“There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness.” -Friedrich Nietzche
~One month later~
Hyuga Neji placed a bowl of hot noodles on the table before a quiet Tenten. They hadn’t talked about what happened, about what she’d gone through. Gai had insisted that it was most probably because of to the confidential nature of her mission, but Neji knew there was much more into it than that.
There was a sense of disappointment and guilt embedded on the surface of the whole issue. The coat of dark sentiments was so thick, that they had been unable to get past it. Still, even though Neji wondered a lot of times about it, he’d never pressed her into telling him, for this was a confession that he would only hear when and if she was ever ready.
Of course, to him it didn’t really matter if she had been abused, beaten or used. No. This did not mean he was comfortable with the idea that she had suffered, or that he would allow it to happen again. What he meant by this was that she was still Tenten for him. His weapon mistress. His silvery, shiny soul mate.
But he would be lying if he said that part of him didn’t want to know. Because, in the end, human as he was, he morbidly wondered if she’d been taken; if her body had been touched in the ways that should have been reserved for him and him alone.
If she had, he wouldn’t really care. There was a world of difference between taking something by force and receiving it as a gift. In their case, they had given themselves to each other willingly and without hesitation, so he was not about to shun that gift.
Regrettably, it was her that didn’t seem to believe the same. Tenten was unable to identify the differences between those concepts which were so very clear to him. Because of this lack of faith, he assumed she feared what his reaction to her story might be, and that --in and of itself-- was hard on him.
Did she really trust him –his heart and actions-- so little, that she would hesitate to confide in him?
He sighed when he noticed she was once more lost in a place where he could not reach her unless she wanted him to. Neji cleared his throat, hoping that would bring her back to him. She shivered slightly and he knew then that she was listening, even if she was not fully conscious of it.
“How was your day?” He asked as he sat in front of her, successfully snapping her off her daydream. Not surprisingly, she regarded him with surprise for a long moment, probably wondering how long he’d been there.
In an ironic twist of life, Neji came to realize how their papers had suddenly switched in a margin of days. Now, it was him the one who could not stand the silence between them. It was now him the one who tried to break it with the same banal chattering he used to spurn.
Oh, but how he wished he could turn back the wheels of time and save her from what she’d gone through. To keep her away from all of the suffering and pain she’d undergone in that hellish and dark room. But the past cannot be changed, no matter how much we yearn for it. So the desire –though strong—was nothing short of a dream, and a cruel one at that.
The pause that had ensured after his question, continued to stretch. Just when he was about to try his luck with another question, she spoke.
“Neji…You don’t have to do this,” she whispered, while her free hand balled on the table beside her bowl. Her eyes remained dull and downcast. He could almost see her tension rising like the arms of a ghost. They reached for him, embraced him and filled him with an awkwardness he was coming to despise intensely.
Yes. He hated it! He hated this oppressing atmosphere he had not been able to clear, even after having been looking after her for practically a month. It was almost as if they were back to square one, only this time it was her the one intent on keeping him at arm’s length!
Neji could not accept this! Their past together, their relationship… it was too important for him to simply let go of it. He could not start anew because he was sure they could continue were they left. They had to! Hadn’t they battled enough? Why couldn’t fate, destiny or whoever was toying with their lives simply give them a break for a change!
Closing his eyes, he concentrated on calming down before responding as honestly as possible, “I know that, but I want to do it… Tenten.”
My Koichii, his mind said what his lips couldn’t. He had not called her his beloved in a while. Not since the day he’d done it only to have her break right then and there into guilty tears and trembling sobs. How could he show her that she was still the woman he had fallen in love with? Why must she be so very persistent in thinking she had lost her worth! In believing that he was better off without her!
The woman could be so damn blind sometimes!
Not liking where his thoughts were headed, Neji’s attention focus back on the kuniochi he would gladly give his life for, brushing aside his dark musings for the time being.
Tenten was biting her lower lip in a gesture he was becoming far too familiar with, but not in a good way. Instinctively, he braced himself for the blow she was about to deliver –possibly without meaning to.
“I’m broken goods, Neji. You should--”
The fragile string binding him to his patience was severed, her words acting like the cursed scissors that did the job. His hands, which had been resting in his lap, fisted. He stood up abruptly, interrupting her idiotic excuse. His jaw clenched in anger, his eyes became hard with pain and his whole body turned as stiff as a table.
