Slight Emotional Miscalculation
Disparagers of love, now hear my
—Classical Arabic poetry
Today, she was using twin tessen. After her loss against Temari, it hadn't surprised anyone that Tenten would study tessen. She had a well-known love for symbolism and irony. To defeat Temari with a mock-up of Temari's own weapon…
Well, it would be delicious.
Neji held his kunai in his hands. They were easily large enough to use as daggers, and that was how he was using them. He was enough of a genius to know that sparring with an armed Weapons Mistress while unarmed was a bad, bad idea.
"C'mon, Neji. Come get me."
He didn't charge her immediately. Instead, he maintained distance, watching her carefully. He would want to know exactly when and how she would move; the Hyuuga style preferred to plan. Somebody catching you off-guard meant you lacked talent. Or you were slipping.
He wouldn't be able to use the typical Hyuuga style with sharp, pointy weapons. Not unless he wanted to kill her, which he didn't. While his amazing knowledge of a hand-to-hand combat style would improve his work with the daggers, it also meant he would lack experience.
At this point, he was about as easy prey as he would ever be. Unfortunately for her, even at his easiest, he still wasn't particularly easy.
Tenten watched, left arm extended, fan closed, while she kept her right hand close to her chest. The right-hand tessen, she kept open. If necessary, she would play its edge along his kunai in a parry, or snap it closed and outright block a dagger strike.
She wasn't sure exactly how good he would be at defence. Considering his martial art style, she would guess that it would be good enough to repel her. She had the larger weapon and greater experience, but she didn't have his reach. Nor did she have his greater strength— she tended to play on flexibility and technique rather than brute force.
Her eyebrows twitched as he moved. He charged forward, daggers in defensive positions. Should she move to intercept, he would change tactics, forgetting all about attacking.
Tenten shifted her left arm, pulling it closer to her face.
He saw it, no doubt about it, but he didn't seem to care. One blade slide forward, trying to pierce what looked like the flimsy guard of her right-hand tessen.
She smirked, fluttering her wrist and easily turning aside the kunai's point. She slid the tessen's top edge along the side of his dagger, producing a unique sound. Her wrist snapped down, the tip of each fan segment biting into the skin on top of Neji's wrist.
Neji evidently didn't expect the weapon to hit his wrist as hard as it did. His grip on the kunai slipped, though he corrected it immediately and brought his other dagger round to go for her neck.
She deflected with her left-hand tessen, snapping the right tessen closed. She brought it down and around to his ribs.
He blocked with the flat of the blade he'd nearly lost his grip on, but the closed tessen struck with more force than he'd anticipated, forcing the flat of his blade against his side.
The other kunai went for her unprotected ribs. Tenten twisted to avoid it, stepping around to his side.
He turned to keep facing her, stepping up the pace with the daggers. They became flashes of metal she could barely see, but she'd spent her entire life working with fast steel sparks and the tactic only put her on the defensive.
She snapped both tessen shut and worked on blocking. Steel struck steel, producing that unique tone.
Varying lengths of metal struck each other as well as a kunai, creating a cross between a jingle and a stereotypical clashing steel sound.
Neji shifted his right foot, pushing it farther away from his body. Widening stance, a shift of weight away— he was going to—
She blocked the attempt to come at her from a lower angle. Exactly how he managed to rotate the kunai like that, she didn't want to find out. It looked like a drill bit or something.
Tenten growled a little, pulling two butterfly parries, in which she blocked with open tessen. The movements sent his daggers slightly out of his control.
He over-compensated by continuing the rotation of the blades, practically spinning them by the hilt, and then tried to drill them into her again.
A butterfly parry and a closed-tessen block, then she snapped the closed tessen open and aimed for his exposed throat.
He brought a dagger up to parry, shifting his position to try to get behind her. She turned as well, raising a tighter guard near her vitals.
"You fight well," Neji admitted, his breath hitching toward gasps.
He trained the Byakugan glare on her. He was probably looking at her tenketsu. From the grimmer than usual non-expression on his face, he had decided that in order to close or open any tenketsu while armed, he would have to use either the hilts of his kunai or risk killing her.
He began to move in a circle. A clockwise rotation around a centre point. Going back to the basic training of Hakkeshou, which focused on circular movement; he was obvious about it only when he was trying to come up with a new strategy.
Tenten moved with him, step-step-stepping in something that, in the end result, looked vaguely similar to a rumba.
"You ever doubted I'd be good with a weapon in my hands?" She raised an eyebrow, but her heart wasn't in the banter.
She wanted to see from where he would attack next, but the Hyuuga had trained him well enough that his muscles gave no obvious hint. The loose gi he wore covered any of the more subtle telltale twitches or shifts. This wasn't going to be easy.
Well, it never was, with him.
"You usually attack from a distance."
