Thank you for all who followed this story up till now. I've been drafting this since I was naught but a wee teenager, and it's such a great feeling to finally get to this conclusion.
Welcome to the final installment.
Disclaimer: Naruto is only mine in my dreams.
The night dragged on forever. When dawn broke and I got up from my nap on top of Tokyo tower, my eyes were still wet from the tears. The worried onlookers who had come up to the top whispered in a language I didn't understand…but nothing was going through my mind at the moment. In fact, everything was just…blank.
When I had first sensed the light of day, there was still some lingering sense of hope in my body, that Neji just left for the night to finish some duties—he would be back soon—but when I sat up and looked around in excitement, I was greeted with only the sun as my companion.
The morning was cold.
A police officer helped me stand. Slowly, I was escorted off the tower, and to the station where I was reprimanded by a translator who told me quite clearly that going up there when hours were over was prohibited, and "where are your parents? Aren't they worried?"—but I really didn't care. When I finally sighed and told them that no, I wasn't on vacation in Japan, in fact, I kind of just wanted to go home, they immediately contacted my mother and father. Hours later, I was on a plane ride back to my college campus.
Even if I wanted to cry on the plane, I couldn't. They had all been shed already, leaving only emptiness inside me as a reminder of that fact. How had I failed to notice how much time Neji had spent around me? Why was it that he had to leave for me to discover how deeply he had situated himself into my life?
The night's event still replayed backwards—Neji fighting, Neji collapsing, the moonlight and, the worst part, his disappearance—the soft look in his eyes when he whispered his last words.
What had he meant?
And more importantly, would I ever see him again so he could explain?
Now that he wasn't pressuring me, or bothering me, following me, or lecturing me, I truly felt the weight of the elimination of his presence. I choked down a strangled sob, and finished the plane ride in silence.
My parents were at the airport to greet me.
For once, they both didn't say anything when they saw me; instead, they just hugged me tight and petted my head as if to say; "whatever you just went through, we'll be here if you need us."
Finally, mom spoke. "How did you get there so fast? Sakura contacted us just last night that you hadn't come out of the teacher's room, and when she went back to check, you had disappeared—honestly—all the way to Japan? What was that crazy lady thinking? We had the police all over the campus searching for you, and turns out; you weren't even in the country. Oh, don't worry Tenten, we'll catch her, and she'll be in so much trouble for abducting you…"
I let out a little rueful smile. Time in Dearth did pass differently after all…maybe I was lucky because 100 years hadn't passed in its place. Only a day had gone by on Earth, while over a month had gone in Dearth…an entire adventure only I would be able to experience.
And for the first time, something my mother said struck me as funny in a bittersweet kind of way.
Mortals? Catch Vi?
I took a few days off from school. Rather than learn, I sat in my room, staring out the window for hours on end, just looking at the sky and thinking…sometimes nothing, and sometimes about Neji.
On this particular day, I was thinking about the latter.
There were so many questions filling my head, each of them remaining unanswered and mysterious.
Where had he gone? Would he be back? Did he care about me? Was everything just—
—In the past now?
My chin dropped between my arms.
Occasionally, upon reflection, I would laugh a bit about the stupid things I had done.
There were lots of them…irrational, dumb, college-student decisions that didn't end well most of the time. I felt like I had matured, but in the end, I still had the mental age and temper of a small child…
But honestly, Neji had let me experience so much that, despite how much he annoyed me when he was with me, I appreciated what he had done. Appearances could be deceiving; I guess…who would have thought my teacher would have turned out to be some immortal creature from a different universe, hell bent on tasting my blood? And then, dragging me through some crazy adventure—nearly getting me killed on quite an array of occasions—
I was crying again.
I missed him.
I missed him, so, so much I didn't know what to do with myself.
I took a shaky breath.
Not now, Tenten.
A knock came at the door.
After drying off my eyes with my sleeve, I quickly answered, "Come in!"
"You ready to go back to the campus?" asked Dad, opening the door a bit.
My lips formed themselves into somewhat of a smile.
