Once upon a time, a certain songwriter once said that when a person reaches the age of seventeen, one becomes susceptible to the irregularities of the mind, the irrationalities of the heart, and the immaturity of the convictions. In short, the person becomes a teenager.
Now one would think that the proud kunoichis and shinobis of the Konoha Village would be exempted from this golden adage of life. After all, at their young ages, they had managed to survive death matches, legendary sealed monsters, and the lethal tongue of -the- Orochimaru. Surely, they should be well-equipped to deal with the simple biological pre-adult changes manifested partly on their mental and emotional abilities.
But the tune rings true for two of the biggest prides among the ranks in the Leaf Village.
And their story unfolds with the arrival of a nervous-looking woman checking both sides of the hallway before inserting a pink envelope into a locker.
The woman smiled, relieved, when the letter slipped easily into the cubbyhole. She turned around to go back, only to come face to face with the most renowned weapons expert of Konoha.
Tenten looked at her with an amused smile on her somewhat grubby face, fresh from training. And then she raised her hands and saluted.
"Excuse me, mailman on duty," she said, walking over to Neji's locker and dialing his memorized-by-heart combination. Out tumbled several more folded stationeries and little envelopes, earning a gasp from the woman behind her.
The kunoichi glanced at the woman briefly, giving her a friendly smile. It was a silent assurance that it was okay and that she was going to deliver the precious correspondences to the intended receiver.
And as the astounded Neji secret admirer watched Tenten walk away with the envelopes in hand, she unknowingly added herself to the growing statistics of people wondering what the heck was the relationship between the Hyuuga genius and the lady weapons expert.
Missives in Pink
For AmazinGSensatiOn, who penned some of the sweetest and most inspiring notes/reviews for my stories. Thank you very much.
Warning: OOC and Extra Dose of Fluff
"New arrivals," announced Tenten to her teammate when she entered the Jounin office, bringing a pack of envelopes in various colors, sizes, and scents.
Hyuuga Neji looked up from the security reports he was reading, and then eyed what she was holding. A second later, he was back to studying his reports again.
She sighed. "Glad to see you too." She slid to her seat and opened her bottom drawer, where more packs of envelopes were found.
Through the years, she had developed the hobby of keeping all the love letters Neji received. It started since they were fifteen, when his looks and abilities were starting to get harder to ignore. Not that Neji really cared to fight for his right to privacy of keeping his love letters. Between the two of them, she was the one who was more interested in those mushy love notes he received frequently.
Alas, she could very well remember the day when Neji received his first love letter…
"Tomorrow, we're going back to the mountains so I can try the full impact of the revision I made on my absolute defense technique." Neji strode on the grassland with the authority of its landowner, making Tenten suddenly think of the king of the jungle. They both share the same show of power, that's for sure.
Out of boredom, she tried to imagine Neji as a lion walking ahead of her. A smile of amusement formed on her face when she realized that it fitted him impeccably.
"… Hiashi-sama saw some weak points in my technique," Neji Lion was saying. "To test his inputs, I asked for a duel with Naruto…"
The scene unfolded in her mind: a chibi fox and a chibi lion growling at each other.
"You can't take my ramen away!" Chibi Naruto fox.
"I'm not taking anything away." Chibi Neji Lion.
"Do you like ramen?"
"So you ARE taking my ramen away!" Chibi Naruto fox stomped his feet on the ground. "You bully! You thief! You Ramen-napper!"
The lion groaned. "I am not any of those things. But let's fight anyway."
"…and he was able to pierce through my defense by using Kage Bunshin, and applying brute strength on me," continued Neji.
Multiple Chibi Naruto foxes leaped joyfully towards the sweatdropping Chibi Neji Lion. "Yaaaay! Group hug!"
"So what do you think—" Neji spun around to face her and saw the strange smile that had crept up her face. "What does that smile mean?"
"Huh?" She quickly banished every trace of smile on her face and posed a business-like look. "What smile?" She knew Neji like the back of her hand—when he was discussing the merits and cons of his combat techniques, one was expected to listen to him like he was delivering the message of a messiah itself.
"The one that existed on your face a second ago." Neji sighed audibly. "Never mind. Anyway, I'm going to ask Gai to give our team a day off to train in the mountains. I'm not going to indulge Lee anymore and allow Gai to come with us, since the last time he did, he brought a disco ball along and asked us to dance."
She snickered. "Your foxtrot was cool." She recalled Neji mechanically clapping his hands and marching on his place like a robot.
He glared at her. This time, she kept her silence for good.
Moments later, they were inside the Konoha office and were currently fussing with their lockers when Neji suddenly paused.
Sensing his momentary confusion, she stopped what she was doing and peeked inside his cabinet.
Her almond-brown eyes widened in surprise. Could it be…?
Neji lifted the folded letter and read the contents swiftly with his eyes. And for a moment, she thought she saw a faint scarlet on his pasty complexion.
One breath later, he crumpled the note and threw it on the floor. In hasty motions, he closed his locker again and proceeded to walk away.
