"A secret admirer?" Neji's forehead creased. "A secret admirer?" It was with great difficulty that he had managed to say that phrase with Tenten in mind in one moment.
"Something to that effect," his teammate, looking unenthusiastic, said as she put away the roll of paper.
"You're not going to read what it says?" he couldn't resist asking while stealing glances at the unrevealed contents of the pink cartolina that would never see the light of the world because of Tenten's refusal to open it.
"I'll just tell that person that I'm actually illiterate."
He looked at the cleared-away paper discreetly, and then back at her. She had gone back to working on her late breakfast.
His fists clenched. Once more, he felt a kind of frustration he thought he had already left behind in his childhood days—the one wherein he was struggling between wanting to know something and at the same time, pretending that he didn't care at all.
"You know," he began smoothly, "that letter could be a prank."
She nodded nonchalantly.
"Wouldn't you want to know who's behind it?" he pressed. "We—you can detect it by studying the note."
She shrugged. "Maybe some other time."
"There is no better time than the present," he advised piously.
"You said it yourself, Neji," she said, glancing up briefly. "It may just be a prank. The person who wrote this would only be pleased if I give the letter a portion of time of my day."
"What if he turns out to be a dangerous psychopathic stalker? That message may be a warning." Neji was seriously doubting the mental stability of a person who sends love notes through pink balloons.
Tenten had to laugh. "Neji, relax. You're worrying too much—"
"I am -not- worrying."
She sweatdropped. "Fine. But take it easy. If it really is a stalker, then I can handle that on my own. I wasn't promoted to my current rank for nothing."
The Hyuuga male still looked skeptical, but when he saw that Tenten favored the remaining crumbs of her sandwich than arguing with him about the letter, he knew that verbal exchange was doomed for nowhere.
But he knew he had to do something about that roll of pink paper. Even if he did tell Tenten that he was not worried (which was definitely true, by his standards), he was… a little concerned about the possible impact of that paper on her well-being.
And as her teammate for several years, he knew he had the prerogative to act for the security of the kunoichi.
Missives in Pink
For Tanuuki and Kodoku. Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy the update, late as it may be ehehehe.
The clock's hour hand was on seven while the minute's hand was on eight.
Time to go home and watch my sitcom, thought Tenten as she stretched lazily and got up to arrange her things on the table. Beside her, Neji was hunched over, busy with his own work.
"Aren't you going home yet, Neji?" she asked, looking over his shoulders to see what had merited such devoted attention from the usually disinterested Hyuuga genius.
"Maybe later," he said noncommittally, staring harder at his work. Further scrutiny led her to discover that he was actually connecting the dots of a creature that suspiciously looked like Pikachu.
She sweatdropped. For the life of her, she would never understand why, of all the games and puzzles in the world, the most favorite of Neji happened to be the Connect the Dots challenge. She vaguely remembered that at age 5, she had rebelled against following the order of the numbers and connected Dot 2 to Dot 389, among other violations. As a result, the cat that was supposed to be the final picture came out as a jellyfish.
But then again, Hyuuga Neji was a stickler for law and order governing the wheels of life. Which definitely makes him compatible with that kind of puzzle.
"Alright," she said, straightening up. "I'm going home. Good night, Neji."
He grunted—the traditional form of a Hyuuga Neji response that covered the broad range of yes, maybe, not now, not ever, go to hell, and simply, no.
She encountered the custodian of the office on her way out. She courteously smiled at the old man, and he smiled back.
"Still the most hardworking Jounin in the office, eh?" said the janitor, smiling fondly at the female.
"Not tonight," she said good-naturedly. She gestured to the lone soul inside the office. "He's still there, mapping the chakra points of a dubious-looking character that could possibly wreak havoc on the future of the Fire Country youth."
The janitor peeked inside the room, and then turned back to her. "Ah. The Hyuuga genius." The old man smiled at her, not without palpable teasing. "Two diligent ninjas… both smart and very determined… I couldn't think of any more people who would look good together."
This she dismissed with a gentle laughter. "Don't let Neji hear that. We already get too much of that from our colleagues."
