Everything in life spells risk, especially in a life like hers that center on stealth, combats, and do-or-die operations—also known as a shinobi's life.
But fifteen-year-old kunoichi Tenten knew that the task before her was the hardest to complete. It would involve all her brains famed for meticulous planning and strategizing, as well as her every ability in taijutsu and ninjutsu, to be able to do her mission.
Which was, to give this small gift wrapped box to its recipient, who only happens to be the most anti-social creature in this side of Konoha (since the other side belongs to Aburame Shino already after the Uchiha survivor left the village).
That should explain why that particularly snow twenty-fourth of December night, she was perched quietly on the treetop near the Hyuuga mansion, looking at the environment quietly with trained eyes.
This would have been an easier task if she would just go right up to him and give that blasted piece of holiday present to him personally. But no sir, she just HAD to let her unknown shyness overwhelm her and decide that she would just have to hand it over to him anonymously. Her mind could not provide any reason why such introversion exists within her, and why it would only surface when things involve her longtime teammate. Nevertheless, she would just have to give that thought another day. Right now, she had to get this to Hyuuga Neji's hands without him knowing it.
The window of Neji's bedroom was at the back, according to the floor plan that she was able to secure awhile ago. There were no trees in the backyard as it served more as a training ground for all those what other teammate Rock Lee terms as "whirling moves". Thus, directly penetrating his bedroom was out of the question.
She surveyed the other parts of the house. If she even dared sneak into the house, she knew it would have been virtual suicide. No uninvited guests in the mansion could ever come out alive, especially when discovered by the clan head himself.
Her eyes went to her gift. This couldn't wait until tomorrow, or it would lose its freshness. So her mission had to succeed tonight.
She consulted the map again. There were a lot of trapdoors and hidden pathways in there surely, only she wasn't sure where they would lead. The diagram was not exactly reliable, since she heard that the secret pathways in the mansion change regularly, add to the fact that the underground of the mansion was a virtual maze. If she didn't know her way around, she would die either in lack of oxygen or in boredom.
And the latter was scarier.
"Plan B then." She would use a bunshin jutsu so she could pose as someone from the Hyuugas. Then she could enter the premises freely.
But who would she copy?
She then detected a dark-haired girl from the northern part of the yard.
Hyuuga Hinata. Why yes, that would be easy. She didn't know much about the timid cousin of her teammate, but she knew that the girl rarely speaks, so she wouldn't have a hard time imitating her.
She pressed her hands together in ninjutsu position.
She had practically memorized the floor map of the mansion, thanks to her three straight hours of scrutinizing it and thinking of brilliant strategies that she would always pride herself on. However, being inside the mansion was a different thing. Really, REALLY different.
For one, the floor plan didn't say anything about imposing statues and medieval-like paintings inside the grand receiving room that reminded her of the majestic ancient Japanese empires and palaces. Everything was done in wood, but the impact of the interiors made the whole place seem royal and elegant. And made her feel out of place too.
The drawing room of the Hyuuga mansion alone was as big as her whole house already. She silently wondered if playing hide-and-seek in this compound was even allowed, given the easy prospect of getting lost in the seemingly endless hallways and all.
But for all its grandeur, it was just like peeking into a log: the space was vast, but it was empty.
"Like his eyes," she mused. Rarely could anyone warrant an emotion in the colorless eyes of the Hyuuga male. When they were still young, she could remember his orbs blaze in glacial fire of hatred whenever Maito Gai tries to talk to him about his clan. But that was it.
Whenever they were together as a team—she, him, and Lee-- she could only remember one look in his eyes: boredom.
It would feel like a ridicule at times—like she and Lee were not worth his time at all. But little by little, she understood. Nothing else would matter to him, not because he was a nihilist or a conceited idiot, but because he had forgotten how it was like to care and be cared for. For many years, he had lived only to hate, and along the way, he lost touch with the things he values. All in the boy's mind was to find an outlet for his anger at the main family that he felt had controlled him, his father, and the rest of the Branch family.
The aftermath of his battle with Uzumaki Naruto in the Chuunin exams made her worry for him. She could not exactly voice it out, but she could somehow sense what was on his mind. After being defeated by the deemed Chuunin Exams failure, what was left for this supposed Hyuuga genius to do?
That was why she was secretly relieved and happy to know that he moved on. There were times that the pensive look in his eyes would return, like when she was redressing his bandages for him after the failed mission to get Uchiha Sasuke back, or when he would gaze at his Hinata-sama standing by the monuments of the Hokages, looking at the distance. But all in all, she felt that he seemed freer these days, with his pale eyes capable of emotions other than boredom and more boredom.
Now amidst all these looking out for him in secrecy, she woke up one ordinary morning with the thought that she knew him a lot. In fact, enough for her to realize that the things she knew about him were the things she liked most in a man.
Ergo, she liked Hyuuga Neji.
Oh, but it was legal for her to like him. After all, he was her teammate since their genin days. He was intelligent, both in combat and bookish shinobi knowledge. He could be surprisingly kind too, like when he would subtly avoid seriously harming Lee when the latter would invite him to a spar, or when he would teasingly encourage Hinata-sama to be more open towards her feelings to the Kyuubi boy. He would also show his kindness to her too sometimes, like that time when they finished training and she practically tore her favorite coat apart because of her continuous contact with the wild plants in the forest. She was in a foul mood then, given her clumsily minimal skills in sewing and mending. Her mouth nearly dropped when he offered to sew it for her.
"Because it needs mending."
An amused twinkle in his eye made her blink. "I know how to sew."
"Y-Yes…b-but…" she sputtered. "Y-You don't have to…" A man offering to mend her clothes. For some absurd reason, she felt that it was more heartwarming than a man offering the moon and the stars to her.
