Of Hot Springs and Fated Meetings
A/N: Initially drafted this on Tumblr before deciding to polish and expand this a bit for this site. Enjoy!
There weren't many things that could unnerve Tenten, the Weapons Expert of Konoha.
And one of those very few exceptions was seeing her sparring partner for nearly half a decade standing in the same bath with her, wearing nothing but his perpetual frown.
The steam coming from the hot springs served as the faintest of covers, but the silhouettes were enough to suggestively detail every nook and cranny of Hyuuga Neji's well-built, bare-naked form.
As she was the one who saw him first, the kunoichi realized that she was morally obliged to dart her gaze away from him and scamper towards the pile of rocks to conceal her own nakedness.
But lo and behold, her muscles wouldn't cooperate. She remained anchored to where she stood until Neji's eyes finally met hers in surprise.
"H-Hi," she croaked, saluting awkwardly at him.
At this point, normal people would have dashed back to the changing room to fetch a towel. However, Neji was anything but normal.
"Why are you here?" he asked instead, prioritizing the need to understand the situation at hand. Intel over instinct.
"Um, Lee recommended this hot spring bath so my injuries can heal faster."
His eyes grew alert. "Injuries? Let me see." He started to walk towards her, causing her to wave both hands at him in panic to make him stop.
"I-I'm fine! Don't come here!" She sank herself lower in the water until it reached her chin. Bubbles sprouted at the water as she let out an exhausted grunt.
He finally acknowledged the situation they were in. Turning his back on her respectfully (or perhaps sorrowfully, given her dismal lack of curves and assets), he spoke, "I'll wait for you outside."
She felt a pang of guilt at hearing that. "No, no, I was about to get out of the water anyway. You can stay. I'll be the one to leave."
He slightly turned towards her, seemingly hesitant at her words.
Is he upset about me seeing him in his birthday suit? She flashed him her most reassuring smile. "Don't worry, Neji! I saw nothing! Nothing at all! Not even a tiny speck!."
The male took a quick glance at his lower body and suddenly became even gloomier.
Crap! "Come into the water, Neji. The temperature's great!" she cajoled, smoothing his ruffled feathers. "I'm just about done anyway."
"Very well then, if you will excuse me…" In one graceful and swift motion, Neji entered the bath. In an instant, her body tensed up, despite her promise to herself to stay nonchalant so they could both save face.
The gentleman he was, the Hyuuga ensured he kept a respectful distance away from her. But there was no escaping the fact that they were a man and a woman all alone in a bath and in full, naked glory.
She could feel her cheeks burning as she awkwardly made her way to the edge of the pool, where towels were usually placed.
Oh, shoot. She started to sweat nervously when she realized her dilemma.
As expected of her longtime partner, Neji promptly sensed her troubled mood. "Is something the matter, Tenten?"
"U-Um, well, my towel isn't here…"
His brows furrowed. "A thief?" He immediately activated his Byakugan as he scanned his surroundings.
"No, no, NO! Don't use your Byakugan, geez!" She dashed towards him, sending splashes of water left and right. "It's NOT a thief! It was my fault!" she cried, frantically grabbing him by the left shoulder.
To her relief, the veins around his eyes immediately disappeared. As Lee once casually remarked, Neji's requisite obedience to his clan could only be rivaled by his unusual docility towards her.
"N-No, it should be me saying that. I… I overreacted." Tenten knew that his vision would only show her chakra pathways, but that didn't stop her from feeling mortified all the same. "See, it was drizzling earlier when I arrived, and the bath had no roof. That's why I left all my things in my locker—"
"Maybe I should leave after all." His voice was uncharacteristically gruffer than usual.
"Oh come on, stop being stubborn about this, Neji," she groaned, rolling her eyes. "Just tell me which angle your blind spot is, and I'll tread that path."
"I think the heat has gotten to me."
Her eyes narrowed at him. "What are you talking about, Neji? You just got here! Why would you…" The rest of her words trailed off when she felt his hand come up the side of her face.
