Her hands sat clenched in her lap and her feet tapped impatiently. How could she sit still in a moment like this? Her brown eyes looked glanced up at the red light that was above the double doors. It was still lit. She reached up with her hands and wiped away the rainwater that soaked her skin. Her hands rubbed across her cheeks and rested on each side of her neck. She picked up her head and let out an exasperated sigh.
Tenten looked at her side, where Lee sat next to her faithfully. The expression upon his face wasn’t very readable. His black bowl-cut hair stuck to his face and his vest was dripping with rain. He was gripping his leotard with bandaged fists, his fingers tense. He must have felt her looking at him, because he looked over at her. His weak smile didn’t help at all.
“Do not worry Tenten. He will be fine.”
Tenten looked back at the ground. He had to be fine. It was all her fault. If only...She stopped herself. If she had said that out loud, Lee would have reprimanded her. Her eyes found the floor and watched as Gai paced back and forth. He hadn’t said anything, but he had been pacing the entire time down the hospital hallway and back. Tenten couldn’t bring herself to look up at Gai. He had yet to change out of his clothes and there was blood staining them. His blood.
“Lee...” Tenten bit her lip, “Do you really think he’ll be okay?” she asked. Tears began to wield up in her eyes.
Lee was taken back by Tenten’s show of tears, but nodded, “I am positive.”
Tenten leaned against Lee’s wet shoulder and sighed. “It’s all my fault, Lee. Why couldn’t I move? Why couldn’t-“
“Tenten, it is not your fault. Please, do not blame yourself.” Lee wrapped his arm around his teammate and squeezed her shoulder to reassure her, but all Tenten did was cry more.
Gai stopped and looked at what remained of his team. He admired Lee for keeping his cool, knowing that inside, he was just as broken as Tenten. Lee was right, it was not Tenten’s fault. Everything just happened too quickly for any correct response. Neji simply reacted the quickest way to save his teammate. Unfortantly, it was a high sacrifice for himself. Gai slipped off his vest and sat down for the first time in 2 hours. He flipped his bloodstained vest over. He couldn’t look at it.
Lee looked up and met Gai’s eyes, both looked down at the heartbroken Tenten. Nothing they could say would ease Tenten’s guilt right now. Lee shifted slightly to pull Tenten close so that she was able to cry comfortably against him.
The light shut off from above the door. Tenten was the first to spot this. She quickly got up off the bench and ran to the double doors. The nurse cut her off though from entering the doors. The nurse’s brown hair was tied back beneath her cap. The grim look upon her face made Tenten’s face sink.
“Gai-sensei? I have information on your squad member Neji Hyuuga.”
Tenten looked back as Gai got up off his bench, clutching his vest in his fist. “Yes, nurse, what is it?” Gai’s solemn tone sent uncomfortable chills down Tenten’s spine. Lee came up to Tenten’s side and gently held her shoulders, “Remember what I told you?” Lee whispered. Tenten looked at Lee, smiling weakly, but nodded.
The nurse took in a deep breath, “He was severely wounded. He is still in critical condition. If he makes it through the night, he should be in the clear, but we’ve had multiple close calls with him slipping under. My honest opinion Gai-sensei is this, say your good-byes tonight.” The nurse sighed, “I’m sorry, but it is a slim chance that he’s going to pull through.”
Lee’s hand was tighter on Tenten’s shoulders, but she was shaking uncontrollably now. Lee pulled Tenten into his chest and held her tightly. Lee’s leaf vest muffled some of Tenten’s heart-crushing sobs, but not all. Lee turned to Gai, but he couldn’t see his eyes. His black hair hung in front of his eyes, but tears were rolling down his hard angled face. Lee hugged Tenten closer, trying to keep back his own tears.
“He’s in room 234,” the nurse said before she exited through the double doors she came through.
Gai started toward the double doors. He glanced back at Lee, since he was facing Tenten’s back. Lee looked up and met his sensei’s eyes. “I’ll go up and say something to Neji, then go back to the Hokage’s. Maybe, just maybe Tsunade can help Neji.” Gai disappeared behind the double doors.
