A/N: Thank you so much for everyone who read/reviewed! I really appreciate it!
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.
A month slipped away. Neji acted like a funeral mourner. No matter what I said to him, the dang boy would not lighten up.
I told him to eat, he replied with "hn". I told him to sleep, and he said "hn". I told him to smile, and he replied "hn." I slapped him hard across the face, and all he did was look away and "hn."
It wasn't till I threatened to cut his neck with my scissors did he react with any emotion. He managed a miniscule watery smile, which resulted in an onslaught of tears, and lo and behold, we were right back where we started: the dreaded "hn".
"My mighty Lord, I swear Hizashi will have a field day with this story when he gets home," I murmured to myself, one crisp autumn morning.
I had become accustomed to waking at the crack of dawn, no longer minding Robert's cries from atop the Yamanaka barn, and settling myself on the porch swing to watch the sun rise. I figured if the Jews couldn't watch it, I'd take in all the happiness and maybe one day, I'd be able to give a little back to them.
When I described my plan to Pa, he chuckled and shook his head. He ruffled my hair and called me something that sounded like "a good Samaritan." This particular morning when I remembered the moment, I swore I saw a glimmer in his eye, tears I assumed.
"Up early, are we?" I played with the sleeves of my nightgown, not bothering to face Neji.
I heard a sigh, and I could hear him clamber up the steps and settle himself next to me.
He took the hand tormenting my clothing and intertwined my fingers with his. This was also part of my somewhat "normal" routine, although some days Neji didn't show up. If I stayed out for three hours, staring at the horizon waiting for him, I knew he had cried himself to sleep the night before.
I tucked my knees under my chin and yawned.
"You've been out here long." It wasn't a question, but I still nodded anyway.
"You're lucky," I told him, resting my cheek on my legs, "I was just about ready to head in." This was a lie; both of us knew so.
He shrugged where he would have chuckled four weeks ago.
"I miss him," he told me. He said this every morning. Any time the silence overwhelmed him, he felt the need to remind me of his predicament. And every time, I smacked him so hard he'd fall off the bench and his yelp of pain could be heard rolling over the plains and hills of the county.
"You better suck it up, boy," I'd say to him before standing up and going inside. I watched him through the kitchen window; however, to make sure he didn't lie in an ugly heap for too long.
And he'd cry sometimes, his shoulders shaking and his fists beating against the wooden planks. I knew I was rather rough, crude, stubborn, and probably a whole other list of bad qualities, but I knew what was best for him. He needed to get over his state of depression. It dang well wasn't healthy for him.
-August 29, 1940-
"Quit hogging the syrup dish, Squirt," Pa complained, his callus hand reaching in my direction. He flexed his fingers, a signal that meant "give it here."
I rolled my eyes at his childish behavior (not that I really had any right to do that). Unfortunately, he noticed and promptly told me to "keep my eyeballs straight."
"Did he come?" my father asked as he cut his pancakes. I nodded, stabbing my hash browns with my fork. My elbow was propped up on the table supporting my head.
Lately, I hadn't been eating a whole bunch. I didn't know if it was because Neji's rain cloud had become larger to compensate me as well, or because I was finally learning to be ladylike and not gouge myself at every meal.
Whatever the reason, I wasn't too happy about it. But no matter how hard I tried, I could not bring myself to open my mouth and eat. Instead, I merely jabbed at the food in my plate, much like I was doing right now.
"Something troubling you, Squirt?" Pa asked. My mother whispered his name harshly, telling him to hush up over sensitive topics. I didn't mind telling a fib and shook my head.
"No, Pa. I'm doing just fine." It came out in a more sarcastic manner than I intended it to be. Nevertheless, it did the trick and my father didn't speak to me for the remainder of breakfast.
Chores seemed so frivolous on a day such as today. The sun, radiant in it's all mighty way, warmed the mist rising from the dewy grass. At times I nearly dropped my shovel as I marveled at the sight. I wanted so badly to go run, and twirl, and leap gleefully in the midst of it all.
And I wanted to do it all with Neji.
I became increasingly aware of my thoughts of him. How sometimes they would lead to images that were a bit tasteless. I shook my head; my imagination was running with the wind.
At times of frightening clarity, though I wouldn't ever admit it, I even said I loved him. The thought chilled me to the bone. I shuddered, pulling my jacket tighter around myself and pausing to wipe my running nose with the back of my hand.
I breathed in the crisp, cool autumn air. It smelt like pinecones, soil, and something suspiciously resembling Ino's body odor. I stuck out my tongue when I caught a whiff of the last one. "Damn girl," I muttered.
I then proceeded to do my work.
When I finished and arrived back at the house, my mother was pouring over knitting patterns in a parenting magazine at the kitchen table. She pushed her reading glasses further up the bridge of her nose as she looked up at me.
"Dear, school will be starting soon. I'm going to take you and Neji to town for clothes. Mrs. Hyuuga will meet us there. Now go wash up. We'll leave after lunch," she told me. I frowned, but before any form of protest could escape my lips, she gave me a stern glance. I immediately silenced my mind, and followed her orders.
