Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.
I was thinking about immortality - just immortality, no blood-drinking or any variation of that - and I wrote this. Turned out to be more of an exercise in description than anything else though...hope you enjoy it!
It is late. Nightfall has long settled outside the window, drenching the French countryside in a pitch-black darkness, punctuated only occasionally by the pulsing glow of a candle from the window of a farm.
Neji sits alone in the dining car, watching the surface of his drink ripple with the rattling of the train. The muted laughter and tinkling conversation of the nearby passengers wash over him dully; he has long since grown immune to the pain the thought of the futility of their short lives used to bring him in his youth.
'Nonsense,' she used to say when he spoke of it, the gleam of candlelight glinting off her bare shoulders, tug at his scalp as she pulled playfully at a lock of his hair wound around her finger.
'Futility? You mean beauty. You mean randomness, a chain of random events linked together to an end, to end in something...beautiful.' (she was obsessed with ends, you see, because well...she'd never have one)
But here she is now. And the turns of heads as she walks across the dining car is now familiar, expected, even. Yes, she is beautiful, has always been, but...somehow, humans can always sense something different in beings like them. Something in their manner of moving, in the lack of anticipation in their eyes.
(because, for beings like them, with nothing but endless eternity stretching out before their eyes, where you are going is not nearly as important as where you are)
She's in one of her more nostalgic moods tonight, Neji notes. In contrast to her usual fascination with modern fashion trends, tonight she's wearing a traditional Chinese dress, similar to the kind she would have worn in her childhood over – what is it now, centuries? A millennium? – a long time ago. It is sleeveless and high-collared, made of tight-fitting red silk with elaborate gold and silver bamboo designs that shows off her carefully starved figure (of course, back in her childhood that effort would not have been required). Her hair is styled high on her head in two buns, decorated by that ancient, treasured hair comb her mother, long dead, had given her all those years ago.
She looks so much like the girl he first found feeding the geese in the pond at the edge of his uncle's palace gardens, it makes him ache a little for a time long gone.
"Neji," Tenten says when she reaches him. Her voice manages to coax him away from his thoughts, and he looks up to meet her amused expression. "Let me guess: ruminating on mortality again?"
He feels his mouth curve reluctantly into a smile. "Perhaps."
She laughs, takes a seat next to him instead of across the table, and leans in to kiss his cheek.
"You wallow too long in your mind, Neji." She presses closer, lets her head settle on his shoulder, lowers her voice to a sultry murmur. "Would that I could divert your attentions..."
"Would that you could?" He repeats. "Have I ever given you anything less than my full attention?"
"Ah, velvet tongue, as always," she says, laughing again. "But then again, I don't think I could dispute that point."
He smiles, graciously, and turns to face the window beside him, though in darkness, all he can see there is his own reflection. And a bit of hers, though most of her figure is hidden behind his. He scrutinizes the picture. There's something off about the picture they cut, he knows; something too restrained, too controlled in their movements and postures for two who seem so young. It isn't immediately obvious to the eyes of passing mortals, but Neji thinks something about it must register deep in their subconscious, enough to make them glance back uneasily as they walk by.
He finds the eyes of Tenten in the reflection looking at him.
"What is it?"
"I want to know what you're thinking."
He chuckles. "Only of us."
Tenten shifts and sits upright, and regards him with exasperation. "As always."
He still smiles, but suddenly it looks like something sad. Tenten opens her mouth to say something, say something funny, anything to ease the sudden tension, but he turns to the window again.
"As always," he echoes. She wonders whether he's saying it to her or to himself.
The train rattles on in the darkness. Tenten wants to look out the window, but the idea of meeting his eyes now makes her shudder. Instead, in her mind, she imagines the splashes of sunburst erupting from the countryside in the form of the brilliant sunflower fields they'd passed in the afternoon. The train had stopped for a while there, and she'd dragged Neji out into the sea of gold, put her arms around his neck and spun round and round like lovers swept up in the fervour of adolescent passion. And the spinning reminded her of the days in Venice in a time now called the Italian Renaissance, where they danced among nobility in opulent ballrooms of polished marble, and the sunflowers spinning around her suddenly morphed into swirling pools of silken ball gowns as they danced la Nizzarda, lute music streaming into the air as freely as blood red wine into pewter goblets.
He'd been so reluctant at the beginning. He hadn't even wanted to go to Europe in the first place, said he suffered it only out of love for her. And it was out of that love that he allowed her to dress him up with all the excitement of a child presented with new dolls, all black satin doublets and ruffs edged with lace, dark feathered hats and fur-trimmed capes, made sure their colours matched so the world knew what was not theirs to take. And they'd made such a beautiful couple, the both of them, the mysterious pair from the Orient with a king's fortune stowed away in one of their mansions.
