Men Who are on the Brink of Second Childhood: Hyuuga Neji

For moonlightpath. This story is the first of three stories that would focus on Tsunade-sama's "teachings". Enjoy!


"Neji, Neji, what the hell is wrong with you?" Nineteen-year-old Tenten winced when the kunai that his absolute defense threw back at her nearly pierced her slender neck. "Calm down, will you?"

She received his infamous death glare, and then he stopped, catching his breath subtly.

"I'm always calm," came his self-righteous pout.

She sweatdropped. Tsunade-sama had taught all the kunoichis who reported under her the three principles to getting along with Men Who are on the Brink of Second Childhood.

First principle: Do not provoke his anger, unless you relish the idea of being a punch bag.

"Alright," she said lightly. "But at least don't kill me. Remember, I'm your teammate. I'm your sparring partner. I am on the side of goodness and uprightness, just as you."

She nearly sighed in relief when a small smile cracked on his sober face. "I will remember that."

Once more, she returned to her battle stance, but to her surprise, he started walking towards her, his face clearly showing that he was planning to do something.

Making her gulp inwardly. Maybe she underestimated him—what if this Hyuuga Neji, her teammate of seven years, was not just immature, but was actually mentally imbalanced and had homicidal tendencies? But what exactly did she do for him to get THIS…well… emotional with her?

Was it because her tongue slipped and she had accidentally revealed that she and Lee were treated by Gai-sensei to a fancy seafood restaurant while he was out on a jounin mission? Or was it because she teased him about his cousin Hyuuga Hinata finally going out on a series of dates with a childhood acquaintance and sort-of-friend that defeated him in his first attempt at the Chuunin exams?

Whatever it was, he sure looked pretty grim.

One second before she could bolt away from him, he laid down his sixty-four million dollar question.

"Are you planning to get married today?"

She blinked.

"Tomorrow?" he asked urgently.

"Um…no." She would have scratched her head that moment if she was feeling less tensed.

"Okay." He stepped back and turned around. She placed her hand on her hip, and then returned to her battle stance.

Suddenly, he faced her. "Are you sure?"

She blinked again.

"Well?"

"Y-Yes."

"Yes, as in yes, you're getting married?" Veins threatened to pop on his face again if she gave a wrong answer.

She gave him an incredulous look. "NO! I mean, yes! Erm—" She blew the bangs off her forehead. "I am NOT getting married today or tomorrow!"

His forehead creased. "What about next week?"

"No, I am still single and eligible next week, and the weeks that will follow for this whole year," she stated.

He stared at her wordlessly, as if mulling over her truthfulness. In the end, he shrugged and walked away.

"Nice sparring with you too!" she called after sarcastically,

What a strange day it was today.


"Well, did our Tenten say anything?" asked Maito Gai worriedly when he, his favorite pupil (but no one should know that, of course) Rock Lee, and Neji finally had private time to themselves. The only rose among the thorns was sent by the great Gai-sensei on a special mission to buy the four of them chocolate shakes.

The kunoichi ranted on the obvious male chauvinistic air reigning over the team, but in the end, she obliged when Gai and Lee decided that the two of them would get the shakes which was a baker's dozen blocks away from their training spot. Sweating under the sun was a more viable notion for her than to exchange silent stares with Hyuuga Neji in a pissed-off mode. She already had a taste of his personal PMS-ish pains awhile ago in the training field, and with any luck, he might start asking her next time if she was the one who dropped the atomic bomb on the Pacific Ocean. Between marriage-related queries and admitting to mutilating marine life, she was a lost bunny.

Now that left the three guys alone for at least half an hour, or barely enough time for Neji to report what transpired in the training session awhile ago—at least in Gai and Lee's opinion.

But not for the Hyuuga. "Nothing."

Gai's fists uncurled. "Nooo!" he moaned in despair.

Lee's eyes watered. "She's not even telling her closest sparring mate about—"

"Shut up, Lee," hissed Neji. He too was pissed off, even though showing it was the last thing that was on his mind. He didn't want to let the world know that he too was affected by the news regarding his long-time teammate.