It felt broken and fake.
It seemed like everyone had heard about my crazy abduction, because when I got back, all my friends were waiting for me.
I got out of the car and waved good bye to Dad before greeting them.
"Aren't you all supposed to be at classes—"
I was cut off by a bone crushing hug from Ino. And then Hinata started crying, which I thought had been a habit she had grown out of.
"We—we…thought we were never going—hic—to see you again, and I was s-so scared that you…unhhhhh…" And then she didn't say another word either and hugged me with all her strength.
Sakura seemed to be tearing up too, but she held them in better than Hinata did. "I'm really glad you're okay, Tenten. I didn't know what I would do if…if…"
I smiled softly. It was nice to see they hadn't changed in my absence. A long time had passed since I had last seen their faces. "It's all good, guys. I'm okay. Have…have…"
Now was the time to ask.
"Have you seen Neji—ah, Hyuuga-sensei?"
The name was foreign on my tongue.
Sakura looked at Sasuke, who was lounging by himself, watching the reunion from the back. "Honestly, we haven't seen him. He left for a while I think. Maybe he's ill," she answered, shrugging her shoulders.
I felt like I had been stabbed a million times.
So he wasn't here either.
"Why do you ask?" laughed Naruto. "He always seemed to get on your nerves, Tenten. I think you would be a little happy that he's sick."
I let out a dry little laugh. "Uh, yeah. He's really annoy—"
I stopped because tears were pricking my eyes.
"Anyways," butt in Ino, who seemed to have seen the redness in my eyes, "Let's go get coffee. Tenten, things have gone so well with the Karin plan. Let me tell you, Sasuke filled his role perfectly. Perfectly. Shikamaru, don't slink away, you're part of this conversation too, you loner! Anyways, she totally fell for it, and then they 'went out' for a while. And by a while, I meant about 4 hours, enough time for everyone to get a wind of their relationship, see. I calculate these things well. So she's all hanging on Sasuke's arm, and then wham! There's a crowd growing around them, courtesy of yours truly."
Sakura groaned. "It went so well that her ego had inflated…"
"And," continued Ino, totally ignoring Sakura's interruption, "Sasuke dumps her right on the spot, calls her a bunch of stuff even I wouldn't have the guts to say. Everyone's like, shocked. The little redhead bursts into tears and slaps him in the face—the red mark is still there—and runs away, everyone applauds, happy ending for all."
I smiled weakly.
Even Ino's talkative nature wasn't getting me back on my feet.
Somehow, I still felt detached from what was happening.
It was all very…distant.
As if I was watching everything from a mirror under a pool filled with water, and I still couldn't breathe comfortably.
With a push of a door, we entered S.S., and the smell of warm coffee wrapped me up and bundled me into its arms. I let out a long sigh, something I had been keeping to myself. The only one that heard it was Sakura, but she merely looked at me and said nothing. Like the friend that she was, she understood with not spoken words that the content of the sigh was between us. We took a table and pulled out the chairs, and I had one of the most normal reunions with the friends I held so dear. Like usual, like the times I had missed so much when I was in Dearth. Did they know that they were the ones I thought about when I was under Vi's mind control? I smiled into my coffee and took a sip.
It would be too embarrassing to tell them.
And they wouldn't believe me anyways.
Their voices trailed off into the afternoon, bringing me a taste of normalcy that I hadn't encountered for a while.
I reminded myself to thank them for that.
That, and pretending like they were okay, and that I was okay—but inwardly knowing I was far from such.
I knew the type of people they were. Even Naruto, when he knew his distance, wasn't the type to pry. They would wait, patiently, always with open arms and steady hands, for when I was ready to share.
"That teacher…Ms. Vi is going to be trashed to death when we get a hold of her," snorted Ino. "Seriously. The nerve of that woman…which reminds me. Tenten, how on earth did you get all the way there? It's like, forever away. And more importantly…" she bent down low, as if sharing a secret. "Where did she go?"
