At first, he thought it was all just a figment of his imagination. It was highly unlikely for him to see her the way he saw she was now – pissed off and nuclear bomb-looking. His Byakugan eyes could see though that her bomb didn't come with a warning attached on it—he didn't know when she would set off, and worse, he didn't know how powerful it could be.
He saw how Haruno Sakura made cheap trash out of the famed Uchiha avenger once when he tried to complain on her whims while she was on the first trimester of her pregnancy. Of course he didn't want to end up like that. Ever.
So he could only glance her way once in a while as she grumpily threw her kunais on the poor tree target. Heck, even if he wasn't born a child of the Main Family, at least he didn't grow up to become a tree.
Tenten was pissed. To the extreme. Why?
One, her ultra-indispensable microwave was possessed by some kind of technical ghost and broke down while she was heating her instant breakfast. She would be the first to admit that the hands that could pick up any kind of ninja weapon and utilize its finest potential were not exactly as capable when it comes to cooking omelets, and if not for Rock Lee who would regularly bring her suppers that didn't come with instructions for re-heating, she would have to rely on microwave ovens to sustain her existence for a long, long time. Ergo, she had to rely on these hands to sustain her for that morning.
She tried to cook sunny-side up eggs, but her chakra might have turned out too powerful for the shells to handle. The yolks crumbled along with the brittle eggshells. Oh, but she was a patient woman. She wouldn't have sunny side-up then—she'll get scrambled.
Three minutes later, the stupid pan stole her scrambled eggs—the yellow stuff, now an angry brown, got stuck into the pan and was now refusing to come off despite her best attempts to scratch the remains off. Out of annoyance, she picked up the pan by the handle and threw it on her sink. She forgot about the cooking oil, and if not for the sizzling sound she heard, she would not have known about it.
And just her luck, the sink was still full of unwashed plates since some two nights ago. The oil clogged up her kitchen pipes, and thus, her plates had to be washed on the garden if she still wanted to eat on utensils the way a civilized person do. Disheartened, she left the plates for tonight. She could always ask Rock Lee to donate some food for the needy and the hungry, which incidentally she was both.
Breakfast-less her dropped by Lee's house, knocked twice, and waited, preparing herself to whine, whine, and whine about the conspiracy life and technology and everything in between did to her this morning.
To her shock though, no one answered. Not even a sound from inside the house.
Worry made her forget her etiquette by jumping into his open bedroom window. She looked around, expecting to see her teammate fallen on the ground, bleeding and crawling and gasping for help. But what did she see?
Lee standing in front of a mirror, holding not a dumbbell, but a dumb hair comb. Yes, a device used to brush the hair to abide by both hygienic and social calls. A friggin' hair comb. However, the next shock was yet to come.
"Should I go for gel, or must I tie it behind my head? Hmm, maybe I need a haircut…"
Haircut. Yes. That nearly drove her against the wall. She crouched closer, knowing that Lee was anything but aware of an uninvited guest that dropped down his bedroom window.
"Gah…I wonder what Hanabi likes more…" Lee tapped his chin, and then raised a thumbs-up, with his matching twinkling grin.
The roof could have collapsed on her and she wouldn't have felt it. She was too shocked. Hanabi? A female?
Konoha was a small village, and to the best of her knowledge, only one girl possesses such name.
"N-No way…" she whispered, eyes wide. The girl was barely thirteen, for crying out loud! What was her teammate thinking?
She forgot about her original intention to ask for breakfast. She got up noisily, and even then, it took the usually mentally alert Lee to turn her way. When he saw her though, his eyes returned to its sappy dreamy mode. "Hi Tenten!"
"Who's Hanabi?" she hissed. If she were a comic character, she knew smoke would puff out of her ears right now. Lee had just gotten over his heartbreak when that Haruno baka married another baka in the person of that Uchiha half a year ago. She saw how he mourned even when everyone else in the village thought how cool he was, accepting the marriage idea so easily. She knew more than anyone else did, even reaching the same level of understanding their Gai-sensei has for him.
Now barely a year after the tragic end of his pure affections for the wrong girl, here he was again, jumping on another love pursuit?
No way! She would not have it! Lee may be anything but heavensent, but he was her best friend, her best buddy, and her family. She was going to protect him from pain, even if it kills her.
But Lee, apparently, could no distinguish anything with the title "Potential Heart Hazard" even if it was right under his nose. He was helpless when it comes to love and romance. And as the more discerning one between the two of them, it was her duty to make him read what was underneath the underneath, or so Kakashi-sensei says.
Lee grinned, and then turned his attention back at the mirror. "Tenten, this must be love!"
"NO!" she screeched, making the dreamy look on his face disappear at last. He turned serious. "Hey, what's your problem?" he asked at last.
"You can't be in love!" she cried, sitting down on his bed. "You…you…nincompoop!"
He blinked. "But I am." He sat down beside her and sighed. "I was visiting Neji-kun in the compound just the other day, and guess what? I saw Hinata-san and her sister…only I didn't recognize the sister. It had been some years…five years to be exact since I last saw her. Oh, she has grown beautifully!"