N-Neji… Her heart pounded as she felt the surprising tentativeness of his touch.
She was a woman, and he was a man. Her hand was still on his damp shoulder, and his palm was on her cheek. Their faces were separated by the smallest of movements.
This was proven by how the gap vanished in the blink of an eye when Neji wordlessly bent down towards her.
... and landed squarely on her chest, completely passed out.
Tenten, now fully dressed, was conscientiously fanning Neji's face when the latter finally stirred from his sleep. He tried to sit up, but his movement caused his yukata to nearly come undone. He immediately lay back down and proceeded to redo her clumsy knot.
"S-Sorry!" she stammered apologetically. "I was in a bit of a hurry when I put that on you awhile ago." Noticing the small beads of perspiration forming on his face, she quickly resumed waving her paper fan at him.
"Don't." He gently eased her fan-wielding hand down. "Let your wrists rest, or the bath would have been all for naught."
Her eyebrow shot up in amazement. "I didn't even tell you where my injury was!"
"Earlier, I noticed that your grip on my shoulder was too weak."
She had to smile at how keen her teammate's observation skills were. "Great deduction, Detective-san! But you're still a wuss for fainting in a hot spring."
"Indeed. That was terribly uncool of me." He gazed up at her, his pale eyes pleasantly roaming on her face. "Thank you for helping me out of the bath, Tenten."
"You hopeless dork." She tried to conceal her sudden stab of self-consciousness by playfully clicking her tongue in mock disappointment. "How can you call yourself a real Japanese man when you can't even handle a little heat from the spring, hmm?"
"It wasn't the heat from the bath that I was having trouble with, Tenten," he plainly countered.
"OHOHOHOHO!" The kunoichi smacked his head with the paper fan. "You really should get some more rest, Neji. LOTS more! You're saying a bunch of things that people can easily misunderstand, you know?"
"GO. TO. SLEEP. NOW."
"Very well," agreed Neji, quite amiably. It was a tone he allowed himself to use only when around her. She merited nothing less— in this world, he considered her to be his truest equal.
(That she had a smile that could light up the room every time he agreed to go with her machinations didn't hurt, either.)
Tenten, meanwhile, watched in satisfaction as her partner shut his eyes tight and unfurrowed his brows. Losing his guarded expression made him look so much younger… gentler.
Yet truth to be told, she hoped that this side of the prodigious Hyuuga Neji — a face that only she knew— was something she could selfishly keep to herself for a few years more.
"So your wrists are all better now?" asked Rock Lee when their three-man team met up in the outskirts of the famed Shikkotsu forest.
Tenten nodded cheerfully. "You bet! I'm ready to make it rain down blades and explosive tags on you two today!"
"Heh." Neji eyed her sideways, a challenging glint in his eye. "If you're that fired up, then you'd better penetrate my Revolving Heaven barrier at least once, Tenten."
She smirked. "Be careful what you wish for, clan genius. I might just make you bleed!"
Lee's eyes went back and forth his teammates before he let out a whoop of joy. "This is AWESOME! If I didn't know you guys better, I would have thought you were flirting shamelessly in front of me and that you had reduced me to being a third wheel. Clearly, the Springtime of Youth has come for us!"
"NO, IT HASN'T!" Clearly, hearing Lee and Gai's trademark line had triggered the less excitable half of Team Gai.
Lee stroke his chin thoughtfully. "Come to think of it, your chance meeting at the hot springs yesterday must have awakened the sleeping passion in your hearts, huh?"
His friends looked away, suddenly determined not to make eye contact with their spandex-wearing teammate.
He slapped his fist on his hand. "OH, I KNOW! Neji-kun, let's set up our own bathtime meeting of fate, too!"
"Call me when you're done, boys." Tenten settled down by the treetop to watch idly, just as a flurry of furious palm strikes came down poor Lee's way.
Team Gai's training for the day has unofficially begun.