Chapter One: Enter Tenten
There was a time when Tenten enjoyed things normal girls did. There was a time when Tenten played with dolls and had play dates with the girls in her neighborhood and wore ribbons in her long hair. But that phase wore off soon after she joined the Academy; she no longer enjoyed things normal girls did. Tenten began to utilize weapons and had training sessions with the boys in her class and wore two practical buns to keep her long hair out of her eyes. The time came that she had become an acceptable kunoichi, and rose above the neighborhood girls she used to laugh with.
She became a Genin paired with the genius Hyuuga Neji and the dropout Rock Lee. Neji was the Hyuuga prodigy, the one with a broken past and a caged bird in his unalterable fate, but pressed against the bars by learning and mastering techniques only the Main Branch learned just by simple observation. Lee was a failure, one that could not perform ninjutsu or genjutsu, but excelled in taijutsu through sheer will and pressure against his body, pushing his limits time and time again. And Tenten, well, she didn't have a broken past and could perform ninjutsu and genjutsu, making her an ordinary ninja with no goal in life or specialty.
So she created her own, she strived to become one, no, the best shinobi to excel in weaponry and accuracy; her idol, the great kunoichi and medical-nin, Tsunade.
But wanting was not enough to be the best, and as both the caged bird and the failure rose through the ranks, achieving ANBU before she reached Jonin, leaving her quite behind.
And there wasn't much she could do to catch up.
Lying in the hospital bed, she growled angrily, nursing a large wound across her stomach. She had lost yet again, her sweat, tears, and blood in vain as she missed becoming a Jonin by a hair. If she had once thought losing pitifully to Sabaku no Temari back during her first Chunnin exam was humiliating, losing five times at the Jonin exams was just so much worse. Her money was running low, mostly used for weapons and sake, if anything else. It annoyed her, being an eighteen almost nineteen year old girl spending her days training with weapons and her nights drinking to calm her stress, with the occasional mission here or there. She was in a rut, financially, emotionally, and socially. Her technique no longer needed as much as it used to, giving her less mission opportunities, causing the money she must earn low.
She sighed, remembering her first Chunnin exam. The Rookie Nine including their team, Team Gai and the Sand Siblings. How many of her former friends had she kept in touch with?
"Tenten-san?" The door opened as the pink-haired medical-nin popped in. "Are you feeling better?"
Oh right. The only person she ever talked to from the former Rookie Nine was Haruno Sakura, and that was when the brunette was stuck in the hospital from the latest Jonin exam or a failed mission.
Tenten nodded slightly, looking out the window as Sakura performed her checkup.
Socially, Tenten was isolated. She used to pass Lee in the market, his loud proclamations somewhat comforting and painfully nostalgic. He had grown up exponentially, giving up his bowl cut for something more fitting, his round eyes maturing somewhat, making him look almost cute. Long hours of intense training chiseled his body, sculpting him almost perfectly, even attracting the eye of girls.
But the awkwardness of how much stronger he was, it made Tenten self-conscious, and she began avoiding him, rarely going to the market as Lee rose to ANBU and was sent on missions more often than not. It hurt to see how much the former dropout broke through his chains and flew, leaving her behind.
And Neji, well, Neji only saw her as a teammate and a sparring partner, if anything else. He was handsome, yes, but everyone knew he came from the Hyuuga clan, one of the only clan left in Konoha that still promoted arranged marriages. Neji didn't seem much to care about romance; his only concern was to become stronger, by achieving Jonin status first, then ANBU quite as quickly. As the need of Genin teams lessened, he lessened his presence with his own team, almost to nothing as his duties to his clan and his missions made him almost disappear from her life.
And back in their Genin days, no one mattered except those two, her teammates, her partners, her brothers. Back then, life was perfect. Gai-sensei was the father figure in all three of their lives, all three of them never possessed parents they could easily remember; one of the only things Neji remembered of his father was his death.
Her life had begun to crumble as soon as Neji was the second to reach Chunnin, and it just escalated from there...
The older girl snapped out of her trance, glancing over at the confused medical-nin.
"I'm just thinking."
"Of those days?" Sakura guessed.
Tenten nodded, lifting herself up off the pillows.
"You used to smile a lot back then," Sakura mused.
"I grew up."
"Tenten-san, I think you should stay as Chunnin for a while... or become a teacher or medical-nin like me."
True, Haruno Sakura stayed as a Chunnin for quite some time, instead taking life as a healer. Yes, most kunoichi never lived long as an ANBU or even Jonin, the shinobi seeing them as a liability. To save face and their life, most kunoichi became teachers, healers, jobs they could handle. But Tenten didn't want that. She didn't want to become a healer, or a teacher, she wanted to become, no, stay a kunoichi. But her life was a mess, and Tenten had to fix it before it killed her.
"I need to find a job then."
Sakura smiled, her eyes almost dazed, "I know the perfect one."
Haruno Sakura was a good girl, smart too. She knew of Tenten's bleary life, her determination to rise just as high as her former teammates, only to fall faster and harder each time. The medical ninja didn't want that for her friend, she didn't want Tenten to waste her life with a frown, she wanted to see those smiles the older girl once always shown, even at times of sadness. Sakura knew of Tenten's financial problem, and more aware of her social isolation. The weapon specialist seemed to get worse in her skill each year, staying in the hospital longer with larger wounds, adding to the stifling emotions brushing past the girl every day. And the pink haired kunoichi saw it as her need, her meaning of life to help her friend.
"Sakura, where are we going?"
"I saw a flyer for a job opening in the Jonin lounge. It'll be perfect for you."
"Does it involve kids?"
