Written for the August theme, drifting, at the TenSquared community on LJ.
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.
Tenten smiled at him the first time they met.
He didn't smile back. He never smiled, not when the girls in his class giggled and whispered excitedly to each other and beamed at him as he passed. Not when Gai gave thumbs-ups to welcome him on the team. Not when Lee offered him a toothy grin and told him he was excited to be teammates. Not when she smiled at him, her eyes bright and her face lit with cheerfulness.
He was Hyuuga Neji, and he didn't smile back.
They met at the training grounds by accident a week after that, both an hour early, both intending to get in some solitary training before the team exercises. He watched from the edge of the clearing as she threw a handful of kunai, and watched as all three kunai struck their targets. He watched her throw two handfuls, and three, the metal flashing in the sun.
She threw a kunai at him when he stepped forward into the clearing – he would never be entirely sure if she had done it on purpose. He pulled it out of the air and threw it back; she dodged and sent two more flying towards him.
They sparred together for the rest of the hour.
They were both silent and he was surprised by the silence, by how easy it was. There was none of the carefully veiled stiffness that was always present on the Hyuuga grounds, and none of the bubbly excitement that always surrounded the girls in his class who sat on the edge of their seats when they managed claimed a spot next to him. Here there was a different silence, simple and comfortable.
Afterwards they sat together in the shade of the trees, looking up through the branches. There were no birds that day – only clouds, drifting slowly and lazily across the clear, powder blue sky.
They were two young ninjas drifting down the river of partnership.
Tenten laughed the first time he told her he didn't like sweets.
It was a week before Lee's birthday, and they – she – was trying to come up with a birthday present for the beautiful Green Beast of Konoha. She suggested baking a cake, chocolate of course, because everyone liked chocolate.
"I don't," Neji told her, and she wrinkled her nose at him.
"Yes you do. Everyone likes chocolate."
He just looked at her. After a second, she sighed. "Everyone except you." She flipped a kunai into the air, the metal flashing brightly in the sunlight, and caught it again. "We'll do vanilla, then. Just in case he doesn't like it either."
"I don't like vanilla," Neji said. She started to frown. "I don't like….sweet things."
Then she laughed. He was startled by that, they way her eyes narrowed at him halfway before they lit up and she burst into laughter. "You can't not like sweets," she said.
This time it was his turn to frown. "I don't like them," he said, but she just grinned.
"Hyuuga Neji, no one can not like sweets," she told him. She jumped to her feet, slipping her kunai neatly back into its pack. "Let's go," she said, and seized his arm.
"Where?" he demanded, but she just dragged him to his feet.
He halfheartedly tried to free himself as she tugged him through the streets of Konoha, but her grip was strong and the laughter on her face loosened something in his chest. At last, they skidded to stop in front of a stand whose sign depicted a large scoop of white balanced on top of a tan cone.
"Tenten –" he said, but she ignored him and marched up to the manager.
"Two cones please, chocolate and strawberry," she said. The man handed her the ice creams and she turned around, shoving one in his hands. "Eat it," she ordered, and proceeded to lick her own cone.
They spent the next twenty minutes sitting at a table shielded by a large green umbrella, eating ice cream. She finished hers quickly, crunching loudly through her cone while he worked his way slowly into his.
When they were both finished, she smiled at him. "Well?" she asked.
He rubbed his fingers on a napkin, as a light breeze drift across the road, lifting the hem of his clothes and playing with a few loose pieces of her hair. "Not bad," he said grudgingly.
She laughed again, her eyes sparkling amber beneath the sun. "Told you," she chided him. "No one can not like sweets."
They walked back to the training grounds together, Tenten striding cheerfully through the streets, her arms swinging freely, nodding and waving at others while Neji walked beside her, his hands in his pockets, his eyes moving silently over each person he passed.
They were two partners drifting down the river of friendship.
Tenten didn't smile the first time he kissed her.
They were walking home, that day. It was a moonlit just like the other million moonlit nights they'd spent together, walking home from missions or training sessions or late-night dinners. Later he would think of those days as pieces, pieces that fell together like a puzzle into his life.