“Damn it, Tenten!” He snarled filled with tumultuous emotions. He’d never ever used this tone with her. Guilt and distress rang strong among the whirlwind of sentiments –much more than annoyance or tiredness.
In the end though, much as he tried to regain his composure, he still ended up quite livid. Normally, he would have done his best to hide this unbefitting display behind a stoic mask. But Neji was tired today and his heart decided he was not about to do it now. Nevertheless, this did not mean he was aiming to make her feel even worst. He wanted to help her, not to increase her guilt. Thus, without another word, he spun around and stormed out the room.
“Neji!” she called when he slipped his feet inside his shoes. Her tone was apologetic and desperate at the same time. For a split second it threatened to break his resolve, but he needed some time alone to think. Or maybe she was the one that needed it?
“I’m going to meditate,” he informed curtly, opening the door of his house and stepping out into the chilly morning. Unable to stop himself, in a gentler tone he added, “Get some rest, Tenten.”
Without sparing another glance at her, he closed the shoji behind him. Cold hands caressed him as the wind blew his hair out of his face. Scanning the compound, he noticed three older Hyuga males watching him. It was rather evident that they were wondering why he looked as though ready to murder someone –if the fact that they gave a step back when he turned his glacial gaze on them was any indication. Frankly, Neji didn’t care anymore.
He didn’t care what they thought of him. He didn’t care that they were beginning to fear him. Because slowly but surely he was starting to feel so damn incompetent, that more often than not he did feel like going in a killing spree.
I need to meditate, he told himself, walking towards the most solitary part of the garden where he was sure he would not be disturbed.
Midway towards his new destination, the force of habit prompted him to slip his hand inside the hidden pocket near the collar of his gi. He took out the small velvet bag where his unbound devotion laid materialized within the golden and silver ring he’d been wanting to present to her.“Will I ever have the opportunity to show you how much you mean to me, Tenten?” he whispered sadly, slipping the bag back inside the pocket that stood near his heart, reminding him how bad it was to have her within reach and yet be unable to touch her. But this change had to be only temporary. Or at the very least, he hoped so with all of his heart. If not, then he was positive, that he too would break…
Tenten sat on one of the many benches inside the Compound’s garden. At her feet stood a frozen pond and above her, a leafless Sakura tree. It was a mocking environment and yet, at the same time, it was something that she could identify with.
She was frozen, unable to move forward simply because she could not let go of the past. Tenten was afraid. Afraid that if she were to let go, there would be nothing left for her to look forward to. Afraid that if she were to let go, the persona she’d given so much effort in creating would simply disappear. Vanish into the back of everyone’s mind, until she became nothing but a distant memory.
She heaved a long sigh that sounded awfully melancholic. Her hands balled into fists, wrinkling the fabric of the kimono Neji had given her to wear inside the compound. Insistent tears assaulted her eyes, and it was by sheer will alone that they did not fall.
Damn it! She’d hurt him again. It seemed to her that the more she tried to set him free from the cage she’d created, the more she ended up hurting him.
She hated it –her --this! If there was one thing in the entire world she could not tolerate, was the mere idea of Neji being in pain. Since she was the one instigating his suffering –however unwillingly or unconsciously she did it—it only served to increase her own sense of unworthiness.
Surely he deserved better! Surely he ought to find himself a purer woman; one that was stronger and more beautiful that her. One that had smooth skin, unmarked by mistakes, war and the cruel nature of human beings; one that was not filled with shame and that odd sense of pride which, more often than not, kept flirting with the fragile line of arrogance…
A shuffle of fabric, and she knew her solitude was about to be interrupted. A man, whom she was making a point not to acknowledge, approached her. At first, she wanted to ask him to leave, or at the very least, she wanted to ignore him so that he would know his presence was unwelcomed.
However, when that person finally did speak, after taking a seat beside her, she found neither the courage nor the inclination to treat him ill. Quite the contrary, as strange as it was, he was the most welcomed visitor she could have asked for. Perhaps the reason resided in the fact that he knew what she’d gone through; in the probability that he could identify with her, just like she could now identify with him. Because, in the end, they had both gone through hell and had come back to tell the tale, even if they hadn’t come back whole…
“So you’re still sulking? I thought you would have accepted what happened and move on by now,” Ibiki said in a tone that was teasing and solemn at the same time, rendering her unable to decide whether to feel slightly amused or plainly annoyed.