Lies flitted out of my mouth. "I dunno…she got me, and then the next thing I knew, she was gone and I was on top of some freaky tall tower in Tokyo."
I couldn't tell them.
As selfish and childish as it sounded, the entire journey within Dearth…I wanted to keep between me and Neji. It would be a secret only we would get to share, a moment to keep us tied together.
"Ah…" came Hinata's soft voice, interrupting my thoughts. "Everyone, don't look forward…"
As usual, she was ignored and people focused on—
Ino's smile grew wicked. "Well, what do you know. Back for a little more thrashing?"
Karin huffed and tossed her hair over her shoulder, pointedly ignoring Sasuke and Ino, glaring instead at the weakest link: Hinata, who was shrinking into the corner of the booth, doing her best to avoid eye contact. Naruto saw her discomfort and rushed to her rescue like the blonde knight he was.
"Hey, stop looking at her like that! She doesn't like it. And we don't like you. So bug off."
"Fine," she snapped back, all notions of revenge forgotten. "You guys…are just…argh. No comment. You don't even deserve my attention."
Once she had disappeared to tend to the other customers, Shikamaru groaned. "Women."
Ino punched him. "Shut up."
Somehow, a sense of something was still rattling my bones. Not in the good way. I guess I still wasn't as strong about the whole "getting back to my normal life" as I thought I was. I stood up, looking into concerned eyes. I waved offhandishly. "I'm fine, guys, really…but I have to go now. I need some time to myself."
Sakura nodded understandingly. "We got it. Take as long as you need."
My smile came out shaky when I replied, "Thanks."
Their whispers and worried glances followed me. I didn't mean to make them anxious about everything, but it couldn't be avoided—after the so called "abduction," of course they would be fearful for my safety.
My smile turned into a hard line.
The only reason I was alive was because of…
As I left S.S., I look a deep breath of air and looked at my surroundings. I couldn't think about him now. This was where I belonged. On a college campus. Not in some creepy underworld.
This was Earth.
I had lived here for as long as I could remember. No matter how much time I had spent in Dearth, learning about the place and everything, it was not my home; nor could it ever become that. And there was no way I wanted to go back there.
A wind blew across the street, shedding green leaves everywhere.
It was time to snap back to reality.
Bye, Neji, I thought. I'll be missing you forever.
A month passed.
College was the same as ever—hard and busy. I had finally gotten myself back on track, but every time I looked at the pruny English professor—the lady that had supposedly gone missing a few months before—I couldn't help but groan. Her absence had not changed how atrocious she looked.
And I couldn't help envisioning a pale, smirking vampire in her place.
Who was, or had been, by the way, 100 times hotter. And male.
I twirled my pencil around my fingers absentmindedly.
I really hoped he hadn't died with that spell. Like, I really, really hoped no proof ever came out that he was gone forever…because if it did, I would probably shut myself off from the world for the rest of my life.
In a dark cave somewhere.
Preferably with a convenience store close by.
"Tenten," the professor snapped, gaining my attention again. "Would you care to focus a little more in my lecture? If you have a problem with my teachings, you can kindly leave—the door is right there."
I bit my lip and bowed my head. "Sorry professor."
She let out an indignant huff and went back to teaching.
20 minutes later, I finished taking my notes on my laptop, stopped twirling my pencil so that I could write my homework down, and got ready to leave. Sakura was packing her bag too, and she looked up at me. "We're meeting up with Sasuke later, right? I have some papers I've got to get to him."
I nodded. "Sure thing. Just let me get my things straight."
I saved my notes, and was just about to shut my computer down before something happened.
Something reminiscent of a very familiar dejavu.
A cracking, spluttering, technical sound was emitting out of my computer. I checked everything I could, breaking out into a cold sweat; I had an anti-virus program, I didn't click on any suspicious links anyways—why was my computer acting dumb?
The screen shuddered and crashed, flashing vertical, multicolored stripes for everyone left in the lecture hall to see. I groaned. "Piece of junk…" and quickly, manually, shut it down.
