disclaimer – naruto + co. belong to masashi kishimoto

dedication – to the impending doom that is school lmaooo

note – idk where i'm going with this exactly but! this chapter is more set-up/filler. neji hasn't appeared yet but he'll be here soon so. enjoy!

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Regardless of how much sleep she gets, Tenten always gets up at exactly five o'clock every single day. As she rubs the sleep from her eyes, she recalls Gai's teachings to her and Lee – "In order to be a youthful and productive individual, it is important to wake up as soon as the sun rises! Think of all the wonderful things you can do with the maximum amount of beautiful daylight! After all, the early bird catches the worm!" – and wishes for a day, just one day, where she can sleep in late and not feel bad because she's definitely earned it by now.

Unfortunately, today is not that day.

She yawns and rolls her neck slowly, then reaches out to check her phone. Scrolling through her notifications blearily, she sees that there are a few spam emails from clothing stores she subscribed to as a teenager and subsequently forgot about, updates from social media accounts that she hardly has time for, an obscene amount of texts from the group chat she has with her friends, and two individual texts – one from Lee and one from Neji.

She opens Lee's text first with the intention of ignoring Neji's for as long as possible, because she figures that if she makes an effort to avoid him, then she won't have to deal with the reality of his coming home, and plus she doesn't even want to try to deal with her mess of a group chat, so Lee is her safest option.

[4:58 A.M.]

From: Lee

To: Tenten

Good morning, dear lotus! Just a reminder that I am bringing the tea for today's yoga session so you don't need to worry! See you in a few!

Tenten smiles at Lee's early morning enthusiasm and pads over to her closet to change into a black sports bra and dark grey yoga pants. As teenagers, she, Neji, and Lee had been extremely close, and they had established a weekly tradition of five-thirty A.M. yoga and tea sessions as a way to bond outside of school, since they were always rather busy being overachievers and found it nearly impossible to meet during the week. It was a tradition they had kept even after Neji moved away.

Her phone buzzes with an incoming text as she's freshening up in the bathroom. It's a second text from Neji that she doesn't want to look at, so she puts her phone on silent and heads over to Sakura's room.

"Hey, Sak," Tenten says softly, knocking on Sakura's bedroom door. "I'm going out to yoga with Lee right now, but I'll leave coffee in the pot for you. I'll be back later."

Sakura grumbles on the other side of the door, which Tenten takes as a positive sign, so she heads into the kitchen to brew some coffee for her and Sakura. She's not ashamed to say that they have a sort of unhealthy addiction to coffee and caffeine, but it helped them get through undergrad in one piece, so why ruin a good thing?

Tenten grabs her keys and wallet and leaves through the front door. As she's locking the apartment, she hears faint barking and laughter wafting through the early morning air. There's only a handful of people in the building who would be up at this ungodly hour, and only one of them has a dog. She jogs downstairs and is immediately jumped on by Akamaru, Kiba's ever-friendly Great Pyrenees.

"Good morning, Akamaru, baby," Tenten coos, scratching the giant dog behind his ears. "Oh, you're such a cutie! Yes, you are!" He lets out a deep bark in greeting, his tongue lolling out happily.

"You're looking fine this morning," Kiba grins at her, then coughs. "I mean, what a fine morning –"

"You're a pig," she says fondly. Akamaru lands on the floor and circles her twice before plopping down beside her, his tail thumping the floor excitedly. "We still on for this weekend?"

Kiba ruffles his hair and pretends to look thoughtful. "Dinner and drinks?" His lips twitch into a smirk. "Wild horses couldn't drag me away, babe."

"Mmm, not your babe," Tenten laughs. Her phone buzzes twice in her hand, alerting her to two more texts. Her eyes flicker down as Neji's name appears on the screen. It sobers her up slightly. "I'm actually on my way to meet Lee right now, but I'll see you soon?"

His eyes are dark and inscrutable, but he sends her a teasing smile. "Sounds like a plan. Have fun, Ten." He turns to Akamaru, who is panting softly at Tenten's feet. "You ready to go, boy?" Tenten watches with a smile as Kiba heads up the stairs, Akamaru following closely at his heels.

When he's gone, she inhales deeply and stretches her arms out to ease some of the stiffness that she hadn't realized had settled during the previous night. The sight of Neji's name on her phone dampens her mood so quickly, despite the fact that she had sworn rather vehemently that she wouldn't let him affect her like this, and when her phone buzzes again she has half a mind to throw the damn thing at the wall. But she sees that it's Kiba, and, well, she's a simple girl – if she gets a text from anyone who isn't Neji, she'll answer it.

[5:16 A.M.]

From: Kiba

To: Tenten

you really do look nice today. :)

[5:17 A.M.]

From: Tenten

To: Kiba

you flatter me, dog boy.

[5:17 A.M.]

From: Kiba

To: Tenten

:)

A soft smile pulls at Tenten's lips. Talking to Kiba is always so easy, so uncomplicated. He doesn't ask anything more from her than she is willing to give, and it is for this reason that their casual arrangement works so well. Shaking her head, she breaks into a light jog down the block. At the end of the street looms the large hill that overlooks the city, where she had spent so many mornings doing yoga and drinking tea with Lee and Neji. The memories come to her slowly, in pieces of a picture that has fallen apart over time. Long dark hair, sparkling eyes, passionate discussions, the smell of tea and incense. She feels the sting of nostalgia behind her eyes and sniffs.

When she arrives at the top of the hill, her eyes look red, as if she's been crying. If Lee notices, he doesn't say anything about it, only greeting her with a spirited, "Splendid morning, is it not!" before moving into the child's pose.