"Perhaps, they also see the things I see in you two. When I was young, my wife, then my girlfriend, called it 'sparks', 'chemistry', and 'magic'. We had it, and you seem to both have it too."
Tenten scratched her cheek. She didn't know that the old man was a hopeless romantic too. How was she supposed to react to that anyway? "Um…"
"Besides, you had grown up together, and it's likely that you will continue to do so in the coming days." The old man hugged the broomstick to his chest blissfully, making Tenten step back with a grimace on her face. "In the end, you will only have each other. Shouldn't you consider that as a divine sign from destiny that the two of you are meant to be?"
Her eyes narrowed. The Gai Mania strikes again. "I think it's more of a divine mockery of our respective wanting social options."
Touché. Neji could hear the conversation going on in the doorway even from where he was seated. As his eyes searched for Dot 87, he silently deliberated on the fact that in times of peace, the lives of Jounins become harder to live. Everyone stops talking about a ninja's jutsus and combat ratings, and instead, chooses to dwell on the usual stories of sad people who used their work as an excuse to stop functioning as social animals.
They then start pairing Jounins off, as if these people were little dolls. And unfortunately, the most popular among the higher-ups of the office was him and Tenten. Maito Gai et al seemed to find it amusing to matchmake the two lone people in the office that could actually differentiate work from lounging around.
Fortunately, Tenten didn't seem to take much offense from that. With a casual shrug, she could dodge those evil jokers' teasings and gracefully shift the conversations into safer turfs. Like the right brand of corned beef. Or why blush-on could never be edible.
He smiled inwardly when he heard Tenten use the same maneuver on the swooning custodian.
"…and yes, I know it's kind of nosy for me to ask this, but really, your hair's luster is more noticeable! It's really bouncy and stuff!" Tenten was saying. "You must tell me the name of your hairdresser!"
"Really? I was thinking it's starting to get into a balder side…" But the old man sounded thrilled by the compliment. "Haha! Must be my genes!"
Neji shook his head amusedly as he connected 87 to 88. Vintage Tenten.
Minutes later, he heard footsteps marching away from the room. Slowly, he shut his book.
And just to be on the safe side, he scanned the surroundings with his Byakugan for any sign of chakra nearby.
With that, he got up and strode towards Tenten's desk. At the very bottom of her drawer laid his objective.
Carefully, he bent down and retrieved the rolled pink cartolina. He then carried it towards his desk.
"A secret admirer… a secret admirer…" he muttered as he inspected the object. "Damn it…. This must be a hoax. A prank, maybe." Tenten plus a secret admirer was an unimaginable equation in his mind.
He understood that women like Yamanaka Ino and Haruno Sakura have admirers. Why not, they were… girls.
But Tenten? Tenten, his teammate and his best sparring mate in Konoha? Neji shook his head. He knew that person as completely as the edge of his favorite kunai. Unlike the other kunoichis her age, Tenten grew up immune from mush, fluff, and romance that other girls dream about. Not because she lacked feminineness—she could also be as gentle as she was prone to PMS – but because she was just too hard-set on her goals to become like her idol, Tsunade.
She also grew up in the company of men who encouraged her ambitions by not giving her preferential treatment: she ate what the men ate; experienced the same rigorous training that the men endured; and slept right beside these same men: places which were, wherever fatigue would overpower them.
These things helped mold her into what she was now-- as Gai always puts it, a wild rose. Adored for its beauty and yet respected for its pricking thorns.
Furthermore, he made sure that their female teammate would grow stronger along with him. She was a more sensible option to self-training (which offered him no credible criteria on his improvement) and a certainly more acceptable choice than sparring with Rock Lee (which would result to a battle that would outlast the boundaries of Alpha and Omega).
And so he took her with him at every possible opportunity, and he was glad to see that she appreciated that. Admittedly, he could also feel a swell of pride surge within him whenever he would see marks of progress on her combative skills. And later on, he started to see those sparring sessions as rituals. Rituals that were solely his and hers. Rituals that branded the kunoichi as his associated property in the eyes of the men who had started to notice her.