Well, technically, it was only him, Lee, and Gai who were within earshot distance in the secluded forest of Konoha, but letting the deadly duo know that someone like him harbors feelings too…well, it was like posting his feelings on a billboard erected above the Hokage monument. With matching megaphone announcements.

"We had been together for so many years…how can she not tell us that she's planning to marry the son of the Lightning daimyo?" wept Lee. "I mean, it's not like we're going to stop her—"

"We're not?" said Neji, raising his brow. "She's still too young to get married—"

"Lightning daimyo?" Gai's eyes widened. "I thought she was dating the son of the Wind daimyo?"

"What!" gasped the Hyuuga. He didn't know THAT.

"That's what I thought too," said Lee miserably. "And Ino-san said she saw Tenten leave the restaurant with the Grass daimyo!"

Neji rolled his eyes. "Absurd. He's two decades older than her." Inside, he was quietly steaming. He didn't know that either.

"Age doesn't matter!" sniffled the two advocates of true and pure love.

He glared at the two.

"Ah, but how can she be involved with so many men at the same time?" Gai wailed. "I thought I knew her as the tomboyish type."

"Why doubt, Gai-sensei? Tenten is pretty," said Lee, rubbing his jaw. "My devotion to Sakura-san alone keeps me from wooing the heart of Tenten-chan!" He sweatdropped when Neji gave him a piercing look with his infamous Byakugan eyes. "Did I say something wrong?"

Neji shrugged. "Are you two positive that Tenten is really…seeing those people you mentioned?"

"It's the arithmetic of love, Neji-kun!" said Lee. "Boy meets girl, plus the fact others see them together very often. What else can it be?"

"Business?" he guessed. Well, at least it HAD to be.

"Typical of you, lifeless, heartless piece of meat and bones!" admonished Gai. "All you think about is training, beating the Main Branch of your clan, depriving Uchiha Sasuke of his reproductive organs, and well…MORE training!"

His eyes narrowed. Was that how his team perceived him to be? And he thought they knew him best, with the seven years of option-less togetherness they shared. How could have they forgot to mention gardening?

"And because you were soooo one-track minded, Tenten shifted her interest on other people!" scolded Lee, slamming his fist on the grassy ground.

"Excuse me?" asked Neji, pausing. "How did I get involved in her issues?"

"Because you won't notice her, she started seeking attention from OTHER men!" cried the little version of Maito Gai, pointing an accusing finger at him. "You PUSHED her into the love-seeking woman she is now today!"

"What the hell…" The Hyuuga male's face turned dark. "I did not notice her because she does not want to be noticed and there's no reason for her to do that, did I make myself clear on that part?"

"What do you know about the things she want and not?" demanded Gai. "What if she wants you?"

His blood pressure nearly shot up like a rocket. "And what do you two know about her preferences?"

"Because we're not blind, Neji-kun!" exclaimed Lee. "We can see the way her brown eyes twinkle whenever you are around!" We know that the smile that stretches on her face is one a woman in love wears in bliss! A smile that—"

"You're not blind, just visually-challenged." Neji got up. "I had about enough of this crap. I already did my part by trying to find out from her in a highly subtle manner about her plans for marriage or whathaveyous. I am not going to help you anymore with the rest of the plans you have cooked up."

"Spoken like a true Hyuuga man," said Gai admiringly.

"Huh?"

"Makes you wonder why Tenten never dated a fine young man like him," said Lee, smiling teasingly.

A vein popped in his head. "Lee…"

"Why, you are the toast of the female population in Konoha!" added Gai. "How could have Tenten not thought of going out with you?"

His fists clenched. "Gai…" He had to rein his emotions back—no need for either of the two bowl-heads to know that they were starting to get under his skin.

"Neji-kun, why don't you try taking out dear Tenten out on a date?" asked Lee, eyes set on fire. "Just so she would have options in life…just so she would know that there are guys like you who are cooler than the rest of the XY-chromosomed populace!"