She stopped in the middle of the road, her feet braced apart, and looked up at the sky. They'd just finished a mission, and her katana hung limply at her side. She raised her head to gaze at the canopy of glittering diamonds that stretched overhead. Her hair, coming loose from their buns, tumbled in stray wisps along her shoulders and back.
"Neji!" she said suddenly, and Neji glanced up just in time to see a line of silver arc across the night. "Make a wish," she told him, and clasped her hands together, bringing them up to her chest.
There were so many things he could wish for – peace or happiness or eternity with his teammates. But this was life, not heaven. He could only have one thing to wish for, and one chance to wish for it.
He looked at Tenten, her face hidden beneath the red-and-white dragon she wore.
If he didn't take this chance, it would slip away on wings as light as a butterfly, like dust into the wind. He might get another chance. He probably would. But this was only life, he was only a shinobi, and he knew only too well that you only got as many second chances as you could take from others.
So he moved forward silently, his presence so comfortable around her that she didn't realize he had moved until he was standing beside her. She turned her head to look at him and he reached forward, his fingers gently prying up the edge of her mask. Tenten's eyes glinted in the pearly moonlight. "Neji?" she said, startled.
He looked down at her, the way stray strands of brown hair caught at her eyes, the way her cheeks were still flushed from the battle they had just finished fighting. The way her gaze was fixed on his, sparkling deep and steady, thrumming with life. The way her mouth was curved up slightly, with surprise. This was how it always was. This was what anchored him to his place, this was what had helped free him and then had helped him find his way home again.
He kissed her.
It was gentle at first. Then he drew her closer, drawing out of her everything he had ever needed from her, everything she had ever given him, and pouring back into her everything he felt. He felt her pulse jumping in the hollow of her throat, like the quick fluttering wings of a bird.
They broke apart after a moment. She didn't pull away from him but stared at him through the darkness instead. He couldn't read the expression in her eyes.
"Neji," she said.
There was a beat of silence as the air throbbed with the chirping of crickets. He stared into her eyes. They had always reminded him of the sky rather than the earth. The earth was dull, colorless, and brown. Her eyes were deep and full of light.
She stepped forward, her hands reaching up to his shoulders. Her mouth met his.
They stopped in a forest to make camp that night, under the trees. She knelt with her back to him as she started the fire, coaxing up the light, yellow-orange flames. When she was finished she came to him, resting her head against his shoulder, her breathing even and steady. Together, they watched the fire flicker and dance.
They were two friends drifting down the river of love.
Tenten grinned the first time they trained together in the Hyuuga compound.
She'd been inside the compound before, after years of being on the same team as Neji. She had even seen the inside of his room. But she had never, ever trained on Hyuuga training grounds.
They sparred that day, Tenten raining steel down on Neji's blue web of chakra. They moved so fast they could barely see each other, flickering in and out of the flashes of gray and indigo. Each time he spotted her she was grinning, her face alive with thrill and excitement.
She stayed for dinner at the compound that night – another first – smiling and nodding at Hiashi and his cousins. She talked mostly with Hinata while Neji sat beside both of them, their words washing gently over him like a wave of serenity.
He couldn't sleep after she left that night. Around midnight, when the moon was high and stars speckled the sky, he got up silently and slid like a shadow through the dark Hyuuga buildings, stepping unseen through the gate.
He was briefly surprised when he arrived at their old training grounds and saw Tenten already there.
She stood alone in the middle of the clearing, her face tilted up to the sky, her arms by her sides. She turned when he came forward and he was reminded of the first time they'd sparred together, when she had thrown the kunai at him.
"This is where we started," she said. "Do you remember?"
He nodded as he approached her. For a while they stood side by side, looking up at the night sky.
"It's like a circle," he said quietly. She smiled. "We've come back to the beginning."
She reached into her pack and drew out a handful of kunai. She glanced at him, a glint in her eye. "Want to honor the moment?"
Slowly, Neji felt his own mouth curve. He slid into his defensive stance, raising his hands and feeling the chakra hum through his body. His eyes flashed in the darkness. Tenten leaped backwards, loosing her handful of metal.
They were two people, drifting down the river of life.