"Neji, the gown is starting to itch," whined Tenten, her nineteen-year-old frame clearly loathing the fine laces and trimmings of her deep violet gown.
Hyuuga Neji raised his brows quizzically. "I don't have a Calamine lotion with me, sorry."
"It's not the insects, it's the fabric," she snapped back, annoyed by his indifference to her miserable condition.
"Sue the fashion designer, not me."
"I'm not suing anyone when I can spend two minutes in perfect and clean assassination." She instinctively reached for her holster, but was dismayed when she remembered the wedding coordinator had asked her to take it off because it was bulging against the fitted cut of her bridesmaid gown.
Neji watched her hand smoothen the creases that hugged the gentle curves of her waist and hips. He knew she was…distracting in that certain part of her anatomy, but her outfit today only emphasized it more.
Which was pure evilness on the part of that damn dresser. How could a mere stitched fabric make a tomboyish weapons expert look like a goddess of a grapeyard or something?
"Stop staring at me!" she hissed, growing uncomfortable with the way her teammate would gaze at her. It was unnerving, the way his pristine pale eyes would figuratively touch her body's outline with a mere sweeping gaze.
"I'm not looking at you. I'm looking at the flowers," he replied, determined to regain his composure. Damn, he was too careless! And she was way too disconcerting!
And for the nth time, he pondered on how getting Tenten to be one of the bridesmaids was one big bad idea. He knew it the moment she spat out curses at him for looping her name into the official invitation to the union of hearts of the Sixth Hokage and his timid cousin, Hyuuga Hinata.
"Dammit Neji! I could drop by the wedding to eat and run and maybe chat a little…but this…one whole hour of sitting erectly on the pews, wearing a gown…" Her eyes crinkled in fury, and for a moment there, he thought she was just about ready to practice her expertise on him. She had a ready kunai on her other hand anyway.
But still in the end, he won out. Hollow victory though. In exchange for that, he promised to spar with Rock Lee for one week. It was not only because she was after their other teammate's joy, but he knew she was also after his misery. After all, she was going through hell too, right?
It would have been easier if immediately the next day, the wedding would take place already. But no, they were given two weeks to prepare, and so, instead of their usual shinobi training, he supervised his distant female relative in teaching Tenten on what she would do on the actual day.
First, he had to endure watching her learn how to walk like a LADY.
"Sway! Sway your arms freely left and right!" instructed the woman, who seemed to be a frustrated model herself, by the way she was passionately teaching her reluctant student. "No, don't march! Be casual! Be graceful! Be natural!"
Tenten looked at the woman as if she grew another head. And he had to leave the room to let out his stifled laughter in a safe ground, in a safe distance that a kunai could not reach.
Next came the fitting part for the gown.
"I am not about to tell the world my waistline!" said Tenten defiantly, looking at the tape measure as if it was Satan's belt itself.
The fashion designer clicked her tongue. "Now, now. If you want to look your best, we have to accurately get your measurements."
"I'm not supposed to get the attention from the bride!" she reasoned.
"You might spot your future groom there, and of course, you have to make an impression."
The kunoichi rolled her eyes heavenwards. "Puh-leeze. You know it, I know it. I'm not wife material! Now please just guess my vital statistics and leave me alone to let my world rotate on its axis in peace?"
"Hey, I'm thinking of marrying you. Your statistics might help me decide," he said from the doorway where he was leaning his back on, arms crossed.
She groaned. "And why is he watching us?"
"Just making sure you won't try something funny and sneak away from this," he said, shrugging.
"You're despicable." But she did put away the shuriken that he guessed she was going to use on the designer to try to frighten her so she could escape.
Then came one of the hardest parts: teaching her how to walk in high heels.
"Dammit, dammit, DAMMIT!" Tenten took the books off her head and slammed them on the floor.
"Easy," he said, fighting the urge to smile. She was sweating all over, huffing and puffing from wobbling in those stiletto heels while carrying books on top of her head. "Those unabridged dictionaries are still useful around the house."
"At this rate, I don't even care if it's Kama Sutra." She took off her heels and rested her back against the wall, audibly catching her breath. "My feet would never be the same again."
"Cheer up. By the end of the wedding, you'll be more graceful. And then you would stop intimidating the men of Konoha." He frowned. Wait, that was NOT good news. "Maybe Hiashi-sama might even consider you to be my wife." There, that was better.