"She doesn't need to go out with me to see that I am pedestals above those men!" he said proudly. Right?

The Hyuuga was ignored by Gai-sense. "Maybe if she sees that you are a much better guy than those other men…maybe she would postpone her marriage plans!"

Neji's eyes crinkled in annoyance. "We're not talking marriage matters here!"

Lee smiled sweetly. "Oh, we will…soon. That is, if we don't stop our dear Tenten-chan!"

Gai's eyes twinkled. "Imagine, our sweet Tenten a June bride in winter sunshine!"

The Hyuuga couldn't have asked for a more creative weather calendar.

"I wonder who should she walk with… the wind daimyo? The lightning daimyo?" mused the junior version of Maito Gai. "Both men are most becoming of their titles!"

"Damn it…" The Branch Family boy thought he hated Barney. But today, he was ten levels of anger above his negative sentiments towards the singing purple dinosaur. In fact, if he hears one more name of a man that Tenten was dating—

"If ever Tenten-chan does get married, we need a new female teammate to maintain the equilibrium of our mighty team!" continued Lee, grinning. "Maybe we can ask Sakura-san or Ino-san? Sakura-san's team is broken away, while Ino-san's growing bored already since Temari-san has enchanted both Shikamaru and Choji already."

Another vein popped on his head. "Am I sensing blackmail here?" Lee knew very well that he could not get along with girls who weren't his cousins or Tenten, leaving pretty much the rest of the Konoha female population. Plus, those two were fangirls of that Uchiha jerk, his archnemesis when it comes to the title of the most popular bishounen of the Fire Village.

"Blackmail? What blackmail?" The green beast of Konoha looked down at his pupil. "Do you sense this…this blackmail that our Neji-kun is feeling?"

Lee's round eyes grew wide in innocence. "OH NO, Gai-sensei! Why, this is all but a bonding session among men who fight for true love and a better price for hair conditioner!"

"Good," said Neji, getting up. "Because I'm not buying your garbage."

"My conditioner is not a garbage!" said Lee, offended.

A sigh of exasperation from the Hyuuga. "I'm going."

……………………….

Hyuuga Hiashi's jaw dropped, but he immediately composed himself. "T-That is the very important question you want to ask me?" He reached for his cup of tea and sipped, giving Neji the time to reflect on his absurdity.

And reflect the young man did. But it was too late to go back on his words. "It is highly important for me that I obtain the blessings from my clan leader when it comes to important affairs in my life."

"It's just a date," said Hiashi, frowning.

"It's my first date," replied his nephew.

"Oh." The old man's frown deepened. Back in his time of arranged marriages, he never had to worry about that stage. Most of his worries concerned the honeymoon matrimonial bed, which thankfully, was covered adequately by his wife on their first night.

But that was entirely a different matter, a tale to be told another time when his little red bedroom book would be opened.

"Who is the woman?" he decided to ask instead.

Neji grimaced. Knowing the clan leader, he would want to know Tenten's family background (which she never spoke much about), how her skills would fare combat-wise against their famous own, or even whether she was assertive or submissive.

But a clan head's still a clan head. "My teammate, Tenten, Hiashi-sama."

He frowned. "From what family is she?"

"Uh…"

"And why her when there is a hundred more women in the village?"

Neji was at loss for words. Fortunately, his angelic cousin dropped by, holding a tray of bread and another kettle of tea. She quietly placed her utensils down and bowed.

"Hinata?" said the Hyuuga patriarch, making the timid head look up in surprise.

"Yes, Father?" she asked in her usual subdued voice.

"Do you have an idea who this…Tenten woman is?" he asked, still busy with his drink.

Hinata hugged the tray to her chest. "W-Well, she is…a Chuunin, with admirable traits she learned from the Godaime herself. Neji-nii-san's teammate is…very lively."

Neji threw her a grateful look.

