I dreamed about this, and so obviously I had to write it.
Disclaimer: Masashi Kishimoto is the creator of all characters and places. The lyrics are credited to Coldplay.
When you're too in love to let it go.
I dealt with death the way I dealt with everything else: alone.
Guy and Lee were the ones who would cry in public, wearing their bleeding hearts on their sleeves.
I was not like them. I was a Hyuga, stoic and strong. I recognized my role in our team—I was the one constant in the midst of change.
As with all funerals within Konoha, hers is held publically with most of the shinobi population present, dressed in black.
I am surrounded by crying and silence, and it is annoying.
I tune it all out until Lee grips my shoulder.
"Do you want to come to Guy-sensei's house with me? He offered to make lunch for us."
Lee's eyes are swollen. I shake my head.
"No, thank you," I say curtly.
Lee gives me a sympathetic look.
"Neji, don't deal with this by yourself. TenTen wouldn't want—"
I shake my head again, feeling my forehead crease in aggravation.
"Now isn't the time, Lee," I interrupt.
Lee stops, hurt in his dark eyes. He lets go of my shoulder and I turn away, heading back home.
The Hyuga compound is quiet, but it is always like this. Inside the compound walls, nothing has changed.
I go to my room and shut the door, lost in thought.
There is little for me to do. Tsunade has allotted our team time to grieve, so we won't be receiving any missions in the next few days.
I sink down onto the edge of my bed and stare at the wall.
Days pass. I stay where I am, staring at the wall, asking for answers it cannot give.
The peculiar thing about TenTen was that despite her determination and commitment to training, she was always begging me to let her sleep in.
"No," she mumbled, ineffectually trying to kick me with her one exposed foot.
"Get up," I ordered pitilessly, exiting to give her privacy.
Fifteen minutes later, she had still not appeared.
I went back into her room, unsurprised to see she was still in bed.
"TenTen," I said again, beginning to get irritated.
TenTen muttered something unintelligible to me, and I rolled my eyes.
"The only way to get stronger is to train. It's your loss if you won't commit to it."
TenTen suddenly flipped over onto her back, glaring at me.
"You don't have to guilt-trip me," she snapped, rolling to her feet and disappearing into her bathroom.
I smirked. Guilt never failed to work on her.
Several minutes later, TenTen emerged from her house with her scroll, disgruntled.
She took one look at my slight smile and withdrew a shuriken, raising an eyebrow in challenge.
"You wouldn't actually fight me in town," I stated.
"Try me," TenTen responded, passing by me to lead the way to our training grounds.
TenTen was vigorous in her training that day and snappish.
She amused me more than she knew.
On that particular day, TenTen had been formally invited to the Hyuga compound for dinner. It was by Hinata's invitation, not mine.
"What does your cousin want me there for anyway?" TenTen asked as she packed up her weapons. "We're not friends exactly."
I shrugged, leaning against a tree.
"She didn't say. I guess she wants to know you better since you're my teammate."
TenTen mulled this over, strapping her scroll to her back as we walked out of the training grounds.
"We've been teammates for years. Why would she want to start getting to know me now?" she mused.
"Why don't you ask her?" I suggested.
TenTen sighed, glancing at me.
"I really hate going to the compound, you know," she divulged, her brown eyes foretelling her worry.
I was well aware of why she was uncomfortable. My uncle wasn't always the most gracious host, though he respected TenTen as a kunoichi.
"You can leave after we eat," I said.
TenTen shook her head.
"That would be rude," she exhaled.
Her brown eyes lifted to meet mine and she smiled.
"I'll see you later," she said, waving at me as she turned to head home.
TenTen was one of the most paradoxical individuals I'd ever met.
She could become easily impatient, but she was unfailingly long-suffering. She was just as eager as our sensei and Lee, but she maintained a cool personality. Everything about her was passionate, but with moderation. She knew when to hold back and when to give it everything she had. She was level-headed, but incredibly irrational.
If I were to be honest, she infuriated the hell out of me.
