A/N: Well, here it is…the final chapter.
On Monday morning, Tenten was roused from bed not by her alarm clock, but by the persistent ringing, not just of her regular phone, but also of her cell phone. Still groggy with sleep and growing very cranky due to the cheery ringtones ripping their way through her skull, Tenten grabbed the nearest one (which happened to be her cell phone) and clicked it on.
"What?" She snapped, too tired to be cordial.
"Wakey wakey, sunshine!" Tenten grimaced as Ino's voice radiated cheerfully out of the phone. Unlike most sane people, the blonde was a morning person. "Are you coming to school today?"
"Of course I'm coming to school today!" she snapped, "I have a freaking Chinese test and do you have any idea what Ibiki does to the people who miss them? Chews them up—I swear, he's a master of torture."
"Yeesh, calm down. I was only checking to see if you were coming, after everything that happened."
"Why wouldn't I—oh. Nevermind." Tenten felt herself wake up a little more as she recalled exactly what had transpired over the past couple of days. Tsunade's questioning, her secret coming out…the whole school probably knew by now, what with the way gossip can spread. For that matter, Tenten was surprised that she hadn't been plastered across the local newspaper yet.
"Yeah…You're still going to come, right?" asked Ino, a little less frivolously.
"Yes I'm going to come," Tenten smiled, though she knew Ino couldn't see it, "Like I said, I have a Chinese test today. And besides, I'd be in more trouble for skipping. Thanks for the concern, though, really."
"Eh, don't mention it. 'Sides, Forehead Girl's hogging the bathroom, so it's not like I had anything better to do. And Hinata was the one calling your other phone; she's worried about you."
That sentence managed to diminish most of her terrible mood. "Oh, that makes sense now. Thank her for me, would you?"
"I will." promised Ino.
"See you at school."
Tenten stared at her cell, a slight smile playing on her lips, before checking the clock and realizing she had an hour and a half before school started.
Might as well get up now. With a groan, Tenten got herself up out of bed.
Her routine proceeded as normal, washing and brushing and just generally taking care of her personal hygiene, then taking care of her stomach. It was only when it was time to get dressed that there came a crisis.
For one thing, she wasn't sure if she should just keep dressing the way she had been doing so, since probably everyone at the Academy knew she was a girl, and would probably think it was strange. For another thing, Konoha Academy required uniforms, and she only had one kind of uniform and it was the boy's uniform and even though she wasn't a boy, what would they care?
"Ah, screw it." snarled Tenten to herself, grabbing her uniform and starting to dress. The only changes she made was to leave off the bandages and actually wear a bra underneath, and to leave her hair loose. She had debated this particular change, but then decided that, if her physique and normal voice didn't point out to her classmates that, yes she was a girl and proud of it, then loose hair would definitely drive the point home.
Tenten stared at her reflection in the mirror for a long moment, then sighed and shook her head.
"Time to go," she muttered, hitching her bag over one shoulder and trying to ignore the slight queasiness in her stomach as she headed out the door.
Tenten had been unsure what exactly to expect when she entered the school grounds, though she had had some vague ideas.
Whispers? Of course.
Just not quite at the level that it was.
While it wasn't exactly the movie-style, everyone-stops-and-stares-and-whispers-excitedly, it was pretty close. Most of the underclassmen watched her go with curiosity, and were the ones doing the most whispering. The juniors and seniors, on the other hand, were staring at her to the point that Tenten thought they would burn a hole through her skull. She did her best to ignore them, and the bits of whispered comments that her ears caught as she passed by, on her way to their usual meeting place.
Scanning the center courtyard, Tenten had never been more grateful that her friends stood out so clearly. She hurried towards them, dodging anyone in her way.
"You'd think people would have better things to do than just stare, wouldn't you?" commented Ino, glaring at those whose eyes were fixated on Tenten and successfully forcing them to look away by sheer will. Tenten smiled gratefully at the blonde, pulling at her collar uncomfortably.
"They'll get over it soon enough," said Sakura, addressing Tenten directly, "They'll get used to you in a few days and all will be forgotten." Tenten found it a rather optimistic train of thought, but knew Sakura was just trying to ease her mind, and she wasn't about to stop her.
"What time is it?" she asked instead, having forgotten her own watch at home.
"We have time."
"Good." Tenten could already feel the dread of facing her classmates building up inside of her, coupled with the strong desire to avoid them for as long as possible.
The four girls stood together, talking idly about silly things, while the schoolmates around them studiously avoided staring for too long, lest they be scared off by a deadly glower from one of the three girls' surrounding the one in the boy's uniform. Tenten was grateful for them, but all too quickly the warning bell to get to class rang, signaling to her that it was time to fully begin her trial. Sakura and Ino both wished her good luck. Hinata said nothing, but gave her a reassuring hand on her shoulder. Tenten smiled at them all, and walked away, mentally calming herself.