"What characteristic of hers do you think could have enamored your cousin?" Hiashi asked some more.

If she was puzzled by her father's sudden interest on her opinion, she had the grace not to show it. "She can make him smile so easily."

Her cousin turned to her, surprised, as if asking how she was able to come up with that answer that, to his embarrassment, nearly hit home. She could only smile apologetically—as the silent spectator of the people around her, she had developed a fine sense of acumen when it comes to affairs dealing with the heart. This ability, however, malfunctions when it comes to her long-time love unrequited, Uzumaki Naruto.

Silence, except for the sound of Hiashi's sipping and Neji's pet birds chirping in the nearby garden.

"Interesting," drawled the old man. He faced Neji. "We shall see whether your taste with women is as superior as your father's."

The Jounin stiffened. He didn't like where this was heading.

"Bring her to the family dinner tonight. I shall estimate her myself."

………………………………….

"Why are we passing by here again?" Neji asked the next early evening when he accompanied Tenten downtown after their routine training. To his utter self-dismay, he had not yet told her that she was being expected in the dining room of the Hyuugas tonight as a special guest. He glanced at the clock of one of the establishments nearby.

Wonderful. He still had fifteen minutes before the grandfather clock of the mansion signals the beginning of dinnertime. Worse, the grandfather clock that all Hyuugas obey without question was factually five minutes advanced.

Tenten's eyes were on the menu above her, highlighted with neon lights from beneath. "Because I'm too lazy to make dinner."

"Your dinner is always canned food," he reminded her dryly.

"Well, I'm too lazy to look for the can opener," she replied, shrugging.

A light bulb lit inside his head. "I know a place where you can get free homecooked dinner."

She eyed him, surprised. One, he actually had the initiative to involve himself with her little problems, and two, how the heck did someone like him come to know about places that give away freebies?

He refused to look her way. "Dinner starts in ten minutes. Let's go."

Although puzzled, she followed him anyway.

………………………………

Tenten's eyes widened at the sight of the almost palace-like structure in front of her.

"Shall we?" he asked, still not looking at her.

"Are you asking the grass or my shadow?" she asked, placing her hands on her hips. "And if I'm not mistaken, this is your house, yes?"

"The Hyuuga Dining Hall," he mumbled. "A part of the compound where we eat."

"This is the restaurant?" she asked, still digesting everything.

"I never said anything about restaurants," he protested. "But we can get homecooked meals there."

She let her eyes rove on the house exterior, and then grimaced. "This house is too fancy for me. I won't be able to eat properly in here."

"At least you won't look for the can opener," he said, shrugging.

She paused thoughtfully.

……………………………..

Upon their entrance, all heads turned their way. Tenten could only sweatdrop when the man sitting regally in the middle of the banquet table looked up and at her way, his piercing eyes scrutinizing her.

She laughed uncomfortably and waved back. Behind her, Neji sighed dejectedly. The longest dinner of his life was about to commence.

"Tenten, I presume?" came the man's voice. Upon receiving her nod of assent, he got up and gestured to one of the seats. "Please."

She blinked, and then sat down to the spot that he was pointing to.

"Do you know the purpose of your presence here?" he began as the house helpers hurried around them, expertly dropping servings of their meals in the most subtle and undisturbing manner possible.

She blinked. "W-Well, yes. I-I mean, it's not my habit to drop by strangers' houses and eat just for the heck of it." Did Hyuuga dinners require purposes other than satisfying gastronomic desires?

"So you know how my nephew feels about you," he continued, making Neji choke.

She paused from slicing the meat. "Oh yeah. Since our genin days." Hyuuga Neji had always been bloody frank about his disappointment at her general incapacity to stay competitive with his own combat skills. But what that had got to do with their extravagant seafood feast?

"And how do you feel about his sentiments?" the clan leader asked.

"Touched," she smiled playfully at Neji's way. "Hmm, sauce is good."

"You should be," said the long-haired elder. "You are the first and only person that he offered such kind of feelings."

