Title: Always the bridesmaid

Author: Lilya

Genre: General/Romance

Type: One-shot

Summary: Neji and I are the talk of the town because we won't marry. Everybody knows he won't ask – but there's more than meets the eye. Tenten POV.

Main Characters: Tenten, Hyuuga Neji

Pairing: Neji/Ten

Rating: G

Disclaimer: all the characters and the setting belong to Kishimoto Masashi. I just made up a few details.


If one asks civilians, they'll tell you that ninjas don't marry until after their retirement and even then, it's just for duty to clan and village more often than not.

It's only sensible they wouldn't – proving they are capable to form attachment at all, marrying while still in service would only make them more vulnerable to their enemies, be a distraction and all around dangerous.

Plus, if children come, one of the parents would have to give up his or her career to look after them, otherwise who would?

Ninja-ing is not exactly the most family-friendly profession out there. Add more danger and more distraction to an already dangerous life and you can see why ninjas and marriage don't go together.

Some couples might go and live together, but surely it takes lots of persuasion and ages of dancing around each other avoiding the dreaded c-word.

One has to wonder if they worked it out on their own or if it's a smoke screen some of use laid out themselves. Probably a bit of both.

Actually, we are more conventional then many would think. We do marry – even younger and in higher numbers than civilians. It's just that we don't show it.

Rings are out of question for obvious reasons, as are bracelets and any other kind of jewellery that cannot be tucked under clothes and be trusted to stay there without sparkling or chinking.

That's why jewelers and goldsmiths' shopwindows offer a wide selection of necklaces and an even wider one of not-too-conspicuous pendants.

Besides, with classical ninja spirit of adaptability, the necklace can be used as a ring during the ceremony.

Yes, there's a ceremony – surprised, are you?

Banns of marriage are still required, and so are various other documents – even so, it's like a civilian "short version." Usually it consists of the couple being married by the pertinent clerks in the government building, in front of closest friends and families (because not even ANBUS could hope to keep their mothers away). Then the celebrations move to a restaurant or one of the in-laws' house.

For biological, practical and historical reasons, the register office is open 24/7 and these's also the short short-version, which is practically "Do you? Do you? You may kiss the bride, please sign here, may the Gods bless you, bye bye."

Of course, every village has its own laws, costumes and traditions.

In the Mist Village, for example, no wedding in any form can be considered successful if there's not a brawl or a scene – preferably, both.

The big celebrations and a more spiritual ceremony can come later – often when one of the two retires, but it's up to the couple.

It might look nonsensical and even a bit paranoid, but hey, we're talking about people who dodge big pointy things and worse all year round here – paranoia is practically part of the job requirement.

Who would want something like this?

You'd be surprised.

Women are women, kunoichis are kunoichis – and women too. And you can bet that most of them have dreamt of their own Prince Charming and their wedding day since before they joined the Academy.

Some change their mind, but most don't.

Then there's me.

TenTen, 26 going on 27, the only kunoichi still unmarried in my circle of friends and acquaintances.

Other than Hyuuga Hinata, that is, but she doesn't count: before Naruto realizes she loves him, decides whether he loves her or not, and they both manage to convince not only the Head of the House, but also the Hyuuga Clan Council to approve the match, she'll be lucky if she manages to tie the knot before menopause kicks in.

Unless they elope. Or she points a sword to his neck and marches him to the register office. If you want to bet on the outcome, ask Ino, she's keeping the book.

I can't see why more people aren't trying to help her rather than help me.

Perhaps because, unlike her, I'm unmarried, but not single.

Definitely not single.

I've been Neji's girlfriend since we were 19 and he has been living with me for the last four years.

But we're not married. Since I'm dating – wonder if it still counts as dating – a Hyuuga, everybody can know.

Hyuuga marriages are terribly complicated matters. No short version nor – oh, the horror! – short short-version of the rites for them.

Maybe that's why my friends don't understand. It's everything a girl could dream for her wedding day, almost around the corner and yet I don't mind standing still on the sidewalk.

I don't mind being the talk of the town while other people – like Sakura, for example – in my situation would have snapped long ago.

I'm not pressuring Neji – not anymore – but they wouldn't believe it if I said that.

