Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto, nor any places, characters, things, nor ideas therein. The aforementioned belong to Masashi Kishimoto, Viz Media, Shounen Jump, TV Tokyo, etc. I am writing this fic for entertainment purposes only, not monetary gain.
Summary: An amnesiac Tenten feels like the entire village of Konoha is hiding something from her. But what - and why? :Neji x Tenten:
Warnings: Slight violence, a bit of making out...
Author's Note: My second entry for NejiTen Month over on NejiTenPlz on dA (seriously, check it out - there's some gorgeous art/fics/vids waiting for you there!). Again, I stopped writing canonically over a year ago, so this is in an AU where there is not, and never was, a Fourth Shinobi War. I picture Neji and Tenten around eighteen or nineteen in this fic. I had a great time writing it, so I hope you enjoy it, too! Thanks for reading!
A whisper at the very back of her mind teased Tenten - poking, taunting, probing. It made her absolutely certain she'd forgotten something, something very important...
...And all the more frustrated when she couldn't grasp the elusive memory to identify it.
Lifting her fingers to brush at the stitches along her hairline, Tenten shouldered her bag with her opposite hand. She looked up at the person standing in the doorway of her hospital room, patiently waiting for her to finish. "Ready to go," she said cheerfully. "Thanks for coming by to pick me up."
"Hn." Hyuuga Neji stepped back to allow her past, then fell into step with her as they made their way down the relatively quiet hall. "Anywhere you need to go before home?"
"No, I don't think so. Lady Tsunade gave me all the medication I need when I signed the release papers, and I'm just looking forward to going home." Her steps faltered momentarily, and she frowned as she remembered. "Well - my temporary home, until I can find another apartment."
Neji held the door open for her, letting her precede him out of the hospital. He stood waiting patiently as she lifted her face to the sunshine, enjoying the freedom of being outdoors again after nearly a week-and-a-half in the hospital. "Stay however long you need," he said, drawing her attention back to him. "Besides, didn't Lady Tsunade say it was best you have someone close by anyway, at least until your memory returns?"
Tenten sighed heavily, some of her joy at being out of the hospital draining away at the reminder. The dark gaps in her memory disturbed her more than she liked to let on, especially since all her friends - and even her teammates - were tiptoeing around her as per the leader of village's orders. Lady Tsunade had been quite insistent about the fact Tenten's memory had to come back on its own; others trying to force it to do so before it did on its own could be a bad thing. "Yes," she agreed glumly.
Her teammate's fingers - long, graceful, and cool - briefly brushed against her hand. "It will come back, Tenten." He spoke with the same certainty always evident in his voice, as if he harbored no doubts in his mind about it; even though Tsunade had mentioned there was a ten percent chance Tenten would never remember the mission which had caused her partial amnesia. And, even before that, the events leading up to the mission...
...Such as the fact she'd been evicted from her apartment because the building was being torn down, and she hadn't had a chance to look for a new one before leaving for the mission. "Are you sure I'm not imposing...?" Even though she'd asked the question a hundred times already, Tenten felt it necessary to voice it again.
"No, Tenten." This time amusement lightened Neji's tone as he slanted a glance at her from the corners of his pale eyes. "As I said, there are plenty of empty rooms in the Hyuuga mansion anyway, and since I offered to store your things there while you were gone, it's not too far a stretch for you to join them."
She nervously flexed her hand, wishing she had a kunai to twirl around her finger to ease some of her anxiety. "But the Elders, and your uncle-"
Neji's expression tightened slightly, but only for a moment. "They voiced no protest when I brought the subject up. Besides, Lady Hinata is happy you are coming to stay for a while." He tilted his head and smiled - a very slight curling of his lips, so subtle Tenten felt certain only she could discern it. "And think how much easier it will be having you so close by. It will save time getting to the training grounds every morning."
Laughter, something she'd not experienced much since she woke up in the hospital a week ago, bubbled out of Tenten. "Should've known you'd like this arrangement, simply because it'll make training easier."
Something dark flickered across Neji's features, but it vanished before Tenten could name it. She frowned and looked away from him, wondering if she'd said something to offend him.
