Author's Note: uhm.. yeah. heh heh. Let it be known that I write REALLY REALLY slowly. The slowness of my writing infuriates Artheph to no end. She literally FORCES me to get my ass in front of my computer and open Word up. It's not lack of ideas either, cause usually I know what's supposed to happen next.. it's more like... lack of motivation. I just... can't get the words to come out in the right way... plus, I'm really picky about grammar.. making my writing process even more excruciatingly painful. But hey. TIS DONE YO. okay. enjoy.
All eyes were on Neji as he walked to his seat at the table. He felt a little uncomfortable, but Tenten was positively green. She was trembling and looked like she was going to be sick.
"Calm down... it's going to be fine..." Neji whispered reassuringly in her ear. In a rare display of affection, he quickly gave her a peck on the forehead.
"AWWWWWW!!!" gushed the entire family, reminding Neji exactly why those displays of affection were so rare. He looked at the people sitting around the table. He counted nine girls, all of whom resembled young Tentens, what with their different-colored shirts and choice of hairstyle and all. They were sitting in what seemed to be the order of their ages, with the shortest one sitting in the seat furthest to the right and ending with two empty seats, his and Tenten's. Needless to say, Neji was very confused. He had no idea WHAT was going on.
"I'm so confused. WHAT is going on??? I should ask Tenten... but... NO... I cannot. I'm a HYUUGA for heaven's sake. Heck, I'm the GENIUS of the ENTIRE HYUUGA CLAN!!! I don't need her to explain this to me. I can figure this out on my own. Feh."
So Neji swallowed his burning questions and kept his mouth shut.
Once Neji and Tenten had settled into their seats, the woman seated at the end of the table, who Neji assumed was Tenten's mother, said,
"All right! Kids, introduce yourselves to our guest." She looked expectantly at the smallest girl on her left.
"I'm Oneone!" she said.
"I'm Twotwo!" said the girl on her left.
"I'm Threethree!" said the next.
And so on and so forth through Fourfour, Fivefive, Sixsix, Sevenseven, Eighteight, and ending with Ninenine, who was sitting next to Tenten.
Neji's eyes would have widened. His jaw would have dropped. He might even have fainted from the absurdity of it all, had he not mastered the art of being expressionless. He did, however, allow an eyebrow raise. He looked at Tenten. Tenten shook her head and gave him an "I'll-explain-later" look.
Forty-five minutes later, Neji and Tenten walked out into the backyard. To Neji, those forty-five minutes had been torturous. Digging down deep to maintain that expressionless expression of his, he had to fight the urge to break out in uncontrollably loud guffaws every time someone at the table was addressed.
"Sevenseven, take your elbows off the table!"
"Daaaaaaadddddd!!! Twotwo took my broccoli!!"
"Ninenine, Oneone wants more soup. Pass the bowl to Sixsix... and give some to Fivefive while you're at it."
That last one nearly killed him.
Neji faced Tenten with numerous scathing, sarcastic remarks about her family ready on the tip of his tongue, but before he could let any of them out, she shot him a knowing look and said quietly,
"Just... hear me out before you say anything."
By now, Neji knew far better than to aggravate Tenten when she used that voice. So, being the considerate, accommodating boyfriend for once, he complied and leaned back against a tree, waiting for her to start talking. And start talking she did.
"My parents are... a little obsessive. Okay, I lied. They're really obsessive. They both like to be in control of things and are really, really high maintenance. I suppose if Mom and Dad had married anyone other than each other... they might have led somewhat normal lives... but for some reason, they found each other and fell in love... Both of them being who they are, they just had to plan out the rest of their lives... down to the smallest detail. Which is how my family ended up the way that it is. Mom and Dad like it when things are in order and when they can all be... put into the same group. That's why they decided that they were going to have ten kids, because ten was a nice, even number. And they wanted all girls... so that it would be all uniform. They even... timed the pregnancies out. We're all exactly one year apart... and we all have the same birthday."
A grunt of disbelief escaped from Neji at this. Tenten chose to ignore it and continued.
"So that's basically it. Since there was no doubt in my parents' minds whatsoever that they were going to have ten kids, they named me, the firstborn, Tenten. And they just... counted down from there."
This time, Neji couldn't help but interrupt.
"But why Tenten? Why repeat it? Wouldn't if have been easier if they had just named you... Ten?"
Tenten looked at him and rolled her eyes.
"Oh Neji..." she chuckled, "naming your child Ten would have been just plain retarded!" she said as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.
Had Neji been eating or drinking anything at this moment, he probably would have choked. As it was, he was just too dumbfounded to speak. So, Tenten continued.