She paid no mind to the comments, some whispered and some obvious, she heard the further she got from her friends' range of hearing. Tenten had always valued her own opinion about herself well above what others thought of each other, and had thus developed a very thick skin. Besides, Gai had always disapproved of lashing out at those who made fun of one's weakness and instead encouraged building up strengths that one could be proud of that also overshadowed the weakness. Tenten had particularly liked this one, if just for the simple fact that her hundred percent weapons' accuracy meant that her dismemberment fantasies were very satisfying.
When she walked through the door of her classroom, the room went deadly quiet. No one whispered, no one moved a limb; nothing. The only things that moved were their eyes, following her across the room to her seat. Just staring at her.
Tenten did her best to ignore them, as she had with the students outside. Unfortunately, unlike the school grounds, the Chinese classroom was closed up, and seemed to magnify and intensify their audacious attention. Tenten attempted to hold on to some bit of normalcy by squeezing in some last-minute-studying before class started.
It didn't work.
The almost-physical pressure of their stares was unnerving her, the tension in the room growing heavier and heavier with each second that passed. She was almost ready to scream, if only to get rid of the oppressive, almost accusing silence.
The tension shattered with the silence, as everyone shifted their gazes from Tenten to Lee and his (as usual) dramatic entrance. He was, as per usual, full of energy and smiling his too-white smile.
"Yes, Lee?" asked Tenten, a little scared of what Lee had to say to her. He had made his way to her desk and was staring down at her.
And he wasn't smiling.
"Why didn't you tell us…" he began.
Tenten closed her eyes and took a deep breath, mentally preparing herself to face…well…whatever his reaction would be.
"…that YOU WERE FOSTERED BY GAI-SENSEI?"
You have got to be kidding me. That's it?
"I couldn't, Lee," Tenten was uncomfortably aware of how the whole class was listening to their conversation. "Besides, aren't you mad about…well, you know?"
Lee, much to Tenten's surprise, burst out laughing.
"About you being a girl, you mean?" he inquired politely. "Should I be mad? Surprised, certainly." He sat down besides her. "But there is not much point in being angry. The last time I met you like this I thought you were a very nice girl. Why should I harbor angry feelings towards a nice girl?"
Tenten almost couldn't believe what she was hearing. Sure, she had known that Lee was the nicest of nearly all the boys she had met, but she had expected even him to feel at least a little righteous anger at her deception.
"Well…I lied to you." Lee smiled and shook his head at her weak protest.
"People lie all the time, and almost never for a good cause," he pointed out patiently. "Your cause was good, and to see it through you were simply unable to tell anyone."
"You consider wanting to be a Chuunin a good cause?" she asked, confused.
Lee nodded vigorously. "I can understand why it would be so important to you. I would probably do the same myself, if I was ever in a similar situation." He propped his chin in one hand, elbow resting on the desk, "Yet somehow I doubt I would be as successful imitating a member of the opposite sex as you were."
Tenten didn't even try to picture what he would look like, simply shuddering in fear at the very idea.
But the fear inside her was residing, being replaced with infinite gratitude towards Lee.
"I'm not sure it would be a very good idea either, Lee-kun." She smiled at the surprise on his face at the new suffix, "And thank you."
"You're welcome." He looked confused, but chose not to say anything else. Instead he looked towards the door. "Ah! Neji!"
Tenten froze. The tension returned, except much heavier and laced with anticipation of what would happen, as the Hyuuga entered the room. Tenten's eyes stayed on him as he neared, though he didn't so much as glare at her.
"Lee, you're going to need a new alarm clock."
In fact, he was downright ignoring her.
Lee sighed. "Neji, really, you may be my eternal rival but at least have some respect for my things—"
"I will do that when you start remembering that the general rule is that you wake up and go on a five mile jog after the alarm clock rings. Not before."
"Yes, Neji. Then I shall do one thousand push-ups during practice today for penance!"
"Please don't." Neji rolled his eyes at Lee and turned his attention to the board, copying down the characters written there. He didn't glance at Tenten even once.
Considering that she sat right in front of him, Tenten thought drolly, it was quite a feat.
The bell for class rang, and anyone not doing what they were supposed to be doing immediately sat down and began pulling out books, papers and pencils in preparation for the test.
As usual, Ibiki stormed into the room, glaring around to intimidate the troublemakers into placid just-glad-to-exist-ers. But today, instead of just heading to the front of the room and starting class, he stopped right in front of Tenten's desk. She gulped and craned her neck in order to see his face.
"Yes, Ibiki-sensei?" She didn't bother to correct him—she was still intimidated.
"I certainly hope you are aware that despite your recent revelations, you aren't excused from anything that goes on in this school, especially this test. Are you?"
"Of course, Ibiki-sensei."