With that, she couldn't look at him straight in the eye anymore, not even when he said, "May I?" and took her coat, to be returned a day later, looking good as new.
The fact alone that he knew how to sew should have warned her already that he was too likable for comfort. But then, he also had to be a gentleman and a good origami artist. Handsome at that. So when she realized that she liked him too much to be safe, it was too late.
She loved him already. She didn't know when, how, and why, but she did.
The booming voice startled her. When she whirled around to face him, she was met by a tall, brooding man with a face gloomier than a dark grave. He was dressed in traditional Japanese loose robe, and his long dark hair was brushed behind his broad shoulders. The most prominent feature of his was his pale Hyuuga eyes.
She had just seen the Hyuuga Hiashi face-to-face.
"Daughter!" he boomed once more.
Startling a reply out of her. "Y-Yes, Daddy?" Seeing the shocked face of the elder, she quickly said, "I-I mean, uh…F-Father." She cleared her throat. "Yes, Father?"
Although puzzled, the elder man continued his inquiry. "I remember that you told us earlier that you shall be spending an hour in the Godaime-sama's residence."
"Um…I did?" She slapped her forehead. "Oh yeah! Sure I did! But uh…Tsunade-sama was…not there." She scratched her temple. "Lemme see…I think she went out to get a beer or something." Oblivious of the gape of the old man, she punched her fists together. "Oh yeah! Bacchi Odds and Evens! Yeah, that's where she went! Maybe she wants to kick some gambler's ass tonight!" And then remembering that she was supposed to be Hinata, she quickly hung her head. "F-Forgive me, Father…I was…uh…carried away…"
"Carried…away…" The man's face was dark.
At that juncture, Neji arrived, holding a cup of steaming tea. He took a good look at the father and the daughter, and then bowed to both of them. "Merry Christmas, Hyuuga-sama." He turned to her, and for a second, she detected a twitch in his mouth. "To you too, Hinata-sama."
"Likewise." Hiashi turned to her again. "And since you shall not visit the Godaime anymore, stay in the place, child." Heels turning, the man headed for his own quarters.
When she felt that they were out of earshot distance, she proceeded to walk away.
But Neji had already turned to her, his eyes softened by the entertained glint in his eyes. "Hinata-sama, every Christmas, we have a ceremony, remember?"
"C-Ceremony?" she echoed, somewhat stupidly.
"Yes. The main child and the branch child should be in the garden to watch the trees light up at the strike of twelve." He tapped his watch. "And it's nearly twelve. Come." He offered his hand to her, and feeling that Hinata would not refuse the gentlemanly gesture, allowed herself to be guided by him to wherever the ceremony would take place.
Ah, she should have researched some more about the traditions of the Hyuugas.
Soon, they arrived by the front yard, where she was standing awhile ago, thinking of ways to be near him.
Her fingers reached for the gift inside her clothing's pocket. "Um…Neji…nii-san…"
"Anou…" Her mind got busy thinking of how to give the gift to him. "I…saw Tenten awhile ago."
"You did? Where?" he asked.
"Just…just out there." She waved her hand dismissively. "Anyway, that's not the point." She coughed. "I-I mean, Neji' nii-san, she wants to give you this." Quickly, she planted the small gift box to him.
The surprised look in his eyes was worth the capture of a camera at that moment. "A…a gift, huh?" A smile escaped his lips, nearly making her heart jump. "She remembered to give me a gift."
"Oh, why won't she?" she said, shrugging. "It's not everyday that she meets a man who will sew for her every time."
"In the same way that I won't meet a woman like her who would go through all these trouble just to give me a gift." His eyes challenged her for a moment, and she was floored.
Their gazes locked for a few more seconds before she groaned and changed herself back. "Well, that was very nice of you," she complained. "Embarrassing me that way."
"I was grateful. I didn't know you would take it differently."
"Oh come on!"
"But I really am." He carefully opened his gift. "Thankful." He paused. "When was the last time I received a Christmas gift? I couldn't remember anymore."
The wistfulness in his voice was enough to melt the mortification she felt awhile ago. "O-Okay," she mumbled. "Um…" She pocketed her hands into her pants once again. "So…uh…since I have given you my gift already…"
"Forget-me-nots!" exclaimed Neji when he saw what were inside the box.
Her cheeks flamed. "W-Well, I was training awhile ago when I saw it by the riverside and so—" Her eyes flashed in indignant annoyance when he turned her way, laughter stifled in his eyes. "Hey, the least you could do is appreciate my efforts! I got the hem of my pants wet, and I nearly got allergies because there were insects there by the riverside! And I hand-carried those flowers, for Pete's sake!"
She was near to tears because of embarrassment. "I-It's not a very good Christmas gift, I know…demo…demo…" She looked down at the polished wooden floor, fuming. "You cook better than me, you sew better than me…and you're richer than me! What else do you suppose a guy could ask for when he has everything?"
"Well," said Neji thoughtfully. "I would love to have forget-me-nots in my bedside table." And then he smiled tenderly. "Thank you, Tenten."
She could not find her voice to speak, not even when he ushered her attention towards the lit-up trees, or to the sound of the clock striking twelve.
She was only aware of the warmth in her heart that he selflessly gave that Christmas night, holding her hand with his right hand, and the other holding the pale blue flowers that gave voice to her emotions she perhaps could only tell someday.
A NejiTen request xmas fic, delayed beyond belief, for Cherished Dreams.
"By the way, Neji, what do you call this tradition of yours, lighting up the Christmas trees and stuff?" she asked.
"Oh, this? No, I was just showing off our yard."