"Am I late?" TenTen hissed to me under her breath, removing her shoes at the door of the main building.
"Yes," I muttered.
"Damn," she cursed, deftly detaching herself from the lobby and darting to my side.
I led her to the dining room where everyone else was already seated. I took my place from across Hinata and glanced at TenTen.
A small flash of panic flitted across her face, but she quickly stifled the emotion. She bowed deeply to the table, showing her respect.
"Please accept my apology for being late, everyone," she murmured in an even tone. "I am deeply sorry for my tardiness."
My family nodded their heads at her, and TenTen shuffled along the table with her head high, sitting in the only available space next to Ko.
We started eating and conversation struck up, relieving some of TenTen's nervous energy.
"TenTen-san, what weapons are you working with lately?" asked Ko, smiling politely.
I watched TenTen's face light up as she launched into a detailed account of the pros and cons of working with kusarigama.
I smiled a little to myself. Her ardor for her weapons never ceased to amaze or entertain me.
After she covered the fine points of the weapon, she caught my eye and grinned, blushing a little. She frequently got carried away when it came to weapons, successfully boring everyone else into submission.
"Sorry," she apologized to Ko, who shook his head, smiling.
"It is good you are so enthusiastic about your training," Ko complimented. "Not so many kunoichi train as hard as you do."
TenTen studied her food for a moment before saying breezily, "Well, I have to if I want to keep up with Neji and Lee."
She flashed me a quick smile, her eyes troubled.
I knew what was bothering her.
It was a constant fear and motivation for TenTen that she would never live up to her potential. After we were all made Chunin at fifteen, TenTen imparted to me that her stats said she was the fastest kunoichi in her age group. However, she remained the slowest member on our team. She had informed me that she would never be proficient in medical ninjutsu, proceeding to tell me the story of the fish she had killed during training.
"I just—I'm not like any of the other kunoichi, Neji," TenTen had whispered.
I had pursed my mouth with pride. She was feeling sorry for herself with no legitimate reason.
I had said to her, "Why would you want to be like any of them? Many of them don't take their training seriously. You're not weak; you just have to try harder. There is honor in hard work."
TenTen had looked up at me, her brown eyes mysteriously shiny. She had nodded to me, a silent commitment.
Dinner ended with as much quiet as it started, and Hinata invited TenTen to stay for tea.
I began to follow them, but Hinata flushed, saying in her soft voice, "Oh, Neji-oniisan, I was wondering if I could, perhaps, talk to TenTen-san alone?"
My eyes flitted to TenTen, who looked surprised and a little nauseous.
I nodded curtly to Hinata and left them, deciding to go outside to the garden.
It was a peaceful night, and the moon up above was full; her silvery glow made it seem like almost daylight.
I leaned against a strong maple and crossed my arms, wondering what Hinata could want with TenTen.
I closed my eyes and breathed deeply. It was nights like these I enjoyed the most. No missions to think of, no strategizing required. It was just existence swirling around me.
I don't know how long it was before I detected TenTen's footsteps coming towards me. I opened my eyes.
TenTen was wearing an expression I couldn't place, but she raised her eyebrows at me.
"You look really creepy," she stated factually.
I ignored this, and retorted, "What did Hinata-sama want?"
TenTen rested one shoulder on my tree, her face turned towards mine.
"It was weird, Neji. We just talked about missions at first, but then she asked me for advice." TenTen shook her head, mystified.
"What did she ask you?" I inquired, my curiosity sparked.
TenTen shifted away from me, her eyes narrowed as they analyzed the garden.
"She asked me how to tell people the truth."
My forehead creased, uncertain what was going through my cousin's head.
TenTen moved, meeting my eyes as she stepped in front of me.
There was a hard look on her face. I felt pierced by her brown irises.
"Kiss me," she said firmly.
I stared at her, bewildered.
"What?" I asked, slightly anxious.
I saw doubt flicker in the deepness of her eyes, but it passed. She was serious.
TenTen sighed, more softly but still confident, "Just do it, Neji."