What she ended up feeling was the need to pour her heart out, to confide in him her greatest troubles and her deepest shames. Perhaps it was due to the past pain they both shared, linking them in a way that no one would ever understand unless finding themselves in the same situation?
“You know the first thing I did when I saw him?” she whispered, knowing there was no need to specify who she was referring to by ‘him’.
Ibiki said nothing, but simply turned to her, silently asking her to continue.
“I threw myself at him… and I cried,” a bitter smile quirked her lips and her hands fisted tighter. She had never said it out loud before but, “It was shameful.”
She nodded curtly, unable to look him in the eye. “I had gone through hell, Ibiki-sensei! I should not have broken and yet, as soon as I saw him –the one I wanted to impress the most-- I did.” Her jaw clenched in obstinate annoyance solely directed at herself. “And then they all came to me, saying how much they admired my strength!”
“And that’s a bad thing?” It was clear that he was confused, but could he really not get it? Was he really that oblivious to the point she was trying to make!
“I broke down in tears! I was unable to walk and was therefore carried back by Neji! They saw me vulnerable, bared and ultimately defeated and yet, they dared praise me?! How can they praise my shame? How can they talk about my defeat as though it was a victory that should be celebrated!” She exclaimed loudly, passionately. She stopped sullenly and turned to gaze at the pond. In a tenuous whisper she added, “I shattered, and they didn’t even see…”
Another pregnant pause ensured, and Tenten used the time to try to reigned back her emotions. She’d just shamed herself again by screaming out her insecurities as though she was an untrained child. How undeserving of his time she had become…
“When I returned to Konoha after being rescued, I remember I could not stand being amidst crowds. The looks people gave me were highly unwelcomed, especially those that were downright pitying or the ones that –in the extreme opposite—held a glint of morbid fascination,” Ibiki began, his tone calm and collected. He sounded like water running inside a slow river. His voice in combination with his words was somewhat soothing to her tired soul, like a medicine that cools a burning wound.
“It took me a while to understand that, in the end, it was the sight of myself –not that of other people—what I could not take. Because, for a long time, whenever I saw my reflection in a mirror, I only managed to see a victim looking back with dull and hollow eyes,” he confided, gazing at the frozen pond and the coy fish that were still swimming, living despite their dangerous surroundings.
His dark eyes switched towards the sky, gazing at the horizon that was slowly being assaulted with ominous grey clouds that hinted at a coming storm. “But you know what? It took me a while and a mirror to understand that I was not a victim. More often than not, it takes extreme courage and a good amount of wisdom to see past the scars, don’t you think?”
Tenten gave a short, harsh laugh that was devoid of mirth, “I wouldn’t know, Ibiki-sensei.”
His hand suddenly resting on her head caught her off guard. Morino Ibiki was not a person who was used to providing any sort of physically comfort. The mere fact that he was trying to, spoke volumes about how highly he regarded her –how much she had come to mean to him.
Tenten felt honored and shamed at the same time, and this clash of intense emotions shook her to the core. A tear –filled with bitterness and regret—rolled down her cheek then. Before she could brush it aside, Ibiki did it for her. He thumbed it gently, soothingly, lovingly…
“You know what the funniest thing was?” He asked, retaking his tale without commenting upon her emotional breakdown.
It was a rhetorical question but, even when aware of this, she still shook her head. The action was reminiscent of a child, yet Tenten was way past the point of caring.
“I was the only one who saw myself as a victim,” he stated with undeniable frankness, a small ghostly smile lighting his somber features.
Yet, as soon as his dark gaze locked with hers, Tenten noticed a stern glint there, a silent challenge daring her to contradict him.
“How sad and pathetic to be unable to see who you truly are, when everyone else can do it,” his tone was harder –filled with conviction and an inner strength she envied. His expression turned slightly cold. He stood up and, without ceremony, handed her a small mirror roughly the size of her palm.
“What’s this for?” she asked more for the sake of saying something than out of sincere curiosity. She already had an idea where this was going.
“Keep that with you. Use it in every opportunity you have. Search within the image reflected for who you truly are. And one day, I promise you, you’ll be able to see what I see. What everyone but you can see,” he said, turning around to begin his trek back home.
When he’d given two steps, his words registered and she asked instinctively, “What did you see, Ibiki-sensei?”