"No," Sakura smiled. This job would be simple enough and well-paying for the bun-haired girl, and socially rewarding. They turned the corner, and the chocolate brown eyes widened.
The siding was off-white, the roof ash-gray, large windows hiding their insides with long curtains. Wooden steps of a porch led to an elegant door, yet the house still looked modern. It was a large estate, on the corner of the road, a two story house with a balcony and deck, smaller than a mansion but larger than a flat, it's garden nicely tended to, and overall just exhilarating, much like fresh water.
"Like it?" the medical nin asked. "You'll be living here from now on."
Sakura showed her the flyer. The brown eyes scanned the paper, and as the older girl's eyebrows furrowed almost angrily, Sakura realizing too late that was not a good move. Tenten turned on her heel, a glare on her face as her body shook. She dropped the flyer on the ground, walking back towards her house.
Sakura tugged on Tenten's arm, "Where are you going?"
"I will not degrade myself for this!"
"It'll be good for you! They're going to pay a lot and you'll see them again!" Sakura pleaded. Her nerves pushed frantically at how stubborn the Chunnin could be. The younger girl feared that the former would pull out a kunai sooner or later and stab Sakura for escape.
"I don't care! I will not..." she shrieked before being interrupted.
The deep baritone of his voice caused her heart to thud painfully in her chest and her head to spin quite like the way sake did. Her movements halted in her throat. She closed her eyes and counted slowly to five, before turning around.
His ivory eyes gazed impassively at her.
"Neji-sama," she breathed out in the coolest and most sophisticated manner she could muster. She didn't need Neji to know how pathetic her life had become. She could see the corners of his lips twitch ever so slightly it wasn't even noticeable, which revealed he was almost irritated with his former partner's ceremonial tone. The two stared at each other for a moment, before the taller boy asked casually yet still swoon-worthy, "What are you doing here?"
"She's come to apply for the job here," Sakura blurted, blowing Tenten's cover and causing the older girl to involuntarily blush. Tenten's mind had blanked out and couldn't provide a coherent answer, and the truth was so much more humiliating then stumbling on words.
Neji gazed at Tenten, a small curl of a smirk on his lips as he nodded. She couldn't leave now, not when Neji knew the truth, she couldn't just run through the streets without Neji thinking of her as a coward, her pride could not take that haughty look.
He led the two in, before a loud shriek was heard from inside, causing Tenten to wince.
Tenten's heart dropped. That loudmouth lived here?
"The Power of Youth will help alleviate the pain!"
Her heart dropped through her body, leaving her an empty hold. Correct that, two loudmouths lived here in this hellhole. Out bounded half naked Uzumaki Naruto, red streaks across his chest, followed by none other than the Green Beast himself.
The two stopped eyes wide and staring at the two visitors.
He didn't overwhelm her in a passionate bear hug, but spun her around proclaiming she was still the beautiful blossom of Team 13. Her heart leapt up from its early grave and after the spinning stopped, she let out a bubbly laugh, surprising everyone including herself. She looked up at Lee.
"Hey, long time no see!"
Tears sprang in the taller boy's eyes as a teary-filled moment brought about tidal waves of happiness and youth.
"Tenten! It has been too long as I've seen our blossom!"
He did not pull her into a hug, for even he realized that Tenten had been avoiding the market where he usually shopped. But Tenten didn't care about pride right there. She just wanted to be friends again.
The bun-haired kunoichi pulled her former teammate into her arms, as Lee gratefully hugged back and the scenery changed to the setting sun and the crashing of waves.
"Get off now."
Lee instantly let go, his cheeks reddening slightly, before he noticed Sakura.
"Sakura-chan!" he saluted her, and Tenten belatedly realized that Lee's infatuation had worn off.
"Tenten-chan?" the loud voice of Naruto rang in her ears. She turned to see the blond boy grinning at her, his eyes almost wandering her body. His time with Jiraiya had taught him something – being a pervert. She plastered a fake smile as Naruto beamed, "Hey! What are you doing here?"
"She's here to apply for the job!" Sakura piped in.
"Oooh..." Naruto turned his head yelling behind her shoulder, "Hey Shikamaru! We got an applicant!"
"How troublesome..." they heard the Nara grumble. "Who is it?"
He walked out of the doorway, leaning against it, his eyes falling on Tenten. Tenten raised an eyebrow, her pride barely intact as the lazy ass surveyed her.
"You got the job."
"What?" Tenten yelled disbelievingly. "But..."
"Yosh! Our blossom Tenten-chan will be living with us and..."
"Working under us," Neji finished. Everyone turned to stare at the stoic Hyuuga, then back at Tenten. Tenten wiped a competitive smile on her features, desperately trying to keep her pride unscathed. "Very well, Neji-sama, I'll do your work, but as repayment, I get to accompany you all on your missions."
"Then you'll have to live with one of your rabid fan girls."
Naruto, Lee, and even Sakura shuddered at the thought. They had seen quite a few applicants, and Neji had barely come out with his clothes intact. His ivory eyes looked up, scanning his former teammate like an enemy. Shikamaru cut the heavy air with an equally heavy sigh.
"Neji, no offense, but you don't pick who's for the job, I do as leader. Now Tenten can have the job for now, but let's see if she really wants the job at the end."
The corner of the Hyuuga's lips lifted in a tiny smirk, "Very well."
Sakura squealed happily, "Good job Tenten! Now I'll help you pack your stuff so you can finally start here as their dorm mother!"
The weapon specialist snapped out of her reverie.
She had just found herself with a job as a slave to five elite shinobi.
A/N: Like? Don't like? Review.