Their intimate set-up proved to work well for both of them—she was able to avoid accommodating potential suitors and admirers of both her beauty and her expertise so she could concentrate on her training, while he was able to keep his sparring mate a private asset which was solely his to enjoy.
A routine that went on for the next few years and would have continued on for the coming years without him knowing it, had this pink paper not materialized this afternoon.
He had never worried about admirers. But suddenly, here he was, holding a love letter for his teammate.
And he was not completely sure anymore of what to think or feel.
Hesitantly, he unrolled the cartolina.
"Argh!" Tenten dashed upstairs, taking it two at a time. "Of all the things I could forget, why did it have to be THAT pink letter! Kami-sama!"
She tried to calm herself. Think rationally. Breath deeply.
Neji won't notice it. I mean, why WOULD he? It's not like he cares. He must be seated serenely on his desk right now, connecting Dot 290 to Dot 290.5. She nodded in self-affirmation. Right. Why would a floating love letter interest him? It doesn't even have dots you can connect, unless you count the periods. And they don't even have numbers.
But still, she couldn't risk letting her other fellow Jounins see it in the morning.And what would they see—a fake love letter that the Lee and Gai Springtime of Youthful Love Specialists ™ penned?
Nearing the top of the stairs, she noticed that the light in the room was still on, meaning Neji was still there.
Am I wearing my lucky ribbons today? She wondered, hoping against hope that she did, and that Neji was still blissfully immersed in his own world of dots and lines.
She stepped inside and found Neji seated on his desk, still hunched over his work.
A relieved smile appeared on her face. Wordlessly, she approached her desk and bent down to get the cartolina.
She popped up from the floor like a jack-in-the-box, startled. "WHAT?"
"Don't look at me as if I just smashed your kitchen windows, Tenten," he said wryly. "I was only looking after your welfare."
"By snooping?" she demanded.
other things," he replied calmly. "And believe me, it's a good
thing that I intercepted the message. The person who wrote this… he
may be a very dangerous and unstable man." He started to enumerate
his findings. "He lacks principal coherence, plain sense, and basic
taste. He wrote the letter using different colors of crayons.
"Neji, that is intrusion of privacy," she said in her most patient school teacher voice. "That's against the law."
He scowled. "You weren't listening. The admirer you may now have is a person greatly out of touch with reality."
She laughed uncomfortably. "Neji—"
"Read it if you doubt my judgment," he advised her, crossing his arms in front of his chest.
"I don't think—" She flinched at his pointed glare. "Alright, alright. We'll read it."
Neji pointed to the salutation. "Look. He sees you as an object of worship. That is a sign of unhealthy obsession."
She wrinkled her nose. "Figure of speech."
"Go ahead and underestimate the impact of his words," he sniffed, "but the rest of the letter should convince you later on."
She sighed, and then read again. "My goddess…"
"SEE?" He pounded his fist on the table. "He said it TWICE!"
"No, he didn't," she said, sweatdropping. "I just read the salutation again."
He blinked, and then grunted.
How was your slumber? Did you call the plumber? I shall give you my number. Don't forget to remember.
Neji looked at her pointedly. "Don't tell me that a person who is clinically-sane can write such gibberish."
She scratched her cheek. "Maybe he's just a bad poet with a penchant for rhymes. Maybe it's a limerick."
Anyway, enough about your sleep. Let me now ask about your day. How is the sun? Was it shining hot enough for you? Do you want it to snow? I want it to snow too. But if it snows, the sun will not come out and shine on your ethereal loveliness. Ah, why can't it snow on summer? Why can't summer snow? The mysteries of life can only stand explained when you grace this green earth with your smile. Or is the earth blue? Orange? Dark orange?
"Stop defending that psycho admirer of yours, Tenten." Neji's teeth were already gritted.
"So he's also a bad scientist," she said, looking up briefly from the cartolina before squinting on the rainbow-colored text again.