It was two questions in one. What had he seen in his own reflection and what did he see in hers. Whichever one he answered was up to him and his interpretation. Her sensei stopped mid step and glanced back at her. His expression was warmer, his lips had quirked at the corner and his eyes became gentle.
“What has always been there,” he answered cryptically, his tone oddly soothing. And then, he was gone.Sitting alone with a mirror in her hand, Tenten could not help but try to see past the scars. And maybe, just maybe, she too would be able to see what has always been there…
Hyuga Neji stood warily inside Hiashi’s office. Though he outwardly looked calm and collected, his insides were knotted with nerves and his palms were beginning to get moist with sweat.
As soon as he’d begun to meditate, Hinata had arrived to inform him that Hiashi was looking for him. Reluctantly, he’d left his place of calm to trade it for something that was sure to cause him a headache.
Yet it had to be done. The orders of the Clan’s head were law and, as such, they’d all been taught that they could not be questioned or ignored, never mind that sometimes they were wrong.
Neji’s current disinclination to attend to his Uncle, however, derived from the fact that being called to this office always signified something big which, unfortunately, most of the times wasn’t a positive thing. To make matters even worst, his gut was at present hinting at the idea that this meeting had to do with his koichii and their standby situation. Yes. There was no need to ask what this was about. Most probably, the Elders would want to know if he had proposed already, especially since time was running out and it was imperative that tradition –above everything else—be kept intact. After all, tradition had already been stretched for his sake, and he was acutely aware that the Elder’s patience must have been wearing thin as the days rolled by.
Hence it was not an overstatement that, when at last Hiashi unglued his gaze from the papers he’d been studying to better pin him in place, Neji’s nervousness increased tenfold.
“Take a seat, Neji.”
The prodigy’s eyes narrowed a fraction. Hiashi’s tone signaled that his comment was an advice more than an order, a thing that was too out of the ordinary to ignore.
Though he was conscious that he should treat this matter –this man-- delicately and try his best to keep the atmosphere free of unnecessary tension, he couldn’t brush aside the nagging sensation that something was wrong. Or was it perhaps his gut again, acknowledging that what was about to be discussed was something truly unwelcomed?
Hardening his mind and heart while heeding the rebellious part of him that insisted he continued standing, he shook his head and politely –but curtly—declined the offer. Hiashi didn’t seem all too pleased but before he could insist, Neji dived straight to the matter at hand.
“How may I be of service today, Hiashi-sama,” he was falling back to what he knew, following the script of etiquette that had been drilled into his head. It was a coward’s way of proceeding, being certain that he would not err, but there was no avoiding it. He had never been good with coping with sudden changes.
A long and tired sigh escaped the lips of his uncle and, before his very eyes, he seemed to have aged at least a couple of years. “By your response, I am guessing you already know what this is about, correct?”
Neji crossed his arms defensively, not caring about transmitting his present discomfort to the man whom he’d been struggling to impress for the longest time.
Hiashi sighed again, “You must understand that the Elders and I only want what’s best for you and the Clan.”
This was the first time he was put before the Clan, even if it was solely in name. Yet Neji would have been an idealistic fool to believe that his interest was being taken into consideration before everyone else’s.
So, wishing to clarify things a bit, he asked guardedly, “May I know what you are implying?”
“I’m merely letting you know that we are worried about you and your… situation,” he responded calmly, making deliberate emphasize on the last word.
So Tenten has been moved down from a prospect to a ‘situation’, huh? He found himself seething. His muscles tensed in expectation to the heated discussion they were bound to have if things continued down this road.
“Your concern is baseless and unnecessary,” he countered drily, his agitation increasing as their gazes locked amidst a storm of ice only they could feel.
But why must these people always meddle in his affairs? Why must he always be the one asked to renounce to the precious people that made his existence bearable, his life worth living? Would his uncle ask him to give up Tenten, like they forced him to allow his father to walk to his death? Where the hell was the justice in that? Had he not given enough already? Had his sacrifices, his victories and his loyalty not earned him at least a little respect –a measure of respite?
“Perhaps it would be best if you reconsider your options, Neji. After all, we are family. Our only wish is to have what’s best for you,” Hiashi insisted in a patronizing tone.