She, on the other hand, knelt down and picked up the crumpled paper curiously.
"Tenten, let's go," said Neji, crossing his arms over his chest.
Ignoring him, she smoothed the creased paper with the palm of her hands and read the note.
"My dear wonderful prince…"
"I had long been watching you from afar. I watched you when you walk around the town. I watched you when you train with your team. I watched you when you…" She blinked. "Who's this, Big Brother?"
She continued to read. "I cannot fight this feeling anymore. I must tell you how much I… I…" She couldn't read the next few words out loud without bursting into laughter. Instead, she got up and faced him, smiling teasingly. "Why, Neji! It's a love letter! How—"
"Don't say it."
She grinned some more. "You're all grown up! The opposite sex is starting to get seriously interested in you."
He exhaled in exasperation. "Do you really need to make an issue out of this?"
"Hey, maybe a little dose of romance and mush will make a functional human being out of you, Hyuuga Neji," she said lightly.
Another sigh from him. "Define functional."
She didn't answer him. Instead, she read the rest of the contents silently, laughing at some parts, and looking up at the annoyed Neji time to time to wink conspiratorially.
"Tenten," said Neji, starting to shift his weight impatiently. "We both have better things to do than read a stupid note like that."
"I consider this as one of the better things in my activity list," she said smilingly. "Besides, I'm done!"
"Good." He gestured to the door. And the gentleman that he was, he walked out of the room first.
"Aren't you even going to keep this?" she asked, trying to keep up with his brisk pace.
"Why should I?"
"A souvenir." She shrugged. "The girl must have mustered a lot of courage to write someone like you a letter of confession."
He smirked. "I don't tolerate sentimental trash in my locker, sorry."
"Then why not let me keep it?" she asked, a smile forming on her face.
He stared at her, and then shook her head. "What will you do with that? It's not even for you."
"So?" she swept a glance at the crumpled note, and sympathy tugged at her heart strings. "It's better than making it end up as a litter on the floor."
"Suit yourself," said Neji, walking away already.
"Have you eaten your breakfast?"
Neji's question brought her back to earth, "Uh… yeah," she replied, nodding with a smile.
He looked at her for a moment and then shook his head. "Liar. You went straight to the woods to train with Lee."
"Why do you sound so sure?" she demanded.
"Fetch a mirror and wash your face. You're already seventeen, Tenten. Females your age are usually conscious, if not vain, of their looks." From the corner of his eye, he saw his teammate blink. And then discreetly, she wiped the dirt on her face with the edge of her outfit's sleeve.
Typical Tenten, of course.
He got up all of a sudden, startling her. "I'm going to order my snacks." Without waiting for her reply, he left the room.
Gee, thanks for asking. I'm quite full. Tenten watched him go wanly, momentarily reflecting once more on how chivalrous Hyuuga Neji can make a twig seem. Afterwards, she turned her attention again to the box full of love letters.
Over the years, she had accumulated quite a collection of love notes—all addressed to Hyuuga Neji. But except for the one that he mistakenly read the first time he received such, he never cared to glance at any of them.
On the other hand, she relished reading the letters… at first. She found it a decent way to pass time whenever she was bored at home and vacated of missions. Like a critic immersing himself over a bunch of newly-found literary novelty goodies, she would scrutinize every letter's contents—trying to guess the personality of the person who wrote this, gauging the depth of the writer's infatuation with her teammate, or simply poking fun at the oozing mushiness of some letters.
But two years later in the job, she had slowly found herself disliking the thought of reading his love letters. Initially, she didn't know how that strange notion surfaced, but when the answer finally hit her, she couldn't bring herself to accept it.
For in reading these love letters, her eyes were slowly opened to the fact that her childhood friend and teammate—Hyuuga Neji—was a man, and a very desirable one at that.
As she read through the hundreds of reasons for liking him, she found herself agreeing with these silently; while with some, she never really noticed until she read so. Majority of those though, were things she laughed at, knowing that these people do not know Hyuuga Neji as well as she did.
She felt proud of such fact—and later, quite haughty of it.
And with that, she realized too the most unspeakable thought of all: she was, indeed, crushing on him.
At their training just this morning (Yes, Neji was right again, as usual), she confided this to Rock Lee, Konoha's self-proclaimed assistant to the Specialist of Burning Youthful Love A.K.A. Maito Gai.
After she finished narrating her dilemma, a bewildered Lee asked quietly, "Are you sure?"
And she nodded sadly, like she just affirmed the demolition of Uzumaki Naruto's beloved Ichiraku ramen stall.
He cupped his chin, pondering on her problem. "Well, why don't you just… tell him?"
"And usher in the end of the world?" she asked dryly. "No thanks."
"You're exaggerating!" said Lee, patting her shoulder.
"He's going to laugh at my face! What else can you call that?" she demanded.
He scratched his head. "Well…"
"Besides, judging from his aversion of love letters, I'd say he's not interested in anything romantic." She threw her kunai his way, and he avoided it with ease. "GRAH! I'm slowing down!"
"Nah. I'm just too quick," said Lee smilingly. "Your combat technique is fitted only for one person, and that's Neji-san."