She gave him a funny look. "You've been bringing up that word too often recently."
His sly smile vanished. "Huh?"
Her eyes gleamed. "Hmm…I smell romance." She nudged him. "Any chance of the powerful snob Hyuuga Neji crushing on little ole me?"
He turned away, quick enough to hide his faintest of blushes. His joke, obviously, had backfired on him. Now where did he go wrong?
Once more, he turned to her, opening his mouth for a comeback, when he saw that her attention had left him already.
She was scrubbing and massaging her toes, not giving an ounce of care if he was watching her wiggle her toenails. She was a busy woman right now, apparently.
He had to smile at that. Tenten was too damn artless, too unaffected. She was too simple that she had to be…
He closed his eyes, refusing to believe the thought that flashed in his mind.
"Let's try it again!" announced the determined kunoichi, making him open his eyes.
She gave him a proud smile. "Watch me become a lady, Neji. Let's see how long you're going to wear that smirk. Hah!" She turned her back on him, her hips swaying perfectly in rhythm and he just stood there, awestruck.
In that single moment, in that single, effortless movement…
…she became a lady in his eyes.
He snapped out of his daze. "Huh?"
She glared at him. "Hell yeah, the flowers are seducing you, huh?"
He gazed at the innocent white roses, and then shrugged.
She gave him one more disbelieving look before proceeding to speak. "They're telling us to line up in the aisle already!"
He watched her find her partner for the wedding march. He was the Best Man, so he had to escort Haruno Sakura instead, Naruto's chosen Maid-of-Honor.
"You look terrific!" chirped Sakura upon seeing him.
"I am inclined to not accept the compliment," he said coolly. "After all, you said the same thing to Lee last week when he wore red instead of his usual green jumpsuit."
She grinned sheepishly. "Only Sasuke-kun deserves to be called 'yummy'."
"And God bless his soul, wherever he may be," he shrugged. He craned his neck once more, and nearly grimaced when he saw what he was looking for.
Who, technically. But it was a flat 'what' for him. The creature holding his teammate's hand was not fit for a human interrogative pronoun. Especially when he saw how he would look at her…well, almost the same way as how he regarded Tenten in her deep purple gown awhile ago.
He made a "hmp" sound. Tenten was getting way too much attention for comfort. Way too much, really.
"It's not only curiosity that kills," purred Sakura, pouncing at the open vulnerability on his usually poker face. "Jealousy does too."
"Huh?" He meant, 'Lay off my business, you idiot'.
She got the connotative meaning, because she immediately shut up. Yet she was still wearing an annoying grin that was frighteningly similar to the one Lee wears whenever he succeeded in blackmailing him into a spar. Blackmails that usually involved, well, Tenten.
But he was not about to remember those things. He straightened and waited for the march song to begin.
A second later, he turned around to check on Tenten again. Just to make sure that her escort wouldn't try to pull something funny.
She suddenly looked up, catching him. He immediately cast his gaze on the pews next to her, as if he was just scanning the place around.
Why didn't he have the presence of mind to do THAT awhile ago, when she first caught his gaze?
He had been pacing around the hallway like an expectant father in hospitals. But this time, he was not waiting for his wife giving birth; he was waiting for the make-up artist who would give Tenten's face a new look.
And he was tensed. It had been an hour since Tenten finally relented into letting into her room both the fashion designer and the make-up artist. And that was only after his cousin Hinata begged her to cooperate.
He heard the door creak open, and out came the fashion designer, looking very exhausted, but very triumphant.
He felt hope rise within him, like sun at dawn.
Immediately, the woman designer saw him. She winked conspiratorially. "Your girlfriend was difficult, but after what we did to her, I won't be too surprised if you would fall for her again, harder this time."
"Uh, Tenten?" he asked. He should correct the 'girlfriend' part, but…he was too…tensed to do anything about it. And it sounded fine anyway.
"She's all dressed up. Pretty young woman." With that, the woman went to the next room to dress up the next bridesmaid.
Before he could stop himself, he felt his feet walking him, leading him into Tenten's room.
His eyes went to the doorknob, debating whether to turn it over, or be polite enough to knock.
He pushed the door slightly open, and through the crack, he saw her.