“What’s best?” His words lashed out bitter and sardonic. He slapped the surface of the desk separating them hard. Leaning forward on his palms, he asked in a whisper that was heavy with recrimination, “What was all that about pines and Sakura tress? Was that all a lie, then?”
“Even you must know that when a tree breaks, it ceases to grow and, slowly but surely, even when it appears fine in the outside, it starts to die,” his uncle stated, pronouncing each word carefully in order to make sure his point crashed home.
“I refuse to accept that!” He snarled viciously, his composure breaking with that simple fact that he could not brush aside altogether. Because he’d seen it happening. Tenten –his koichii was dying and he was losing her to the past; to the enemies they had already slain!
“Neji…,” Hiashi’s tone was now loaded with pity, which wasn’t helping in recovering his cool.
But he was not about to give up! He was never ever going to give up! If he spent his entire life trying to get her back, then that was a good way to live it! Tenten deserved as much!
“No! She’s not broken. I refuse to accept that,” he insisted in a lower tone, turning around to leave the meeting, the place, the man that had only added to his piling troubles.
“Neji!” Hiashi called –pity replaced by the coldness of a leader. The older Hyuga followed him out the door, his footsteps sounding like an earthquake behind him.
Neji turned on his heels, his face contorted with anger –but below that, pain was etched in every line, “I refuse to give her up! I won’t leave her, not even for the Clan, you hear me? In this I will not be swayed like I was with my father!”
“Be careful of what you speak of, boy,” the Clan’s leader advised as a curious crowd began to gather around them.
Neji didn’t care. He’d once preached that if he had to battle his entire clan to be with her, he would do it. If today was the day to prove his intentions true, then so be it! He would do it! He would put it all on the line.
Because she was worth it. She was worth all his troubles and all his pains. She was worth all his time and all his life!
“I suggest you stay out of my affairs.” His words, appearing so calm and appeasing, were a warning, a threat in disguise.When Hiashi’s eyes turned to ice, Neji understood that what had been unvoiced had been heard.
A thick, heavy cloak of tension and excitement wrapped around the small Hyuga crowd. For Generations –for as long as the curse had existed, to be precise—no Hyuga had dared challenge the Clan’s head, save for his father before him. Be this a simple coincidence, or the hand of fate, he would now attempt the same thing his father once did… He would fight for control of his life, for the freedom to decide how and with whom to spend it with!
The time to break his chains, to open his cage and grasp his freedom was now upon him. His opportunity was here, and for Tenten and no one else, he would do it. And he would be damned if he failed. Because she was important. She was ‘the’ most important thing in his life. No, that was incorrect. She was his life. Period.
“It will appear I misjudge you,” Hiashi snapped him off the lucidness of his revelation, “For you have just shown me that you are still a child, Neji.”
Neji smirked and shook his head slowly. In a sudden bout of raw impulse, he pulled the bandages hiding his shameful mark away. It was another silent act of defiance and, by the gasping sounds that followed, it was being regarded as such.
“You are wrong, Hiashi-sama,” he began, his tone gentle now that his heart and mind had at last acknowledge what had to be done. He had to stay with her. He had to protect her. He had to ensure that they all treated her as she deserved.
Was that not what marriage was all about? Did he truly need to have their relationship written down on a piece of paper for it to be real? He had already married her. He had done so in his heart. It just took him a while to realize it, but it took nothing for him to accept it.
“A child would bow his head and meekly stand aside without putting up a fight. But I am not a child,” he straightened his back with newfound pride. It was not the arrogance of his Clan that he often confused with pride, but the pride of finally stepping out of the shadows of the past and grasping his destiny, his future with his naked hands. It was time for the child to become a man.
“Hiashi-sama, I am a man who would not be swayed by threats or lies in disguise. I will rise and fight for what’s precious to me…,” he scanned the faces around him once before finishing, “And Kami-sama help all those who stand in my way.”
It was a challenge. No, it was a confession that he was ready to get physical if given the right push.
Louder gasps rose from the crowd and whispers weaved a web of suspense around them. Some voices were filled with awe, others with fright and a few more with anger. Hiashi’s face, for his part, was a tad paler, but he still maintained his regal cloak intact.
But so did Hyuga Neji.
“You are willing to risk your life for a woman!” He exclaimed, disbelief and annoyance tainting his tone in equal amounts.