Lee looked down at his female teammate. Tenten was still nestled in his chest, her sobs slowing. “I am sorry, Tenten, I lied to you,” Lee told her. Tenten looked up, her cheeks glossy with tears, “It’s not your fault Lee, you didn’t know.” Lee’s heart sank at Tenten’s heartbroken expression. “Let’s go see Neji.”
Lee and Tenten entered the room. Gai was no where to be seen, but two chairs sat next to Neji. Neji was barely visible beneath all the machines for breathing and IVs. His pale eyes were hidden beneath his closed eyelids. Arms, legs and chest were bound in thick bandages. His chest was barely rising, but his oxygen mask allowed him to stay over the line of life and death.
Tenten’s steps faltered as she made her way to her teammate. “Neji...” his name softly graced her lips as she hesitantly reached for Neji’s hand. She placed her fingers upon the soft flesh, delicately massaging his skin. Tenten’s vivid brown eyes waited for Neji’s pale, crystal-like eyes to open and look up at her, but they didn’t. Tenten’s hand began to shake as she retracted her fingers from Neji’s frail body, “This is all my fault...” she said.
Tenten’s knees no longer had strength within them, her knees smacked the tiled floor. Lee kneeled down, hardly taking his dark eyes away from his strong teammate’s weakened frame. Lee said nothing to Tenten as he eased her up and gently into a chair. He cradled Tenten’s body until she composed herself enough to keep her torso up.
“Tenten, I think it is time that you tell me what happened on our mission,” Lee calmly said to Tenten. Tenten’s sobs stopped abruptly as she looked at Lee. Her wide doe-like eyes gazed at him with a sudden shock. “T-tell you?” her words stuttered together. She watched as Lee nodded, “Yes, tell me what happened.” Tenten drew a ragged, but deep breath. Lee gently held Tenten’s right hand and grasped it to help reassure her.
“Well you remember, we left right after we got back from the Sands, right?” Tenten watched Lee nod at her question. “Well, when we were hunting the Missing-Nin, h-he wasn’t suppose to be strong. I guess he made allies...”
Tenten ran through the forest, blood streaming down her face and legs. The smoke bomb had caused a diversion and she hadn’t been able to see her teammates, all she heard was Gai scream ‘scatter’, so she took to the tree branches, but it had been too late to escape unscathed. Tenten froze behind a tree branch, listening to her surroundings. Nothing, for now.
Wire slid across the tree branch against the bark. The thick wire constricted the branch in a matter of seconds and the branch came off with a clean cut. Tenten’s reaction was too slow for the quick movements as she fell from the tree. She landed on the branch below awkwardly, knocking the wind out of her. Panic set into her veins at her failing attempts to take a breath.
The hit weakened, but she began to take in air normally. Tenten laid on the branch, her energy had sudden drained and her chest hurt with every breath. Tenten could hear someone approaching, their body against the wind, but she just didn’t have the energy to move.
‘Tenten...” his words were breathless. Tenten turned her head, to meet her teammate’s pale eyes. Neji looked up her worried as he gently wrapped his arms around her body to sit her up against the tree’s trunk. “Neji...” Tenten whispered, “I’m sorry, I slow everyone down and I always get in trouble...”
Neji shook his head, “Don’t speak...” he whispered as he turned to look over his shoulder. Tenten tried to slow her ragged, raspy breaths to make them quieter. She watched Neji’s face. The crinkles along the corners of his eyes were more than visible as he searched the surroundings with his Byakugan.
“We’re safe for now,” he whispered, the crinkles along his eyes smoothed out into the pale skin. Tenten’s doe-like eyes watched as Neji’s callused hands reached for her gently, examining the wounds she had retained. His hands were especially gentle as he brushed her brown strands away from the deep wound on her forehead. She watched as he reached into a bag on his side and pulled out a jar. Twisting the cap off in a swift motion, Neji dipped his index finger into the green cream and rubbed it into Tenten’s wound. Air hissed passed her teeth as she bit back the pain.