He shifted his weight from one leg to the other and reversed the circle-walk. Anti-clockwise, now, so she changed directions, too.
"That won't work against the technique I want to fight."
He arched a brow. The expression was both smug and delicate, and she wanted to wipe the forest floor with him for it. "Hn. It's unlikely."
"Unlikely. You won't face that technique again."
She smirked, just before ending their little jaunt. One of her tessen very nearly hit him in the head, and the other swiped his side again.
He grunted, brows furrowing. That was his way of telling her that the blow had hurt.
She brought both her tessen down toward his shoulders, and he blocked with his kunai. They strained against each other for what felt like several hours, but in all probability, fewer than twenty seconds actually passed.
"Destiny?" She groaned, trying to slide the closed fans over his guard so she could flick them open and cut his shoulders. If she was lucky, the manoeuvre would "give" her his heart.
A firm headshake, if small, as he strained to hold her back without giving her an opening. "Odds."
"Chance!" She gasped, flicking both shuriken open. Doing so damn near sliced his chin, and he doubled the force of the glare. Rather than let her eyeballs melt in her skull as an apology, she forced her right-hand tessen over his guard while sliding her left-hand tessen off his right kunai, using it to guard her vitals.
He side-stepped, trying to get the edge of her fan away from his chest, but her aim was, as usual, perfect and the fan bit into him.
"Two pounds," she said, meaning, Neji, you are two pounds of pressure away from death.
He accepted the loss graciously, bowing his head and saying, "Yield."
Like most teenaged boys, he was competitive, but he wasn't extraordinarily so. Losing to her in a sparring match almost never affected his mood. It sometimes seemed like almost nothing she did could make him half as waspish as he behaved toward Lee.
After they'd both caught their breath, Neji tucked away the overlarge kunai in a weapons pack and retrieved a pair of kodachi. He strapped the saya to his waist, checking the way the blades sheathed and unsheathed.
That would be a better match, if he was as skilled with kodachi as he had been with kunai. His problem had been that he lacked the tactical imagination that experience would lend him. It wasn't that he lacked talent; it was just that he had never seriously used a kunai in that manner.
In addition, he'd never fought against a tessen. They were fairly unique weapons, at once fragile and strong. Unpredictable. Now that he knew what she could do with it, he would fight much better.
"Another round?" Neji asked.
Tenten nodded. They bowed to each other. She moved into the centre of the clearing, gripping her tessen and moving into a defensive position. Again, she kept her right-hand fan open and close to her chest, with her left arm extended. Unlike last time, she opened the left tessen.
He unsheathed the kodachi, stepping in front of her. Kodachi were versatile weapons, but defence was where they excelled. They were just long enough to provide a decent reach but just short enough that they possessed intense swing speed— meaning he could switch between offence and defence at virtually any time.
And he'd used them before. On a mission. They'd gone into Cloud Country disguised as Rain Nin. Considering that "Hyuuga" and "Rain-Nin" were mutually exclusive, he had used a henge no jutsu to make his eyes look like hers and used the kodachi.
She wasn't screwed. Not quite. Technically, she hadn't lost yet.
But he'd been excellent with the short swords. Compared to her, he had almost no interest in sharp, pointy things, but he'd shown an electric sort of empathy toward those kodachi. She'd let him keep them, and she saw him practicing with them on a regular basis. He was trying to adapt the Hakkeshou to kodachi, trying to figure out how to retain the circular movements while moving arms in slicing lines rather than piercing lines.
She wasn't screwed, but she was going to have a long and difficult battle.
Right. Excellent reach, swift and near impenetrable defence. So she was going to have to get in under his guard. That was easier said than done, but if she could work herself low enough, she might be able to get in a kidney blow. No, that was just bad form. You never struck for the kidneys in a sparring match. Ever.
But she might be able to get his solar plexus. It would wind him, distracting him, and she might be able to land a few more crucial hits.
Strategy in mind, she took the fight to him. She lowered her tessen to defensive positions covering her lower and upper torso, then in a simple, fluid motion, unfurled from the guard and struck.
He brought a kodachi up, effortlessly blocking her strike.
She tried to slide along his guard again, but this time, he understood what she was doing.
He rotated the kodachi's hilt in a gesture vaguely similar to chiburi. Wrist flick, first right, then left. It slid her blade off his, providing an opening for him.
He took it, but she quickly brought her closed tessen to block. Again, they fought with each other over the guard. Each was trying to break through the other's barrier, and each was failing.
There was no room for speech in this battle. Tenten groaned, finally managing to push him off. She snapped her tessen closed, and rammed the flat's very end into his solar plexus.
About six layers of steel made a very interesting sound as they rattled in the frame. The force of her strike reverberated through the tessen. She'd hit him good.