Tenten giggled, making the elder frown. "With all due respect, sir, I have to say you're wrong. He shows that kind of emotion to all those around him."

"He does?" asked Hiashi, wrinkles forming on his forehead.

She nodded gamely. "Yes sir! He has told every kunoichi in Konoha about that."

Hinata sweatdropped. Her cousin, a Don Juan?

"He even tells that to strong guys like Lee, Shikamaru, Naruto…" A whimper from the short-haired Hyuuga.

"…and Sasuke too," said Tenten, unaware of the dark auras emanating from the rest of the people in the table. "But he says that most often to Sasuke…I dunno…makes him feel good, I guess."

"Interesting," said Hiashi, but his eyes were on his nephew, who seemed to have forgotten the existence of the shrimps in front of him. "Will you please excuse me for a moment?" Without waiting for a reply, he headed out of the dining room.

The Hyuugas were left in uneasy silence.

"This is really good!" gushed the kunoichi in an attempt to break the stillness when she finally felt the tension. She glanced at her teammate, whose mind seemed to have moved into the next three and a half dimension already. "Hey, thanks for bringing me here. I've never tasted anything this delicious in my whole life."

He groaned. Apparently, the roundtrip of his mind was faster than expected. "Wait until the canners hear that and start manufacturing canned shrimps next time."

"Aren't you even going to taste the food?" she asked him.

"Not hungry."

"But it's great!" she insisted. "You will immediately feel hungry once you start eating it." She took his plate and started peeling the shrimp skin off. "Here. I'll even make them bite-sized for you."

Despite how much he wanted to strangle his teammate right now, he had to admit that repressing the smile on his face was starting to become more and more impossible in every passing minute. Even the simple movements of hers like mutilating shrimps with her fingers and arranging the bodies to form a happy face on his plate was simply too much for his restraint to bear.

When she presented him his plate, he was already chuckling.

……………………………………….

Later, as Tenten and the girls were talking and clearing the table at the same time, Hiashi had called his nephew over to the balcony. It seemed like the verdict was about to be handed down.

Primly, the clan leader offered him a seat. Afterwards, he showed him a small yellow book.

And then he smiled. "I was wrong when I thought you needed this."

"What's that?" Neji peered at it curiously.

"Your father's memoirs."

The young Hyuuga edged closer, interest written all over his face.

"A part of his journal is a section dedicated to his ideal wife. He had written ten most important things his woman must possess in order for him to be happy with her." Hiashi showed him the page full of his father's handwriting.

"She must be someone sweet and shy, like a budding flower in spring. She should be quiet and pensive as a brook fated to run in perpetual profundity. Her willingness to be under me should be present, because I want my piece of mind. She must support me in all my endeavors and stand behind my every decision. Her wisdom will prove itself when she would hold only intelligent and compelling discussions with me," read Neji.

"Did any one of those traits resembled her?" asked Hiashi.

The nephew scowled; she could be sweet (as when she would hold his head under her chin when he would collapse in her arms, exhausted from the training) but definitely not shy. She wasn't the quietest person he knew, and at times of arguments, she would never back out as long as she believed she was right. She would not hesitate to say the cons of his decisions and actions, and she was one of the few people whose honesty he could trust.

The wisdom part…most discussions he and his kunoichi teammate shared most often were about the most inane of things like which came first: the chicken that crossed the road, or the quick brown fox that jumped over the lazy dog. But he knew she was smart—she wouldn't be a high-ranking Chuunin if she wasn't—, only she preferred talking about lighthearted matters. It was part of her cheerful, carefree nature that provided a perfect counteragent to his own dark moodiness.

He then realized something: his own father was against Tenten and the likes of her! He continued reading nevertheless.

"She must prefer to be at home and serve her man and her family instead of being like other stubborn kunoichis who engage in never-ending battles to be on equal footing with male shinobis. She should hold a kind of patience more enduring than mine. She must learn the value of obedience to her husband at all times. She must not get in the way when I want to do something. She must do all that I have written here faithfully." He sighed. When his teammate sees this macho statement from his father, he knew she would burn this down in infernal wrath with no regrets.

