"Well, this feels familiar," Tenten whispered as she found herself in the airport once again, flanked by her send-off party, consisting of her Kakashi-nii-san and best friends Lee and Neji. It was too bad that their Gai-senpai was still finishing his country-hopping tour (Where was he now anyway? North Korea?); Tenten had wanted to see him before she headed back to the States. I guess there's always a next time, she muttered to herself, before focusing her attention on her other companion, the feisty blonde Yamanaka Ino.
Ino, who was currently cutting off Lee's air circulation with a tight hug that would have given their Gai-senpai a run for his money.
Tenten hid her chuckle behind her palm—she should have seen it coming, Ino had such weird tastes in men anyway—and turned to Neji, who was standing statue-still beside her, his right hand gripping her left as tightly as he could without actually hurting her. The brunette knew how hard it was for the hikikomori-in-therapy to be out in such a crowded place, and she appreciated the gesture, even when she tried to tell him that it was all right, he didn't have to go to the airport with them, of course she understood.
But Neji was adamant and would hear nothing of it.
"How are you holding up?" she asked him gently, trying to spare whatever was left of Neji's dignity. The Hyuuga squeezed her hand tighter, and Tenten saw him manage a small, weak smile. The brunette chuckled, before lightly telling him that she did warn him that airports and hikikomoris were a bad combination.
"I'm not going to let go of you that easily," Neji replied then, so quietly that for a second Tenten thought she had just imagined it. But when she turned to him, she found that he was already looking at her, studying her features, as if trying to memorize every little detail of her face, as much as he could, before she fly away from him again.
Tenten's heart grew heavy and light at the same time, and although she knew Neji hated any display of public affection—it was already a feat that he even agreed to hold hands in public—she quietly wrapped her left arm around his right, and gave him the most puppy-dog look she could manage.
"Promise you'll wait for me?" she asked, hopeful. Neji answered with a slight reddening of the ears, earning a meaningful chuckle from their other companions.
"Tenten-chan," Kakashi drawled then, his eyes twinkling with mischief. "What did I tell you about safe . . ."
"Oh shut up, Nii-san!" Tenten exclaimed, effectively making Neji's face redder than before. In the background, she heard Ino's airy laugh, and Lee's firm yosh!, and she immediately turned to tease them in return.
"You should teach Ino and Lee that mantra, Nii-san," she winked at her two best friends. "I think they need it more than I do."
Ino replied by laughing out loud, but Lee blinked back innocently at them. "What mantra, my ferocious fern?" to which the blonde beauty responded by suddenly throwing her arms around the martial artist, squealing something about how adorable Lee was.
"I think I'll be mentally scarred for life because of that," Kakashi kidded, shaking his head for emphasis. Tenten gave him the obligatory tongue-sticking-out gesture, which earned her a chuckle, a pat on the head, and then the sincerest of hugs from her big brother.
It was after stepping out of her nii-san's embrace that Tenten decided to throw all caution to the wind . . . and immediately threw her arms around the Hyuuga beside her.
Neji stiffened immediately, and Tenten only hugged him tighter. And then, suddenly remembering the exact same scene from five, six years back, Tenten chuckled and mock-whispered, "Can you please hug me back now? I'm starting to feel like an idiot here."
And then she felt it—warm arms around her small frame, a soft sigh brushing against her ear, and a promise that he will keep in touch, and she better come back as soon as she could, or he would personally fly to LA and drag her sorry ass back home.
Tenten laughed out loud and did not bother to point out that Neji would have to get over his fear of people first before he could even consider riding an airplane.
Track Fourteen (part 1): "You Belong to Me" (Lifehouse)
Tenten found Neji standing in front of her house's door that evening.
She stopped in mid-step, unsure if she should run up to him and hold him close, or run away from him for now. Because how could she explain to him that she was going to leave him again soon? Neji didn't need anything that would affect his recovery negatively.
But Neji did need her honesty.
And so Tenten stepped closer, and tried her very best to smile.
The Hyuuga eyed her suspiciously, immediately getting a sense of her inner turmoil. After all, it wasn't only Tenten who was well attuned to Neji's and Lee's thoughts—it worked the other way, too.
"You said to call you back," Neji began, and Tenten managed a small nod, which only made the hikikomori frown. "But you turned off your phone."
"Aa," Tenten fidgeted. "I . . . ran out of batteries."
Neji's frown deepened. "You've never lied to me before, Tenten."
Damn it, Tenten cursed herself. She forgot Neji could read her mind like her favorite fictional ninja could see tenkatsu points.
"Let's go in, okay?" she suggested, fishing her key out of her bag, trying not to feel too conscious of her pretty dress and her made-up hair, a result of her failed date with the Uchiha just an hour and a half past. "Ino is out with Lee, and I have no idea where Nii-san is," she said, trying for conversation, as the doorknob clicked open and she stepped into their humble home.
Neji followed quietly and waited as Tenten flipped open the light switch, and then just as quietly closed the front door. They walked to the living room, a heavy silence separating them. Neither bothered with the couch, but reluctantly the brunette faced her best friend and braced herself for his questions.
But none came.
Instead, the Hyuuga eyed her with gray eyes so sad Tenten thought her heart would break. "You've been with Uchiha," he stated, and Tenten became very aware of her state of dress, and tried her very best not to smooth out the wrinkles on her skirt. At her silence, Neji's eyes hardened, and Tenten watched his fists clench at his sides.
"You chose him, then."
Tenten blinked in surprise, and felt the sudden urge to smack some sense into her best friend.
"Baka," she muttered, earning a sharp glare from her companion. Long immune to it, Tenten stepped closer and poked Neji's forehead in mock annoyance. "He was never an option, fool." Except that he was, of course, at least Tenten thought so before. But the past was something she didn't really like to dwell on, especially not with Neji blinking back at her with the most stunned expression on his handsome face.
"Don't make me say it again, Neji no baka," Tenten whispered, before poking Neji's forehead again.
And then Neji's frown morphed into a soft smile, beautiful enough to make Tenten's heart want to melt in her chest. He then leaned forward, and Tenten leaned in too, until their foreheads met in the middle and rested against each other, as if they had both reached an understanding without the need of any words or intimate gestures.
A couple of seconds more and Tenten remembered her previous problem, and, closing her eyes so she wouldn't have to see Neji's face, she whispered to him, her heart growing heavier by the second.
The hikikomori hmm'ed softly in return.
"I have to leave you again."
Hikikomori ni Jinsei
(Or, The Life of the Withdrawn)
Shortest chapter EVER, but this is just half of Track Fourteen, I promise. I can't seem to find the right way to end the chapter, so I figured I might as well post the Tenten section first, and deal with the, uh, other section a later time (which should be more of a shocker than anything else, except if you're familiar with my style of writing). Besides, I'm waaaay past my promised release date, and I want to let you guys know that I'm still alive. Please don't kill me. At least until not I finish this series. Okay?
Also, my laptop officially died on me (which is partly the reason why it took so long to update, I'm currently borrowing my mom's laptop, ergh), but I will try my best to post as soon as I can get hold of this piece of junk, err, technology again.
Thank you for the awesome reviews last chapter from the following: 8ouji-Rui,Ami1010, anthropomorphychan, FruitySmell, Ekun-Asha, marionne345, Maayou,Purpleprincess1147,mhakhernandez, Ichigo-chan and Senka Hitomi. And maybe this half-assed chapter doesn't deserve reviews, but I'd really appreciate them anyway.