Neji gasped, though years of training allowed him to stay upright. A lesser man would have automatically bent at the knees, or at least at the waist, to try and force air into his lungs.
Tenten had a reason for respecting him as much as she did.
Even so, that instinctive need for air left at least one side of him wide open. He would never have made that mistake on a battlefield. That he had made that mistake with her said something about how deeply ingrained their mutual trust was.
One of her fans whipped through that relaxed guard, easily slicing a bit of cloth. She didn't want to hit him harder or cut him more than strictly necessary. They were tough with each other, but they didn't spar with that kind of carelessness or cruelty.
He grunted, probably irritated at himself. She would have been irritated. This should have been a much easier battle for him.
One of the kodachi whirled out. She only managed to block in time because of the sudden flash.
As he had done with the kunai, he came at her with near abandon, steel moving in arcs nearly too fast to follow. But they were definitely arcs: he was moving his arms in a circular direction. Well, he was moving one arm clockwise and the other arm anti-clockwise, but the end result was roughly circular.
So that was how he had adapted kodachi use to the Hakkeshou. Tenten retreated, watching the steel, taking a little time to appreciate his ingenuity. As a Branch House member, he would never receive the recognition he so deserved for that feat, and that galled her.
She reversed her leading and trailing foot, speeding herself forward on chakra power. Probably guessing at her intent, he counter-charged. She poured chakra into her hands, trying to break past his guard.
She didn't succeed. That left them straining against each other, chests heaving as they attempted to break past strong steel walls. She groaned with exertion, throwing chakra into her hands and arms and completely failing.
No, not completely failing. He started to pour his own chakra behind his swords. They both wanted the advantage that ending this impasse would bring.
Simultaneously, they whirled away from each other, then whirled back. On the rebound, she drove a tessen up into his left armpit. She didn't break skin, but what that strike would have done, had she been intent on killing him, was self-evident.
He, in the same instant, managed to plant a kodachi right by her ribcage. Its keen edge shaved her clothing, but he didn't actually penetrate. Had this been a real match, he would have impaled her. The strong blade of a kodachi, at least thirteen layers of steel, like a miniature katana, would have crushed straight through her ribcage.
Chest heaving, gasping for breath, she brought the tessen to her side and closed them. He sheathed the kodachi, a fine sheen of sweat on his brow.
They just sort of stood there, staring at each other. They didn't fight each other to a true draw often. One way or another, most matches resulted in a victor. That they'd fought each other to a draw with weapons, her specialty, left them both a little stunned.
In an unusually vulnerable gesture, he ran his teeth along his lower lip. Not quite biting, more like just sliding his teeth along his lip.
Tenten couldn't remember seeing him do that before. She pondered its possible meanings. She considered those meanings so intently that she barely noticed him stepping forward.
In fact, she didn't notice until he put his hands on her waist.
Startled, she stared up at him. Her mind went awhirl. What did he think he was doing? Was he trying to hug her? Was he doing something else? Was this some sort of psyche out tactic?
He bent toward her, pressing his lips against hers. The kiss was light at first, but within moments, he pushed harder against her lips. She had heard of kisses being described as "captures" before, but she'd always thought of that as fanciful.
Now she understood.
In her shock, her mouth fell open.
His eyes, which he had kept open— expecting a Hyuuga to close his eyes for anything, even kissing, was eminently ridiculous, after all— widened slightly. But he opened his mouth as well, and soon his tongue slipped between her lips.
Okay, this was just getting weird. Was she dreaming? Under the influence of a genjutsu? No, dreams wouldn't have felt so real, and a genjutsu would have made the experience pleasant. This felt like having an eel in her mouth.
Not a bad eel, but still, there was something foreign in her mouth. And she hadn't been prepared for it.
Almost instinctively, the closed tessen lifted. He evidently didn't notice. Probably he was too busy concentrating on kissing her. His grip on her waist tightened, and she struck. The tessen hit his temple.
She broke the kiss, dropping her other tessen and fisting her hand in the centre of his shirt.
"What do you think you're doing?" She demanded.
He blinked. It was what passed for his "jump" reflex. Their occupation had forced them all to minimize their startle reactions. Neji had reduced his to a mere blink.
Extraneous words never made it past his lips. He didn't even open his mouth to speak before he had found the appropriate words. As usual, he didn't pause.
"Something I have wanted to do for a long time."
"What!" She gaped.
He, being a Hyuuga, smirked. However, he didn't repeat himself. He only repeated himself for people he thought were idiots. Mere mortals of average intelligence didn't rate the insult.
When it was clear that he wasn't going to say anything further until she came up with a question worthy of an answer, she asked, more than a little warily, "How long?"
In five years, she had never noticed anything romantic or even hormone-driven about their relationship. They had a partnership. They were friends. They had a tight rapport. But no matter how much she'd wished and hoped, it had always stayed platonic.