He nodded, still not smiling. "Good. Don't expect me to treat you any differently despite this. I don't care. Nor do I know why so many of my students are so worked up over something so trivial," he seemed to be directing his statements to the rest of the class, "Considering how often this school mistakes boys for girls in any case. Now get ready; it's time for your test. Anyone caught staring around the room will get their test taken away and an automatic zero, got it?" Tenten smiled slightly to herself, recognizing the warning to extend beyond cheating.
"Yes, Ibiki-sensei." chorused the class.
Much to Tenten's surprise, all of her teachers seemed to take Ibiki's stand on her gender. Other than staring at her a little funny from time to time, they treated her normally. She went through her classes with little trouble, other than enduring the stares and whispers. Much to her disappointment, Neji still wasn't acknowledging her presence. She had already known this was going to be hard for him, considering that the teammate he beat up on a regular basis was also the girl he was dating, but it hurt not even being able to talk to him without having to worry about what he would say to her.
She didn't go to the cafeteria for lunch, not ready to face the Shinobi team the way she was. Instead, she went behind the library, where there was a nice grassy hill and a couple of large, shady trees. Though she hadn't told them where she would be, the girls arrived soon after, holding their lunches. Without a word, they sat next to her and started to eat.
Tenten had seldom been so grateful for her friends.
The only real trouble she had was when she walked into the boys' locker room out of sheer force of habit and almost immediately was forced to race back out, pelted by articles of clothing and cans of questionable substances.
The girls' locker room wasn't much better, what with the curious glances, rude glares, and snide comments. Tenten ignored it, stripping off her uniform and slipping into her PE clothes, grateful that those at least were unisex. Tying her hair back with a borrowed hair tie, she waited patiently for the other girls to finish so that they could walk out together.
Her mood worsened when she was told that, as she was a girl, she was to join Anko's class instead of Gai's. The energetic woman had been thrilled to gain a new student, and in her enthusiasm made Tenten go through a series of very painful stretches and other exercises in order to 'discover her limits', and insisted that the rest of the class go through it as well. By the time the bell rang, Tenten was not only as beaten up as the first day of class, but was also considerably resented by her other classmates. It wasn't the sort of resentment that would last for very long, but after spending the day listening to whispers and enduring stares, she could hardly stand it.
And the worst part, she thought to herself as she left the school, was that one of the reasons she had taken on the task of disguising herself because she had thought she could stand it.
Tenten didn't look back as she left the building, figuring that she might as well take the initiative and just stop showing up for practices, instead of having to be told to her face that she was no longer allowed. Even just thinking of the concept hurt.
As soon as she got home, she sat on her bed and burst into tears. Not tears of sadness, but of mixed emotions. Frustration for being caught, anger for losing her team in the first place…
Guilt that she had deceived them…
And hurt, for that fact that Neji would not look at her.
The next day was marginally better. The rude comments in the hall had lessened somewhat, the teachers pretty much remained apathetic to the whole situation, and the intensity of the stares had significantly diminished. It was only when they referred to her as 'Toyo', out of habit and had to correct themselves that Tenten was reminded that most people were still holding her at bay; scrutinizing her.
However, those feelings were erased and replaced by an incident that occurred early in the second morning she spent as Tenten.
Halfway through Tenten's second period, while she copied lecture notes in Iruka's English class, they were interrupted by a shy sophomore.
"Udon-kun, do you need something?" asked Iruka, not at all annoyed about his lecture on Beowolf being interrupted. Tenten, like the rest of the class, looked up curiously at him, causing the poor boy to flush even more.
"Tsunade-sama wants to see a Tenten-san in her office." He mumbled, not meeting Iruka's eyes.
"Now?" inquired Iruka. Udon nodded, his eyes settling warily on Tenten. "Very well. Tenten, you may go."
Half wondering what Tsunade wanted with her and half wanting to get away, Tenten obeyed, tucking her binder into her bag and rising from her seat. She ignored the whispers that sprung up as left the room; they were mostly harmless, said out of simple curiosity, not malice.
She followed Udon, who she couldn't decide if he was that shy or just quiet, all the way outside, halfway through the school, finally being deposited in front of the office.
For a moment, Tenten just stared up at the massive building in front of her, before taking a deep breath and opening the doors. Nothing had changed at all from the first day, except for perhaps being a bit more disorganized, a bit more harried atmosphere. Shizune's desk was no longer as pin neat, and was now covered with various memos and pamphlets and sticky notes. The secretary looked up at Tenten and nodded at her.
"Ah, you're here."
Where else would I be? Wondered Tenten, a little sarcastically. However, she still inclined her head at Shizune. "Tsunade-sama asked for me."
Shizune smiled. "That she did, Tenten-chan." The way the woman said her name, as though it was the only one she had ever heard that fit her face, discomfited Tenten a little.
"Tenten's here to see you, Tsunade." Shizune said into the phone. Tenten could faintly hear Tsunade on the other end, but couldn't make out what she was saying. Shizune nodded and said "Right away," before hanging up and turning to Tenten with a smile. "You can go in now."