She rolled her eyes. "Understandable. I sparred with the same person for a decade or so."
Lee stiffened, and then, suddenly, he clapped his hands excitedly. "THAT'S IT!"
She gaped at him openly.
"Neji-san had always known he has no competition when it comes to you! That's why he never thought of becoming romantic with you… he's just too secured!" assessed Lee happily.
"And that's good news?" she asked, noting the tone of his voice.
"We can do something about that." Forgetting the rest of the training entirely, he began to reveal his latest brainstorm. And in every passing minute, Tenten's face was starting to contort in dismay.
When at last he finished, she collapsed on the treetop, shoulders sagging. "Does my situation sound that desperate?" she asked weakly. "I mean, I can just wait for these strange feelings to pass without having to resort to that."
"Or, time would just make them stronger," said her teammate with prominent eyebrows. "Besides, it's a foolproof plan."
She tucked her knees underneath her chin. "Actually, I'm looking for a clan genius-proof plan."
"When it comes to Neji-san, both words become synonymous to each other," said Lee, smiling wickedly. "Trust me."
And trust him, she did.
Just watch your window and wait for my surprise.
Tenten recalled Lee's words as she stared at the window by her office table expectantly. Cupping her chin, she dully gazed at the birds walking through the copper tightropes of their resident electric company.
At that moment, the door opened, and in came Neji, balancing a tray heavy with food. He turned his eyes toward his teammate, who was pensively looking out at the window.
Now that was not an ordinary sight, especially for someone like her who finds time too precious for idle moments of daydreaming.
His gaze shifted next to the drawer box containing his love letters gathered for almost two years. A small sigh escaped his throat.
This caught the kunoichi's attention. "N-Neji?"
"Here." He delivered a big plate of sandwich in front of her, and then planted a large glass of juice beside it. "Only idiots train on empty stomachs."
"Hey, thanks," she said wryly. She hungrily took a large bite on the bread. "Mmm! Chicken!"
He went back to his place and unwrapped his own sandwich. However, he couldn't bring himself to eat—not when Tenten was acting this strange. Or that box of love letters were parked prominently on her desk.
Stealing a glance again at the cursed box again, he remembered one of his past conversations with Maito Gai while they watched Lee and Tenten spar.
"Tenten is growing lovelier and lovelier everyday, isn't she?" Maito Gai began softly, making him turn towards the teacher.
"A handsome flower, that's what she is," added the mentor, nodding assent to his own words a minute ago.
"In our society, we call that 'child abuse'," he commented.
Gai paused, and then burst out laughing. "Well, in our society, we also have a word called 'jealousy'."
He shrugged. "You foolishly color facts rendered in black and white. She is the closest person I could think of as a friend."
"Love is only a more intimate friendship," said Gai, humming teasingly.
And your death is only a more painful kick away, he thought, turning his attention back to Tenten. But of course he did not say that aloud—he wouldn't give his teacher the satisfaction of getting his most defiant student to react to his juvenile antics.
"Why not try asking her out on a date?" Gai asked, pretending not to sense the veins popping subtly on his head. "You know, just for fun?"
"I won't fall for that dare-me trick. Drop it," Neji said coolly.
Gai did his best to look wounded, and came across looking like an orangutan. "The problem with you, Neji-kun, is that you're just too suspicious of everyone around you. Tenten can be an attractive little flower yet to bloom. Why not become her first gardener? The fire of youthful love awaits your daring and initiative! You shouldn't wait for Cupid to stick his arrow into Tenten! You must take action now!"
Neji shrugged, but his eyes were cast on his female teammate. "There are just things that simply can't be said and done in this world. One of these is to get intimate with the person who arranges your love letters alphabetically and file them carefully through the years. Because chances are, that person is one whose companionship you cannot afford to lose."
Tenten nibbled on her sandwich as she dared not take her eyes off the window. She knew that when Lee promised her something, he would really do it come hell or high water. Normally, that should sound good, but right now, she was silently wishing that Lee had thought twice about the plan and had wisely decided not to go with it.
Lee can be quite sensible when he wants to. Maybe he realized it's impossible to trick Neji. Yeah, maybe he did!
But she had barely begun convincing herself when out of nowhere, a pink balloon surfaced slowly up the window. Tied to its string was an enormous roll of pink paper.
"What on earth is that?" Neji had gotten out of his seat to get a closer look of the floating balloon. "Where did that come from?"
She stretched out her hand beyond the window and reached for the paper. All the while, she could feel Neji standing behind her, looking over her shoulders to see what the mysterious balloon contained.
"Maybe a report from the other Jounins downstairs," she said dismissively.
He gazed at her mockingly. "I for one cannot imagine why they would use balloons." His eyes swept over the cartolina, and then noticed the handwriting beneath the rubber band. "It says it's for you, Tenten," he said, pointing to her name. "And it's from…"
"… a secret admirer." Tenten rolled her eyes. A make-believe secret admirer. Gee, Lee, you really know how to build someone's self-confidence.
To be continued