“Just deal with it for a second,” Neji said calmly as he retracted his hand. Tenten nodded and watched Neji lean in towards her side. “What did they cut you with?” Neji asked as his fingers prodded the clean swipe. “I don’t know, it just hurt like hell...” Tenten muttered. Neji placed some of the cream on the wound as well and helped Tenten to her feet.
“We have to move...” Neji muttered. His hand wrapped around Tenten’s back. His hand cupped her hip gently as he whisked her off of the branch and moved ahead. “We have to find Lee and Gai-sensei...” Tenten muttered. “I know, but we have to get out of the enemy’s range for now...” Neji said. Tenten didn’t argue and was happy for the help from her teammate.
Tenten leaned against a tree, her eyes closing uneasily. Night had settled in around the forest and Neji and Tenten had yet to meet up with the rest of their squad. Neji sat near Tenten, his pale eyes bright and alert as he looked around the trees. “Neji...” Tenten whispered.
Moonlight highlighted the curves of Tenten’s face as Neji looked her in the eyes. “What is it?” he asked. Noises from wildlife and the wind made branches creak and leaves and twigs snap. “I-...” Tenten started, but only found herself curling up closer to Neji from the fear of someone getting a hold of them. “Don’t worry, I’ll protect you,” Neji said, as he reached down and grabbed her hand, holding it tightly.
Kunai cut across the wind and embedded into the bark of the tree. Neji pulled Tenten close to his body as he dodged the knives. He nestled into the brush a couple feet away and settled Tenten safely in hiding. Neji turned to leave, but was pulled back. Tenten grasped his sleeve tightly in her fist, “No...Neji, don’t...” she whispered.
Neji turned to face Tenten, “Don’t worry, I’ll be back.” He gave her a reassuring smile and slipped from her grasp.
Tenten watched as he disappeared into the night. She listened carefully; the clash of metal, footsteps, anything, but what she did hear.
“I have you.”
Tenten’s eyes widen as the ninja came at her. She quickly reached for her pouch, but the seconds were too close. She closed her eyes, awaiting for her quick death. There was no pain, though, no impact. Just the sickening sound of flesh tearing and a thick liquid splattering against the grass. Tenten’s eyes opened to see her wounded comrade hit the ground with a horrid thud. Tenten’s shrill scream echoed and caused birds to fly from the treetops.
Lee looked at his wounded comrades, both Neji physically and Tenten mentally. He held Tenten close to him as she sobbed uncontrollably. There were no words to console his broken-hearted teammate, except for the one who she was so bonded too. Lee clutched Tenten tighter.
He enjoyed having Tenten by his side, as a teammate, as a friend. He wanted a deeper relationship than that with Tenten. Sakura would always be his first love, but she had always seen Sasuke in that manner. But it seemed, he was too late for Tenten as well.
Lee looked over at his teammate and rival. He had won once again.
Pale eyes began to open as his rough voice carried through the stifled air, “Lee, tell Tenten to stop crying...” Tenten’s sobs halted as she got up out of Lees arms and leaned over the hospital bed.
Her hand gently ran along his cheek, her brown eyes filled with happy tears this time, “You’re okay...” she whispered. “I-I thought you had...”
“I’m not dead, Tenten. You worry too much...” Neji whispered. Tenten leaned down and kissed Neji on the forehead, “How can I not worry about you?”
Lee watched this exchange. The old Neji would have glared at her, hell the old Neji wouldn’t have let Tenten get that close, but now, he knew. The more passionate Neji was more aware of Tenten’s feelings for him and it seemed he was ready to return them. Lee watched as Neji reached over and took hold of Tenten’s hand and held it gently.
Lee smiled, “It just wasn’t meant to be, between me and Tenten, but her and Neji...” he thought. He turned to walk out the door, “I’ll go inform Gai-sensei that you are well Neji. I will be back in an hour to walk you home, Tenten.” he turned away to feel a body collide with his.
He looked down to see his female teammate, looking up at him, “Thank so much Lee for being by my side,” Tenten whispered. Lee smiled, “Same to you, Tenten, same to you...”