"Thanks…" Tenten stared questioningly at Shizune's oddly friendly demeanor before taking a deep breath and opening the door to the office.
The first thing that her eyes took in was the sheer amount of paperwork that crowded the room. Not only was the desk almost invisible underneath the twin towers of paper, but a good deal of floor space had also been devoted to the stacks that stretched up to the ceiling. Tenten could only stare in open astonishment.
"Ah, Tenten!" Tsunade's face appeared from around a pile that seemed to have been making extraneous use of red ink, "Take a seat—I'll be right there."
Tenten could only nod dumbly and maneuvered her way around the piles to sit in the surprisingly comfortable office chair, looking warily around her.
"Ah-HAH!" Triumphant, the blonde emerged with a particularly thick book wedged under her arm. She placed it carefully at the center of the desk, before taking a seat herself.
"Sorry about that, you wouldn't believe how difficult it is to run a school. The parents, the school board, the parents, the students, the parents—they take up all of my attention. In fact, one such incident is the reason I wasn't able to talk to you yesterday. I'm sorry about that. How did practice go yesterday? Were the boys treating you all right?"
"I didn't go to practice." said Tenten, frowning in confusion.
"Oh? Why not?" Tenten's bewilderment deepened upon hearing the genuine surprise in Tsunade's voice.
"I thought I wasn't allowed to," she replied, her mind working furiously. She had come in fully expecting Tsunade to pull her off the team, or even kick her out of the school, not for her to ask why she, Tenten was skipping.
"Did I ever say you couldn't remain on the team?" Tsunade inquired, fingers interlaced and her chin resting atop them, staring inquisitively at Tenten.
"The rules," Tsunade directed Tenten's attention to the thick book in front of her, now open. "Clearly indicate that a person can only be kicked off the Shinobi team if they either, a) are doing drugs, b) purposely pick fights and cause general havoc both within and outside the team, or c) have horrible grades." She closed the book with a loud snap and looked expectantly at Tenten.
"I've checked your grades and your records; both are clean. You are an exceptional student, according to the reports I've found, both real and fabricated—" she laughed at the rising blush on Tenten's cheeks. "I have to admit, I'm impressed. You were very thorough with the details, made your lies believable…very nice work." Tenten bit her lip and stared at the floor, feeling a little strange, receiving of all things praise for her deception.
"And as for the drug questions, I got a good look at you the other night and I know you aren't on steroids, so you're fine."
"How would you know that I'm not on steroids?"
"You would have hair growing much thicker in places it normally shouldn't, remember? Shizune definitely would have mentioned such signs to me."
"Oh," Tenten reddened even more. "Right."
Tsunade smiled gently at her. "The point is, Tenten, that nowhere in the school rules or well, any rules, say that there's a good reason for you to be kicked off the team. Sure, you've been lying to your teachers, fellow classmates, teammates, coaches, and of course me about your gender and fabricated false documents to see them through—" Tenten winced at the list, "But other than that, you have been completely honest with your records and intentions. You came here to join the Shinobi team, and you joined them, didn't you? Not so that you could sabotage them or ogle the players, but so that you could win. There's no real point in kicking you off the team so close to the finals. It would only hurt us." She leaned back, satisfied, against the back of her chair. "Do you see what I'm saying?"
"Good." Tsunade pushed the rule book to the side and grabbed a thick packet of papers from the top of the pile closest to her and began scanning through it, highlighting the more important terms. "I'll expect you to keep working very hard, of course. If the school board protests, I'll just point out that we don't technically have any rules against girls as Chuunin, and besides, you're a senior and deserve to be given a chance for your last year." She looked up and smiled at Tenten. "Does that sound good?"
"Good? It's better than good, it's great—"
"I'm glad you think so," Tsunade cut in, "You're dismissed." Tenten stood and bowed quickly to the principal and made to leave. Just as her hand landed on the doorknob, Tsunade spoke up again. "Tenten?"
"Yes, Tsunade-sama?" Tenten swiveled around to face the blonde woman.
"It would be best that you just keep dressing as a boy…after the finals we'll look at getting you a girl's uniform and sorting out all of that social chaos, all right?"
"Thank you, Tsunade-sama."
"My pleasure. Don't forget, I was a Chuunin here too, once, and a damn good one." She smirked. "I think it's about time that those barriers were broken, don't you? Do it right, and your friends might gain the honor of becoming a Chuunin if they're good enough."
Tenten only nodded dumbly before turning and exiting the office. Once outside, she leaned against the door and sighed in relief, already feeling the giddiness rise up inside of her.
"Not what you expected, huh?" asked Shizune, smiling at Tenten. Tenten just stared at the young woman, wondering where the coolness from a couple days had gone.
"Not really. Have a good day, Shizune-san."
"I will be gone for most of this week, and I'll miss the finals, so kick ass, okay?"
Tenten blinked at the bluntness of the secretary's words, but hesitantly returned the smile.
