Title: Birthday Presents
Date: March 9 2006, Tenten's birthday!
Rating: T. I don't what the word 'hell' qualifies as, but I'll rate it T just to be sure. Romance/fluff (if not sap)/humor.
Author: Wingsover (aka Cyberwolf)
Notes: Entry for the NejiTen Fated Heaven forum contest whose inspiration happened to be on Tenten's birthday. Wrote it in about 4 hours, skipping lunch (I've just realized) because it was fun!
See if you can spot the crossover cameos!
Tenten was never bored when training with Neji. To be with the prodigy meant constant challenge and constant striving, adrenaline-rush sharpening the world around her as her body and her mind struggled to keep up with what he demanded of her. It was frankly wonderful, the way he pushedher - pulled her - shoved her until she was left, breathless and weary and utterly exhilarated, on the other side of what could have been her limits.
It wasn't as if they only ever sparred, either. Their training sessions were as varied and unpredictable as they were challenging: children's games made dangerous, like hide-and-go-seek through miles of forest laced with traps; king-of-the-mountain with live steel and on actual mountains; playing tag with explosive ofudas. Sometimes they raced each other, setting rules like bearing burdens, or absolute stealth, or sensory deprivation. Or they might simply sit and argue about famous battles and classic textbook mission profiles, picking apart every aspect from arms to logistics to technique. They would set themselves exercises in urban combat, or desert survival, or jungle warfare.
And today, Neji had announced, they would do target practice.
Tenten paused in her limbering-up exercises to stare at him. "Excuse me?" It was sort of like being told that their Jounin exams would consist of counting from one to ten.
Neji, silent and unperturbed, simply vanished into the forest. Tenten sprang after, landing beside him in a large forest clearing mere moments after he stopped.
The clearing was beautiful, a natural thing rather than artificed like the training-grounds of the various teams. It was obvious that it was seldom visited; the grass was thick underfoot, not trampled and crushed, and the tall redwoods around them bore no scars. At the verge a little waterfall, hardly more than a strong trickle, gushed merrily over a boulder into a small, clear rock-pool.
But it was not the beauty of the scene that caught Tenten's attention. Rather, it was the unbelievable number of balloons floating in the clearing, somehow tethered to the ground. There were easily half a thousand balloons bobbing gently in the breeze, all the colors of the rainbow and more besides. There were round balloons, large balloons, shiny balloons shaped like animals, balloons with words on them – even a silver balloon that looked like her favourite fuuma shuriken.
Tenten gaped. She tried to talk, but somehow words that made sense were hard to find, just like the equation of 'Neji plus training equals a helluva lot of balloons' was hard to make sense of.
Neji's voice cut off her stammering questions. "Target practice," he said again, "I'll release the balloons – they're chakra-anchored," he explained, anticipating her unvoiced curiosity, "And you'll have to pop them all before they get above two hundred yards."
Suddenly he turned and flung a kunai at a nearby tree, the blade quivering as it stuck end-on in the wood. "That's the marker, two hundred yards," he said, turning to look at her. "Ready?"
Tenten was already holding more shuriken and kunai than the instructors said was safe. "Let 'er rip," she growled, grinning behind the senbon held between her teeth.
Neji called back his chakra, and the balloons began to float towards the sky. Tenten was gone, flashing into the air above the balloons, and raining down a storm of steel; Neji smiled, small and quiet and secret, and watched her.
She was almost finished in half a minute; it wasn't the targeting that was difficult, or the number, but the time limit set by stopping them before they reached the two-hundred-yard line. She set a fuuma shuriken to soaring around the clearing, razing all balloons in its path.
Unseen behind her, Neji silently flung a senbon up into the trees, severing the string of a green balloon taped to a tree-branch.
Tenten turned a somersault, throwing two kunai; they not only got the two balloons in their trajectory, but ricocheted off each other in mid-air so that they popped the last three remaining balloons. Tenten landed on the ground triumphantly, catching the fuuma shuriken as it soared past her. She grinned and turned to Neji.
Who only grinned back at her and pointed upwards, to a single green balloon floating into the sky.
She cursed and threw the shuriken in the same breath, even while wondering – in the back of her mind – at the uncharacteristic grin. The fuuma shuriken screamed as it sped towards that last green target, barely nicking it edge-on…but that was enough. The balloon popped.
And something white, and small, and shapeless, began to hurtle towards Tenten's head. Hurtle fast. Reflexively, she threw everything she could her hands on at the unknown missile; a barrage of kunai, scythes, swords and knives soared upwards.
Neji's grin vanished.
Tenten, her adrenaline-rush beginning to fade, blinked as snow began to float gently down on her. No – not snow – stuffing! She opened her arms in time to catch several torn pieces of cloth and plush falling from the sky, shrieking a little as a white head rolled off the pile and fell to her feet.
She had chopped up a teddy bear.
A teddy bear!
Her arms full of mutilated stuffed animal, she turned to Neji.
"Um." She had never seen Neji awkward before. "Happy Birthday."
