"And so, as our sign of undying love for our beloved mentor," young Rock Lee was proudly saying to his two teammates, "I believe that we must all have our hair cut in the same magnificent fashion as Gai-sensei's!"
"What do you think, Tenten?" asked Lee hopefully, gazing at her eyes.
She scratched her head. Man, she was so easy to melt with those earnest puppy eyes from Lee. "Well, it sounds all so sweet…" But no person with respect for his or her sanity would do that. However, the part of her personality who doted on Lee too much refused to be so cruel as to actually say it out loud.
"Wonderful!" Young Lee clapped his hands excitedly. "So shall we go down to the barber's shop now?"
Tenten could have kissed Lee in gratitude. He had just provided her the perfect alibi! "But Lee, girls are not allowed inside barber shops," she reasoned with all the sincerity she could muster. It wasn't enough to convince Neji (that was plain impossible) but it sufficiently covered for her other teammate.
"Bummer," said Lee sympathetically. "Well then, Neji and I can still do it, Tenten. Don't feel left-out. We'll think of something else to help you show your affection for our wonderful mentor."
"Thanks, Lee." Her chocolate-colored twin buns were safe for the moment.
The dark-haired lad turned to the Hyuuga expectantly. "Neji, shall we?"
He refused to move from where he was standing.
"Neji?" prompted Lee.
"I'm not going to get a haircut," said the pale-skinned boy firmly.
One Hundred Themes: Hair
100 Themes Sourced from NejiTen LJ Community
"But whyyyyyyyy?" wailed Lee, grabbing his teammate by the shoulders, eyes brimming with tears. "Neji, we've been together through thick and thin—"
"We've only met yesterday."
The boy shook the Hyuuga's shoulders violently back and forth, weeping. "I thought we had all reached a common understanding as a team! We will do things together! One for all and all for one! Together we stand, divided we fall! Together we'll climb to the top of the world!"
Lee looked at the Hyuuga prodigy in the eye—an attempt in vain to commune soul-to-soul. "We can be what we want, for the world to see, that we are the children… of Gai-sensei's dreams!"
Neji was unmoved. "I'm not going to get a haircut."
"NOOOOOOOO!" Lee moved to the corner, sulking. "Gai-sensei, I'm sorry. I have failed you in my quest to mold our team into your awesome likeness…"
"Neji, you shouldn't be afraid," said the young kunoichi in a slightly teasing voice. "The big bad barber won't chop off your head… unless..."
From the corner, Lee's head bobbed up in curiosity. "What do you mean, Tenten?"
This was going to be thoroughly enjoyable. "Haven't you heard of the tales of the headless horseman?"
"Pft," said Neji, rolling his eyes. He was unceremoniously ignored by the girl.
"W-What about him?" asked little Lee, eyes wide.
"He used to be an ordinary knight, a really good warrior," she narrated in a dark, ominous tone. "So no else could have killed him and made off with his head. I mean, a severed head won't exactly make an engaging living room décor."
"Depends on the house owner's preference." Neji, with his arms crossed.
"Not everyone's like you," she shot back. "Anyway, one fateful afternoon, he went to his usual barber to have his once-a-month hair trim. Alas, the barber had a drink or two that day, so while tending to his customer's hair needs, his vision suddenly doubled. The next thing he knew, his scissors were cutting and slicing into thin air!"
Lee trembled in fear. "No!"
"Yes," she nodded sadly. "The head has tumbled down to the floor. Fearing that the king would know about the fate of his favorite soldier, he took the head and flushed it down the toilet!"
Neji's face darkened as Lee nodded, eagerly digesting every bit of her tale.
"The body, on the other hand, was injected with formalin and was made into a mannequin for his cousin's tailoring shop," narrated Tenten. "The ghost of the headless horseman would have been okay with his body's new job—except that he misses his head at some points of his life. So every Halloween, he treads down the villages and searches for his missing head. Until now, his mission goes on and on." She beamed. "The end!"
Lee dabbed the corner of his eyes with a tissue. "The headless horseman's quest for his much-missed body part is so… touching! A true tale of hard work and perseverance!"
The Hyuuga boy grunted.
"Don't worry, Neji!" said Lee reassuringly to their teammate. "I'm going to make sure that the barber who will be attending to us will be sober."
"I'm not going to have a haircut," said Neji stubbornly.
It was a crisis. There was nothing else Lee could call it. The barber shop would close for the day anytime, and Neji was still steadfast in his refusal to go get a haircut.
"Will you do it for five ryo?"
"FIFTEEN! Last offer!" cried Lee in desperation.
Neji rolled his eyes. "I'm not going to get my hair cut."
"What is it about your hair that you strive so hard to protect?" the boy cried. "Does your clan have a rule against haircuts?"
"Does your hair contain some cherished memories from early childhood?" pressed the boy, who was willing to forgive his teammate for being so difficult if only the latter would admit to bearing even traces of sentimentality.
Lee's shoulders sagged. "I'm sorry. I didn't know you never had a childhood."
An exasperated sigh from the Hyuuga.
Dusk had fallen.
Neji, who had finished his training, was seated beneath the shade of a tree, sleeping away the time as Lee and Tenten finished their respective exercises.
The kunoichi could see that Lee still looked crestfallen. She gave him a sympathetic grin. "Lee, are you okay?"
