Disclaimer: No own. No kill. Please!

A NejiTen story...


Thank You

Thud.

Another senbon imbedded itself into the tree, where it joined the almost finished hemisphere of needles, looking like a lethal puffball.

Thud.

Tenten's actions were mechanical, the familiar movements now unconsciously and immaculately done. As she trained, her thoughts shifted restlessly, from memories to daydreams to philosophies, all revolving around that one boy whose personality proved such a fascinating component to analyze.

Thud. Thud. Thud.

Eight years…

Had it really been so long?

Thud.

From the first time she'd met him, she'd known there was something missing. He had had a hole inside him, a void. Lethe that only a miracle would fill.

oooooooo

Flashback

A seven-year-old Tenten squeezed her eyes tightly together and tried, once more, in vain, to perfect the fireball jutsu that was her current goal. Although this was not something that they taught at the academy, being reserved for genins, her best friend Lee had dug this up in his room, and, seeing as he had no use for it, had given it to her. So far, she had accomplished summoning up nothing besides giant plumes of smoke.

"Agggh, dammit." She grumbled in frustration, as another attempt brought nothing but a few feeble sparks here and there, as well as the expected cloud of smoke.

"You're messing up the third symbol."

She jumped, being seven-years-old and still rather easily frightened by things that go Bump-in-the-night. Or things that go Surprise-in-mid-afternoon.

"Who's there?" She asked after the hairs at the nape of her neck finally lay back down again.

A boy her age, with long brown hair and startlingly pale eyes (which bore a curious resemblance to her friend Hinata) stepped out from behind a tree.

"You're messing up the third symbol." He repeated emotionlessly.

Tenten checked her scrolls. "Oh yeah."

She tried the jutsu again, with the correction, while the strange boy looked on. This time, a little ball of glowing fire appeared. All things considered, it wasn't much bigger than her tiny fist, but hey, it was one step closer to mastering the technique.

She turned towards the boy again, who still regarded her with a countenance devoid of any emotion. She gave him her trademark smile, naïve and innocent, the smile of a child.

"Thank You." She called.

He did not smile back. Still silent, he stepped back and allowed himself to be swallowed, once again, by the shadows of the trees.

oooooooo

She had asked Hinata later who he was, describing his personality as really nice, but odd. Hinata would have known immediately who it was, but for the word 'nice'. After a few moments of confusion, the boy himself walked past them and sat down in the second row of the academy building.

"Oh! That's him." Tenten said, pointing.

"N-Neji-nii-san?" Hinata whispered, "Neji-nii-san was b-being nice?"

"Yeah, he was really sweet. Why?"

Hinata gave a strange look, uncommon for her. "N-Nothing…" She murmured.

Tenten hadn't put it in her head. She just continued wondering about how strange this…Neji boy had been.

End Flashback

ooooooo

Yes, he had been very strange indeed. He had acted as if he felt helping her was some kind of duty he had to obey. It didn't seem like kindness for a fellow ninja. He had just been attracted to the chakra he sensed.

Thud. Thud. Thwink.

Tenten's attention was rudely directed back into the present.

"Dammit." She mumbled as she realized one of her senbon had bounced off another.

Looking up, she saw that her hemisphere was complete. She jogged the fifty yards to her target and began pulling out her senbon. As she did so, a familiar shape emerged from the trees ahead of her. The scene bore a déjà vu to the past she had just been recalling.

"Ready?" Hyuuga Neji's cold mask had long since been replaced by a continuously present, irritating smirk.

She nodded, still focused on her senbon. A few moments later, she packed them into her pouches and shifted into her ready position, a kunai between each two fingers and several senbon clenched amid her teeth. He sank into a defensive position.

As if on a silent signal that only they could hear, the two charged simultaneously.

oooooooo

Tenten lay panting on the ground, flat on her back, as Neji held a kunai to her throat.

She could've sworn she saw scorn flash through his eyes then as he regarded her: trapped, helpless. She knew how much he hated weakness, but every time, she was forced to bare her flaws for him and the world to see.

It infuriated her how Neji could treat her almost as an equal usually, but then have this pleasant, accepting persona suddenly change to scorn, a scorn that made a mockery her years of determined, hard work, that derided her goals of becoming Konoha's weapons mistress, that tread her pride into the dirt.

Every single day, he would be polite, civil, hell, even kind to her when they just hung out. But when they began sparring, it always ended with him victorious, and he would look down at her, with that same degrading expression of contempt, as if he had suddenly remembered how mediocre and beneath him she was.

And now…

And now she'd lost to him again. True, it had been a fairly close match, but then again, almost all their spars were. All Neji cared for was who won and who lost; he didn't give a damn how close it was.

Tenten knew why. She knew exactly why Neji hated weakness, knew why his personalities would so suddenly split, knew why he was so distant, so bitter. The reason was not a pretty one. But she vowed she would tell him one day. Little, insignificant Tenten would stand up and tell THE Hyuuga Neji his own faults…just not right now.

Neji stood up and was about to go and collect his weapons, but a single whispered word from Tenten, still on the ground, stopped him.

"Why…?"

Tenten didn't know what the hell came over her, but the sneer on Neji's face today proved to be the final straw. She couldn't bear any more of this silent disdain. Tenten knew she was not as good of a ninja as Neji, but she was nonetheless an excellent one. She wouldn't take this placidly. Three years of bottled rage began leaking out.