They continued their journey through the village in a silence just a shade away from being completely comfortable. Occasionally Neji's hand would brush hers as she walked, and she smiled at the contact. Even though she'd lost some of her memories, she felt extremely thankful she could remember her and Neji's relationship, which they'd been quietly carrying on for almost a year now. She only hoped her memory loss wouldn't cause a hiccup in their otherwise mostly smooth, comfortable romance.
Pushing that unsettling thought away, Tenten reveled in her freedom - the sun shining on her shoulders, the breeze caressing her face, the sound of Konoha's denizens going about their business as usual around her. If not slightly afraid people would think her crazy, she'd throw open her arms to embrace it all.
"Do you remember anything - about the mission?" Neji asked the question as they came around the corner to put them within sight of the Hyuuga compound's massive wooden gates.
Tenten wrinkled her nose in thought as she shifted her bag to a more comfortable position on her shoulder. "Bits and pieces. I remember leaving, but not the journey itself. I remember picking up the target scroll, and flashes of a fight, but I can't hang onto any of them long enough to get a clearer image." She sighed. "Lady Tsunade keeps reassuring me everything will probably come back in time, but it's been a little over a week since I woke up, and I still don't remember any more about it than I did when I first opened my eyes."
Neji nodded silently as two Hyuuga guardsmen opened the gates to allow them entrance to the compound, then closed them behind the duo. Tenten glanced around the courtyard uneasily, taking instant note of figures flitting around through the shadows, quietly going about their own business. Every time she entered the Hyuuga compound, she got the distinct impression the clan considered their compound a village in and of itself, even though it sat well within the circle of Konoha's wall.
Sliding off her shoes when they reached the front door of the large, sprawling mansion lying on the other end of the courtyard, Tenten followed Neji through a labyrinth of halls to the room assigned to her. They passed several people, most of whom offered her a curious look and distant smile on their way past. None of them spoke, but she hadn't really expected them to. In her experience the Hyuuga seemed to be a fairly silent bunch, on the whole.
Finally pausing in front of a door which looked no different from the rest, Neji slid it open and motioned her inside with a half-bow. "Lady Hinata requested you be put next door to her, so she's to the right if you need something in the middle of the night," he told her, remaining in the doorway as she fully entered the room. "You have the option of sitting down to dinner with the rest of us, or you can have a tray brought to your room."
Dropping her bag next to the futon in the exact center of the room, Tenten looked around at the rest of her space. All her things seemed to have been recently unpacked, placed neatly about the room with the same sterile organization she assumed was present throughout the rest of the house.
"Wow," she said drily. "Those maids sure are efficient."
The corner of Neji's mouth twitched upwards, just for a moment. "We all want you to feel at home here," he said. "So if you need something, don't hesitate to ask."
Tenten brushed the tip of her index finger along the top of the frame housing Team Gai's genin picture. She remembered so clearly the day it was taken, and so many days afterwards - why couldn't she remember things that happened so much more recently? "Where's your room?" she asked, suddenly feeling shy.
A quickly muffled sound, suspiciously surprised, came from the general direction of the doorway. But when Neji spoke a moment later, his voice held its usual smooth, factual tone. "Turn right when you come out of this room. Go to the end of the hall until it branches into a T, then turn right again. I'm in the last room on the left in that hall."
It felt reassuring, knowing Neji was so close by in a place so large and unfamiliar. Turning to face him, Tenten nodded and smiled. "Thanks," she said. "It's nice to know you're so close by - you and Lady Hinata."
Neji gazed at her, an unfathomable expression in his icy white eyes. "And it's good to have you here, out of the hospital at last," he murmured. Sketching a slight bow, he said, "I'll leave you to get settled in. Shall I have a servant bring you something for the evening meal, or do you wish to join us in the dining room?"
The thought of facing a room full of curious pale eyes - even though she knew the Hyuuga were too polite to stare at her openly - made her feel slightly ill. "I think I'll take my meal here," she said, anxiously tapping the ball of her right foot against the floor. "I don't think I'm quite ready to face a crowd yet."
"All right. I'll go to the kitchen and have a servant make you up a tray." Neji looked like he wished to say something further, but didn't. Instead, he smiled, bobbed another quick bow, and then shut the door behind him, leaving Tenten alone in her new quarters.
Edging a little closer to the futon, Tenten toed the comforter on top and smiled slightly. Soft and white, it looked like a fluffy cloud. I'll start apartment-searching tomorrow, she decided.