"This was written by your father when we were both in our early twenties, and the ways of Tsunade-sama is, to be sure, radical." Hiashi flipped to the next page. "The next day, he met your mother."

"And she was all the things he had written?" guessed Neji.

"On the contrary, she was anything but those ten rules. She was fierce, stubborn, and iron-willed, the very traits your father did not like. He kept his emotions in check for so many years before he wrote this page." The clan head's hand moved near to the last of the journal.

An ideal wife can make me happy, but a person who can easily make me smile will make me happier.

"And then he married her, the woman he loved even in the absence of the conditions he had set. Unconditional love lasts far longer than any kind of emotion that exists within us." A smile broke on the clan head's face. "And history may just repeat itself."

"I thought…you didn't like her," said Neji slowly. "You left the dining room so abruptly, Hiashi-sama."

"No…actually, I just had to leave the room and let my laughter out someplace where my daughters will not hear it and in turn lose their respect for me." A smile of amusement stretched on the clan head's face, making him look younger. "Did you really tell that Uchiha boy the same things you tell her?" He flipped through the yellow book. "Because your father has also devoted a section in this journal for situations like that—"

"NO!" The nephew staggered. "I mean…it's like this…" He began the long, tedious explanation on the dinner table misunderstanding a.k.a. his defense of his gender.

………………………………

"Hmm, thanks for the dinner treat, Neji," said Tenten cheerfully as he walked her home later that evening. "And you even allowed me to bring home some shrimps for my breakfast tomorrow!"

"I know you are not a morning person," he said wryly. "And you will most definitely not be looking for that can opener early that day. Training without breakfast is worthless."

"How thoughtful," she said, laughing.

He picked that up as an opportunity knocking. Once more, he launched into his veteran tactical ways of subtle but successful interrogations.

"Are you planning to marry thoughtful men?" When he saw her face contorted, he realized what he just said. But how else could he incorporate his marriage questions without her noticing the understated change of topic?

She blushed faintly, and then placed her arms behind her head, stretching. "Let me guess…Lee and Gai-sensei?"

He had no choice but to betray his brothers-in-faith. A meek nod did it.

"You listened to them?" she asked incredulously.

"They said you were going out with several men," he said accusingly, unable to keep the long-suppressed jealousy out of his voice.

"Be specific."

"Lightning daimyo, Wind daimyo, Grass daimyo…" Veins started to pop on his face as he spoke.

She blinked, then burst out laughing. "Ne-ji! Those people are my missions!"

He glared at her.

She raised her hand up. "Okay, okay. It's like this: Tsunade-sama received invitations from many villages, asking her presence in their various public ceremonies. But it was, like, too hectic so she assigned me to attend as a proxy to some of them." Her eyes went to him teasingly. "The two most probably just pulled a prank on you, knowing you'll fall for it, hook, line and sinker. That's the consequence of not reading those memos from the Godaime's desk."

They both stopped when she reached the front gates of her pad. "Well, thanks for the walk home."

"No problem."

"And for the entertaining chat awhile ago."

He glared at her, crossing both arms in front of his chest.

"See you tomorrow?"

"Definitely."

She blinked. "Neji?"

"Yes?"

"Something else in mind to say?"

He shook his head vigorously.

Her mouth twitched. "Goodnight then."

"Goodnight." He stepped back and walked back into the streets. With the dinner over and done, he still had not been able to tell her that it was their first official date.

At least in his own little yellow book.

The legacy of his father lives on.

………………

The sun had barely risen when Neji received a visitor in the compound the next morning.

"Why are you here?" The infamous Hyuuga glare was etched on his face as he sipped his coffee.

"Tenten told me she had dinner here last night and it was yummy, and so I was thinking that you being a sweet, cool guy and all, would allow your other teammate to partake in the heavenly morning blessings on your table," explained Lee cheerfully.