“No.” A pause filled with confusion and then, “I am willing to risk my life for ‘this’ woman. For I have stumbled upon the realization that she is my life, the sole purpose of my existence,” Neji confessed this undeniable reality with not a trace of the mortification he would have felt a month past. Never in a million years would he have believed that he would be saying something this romantic before half of the stoic members of his Clan. Sentimental displays were not a common thing to happen inside these walls, after all.
“Is she worth it, though?” Hiashi opened his arms, attempting to drill some sense in a mind that had never been clearer. “Neji, she’s broken goods. All can see this, but you!”
Anger exploded inside him. But unlike other times, this one was frigid and dangerous. He could still think, he could still control it, but it was still there; lending him power, aiding him in righting the wrong that had been made.Automatically, his knees bended, his arms parted and he took on his fighting stance, gentle fists at the ready. “You better take that back.”
Tenten was coming back to Neji’s house when a commotion in the main building sidetracked her from her destination. Curious, she approached the crowd only to realize that, at the heart of the turmoil, stood Neji and his uncle, glaring at each other.
Her heart began drumming rapidly in trepidation as she waited (amidst an eager crowd) for someone to break the silence that had descended upon the pair. Time tickled by and Neji still seemed to be absorbed in introspection as his uncle waited expectantly for his an answer to a question he may have asked, or a response to a comment he may have made.
Just as she was about to ask a nearby man what was going on, Hiashi spoke, deliberately calling Neji a child. Neji, regal and collected, retaliated with a passionate speech that was, nevertheless, sound with reason.
He was not a child anymore. He was a man, and Tenten couldn’t help the swelling of her chest when she heard him speak, no more than she could stop the tears from welling in her eyes in absolute and undeniable pride. He was breaking free and each word spoken was the sound of his golden chains being ripped apart. Her boy –no, her man was breaking free of all that had tied him down. And she felt honored to be here to see such a grand display!
Suddenly, Hiashi’s voice rose in volume and Tenten was left speechless when his words registered, “You are willing to risk your life for a woman!”
He was doing it for her?!
“No,” Neji answered and one of the tears that had glazed her eyes rolled down her cheek. Was she expecting something different? Of course he should do this for himself! Not for her, especially now that she was but a pale ghost of her former self, a spark of glory that was dimming as time passed by…
And yet when he continued, she couldn’t help the smile that stole on her face or the feeling of love that bloomed inside. Because what Neji said was, “I am willing to risk my life for ‘this’ woman. For I have stumbled upon the realization that she is my life, the sole purpose of my existence.”
But Hiashi didn’t appear inclined to acknowledge the truthfulness of his nephew’s words, or the wisdom ringing inside. Instead, he ruthlessly reminded something she could not quite contradict.
She was broken goods… so, was she really worth it? Was she worth all his troubles, all his pains and fights?
Selfishly, so very selfishly, she whispered one word. A word she never thought she would say. A word that, though undeserving, rang with the strongest and most hidden desires of her heart…
“…Yes,” it was a tenuous sound, a hush for those around, but for her it was a scream loaded with the spirit that she’d thought she’d lost.
Yes. She was worth it…
Gasps broke all around and she snapped out of her self-examination in time to see Neji falling into his gentle fist stance. The green mark of the cage bird began glowing and her heart clenched with pain.
What the hell was he doing?!
“You better take that back!” He snarled, with a tone so cold it would have quenched the fires of the netherworld.
And then, before all the present, as if fate had at last acknowledge the strength of her lover’s heart, the glowing mark that should have killed him, vanished without a trace. A smooth patch of pale skin stood in its place, clean and filled with an array of amazing possibilities.
Hiashi’s eyes widened almost out of proportion. For a while, he moved his jaw unable to articulate anything while Neji just gaze at him in confusion.
“I… I do take it back,” he said it in a whisper, but the atmosphere was so silent, that everyone managed to hear it.
Neji had become the first able to break the curse, just like he had vowed to do a long time ago. Without a word, he turned around and walked out the building without knowing the incredible deed he had accomplished.
As soon as he stepped out, a curtain of rain fell down, bathing him and making his skin glow eerily with the gift of kami-sama. He continued on, undeterred by the weather or the past events, until he was lost behind the main entrance.
A sudden pain in Tenten’s hand snapped her off her hypnotic state. Blood was streaming between her fingers, drops dripping down upon the clean floor like beads of wine. Opening her injured hand she found the mirror Ibiki had given her, the one she’d gazed upon unable to see past the victim staring back.
