Carpe Diem

Seize the day. An epic anthology and character study of Konoha's weapons mistress, Tenten. (courage. indomitable spirit. life. twisted humor. love. and all the things that make up a truly unique kunoichi. also featuring appearances from the rest of Team Gai.) Fifty themes; fifty short pieces for each – random snapshots from Tenten's life. Five themes per chapter, ten chapters. Part one of ten.

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Comfort

There was a time when Tenten was young and idealistic enough to believe that she was unstoppable. She was thirteen, and a newly minted genin, riding high on the confidence that the brand-new Konoha forehead protector that she had been given upon graduation, gave her.

This illusion is shattered on the third mission she shares with the rest of her team, when an enemy shinobi very nearly puts a kunai between her eyes. Her attack evasion skills are usually so much better than this, but she's fighting two on one, and just as she nails one of them with a shuriken to the throat, she spins around to face the other, and for a moment all she sees is the point of the enemy's blade, perilously close to her face.

That is the first of many times her heart skips a beat and she truly believes that she is going to die.

Gai-sensei's well-aimed shuriken throws the kunai off its intended path, and it flies to the side, thudding harmlessly against the trunk of a nearby tree.

That night, Tenten goes home and cries for half an hour; the first time she's done so in more than a year.

Even in her early years as a kunoichi of the Leaf, she learns (the hard way, through blood and death and fear), that nobody is unstoppable. She learns this the first time she has to bandage one of her teammates' wounds on the field, when Lee has a gash from shoulder to wrist on his arm, and she holds the bandages with trembling hands as she tries to make the bleeding stop and to bind the wound. All the while she's doing this, she prays that he won't die.

Tenten is not unstoppable, and neither is Lee or Neji or even Gai-sensei, however much she wishes they were.

However, she resolves that she will come pretty damn close. No matter how much she has to train, how much she has to sweat, how much she has to bleed for it.

(She trains, and sweats, and bleeds more than she had ever thought she would. But she does, and that's really all that matters.)

Kiss

There are times when shinobi have to use their skills, their killing arts, for acts that are less than savory.

Shikamaru once strangled a little girl with his shadow. Hinata lost her virginity to an enemy shinobi when she was fifteen, and had a haunted expression in her snowy eyes for weeks afterward. It was a month before she could do so much as hold a kunai in her hand again without shuddering.

As fate would have it, Tenten has to kill her first kiss. It was a pity, really, she reflected afterward, though the dull ache in her heart. He was kind, and handsome, and not at all the kind of awful boor one would expect the heir to one of the Fire Country's most infamous underground criminal empires to be.

As her team heads back from their mission in silence, Lee and Neji leading the way, Gai-sensei places a hand on her shoulder. His eyes are kind, and not without sympathy.

"I'm alright," Tenten protests immediately, but it sounds weak even to her ears.

"And I'm not saying that you aren't," Gai says hastily, for once sounding fully serious. Silence falls between them. "But maybe it could have worked between you two, if circumstances had been different."

His name was Akihito, she thinks immediately, and painfully.

Tenten remembers the stunned, betrayed look in his eyes as she had driven the kunai into his heart.

She is afraid she's going to remember that look for the rest of her life.

Soft

Once, Tenten takes her hair out of the two rolls she keeps them twined into. It is not of her own volition – Team Gai has been assigned to infiltrate a party of some sort to gather information about a certain feudal lord, and Gai-sensei has decreed that this means formal wear for the team. It means no spandex whatsoever, and formal robes for the boys.

Lee fidgets in his orange robe, but maintains a respectful silence. Neji, however, is so appalled at the lavender-and-silver robe he is given that after one glance at the mirror, he blurts out that he looks feminine and he is most certainly not attending a formal function looking like this.

An already-sweating Gai attempts to reassure the two into some semblance of composure, which isn't helped by Tenten's throwing hair combs at them and seething that they aren't being forced to wear kimono, and therefore, they have no right to complain, Gai-sensei! If I have to, then so should they!