The computer stopped its obnoxious humming and went still. I breathed a sigh of relief.
And then it hit me.
I left all my things there, breaking out into a sprint. Sakura was calling after me, "Tenten! What am I going to do with all this?"
"Bring it with you," I yelled back. "I owe you one!"
Because perhaps my laptop was a Neji-sensor or something, it only broke down when he was around. Like the first day I met him, when the computer had gone all wonky, the same thing had happened just minutes before. Maybe he was back—
My campus was huge.
That didn't stop me.
I ran everywhere, hoping that my guess wasn't wrong, that he was lurking in the corners getting ready to surprise me and then joke with me for a while before moving in to take a taste of my blood; that maybe he was waiting for me.
My breath was catching in my throat and I was sweating buckets, but I had to find him.
If he was here, there was no doubt in my mind that I would catch up to him eventually.
There were hordes of people everywhere—students, faculty, clubs—all crowding around, disturbing my senses.
"Excuse me, pardon me, coming through…" these words left my mouth as I weaved in and out of the growing crowd, attempting in vain to get back on the path. I was twirling and weaving and dodging, and it seemed like everything and everyone was frozen and I was able to move forward. Or perhaps it was the other way around—the crowd shifting, ever changing, while I was trapped, never able to find who I needed.
Someone grabbed my arm.
I turned around, hope riding on my voice. "Ne—"
The word stayed in my throat, because it wasn't him.
"Hey Tenten! I was hoping I'd see you around. You okay?"
It was Naruto.
"Yeah," I answered, distracted. "Listen Naruto, I have to do something right now, it's really urgent."
"Oh? Maybe I can help!"
"Sorry," I said, not wanting to sound harsh but wanting to continue on my search, "I have to find someone, and I don't think you know—"
He laughed his famous bubbly laugh, and punched me lightly in the arm. "Don't worry. I'll keep an eye out for Hyuuga-sensei for you. Good luck finding him! If I see him, I'll send you a text. Bye!"
Soon, the head of yellow sunshine was gone from my sight.
How did he…?
How did Naruto know?
I smiled to myself. Maybe he wasn't as clueless as all of us made him out to be. "Thanks, Naruto," I whispered, though I knew he couldn't hear me. "You really are a great friend."
And then I went back on running.
Night fell, drawing the campus up into a shroud of darkness, letting only the light of the streetlamps shine through. I still hadn't found him, and my hope was quickly deteriorating. I mentally scorned myself. What was I thinking? Just because a computer crashed didn't mean he was back. I was just being foolish, and I needed to stop and realize that everything was done already. It had been done an entire month ago, plus a little more, so there was no use dwelling in the past when I could be living in the present.
If dumb Hyuuga-sensei never wanted to see me again, well, then so be it.
He could be an arrogant butthole. He always was anyway.
And I didn't miss him at all.
I let out a bitter laugh and stepped out onto the porch outside of the dorm. Who was I kidding? I pretty much had no life without him.
I had gotten too attached, too soon.
I sat down on a lawn chair, into the night, ignoring the bugs that were swarming around in the muggy air, and just looked around, thinking.
"I miss him a lot," I mumbled quietly.
"You having an affair? Cheeky, aren't you," called a voice from the street side. I stood up. If I were a deer, you would have seen my ears twitching, trying to find the source of the noise, alert and cautious.
"Who's there?" I called, suspicious. The voice was too familiar to be real.
The person drawled, "Seriously? I leave you alone for a little while, and you're already flinging yourself over other men and forgetting the beautiful sound of my voice? Come on, Tenten, you must be joking."
A laugh cracked in my throat. No, he must be joking. Someone was very good at playing pranks, or imitating voices, because there was no way in hell he was back.
Because I had hope before. And I was not too keen on having it crushed.
"If you are who I think you are, you better have a good explanation for leaving me here by myself for over a freaking month, disappearing into the night and not telling me anything. You better start talking, lest I never pay attention to you ever again," I yelled, standing up and hoping I'd see him.
I thought I would be angry.