Tenten in the present shakes her head. Yes, thinking about 'us', 'as always', because really...what else was there for them to think about? What meaning, she thinks, does 'life' have, when you're imprisoned in it for eternity?
She clears her throat, reaches for the menu, and forces humour into her voice.
"So, what's for dinner?"
She sees Neji turn and watch her with an arched eyebrow.
"Dinner? Have you any idea what time it is?"
"Oh, damn. No, I don't, really. Not that I would be missing much. Train food," she says disdainfully, regarding each page of the menu with a dismissive sweep. "Unimpressive, as always."
"Tomorrow we arrive in Paris," he says, amused. "And you will have your fine wine and your French gourmet."
She laughs, and loops her arm through his with easy affection. "Tempting my darling, but surely you haven't forgotten our plans for Paris? Our little candlelit picnic by the Seine, in memory of our first time? Thought of course, this time we shall most likely dine on concrete instead of grass," she adds distastefully. "Humans."
"I've never known you to be so sentimental," he says. Or rather, not for a long, long time, he thinks.
"It must be all this countryside," she says, looking wistfully out the window now. He wonders what she's imagining there.
"You asked to see the countryside," he reminds her. "You said we'd lived too long in concrete jungles."
"Yes, I know," she murmurs. She shifts in her seat, her brow furrowed in distress. Oh, back to this dreary, horrible, horrible topic again, but she just can't help it. She needs...she needs him to...
"It's just this...rustic air. It's too much like the past. It...it brings it all back to me. And sometimes, yes, it is beautiful, but other times it is so terrible I wish..." She breaks off, biting her lip, and her gaze flees to find Neji's, desperate, searching. "Do you know what I mean? The...nostalgia?"
Neji knows. He knows all too well. Yes, the nostalgia, the nostalgia that burrows a deep echoing hole into his heart that he can never seem to fill...
Except when he's with her. With Tenten. Because she is light and she is laughter and when she is beside him, the past no longer seems like that terrible creature screeching and clawing at the walls of his heart, but a long, cherished series of sepia-hued images that he can bear to look at -
(like how he kissed her on the steps to the Shinto shrine, held her hand at Hanami under the sakura trees, and then to Europe, with her pulling him into a dance on the banks of the Danube, echo of the bell toll in their ears as their gondola glides under the Bridge of Sighs, making love at midnight on a hill while fires burned with distant roars as distant countries waged their distant wars –
'If we can stand it.'
'And if we can't?'
'...I love you now.')
-because he knows that as long as she is here, there will be more to come, no matter what the world becomes.
"Do you ever forget? Anything?"
He swallows. "No."
"Do you ever wish you did?"
They lapse back into silence for a few moments.
Then he asks, "Do you?"
"...sometimes." Tear slipping down her cheek. "Sometimes I think my mind wanders too far behind and the – the ache is almost too much for me to bear..."
Beneath the table, his hand grasps desperately for hers, and holds it tight. "The world changes, Tenten."
"Yes." She lays her words down like a curse. "The world changes, but we do not. And everything we ever had, and everything we ever will have will all one day disappear with worlds forever gone. And we'll have nothing but an endless chain of 'tomorrows'."
"And us," Neji says. He turns to face her now, takes her face in both his hands, the only image he doesn't make himself remember, because it is the only image that will never leave him. "We have each other. No matter how long. Even if we lose everything else."
She bites her lip.
But then, all of a sudden, she seems to give in, and she lets her body collapse and mould to his, lets him put his arms around her and press his lips to her hair.
"Neji," she sighs against his skin. "Everything but you...everything but you and tomorrow."
"Tomorrow," he whispers in her ear. "Tomorrow we will be in Paris, Tenten. We will be in Paris, and we will walk to the Seine, and we will sit on concrete instead of grass, and we will make another memory. How does that sound?"
He thinks he hears a tearful laugh from her, which could just as easily have been a sob. He tells himself it is the former.
The train rattles on. Its path is set in wood and iron, a set track with a set destination. But somewhere on board, two tortured souls are bound closer and closer, and their lips seal yet another chapter in a story that has no end.
It's a little unpolished I know, but I had to finish it, it was driving me nuts. I apologize for any factual inaccuracies - if you find any, point them out and I'll fix them as soon as I can. Thanks for reading, I'd love to know what you thought, so please review!