For today, her first day free from the confines of the hospital, she'd enjoy living and sleeping the Hyuuga way.
Apartment searching was far harder than Tenten had thought it would be. Four days in a row, she went out in the village and spent almost the entire day looking for a new place to live.
On day one, she set out with Neji just after breakfast. The two ventured into some of the middle-class parts of the village, since Tenten was working on the limited budget of a kunoichi. She found one place she really liked, with floor-to-ceiling windows offering a breathtaking view of Hokage Mountain, but Neji pointed out the peeling wallpaper on the walls (to which Tenten replied, "I can live with it") and the water stain on the ceiling, indicating a leaky roof (to which Tenten replied, "All right, not so much").
Day two found her being half-dragged about by her ever-enthusiastic teammate Rock Lee. When not lamenting her loss of memory or celebrating her being released from the hospital (his mood swings gave her a headache after only half an hour, but she loved him like the brother she'd never had and could never hurt his feelings by telling him, even fondly, to shut up), he was finding fault in every single apartment they looked at. Too big, too small, not a good view, too expensive... The list went on and on.
The third day, Tenten took Hinata with her, simply so she could have a somewhat quieter companion. The gentle woman committed herself as fully as Tenten to the search, but like Neji and Lee before her, ultimately found problems with the two apartments Tenten seriously considered. She turned such a bright red every time she mentioned something negative, Tenten finally cut the search short just to keep her friend from dying of embarrassment.
Tenten set out by herself just after sunrise for the fourth day of searching, but it didn't take long for Neji - and, not long after, Lee - to track her down. She enjoyed spending the day with her teammates, but between the two of them, it seemed clear she'd never find an apartment in which to live. (Though, ultimately, she would be the one living in it, so shouldn't she decide whether it was good enough or not for herself?)
Though there were plenty of other places she could try, Tenten took the fifth day off, hoping to lull everyone into a sense of false security so she could sneak out at some point by herself. She found herself growing comfortable, staying at the Hyuuga manor, and it frightened her. She didn't belong, had been an imposition on these people long enough - but she had a feeling she wouldn't have any luck finding an apartment until she could go by herself.
Tenten spent the day with Neji doing some light sparring at Team Gai's usual training grounds to try to shake off the cobwebs. They kept their intensity very low, more going through the motions than actually doing any genuine sparring. When she finally went to bed that night, she felt heartened for the first time since waking up in the hospital. Sparring with Neji had brought back a few more scattered memories of fighting, including the fall from a rooftop which must have caused her amnesia. She touched the fresh scar on her forehead - the stitches had come out before she and Neji headed for the training grounds - and sighed. Though slowly, her memories were coming back. It was better than nothing, anyway.
The dreams started that night.
Tenten woke in the wee small hours with a gasp, every nerve ending in her body on fire. She clutched at her blankets as desperately as a drowning woman clinging to a life preserver. Sitting up shakily, she pushed her hair away from her sweaty face with a wildly trembling hand. For a long moment she sat completely still, trying to calm her racing heart and ragged breathing, half-listening for someone to come through the door to check on her.
Shoving away her blanket, Tenten rose to her feet and padded across to the door leading out to a porch overlooking the gardens. She closed her eyes as the cool night air rushed across her heated skin, trying to make sense of the dreams which had been plaguing her the past three nights in a row.
They weren't bad dreams; on the contrary they were nice - very nice. The first had started out rather innocuously, just her and Neji sitting curled up together in some indeterminate place, talking and laughing together - and occasionally stealing a kiss here or there. It wasn't anything too different from what they'd done in the past, particularly on evenings when they weren't on missions - together or separately - and had decided to use the opportunity to spend some much-needed "couple time" together.
The second had been a little - hotter. But it hadn't held a candle to the one from which she'd woken tonight, so real and wonderful she'd expected Neji to be lying right next to her. She still vividly felt his hands on her skin, her own in his hair, their breaths mingling...
Heat suffused her cheeks. Though she and Neji had never really discussed it, they were both very aware of the natural ending to their courtship; they would get married. But they also firmly agreed on another matter: abstinence until after they'd exchanged vows.
So how could it possible for her to have such a dream, so realistic it felt like it was happening right then - or at least that it had happened, in the past?