"Tsunade really said that?" Sakura paused, her chopsticks halfway to her mouth. "Seriously?"
Once again, the four girls could be found eating lunch right behind the library. Despite Lee's assurances that no one really was angry at her about her deception, she still was uncomfortable with the idea of sitting with the Shinobi team in full view of the cafeteria.
Tenten nodded in confirmation. "It was a bit weird, actually. She was treating it like something completely normal—not something to make a big deal about."
"Well, Tsunade-sama was famous as a Sannin before she came to teach here, correct?" asked Hinata rhetorically, "And she did say she wanted girls as Chuunin, right? She'll probably use you as an example case."
"You're probably right, Hinata." Tenten agreed, lying back on the grass, hands interlocked behind her head. She cast a sidelong glance at Ino, who was currently resting her head in Sakura's lap. "Anything you want to add, Ino?"
"Nope. Hinata-chan said it all. But while you were gone yesterday, all of the Jounin lectured us about how we aren't allowed to let anyone outside of school know about it." She yawned extravagantly. "Of course, everyone's going to be talking about it no matter what the teachers say, but with any luck, Mist will still just think that you're one of the guys."
"Honestly, I'm surprised that the newspapers haven't published anything," Ino continued. "I mean, this is juicy, scandalous news, perfect to grace the pages of unscrupulous tabloids, don't you think?"
"Tsunade's too scary; I bet she got the word around the school not to spill it to anyone outside of the Academy on the pain of—er, something." Sakura pointed out, plucking up a dumpling and stuffing it into Ino's mouth. As the blonde gagged and spluttered angrily at the pinkette, Tenten felt a tap on her wrist, and turned to face Hinata.
"You will come to practice today, right, Tenten-chan?" she asked, twiddling her fingers.
"Definitely. Nothing's going to keep me away."
Hinata offered a shy smile. "I'm glad. Even though we don't practice together, it's…nicer to know you are around."
Tenten smiled back. "Thanks. Um…" she hesitated, "How has Neji been acting about all this?" she blurted. Being ignored by him was driving her crazy, and her constant thoughts about what he was thinking promised to finish the job and render her completely insane.
Hinata tilted her head to the side as she considered the question. "Sulking, mostly."
Hinata nodded, ignoring Tenten's shocked expression. "Yes. He was pretty angry at first, but mostly when anyone brings you up all he just gets quiet and locks himself up in his room. I honestly can't tell you what's going on with him right now. I'm sorry."
"No…it's okay." She drooped, head hanging and limbs completely slack, "I guess I'll find out today when we spar, anyway."
Hinata patted her hand reassuringly. "It'll be all right, Tenten-chan."
"I hope so."
The end of the school day arrived much faster than Tenten had wanted it to. Reluctantly, she hung back in the gym, keeping to the sides of her friends, scared out of her mind about seeing the Shinobi team again. Avoiding them had been so easy, but now she had to grow up and brace herself for their reactions.
Much to her surprise, none of the Shinobi team really paid her any more attention than was normal, and simply went into their normal groups to spar and train. One of Ino's forceful shoves sent Tenten reluctantly to join Neji, Lee, and Gai.
"Hey guys…" she greeted them nervously, having not really talked to either boy all day. Lee grinned and gave her thumbs up; Neji continued to ignore her.
"Glad to see you rejoin us, Tenten." Gai looked at her carefully. "I assume that the Hokage has already discussed everything with you?"
"Yes she did, Gai-sensei."
"Just about." Gai smiled down at her.
"Excellent. Now, today I want you and Lee to train together. Neji will be with me, for his levels of youth need adjustment."
"My levels of youth are fine." Neji glowered up at his mentor, the first time he had spoken in close proximity with Tenten. However, he still continued to ignore her presence.
Tenten had never been more grateful for Lee and his boisterous, exuberant existence than she was during that practice. To some extent she was still a little angry about Gai being the cause of her unveiled deception, even if he had had cause for concern (though the bruise under her bandages seemed to be healing just a little too well for it to have cost her an identity), and Neji was just a huge problem all on his own. Lee's proclamations of youth and lightening fast speed were much more than the perfect diversion.
When practice came to an end, as usual, Tenten left immediately. She didn't notice Kiba and Naruto calling her name, or Neji silently watching.
Later that night, while she was sitting on her sofa watching TV, her phone started ringing. Half-expecting it to be Ino, Sakura, or Hinata on the other end, she picked it up.
"Is this the house of the boy-turned-Neji's-girlfriend?"
Instead, she got Kiba.
"Yes, Tenten's here. What do you want, Kiba?"
He laughed. "Calm down, calm down. I didn't mean anything by it. Actually, I was wondering why you haven't been sitting with us the past few days. Did someone smell or something?"
"…you don't think it would be awkward?" Tenten asked, a little curious.
"Ino assumed I was in love with Shino. And you. This can't possibly be any more awkward."