It seems that she had pressed it so hard, that it had broken into eight pieces. Bringing it to eye level, she gazed upon the image reflected and gasped. For the first time since she’d come back, she was able to see past the victim, to look at what had always been there!
How stupid of her! How blind of her to have been unable to see something that was so strong it pained her!
Before she knew it, she was moving, racing out the Compound after him. Her heart drummed louder, her breath became shallower, and bliss –absolute and unadultered happiness—filled the hole her past had left.
The scar was still there, yes, but the wound was no longer bleeding, no longer aching.
His name echoed in her head, like a mantra that would keep her afloat as she battled through the storm, her kimono clinging to her and threatening to send her to her knees.
But she had to find him.
She had to tell him
She ran down the almost deserted street, paying no mind to the people that followed her with their eyes, wondering why she looked so desperate. The light was slowly becoming dimmer and she felt as if she needed to find him before they were shrouded in darkness.
Perhaps because she couldn’t help but compare his hope to this light --dying by both time and neglect? How could she have abandoned him so?
And then, just when she was prepared to scream his name at the top of her lungs, she saw him. He was strolling aimlessly down the street, unconcerned about his soaking clothes in such a crisp weather.
“Neji!” She called to him, out of breath and desperate.
Tension settled on his shoulders as he slowly spun around. His face held an expression of exhaustion that shook her to the bone.
“Unless you want to tell me that I am not worthy of you, I don’t want to hear more nonsense,” he interrupted, his nature prompting him to go on the offensive for a change, given that the defensive hadn’t really helped him much until now.
His words, so calloused and yet so gentle, melted her heart. Even after all her selfishness, he still cared about her…
“I love you.”
There. She’d said it. And it felt so liberating and so… so right! Because that’s what she’d seen reflected on the mirror. She hadn’t seen herself –brand new and shiny. She had still seen the scars and the tiredness and the change. But above all that, she’d seen her expression –pain and love and pride dancing in her eyes. And suddenly there was life again. Life glinting within those hollow depths; moving and swirling fire that was coming back to life like a phoenix rising from the ashes.
Unbound. Uncontrolled. Crazy. Blissful, love.
That was what had always been there. What would always be there!
It took a while for him to either understand or accept her words, but when he did, he closed the distance between them in a blink. A smile –small at first but growing in intensity—wiped his scowl and, without hesitation, he pulled her into his arms and kissed her. Right then and there –below the rain, before the crowd, as the light still exposed them to prying looks—he kissed her passionately, tenderly, yearningly.
When he broke the kiss he said, “Good, because I’m planning on marrying you.” A proposal not quite taken from fantasy books, but it meant much more than anyone could imagine.
“Good, I plan to say yes,” she replied teasingly, feeling her old self coming back –changed but still in love with life and with the man holding her so dotingly.
She laughed when he slipped a golden ring, which he must have been holding at the ready, into her finger. It was a perfect fit, just like them.
He kissed her again for a long time. It was only when they parted and their senses spread out past the presence of each other, that they noticed the crowd that was cheering them, congratulating them on their happiness.
“They are watching,” she stated the obvious, feeling the need to make certain he was okay with this.
He smiled, “Let them.”
Just as he was leaning in to steal another kiss, she remembered what had happened back in the Hyuga compound.
“Neji!” she moved back and a sense of fright flashed inside his milky orbs. “Look!” she handed him the broken mirror, but his eyes stayed on the wound.
“What did you do?” he said taking her hand and inspecting the cut that had, thankfully, stopped bleeding.
She rolled her eyes, “Not that! This!”
Tenten pushed the mirror onto his palm. He took it with a raised eyebrow and a confused, but amused, look.
“You want me to fix this?”
She sighed and he chuckled. It was so long since they had last teased each other, that it was quite… refreshing.
Still, this matter was important, “I want you to look at yourself!”
He frowned and leveled the mirror and… he stared at his reflection for a long, silent while.
“It’s gone,” he said in awe.
She smiled, “You did it!”
He put the mirror away and pulled her into a hug again. He didn’t say anything, he didn’t do anything but hold her. Tenten knew right then and there, that they would be alright. They would always be alright, as long as they had each other.The bird and his bride were taking flight, together. And, oh man, what a sight that was…
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