She lifted her hands to her head, curling her fingers into her hair and pulling until it hurt. She was so sick of her amnesia! Of having dreams and thoughts hover just out of her reach, taunting her, tantalizing her with their promises, their truths, and then dancing out of range when she snatched at them.
Was there something Neji wasn't telling her? He'd not really acted any differently around her since he'd picked her up at the hospital, but occasionally she'd caught him looking at her in a different way, a kind of sadness and pain in his eyes. She'd naturally assumed it to be due to his hurting along with her because she couldn't remember, but could it be caused by something else?
Or could it be because he remembered (oh, even thinking about it was so embarrassing!) a night they'd spent together, of which he knew she'd lost her memory?
Groaning softly, Tenten sank to her knees in the doorway, curling her hands into fists on her lap. The cool breeze continued to brush across her face, finally easing away at least some of the heat there.
No, Tenten finally decided a long time later, as the sun finally peeked above the horizon. She felt herself relax while she enjoyed the early-rising birds' song as the sunrise poured across the garden, spotlighting the beautiful colors of the flowers. Drawing in a deep breath to revel in their scents, she continued her thought. We wouldn't. I would definitely remember something like that. No, that was just me, dreaming. It's something I'm going to have to put out of my head, though. It's not right to keep dreaming about him that way. She fought back her blush yet again, moaning at the thought of seeing him after last night's dream. How can I look him in the face after that?
A soft scratch against her door sent her scrambling to her feet, half in a panic. She hurriedly pawed at her hair, knowing it fell around her face and shoulders in a tangled mess, as she scurried across the room to slide open the door just enough to peer through the crack.
Neji arched one eyebrow at her, pale eyes alight with amusement. "Slow start, Tenten?"
Hoping he couldn't see her blush, she muttered an affirmative. "Sorry. I had a bad dream." Actually, it was a very good dream, but... Gah. I shouldn't have said that anyway. Now he's going to ask questions, and if he digs too deeply, I'm not sure I can keep facing him without doing or asking something really embarrassing. For both of us.
All amusement vanished, replaced instantly by concern. "What happened?" He took a step forward, but then instantly checked himself and withdrew again, suddenly looking cautious.
Opening the door a little wider, Tenten laughed nervously and tugged at the ends of her hair. "Nothing too bad," she hurried to say, hoping she could cover up her obvious anxiety. "Just bits and pieces of memories. It's frustrating, remembering all these things, but not being able to string them together into one coherent image." Or something. At least that's partly the truth.
The concern on Neji's face eased, but only slightly. "It's a good sign you're getting some of your memories back, even if they don't make sense by themselves," he said, sounding hopeful. "Surely the rest of them will be quick to follow."
"Hopefully." Tenten forced herself to say the word enthusiastically as she smiled. "I'd better get ready for breakfast. See you there in a few minutes?"
"I shall make your excuses for you." Neji glanced down the hall quickly - once left, once right - then leaned forward and brushed his lips across hers. When he leaned back, his eyes glowed in a way eerily similar to the way they had been doing in her dream. "I've been looking for a chance to do that since you got out of the hospital," he whispered. He smoothed the edge of his index finger down her cheek, then walked away, shoulders tense as if he were trying to keep himself from spinning back around to-
To what? Take her in his arms and ravish her? Hardly. Tenten shut the door quickly, shaking her head. She was just being jumpy after her dream.
But, she admitted miserably to herself as she pulled on some loose pants and a dark blue tunic, then tied her hair up into her signature twin buns, she had to admit she did rather find the idea - appealing.
Oh, yes, I need to find myself a new place to live. And soon.
Tenten got her wish right after breakfast when Neji was called into a meeting with his uncle, cousin, and the Elders. She slipped out of the compound, then hurriedly turned her steps toward the apartment district of the village, determined she'd not step foot inside the Hyuuga estate again until she had found another place to live.
It's my proximity to Neji that's doing it, Tenten decided, taking the long way around in hopes of avoiding running into any of her friends. She'd really rather go apartment searching by herself - besides, she had a lot of things to think about, and she wouldn't have the chance if someone were with her. If I could just put some distance between us, I'll stop having these dreams. That's all it is, we're just living so close to each other, it's awakening all these feelings - dangerous feelings! - inside me.