Tenten wipes at her eyes, shakes out her limbs, and follows suit. They move fluidly through a short sequence of twists, stretches, and bridges before ending in a seated meditation, where Tenten takes the time to focus her breathing.

After yoga, they sit with their shoulders touching and watch the waking city below while nursing steaming cups of jasmine tea. She doesn't look at him when she says, "He called me last night." But she can feel his eyes on her.

Lee exhales, his breath mingling with the steam rising from his cup. "He's coming home."

Tenten glances at him, then sets down her cup. "Did he talk to you too?"

"Yeah. It seems like he only ever talks to us when he's coming home." Lee shrugs somberly, and his internal struggle is almost visible on his face. She recognizes it because it's the same battle she fights within herself, every single day. He's trying to let it roll off his shoulders, but it's complicated, and it's Neji, and Neji's complicated, so everything, naturally, becomes complicated. She remembers, briefly, that it wasn't like this before. Everything used to be so simple. "It's okay though. People change. Growing apart is inevitable, I guess."

"Except for us!" Tenten hooks an arm around his neck and pulls him to her, ignoring his startled yell. She rubs her knuckles against his shiny black hair. "You're stuck with me forever, you ding-dong!"

"Tenten, no, my hair!" Lee moans in mock-agony, but it morphs into delighted laughter.

They fall back into the grass, giggling madly, and for a moment everything is right in the world, and Tenten is reminded of how beautiful life was B.N. – Before Neji – back when she and Lee were just two raggedy kids against the world. A strange sense of calm washes over them as they stare up at the smooth periwinkle sky, chests heaving with remnants of contained laughter, but she can't lie to herself.

Life is infinitely more beautiful with Neji in it.

"We're gonna be okay, you know," Tenten breathes. "At least, until we aren't. But we'll be okay even then."

Lee smiles, a small and gentle thing. "I believe in our ability to overcome anything. Not just us, but Neji, too." He plucks at the grass absentmindedly, closing his eyes. "He just needs time."

A sigh. Then, "Don't we all."


When Tenten gets back to the apartment, she is immediately bombarded by the blaring sound of cheery summer pop music and the heavenly scent of eggs and bacon. Sakura is standing at the stove in a tank top and denim shorts, mouthing the words to that Santana song – or maybe it was the remix? – while shaking her ass and flipping bacon.

"Good morning, Ten!" she chirps, and she sounds remarkably less dead than she did when Tenten left the apartment, so she must be in a good mood.

Tenten moves past her and grabs a piece of bacon from the plate beside the stove. "Must be, since you actually sound happy to be awake before eight."

"Oh, y'know, just excited for this lab and lecture," Sakura says breezily, ducking her head in an attempt to hide her smile.

Tenten knows she's lying, but she doesn't have time to unpack Sakura's odd morning behavior and she still needs to shower and get ready for class, so she just says, "Mmm, sure, Sak," and heads straight to the bathroom.

Her routine is quick, and she's in and out within fifteen minutes. As she tucks her towel around her body, she realizes that she forgot to bring her clothes into the bathroom with her, so she grabs her phone and heads to her room, her wet hair dripping onto the carpet.

She is so focused on her phone that she fails to notice the person sitting on her bed.

"Um, bitch. Are you ever not looking at your phone. Honestly."

Tenten screams, dropping her phone and nearly jumping out of her towel. "Holy – what the fuck? Karin?"

The redheaded demon in question reclines further on to Tenten's bed, dramatically raising the back of her hand to her forehead. "And here I thought you missed me. Obviously I was wrong –"

Tenten jumps on her, and suddenly Sakura is on the bed with them, and they're all lively and laughing in the pale morning light of Tenten's bedroom. "Bitch," Tenten whines, flicking wet hair out of her face, "how did I not know you were coming?"

"To be honest, we were kind of banking on the fact that you never check the group chat," Karin says, cackling at the sour look on Tenten's face. "Especially early in the morning."

"I thought you'd catch her before your shower," Sakura giggles, running her fingers over the wet patches Tenten's hair had made in the sheets. "Guess not."

Karin grins, all teeth, and flings her arms out. "Well, I'm fucking back, baby! And it feels so good to be home." Her fingers brush through Sakura's hair as her gaze roams over Tenten, stopping at her chest. "Nice nipple piercing, by the way."

"Oh. Thanks," Tenten says offhandedly, tugging the towel back up over her exposed chest. "Anyway. We have class all day –"

"And we're having dinner tonight with the rest of the girls," Sakura interjects, "which you would know, if you checked the chat –"

Tenten smiles sweetly. "Why would I need to check the chat when I have you to remind me?" Sakura rolls her eyes.

Karin waves her off. "Yeah, do your thing. I'm meeting my parents for lunch and some light shopping, and then I have to shadow my dad around the office, so. Tonight will be a much-needed break." She hops off the bed and stretches her long, skinny limbs out. "But in the meantime, I'm starving and I haven't eaten since I got off the plane. So –"

"Yeah, yeah." Tenten gets up to change, shooing Sakura and Karin out of her room. She quickly pulls on a pair of jeans and a plain white tee, picks her phone up from off the floor, and pads out to the kitchen, where Sakura and Karin have settled at the counter.

Sakura hands her a plate. "So, Karin was just telling me something interesting –"

"But I think I'll save it for tonight," Karin interrupts with a smirk, her glasses glinting in the sunlight.

Tenten shrugs and digs into her omelet. "Suit yourself." Her phone, face down on the table, buzzes insistently to alert her of four more texts.

Sakura raises her eyebrows and swallows her bite of bacon. "Someone's popular this morning."

Tenten groans. "You have no idea."

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footnote – please read and review! i've been feeling more inspired lately so hopefully i'll update more quickly haha