Tenten gaped at the phone. "Can't possibly be any worse—are you mad? I tricked the team, deceived the teachers, saw most of you half-naked—how is that not worse?"
"Who looked the best?"
"Half-naked. Which of us looked best with our shirts off?"
"…you can't expect me to answer that." Much to her own surprise, Tenten started to laugh. It was too absurd; after all her guilt just to be asked that of all questions. On the other end of the line, Kiba grinned at the sound of her genuine amusement.
"Yeah, you're right. You'd probably say Neji; anyway, considering the two of your…situation, shall we call it that?"
Tenten flushed, her smile fading. "That would be the best word for it." She sighed, "He hasn't been acting very differently, has he?"
"Neji? Nah, he's pretty much the same as usual. You won't have to worry about him chewing you out at lunch or anything, if that's what you're thinking about."
"Really. Look, Tenten—good, I remembered it—no one is really mad at you or anything. The girls explained everything to us. You did what you had to do to achieve your goal."
"Well, I don't know the whole story, so I wouldn't know, but what they told us was pretty thorough." He let out a bark of laughter, "Though I'll bet the Uchiha really wished they left out the part about Sakura kissing him as a means of distraction. He had the strangest look on his face—"
"Are you sure they don't care?"
"Well, frankly, what you did was pretty cool. Everyone's more interested in learning how you did it than getting all worked up about how you 'deceived' us or anything stupid like that."
"Really, it's fine?"
"Yes it is. Wow, you're acting the way Hinata did in middle school. I didn't even know that was possible for another person to be that way."
"Can you blame me?" asked Tenten, grinning.
"Probably not. So…we're cool?"
"Definitely. See you tomorrow, Kiba-kun."
"Same to you, Tennie."
"Oh come on, you gotta admit that that's gold—"
"You're no fun at all." groused Kiba.
"Good bye Kiba."
Tenten stared at the phone in her hand, contemplating, before a wide grin spread across her features and threatened to split her face apart.
They forgave her.
They didn't care that she tricked them.
They. Didn't. Freaking. Care.
It was funny, how that little phone call helped raise her spirits so high.
The next morning, she started interacting with the rest of the Shinobi team again.
And all was well.
Friday came, and with it brought complete anticipation and excitement to Konoha Academy. Like the semi-finals, it dominated nearly all conversation. Unlike the semi-finals, most of the school was more interested in what would happen now that Tenten was exposed, since technically, she had lied to get her position; just not in the way athletes generally lied, with drugs to boost performance or purposefully crippling a teammate. Some thought she wouldn't be allowed to play; most thought she would simply be demoted to Genin and kept out of the crucial fights.
Neither of those rumors were right, of course. Tenten already knew from her discussion with Tsunade that she would keep her old position. But the knowledge didn't keep away her paranoia, that at any second her place would be taken from her. It was a foolish fear, but a strong one, nevertheless.
Eclipsing that, however, was the situation with Neji. He had finally stopped ignoring her, but the only words he spoke were completely neutral: questions about the weather, their classes together, etc.
It was driving her crazy. She almost preferred his careful silences. Almost. At least his willingness to talk about anything, no matter how trivial, was a step in the right direction.
One tradition of the Konoha Shinobi team was, it seemed, to go out to Ichiraku's the night before the big game as one big group, to get worked up for the upcoming games and stuff themselves. Gai and Kakashi had declared it a chance for team bonding; Kiba told her it was probably because Naruto had bullied them into it.
Either way, she didn't mind, perfectly content with the choice and just grateful for being included.
It was very crowded and noisy in Ichiraku's, though it was to be expected considering the current patrons. Three tables had been hastily put together to accommodate the team, and two waiters to serve them. Tenten had asked Hinata why that was so, only to have Naruto answer the question with a (loud) order for several bowls in succession. She was only able to stare, and had to look away quickly, to preserve her appetite.
As she ate, Tenten listened to the conversations around her, allowing her eyes to wander from time to time up and down the table. At the head of the table(s) sat the teachers; Kakashi reading his book, Gai trying to gain his attention, Kurenai and Asuma flirting—she quickly looked away, embarrassed. Further down sat Shikamaru and Ino on one side, and Chouji sitting opposite from them. Ino, as usual, was nagging Shikamaru, though she was smiling rather than snarling, while the pineapple-haired genius just pretended to ignore her. Chouji watched the show with amusement, every now and then stealing a morsel or two from his friends' bowls.
Besides them sat Hinata's group, Shino and Kiba in Chouji's row, also watching the bickering with interest, or at least Kiba was. Hinata was more interested in talking to Naruto on her other side, despite the fact he was too busy slurping to respond. He probably was listening to her, though. Sakura was teasing Sasuke, who was doing his very best to ignore her taunts and not succeeding at all. Tenten was amused to see that he had turned slightly red, which she knew was quite an achievement for the stoic Uchiha.