I hesitated. I'd never kissed someone before, much less been demanded to do so by another person. But I could see in TenTen's eyes that she wouldn't be backing down. Either I could do what she ordered on my own terms, or let her take over.
And I was nothing if not a born leader.
I inclined my head to capture her lips, careful. From what I could tell, TenTen was pleased with this for the first few seconds, and then she began kissing me back.
Something in my chest turned over and I felt every nerve in my body awaken. Faintly, I detected TenTen's hands come to rest on my chest. My fingers alighted on her hip and the small of her back.
It ended before I wanted it to.
TenTen pulled away from me, her mouth satisfied and her cheeks flushed. Her brown eyes held laughter in them.
"Why?" I heard myself ask, hoping my voice sounded even.
TenTen smirked impishly.
"I wanted you to be my first kiss," she answered, shrugging her shoulders. "The best way to make things happen is to accomplish them yourself."
If I admitted it, I suppose there had always been an attraction between TenTen and I. It was muted, obviously. We had other things—missions and training—that overtook any personal feelings we might have had.
After that night in the Hyuga clan garden, I had a difficult time putting my attraction to TenTen out of my mind.
Our lives proceeded as they had before, but it felt different now. It took longer for me to focus my thoughts during training or a mission. Every time TenTen happened to pass before my eyes, she had an effect on me, both physically and mentally. I had to work that much harder to keep my expression cool and indifferent.
TenTen seemed to have no trouble at all, which irritated me. How could she wear such an easy smile, knowing what she had done to me?
One day, as we were preparing for a mission, TenTen caught me staring.
"What?" she asked, raising her eyebrows.
I was in a sour mood already. Guy had made us run around Konoha fifty times that morning.
"You've ruined me," I spat.
TenTen continued to look confused.
"Neji, I don't know what you're talking—"
I interrupted, "I don't appreciate being the subject of your pointless experiments."
TenTen gaped at me.
"You care to elaborate on that?" TenTen queried.
"You made me kiss you," I retorted, feeling anger pool in my gut.
It only fueled my frustration when I saw her lips form a small grin.
"Neji," TenTen began, starting towards me.
I stood my ground, though I felt like leaving.
"You weren't an experiment," clarified TenTen patiently, satisfaction in her eyes. "I wanted you to be my first kiss. You didn't have to listen to me if you didn't want to."
I rolled my eyes and scoffed, "Like you wouldn't have kissed me instead if I hadn't complied."
TenTen smiled wryly.
"I think you wanted to kiss me, Neji. Deep down I think you really did."
It enraged me how I could be so upset with her, and yet still want her. It was embarrassing how much she stole my self-control.
"You're annoying," I informed her dispassionately.
TenTen turned those brown eyes to mine, mirthful.
The longer I stood there, the more I realized we were standing at a crossroads. Our platonic friendship was over. We could take a new path, together, or travel down a road we'd already been walking.
I considered TenTen, wondering what she wanted.
Out of everyone in Konoha, TenTen was the one person who knew me the best. Sometimes, I feared she knew me too well.
"I want you," she said, answering my thoughts.
TenTen leaned into me and sealed it with her lips.
That was the day my whole life changed.
Life continued as it had before, but I had something new to occupy it: a relationship.
We never called it that, personally. It was just how things were.
We didn't tell Lee or Guy. We both agreed that since we didn't know how things were going to play out between us, it would be better to leave them both out of it.
TenTen frequently felt guilty about our decision.
"It's just—I know Guy-sensei would want to know," TenTen started.
It was nighttime, and we were at her apartment. I was watching TenTen polish her selection of knives.
"I mean, he's the one always going on about the blooming of youth or whatever," she continued, sliding a polished blade into its case.
"Guy can keep a secret," I said to her. "If you want to tell him, then do it."
TenTen frowned a little.
"But I can't tell Guy without saying something to Lee too. . . It wouldn't be fair."
I rolled my eyes.
"If you want, I can make an announcement from Hokage Mountain and then you wouldn't even have to bother," I said flatly.