He made eye contact. With him, that was a deliberate statement. He was being completely serious, and heaven help her if she didn't do the same.
He'd wanted to kiss her since they'd been fourteen.
"That— that is a long time."
No wonder he'd practically exploded. He'd repressed those kinds of feelings for someone he saw every day, and during the three peak years for hormones, at that! That took a kind of self-control most boys lacked.
He said nothing. Instead he crossed his arms against his chest.
Neji had something else he wanted to hear.
"I'm not sure what to say."
He stayed silent a moment. When she didn't say anything else, he turned his back, picked up his bag, and walked away. His stride fell somewhere between "trudging" and "fleeing."
She hurried after him. "Neji! Wait!"
He stopped moving.
Tenten groped for the proper words. "You surprised me. I don't know what I'm supposed to say to this. I…" She trailed off. Still no perfect words to make everything sharp and shiny again.
Trying to find a way to tell him that she was okay with it (and it wasn't, really, a groping for words so much as trying to pick between all the thousands of things running through her head), she smiled. It was the universal gesture, right? He'd at least see she wasn't turning him down, or pissed.
"I'm sorry about hitting you. I just sort of moved. You surprised me. I mean, I've been hoping and really thinking about— you know, our friendship and team and all— for years and I never even knew."
The tense quivering in his shoulders and arms eased, and then ceased. The taut line of his jaw eased as well. He was trying to hope, or at least relaxing.
"And you kissed me and it was just so sudden. For a second, I thought somebody'd used a genjutsu on me." She shook a fist at him. "You can't just randomly kiss people!"
Neji smirked. "I don't."
She sputtered. That arrogant, too-smart-for-his-own-good, entirely too confident— Hyuuga!
"You struggled with the same thing all this time?"
Tenten laughed. "Yeah. I did. Longer, actually. Ironic, huh?"
"All those wasted years," he murmured.
She smirked, drawing both tessen. Obviously teasing, she replied, "Well, I wouldn't call them a waste…"
He dropped the bag, moved slightly closer to her. "Perhaps not wasted. But still not directed to my preferences."
Smiling, she took a step back. The tessen glinted in the light. She flicked one open and fanned herself with it a little, mostly as a joke. She continued to move back.
He waited a moment before following. For each of her steps back, he took one forward.
The tessen flashed into a "ready" position.
He moved into his own "ready" stance, poised to attack or defend as necessary.
With a tiny flourish to let him know she wasn't sparring seriously, she moved forward. She snapped the fans closed and struck out with one of them.
He easily parried with his fists. Precise, deceptively gentle movements turned aside her blows. He surged forward, easily tossing punches.
She dodged, skidding away behind him. As she had hoped, he turned with her, Gentle Fisting her tessen. The open-handed punches bounced her fans back and forced her to retreat a step.
The instant she moved backward, he bounded after her, striking out with Gentle Fist attacks that were actually gentle. He didn't actually close or even touch any of her tenketsu. He had minimized the chakra force behind the punches. They were simply well-placed, well-executed palm strikes.
Before she could recover enough to attack again, he gripped her shoulders and kissed her again. Though fierce, the kiss was light— ready to end in an eye blink.
Tenten stowed the tessen in one of the cargo pockets on her pants. As soon as she had freed her hands, she grabbed onto his shirt and kissed him back.
Her hands clenched into fists on the back of shirt. She pressed up against him. He pushed back, leaning into her. The game of "get as close to each other as possible" continued until, too focused on kissing to pay attention to their surroundings, Neji managed to topple Tenten over. She landed in a sitting position, startled but smiling, and he landed with her.
She couldn't help it. She burst into laughter.
His lips twitched into a smile. It was a small smile, but it was definitely there.
The moment passed.
"What are we going to do?"
He thought for a while. "Serving alone on a team with Gai and Lee is unacceptable."
"So we'll have to stay professional on missions and the like. And during training." That, she knew, wouldn't be a problem. Well, at least the missions bit. Not spending hours kissing when they were supposed to be training would probably be much more difficult.
More thinking. "Then we will need to move this slowly."
"But we are going forward with this, right?" She was not going to come forward about this and then decide to just give up. She just couldn't!
Sure, it would probably be hard at points, and in the end it might not work out, but it was still worth a try. They had never run from the hard things before, and there was no need to start now.
"Yes." Neji's tone was firm.
She leaned against him, practically beaming. He didn't move away, though he didn't wrap his arm around her or anything like that. When he'd said slow, he'd probably meant s l o w. Tenten didn't have a problem with that.
After a few moments of silence, Tenten fished her tessen out of her pocket, packed them away in her weapons back, and grabbed her kunai. "Feel up for another round?"
When he looked over at her, he was smiling.