I was ready to rip his face off.
A bit relieved, yes…but no mercy.
He was going to get it.
Neji stepped into the porch light. He looked the same…dressed smartly, hair long, eyes the color of the moon. I licked my lips, which had suddenly become very dry, and I fought the urge to launch myself off my chair and kiss him till I couldn't breathe. Because he didn't deserve that—he didn't deserve anything from me after what he did.
Forgiving him? Not okay.
No matter how happy I was to see him again (this was an understatement, I wanted to attach myself to his hip so he would never go away again—after a stern reprimanding of course).
And I felt like crying.
But that was not to be shared with anyone.
"You could never ignore me," he said arrogantly.
Then, more quietly, "So, how have you been?"
"How have I been?" I reiterated sweetly. "Well, other than thinking you were dead and never coming back again, wallowing in misery for a few weeks and barely getting myself back on the right track again, I've been peachy, thank you very much." My tone grew from sweet to livid in a moment, so by the end of my sentence, I was yelling.
Then, I proceeded to leap down the steps and punch him as hard as I could, uncontained frustration and relief pouring out in the form of tears. I had tried to hold them back because I knew I'd look like a mess, but I guess that plan wasn't coming into action. I wasn't sure which I felt more—anger at him cutting the bond like that or insane consolation by the simple fact that he wasn't a hallucination.
That it really was him—it was enough to attest to that by the pain I felt in my knuckles after landing a few blows. He was most definitely solid. "What the hell did you think I would say? I've been horrible! Stupidly missing you, stupidly thinking you were gone forever, stupidly hoping you'd be back every single day, every single night—you didn't notify me, I totally thought I was the cause of your death—"
I took a breath, shaking from head to toe, and beat him up again, my tiny fists making no dent in his body. He winced though, which was enough to prompt me to scream out what I really felt about his question. "And YOU have the AUDACITY to ask me how I've been?"
"There was some unfinished business—"
He was not pulling this one.
My eyes narrowed and I barely refrained from grabbing his throat and choking him. I was not dumb.
"You. Are. A. MORTAL! What could you have possibly done at Dearth, huh?"
"I just had to straighten out some things—the future successor, yada yada—"
"A month!" I yelled. How did he not understand what I had gone through? "I had to go an entire month without you!"
My tirade done, I looked at him with a heated glare, breathing hard after shouting so much. The crickets chirped outside.
"Well," he replied quietly, "I had to go 2 years without you. So I wouldn't be complaining."
The time difference.
…He waited that long for me?
I suddenly felt like crying all over again. I was already wiping the tears off my face with the hem of my shirt.
He sat down on the porch step, just talking. I followed, only able to listen because I had already spent all my energy screaming. Together, we sat on the step of the dorm building, staying outside, observing his answer.
"The spell wasn't complete, you know. It started a little too late, so I still had some of my powers…I went back to talk some stuff over with Uncle, who, by the way, has finally let me stay here. It took some persuading and some time, but I got his permission, though I'm kind of no longer eligible to be the head of the clan. But that's ok with me. Tsunade helped me with the rest—the lady's a genius—and finished the spell and sent me back here. I lived in one of the Witches chambers while I was there, living on disgusting blood that wasn't yours in an attempt to keep my body in shape when I was in Dearth."
Neji looked at me and finished softly. "I'm sorry it took so lo—"
The rest of his words were cut off as I gave into my dark desires and kissed him, full on the mouth, no hesitation or questions asked. I had longed for him, his nature, and his presence for too large a time frame. The look on his face was priceless—if I hadn't been so glad to see it, I would've used it for blackmail. And for once, I felt no fangs on my lips, just a normal kiss with a normal human that I hadn't seen for a while.
"How much did you think of me?" he asked when we broke apart.
"Too often," I muttered, kissing him for a second time.
"You know you get no benefits of prolonged life span anymore, right? You sure you want to keep kissing—"
"I'm sure," I interjected, our lips meeting again. "I'm trying to make up for lost time. A month, remember?"