Neji catches the first hair comb with the kind of deft reflexes that only a Hyuuga prodigy (albeit a Hyuuga prodigy wearing a heavy lavender robe) can manage. He shoots his reflection another glare. Robe, right. Dress was more like it. And the frippery curls his dark hair had been rolled into really weren't helping things. Just to soothe his temper, he sticks the comb into his mane, preventing his hair from falling over his left eye in the manner that stylist had deemed was "so very fashionable." He turned one way, then another, still scrutinizing his reflection. Come to think of it, the comb had done wonders…

Neji clears his throat. "Thank you, Tenten," he says, in his usual deadpan. The pandemonium ceases momentarily, in which Gai-sensei, Lee, and Tenten all stare at him, openmouthed.

The thirteen-year-old shrugs irritably. "Well, I feel it does wonders for my image."

With that, he drops back into his seat on the rocking chair, waiting for his team to gather themselves so that they may begin this infernal mission.

Tenten crosses her arms in her deep blue kimono, and gives the mirror another dubious glance. The girl staring back at her doesn't look anything like who she sees on a daily basis – the blue kimono with the embroidered emerald dragons rising up the hem is enough, but her hair, like Neji's, has been forced out of its usual style, and curled gently. It is more than a little strange to feel its long, soft weight against her shoulders and back. Pair that with the cosmetics, and she barely recognizes her reflection.

"Tenten!"

She turns away from the mirror, to find her remaining teammate striking a noble pose – which he can still do, even in the magnificently orange monstrosity he's wearing. "If your reservations about this mission, or the dress code specified by this mission, are born out of any insecurities about your physical appearance—"

Tenten blinks.

"—then, let me assure you, you may breathe easily! The flower of your youth will burn the most brightly and beautifully of any lady at the party tonight!"

At this, Lee falls into a very deep bow that leaves Tenten blushing and more than a little flustered. "Lee—"

When Lee emerges from his bow, he appears to be as flustered as she is. "Right!" he cheers loudly, grabbing her hand. He whirls back to his highly amused sensei and his white-eyed teammate. "Let us depart! Gai-sensei! Neji!"

With that, Lee proceeds to almost drag Tenten out of the room.

Gai takes a deep breath, adjusts the cream silk ties of his robe, and very graciously helps Neji out of his rocking chair, seemingly deaf to Neji's baleful mutterings about why he was being made to wear the high heels, too. "This will be a valuable experience, my dear student," he tells Neji blithely. "Already, it has made the flower of youth blossom in Lee and Tenten—"

Neji sighs.

Much later, after the party is over and all of them are struggling out of their formal wear, Tenten is alone in the dressing room she has provided. The kimono has been laid aside, the cosmetics have been washed off, and she is in the process of rebinding her hair. Unbidden, the memory of Lee's earlier speech springs to mind, and a natural blush tints her cheeks.

The whole speech was quite unnecessary - all he had to do was tell her hair looked soft, really…

Pain

Lee has the unfortunate tendency to land in the hospital a bit more than his teammates. This is because of his recklessness, his inability to sense when he is at his limit, his point-blank refusal to give up when he is a fraction of an inch away from certain death, and his general stubborn pigheadedness.

At least, this is what Tenten yells at him every time he has such a stint in the hospital. Just about every shinobi in Konoha has witnessed her more vehement chastisements of him, complete with screeching, forehead-poking, and shaking. They witness this and silently thank their deities that they aren't the poor fool in the green spandex.

However atrocious this punishment for "unnecessary injuries sustained to self" may seem to Konoha's general public, in the eyes of Rock Lee, there are worse things. Namely, the look of reproach in her eyes as she sits by his bedside after one of his more serious injuries.

"Tenten—" he begins, but then is overtaken by a coughing fit. "Tenten, please," he says lamely, after half an hour of withering under her gaze while pretending to still be comatose. "Hit me, yell, and shake me, anything. Just not the silent treatment."

She shakes her head, a look of definite sorrow on her face.

"Why?" he moans piteously.