She stopped smack in the middle of the street when a new thought occurred to her. Is Neji struggling with this, too? If so, he'd evidently found a way to deal with it a lot better than her, she thought in disgust. Probably through meditation...
"Hey, you going to stand there all day, lady?"
Tenten jumped, then waved an apology and moved out of the middle of the street. I'm overthinking all of this. All I need to do is concentrate on finding an apartment, then moving in, and then everything will go back to normal.
If only she could go on a mission, instead of just hanging around the village being useless! But Lady Tsunade made it clear Tenten would be staying in Konoha until her memories came back. If six months passed and she'd made no progress, she added, they would talk about another arrangement. But for now, Tenten was on a leave of absence until she'd at least mostly, if not fully, regained her memories.
She searched until lunchtime, but to her frustration, didn't find anything she liked. "Everybody's rubbing off on me," she muttered angrily as she headed toward Konoha's restaurant district. She'd grab a quick lunch, maybe at a teashop, then get back to work. Surely some food in her stomach would help her see things in a more positive light...
Myriad smells drifted toward her as she turned the corner, and Tenten drew in a deep, appreciative breath. Hungrier than she'd realized, she quickened her pace, head turning from side to side as she searched for something that looked, sounded, and smelled good...
She froze midstep, Neji's voice saying her name in her head sounding so realistic she half-expected to see him next to her. Drawing in a sharp breath, she reached out to rest a hand against the wall as another memory - this one longer and clearer than just about any other - bloomed into existence in her mind.
"You've known this was coming for a long time, so I'm sorry it's not more of a surprise." Neji slid off the stool next to hers, and she turned to follow him, feeling her heart leap into her throat with excitement as he knelt before her and reached into his pocket. "But even though you've known it's coming, I still want to do this the right way anyway."
Tenten reached down as he reached up, and their hands slid together effortlessly, palms molding, fingers curling, joining them together as they smiled at each other so brightly even the sun seemed to dim.
"Tenten, will you marry me?"
Some people might have said the proposal was too simple, so short it was hardly even romantic. But Tenten loved Neji - all of him, faults, foibles, silences, and all - and she couldn't have asked for a better, more Neji-like proposal.
"Yes." Her response, immediate and strong, brightened Neji's smile further as he took her other hand and slid a simple but beautiful ring onto her finger. "Yes, Neji, I will marry you."
"...Tenten? Tenten, are you all right?"
She blinked, coming back to the present at the familiar sound of Teuchi's voice. Lifting her head, Tenten stared up into his face, then beyond him to the cloths half-hiding his Ichiraku Ramen stall behind him. "I'm so sorry," she said, laughing in embarrassment. "I kind of blanked out there, didn't I?"
Teuchi backed off slightly, looking relieved that she'd answered him. "I heard from Naruto that you had amnesia," he said, offering a small smile. "I figured you were having some trouble with it, but I wanted to check on you all the same."
Tenten nodded, trying to seem casual. But inside, her heart felt like it was going to burst. I'm engaged! Neji proposed, I said yes! The rightness of the memory made her certain she hadn't just dreamed it up - he really had asked her to marry him, and she really had said yes. It must have happened just before she left for her mission, which explained why it had fallen prey to her amnesia. "I'm fine, I promise. But thank you, very much."
Taking another step back, he swept one of the curtain panels aside invitingly. "Would you like to come in and have a bowl?" he asked. "It's on the house," he added.
"I appreciate the offer, but I have something important I need to do." Tenten edged back a step, making her expression as apologetic as she could when all she wanted to do was break into a wide grin and dance in excitement, all the while shouting out her happy news. "I'm sorry, though."
"I understand. But the offer's open - just drop on in sometime!" Teuchi offered a quick wave and then disappeared into his stall.
Heart pounding, Tenten wove her way through the midday crowd, murmuring distracted apologies to everyone she bumped against in her haste. She had to get back to the Hyuuga compound, to find Neji, to tell him she remembered his proposing, their getting engaged.
Forgetting the promise she'd made to herself when she'd set out that morning, Tenten called hurried greetings to the guards who opened the gates for her when she arrived. She barely paused long enough to take off her shoes before entering the house, and didn't bother with slippers, instead padding barefoot down the halls until she reached Neji's room.