"Two years, remember?" he mocked, grinning slightly against my mouth.
I growled. "Don't make me bite you."
"Oooh, role reversal?"
"Don't make me. You know I will. I've done it before."
"I don't doubt you in the slightest."
Was that sarcasm?
"Yes, it was."
"Don't read my mind like that. It's not cool."
"You know what's not cool? Your affair with other men."
The playful banter had returned to my life again.
I pushed him away, glowering. "I was a mess without you. Honest, I was—don't laugh! I didn't have any affairs with any other men, I promise. Quite frankly, I was too obsessed with your dumb self to think of anyone else, let alone go on a date with them. Rest assured."
He was back.
Neji was back.
I still couldn't believe it.
We took a bit of quiet time together, me against his shoulders, him against mine. It was comfortable and I felt calm…at home, with not a ripple of worry in my mind. It had been a while since I felt like that, and I relished in the moment, locking it away in my memories.
"So," I finally asked. "How are you going to sustain yourself? You can't stay with me at my dorm."
"How I've been doing it up to this point. I'll get a job. As your teacher."
I barely withstood one year. What made him think I could do another?
He smirked and patted my shoulder. "I won't go easy on you."
I groaned. "Could you please apply for a different position?"
"I'm afraid not."
"You don't mean that. Secretly, you enjoy making my life difficult."
He shrugged. "Can't argue against that." Then he grinned and took a playful nip at my neck. I slapped him away. "Stop that! You can't do that anymore. Brings back bad memories."
"You mean pleasurable—ouch, did you have to hit me?" He mumbled. "Everything I do is for you, yet I'm always the one that gets beat up…"
Ah. That was right.
"…You haven't explained that part yet. I think it would be a good idea before something else uncomfortable happens to you," I prompted, feeling a little nervous, but at the same time anticipating his answer.
He had kept it from me long enough.
"Do I really have to say it out loud? It's embarrassing."
Neji leaned closer to me and brought his lips close to my ear. Slowly, his breath ghosted over my cheek, warm and not unwelcome, sending butterflies up and down my spinal cord. His whisper left me breathless.
"I like you. I became human to be with you."
That was it.
That was the answer.
That was the answer I wanted. The one I had thought about for days at my window, just searching for the explanation for his last words. It was, by far, the best justification my mind had come up with at the time.
I just never actually thought it would be true.
"I know," I answered quietly.
He scowled and scooted away. "If you knew that, why'd you make me say it?"
"I needed to affirm something…only if you said it aloud, you know."
The gaze he gave me was questioning. "What?"
This time, I was the one who leaned close to whisper into his ear. "Whether the feeling is mutual or not, of course."
Neji chuckled. "That's no secret. You didn't have to whisper it. It was obvious you fell for me as soon as I walked into that classroom."
I flushed beetroot red and turned away, face hot.
He smirked. "You love me, don't you?"
It wasn't a joke, despite the playful tone he used.
The question was serious.
I answered him by sealing his mouth shut with mine.
"Yeah? The assignment? Oh, please, don't bring that up…got it. Okay. See you tomorrow—don't forget…fine. Bye." I groaned and hung up the phone, rubbing my temples with my fingertips. I really did have it tough…it didn't help that Neji was piling the work on me now that finals were approaching. The other teachers weren't taking it easy either; all my friends were swamped with papers and thesis statements and other things I just didn't want to worry about at the moment. Besides: it was nearly midnight, and I needed sleep if I was going to survive the next day.
But before I went to bed, I needed to do something important—a daily ritual.
Silently, I picked up a marker and turned to the wall.
A calendar with various marked dates greeted my view.
Without a word, I crossed another day off and leaned back into my chair, observing my work, as little as it was.
"The day is coming soon," I said to no one in particular.
I glanced back at the papered chart on my wall. There was a date circled in dark red marker, the color of blood, labeled with Neji's name.
It was the night of the full moon.
The end. Thanks for traveling with me.
Hope you enjoyed the journey. :)
R & R.
Would you like an epilogue?