And then there was Neji and Lee. Lee was trying to challenge Neji to some contest (probably to see who could slurp the loudest or some other, equally silly little thing) and Neji was doing his best to ignore him.
Looking over at him, Tenten felt her smile fade from her face, and returned, somewhat gloomily, to finishing her ramen. When her bowl was empty, she excused herself from their table and went outside the restaurant for some air.
It was dark outside, and cold, though no wind was blowing. Tenten wrapped her arms around herself, rubbing them to add warmth. The Konoha district was well-lit by street lights and multi-colored, fluorescent signs advertizing all kinds of businesses, from restaurants to clothes to furniture. It was a pretty sight.
She sat down at a nearby bench, content just to watch the passerby and be by herself.
However, that state was only temporary. Barely minutes after she sat down, the doors to Ichiraku's opened and Hyuuga Neji exited, and walked right up to her.
"May I sit here?" Tenten looked up, wanting to say 'no thanks, I came out here so I wouldn't be forced into awkward conversation', but finding herself unable to do so upon seeing him standing there, hands in his coat pockets and wearing an expression that she couldn't read. Instead, she just nodded and moved over, giving unspoken consent.
"Thank you." Neji sat down, not taking his hands out of his pockets, looking straight ahead. He seemed completely unruffled in contrast to Tenten, who fiddled with the zipper on her jacket, fidgeting uncomfortably.
"So…why'd you come out here?" she asked, knowing full well how doltish she sounded, but not wanting to endure another awkward silence (though awkward conversation didn't seem to be much of an improvement).
He didn't answer.
Slightly annoyed, Tenten continued to speak, regardless of whether he answered or not. "I mean, I came out here because of how quiet it is this late at night. And it's not so hot, either. I mean, I know it's almost winter and everything but inside there is like a furnace, but maybe that's a good thing because I'm getting cold and I'll just go back inside and leave you alone—" She got up and started to walk away, but was stopped by a hand gripping her wrist.
"Yes?" she asked, resigned to whatever he had to say, probably an insult or something of that caliber.
"What?" Anger flared up inside of her. What did she have to apologize for—?
"I came out here to apologize," Neji explained, gently pulling her down back on the bench. Tenten, stunned and a little suspicious, let him, "I just didn't know how I was going to start."
"Well, do you know now?"
"I think so." For the first time since she was caught, he looked straight into her eyes. Tenten stared, transfixed, before remembering herself and turning away, blushing.
"So…what for?" she mumbled, looking away.
"For…behaving the way I have." One of his hands came up to rest on her cheek and gently turned her head so that she faced him again, "I have had…much to think over, and I think I have been unfair in my behavior towards you. I'm sorry."
Tenten blushed, and took his hand from her cheek and held it in hers, studying it so she wouldn't have to look at his face as she answered.
"I owe you an apology, too. It must have been weird, finding out that I was Toyo, huh?
"It was strange, but more…embarrassing."
"Embarrassing?" Tenten looked up at the owner of the hand she was still fiddling with, confused. "How can finding out I'm Toyo be embarrassing? Except for the whole locker room thing, because that goes beyond embarrassing."
Neji smiled. "I haven't thought much about that, but that would be embarrassing. No, it was embarrassing to find that I was being an ass to the very girl I was trying to initiate a relationship with."
"That would be embarrassing, yes. But, you know…" She reached out and gently touched his cool cheek, "I didn't mind you act like an ass. Actually, I kind of liked it."
He raised an eyebrow. "You did?"
"Yup," Tenten nodded, "It meant you weren't putting on a show. Nothing's wrong with acting pig-headed sometimes, and even if your ego needs some work; I loved seeing that you were still a decent guy no matter who you were around. It got sticky sometimes, but knowing you made liking you so much easier."
"I see," he said, voice thoughtful. "Do I know you very well?"
Tenten smiled. "Very well. Other than my gender and one or two other things, I never lied."
"Do you lie otherwise?"
"Not if I can help it."
"Then tell me, Tenten, would you still want to…be with me." he spoke with anxiety and slight hope mingling on his face. For a moment she couldn't breathe.
Then, for some reason, strange even to her, she burst out into laughter.
"Yes, of course!" she told the ataken back, confused Neji, wheezing, "I'm not about to stop liking you, so what's with the 'still'? If anything, I would have thought that you wouldn't want me anymore!" Tears were rolling down her face, her mirth combining with a deep, intense relief.
"You are very strange, no matter what gender you are." Neji shook his head, and almost looked as though he regretted asking her anything.
"Yep." Scooting over on the bench, she snuggled into his side, resting her head on his shoulder. After a moment's hesitation, he removed one hand from his pocket and wrapped it around her shoulders, pulling her closer. A strange sort of calmness spread over them.
"You know, I had to seduce a girl here." She gestured at the restaurant behind them.
Neji's head whipped towards her, nearly banging his chin onto her forehead. "Really…what for?" he asked faintly.
