hisoka-ai9, PeaceGirlForever, absentmindedboricua, Blood Stained Sorceress, storyaddicted, Rose Angel of the night, sailor winx, SmoothCriminal85, Jins-swords, Senka Hitomi, starisice, Mysterious Bluerose, WTF, asdf, the dishy fishy and Franoncrack (the last four are anonymous reviewers :p).

About this chapter; you're going to hate me. It's not the best thing I've ever written (in fact, I'll wager it's probably one of the worst chapters of the whole story) but at least it's a new chapter and I promise that its suckiness will lead to greater and infinitely more awesome writing for the last chapters of the story - which aren't that many, by the way. Four or five after this one, I think? We're on the final streak... Which is why I'm all the more sorry for leaving you guys hanging so long. You might want to reread some of the latest chapters to get back into the groove, because I imagine a lot of you completely forgot what the story was even about (again, my fault :(). Anyways... In this chapter, we're going to shock Neji into common sense, and the way I go about it…

Well, you're going to hate me. ;) That's all I'm going to say.

Tawakemono

o21. 'Tenten!'

When they happened across the band of rogues that he'd seen, those rogues didn't stand a chance. Neji remembered hearing rumors about them - one of the things Tsunade had told him to be aware of when they left was that the area they were headed for had been troubled by illicit activities by a few outlaws for a while now. Now that they were face to face, Neji decided the group had grown since Tsunade received the first complaints - not surprising, since the mission had been put aside until after Naruto and Hinata threw their party, like so many others. But even despite having grown, the group's numbers still weren't very impressive. 'Ten,' Neji confirmed what he'd already seen earlier, feeling almost disappointed. Sinking into his signature fighting stance, he fought to surpress the feeling. He'd been in the mood for a bit of a challenge, if only to release the build-up of tension constricting his heart and muddling with his thoughts. But perhaps he ought to be grateful?

The battle was a fluke; so easy it was almost funny, more of a practice round than anything else. He activated the Byakugan a couple of minutes in - not that he needed it to win, but fighting without keeping an eye on Tenten and Lee was unnerving - it made him feel on edge, like there was something he was forgetting that he shouldn't be forgetting about - like he was tempting fate. Like parts of him were missing, off doing their own thing, and while he trusted fully in their competence it still felt like he lacked something beside him. Seeing Tenten shower a hooded man with an absolute deluge of metal was strangely reassuring.

One. Two. Three. Four. Five.

'Bladder, stomach, liver, lungs, heart,' he rehearsed as he struck, again and again, feeling the heartbeat stutter and then still forever. In the middle of the process, something on the edge of his blind spot caught his attention. At five o'clock Tenten was entertaining herself with the last of her share, playing with him; the way she let him slip just too close only to fight him off at the last instance unnerved him. It was something she often did when he sparred with her - the only difference was that this man would kill her if he got lucky.

"Tenten!" he growled loudly, warning her. She caught his eye from across the field and slmost pouted, before nodding her consent. Instantly, the sounds of metal clashing and the corresponding rate of pained exclamations coming from her opponent sped up, and Neji found that he was smirking when he turned back to face some more opponents.

When they finished, barely fifteen minutes had passed. Neji made another once-over of the battleground for reference when he was to write his mission report - though he would probably omit the identical 'Good Guy' poses Lee and Gai were currently scarring his retinas with. He quickly located Tenten to his left and studied her form carefully - perhaps a bit obsessively.

Her chakra wavered slightly, but that was to be expected after using several advanced Soshouryus. One senbon stuck from her right shoulder, but apart from that she seemed to be unscathed - unscather, and possibly radiant.

Surrounded by the tools of her trade she was utterly in her element, the bodies strewn about her feet a testimony to her strength. She let out another deep breath and swiped her dirty, stringy hair back - her buns had become partially undone and her cheeks were streaked with grime. She'd lost her jacket during the battle and the shirt she wore underneath was covered with a mixture of ash and dirt, drenched with sweat and plastered against her glistening skin. She was a mess - but as she stood there in all her glory, chest heaving and eyes shining with victory, in spite of all the dirt and sweat and the exhaustion clearly visible in the way she held herself -

She'd never been more beautiful. Truthfully, he made his decision right then and there - but he didn't get a chance to tell her.

He opened his mouth to call out to her - to say what, he didn't know, but it didn't bother him; he felt like everything he knew didn't even matter anymore. However, the words died in his throat as just when her eyes caught his and the beginnings of a triumphant smile blossomed on her face, her eyes clouded over. He watched in silent horror and she fell to the side, resulting in a resounding crack that he'd heard only several minutes ago; it was the sound of a limb snapping as it hit the ground at a wrong angle, only it sounded so much more terrifying when it was Tenten's - it sounded absolutely horrifying, and it felt as though someone had just ripped his heart right out of him. it felt like his world stopped spinning with hers, and he just couldn't think.

Couldn't speak.

Couldn't even move.

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