"She called you?" he asked, groaning. "And don't touch the pancakes. I love pancakes."

Lee munched on the apple instead. "Yeah! Neji-kun, you should be ashamed! Not telling your best friend about your first date?"

Ignoring the virtual ME neon billboards flashing around his teammate, he said, "I don't have a best friend."

Rock Lee laughed. "Trust Neji-kun to be soooo funny even this early in the morning!"

"…" He spread the nauseatingly sweet golden viscous liquid on the pancakes.

The syrup was overpowered by the saccharine tone of Gai's protégée though. "She told me that if she didn't know you and your incapability of emotions for the past several years better, she would have thought that you had asked him out on a date!"

Forgetting the initial thought of practicing his sixty-four strikes at Lee's body for the humiliation he suffered last night, Neji perked up. "Thought? THOUGHT!" Was Tenten denser than he presumed? For pete's sake, he took her out for dinner, in a place where he hadn't taken Konoha women to before even! Shouldn't that qualify as a date?

Lee grinned. "It's not a date until there is a kiss on the doorstep."

"Is that so?" Wasting no time, the Hyuuga left the table and his beloved pancakes to Lee, who was stunned.

After awhile, the martial artist chuckled. "Well, what about that? He fell for another prank again." Picking up another apple, he shook his head. "Nah. Neji-kun's too awesome for that. Maybe he just led me to believe that he fell for my joke. Yeah, that must be it."

…………………….

Being her teammate since Genin days, he head memorized her routine already. Which was why he knew exactly which window should he leap on to find her. And as he guessed, she was still a zombie, hair disheveled, still in pajamas, rummaging groggily through the cabinet for her can opener.

Wasting no time, he heaved himself into the window and into her pad. "Tenten!"

She looked up, and apparently, her wits weren't still functioning. A lazy smile appeared on her face. "Neji! Just the man I am looking for! Can you please use your Byakugan to find that stupid can opener?"

"Forget that stupid can opener!"

"It's not stupid," she protested. "It makes possible for me to subsist on canned goods!"

"You called it stupid awhile ago."

"I did?"

"Never mind." He crossed his arms in front of his chest. "I am here to inform you that last night…" He coughed. "…last night, I took you out on a date."

"I know," she said, arching an eyebrow.

"No, you don't!" he snapped.

"I don't?"

He nodded. "It wasn't a date because you DEPRIVED me of a critical factor that makes dining out 'going out'. In a romantic sense," he added as an afterthought hastily. Somehow, talking to a semi-awake Tenten was making him feel more confident than usual. He knew that she would forget it all in the morning anyway (like the last time that Gai talked with her at dawn, teaching her how to cook. And until this day, her culinary talents were left to anyone else's imagination).

What was important was that he released these stupid, stupid eddies of emotions and sentiments within him. And find a way later to self-hypnotize himself into forgetting that these things ever happened.

"What did I deprive you of?"

"A kiss by the doorstep," he said petulantly.

"That's all?"

He glared at her. "It is not just a minor issue. See, Lee told me that—" He didn't get to finish his last sentence anymore because the girl had tiptoed already and pulled his nape down to her. His mouth met hers in a powerful, crushing motion that all the while that their lips were sealed together, he was gazing at her, wide-eyed. Not only because it was his first kiss, but also because he didn't know that it was capable of making him feel this…nice.

His mouth twitched into a grin. Yes, only this woman was capable of making him smile so easily.

As if feeling his smile against her lips, she stepped back, grinning. "Feeling better?"

He paused, then shook his head. "It wasn't right."

That seemed to have broken her sleep trance. "WHAT!"

He smiled sheepishly. "It should be a kiss on the doorway. At night. After a date."

She blinked. "And what do you suggest, Hyuuga Neji?"

The Hyuuga male placed his hands inside his coat. "Another date? Usual movies and pizza, this time? No clan heads, no yellow books, no misunderstanding on my gender…."

A smile spread on her face. "You're on."

……………………………………..

the end