"Lee!" she bursts out, a touch of the old spark back. "Do you expect me to be so considerate of your feelings when you insist on doing this to us on a regular basis?"

"…Eh?"

"Every month, Lee, every month at least, Neji and I are sitting vigil by your bedside, waiting for you to recover from whatever awful injury you've sustained. Every month, Gai-sensei sinks into a depression, wondering if this time is the time you won't get better."

"'m sorry," Lee mumbles remorsefully.

Tenten cracks an eye open and glares at him. "If you're really sorry, then you'll promise me you'll stop doing this to yourself – and to us."

"I promise, Tenten," he replies, a wholly sincere expression in the one eye that isn't bandaged. "But in return, you have to promise me that you won't worry so much. I mean, I can take care of myself, you know. The flower of my youth has not been fully extinguished!"

"Fine, Lee, you have my word," she lies smoothly, covering up any guilt with a guileless smile. It's for his own good, anyway, she reasons. And for mine.

Potatoes

One of the least-known facts about Maito Gai is that his absolute favorite food is potatoes.

As fate would have it, with Neji's family situation being the way it is, and Lee's being almost as bad, albeit on a slightly more…normal…scale, seeing as his parents are civilians, as well as Tenten's mother being absent almost continuously while on missions, Team Gai usually ends up crashing at their sensei's small house for indeterminate periods of time.

Tenten has nothing against this arrangement. The tiny apartment she shares with her mother seems too silent, too lonely, too empty, after the countless hours she spends training, eating, and traveling with her teammates. Gai-sensei's house is the exact opposite – it's cluttered with an equal spread of fascinating shinobi weaponry, which Tenten spends hours examining in detail, and random objects, like Gai's collection of stuffed turtles.

Tenten doesn't mind the excessive green or the clutter, though. It's part of what makes it feel a lot like home.

Neji stakes out the least-green room of the house for himself. It is the room that is painted a very pale apple green, contrasting the vivid lime green of the other rooms. Coincidentally, this is also the room that houses the majority of the stuffed turtle collection. Despite this, Neji doesn't complain.

Lee…well, Lee is in his element. Gai has converted one of the small guest rooms into a library of sorts, filled with volumes upon volumes of everything there is to know about ninjutsu, genjutsu, and taijutsu. Lee spends most of his time here, curled up on the squashy orange armchair, buried in encyclopedias detailing advanced taijutsu.

All in all, this is a very comfortable life for Tenten, Neji, and Lee.

…Except for dinner.

One thing they discover relatively early during their stints in Gai-sensei's house is Gai's love for potatoes. Tenten understands. After all, she has a love for dango that Neji and Lee consider completely irrational.

However, Tenten does not insist on eating dango, or some variation of it, for every damn meal.

Potato salad. Stir-fried potatoes. Potatoes and rice. Boiled potatoes. Fried potatoes. Steamed potatoes. Potato chips. Potatoes tossed with every vegetable imaginable.

Within a few weeks of this, all three of them come to despise potatoes with a burning, fiery passion. Neji and Lee continue to suffer through the potato torture, Neji because it beats the spinach that the Main House insists on serving weekly, and Lee because he believes that there must be a reason for the potato torture, therefore, he determines to continue eating the potatoes, no matter how much distress the small vegetables bring him.

Tenten has no such reservations. After thoroughly researching the dietary benefits of potatoes and finding nothing especially outstanding, she begins to find…creative…usages for the potatoes she doesn't eat.

Gai does weekly cleaning around the house, and when he ventures into Tenten's room one day, armed with all his usual cleaning implements, only to find two carefully sculpted portrayals of Neji and Lee, with assorted kunai and senbon stuck at various points on their bodies, he almost falls down laughing, so amused that he doesn't even have time to be dismayed at the fact that the potato versions of his male students have begun to drip all over the floor.

-

…Before you ask me about pairings, I will say that some of these can be read as NejiTen, some as LeeTen, some as GenTen, and there's one in here that's definitely KankurouTen. And I've only done twenty themes so far.

Reviews appreciated!