A/N: I came up with this on the way to school (no it wasn't raining, I just think backwards). I said to myself, "Darn, if I was still on break I'd be on my computer typing this baby up." So I managed to restrain myself and held onto the idea till the end of the day. Enjoy!
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.
Neji hated when the rain fell slanted. The Hyuuga household, unfortunately, had not been built to accommodate unruly weather, and from there, his despise had grown. The various external corridors, often stemming from a bedroom to other rooms among the compound, were not able to shield those who wandered about them, when a storm proved itself to be unpredictable. The hallways were, of course, covered with awnings, but these were made to block out rain that fell in a vertical direction.
Today, however, Neji paid no heed to the storm; he did not shiver when the rain drenched his clothing, he did not wince at the rumble of the thunder, and the bright flashes of lightning did not disturb him in the least.
The air was different. It was charged with excitement and anticipation, heating till their stomachs plummeted and their hearts were on overdrive. They were poised behind a thicket of dense vegetation, ready to spring with the grace only shinobi possessed. Tenten was on his right, her breathing shaky, but Neji passed that off as nerves. They had been waiting for this confrontation for weeks, after all. The thought of finally going home and eating actual food, and then sleeping in an actual bed, was enough to get adrenaline pumping through their veins.
He was sitting outside in one of the aforementioned external passageways, his legs dangling in the air, his arms wrapped about him, and his forehead pressed against the wooden rungs of the railing. He remained absolutely still, as if the movement of a single muscle would disrupt the delicate balance of the nature about him, his visage proving to be that of serious concentration on some unknown mental task. His eyebrows furrowed, and his lips seemed to be permanently twisted into a frown. His hair whipped gently in the breeze, a few locks plastering themselves against his cheeks as he thought.
Neji was pained; the memories replaying in his mind were giving him the most grief he had ever experienced. His fingers dug into his arms as he relived them over and over. If I had been stronger, I could have saved them. Lee, Gai-sensei… I'm sorry. And Tenten, thank God I still have you. Even if it has been weeks, and you still can't breathe on your own, even if you've spent every day lying in a hospital bed, and your wounds haven't completely healed, at least… at least you're still here. At least I was of some use to you.
They had jumped in too quick, and now, they had nowhere to run. Impatience and over confidence had been their downfall, and unfortunately, the consequences were rather unpleasant.
Gai was sprawled on the ground, his limbs thrown every which way, and his breathing coming in quick, harsh pants. His left leg was crushed, and his arms and hands bled. His fingers were bent at unusual angles, and judging by the deep slices on his wrists and the small bone fragments stabbing through his skin, Neji deduced it was broken.
Lee was in no better shape, but at least he was still on his feet.
Tenten seemed relatively unharmed, though several kunai had imbedded themselves in her legs and in the space between her ribs. The Hyuuga watched her pull them out, wincing and hissing in pain as she did so. Blood spurted from each exposed wound, but there was nothing she could do now.
Neji, himself, was fine. He had taken a few hits, but among all the members in his squad, he had the least amount of injuries.
He could smell the rain, taste the rain, and even feel it beat to the rhythm of his heart, yet his senses, he believed, had completely shut down. He had secluded himself, preferring to be trapped in a bubble of depression, than seek help. If I had been more alert, if I hadn't let my guard slip, and allow my walls to be breeched, you three would be here with me now. Never again will it happen. But each time I promise myself this, I come to the conclusion that there is no point: I have already lost those dear to me, so why must I carry on? Then I think of you, Tenten. You are the reason I must carry on.
Neji felt strangely at ease fighting with his comrades. Despite the dire results of a simple blow, it was almost relaxing. He was in his element during combat, and not even the fiercest opponent could intimidate him. At least not when he had Lee, Tenten, and Gai to support him.
He glanced quickly from the corner of his eye to see how his teammates' fights were progressing.
The small opening, even if it only lasted a second, was all his foe needed to land a surely lethal hit. Fortunately, Neji was able to displace the punch, but the damage still slowed him down.
The wind howled, as if it had been produced from the throat of a wolf. It kicked up the leaves like an angry child, and shook the house in which he dwelled. Neji could hear the floorboards creek, feel the vibrations of relatives' footsteps, and could smell the cherry blossoms on a nearby tree, yet, from his perspective, he deemed himself dead. Gai-sensei, if you had just gotten out of the way, if you had just stop trying, if you had listened, I could have saved you. But then again, if you had given up, I wouldn't have bothered to help. Why waste my energy protecting those who have lost their will to live? But you see, this is the difference between my person of yesterday, and my person of today. Now, I would have gladly thrown myself in the way of that final blow.
Neji was hunched over, gasping for air. His chakra was depleting at an alarmingly fast pace. If it was due to some jutsu that had been used on him, or he was actually burning through it that quickly, it didn't matter. He had underestimated this rogue ninja, and had not devised a suitable alternative plan if something should go wrong.
He took a knee to the stomach, blood bubbling in the back of his throat. He wiped the few drops trailing down his chin, desperate to find a way to break through his enemy's defenses.
But it was too late; by the time he saw the chakra infused fist, it had already connected with his flesh. Neji shut his eyes, waiting for the shooting pain to course through his system and bring him to his knees.
But the pain never came. Instead, when he swallowed his fear and looked, he caught a flash of a smile-Gai's smile- and blur of green as his sensei slumped to the ground, dead.
