Tales that tumble and tales that trick,
Yet end not all in scorning—
Of kings and clowns in a merry plight,
And the clock gone wrong and the world gone right
- GK Chesterton, the Ballad of the White Horse
Tenten stomped back home angrily, her high-running emotions having stolen her usual kunoichi grace from her movements; her footfalls jarred heavy through her bones. She welcomed the pain, let it add to the aches already in her from the recent sparring session.
She couldn't decide whether she was more humiliated or angry from the experience – couldn't tell if the tears she kept blinking back were more from rage or pain. Stupid Neji! She dragged a knuckle across her eyes, screwing them shut as she did so.
She glanced around; she was on the road outside Konoha, and no one was near her – Neji had long ago left the training-grounds, and she'd delayed for both her weapons and to keep herself from screaming at him if they walked back home together. She made a decision – swung from the road into the bushes, pushing her way roughly through them and leaving a trail of broken bramble in her wake. She hurled herself through it until she stopped, panting, on the steep embankment of a fast-rushing stream. She sat down, curled her knees to her chest.
But she did not cry.
She laid her forehead across her knees and called Neji every insult she could think of – first running through the list in Nippon, then in Yong, then finding creative new combinations of the two. She was just finishing off a long string of adjectives for what Neji's ancestors had been when a hand on her shoulder made her startle.
"Come now, miss. I'm sure they couldn't have been all bad."
Tenten reflexively backflipped away, almost throwing herself into a wetting before she remembered to chakra-walk on the surface of the water. She crouched atop the stream and stared at the tall Hyuuga smiling at her from the embankment.
"Though of course a large majority of them were…" He coughed. "Arrogant, blank-eyed, conceited geseki tong kumon, if I remember?" He quirked an eyebrow in a manner so similar to Neji's that she blinked. "I don't know enough Yong to translate it entirely, but I think I have the essence of it."
Tenten blushed furiously. "I – I'm so sorry, Hyuuga-san," she stammered, ducking her head so as not to meet those dancing silver eyes. "I – I meant no disrespect…"
A deep rumbling of laughter made her head snap back up. "Oh, come now. Don't attempt to lie to me, kunoichi. You meant every word – and good on you too! I have no doubt – knowing my relatives as I do – that the clan has earned the names at least five times over. Although I would ask, if you don't mind, what exactly has brought this on?"
Tenten stared. The tall Hyuuga looked very much like Neji, and his uncle – though, considering how much some Hyuugas resembled one another, especially the ones from the core lineage, it was not that impossible. But the easy laughter and the cheerful eyes seemed so different, so odd on a Hyuuga face…
"Y-you're not mad?" she queried cautiously.
"Not at all," the laughing man assured her, and something in his voice made her believe him. She walked off the stream onto dry land and carefully sat down next to him.
"Uhhh…hello. I'm Tenten," she said, offering her name first as politeness dictated.
"I know," the Hyuuga replied cheerfully. "I know Neji, you see, so I know about you. Oh – you can call me Hikaru, by the way."
"It's nice to meet you, Hikaru-san," Tenten said, and found somewhat to her surprise that she meant it. She'd met some of Neji's relatives before – all old forbidding men except for Hinata and Hanabi – but never someone like this man, who smiled.
Somehow she did find herself speaking to Hikaru, telling him about Neji, their sparring, the way he ripped her to shreds – literally and metaphorically – everyday. Usually she could nod and accept the real parts that were helpful advice and not take the insults too seriously. But today – for some reason – he had been especially harsh.
"…I'm not a fangirl," she hissed, almost forgetting she was speaking to someone, her fists tightening. "I train as hard as him and Lee any day – I train with him…"
She was so concentrated on her anger that she missed the disapproval that flashed over Hikaru's face – directed not towards her but at the absent Neji, as was the slow headshake and the quiet, "Oh, Neji. What have you done, boy?"
Tenten had run out of steam and was now glaring impotently across the stream, eyes fixed but not actually seeing a copse of trees. She jumped at a hand on her shoulder, again. Her eyes widened at his conspiratorial grin.
"What d'you say we humble his pride a bit?"
"But…but…" Tenten stammered. "Aren't you Neji's…relative?"
"Yes. And I think it would be good for the boy," Hikaru assured her blithely. "So, you in or not?"
Tenten hesitated – but then she looked into those smiling eyes, eyes like how she imagined a happy Neji's to be – and then she decided.
He brought her to a bramble-choked wilderness that grew hard against the most neglected wall in the Hyuuga estate. Hikaru pressed her hand against a square patch of grey-colored stone, did some quick handseals. The stone glowed for a moment, warming Tenten's hand slightly. Then there was a shiver of motion, and suddenly the wall next to her and Hikaru had simply rippled out of existence, exposing a paved tunnel.
"I've set it so the defenses know you, now," Hikaru explained as he headed into the tunnel. "From now on, just set your hand on that stone and the doors will open for you."