"So after Oneone was born... my parents breathed a sigh of relief and settled down, prepared to spend the rest of their lives raising the ten of us... but then..."
Tenten trailed off. Neji's interest was piqued.
"Three years later, Mom found out she was pregnant... again."
Neji failed to see why this was such a shock.
"...So? Things like that tend to happen between married couples..."
"Neji, hasn't the way my parents named me and my siblings given you an indication as to how UTTERLY OBSESSIVE they are?? Every little detail has to go according to plan, or else they freak out. And this pregnancy was so not a little detail. It was HUGE. When Dad heard the news, he locked himself in the bathroom and didn't come out for two days. We had to force him food through the crack under the door. Mom... well, Mom went into shock for four days. Even after she came out of it... she was so... unstable that the doctors made her stay in the hospital for an extra week, just to keep her under "observation."
"...Oh. Well then. Ahem." Neji cleared his throat.
"So...how did they react to... losing the baby?"
Tenten turned to him with a confused look of disbelief in her eyes.
"They didn't lose the baby..."
"...Oh. Well then. How did you feel about them uh... having an abortion?"
Confusion abounded once more.
"They didn'thave an abortion either!"
"What makes you think that??"
"Well, there were only nine other kids at the table... And your parents didn't mention anything about anyone not being there... so I just... assumed that, you know, something happened."
Tenten sighed... again. She had been doing that a lot. In case you haven't noticed. But before she could finish her explanation, Tenten's parents popped up and forced them back into the house for some "getting to know each other time." All the kids had been sent... somewhere else in the house, so Neji found himself being bombarded with questions, with nothing to distract the interrogators from their... interrogation.
About half an hour into this ceaseless interrogation, Neji noticed a little boy, no more than three years old, totter into the room. He was absolutely adorable, with the darkest of black hair and for some odd reason, bright, blue eyes. Neji found it a bit odd that some random little kid who so obviously was not part of this family of brown-haired, brown-eyed people was walking around in their living room, so he pointed him out to Tenten's parents.
"Uhm... I just thought you should know... but there seems to be a lost little kid in your living room." he said, pointing at the little boy.
Tenten gave a little gasp and tried to stop him, but it was too late. The damage was already done. At once, her parents stiffened. Simultaneously, they turned their heads around in that really creepy way until they were facing in the direction Neji was pointing in. The poor little boy was like a deer caught in the headlights. But only for a moment.
"Mommyyyy.... Daddyyyy.... I'm hungwy..." he said in a small, sad little voice that just screamed for you to pity him. Even Neji, who was usually adverse to small children, felt his heart go out to this little boy.
"Wait a second...Mommy? Daddy?? That would mean... No... he can't POSSIBLY be..." Neji scoffed. It was just too weird. The little boy who had just stopped all the conversation in the room had absolutely nothing in common at all with any member of the family. Even as a young kid, Neji could tell that he would look nothing like the rest of his family when he grew up. He glanced over at Tenten's parents and stopped. They were staring at the little kid as if he were a germ. A nasty germ. A nasty, virus spreading, unwanted germ. The looks they were giving the poor boy can only be described as... evil death glares. Yes, they were giving this three-year old, hungry little kid evil death glares. Then, just like that, they both snapped back around with odd smiles on their faces, completely ignoring the boy.
"So, Neji... how DO you keep your hair so... smooth and shiny?" asked Tenten's mother in an abnormally high voice.
"Uhm... I... condition... a lot."
"Hmm... right. Of course. Silly me."
"Er... didn't the little boy just say he was hungry?" Neji inquired, very much confused by what was going on.
"What's that now?"
"...The little boy..." He trailed off. Both of Tenten's parents were looking at him with rather strained expressions on their faces. Tenten quickly grabbed his arm.
"Mom, Dad... excuse us for a moment..." She pulled him away and dragged him into the kitchen, grabbing the little boy and dragging him along as well.
In the kitchen, Tenten put the little boy down on the counter and dug in the fridge, looking for something to give her hungry brother. She settled on a chicken leg and put it in the microwave to warm it up. Neji watched the little boy as he crawled around on the counter.
"Your parents... were so mean to him... they just... ignored him." He said quietly. "I find that so wrong."
Tenten made a groaning noise.