When I arrived in the dining room, dressed in fresh clothes, a half hour later, I was greeted my a less than appealing sight. It wasn't Neji's eyes, swollen with tears, or the tacky pastel dress his mother wore, but the green, steaming muck placed in a bowl in the center of the table: asparagus soup.
I could feel a pained expression cross my features, and my stomach swam. I tasted something acidic and bitter roll up from my throat and into the back of my mouth. I swallowed. I realized it might have been vomit.
Skin paling by the second, I shakily sat down, unable to tear my eyes from the vile liquid before me.
"Are you alright? You look terribly ill," Mrs. Hyuuga said, pressing the back of her hand to my forehead. My lips twitched, trying to give her a reassuring smile.
"I-I'm fine, Mam," I replied.
The meal was a nightmare. I took miniscule sips, forcing my lips shut till they were a thin white line. My fingers scrunched around the gingham-patterned fabric of my dress.
I couldn't stand the stench either. I became so nauseous that I only ate when someone looked at me. Taking in account of the size of our table, however, eyes found their way to my form a great deal too often.
"Stupid soup," I mumbled under my breath. I thought I had said it quietly, but as soon as the words left my lips, everyone turned in my direction. I blinked, bowing my head to hide my embarrassment.
"Did you say something?" Ma asked, raising an eyebrow. I shook my head quickly.
"No Ma." She wasn't convinced, and if it weren't for the Hyuugas' presence, she would have pestered me until I was blue in the face. But since she had guests, she'd pull me aside later. This I dreaded.
We set out, much to my relief, a mere five minutes after the incident. Ma frowned when she saw my bowl, still entirely full. But I ducked out of the room before she could comment.
Ma and Mrs. Hyuuga chatted happily the entire walk to town. Neji was quiet and gloomy. He stuffed his hands in his pocket and bowed his head, staring at the ground and occasionally kicking a pebble or two.
I tried to make conversation with him, but he didn't look at me. I assumed he hadn't heard, but I knew in my heart, that he was ignoring me.
This loss of attention was rather disturbing. No matter how I put it, I couldn't seem to wrap my mind around the new Neji. He was so… cold. Like the popsicles Pa had bought the day I found him sobbing in the barn.
"Neji," I said softly. I shifted closer to him, and brushed my hand against his. I could see him watching my movement from the corner of his eye, but other than that, he didn't react.
I sighed and bit my lip, awfully bored. Even fighting with Neji was better than him being like this! Coming form me, that was a pretty big confession. I didn't like fighting, mostly because I was stubborn and did not like to be disagreed with.
I considered shoving him. The impact with the concrete would surely knock him out of his stupor. I was a rather awful child, full of wicked ideas. But at that time, I was desperate to change my best friend. And if I had known what await me in a few months time, I would go back and push him so hard, he'd be in the hospital long enough, at least, to pass over the horrific event.
But unfortunately, the past is the past. And I can't possibly fix things.
I shook my head and averted my gaze. The streets were mighty crowded. I remember trying to count how many people I passed, but I soon lost track and gave up.
By the time we reached the department store, my head ached and my mood was sour.
Ma and Mrs. Hyuuga were like children in a candy shop. They moved so quickly from shelf to shelf, I nearly had to run after them. And when they shoved me into a fitting room, a monstrous pile of clothing in my arms, I was less than pleased. This type of attention, I despised.
I swore to myself as I shoved my head and arms into an itchy sweater. I frowned at my reflection. My hair, which had been neatly tied with blue ribbons, was frizzy. My dress, which I saw jumbled on the ground behind me, was wrinkled.
I ripped the sweater off, wanting to chop it in half with Pa's axe. Apparently, it was the newest fashion for autumn. It, however, reminded me of my great aunt. She had twenty kids, three dogs, a goldfish, and smelled like cat liter.
I pulled my dress over my head, but I didn't want to go out just yet. The fitting room was a little haven. It was quiet, simple, and safe.
I sank to the floor, hugging my knees to my chest, deep in thought. I swallowed, as an image of Neji flashed through my mind. It was dreadful and I didn't realize I had started crying till tears plopped down on my lap. I hurriedly wiped them away, trying to regain my strong demeanor.
But it was no use. Frightening thoughts ran through my head. What if Hizashi died? What would Neji do then? And… since when had I started to care so much?
"Neji," I whispered, much like I had on the walk over here. But this time, there was no hand to touch, no lilac pupil secretly watching me.
It seemed silly, sitting in the fitting room of a store, surrounded by the most revolting clothing ever. But here I was, crying as if it were the end of the world. But in some ways, it seemed like it was; at least, it was the end of my world.
I wrung my hands, taking a few deep breaths. Ma, Mrs. Hyuuga, even Neji was just beyond the door. But I couldn't bring myself to open it. I didn't want to face reality. I wanted to be trapped in my protective little bubble, with only my reflection for company.
"Stop it!" I scolded myself, "My Lord! What has gotten in to me?"