"Neji!" she called desperately, trying to stay quiet. Even in the middle of the day, the Hyuuga manor seemed as quiet as if it were midnight, since everyone went about their duties quickly and silently.
"Neji!" she called again, a little louder. Glancing over her shoulder guiltily, she made sure no one was looking before reaching for the edge of the door so she could slide it open. Surely he would be out of his meeting with Hiashi and the others by now; if he were meditating, as he usually did after such meetings, he proably didn't even realize it was the lunch hour. She'd just slip inside, perhaps even surprise him with a kiss...
Disappointment flared inside her chest when she realized his room was empty. Tenten hovered in the doorway, swallowing back the sudden urge to cry as she stared at the neatly made futon, the rolled tatami leaning against the wall, the clean desk, the shelf of pictures...
Wait. Tenten blinked, her eyes going back to the one sitting next to Neji's copy of Team Gai's genin photo. Is that...?
Any consideration she might have had for trespassing flew out of her head as she walked across Neji's room, entranced by the glimpse she'd had of the picture beckoning to her. Going straight to the shelf, she reached up one hand - trembling once again, part of her noted resignedly - and grasped the frame, pulling the photo down so she could see it more clearly.
Neji, his hair pulled atop his head in a high ponytail, stood behind her, arms wrapped around her, the widest smile she'd ever seen him wear on his face as he gazed down into her face. Standing within the circle of his arms, Tenten had her head turned to gaze up into Neji's face, an equally wide grin on her own lips. She wore a beautiful, elaborate kimono she knew instinctively was far more expensive than anything she could afford on her salary, but it was the crest embroidered at the ends of the sleeves which caught her attention the most.
The Hyuuga clan crest. A crest she would only wear if this were a photo taken at her and Neji's wedding...
Tenten nearly dropped the picture. Only her kunoichi reflexes prevented her from doing so.
Neji's my husband. Tenten continued to stare down into the window of another of her forbidden, forgotten memories, feeling her throat tighten.
I'm Neji's wife. Her eyes began to sting, clouding as tears filled them, blurring the picture.
Her dream had not just been her reacting to Neji's proximity - not in the way she'd thought. She'd been remembering something, a night (one of few? many? how many?) they'd spent deeply loving each other as a married couple.
It was a piece of a life she couldn't remember - might never fully remember, if at all. Feeling like an invader more than any other time since coming to the Hyuuga manor, Tenten numbly set the picture down, careful to make sure it sat the exact same way it had been when she found it. Then she turned, quietly left the room, and slid the door shut behind her. Mind blank, body tingling as if trying to go numb, she walked robotically from Neji's room to her own, where she closed the door behind her, crumpled to the floor, and burst into tears.
Tenten avoided Neji as much as possible the next two days. She pretended not to be in her room if he scratched on her door and called her name. If she saw him coming, she quickly hid. She left the compound even before breakfast to keep up her apartment hunt, making sure he couldn't catch her before she could slip away.
She didn't know why she found it so necessary to avoid him. Or maybe she did know: She felt so guilty for having gone into his room, seeing somehing she wasn't meant to see as an amnesiac, she couldn't face him.
Her joy at having remembered his proposal was long gone. How could she feel joyful when she could remember his having proposed, but not her wedding? Not her wedding night?
I'm being incredibly selfish. And yet she couldn't stop herself. As bad as the knowledge of their marriage was for her, she knew it had to be ten times worse for Neji. He remembered everything, every look, smile, touch, moment they'd spent together. Just as surely, he knew she did not, and it had to be killing him. To have her so close to him day after day - even night after night - and not be able to let on he was her husband-
It must be killing him.
Well, she could at least bring that to an end. She didn't know when or if her memories would come back, but until they did (please, please let them come back!), she would move out of the compound. Perhaps, if things continued on without her memories of their marriage, she might admit to having remembered their engagement.
She paused, bracing her back against the wall next to an alley opening. She needed to take a break, just for a minute, so she could think...
They could get married again. But would that just make things worse? Tenten wasn't sure. Couldn't be sure without talking to Neji. And that was something she couldn't do, just as surely.
"I don't know where she is!"
She stopped, easily recognizing the shout as coming from Naruto. He'd come to see her a few times when she was in the hospital - overflowing with apologies, since he'd been on the failed mission with her - but she hadn't seen him since her release. She wondered if he'd been avoiding her.
