Hi! So this is my first ever NejiTen fic, so I apologise for OOC-ness and terrible writing and being just really awful in general. XD It is Christmas themed, and no - it's not because I'm behind in life. It's because we had a Christmas Challenge in a forum, and the final date just kept extending because no one finished. XD So, yeah! Check the forum out, because it's a nice place. Synchron Cortex is its name, or just PM me for the link. :D We will make competitions more regular (hopefully), so do join in on the fun!

I shouldn't be here.

This is a very, very bad idea.

With the silky grass stiffening into sharp needles as my feet tread on them, it seemed as if nature was telling me that I should get my ass far away from Neji Hyūga's house. Each step that brought me closer to the gaping front door was just another reckless action that would bring me closer to my death-bed.

Despite this, I powered on.

Why did I power on? I wish I knew. Maybe part of it was out of spite, to send Ino's jaw dropping to the ground. Part of it was because of the sympathy that lingered inside of me from the start of December, dampening my mood like a wet blanket.

But most of it, as much as I hated to admit it, was because of that churning sensation in my stomach that tumbled like some screwed up washing machine every time I thought about him.

You know how people always compare that feeling to having butterflies in your stomach? They're completely right.

Except the butterflies don't flutter around mellifluously or dance elegantly in your stomach. They don't have silken wings that gently brush up against the walls of your bowels.

Nope.

When you have butterflies in your stomach, they are cannibalistic little beasts that chew at your rubbery organs until you are driven mad.

Or, at least, those were the butterflies rampaging around my stomach as I reached Neji's door.

I couldn't see much through his window, for his lights seemed to be switched off. No surprise there. I always knew that Neji was the type to brood in darkness.

But did I really want to knock on that door? What if the darkness within the Hyūga household consumed me? What if-

"Who's there?"

I hadn't even uttered a sound, and yet he knew someone was outside his door.

Damn him and his enhanced ninja hearing.

Damn Ino and her conceited and tantalising jokes.

Damn me and my cannibalistic butterflies.

This was a bad idea.

"Do you have any plans for Christmas, Ino?"

Ino had organised a little gathering for all her 'girlfriends' the day before Christmas. She had said that it was because she wanted to spend time with her best buddies during the festive season, but we all knew that she just wanted to get some gifts from each of us.

Nevertheless, I did come (with a gift for her to save myself from the wrath), and so did Hinata.

Ino smiled gingerly. "I'll be going to a reptile museum with Shikamaru."

I nearly spat out my drink. Hinata reacted similarly, politely chuckling behind their hands.

Only Ino would think that it was sexy to make-out in front of a bunch of reptiles.

"That's oddly specific," I muttered under my breath, rolling my eyes.

Ino turned to give me a hard look. It wasn't a glare – not quite. But there was something malicious about that grin, her eyes glinting with mischief. She certainly had a challenge in mind, and not a pleasant one.

She regained her lady-like posture, and innocently began studying her nails. "Well, reptiles aren't that bad. It could be worse."

"Really? How?"

"I could be sulking at home, daydreaming about a brooding bad-boy. I could be writing fantasies about him, imagining his ever so soft lips against mine; the rough callouses of his hand rubbing against my bare skin-"

I didn't need a name to know exactly who she was talking about.

"Ino," I hissed. "Shut. Up."

"Come on, Tenten! Don't be a coward. Just ask him on a date! It's not that hard!"

"He is not interested in me and you and I both know that."

"That's stupid. Last week, he literally told you that he doesn't hate you."

"It's obviously some sort of reverse-reverse-psychological triple bluff." I stood up from the table, ready to get the hell out of there.

"Come on, Tenten. You don't have to be ashamed; just because the rest of us don't like him-"

Just as I was about to snap, Hinata beat me to it. "Shut up!"

We both stared at Hinata, who was always so soft-spoken and would stumble over her sentence if she had to call someone stupid. Even Ino had the decency to keep her mouth shut and bow her head down guiltily.

"Neji can be… intimidating. But that doesn't mean that he likes being lonely! For all we know, he might actually want someone to celebrate Christmas with."

Now it was my turn to stare down at my feet, shame flushing my cheeks.

Hinata wasn't done, though.

"And you know what? It's also incredibly rude to force someone else into spending time with him when they clearly don't want to. If you want someone to spend time with him, Ino, why don't you do it yourself?"

Ino and I glanced at each other nervously. It was rude to force someone to spend time with him, but at the same time, I did want to spend time with him. Ino hadn't been completely wrong about that.

Hinata turned and stormed out of the restaurant, whilst Ino and I hung back, our nervous stare-down becoming more and more accusing as the seconds ticked by.

Finally, I gave in.

"I guess I probably should go and wish Neji a Merry Christmas tomorrow."

Ino squealed, an ear-piercing shriek that almost made me take back the words I had just uttered. She embraced me tightly enough to knock the air out of me, and whispered mockingly into my ear.

"Before you visit him, you should know that prolonged exposure to Neji may lead to nausea, headaches, depression and thoughts of suicide."

It took every ounce of self-control to not fist her in the face.

"Tenten? What are you doing here?"

Oh, shit. He hadn't even opened the damned door and he knew it was me. I was praying that he would keep the door shut. Maybe I could just wish him a Merry Christmas with the thin rectangle of wood serving as a barricade between us.

"I just wanted to see you."

As soon as I said it, I began mentally scolding myself. Dammit! Idiot! Why didn't you just say 'Merry Christmas' and run for the hills? Now you have to elaborate. Stupid, stupid, stupid!

"What do you want from me?"

He literally trained with me every single day, and yet my presence made him sceptical.