A woman that looked and felt like Tenten, only this woman was a goddess that may have stepped out of an obra maestra of a famous artist. The violet-ness of her outfit made her look so regal and feminine, with her buns brushed down until it was lustrous. Her face was made up lightly, but he did notice that her almond eyes were more emphasized, and her lips did look fuller.
The make-up artist was instructing her on how to retouch her makeup when the artists weren't around. She would nod, and then look at the numerous make-up kits before her.
He smiled. This must be a strange experience for this woman, whose expertise lie on weaponry.
His smile vanished though when he saw how Tenten froze. His heart pounded. Her back was turned on him, so it was impossible for her to see him, right?
And then he saw the full-length mirror in front of her.
Oh boy, he thought as he gaped at his reflection.
Sakura's light tug on his arm woke him up.
"Quit daydreaming, lover boy," she teased. "It's time for the march."
He rolled his eyes and discreetly eyed Inuzuka Kiba, who was obviously charming his way to his teammate's heart.
Come to think of it, he never really liked dogs, even when he was little.
He heard an annoying giggle coming from his partner. Oh yeah, he didn't like cats too.
A pair separated him and Sakura from Tenten and Kiba, yet he was intent on checking on her even at the risk of looking stupid. He could not concentrate while hearing Kiba invite her to his house to give her a pet puppy of her own.
Hell, he could get his teammate a lion cub anytime, any day. Puppies. Hah.
Sakura tugged on him again. It was their turn to walk.
His movement was mechanical, and his steps were reluctant. No, he could not leave Tenten alone back there! What did she know about men with flowery tongue? He had to protect her—
He felt everyone's gazes on him. Oh, that Sakura had already left him standing amidst the altar and had taken her seat on the pews already. He glared at her, and she waved back. Apparently, his public humiliation was part of her agenda. Grumpily, he took his seat, all the while cursing the female population.
He turned to look at her again. She was starting to advance too, and by now, the attention of almost all the people in the church were on her already. And why not? Among all the bridesmaids, she stood out. Her long brown mane tamed and shined, her graciously curved body complemented by the soft violet fabric, and her interesting countenance made her the center of attention.
But there was something else. Her steps were taken confidently, yet gracefully. As she walked down the aisle, he thought he could see the tomboyish Tenten running towards him with a kunai, or Tenten wobbling with books on top and steep heels at the bottom, and then the lovely woman she had now become.
He just had seen all of the women in the world in her.
And she was…
He opened his eyes, a smile in place as she passed by him.
She was beautiful.
And then as if it was in slow motion, he saw her ankle wobble. He knew what was about to happen. And in split second, she doubled over.
Only to be caught swiftly by his arms.
Silence among those who were present in the wedding.
He quietly helped her up, hesitating whether he should play it cool or just go back to his seat wordlessly.
But he didn't have to decide after all.
"Sleek," she said, grinning from ear to ear. "Ah well, I told you that these heels are nothing but troubles." In a second, she had stepped out of her shoes. Slinging them over her shoulder, she turned to the bride. "Sorry if I ruined your wedding, Hinata-chan, Hokage-sama."
The two smiled, as if telling her not to worry over it.
"Ah, if you don't mind, I'll just bandage my ankle over there." She started to limp towards the back of the church.
"Hinata-sama, please excuse me." Without waiting for her reply, he lifted Tenten up and carried the shocked girl towards the garden of the church outside. "I wish the best for you and the Hokage-sama," he said, smiling a little.
Hinata nodded gratefully.
"You know, Neji, it had been a bad idea from the start," said Tenten thoughtfully as Neji was kneeling below her, tying some bandages on her swollen ankle. "I'm not made for this stuff."
He glanced up at her. "Funny. You got everyone's attention."
She smirked. "I just thought of a funnier thing."
"I got your attention."
He coughed all of a sudden, making his teammate laugh heartily.
"But the wedding served me three purposes," said the kunoichi. "One, Lee gets to spar with you."
"You had to remind me, ne?"
"Two, I was able to ruffle your feathers."
He glared at her.
"And three, I saw you in a tux." She arched her eyebrow suggestively. "Hmm, husband material, if I may say so."
He knew it was doomsday for him when suddenly, colors flooded his face.
Oh, but it was not over yet.
Tenten's eyes softened. "Oh, and four, Neji-sama blushed for me."
Down the Aisle
A NejiTen request for ShenLi. Also, epilogue to Inori, a NaruHina ficcie