She clenched her fist, and then slammed it on his head. "BAKA! You're just as bad as the chicken who crossed the street when the traffic light was on red!" She got up and started ticking away. "One, the kid's just twelve. It's child molestation. It's child abuse. It's…"
He groaned. "My feelings are not malicious!"
She ignored him. "Two, she's, like, the daughter of the clan head of the most important family in Konoha."
"I do not care! Love knows no limitations!"
"How can you be in love with her?" she snapped back. "She's just twelve!"
"I'll wait for her to grow up then."
Exasperated, she sank back on her seat. "Three, she's…she's…" Hyuuga Neji's cousin. The very reason of her outburst.
It wasn't uttered out loud, but the sensitive person he was, he immediately read her sentiments. He smiled gently and messed her hair fondly. "I'm not afraid of him."
She looked up at him. "W-Why?"
"Because there's nothing to fear about him." He gazed at her with sincere eyes. "He's a good man. You wouldn't have cried your heart out for him if he was not worth his skin."
"You…" She sighed, defeated.
"He was just reckless and ignorant when he handled your feelings." Lee chuckled warmly. "You were both just fourteen then when you—"
She aimed her kunai at his neck. "Stop right there or this thing will protrude at the other side of your esophagus lining, damn it."
Which only made him laugh harder. "Ne, Tenten, you shouldn't be so mad. Why don't you ask him again? I'm sure feelings don't wane easily, especially yours."
Her cheeks flamed. Placing her kunai back at her pocket, she got up and marched away. "I have my pride. I'm holding on to the last possession I have with all my might, since apparently, I've lost my best friend already."
"Tenten, you won't ever lose me!" he said, getting up. "I'm not letting go of you!"
She looked down, feeling like the most immature person in the world. "Sorry…" she mumbled. "I didn't want to upset you or anything… it's just that…" She sighed, and then walked away.
Now Rock Lee here wouldn't be her beloved best friend if he didn't know how to respect her privacy and space, so even if he wanted to, he didn't follow her anymore. Perhaps, he would just drop by her pad tonight and bring her a Lauriat take-out from her favorite Chinese restaurant downtown.
So she ended up in the practice field, her heart still heavy with the thought of clogged sinks, breakfast-less state of tummy, and Lee falling in love yet again, and worse, with a cousin of that…that…unfeeling brute.
Brute. Yes, she couldn't think of anything else to call that guy. He made her fall for him, and he didn't catch her.
"Idiot…idiot, idiot, IDIOT!" She threw her spikes at the first tree she saw, determined to hurt anything that stands in her path the way she was hurting now. She had never gotten over that night he broke her tender fourteen-year-old heart. And for years she had kept the ache to herself, with only Lee who was by her side, comforting her endlessly. She didn't tell him everything, but he didn't need anything at all to comfort her.
And she thought all this time that she was already a healed person. But today proved her wrong—she was still crying as she was years ago.
"DAMN IT!!!" She slammed yet another sharp-edged weapon at the tree. "That's your friggin' fault! You didn't move out of the way, BAKA!!!"
Neji saw the kunai would miss its target even before she released her hold on it. That can only mean one thing—she was tensed. Really, very tensed. Like…like…
He muttered under his breath, and concentrated instead on mastering the right opportunity to defeat the speed of his self-thrown spikes with his absolute defense jutsu.
"Shit!" screeched his teammate again, making him glance her way. She missed the target alright.
Too bad the spikes didn't. He felt the first two weapons slice his cheek, but thanks to his reflexes which were the fruit of his years of heavy training with Hiashi-sama, the other spikes missed him.
He faced her angrily. "Look, Tenten, if you have problems with your training, please do me a favor and don't vent it out on me and the place."
She faced him, face unusually redder. And it was an angry shade of red. He tried not to wince visibly. Why, facing Uchiha Sasuke at the height of his cursed seal activation was a much better idea than facing this furious woman in front of him.
"I do not have a problem, Hyuuga Neji. I'm happy," she snapped. "Really happy. Why would I be mad? The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and you might just bleed yourself to death." She pointed at his cheek. "I'm sooooo very happy!" Her hand reached for another kunai.
"Yeah," he agreed sarcastically, brushing off the blood with his knuckle. "And am I privileged enough to know what made you this happy?"
She glared at him. "What made you think I'll tell? You don't know how to care, right?" A second later, she gasped and then turned her back on him, cursing under her breath.
He sighed. He had felt it—she had not forgotten what he did to her. All those years she posed civility to him, he knew she was still remembering it. He just didn't encourage his gut feeling, since he didn't want to encourage himself just the same.
"Forget it," she said after awhile, collapsing on the grassy field, sweating and huffing. She lied down on the grass, her chest rising and falling in a still paced manner. Tension had eventually seeped the last ounce of her energy, it seems.
