Title: Lie, Cry, Deny
Summary: Everybody else knows what Tenten doesn't.
Characters: Tenten, Rookie 9
Pairing: NejiTen
Mood Music: Evans Blue - Kiss the Flag
Disclaimer: Naruto, not mine since 1999.
Author's Note: This was supposed to be shorter. But I forgive myself because it's NejiTen.

Funerals, Tenten thinks, are the bane of her existence.

It's a windy spring day, the day they bury Neji. Wild daisies bloom between the headstones, bringing life to the land of the dead. The sky is a perfect blue, threaded with whispy clouds. The breeze is enough to rustle clothing, but not enough to chill.

It would have been better spent training.

A tremendous crowd gathers for the fallen scion of the Hyuuga clan, the family itself gathered in solidarity to the side of the freshly-carved grave marker. The rookie nine and Team Gai claim the remaining spots of honor in front of the stone, fanning out in an arc.

The speeches begin.

Hyuuga Hiashi begins with a moving tribute about the man he was honored to call a son. The loss is devastating to their family, he says, but they are fiercly proud of his courageous sacrifice. Even the moist stoic of the Hyuuga has tears in their eyes.

Tenten thinks it's bullshit.

This is the same clan that thinks it's acceptable to practically enslave their "lesser" members simply by virtue of the order of their birth. Branding their children with a seal used to control and torture them is standard practice, and Tenten refuses to forgive them for what they did to Neji, even if he could.

She's never claimed to be the bigger person.

Gai speaks next, his wheelchair doing nothing to confine the crocodile tears rolling down his face or the passion cracking his voice. Even though the eulogy is full of his usual inanities about youth, it's sincere, and touches Tenten in a way that Hiashi's never could.

The accolades continue.

Both Hinata and Naruto speak, though neither one makes it through without crying. Hinata smiles through her tears, remembering her cousin with the fondness of a sister, despite what what he'd done to her when they were younger. Naruto's grief overwhelms him, and he is unable to continue.

Everybody's saying goodbye, and Tenten doesn't see the point.

It's not like Neji is here. He was never here, in this hole in the ground, even if his body is. If Tenten believed in spirits, and she's not saying she does, Neji would most certainly not be here. He would be at the training grounds, where he always was. Probably practicing his kata, even in death. Or maybe meditating in the gardens behind the Hyuuga estate.

At least nobody asked her to make a speech. That would be even more unbearable.

Tenten breathes a sigh of relief when it's over.

The tension she's been gathering in her chest finally eases and she can breathe without suffocating. She walks away from the grave without turning back. Her gait is steady as she walks past the other dead-but-not-forgotten, seeking the freedom of solitude.


Cursing, her personal vow not to look back in ruins, Tenten does an about-face to find herself in the company of a tear-stained Sakura and Ino. They're looking at her with something terribly close to pity, and it almost causes her to turn her back and walk away. She doesn't need anybody to feel sorry for her.

"I am so sorry, Tenten, this must be so hard for you. He was such a good man, and you guys were so good together."

Sakura pulls her into an unwilling hug, and Tenten is subjected to having her back patted gently. Seconds later, Ino puts her arms around both of them and sobs loudly.

"You guys were beautiful, this is such a tragedy. You would have had the most beautiful babies," Ino wails. She pulls away sharply, glancing at Tenten in alarm. "Hold the phone, you're not pregnant are you?! Ohmigod, that would be horrible. Not that you're pregnant, I mean, but that Neji's not here to-"

"I'm not pregnant," Tenten informs her hotly. Ino looks disappointed for a moment, but then perks up again. "Well, maybe you are and you're just too early too show." Before Tenten can even refute the idea that she was even sleeping with Neji, Ino has fluttered off to comfort Hinata.

Sakura smiles at her sheepishly. "We're here for you if you need us, Tenten. Nobody should be alone after losing their boyfriend."

Again, before Tenten can even get a word of denial out, Sakura has moved on.

Huffing, the weapons expert resumes her efforts to leave the cemetary. If these people want want to cry and hug and mourn Neji, whentheydidntevenknowhimlikeshedid, then that's just fine. She doesn't want to talk about Neji, not now, and maybe not ever.

Unfortunately, the universe doesn't seem to care.

"Hey, Tenten." Blocking her path are Shikamaru and Chouji, both looking exceedingly somber. Tenten sighs and returns the greeting. Shikamaru shifts uncomfortably for a minute, before pulling a cigarette out of his pocket and lighting up.

After a minute he speaks, looking at the ground, "Neji was a good guy. A really good guy. And you guys..." he takes a drag off of his cigarette, "man, I thought you were gonna make it. What you guys had was...yeah. Listen, I know that losing my sensei isn't like losing Neji is to you, but I know what it feels like. So, if you need someone to let it out to, I'd get it."

He shrugs and walks away, his shoulders weighed down by the loss of another comrade. Chouji nods somberly at her before turning to follow his teammate. "You guys looked good together," he calls over his shoulder.

On the inside, Tenten is fuming. Why does everybody assume that just because they were teammates and friends that they were lovers? Just because she wishes-

She stops that thought right there. There's no point.

But before she can make her escape, there's a tap on her shoulder. Her willowy frame is pulled into an ungainly one-armed embrace that smells an awful lot like dog, and in fact belongs to Kiba. He offers her a rueful grin, awkward around grief. "Hey girl, I'm sorry about Neji." He shakes his head.

"It should have been you guys. If anybody, it should have been you guys."

Tenten angrily stomps up the stares to her apartment, tripping in her black yukata. She misses her pants almost as much as she misses Neji. She halts on the last step. Her best friend is dead and in the ground, and she's making stupid comparisons like that. She's disgusted with herself.

Inside, she throws her shoes against the wall and sags onto the couch. Her only companions are the blankness of the walls and the ticking of the clock. Fitting, as she doesn't want to think. But, as time has clearly shown, Tenten doesn't get what she wants.

She pictures Neji's face, with his strong jawline, straight nose, and the often harsh line of his mouth. His eyes, which had once held disdain for everyone who wasn't as strong as him, but at last learned kindness. Her fingers tear into the seat cushions.

They were just friends. It's totally acceptable to miss him as much as she does, as just a friend.

She tells herself this over and over, blinking rapidly and throat muscles strained from the force of her jaw clenching. Just because literally everybody else saw something there, doesn't mean there was. Just because everybody else saw it and she didn't, didn't mean she was the one who had it wrong.

Just because they kissed one time at the summer festival and it was the most alive she'd ever felt, didn't mean-

It takes Tenten a moment to realize that the inhuman cries are coming from her own mouth. She doubles over against her knees, every muscle in her body straining and aching with the force of trying to contain her grief inside. She bites her fist and draws blood. Her sobs don't stop.

She refuses to cry, even as the hot tears slide down her cheeks. Neji would never appreciate this show of weakness. But Neji isn't here, damn him, he's not here to motivate her to pick herself up and shrug it off. So she cries to spite him. If he wanted her to be strong, then he should have been here to tell her so himself.

Stupid boy. Stupid, stupid boy. Didn't he know that he was too valuable to throw himself away? Didn't he know that he was too precious for her to lose?

Didn't he know that she loved him too much?