TenTen smiled sourly.
"Funny," she remarked tonelessly.
She was quiet for a moment, but I knew she wasn't done voicing her concerns.
"I think someone should know," she sighed, forgetting her polishing and looking up at me. "If something happened to you, I don't know how I would deal with it by myself, with no one knowing."
I thought it over, turning to face her when she sat next to me. Her hand found mine, sticky with polish.
"Are you worried about what your family would say if they found out?" she asked shyly.
I blinked, concentrating on her brown eyes.
"A little," I revealed. "They're just. . . Their values are different."
TenTen bit her lip.
"Do you think they would want you to be with someone else?"
I noted the worry in her voice and squeezed her sticky hand.
"It doesn't matter," I assured her. "What they think doesn't matter to me anymore. I make my own path."
TenTen slowly beamed, and pressed her lips to mine.
It was then that I decided not to hold back my feelings from her. If I wanted this to last, I would have to be honest with her about everything.
That was the night I said I loved her.
Our first time was a disaster.
I was inexperienced and nervous, and TenTen was scared and vulnerable.
Afterwards, we just looked at each other, dumbfounded.
I let TenTen trace my features, running my hand back-and-forth down her spine.
"I'm not afraid of you," she stated, answering the question in my eyes. "It's just—I guess I panicked and then I made you feel bad. . ."
TenTen hid her face in her pillow.
I pressed my face into TenTen's shoulder, sighing.
"We can try again," I whispered. "We know what to expect now. . . We can figure it out."
TenTen shifted her face to look at me; her face was blotchy and there were tears in her eyes.
"You're perfect," I said, kissing her mouth.
I felt her smile and let hope rekindle within me.
Due to an increase of jobs, Tsunade began sending every shinobi on more solo missions.
On that particular morning, TenTen had been given a mission only a few towns away. It wasn't specifically suited to her specialty of weapons, but Tsunade was so overworked it didn't matter.
Neither of us had been worried about it. It was a C-ranked mission, a little beneath TenTen's abilities, but she took it nonetheless to appease the Hokage.
"I have to go," she murmured to me.
I crushed her to me, smirking at her protests.
"I'm going to be late," she chided, rolling her eyes as I kissed her more firmly.
I eventually released her, escorting her to the front door.
"I wish I could go with you," I said.
Some of TenTen's old indignation surfaced and she glared at me.
"What, you don't think I can complete a C-ranked mission by myself?" she challenged. "I'm just as good as you."
"I know you are," I answered, sharing with her one of my rare smiles.
Pleased, TenTen stole another kiss before disappearing out the door, her steps measured.
I went about my day like I would any other. I trained with Guy, since Lee had also been sent on a solo mission.
My old sensei had taken to quizzing me about my intentions and hinting that marriage in the spring was particularly youthful.
I didn't indulge him, because I was still uncertain how Hiashi would react. I wanted everything to be taken care of before I even broached the topic with TenTen.
I spent the rest of the daylight hours at Guy's house, declining when he invited me to stay for dinner.
Guy and I had trained the majority of the day, and I was tired. I walked to the Hyuga compound and ate dinner with my family, retiring to my room afterwards.
I fell asleep almost instantly, unaware that in a matter of hours, my life would take a devastating turn.
Simply put, TenTen was ambushed and hadn't been expecting it.
It was such a clean explanation on paper, it almost felt like I was the one at fault for feeling the way I did.
According to the report by the scouts who recovered her body, TenTen had done her best to take down as many people as she could. From her autopsy, it was declared that she hadn't had a chance whatsoever of survival. There's little TenTen could have done with a gaping hole in her chest and no tact for medical ninjutsu.
That was the worst feeling. The gnawing within me that said I couldn't have done anything to save her.
I blink and let my eyes readjust to the light in my bedroom.
Lee is standing to my left, forlorn.
"Neji?" he says, starting towards me.
He crouches in front of me, his black eyes large with disbelief.
