the one where it all began

It begins, one would say, in a small ramen-house in the middle of Konoha.

The time is Spring, during which Tenten finds herself walking out of her workplace and onto sunlit streets. She purchases a green tea smoothie on her way to her friends' meeting point, beaming up at the sunshine that's peeking through sweeping skyscrapers. Her work is largely confined to the kitchen of Yakiniku Q, where she's been steadily working her way up from waitress to sous-chef over the course of four years. She likes to think that she's a hard worker with a good head on her shoulders and an expansive knowledge of the culinary arts.

By day, Tenten is an aspiring chef. By night, she specialises in the complexities of kitchen knives.

And, on the plus side, she's having dinner with this cute guy from work named Juugo, the 'Meat Guy'. He's timid and speaks softly, even though he's about as brawny as a wrestler from the heavy-duty work he does with meat. Despite the fact that they've only ever communicated in short bursts of time, and she's never really seen him without meat, Tenten likes that he's at least a hard-working person at work.

The only real issue lies behind the doors of Ichiraku's, and on the cozy little couch formation in the corner that's permanently reserved for a group of five.

"Tenten!" is the first word she hears when she steps inside, removing her trench-coat from her shoulders and revelling in the warmth of the restaurant. It's small and constantly smells like noodle soup, but it also serves the best coffee at a price that doesn't involve donating a kidney to the black market. She makes her way over to the corner and settles in between an ecstatic Lee and an arguing Neji and Naruto.

"You need to stop cooking ramen at three in the morni-"

"It's ramen!"

Neji makes a wild, sweeping gesture across the entire restaurant. "We practically live in a ramen-house."

Lee greets her and takes a sip out of her smoothie. "How was work?"

"It was great," Tenten snatches her drink from Lee's spandex-covered arm and drinks from the straw happily. "I'm having dinner with a guy from work soon."

Naruto's mouth, opened mid-argument, snaps shut as quickly as Neji's jaw drops open. "A date?"

Naruto is the first to recover, as always. "You're going on a date?"

"Yes," she replies, bristling, "And it's not a date. It's just two people going out to dinner...and not having sex."

"Still," Neji chimes in, "He's going out with you, so there has to be something wrong with him."

"How decidedly un-youthful, Neji!" Lee shakes his shiny, black bob in disappointment, "So, does he have a hump? A hump and a hairpiece?"

Tenten sends Lee a youthful glare and laughs. "Conjure up any dream you want, but I still have a date."

"A-ha!" Naruto shouts, almost knocking his ramen bowl over. "So it is a date."

He is met with a bemused silence, and then the doors slam open. In walks Sasuke Uchiha, his spiky hair fresh out of a '90s Japanese mens' magazine, and a miserable expression lining his face. It's pouring outside, with the onset of Spring beginning to purge out the storms of Winter. Naruto immediately waves at his long-time best friend and gestures towards the other chair in their area. Sasuke plops down onto it, throws his soaking-wet umbrella onto the table, which hurls water onto Neji's delicate face, and frowns. "Hi."

Tenten's radar turns on immediately. Her younger brother is by no means a cheerful person, but his mood has been particularly sour lately. It could have been a bad day at work, and given that it's a curatorial job, Tenten wouldn't be surprised, or it could have been the fact that his wife of four years was his ex-wife as of six months ago. "You okay, Sasuke?"

"I just feel like someone reached down my throat, grabbed my small intestine, pulled it out of my mouth, and tied it around my neck." He responds in a clipped tone, his pale complexion providing a stark contrast against the raindrops streaking down his face.

Neji, now dried and still relatively bitter, holds up a plate. "Cookie?"

Tenten rolls her eyes. "Temari moved her stuff out today."

"Ohhh," Naruto replies, his tone a little less harsher than before. The blonde man quietens down out of respect for Sasuke's broody demeanour and slurps at his ramen bowl. She hasn't known Naruto as long as she's known Neji - who'd been introduced to her by Sasuke during their college years. But she's been around Naruto long enough to see that his back is tighter than it had been minutes ago and his jaw is ever-so-slightly clenched - both signs that he's deep in thought, the existential sort.

She decides to alleviate the sudden blanket of tension by ordering a cup of coffee, black, because Sasuke doesn't like have saccharine things in his life. She spots Lee picking at the air in front of Sasuke with an exuberant expression on his face, and then sees Sasuke slapping his hand away when she comes back with a mug in her hands. "Here, drink up."

He accepts it and turns to everyone, mainly Lee. "I'll be fine. We ended on a mature note, and I hope she'll be happy." The sentence sounds robotic, almost rehearsed.

"No, you dont."

Sasuke agrees with her, his voice rising in volume until he's fuming and tomato-red. "To Hell with her."

"Look," Naruto interjects, his face free of noodles, "We get it. You're feeling a lot of pain right now. You're angry. You're hurting. You didn't know that she was a lesbian." At that, Sasuke's mouth opens angrily. Naruto stops him. "You know what the solution is?"

Neji, Tenten and Lee curiously observe Sasuke gesturing for Naruto to continue. It isn't every day that Naruto overtly displays an ability to empathise with Sasuke, however close they are.

"Strip joint! Come on, you're single now! Have some hormones." Nevermind.

"But," Sasuke grinds his teeth together like the bane of existence is Naruto, and not the ex plaguing his mind. "I don't want to be single. I want to be married again. To her."

Tenten lifts her smoothie up to her lips and exchanges glances with Neji. Sasuke's been taking his divorce as well as they'd predicted, which wasn't well at all. The door slams open again, prompting Ayame to run towards the entrance and usher a waterlogged bride into the restaurant. The group lapses into a shocked silence when the woman walks past them, hands rubbing her upper arms as she shivers uncontrollably. Tenten catches a hint of pink hair from behind the veil and narrows her eyes at the woman. Something seems oddly familiar about her.

It hits her when Neji says something mildly sarcastic and Sasuke stands up from his seat as though he's in a trance.


Major disclaimer: I don't own Naruto or Friends. This was all written for my love of writing.

Hope you all enjoyed this introduction - I intend to continue this story, so please leave your feedback!