[r]ating: ESRB Rating of T for Teen
[t]heme: ten for ten #6: we might as well be strangers
[p]airing: twisted NejiTen
[s]ummary: They are strangers now. That thought leaves a foul taste in his mouth.
[n]otes: Set in the same universe as this.
ANBU. She's in ANBU, and he isn't, and he never even knew she was considering joining.
That thought is a foul taste in his mouth.
No matter what he does, he can't seem to get rid of it.
He never says anything on the matter, though. He's a Hyuuga. His pride would never allow it.
Their practise field is a jumble of weeds. Tall grass, short grass, wild onions and flowering weeds. Everywhere he looks, he sees green.
Not a bare patch of soil in sight.
All the times they practised. Every sparring match. Every footstep, every misstep, every attack or block or parry... It's all gone. Not a single speck of dirt remains to display their tracks.
How could so many years of his life vanish so easily?
It rings hollow in his chest.
He sits down by a clump of grass. The distinctive stalks of onion sway in a gentle breeze. His eyes roll to the right-most corners of their sockets. He stares at the offending plant for a moment.
When the moment is over, he grabs the blades of green. He doesn't say anything, just grips the offending plant. With a vicious jerk of his arm, he uproots it. His nose wrinkles at the onion smell.
The root and leaves of the plant land several metres away with a soft sound. It's too late.
A faint savour of onion joins the taste in his mouth.
Neji slides backward, legs bent at the knee. He travels easily along the hard-wood floors. He hears a few faint sounds from the wood and knows that his movements have scuffed the floor. He doesn't care; like as not, he'll be the one cleaning it anyway. They have a rotation.
Sometimes (translation: when he is more absentminded than usual), Lee makes a mistake drawing up the shift charts. He'll forget that Tenten has left their team-- how he forgets, Neji will never know, but he somehow does-- and list her where she used to go in the rotation. Just after Neji, and right before Lee. Dead centre of the rotation, just like she was dead centre of everything else.
Well, now dead centre is dead. When they make the mistake, they never re-draw the charts. They just fill in for her. In rotation.
Even the rotation has a rotation.
He looks briefly at the chart. They made the mistake on this one. Lee wrote her name in bold katakana. Easy to read from any distance.
Her absence hurts so much, in that one instant, that he briefly wonders if Lee does it on purpose. It's like Gai's stomach punch all over again. The perfect revenge for the way he treated Lee all those years.
"Neji?" Gai asks. He takes one step closer, head tilted to listen to him.
He isn't listening for Neji's words. If Neji's having a problem, he'll snap his fingers once. It's a warning: don't do that again. The next time Gai manages to nearly hurt him, he'll snap twice. If he snaps three times, the match ends with no winner.
The foul taste in his mouth begins to burn, like bile. It's almost as if Gai punched him hard enough to make him throw up, but he knows he didn't. He feels no accompanying nausea.
Neji doesn't snap.
Instead, he nods and assumes a 'ready' position. With a jerk of his head, he tells Gai he's still in. Knock me dead, he says.
It doesn't take a genius or the Byakugan to recognise Tenten, even with her ANBU uniform. She looks almost exactly the same, just in an ANBU uniform. She still wears her hair in buns. The clothing is tighter, and black, but the shirt's style remains the same, and the leggings stop just where her pants used to.
There is a difference. In his opinion, it's the most important diference. All the circles and roundness have become straight lines and hard angles. She moves in a straight, incisive line. Precise. All the roundness that so appealed to the Hyuuga in him-- the circuitous movements, the curves, the tendency to spin-- has vanished.
The lines hurt to see. She was so beautiful. So close to perfect. And now she's worse than she was when they first met, because she won't learn anymore. He cannot repair this damage.
He passes her, nods. It's a casual greeting, the Hyuuga equivalent of an absentminded wave.
She nods back. It is an ingrained reaction with no personal meaning. If he had waved, she would have returned the gesture, never caring that Hyuuga don't wave.
They know each other inside and out. They worked together for years. They influenced each other. They bonded.
They mean nothing to each other now.
They do not exchange a single word.
The taste of salt in his throat is sudden, but not entirely unexpected.
In the end, he resigns himself to the fact that they are strangers. They do not know each other anymore. She is in ANBU. If he ever joins ANBU, they will stay separate.
Sometimes, though, he dreams of curves. Tanned skin, smiling brown eyes, the half-moons of hair buns. Flashes of steel, of cream silk with white embroidery, of pink cotton and burgundy trim and a dress that, in his dreams, makes his mouth water.
He always wakes up. The glass of water he keeps by his bed does not dispel the taste in his mouth.