"It's been a week, Neji," he murmurs to me, worry prominent in the lines on his face. "Have you left this room at all?"
I do not answer him because I owe him no explanations. My grief is different from his, and he has no right to judge me.
"Leave me alone, Lee," I say, because I'm too tired to deal with comforting another person.
Admittedly, I am surprised when Lee heeds me and exits.
He does not give me peace for long. He returns the next day, with Sakura Haruno in tow.
Now I am annoyed.
Her ridiculous pink hair is too bright, too happy for my eyes and for this room. I order them both out, but Sakura stands her ground.
"You can't stay in here the rest of your life," she informs me.
"Watch me," I respond.
Sakura flinches and her green eyes narrow.
"We all loved her, Neji. You're not the only one hurting. Lee and Guy-sensei—they need you now!"
I stand and my bones ache. I tower over the kunoichi, but she does not falter like I expect.
"None of you loved her like I did," I retort. "None of you understand what she was to me. Don't tell me that I have an obligation to anyone in this village, because I don't."
Sakura shakes her head at me, and I am appalled to see pity in her eyes.
"You're selfish," she accuses softly. "You're not the first person to have lost someone close to them. Everyone in this village has suffered! You're not alone, Neji Hyuga! If you would let us, we could help you!"
I flush and break away from her gaze.
"I don't want anyone's help," I say.
"Fine," Sakura snaps. She slams the door behind her and yells at Lee while she leaves the Hyuga compound.
I sink back down onto my bed and finally sleep. I dream of TenTen's skin and her laugh.
Sakura Haruno returns the next day, this time with Naruto and Lee and Guy.
I glare at her, annoyed by her interference. She is interrupting the time I could be spending dreaming of TenTen.
I glance at Guy, and look away again. If I look at him, I will lose my composure, and that will not help me.
They try and talk to me, but since I refuse, they talk to each other. They tell stories—all kinds that deal with people they have lost, people they have met and will never seen again.
I'm not stupid. I know exactly what they're doing, and I will not succumb. I will not.
Every day the number grows, and my room gets more crowded.
They try to get me to go outside, but I refuse.
The stories grow sadder, more devastating. My room has become the center of Konoha, with more inconsolable, heartbroken people arriving each day.
I am resolute. They will not break me.
I wonder, in the midst of all this, if Hiashi granted them permission to do this, and figure he must have. I highly doubt he would have allowed it otherwise.
Days pass and people are sitting in the hallways outside of my bedroom.
Tsunade herself comes and rails at me for an hour before she has to leave to staunch the tears that flow from her eyes.
No one can break my heart. The one person that could is gone. I am hopeless.
The crowds of people stop coming. Tsunade still has missions to be completed, and ninja that need to work.
I am thankful for the silence.
Lee and Guy still come every day, but they do not speak to me anymore. They do not stay long.
My cloud of despair has not lifted, and I doubt it ever will.
TenTen haunts my dreams and my waking hours. I cling to her phantom and hold her close.
I wasn't ignorant. I knew that shinobi that lived to an old age were rare, but for some reason, I assumed she was invincible. Somehow, I figured she would be the exception.
"Promise me something?" she posed.
I nodded, distracted by Guy showing Lee a new technique.
"If something happens to me, promise me that you'll let me go."
I looked at her, smirking.
"TenTen, nothing's going to happen to you," I responded, proud and sure.
TenTen rolled her eyes.
"Fine," I said, turning back to Lee and Guy.
When I wake up, I am stunned. It was no dream I had seen, but a memory.
For the first time in what I assume has been weeks, I walk outside.
It is early fall, and the leaves around our compound are brilliantly colored. TenTen would have liked it; she loved fall.
I walk through Konoha, avoiding gazes thrown at me.
The memorial stone is standing alone, free of spectators.
Her name is etched in a fresh space, and I run my fingers over the indentations of the characters.
"I'm sorry," I apologize.
I lean my forehead against the cool stone and let my facades fall.
The lyrics are from the song "Fix You" by Coldplay.
I would love to hear your thoughts.