If you only know how much I worship the ground you walk on. I even built altars and temples on almost all the spaces that you had walked on. So if ever you find yourself stumbling on a piece of concrete block with your name, you'll know it's your place. Your haven. Your own Mount Olympus, my darling goddess.
"And now, he's littering the road with dangerous concrete blocks that bear your name," Neji snapped.
"Okaaay, so he's not much of an environmentalist either," she said, sighing.
I so love your hair. But mine's more beautiful and shinier. You should try my conditioner. It'll do WONDERS for you, and will bring out the hidden elegance of your tresses.
And when you laugh… I love the way you open your mouth. Not too wide and not too closed… just right.
Tenten grimaced. Trust Gai-sensei's flowery words to turn freaky on overdose.
I love your ears. I don't know why, I just do. Your ears are like petals of tulips because… I don't know why, either.
But what I love most is your eyes. No other woman holds the same smoldering sensuality that your eyes could arrogantly flaunt when you're asleep.
Neji tapped his fingers on the table as her grimace grew more and more evident at every passing minute.
Alas, I could not tell you this in person. Not when you are surrounded by that fire-eating…er, fire-breathing dragon that is Hyuuga Neji. He's going to eat me for lunch, and my leftovers for dinner. I know I must be brave and face him, but one principle stops me… one which I would painfully put over my powerful desire to be with you.
The principle of First Come, First Serve.
Tenten's frown deepened. What is Lee saying?
I will not touch the things owned by someone else. In your case, that Hyuuga Neji may be a dragon, but what if he's only your knight in disguise to protect you from other men?
But until such time that Hyuuga Neji has cleared his intentions about you, I will not rest.
Well, from 1am to 5am, I would, but just to sleep. But the rest of the time, I shall only watch and wait for my turn.
Until then, my goddess. Sleep tight with the knowledge that you are loved.
Signed, Boy George
closed the paper and met Neji's inquiring gaze. "I was
His eyes narrowed. "Your comicalness is most repulsive sometimes, Tenten."
"Well, this is my first love letter," she said, smiling timidly. "I mean, I had never really thought of myself as desirable among a fraction of the male species."
He gaped at her as if she just said that she eats light bulbs for lunch. Was she that unaffected that she wasn't aware of her own loveliness? Sure, it was toned down and stripped off of the sophistication often associated with women like Sakura or Ino.
But she was a rough gem that could proudly compete with the glitters of other more refined jewels. She had a richer earthly quality of beauty—one that dirt and wear could not erode.
And for all her worth, to call her 'desirable' would be a personal insult. At least for him, who had safeguarded the coarse precious stone for practically his whole lifetime.
"What's with that look, Neji?" Tenten asked uncertainly when she noticed his wordless stare at her.
He paused, and then looked away. "I'll get to the bottom of this mystery admirer. Damn, I'll wring that guy's neck—"
"What? You think it's insane that a male human being can actually like me?" she said, arching her eyebrow. "Neji, you wound my ego."
"It's not that." The Hyuuga exhaled sharply. "It's just as simple as…"
As simple as what? My intention to protect you from a moronic suitor? My anger at him for appearing out of nowhere and ruining the perfect setup that we have on the pre-pink balloon days? My annoyance for the provocation of all those absurd feelings for you which I thought I had already locked up and left years ago?
"Well?" Tenten looked at him expectantly.
brushed his hair back with his fingers. "It's just as simple as
you being off-limits."
"Off-limits?" she echoed incredulously. "Since when?"
Words were frantically slipping from his mind. Kami-sama help him regain his IQ. "Ever since we promised to help you become what you want to be. Anything else outside training would be only a distraction."
"But off-limits…" Tenten shook her head in disbelief. "Neji, you're taking it too seriously. I really appreciate the concern but—"
He groaned. "KAMI-SAMA!"
She jumped back, startled.
He massaged his aching temples, frustrated. "If I only knew that a love letter could disturb you this much, I should have written one earlier. Then at least I'm sure you won't date a psycho that is also a bad poet among other things."
She sweatdropped. "Neji…"
"What?" he spat out. "Can't a guy be allowed to sulk in peace here?"