Of course, they believe it's all his fault since he hasn't asked me yet and we aren't even officially engaged. You'd think he'd have to ask them instead by the way they act when Valentine's day approaches or whenever we do something even remotely romantic.

Sometimes it gets very annoying and, as usual, I just try to ignore them.

I'm good at ignoring them.

By now every time they start babbling about the question and what a shame it is that he's keeping me hanging there and after all these years one either gets married or breaks up, I simply disconnect my brain and nod.

When they pity me and say that after all, Neji never was the marriage type, I smile inwardly.
They really don't understand.

But a couple of years ago, neither did I.

Neji and I had been living together for two years and I had just been the bridesmaid at my friend Hitomi's wedding.

You know the saying "thrice a bridesmaid, never a bride"? Well, that was my second time as a bridesmaid and there was good chance that Mei, another good friend of mine, would tie the knot soon.

I was almost 25 – somehow I thought of that date like a wall with a 3 and a 0 looming right behind, a feeling boosted by the fact engagement rings were popping up like mushrooms in the Rain Country.

It all made me feel pretty miserable. And, well…I lost my mind for a bit.

I started wondering why he hadn't said anything yet, if he loved me still and why he didn't want to marry me if he did. I even thought it might be because he didn't find me good enough for his clan – though that didn't make me depressed, it made me angry.

Poor Neji. Poor, poor Neji. I gave a horrible time and he couldn't even understand why. If he didn't run away back then, then he never will.

Then, one evening, he came home fuming after an accidental run-in with Hyuuga Hideyoshi. Don't ask me how they're related, I just know he's one of the esteemed Clan Councilors.

Long story short, he ranted about the Clan for more than one hour while I lent a sympathetic ear. His usual self control faltered and somehow… somehow it all came out. Maybe not all, but enough. I finally knew and understood why he would not marry me.

On one hand I was right – it's because of the Clan.

I don't think anybody really understands what Clans like the Hyuuga and the Uchiha really are. Even I thought I knew, but I was wrong. Just think that Neji is considered a hot-head for their standards!

It's true Neji got closer to his uncle and his family, but the clan is much bigger than that. And there's the Clan Council – Hiashi might be the head of the Clan, but he can't act against their decisions.

Things are changing, that's true, but it's a rocky, slow process those old snobs are trying to make even slower.

If we were to marry now, we'd have to follow the old family rules.

As part of the Clan, we'd have to live in the Hyuuga precinct. I couldn't be a ninja anymore, it wouldn't be proper – my life, my hard work would be all in vain.

And, as the division in branches still stands, I would automatically become a member of the Branch Family.

I had never truly thought or cared until he said it. I had never heard him like that – so angry and miserable at the same time.

He told me he loves my lively spirit to much to see it bound or broken. He told me we were birds of a feather, both freedom-loving, and he couldn't stand to see his sparrow caged.

That's when I understood.

As long as the Clan remains unchanged, Neji can't marry me.

He couldn't stand to see me branded – I wouldn't need the same cursed seal he has, but another similar one. Or you thought that the "external members" would get away with it?

No, they need to be controlled even more than the real family.

It would break his heart – he didn't say it, but it was all over his face and in his voice. And I won't allow it, ever.

I won't be his cage, nor the key back to his old one.

You see how it is now?

How could I resent him after he gave me such a gift?

Besides….want to know I secret?

It's not true that he never bought me a ring.

I have my engagement ring ready – it's in a small jewellery box in the back of his closet.

We never take it out, just occasionally check it's still there.

That ring is what makes us come back home from every mission, it's the promise of our future together.

And we'll get there, little by little.

And when we do, you can be sure we'll do it our way!

A traditional Clan wedding might be a dream come true for most girls, but it's not mine. Even if my family traditions are not as ancient, as noble or as dignified as the Hyuuga's I won't forsake them.

On my wedding day, I want to wear red and cover my head with my grandmother's embroidered veil. I want Neji to pay respect to the Heaven and Earth by my side and pour the tea with me.

In the meantime, I don't mind being always the bridesmaid.

It's a great way to practice the subtle art of wedding-planning.

But who knows, maybe we will get married at the office register with the short short-version – if only to bug the old bats.

After cosplaying Tenten two years in a row, it was about time I wrote something about her.

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