Then he ran away.
Tenten stood there, surrounded by her weapons and the remains of hundreds of dead balloons, holding a decapitated teddy-bear, and tried to figure out what hell had just happened.
'Stupid, stupid, stupid!' Neji cursed himself, pacing inside his room in the Hyuuga complex. He had fled there for refuge after the morning's…debacle.
'You idiot! She's a weapons-master - of course she's going to dice up something that looked like it was going to hit her on the head! Especially after she just practiced hurling sharp pointy objects at everything that moved!'
Neji turned sharply on his heel, and stomped back across the floor. He was so distracted that he stepped on a discarded scroll and nearly slipped – he, Hyuuga Neji! He began to swear as he regained his balance. It was more at himself than at anything else.
'And then, and then, o prince of nitwits, you don't explain why the hell there was a teddy bear hidden inside the balloon, you just run off! Good going, genius, she must think you've gone nuts!'
He clenched his fists. He'd thought he was so clever, hadn't he, setting this up like a training exercise, hiding the green balloon so that it couldn't be seen against the leaves, having everything fall into place. He thought it would be funny, seeing her surprise when her present landed in her arms.
He thought he'd see her smile at him.
And to top it all off, he'd run away from her. Neji bit back another flood of swearwords when he remembered that. See if he would take advice from his cousins again!
'Stupid Hiiro! Give her teddy bears, he said. It worked for me, he said. I'm going to kill you!'
Much assured by this thought, Neji stomped through his door – actually through, ripping the paper screen apart by the mere force of the chakra aura he was emitting – in search of a spar.
It was sunset before Neji left the Hyuuga complex, having received a thorough beating – and some acid words of advice – from his older cousin.
He clutched another teddy bear – brown, this time – and a card. This time he would hand it to her straight, no clever plots, no running away. Just happy birthday, and I'm sorry I was an idiot, and if she didn't keel over from shock or punch him in the face, he'd invite her out for dinner.
He wasn't really paying attention as he walked to her apartment, his feet having long since memorized the oft-taken path. He was busy thinking of her possible reactions, so he didn't notice the way people went silent as he walked past, the double-take Hanabi performed, the way Ino and Sakura bounced up and down and squealed, the snickers from Kiba and Naruto and Sasuke, as the sight of the Hyuuga prodigy with a teddy bear in his arms registered on them.
All he thought about was Tenten.
He stood in front of her apartment door for a whole minute before he mustered the courage to knock. The sound of his knuckles against the steel-reinforced wood – ninja had strong doors – was loud in the twilight silence.
No one answered.
A little shiver of something that might have been disappointment, relief, or fear – or maybe all three in one – twisted up his spine. Maybe she wasn't home. Maybe she was avoiding him.
Maybe she was celebrating her birthday with someone else.
He got out the key she had given him and opened the door.
She was there, after all – but asleep, her head pillowed on an outflung arm. Her posture as she slumped over the table would give her back-pains. He stepped closer, checked as he saw what was on the table beside her sleeping head.
A small white teddy bear.
How had she…?
Her hand was clasped loosely around one soft white leg – beyond it was a sewing kit, left in the disarray of use. He didn't think he'd made a sound, but she startled awake, sitting up sharply and – why did his heart contract at this – clutching the teddy bear to her chest protectively. Her eyes took a moment to adjust to the darkness and find him.
He took another step closer.
"I'm sorry," they said at the same time, startling themselves into silence. Tenten plunged in first.
"I'm so sorry, Neji," she said, sounding almost – it couldn't be; not Tenten – tearful. "You…you…it was so sweet, and then I had to go and be a barbarian and rip Shiro up…"
'Shiro?' "I'm the one who should be apologizing, Tenten," Neji interrupted, his voice soft. "I startled you, and I did not take into account your exceptional combat reflexes. You had every right to attack an unknown object and I…" he trailed off, and then thrust the brown teddy bear in front of him like a shield. "I brought you another one to replace…"
"No!" Tenten's vehemence startled herself as much as it startled Neji. She hugged the white teddy bear to herself more tightly. "I won't replace Shiro. He's…I…you gave him to me!"
She paused, and repeated herself in a whisper. "Don't you see, Neji – he's…precious. That's why I couldn't leave any pieces in the clearing - why I had to try and fix him.You gave him to me."
She looked up at him shyly, defiantly, searchingly.
And Neji, after a moment of startled silence, smiled.
And suddenly, she didn't remember moving, she was hugging him, and he was hugging her back, the two teddy bears crushed in between their bodies. They stayed that way for a long, warm, perfect moment, Tenten smiling so hard that her face hurt and burying her face into his shoulder so that he wouldn't see the foolish, foolish tears that insisted on leaking from her eyes…
He bent his head and whispered into her ear, his breath making her shiver. "Happy birthday, Tenten."
"Do you know," she said, half-laughing, still nuzzling into his shoulder and eliciting her own shivers from him, "that I'd forgotten about that until you said it in the clearing?"