"To make sure I could act like a guy in front of a big group of people. It worked…but her boyfriend got mad."
Neji snorted. "Naturally."
"It was kinda fun, though," she said off-handedly, one hand clutching at the lapel of his coat, "But in the end I prefer seducing guys."
One eyebrow quirked up. "Oh really?"
She smiled cheekily up at him. "Oh yes. Especially the ones with a severe need of an attitude adjustment."
"Isn't that convenient?" he commented drily.
"Very." The hand gripping his lapel rose and lightly gripped the back of Neji's head, pulling him down for a kiss. He responded instantly, his own arms sliding under her back and wrapping around her waist, pulling her close.
"Ah, beautiful, bountiful YOUTH!"
And just like that, the moment was ruined.
They broke apart, embarrassed, and with much reluctance, turned in the direction of the catcall. The sight of the eleven faces of their teammates, pressed up against the windows, greeted them. All of them had amused grins or smirks adorning their faces, having apparently been watching the entire time. Lee, Naruto, and Kiba had the audacity to give thumbs up to Neji, and even wink at the couple, before breaking out into laughter and disappearing from view.
Despite her own embarrassment, Tenten couldn't help but laugh at the blush that was rapidly spreading across Neji's face, showing up quite clearly on his pale skin and letting everyone know that yes, Hyuuga Neji was human and fully capable of emotion.
"Come on, let's go back inside." Reaching out, she took Neji's hand, allowing their fingers to interlace. He stared at their joined hands for a moment, before looking back at her. The corners of his lips lifted in a small smile as he allowed Tenten to pull him back inside, their faces flushed from more than just the cold.
The rest of the night passed the way it should, with laughter, talks, boasts, and, finally, a complete camaraderie.
With a little something extra for two of their members.
It was the day of the finals.
Unlike the week before, the weather was fairly mild; perfect for a fight.
The Shinobi team, once again, were warming up in the gym. Tenten sat between her girl friends and Neji, stretching and managing to do the center split all the way down.
"Tenten, could you please stop that?" Kiba begged, "I forget you're a girl when you look like that—and do you know how painful it is for a guy to watch the splits? Splits being done by another guy?" He winced.
"Just keep reminding yourself that I'm a girl and we'll be fine." said Tenten with a grin, ignoring the slight to her appearance. After all, she had braided her hair (hopefully for the last time) and was wearing bandages under her uniform's shirt (which was just a good idea in any case). Thus, she did technically look like a boy.
"Do you think anyone else will still think I'm a boy?" she asked Hinata besides her.
The dark-haired girl shook her head. "Unlikely. It's probably been all over the city by now."
"Yeah," added Ino, who seemed to be stretching in ways that, while effective, were probably for Shikamaru's viewing pleasure, "And if anyone has any doubts, Temari and Kankuro have a huge sign with your name and face splashed all over it, with the accompanying slogan: THIS GIRL WILL KICK YOUR ASS."
"Well that's subtle."
"Ah, but it's the truth, is it not?"
"Don't be too cocky." said Neji, smirking. Tenten just rolled her eyes at him.
"You really have no right to talk."
"Then why are you scolding me?"
"Because I can."
"No you can't."
"Hn. I can."
"I'm ignoring you." Tenten stuck her tongue out at him.
"You do that." He just looked amused.
"Yeesh, less than a day and already Neji's lost his spine." Kiba shook his head. "Makes you wonder how much of a woobie he'll be at the end of the year, huh?" he asked Naruto, and the two troublemakers snickered at the joke. Neji's smirk slipped off his face, and he glared at Kiba.
"I am not a 'woobie'—whatever the hell that is."
"Of course you're not. Yet." Kiba yelped as Neji lunged for him. The rest of the Shinobi simply ignored the insuring scuffle, focusing instead back on stretching themselves.
Finally, it was time for the game to start.
There was no pep talk this time around. The Shinobi simply lined up and began to head for the stadium, tense with excitement.
"You ready, Tenten?" asked Neji, from besides her.
Tenten grinned, and kissed him on the cheek, ignoring the chortles and whoops behind them. "Never been better." She assured him. He smiled, once, and entered the building, Tenten and the rest following close behind.
She was ready. She wasn't just going to break that ceiling, now.
Tenten was going to smash it to smithereens.
Wow…it's finally over. Hopefully, no one was too disappointed with this ending. But if anyone wants to know, they definitely won. Tenten achieved her goal.
One year ago today I posted this as my first fic here on . And honestly, I'm very surprised with the response it received. Very happy too, but it was still surprising to have so many people alert, favorite, and C2 this silly little fiction.
It has its flaws, and holes, and probably a ton of other things wrong with it, but it was fun to write and I'm glad I did.
Thanks to all of you. Otherwise, I wouldn't have been half as determined.
Please let me know what you liked the best about this fic, what could have been improved, etc.
Again, thank you!