Gracefully, she sat down beside him, smiling weakly. "I know you genuinely care for my welfare. But really, you don't have to give that much fuss about a letter. I was just teasing you, Neji."
"Lee and Gai-sensei wrote it."
Neji straightened. "They're Boy George?"
His face darkened. "And why exactly did that letter materialize?"
shifted her weight from one foot to another. "B-Because…
because…" Tapping her fingers on her knees, she searched for the
best way to say it. "You see… I had never received a single love
letter in my whole life—"
"And so you asked those two to write you one?" he interrupted, eyeing her as if she just rented the Springtime of Youthful Love Specialists ™ to write Romeo and Juliet in Wonderland Part I.
"It's your fault!" she retorted. "I should have been receiving love letters too if not for you. All the men I know think I'm… er….your…" Her cheeks flared. "The point is, you made me run out of social choices. I didn't even have a chance to enjoy those sappy lovey-dovey stuff—"
"I saved you from diversions that may impede your ambition's path," he replied calmly.
"Well, in turn, you started me pondering about that very experience you shielded me from until such time that I found myself wondering if I missed something great in my life by not getting a taste of mush." Tenten glared at him pointedly. "Later on, it made me see only ONE person and that certain person hoarded all my girlish romantic fantasies until such time that it affected my behavior, my attitude, and my whole system. I researched extensively for the term to attach to that situation. All answers pointed to one word—infatuation."
"But that one person I believe I am seriously infatuated with is too dense to sense my problem. So I asked for Lee's help, and he came up with the love letter idea," she explained. "Lee said that person thinks he has no competition when it comes to my attention so he came up with that letter to try to make the person jealous."
Neji digested everything she said carefully. "Let's see… you're curious about romance… and then thinking about that made you realize you have a crush on someone. However, that person doesn't know about your feelings so you asked for Lee's help and the pink love letter was born. If ever that person sees it, his reaction might help you gauge what he feels for you."
"You know," Neji said slowly. "The situation sounds… familiar…"
She rolled her eyes at that.
"It's my fault that you never got to know another guy intimately, except for Lee and Gai. However, they were the ones who helped you with the letter, so that couldn't be possible." He cupped his chin. "You never knew any other guy aside from us… so the person you noticed…" His mouth was forming the answer, and yet uncertainty flickered in his eyes.
"Duh," she said, sighing.
At that moment, lights flooded the room and confetti showered them from the exhaust system on the ceiling. The custodian skipped into the room happily. "AT LAST! The epiphany of burning love has descended upon your awareness, my students!"
"Gai-sensei!" cried Tenten when the janitor disappeared in a puff of smoke and was replaced by their ecstatic sensei.
I knew there was something unusual about the way the janitor talked, thought Neji dryly.
Tears streamed down their teacher's cheeks. "I knew this was bound to happen! All the signs… all the little clues that fate has etched…" He took Tenten's hands. "Dance, my little wild flower! Rejoice! Your gardener has come!"
She narrowed her eyes. "You know, Gai-sensei, I should talk to you about the love letter. First of all, my ears do not look like tulips."
acknowledge my mistake, cherished student of mine. They look more
Neji watched silently, a relaxed smile creeping on his face.
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.
In fact, even the two of the biggest prides among the ranks in the Leaf Village are not exempted from the gospel truth of the song.
And their story is left off 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.
Suddenly, the woman's eyes widened when from behind, Neji arrived and planted a pink envelope on Tenten's hand.
The weapons mistress herself looked stunned when, before walking away, Neji slowly smiled and said, "New arrival."
Tenten gaped at the envelope that bore her teammate's handwriting, still unable to acknowledge what just transpired. Then little by little, a sunny smile blossomed on her face.
And as the astounded Neji secret admirer watched Tenten run after Neji with the envelope in hand, she unknowingly added herself to the growing statistics of people silently understanding what the heck the relationship was between the Hyuuga genius and the lady weapons expert.
: Post Note :
Hey, I actually ended something that's multi-chapter in content! Wahahaha!