The sky was dark, seeming to be more of a black hole, than an inspirational ever-present being. Neji wished it would suck him in and suffocate him until he was numb. Lee… I never thought you'd save me; I never thought you were capable of doing so, but I was wrong. Did you know, that Sakura was in tears when she heard you were dead? Did you know how much she cared about you? And Tenten, even in her weakened, frail, state, managed to yell at me, and punch me across the room with all the strength she had left? She was so upset; they both were; yet I think I'm more upset than them. I'm angry, Lee. I'm angry that I was so helpless, I'm angry that I was so selfish that I let you take the blow. I was a coward who didn't have the courage to push you out of the way.
Lee clutched his side, wobbling on the tips of his toes, as he tried to evade his opponent's attacks. His legs seemed to be chained to the ground, restricting his movement to slow jogs at maximum.
One of his eyes was half closed, swollen shut with a punch. There were various stab wounds on his body, he was sure at least one of his shoulders was dislocated, and one arm lay limp at his side, broken.
He pressed his back to a tree, eyes searching the surrounding foliage for his opponent. It was useless to even hope to land a kick or punch, but Lee had never been one to give up.
He heard a ragged gasp, and the awful sputtering sound made by one coughing up blood. Lee held his breath, ears straining to perceive in which direction he should head. He picked up a soft curse, and in an instant, he had dashed with as much speed he could muster, to aid his comrade.
Neji was lying on the ground, shaking as he clawed at the soil for purchase. He had to get up. He couldn't die yet.
His opponent slowly unsheathed an ornate sword from its hilt, ginning like a mad man all the while. His weapon of choice seemed like it belonged hung above the mantel of a fireplace, not on the battlefield. But Lee could tell by how sharp the blade seemed, how it glinted in the sun, that the rogue ninja had prepared it for the exact purpose of murder. It was designed to kill, that and nothing else.
Before he knew what he had done, Lee lunged forward, kneeling over Neji's fallen form to protect him. The Hyuuga had always seemed to strong, so invincible-no, he still was invincible, and for that reason, Lee believed he did not deserve to die at the hands of such an unworthy foe.
Lee, much like the man's sword, had been trained, refined, and polished with a purpose: to protect the ones he loved. Neji was no exception.
Below his feet, a few servants unsuccessfully attempted to light the paper lanterns strung throughout the gardens. They gave up on their task after half an hour, and headed to the kitchen to prepare dinner. Neji, however, wasn't hungry. It didn't even feel like he had a stomach. He was hollow. Tenten… There are too many things left unsaid between us. During the battle, you were my first priority. If you had stopped arguing with me, if you hadn't confused me on whether I should complete the mission, or help you, you could have been at home right now. If you had just shut up for God's sake, maybe my heart wouldn't feel like a rock at the bottom of a pond. I love you, damn it, and don't you dare try to convince me otherwise. I will never leave you alone.
"Go!" Tenten shrieked, eyes wide with panic. Neji placed a foot in either direction, leaning his weight one way, then the other.
He was a shinobi, and fulfilling his duty always came before helping a teammate. But Neji did not want to obey that rule, his heart told him not to. But his mind begged to differ. What about your future, it asked him again and again.
"Damn it," he cursed under his breath, biting his already bleeding his lip. He balled his fists and set his jaw.
He took one step in Tenten's direction, and at that moment, he knew his heart, his feelings, his love had won. He was not allowing her to die for him as well.
Neji angled his head upwards, letting the rain wet his face, his neck, and help him swallow his guilt. He knew, however, no matter how much he hoped, that the rain could never wash away the sin that stained his hands. He hesitantly opened his eyes. Tiny droplets that had clung to his lashes, dropped to his lap, as he blinked the bleariness away. Slowly, everything came into focus. I feel I'm teetering at the edge of my sanity, my world. All logic has been overthrown, and new ideas, as well as foreign emotions, are rushing to fill its spot.
Neji had sat, bleeding all over the hospital chairs, waiting to hear if Tenten was all right. Please don't be dead. Don't leave me here alone.
Shizune stepped out of the operation theater just as he was about to lose consciousness. She nodded, steadying him with hand supporting each elbow. Neji's eyes rolled back into his head, but a faint smile was present on his lips.
The supper bell was ringing, the noise registering somewhere behind the fog that clouded Neji's mind. But he deliberately ignored it, just like he had neglected those around him. He clutched the fabric over his chest as it tightened, leaving him absolutely breathless. He didn't mind, though, he deserved it. If I die now, please God, do not welcome me to heaven. At least then, my comrades will be able to rest peacefully with you, and not be brought down by my gloomy stupor. I understand if you never forgive me, if you'd rather invite Satan to your home instead of me. I, after all, cannot forgive myself either.
Neji slumped to the ground, curling into himself, until he was sure everything within his entity had collapsed. I'm at peace now. Just please… let me be.
Fingers grasped his shoulder, and his hazy gaze was met with large, doe eyes. She's smiling. Why is she smiling? Lee and Gai were somewhere nearby, he was sure; he could sense them. What's going on?
When Neji awoke, the sun had risen, and the sky had cleared. Light warped his way of thinking, he realized, as soon as he felt the traces of a smile flit across his lips. Like a prism, within his soul, he understood he could be every color he aspired to be.
"I love you… we love you. Don't ever think so lowly of yourself…"
A/N: That turned out better than I expected. I hope you thought so as well. Thank you for reading and please review!