Another voice, lower yet just as distinctly masculine, muttered something she didn't catch. Knowing it was wrong even as she did it, Tenten slid a little closer to the alley's mouth, tilting her head in an attempt to hear more of the conversation, somehow knowing they were talking about her.
"Look, Neji, I'm sorry, okay? I've apologized to her a thousand times, and to you, too. How many more times do I have to do it before you finally get that I really am sorry?"
Neji. Tenten's breath caught. It was the closest she'd been to him since she found their wedding picture, and she felt her traitorous heart pick up the pace at the knowledge of his nearness.
"You promised to watch her back." Neji's voice, low and dangerous, sounded very close to a growl. "And she got hurt! She can't remember. Do you know what it's like, Naruto? Having my wife so close to me every day, every night-" He broke off abruptly. She could just picture his expression in her head - angry at Naruto for some perceived failure; equally angry at himself for losing control of his emotions and saying far more than he would have otherwise.
Oh, Neji. Tenten pressed her fist against her forehead, wishing she could just reach through her skin, through her skull, into her brain, capture her fugitive memories, and yank them back to the forefront.
Naruto sighed. "I'm sorry, Neji." His voice, a lot quieter this time, was slightly farther away. "There's not a day gone by that I haven't beaten myself up for what happened. But things just went wrong so fast..."
...The enemy, dozens of them, almost crawling out of the woodwork as she and Naruto raced across the roof, up until then having successfully avoided the searchlights all across the compound...
...Naruto's voice, shouting at her to look out...
...A shadowy figure, surely larger than humanly possible, advancing on her, driving her backwards, closer and closer to the edge and the dangerous drop beyond...
...Falling, fear driving a jagged blade into her heart, as she wondered if this would be the end, if this would be the mission from which she wouldn't come home alive...
"I should have been there." Neji's pain-filled voice drew her back to the present abruptly.
"There's nothing you could have done even if you had been there, Neji. Things just went bad too fast." Naruto sounded so matter-of-fact, Tenten would have believed him even without her scattered memories backing up his words.
"You don't know that." There was no angry heat in Neji's voice, just tired resignation.
A footstep, as if one of them had moved closer to - or farther away from - the other. "For what it's worth, I'm sure she'll remember, Neji. I've been friends with you guys for years, and it's been hard to miss the sappy looks on your faces when you were around each other. She loves you, I suspect with all her heart. She'll be hard pressed to keep from remembering that so easily."
Fresh tears welled into Tenten's eyes. She lifted her other hand to fist in her top over her heart, knowing Naruto was right. Even now, when she felt so confused and could only remember their engagement, she felt the overwhelming love she'd had for Neji, for so long she couldn't even remember when it started, settling back into her chest, sure and solid and always there, though she hadn't realized what it was until now.
And then suddenly Neji was there, standing before her. He stared at her with wide, shocked pale eyes, his face whiter than usual as he realized she must have heard his and Naruto's conversation.
"Neji," she whispered.
Naruto popped out of the alley behind Neji, caught sight of her, then turned and hurried off without a word.
"Neji," she whispered again, ignoring Naruto's retreat. She'd track him down and talk to him later. Right now, there was another conversation she needed to have.
Grasping her arm with one hand, grip strong and steady, Neji pulled her after him back into the alley. "How much did you hear?" he rasped. He let go of her and started pacing only once they were halfway between one street and the corresponding one at the other end, out of hearing range of passersby on either side.
"Enough." She clenched her hands into fists at her sides. "Neji, I-"
His hand shot up to stall her, eyes darting up to meet hers, filled with anger and anguish, with hope and love and fear, so many emotions at once it made her heart break. "You weren't supposed to know," he said hoarsely, sounding as close to panic as she'd ever heard him. "Your memory was supposed to come back on its own. Lady Tsunade said if we tried to get you to remember by telling you things, it could just make - it - worse."
Tenten reached out and snatched his hand before he could withdraw it. "I knew before I heard you and Naruto," she forced past the lump in her throat. It was time to come clean.
Neji froze at her touch, the panicked look deepening - like a rabbit caught in a hunter's sights. "What?"
She looked down. "The other day, when I was out apartment hunting, I went into the restaurant district for lunch. I came upon Ichiraku-"
His eyes slid closed, blocking her eyes from his view. But she could still see the hope on his face, and the fear.