"I'm crushed," he said, though his face stated worse. "Why is Neji so adamant when it comes to his hair? I want to make Gai-sensei happy by a simple token of flattery—"
The haircut nightmare of a lifetime isn't as simple as that, she thought wryly. But she did agree that Neji was being too harsh on poor Rock Lee.
Hoping to appease him, she narrated, "I read about that guy with the same name as an appliances brand. He was very strong, but when his scheming girlfriend gave him a haircut, his power dissipated!" Her eyes twinkled in mirth. "That must be it! He doesn't want us to cut his hair because he'll lose his powers if we do."
"Do you really think so?" he asked, wide-eyed.
"Wow, Tenten! Thanks! I feel so much better!" exclaimed Lee happily. "If Neji had told me this earlier, I wouldn't have to feel so bad. But then again, maybe he just doesn't want us to worry about him."
She smiled. "That's right." She began to pick up her weapons. "I'm through with my session. What about you, Lee?"
"I'm just about done." The boy turned to their teammate in slumber. "You better wake Neji up already."
"His name was Samson, not Samsung."
"H-Huh?" Tenten involuntarily stepped back in surprise. She was just about to kneel and wake her teammate up when he spoke all of a sudden.
"The guy you told Lee about."
"Oh." Comprehension flashed in her brown eyes. "Son, sung, it doesn't matter."
Neji opened his eyes. "You shouldn't be using metaphors such as your little feel-good stories to make Lee feel better. What you made me seem awhile ago is not what I really am. It's better if you just tell him what I really feel about this whole team set-up."
She smiled contritely. "True, but I think it'll cost our team less harm if I say a white lie instead of telling him outright that our team will not work out because we refuse to try. Whether we like it or not, we'll be working together in the Academy, in our genin tests, eventually the Chuunin exams, the missions, and what-have-yous. We'll be together practically our whole lives.
"Eventually, Neji, you'll have to learn to trust us and our less-than-genius-level abilities. Trust forms in strong camaraderie." She clasped her hands over her lap. "Lee and I may not seem much to you right now, but I promise you, we'll grow stronger. We won't be a burden. We won't hold you back from the bright future that awaits a genius like you."
Neji eyed her intently, measuring her words. Wisdom as deep as hers, especially in an early age, was rare to find. A young mind, yet could already comprehend the dynamics of a team.
"All I need you to do, Neji, is to not keep yourself out of our reach. Lee really admires you," she said gently. "He has made defeating you one of his few worthy goals in life."
"Heh." But his demeanor softened slightly.
Before Tenten could comment, Lee appeared, drying his face with a towel. "Hi Neji! Has your brief rest renewed your exhausted spirit?"
"Glad to know that." The lad grinned. "Shall we go home?"
"Aren't you going to pass by the barber's shop?" asked Tenten.
"Yeah, but…" Lee looked at the Hyuuga worriedly. "If he goes near the vicinity of a barber shop, he might get weakened!"
"I'll be fine," said Neji tightly, to Tenten's immense relief. "Let's go."
"No! Neji, you must not sacrifice!" cried Lee. "I have a better idea! Let's have Gai-sensei do it! That way, he'll perfect the art of my hair!"
Tenten smiled uncertainly. "Well…"
"Fine." Neji started to walk away, with the two following him.
Gai was surprised to see them at his doorstep, but when he heard from his beloved student about their intention, the teacher joyfully let them in his pad.
Gai-sensei was now busy snipping Lee's plentiful hair away, and as the two started to chatter, Neji and Tenten were in the kitchen, quietly waiting. It was due to Lee's insistence to have them as far away from the scissors as possible, for the sake of Neji's health.
It was Tenten who broke the silence first. "Thank you, Neji."
"I did nothing to merit that."
She was slowly accepting that it was the Hyuuga Neji's way of saying 'You're welcome'.
"Do you know how to use a pair of scissors?"
She blinked. "Y-Yeah. Why?"
"Trim the bottom part of my hair."
Her eyes widened. "Eh?"
"Isn't that what you two wanted?" he asked, sighing.
After a minute or two searching the kitchen cabinets, she was now behind Neji, carefully trimming the ragged ends of his long dark mane. As she toiled laboriously, he suddenly spoke up.
"In exchange for this favor, you will have to do one for thing for me."
She paused. "WHAT?"
"Do you want team unity or not?" he asked coolly.
And he cared to ask! Rolling her eyes, she asked, "What do I have to do?"
"You will be my constant sparring mate," he said, as if rolling out a royal decree from the highest throne of the heavens. "Whenever I want you to accompany me in my training, you will be there."
"I expect not to be disappointed by what you can do," he continued, as if her protests were insignificant. "We'll be starting tomorrow morning at five—"
"It's just a hair trim! It's not even half the style that Lee really wants!" she complained.
"Bring all your weapons." The punctuation of his sentence resounded with finality.
And permanence, as she would come to understand as years passed.
The bowl-haired ninja who loves his mentor with such fervor.
The weapons expert who was perpetually sparring with a Konoha clan's brightest family member.
The genius who secretly waited for his teammates to catch up, when he could have advanced and left them behind.
The tradition of Team Gai would outlive those who made them, but to those who were fortunate enough to hear where this whole great tale of a team so disparate yet so solidified came from, there was only awe in them.
For everything stood in a single strand of hair.