I rested my forehead on my legs, tired. It was so quiet all of a sudden. So absolutely silent… I felt myself drifting off…
And with a soft sigh, I escaped to the Land of Nod.
Seconds, minutes, hours passed. Slowly I leaned to the side, and sprawled out on the floor. My hair spread every which way and thinness of my dress caused me to shiver. Nevertheless, I slept like I never had before.
It was late in the evening when someone found me. It was the storeowner, who had picked the lock and got in. When I heard her yelp in surprise, I felt a jolt run through me, and I attempted to lie perfectly still, lest she tried to harm me.
But to my great relief, she merely shook me. I sat up slowly, licking my dried lips. I blinked up at her.
The woman was staring at me with great curiosity. "Dear Child, how is it that you became trapped in here? Did you not call for help?" she questioned.
It took me a moment to comprehend what she had said, my mind still working sluggishly slow. I took my time answering, weighing each word carefully.
"I… was trying on some clothes and… I became tired. I guess I just fell asleep. It's nothing really. I'm fine." The woman nodded, but leaned down a bit when she saw me open my mouth again.
"But… is my Ma out there?" I tried to remember what she was wearing, but the only thing I could recall was her awful asparagus soup. When that horrific memory surfaced, I felt queasy. I got to my knees, breathing deeply as I tried to steady myself.
But I could not contain the vile substance, and my disgust came out in the form of vomit.
The woman put her hand on my shoulder. She soon moved it to the small of my back and rubbed in soothing circles. She hastily tied my hair with my ribbon, before scurrying away muttering something about water and medicine.
I felt unusually dizzy, and I squeezed my eyes shut. I threw up again, vomit even coming out from my nostrils.
It felt suffocating… those few moments when I could only taste and smell asparagus and acid. And if I tried to look at anything, I would surely lose consciousness.
I felt a hand on my back, this time a much heavier one. A man, I assumed. But I was in no condition to think. I felt a spoon being shoved into my mouth, but I spit it out along with most of the contents of my stomach.
I thought I heard a voice asking me something, but the world was suddenly so quiet again. And I felt my arms give out and I slumped in a puddle of vomit.
The next time I was rudely awakened, was by a sharp jab in my arm. I felt something liquid-like flow into my body. I slowly opened my eyes, pleasantly surprised that the world no longer looked like a Kaleidoscope.
Wherever I was, it was white… just so blank. But the color seemed to scream at me. It was… it was saying… my name.
"Tenten! Tenten!" it called. "Wake up, Tenten! Wake up!"
I didn't want to wake up, though. I didn't like the noise. Then the world began to quake. I felt an awfully hard grip on both my arms and I screamed, trying to get whatever it was, off of me.
"Let me go!" I begged. Soft fingers crept along my face. I held my breath, waiting for them to strike me, to claw at me. But there was no pain, only…only love.
This reminded me of Neji. I didn't know where he was, but I wanted him near me. I-I felt safe with him. And so, I yelled his name.
A warm hand enclosed around mine, and I prayed to the mighty Lord it was that dear boy.
I sat up as I felt another prick. My head collided with something rock solid, and I heard a soft "ouch". I immediately recognized the voice.
"Neji," I croaked. I felt arms encase my being, and I happily relished the warmth and gentleness.
"Tenten," I heard him whisper, "You're alright."
I tried to laugh, but began to cough violently. A glass of cold water was shoved in my face. I grasped it greedily, chugging it down in one go.
"Why didn't you come out?" Neji asked, sitting down at the edge of my bed, holding my empty glass.
I wasn't quite sure what to tell him. I cared about him. If I said I the reason was I didn't want to see him, he'd be heart broken.
I accepted it: I loved him. But I would never, ever tell him that. He deserved someone better.
"I just felt…weird all of a sudden…so I sat down. I guess I fell asleep. I don't… really remember," I fibbed.
He nodded, cocking his head to the side and studying me carefully.
"Be careful, Bud," he scolded me finally. He left soon afterwards, much to my disappointment.
I sat alone, playing with the blanket strewn over my body.
It was dark outside, a few stars peeking out from behind their shroud of black. I wondered what Hizashi wad doing. Was he asleep? Was he thinking about his family, Neji especially?
I wondered if he truly forgave me for killing his brother. I wondered if anyone did. I shook my head. I was too tired to think straight.
I lay down, preparing to just sleep the night away. However, my ears perked up as they picked up whispering directly outside my room.
"…I'm afraid her concussion was much more serious than we originally thought. I'm not completely sure if surgery would help, nor am I prepared to list any risks brought on by the operation. But due to her injury, she will experience short lapses of consciousness. Some could last a few minutes, others could last hours…"
I could hear gasps and a soft cry. I knew- I was absolutely sure they were speaking of me.
I had to stifle my own sob, and I wished for drowsiness to overwhelm my senses. I wasn't so luck this time, though.
I lay awake, tears streaming down my face and wetting my pillow. This time I wasn't in a protective bubble and there was no reflection. I was facing reality, and it was damn ugly.
I couldn't open the door and escape my loneliness…
A/N: Thanks so much for reading! Please review!