He was probably expecting a drug-dealer or something-

"Tenten? Did you hear me? What do you want?"

Your head. On a pike.

Though I couldn't see him, I could feel him scowling at my silence. "Are you stalking me?"

Yes. No. Maybe.

I finally decided to speak up before he could accuse me further.

"Yeah, I'm stalking you. I can't get enough of that knock-off cologne."

I hadn't meant to say that, but nevertheless, I heard a faint chuckle on the opposite side of the door.

Huh. That was unusual.

Before I had the chance to ask him whether he was actually laughing, I heard the shrill creak of the door sliding open. This was my last chance to make a run for it before I was face to face with-

Whoa.

As the door slid aside, my eyes greedily absorbed the sight of Neji. Unlike my many fantasies (okay, so Ino was sort of right), he looked awful.

A scowl was plastered across his face, his eyes squinting at the sunlight that pierced through the dark interior of his home. Taking a final glance at his rumpled clothes, I realised that I had woken him up.

I knew Neji well enough to know that he did not like being woken up without a good reason.

And, God help me, my reason was shit.

I decided to sidle myself away from death by distracting him from the purpose of my visit. I just needed to talk about anything except for the purpose of my visit. Easy, right?

I smiled loosely. "You look like crap, by the way."

"Thanks for breaking it to me lightly."

I endured the subsequent awkward silence as graciously as I could.

And by gracious, I mean that I stared down at my feet in an attempt to hide away my humiliation.

Neji peered over my shoulder, before arching his eyebrow pointedly. "You're the only girl here? I thought you girls travelled around in your packs. Where's the rest of your herd?"

"We are not a herd," I scoffed.

"It's an expression."

"Yeah. An expression used for cows."

"Girls and cows. It's hard to tell the difference, these days." I watched, mortified, as the corner of his lip tugged up. Neji was making a joke. The world must be coming to an end.

I didn't even care that he basically called me, as well as the rest of my friends, a cow.

Since when did Neji crack a joke?

"Look, Tenten, if you don't mind, I think you should return to the rest of your herd. I want to get some sleep."

"You're a finicky little bastard. You know that, right?"

"Then why are you here?"

I huffed dramatically. "I just wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas from me and the rest of my herd."

He was silent. No surprise there.

"How come the rest of your herd didn't come?"

Seriously? I stepped out of my way to wish him a Merry Christmas and all he wants to know is why he didn't have more people come to present him with the same festive greeting? Selfish little twat.

"Listen, I'm going to say this as delicately as I can. Everyone hates you."

He arched an eyebrow curiously. "That was the delicate way?" There wasn't even a flicker of hurt or surprise. He just accepted it, his features bored and rigid.

Of course I had to find myself drawn to this bland and pathetic ninja. Why couldn't I fall for someone zesty, like Naruto or Lee? I just had to be in love with some brooding bastard who was the broodiest and moodiest of them all.

"Then why did you come, if everyone hates me?"

Fidgeting with my fingers, I mumbled, "I don't hate you."

"W-"

"Look, I came to ask you whether you wanted to go for a walk. I didn't ask for a god-dammed interrogation!"

"You should have just said so."

With that, he slammed the door shut.

I glared hard at his door, before firmly knocking on it.

"Neji! Get your ass out here!"

No one slams a door on my face. Especially not on Christmas, when I had mustered every bit of courage to wish him a bloody-

The door flew open, and there he was, dressed in his usual, ninja attire.

Oh. He had gone back inside to get dressed. Of course he wouldn't go out for a walk in his creased nightwear.

"You need a chill pill, Tenten," he mused, closing the door behind him.

"If anyone needs a chill pill, it's you. So you can choke on it. Bastard."

Somehow, that made his smirk stretch into a broad grin.


We walked in pace with each other, mostly in silence. It was a comfortable silence, where we both took time to observe the beauty of Christmas.

No one was alone on Christmas. Or, at least, no one should ever be alone. Even if someone took Christmas as a period to mourn, they should at least have the comfort of someone beside them, a warm embrace to remind them of how much more they have left.

And glancing around us, everyone seemed to understand this. Strangers swallowed the foreign feeling of each other to offer a helping hand when decorating their homes, children were offering gifts to those they once envied and couples were setting aside their disputes to enjoy the holiday.

Unconsciously, Neji and I were walking towards our training grounds. Strolling through the woods where we built most of our memories and friendship, we softly reminded ourselves of our past experiences. I had never seen Neji speak so much before, and it was amazing seeing his cheek-bones rise and his eyes lighten up when he began to speak passionately.

We finally reached my favourite tree, where we practised aim; the place where he served me hell every morning for not being quick or witty or strong enough.

Neji suddenly whirled around to face me.

"Tenten, why did you want to waste your time with me on Christmas?"

"I would hardly call it a waste."

We glared at each other, waiting for someone's pride to snap.

I'd already sacrificed my pride multiple times today for him, and yet he still expected me to give in.

But, for a second, I had to wonder: why did I bring him here? I had been offered to spend time third-wheeling with Ino and her reptiles. And even if I didn't want to do that, I could have stayed home and napped.

Yet, I came to him. The jerk that broods in misery.

Why did I want to spend time with Neji?

Because misery loves company.

"Well?"

"Because, Neji freaking Hyūga, I love you."

He didn't passionately pull me up against him and kiss me. He didn't even respond for the first few moments. He didn't find a loose strand of my hair to pin back romantically, and nor did he whisper back his requited love for me.

But he did flick me ever so softly on my forehead.

And then he smiled, and though he tried to hide it, I could see the faint autumn blush spotting his cheeks before he enveloped me into a hug.

And, for now, that was enough.