"Why do you look at me like that, Neji?" She murmured, still staring at the deceitfully calm, blue sky, each word dripping pain and malice.

He did not answer, but she felt him tense up, suddenly immobile.

She turned her head, ever so slightly, to look at his back, "Why do you view me as something not worth your time?"

Neji said nothing.

Tenten's voice sharpened. "Answer me."

His voice was low, almost inaudible, "I don't."

She gave a laugh derisive enough to match his. "Oh, usually you don't. But every time, post-training, I see it in your eyes. You can't fool me, Neji. I'm not blind, and human eyes never lie."

The Hyuuga prodigy knew there was no getting out of this one. He chose his words carefully, "You still have much training to do before you become a truly great ninja."

Tenten pushed herself up into a sitting position. Neji felt her glare boring into his back. "Don't talk to me like you are my mentor. Or are you already arrogant enough to consider yourself a 'truly great ninja'?"

That stung his pride, and although he knew he shouldn't, he threw back a sharp retort. "I am not one yet, but at least I am far closer than you will ever be."

She felt her anger rising, but she had more control and less pride than her teammate. He had fallen right into her trap. Tenten was good with words. When it came to a war with words, she knew she would win. She lowered her voice dangerously, "That's all you think about, isn't it? Your one goal in life is to prove yourself to the world – prove that you are the strongest of them all, despite the fact that you are of the Branch family and born with a curse."

Shaking her head sadly, she mumbled, "Your only goal…"

Neji was beginning to get agitated. "Of course it's my one and only goal. It's the most important thing in the world to me."

" 'The most important thing'?" She scoffed. "You don't get it, do you? You're nice to me normally, and then you treat me like dirt after training. I know why, even if you act like it doesn't happen. It's because sparring is the one area you transcend everyone else in. But normally, when we are doing nothing save for living our lives, you are yourself, because in the aspect of life, of understanding people, you are no better, and perhaps worse, than the rest of us."

Neji twitched, "And your point is?"

"Damn you! Do I have to spell it out for you?" She cried, standing up roughly, clearly worked up. "Everyone hurts for you to see you slowly dying like this. Your life is passing you by– we all see that! Even you see that, as much as you try to deny it. You think you're so above everyone else, but really, what skill you have will never be enough to substitute for the humanity you lack."

Her voice rose subconsciously, "With all you're training, you're forgetting to live. You may be a better ninja than everyone else, but you will never understand the majesty of nature, or the simple beauty of music, or what it really means to be alive." Here her voice dropped again. "You're overlooking all the little things that make a life worth living – things that a person needs…to be happy."

There was silence in the clearing. Then… "I don't deserve happiness."

Looking at him now, the dignified mask long since discarded, Tenten felt her heart break. She strode over to him and tentatively placed a hand on his shoulder. When he didn't flinch or move away, she knew that she really had struck a chord deep within her friend.

"Everyone deserves a chance at happiness, Neji. In the end, you aren't better than everyone, and you're not worse. You're a good person, and you deserve everything the world has to offer: beauty, friendship, happiness…love."

She felt him shift then, but continued, "Stop setting yourself apart from the rest of us. We only want to help you live. I only want to help." She whispered.

Neji said nothing, his back still turned to her, as solemn and unmoving as a statue.

Then, turning around and raising those lovely white eyes to meet her own, he popped the strangest question out of the blue:

"Do you love me?"

It caught her completely off-guard. Tenten was shaking with anger at Neji's candid stupidity. This guy does not know what subtlety means.

The pure randomness of the question caused her negative feelings to win out in the ambivalence.

In the end, this is what came out:

"NO! No no no no absolutely NOT. I hate you, Neji! I hate your arrogance, I hate your denial of yourself, I hate your apathy, I hate your façade, I hate the way you're destroying your spirit! I hate you, hate you, hate you, HATE you, Hyuuga, you and your white eyes." Here she took a deep, shuddering breath, for she suddenly felt like crying, for some weird reason. "I hate you so much I want to take away all your pain."

Tenten turned her head away, for now the tears fell freely. She, who had never cried, not even when her parents died, was now crying for this rude, aloof bastard who didn't give a damn about anything save his pride.

Turning completely around, Tenten began walking away quickly before her mouth betrayed her any more. But then again, how could it betray her more than it already had? Neji was dense, but not THAT dense. She may as well have hollered those infamous three little words into his ear.

Just then, a strong hand grabbed ahold of her arm and she felt herself being pulled backwards into a hug. Neji rested his chin on her shoulder, and a type of water that he didn't know existed leaked out of his eyes as he finally realized the extent of her selflessness and his defiance to seeing what lay right before his eyes. Why didn't the byakugen work when it actually mattered? He would have to learn to see using his heart and not just his eyes.

He whispered two words in her ear that Tenten knew would be the closest thing to "I love you" that his pride would ever let him say.

"Thank You."

Owari


sniff. Man I love NejiTen stories. I couldn't imagine Neji falling right in love with Tenten after she confesses her feelings, but he definitely feels something. This is what I thought was most realistic.

Oh yeah, please review and tell me what to do for my next one-shot. I was wondering whether to do another NejiTen, or a ShikaIno. Or a NaruHina. I can't decide. They're all so cute.

Review and you get to hug Neji!

Neji: What? I don't wanna be used as a bribe for scary fangirls! runs away screaming

Tenten: Neji! Come back here! We haven't even kissed yet! chases after him swearing

Erm. Yeah. So, just review. Thanks.