"I know... it tears me up inside the way they treat him... they shun him so. He was the ultimate bitch-slap to my parents' plan. To them, it was like he came out, stuck out his tongue, and said, 'HI. I'M YOUR NEWEST CHILD. I REFUSE TO FIT INTO YOUR PLAN. I REFUSE TO HAVE THE SAME BIRTHDAY AS EVERYONE ELSE. I REFUSE TO LOOK LIKE EVERYONE ELSE. HELL, I REFUSE SO MUCH THAT I'M GOING TO BE A BOY, JUST SO I CAN BE DIFFERENT FROM EVERYONE ELSE. SCREW YOUR PLAN.'"
Tenten sighed yet again.
"So now they just ignore him as much as humanly possible. It makes me wonder sometimes how he's managed to survive for so long like this. The poor kid's going to have some deep, psychological problems when he grows up."
She scooped the little boy up in her arms.
"Come on now, Zerozero. Let's get you back into your room."
As she started walking away, Neji made an odd noise. It kinda sounded like, "Glufgh."
Tenten stopped. She looked at Neji questioningly.
"Hahah." Neji chortled. "I'm sorry. I could have sworn you just called him Zerozero."
"Well... they had to name him something." came her reply as she continued walking carrying little Zerozero in her arms while he nibbled contentedly on the chicken leg.
Twenty minutes later, after a whole lot of goodbyes and hugs and promises to come around again, Neji and Tenten stepped out through the front door and began making their way down the driveway.
"Well... that was interesting." Neji said in a dry, sarcastic tone. The moment the words left his mouth, he regretted it. Tenten seemed to shrink away from him. Great. He had hurt her feelings. This wouldn't do. This wouldn't do at all. He took her into his arms and held her close. Gruffly, he said,
"Tenten, I told you before and I'll tell you again. Get this through that thick skull of yours: I don't care how messed up your family is. You could have a sister with three heads and a tail for all I care. It doesn't matter."
His voice softened,
"I heart you."
A smile played over his lips as he used their special little way of saying "I love you."
Tenten let out a small laugh. She looked up at him with large, innocent eyes.
"Do the thing."
Immediately, Neji withdrew. That cold, hard look he was known for slipped back over his features.
"Come on... please?"
"NO." he said, his voice just as harsh.
Tenten reached up. Neji froze. His heart beat rapidly in his chest as she rested her hands on the back of his neck. There was just... this way she had of pressing her thumb gently against a pulse point, just enough so he could feel his own heart beating against her hand. The feeling that came over Neji whenever she did this was inexplicable. Such a trivial little thing wouldn't seem like it would affect him in any way, and he couldn't even begin to fathom why it sent shivers down his spine. Maybe it made him feel... connected to her on a deeper level. But whatever the reason, all he knew was that when she did do it, the urge to do anything and everything for her became curiously strong. Ever since she had discovered this little fact early on in their relationship, Tenten had delighted in the using the power to make the proud Hyuuga heir melt like putty in her hands.
"Please Neji... just do it once... really fast... for me?"
Neji sighed inwardly. He was fighting a losing battle and he knew it. He looked furtively around to make sure they were alone.
"I heart you..." he said again, but this time, he traced a little heart in the air in front of him with his index fingers. He rolled those magnificent eyes of his as Tenten let out a giggle. He had first done it a couple of weeks ago in the hospital, while recovering from an injury. Apparently, in his delirium from the painkillers they were pumping into him, Neji had uncharacteristically proclaimed his undying love for Tenten at the top of his lungs to the whole floor while making that little heart-shaped gesture. And she had never let him forget it.
"God... when did I become so whipped?"
"Oh shush. You know you love it."
Neji smiled that oh-so-sexy smile reserved only for her. Hand-in-hand, they walked down the street, away into the night.... that is, until Neji burst out laughing. For the second time that night, Hyuuga Neji was laughing. Like, seriously laughing. As in, oh-my-gosh-I-can't-breathe-and-my-sides-hurt-and-I'm-tearing-up-laughing.
"PWUAHAHAHA... ZEROZERO....PANT PANT... PWUAHAHAHAA"
"NEJI!!! STOP IT!! IT'S NOT FUNNY!"
Author's note: Oh man, that was so cheesy. And so out of character. But hey, I'm admitting it. It IS out of character. BUT OH WELL. It's my story. MINE. Plus, nice Neji is much more sexified than mean Neji. And it's not like he's TOTALLY out of character, right? I did try to preserve a smidgen of his haughty smugness... I hope. And oh yes, I admit it. If any of you have read This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen... Yeah, I STOLE HER IDEA. I couldn't help myself. It was just way too cute. Plus, it makes me feel all warm and melty inside, so I just wanted to share that with you, the readers. And if you don't get it... go read the book. She explains it so much better than I do here.