"…thank you," Tenten said, a little shocked at the trust Hikaru was placing on her. Hikaru flashed her a shining grin, and set off down the tunnel.
There were long shallow shelves, slightly recessed into the walls, which glowed with a faint, steady light; Hikaru told her that these were filled with a phosphorescent moss. He pointed out certain gray squares of stone with glyphs carved into them, telling Tenten where they led: the kitchen, the hall of the council, the main courtyard, the Main House foyer, the baths…
"And this," Hikaru whispered in her ear, and she shivered because it felt cold, "—is Neji's room."
Hikaru was indisputably the mastermind here; Tenten was only there to fetch and carry. She didn't mind, because the guy was brilliant. And she did offer a few suggestions, such as using some of her more dulled caltrops in his bed along with the itching powder, and using an oil-and-baby powder mixture above the door instead of just a bucket of flour.
A lot of their time was taken up by having to wrap Neji's desk, chair, futon – and everything in or on them – in several layers of aluminum foil. Tenten estimated that they must have used up enough foil to create a wad about the size of a small child. Every separate thing – from pencils to pillows to the shuriken he kept in his drawer (ones Tenten had forged for him, she noticed) – had been individually wrapped.
And then Hikaru did something with the oils from crushed flower-buds to Neji's clothes.
And Tenten hid all of Neji's sandals and bandages.
And Hikaru substituted Neji's shampoo with colored cream, and his toothpaste with fish paste dyed white with food-coloring.
And Tenten set up several traps.
By the time they were done, both of them were giggling (a Hyuuga, giggling!) hysterically. They crept back out through the tunnels, Tenten trying out her new access with wonder.
They parted ways outside the compound, Tenten waving cheerily to her new friend. She hoped Neji and she could hang around him more – maybe he would teach Neji to lighten up.
Neji did not come to practice for two days. When finally Gai, Lee, and a Tenten whose face kept twitching suspiciously went to the Hyuuga compound to fetch him, they were confronted by a barefoot, wrapless, oily-haired, tired-eyed Hyuuga prodigy glowering at them. Gai was aghast; Lee and Tenten just rolled around – having literally fallen to the ground - laughing hysterically.
And when they managed to drag Neji out into the sun, Neji's clothes – otherwise normal – began to smell. Not badly. Rather sweetly, as a matter of fact. A sweet, flowery, powerful scent.
Team 7 passed them by. Sakura had asked Tenten what new perfume she was using; when Tenten had wordlessly – still giggling – pointed at Neji, Sasuke and Naruto had begun to smirk.
Neji had to deal with being known as "that boy who wears perfume and has long silky hair," for about three weeks afterwards – only ending when he beat the man who asked him out for dinner and dancing into the ground. Even then, the males of the Rookie 9 – who could at least fight him – tended to snicker into their hands at random moments whenever he was around.
Hiashi was shocked to see the pranking his nephew had been subjected to.
He was even more shocked when some elders had asked him, on the sly, whether Hiashi had done it to humble the arrogant prodigy.
"Why under the sun would you think I did it?" Hiashi demanded, torn between anger and utter shock that they would think him capable of such a thing.
The elders murmured apology; but one pointed out, "It is very like the…high spirits you and Hizashi used to get up to when you were young. They even used the sun-activated flower oil."
Tenten trained with Lee for two months, until she was sure that she could outrun Neji in a flat sprint, before she told him who had been responsible.
When the news got out – because news always spread among the Rookie 9 with the same speed as Lee on sugar – Naruto and Kiba burst in on Team Gai's training grounds and prostrated themselves in front of Tenten, chanting, "We are not worthy! We are not worthy!" while Neji turned interesting colors in the background.
Several years later, Neji was showing his new fiancée around the Hyuuga clan compound – glowering jealously at several would-be-helpful cousins. Tenten only laughed quietly and nuzzled into Neji's shoulder, smiling at the way he immediately relaxed. It wasn't like she didn't already know the layout of the estate, but she was enjoying the chance to take a walk with Neji.
Later, after a dinner in her honor, Hiashi brought Neji and Tenten to a familiar-seeming square of gray stone. He was beginning to explain how the secret tunnels worked, when Tenten pressed her hand against the stone and skipped gaily into the revealed tunnel, telling them smilingly that Hikaru-san had already initialed her into the defenses.
Hiashi and Neji stared. Only the current head of the Hyuuga family was able to initial anyone into the defenses. Also, there was only one Hikaru in the Hyuuga clan – and he was a thirteen-month-old baby. The great-grandfather he had been named for – Hiashi and Hizashi's favorite great-uncle, in fact – had been dead for forty years.
Neji ran after his fiancée, calling her name, while Hiashi abruptly remembered that Hizashi had always been able to do anything that Hiashi could.
Somewhere, a father's ghost smiled as he watched his son catch his laughing fiancée.
Written for the October theme at tensquared comm, "Trick or Treat"