She dared take a step closer to him, though her heart was pounding, and she felt like the lump in her throat had swollen to a size too large to allow her to speak. But she had to. She had to tell him the truth. "I remembered you proposing to me."
He bowed his head, his hair falling forward and hiding his expression from view. It didn't stop her from feeling the way his hand tightened around hers, though.
"I ran all the way back to the compound, wanting to find you, to tell you." Humor briefly lifted her heart, and she couldn't resist adding, "To get my ring back."
She felt certain he smiled, too, at that.
"But you didn't answer when I called your name. I thought you might be caught up in meditating, so I - so I went in." Tenten looked away, unable to peek beyond the dark curtain of his hair to see the expression on his face. Was he disappointed in her? Angry?
Neji's fingers contracted around hers, but he didn't say anything. He didn't have to. He knew what she'd seen, even without her telling him so.
"I saw our wedding picture." She took another step forward, suddenly feeling unaccountably brave. Tilting her head up, she looked into his face, willing him to open his eyes and look at her. "And I had a - dream," she began, haltingly, feeling heat flush her face anew.
That brought his head up again, his eyes open wide. He looked at her, examining her face, her eyes, searching for something, she suspected, to make him certain what she'd dreamed.
"I had a memory." Reaching up, she forced her shaking hand to still as she briefly cupped his jaw before brushing his hair away from his face; then moved her hand behind his head to thread her fingers with the soft, rich brown strands at his nape, just like in her dream-memory...
Neji groaned, the sound deep and gutteral. His arms locked around her waist, and she gasped slightly as he pushed her backwards - firmly but gently - against the wall, his lips lowering onto hers so he could swallow her sharp sound of surprise.
Just like that night, Tenten's every nerve blazed to life, as if she'd been walking around in a coma, not really experiencing the world fully before now. Her other hand moved of its own accord, brushing up his muscular arm, across his shoulder, to join the other at the back of his head, holding him to her as she tried to get closer to him.
Yes. This is familiar. I know this. This is right. This is the way things are supposed to be. "Neji..." She might have said his name aloud, or she might have thought it. She honestly wasn't sure.
He reacted just the same, tearing his mouth from hers, but only so he could press fever-hot kisses to her forehead, her cheekbones, her nose, her jaw, down her neck...
"Neji, my husband..." The words fell naturally from her lips, true and unquestionably right.
His head snapped up from her shoulder, so hard and fast they nearly collided. "Tenten!" His hands left her waist, but only so he could cup her face and stare deeply, intently, into her eyes. "Tenten?" he breathed.
The memories were coming faster now. There were still gaps, but she remembered: the ache of the nights she spent without him; the joy of their wedding; the completeness she felt when they became one on their wedding night; the indescribable sense of rightness when she woke up with him next to her every morning...
Something wet landed on her cheek. Maybe a tear, maybe a raindrop - she neither knew nor cared. "Neji - my heart, my light, my love, my life..."
"Tenten." And then he was kissing her again, knowing her saying those words, in that order, as she'd said them at the end of their wedding vows, meant she really did remember.
When they finally parted again, she smiled up at him. The rest of her memories would return in time, she was sure. And even if she never fully remembered the mission on which she'd temporarily lost her memories, as long as all the ones she had of Neji returned intact, she didn't mind.
Capturing Neji's hand, she lifted it to her mouth and kissed his bare ring finger. "I want my rings back," she whispered.
Twining his fingers securely with hers, Neji turned and led her toward the mouth of the alley, and then toward home. "You shall have them," he promised. His eyes shifted back to her, full of warmth despite their icy color. "And me?" he whispered, suddenly sounding uncertain.
Tenten grinned at him, all of her own shyness and uncertainty suddenly gone - she had a feeling for good. "I look forward to it."
Author's Ending Notes: My second entry for NejiTen Month over on NejiTenPlz on dA (seriously, check it out - there's some gorgeous art/fics/vids waiting for you there!). Again, I stopped writing canonically over a year ago, so this is in an AU where there is not, and never was, a Fourth Shinobi War. I picture Neji and Tenten around eighteen or nineteen in this fic. I had a great time writing it, so I hope you enjoyed reading it, too! Thanks for checking it out!