"Fine," he grumbled. He looked up at the skies, debating whether to give it a rest too or satisfy his curiosity and ask. After all, Tenten rarely bursts out, and the one time she did…
"You know, Lee might just be in love with your cousin," she said all of a sudden.
He whirled around to face her. "Hinata-sama?"
"Hinata's younger sister."
"Yeah." She fell silent. When she didn't get any response from him, she spoke up again. "No reactions?"
"I'm surprised," he said quietly.
"She's barely twelve."
"He won't corrupt her this early."
Tenten pouted. "Come on, you can do better than that."
"Better than what?"
"You are a love-hater."
"What made you think that?"
She rolled her eyes. "Gee, I don't know. Because you were so nice to me when I told you that you might just be the most important person in the world for me?"
He didn't understand why he had to gulp audibly. Alas, he had to get rid of the tension that suddenly filled his system.
"You were just fourteen then," he said gently.
"So you treated it the way you're treating your cousin now?" she hissed. "All's a child's play? That everything would be off when dinnertime comes?"
"What the hell…" He faced her at last, frowning. "I respect Lee too much to think of it in those terms."
"And you didn't respect me then?" she sighed wearily. "Damn, I know I'm weaker than your average shinobi, and yes, I'm not anywhere near being the next Tsunade-sama, but really…"
"I do respect you, Tenten," he said quietly. "With all my soul."
Her breathing froze. "Crap." She inhaled shakily. "If you think you're so honest, why don't I remind you of those things you told me? That I was—"
"That you were such a reckless, imprudent, and unthinking brat. That you were the last person I would ever think of making my wife. That I could not believe you told me you love me. That you are better off forgetting how you feel for me," he interrupted.
"Hah! Glad that your memory is like a tape recorder," she spat out.
"Well, they are all true up to this moment. Nothing changed with how I feel," he admitted.
Her heart fell. "Yeah, nothing changed. Jerk." She got up and quickly wiped her tear away. With that, she faced him, eyes on his bruise. "Let me look at that. You might get a tetanus or something."
He watched her kneel down beside him and cup his face, finger touching his wounded cheek. Gentleness shone in her eyes.
His breath came out too audible.
"W-What was that for?" she asked nervously. Did he dislike her proximity?
His eyes went to her face. "I'm…lamenting on why I always end up allowing you to get too close for comfort. Then and now. Nothing has changed, indeed."
"H-Huh?" she whispered, heart jumping to her throat.
"Reckless. Imprudent. Unthinking." His every word reflected not harshness though. There was something else. One that made her step back in disbelief. Yet she couldn't move away any further—that same something glued her into her place.
"And a brat at fourteen," he continued softly. "At fourteen, you made my whole world spin differently. I who had been immersed in my fight against fate and the Main family…then all of a sudden, a single moment of confession made me forget about everything else that mattered. Can you imagine how much headache it gave me?" His hand slowly raised to her face. "You were the last person I would ever think of as my wife, because you are also the first in my plan, and the only. The end, the beginning. I realized that when I understood how much you affect me." And his fingers tentatively landed on her chin. "You could fall in love with anyone, but you fell for someone like me. I couldn't believe it. I lost in the first Chuunin exams, and I was a Branch child family, and…and you're more vocally fond of Lee than me." He laughed in an almost boyishly shy manner. "I thought it was just your unpredictable puberty hormones that did it, and that it would wane. I thought it was best that you forget it."
She had to use a full minute to digest everything he said. And then she snapped. "Baka!" Her fist landed on his head, the way she would attack Lee when he would get lovey-dovey over Haruno Sakura then. A second later, she realized what she just did, especially when he looked back at her in shock. Her hands dropped down her side, mouth open in shock too. She looked down, cheeks a fiery shade of scarlet. "Baka…what gave you the right to assume feelings? What if…what if my feelings were real? What if I still adore you? What if…what if…" She gasped when she realized that she gave a way a bit too much.
A look of utter disbelief shone on his face, and then his mouth twitched.
"H-Hypothetically, of course!" she said quickly. "I-I mean…" She looked away. "Y-You still see me as a fourteen-year-old brat…"
"Because that is the only hope I'm clinging to," he replied, tone strangely subdued. "The idea of you forgetting how you feel for me…it scares me very much."
"You are…scared?" she asked, eyes wide. No one would feel scared by something that doesn't affect him. Ergo…
"You scare me already even back then. And nothing has changed." He smiled at her uncertainly, and then rubbed his head that absorbed the impact of her punch awhile ago. "So…uh…" He now looked at lost for words.
She had to smile at his helpless demeanor. It wasn't everyday that she could see him like this.
"I think I'm starting to sympathize with Uchiha Sasuke already," he said lightly.
He chuckled. "Nothing."
There were times, indeed, that nothing could mean much more than anything, and perhaps even everything in the world.
Nothing and Changes
A fic request for Yami To Hikari. Sowee it took so long ehehe. If Sheo Darren, chibified kitsune and Jiri-chan are reading too, I extend my hugs to you too. Many Salamats for reading!