Everybody always assumed that Tenten was in deeply in love with one of her teammates. …They just didn't know which one. Featuring psychologist!Neji, Stages Of Denial, and clumsy matchmaking. Needless to say, Tenten is convinced that this is not going to end well.
This story is dedicated to anybody out there who's ever been in Tenten's position.
Love happens differently for different people.
For Ino, it happens in loud bursts of color, dramatic music, and flowers, as a spotlight shines down on the object of her newfound affection, while Sakura has a tendency to realize her true love for somebody at the most inopportune moments, like in the midst of life-or-death battles. Hinata is the most sensible about it. She just knows.
Tenten's case is slightly different.
When she first "falls in love", she mistakes the experience for a truly horrible combination of a migraine and a particularly vicious strain of the flu.
Adding to the already considerable levels of inauspiciousness, this particular realization just happens to occur while she is bent over a grubby yellow bucket, puking her guts out, while swearing never to let Gai-sensei pick the restaurant they eat at ever again.
She has known the bitterness of failure, the agony of defeat, and the humiliation of being the only sane member in a team renowned for running around wearing form-fitting green spandex. And yet, none of that can quite compare to this. Her stomach is cramping up worse than it does after taking a hard hit, her head is spinning, and her muscles are in a state of quivery pain. Tenten realizes, right then, that if nothing else in her life as a shinobi has managed to kill her yet, this bout of food poisoning might just do it.
Neji is frantically making chamomile tea as an antidote, Gai-sensei is crushing rosehips into essence of lavender and chastising himself for being pathetic enough to allow his poor female student to suffer so, but although Tenten appreciates the sentiment, none of this is doing anything to stop the puking. Or the muscle pain, or the headache, for that matter. She despairs, and wonders how close she is to passing out.
A particularly violent spot of sickness comes on, and she grips the side of her bucket as her head spins, willing herself to stay upright.
It is a welcome relief when she feels two hands gently twine themselves in her disarrayed hair, holding it back from her face. Whoever is assisting her so is now rubbing a slow circle on her sore back, reassuring her about the considerable healing powers of youth.
Although Rock Lee is making no sense whatsoever, Tenten can't help but feel grateful. She straightens, for the first time in nearly fifteen minutes. "Thanks," she croaks.
Lee keeps a hand on the small of her back, steadying her somewhat wobbly limbs, as the other two members of her team rush over. Neji's hair is sticking out in all directions and he looks as if he had come out worse in a fight with an angry porcupine, but he is holding a large, steaming mug of a fragrant-smelling tea. Gai-sensei is wearing a similar expression, although Tenten has to admit that his concoction looks quite more suspicious, and Lee seems to have acquired a peeled, sweet-scented tangerine from the unsteady-looking kitchen table.
Gai pulls out the nearest rickety chair for her. "Tenten, my poor, innocent student! Sit down, it will not do for you to strain your limbs so!"
Tenten eyes the splintering wood of the chair dubiously. "Gai-sensei, really, it's--"
Three pairs of hands fairly shove her down into the chair.
"Now, Tenten, tea first," Gai-sensei fusses. "It should calm your stomach and your nerves, and this lavender and rosehip brew will ease any muscular tension or headaches. And look, Lee even has a tangerine, for spiritual well-being!"
Her stomach still feels a tad queasy, but Tenten thinks it's best not to argue, anyway. Wishing her bucket was closer, just in case, she reaches out, takes the cup of chamomile tea from Neji, raises it to her lips, and takes a small sip-
As soon as the drink makes contact with her throat, Tenten's face loses all of its color. She experiences a small moment of panic as she feels her stomach begin to rebel and -- oh dear god, why is the bucket so far away --
And there is a tangerine in her mouth.
At first she has no idea how the tangerine got there. Then she opens her eyes and sees Lee's very worried face about an inch from hers. Obviously he had stuffed the tangerine in before disaster could strike. Neji is looking at the chamomile tea, slightly hurt, and Gai-sensei looks on the verge of fretful tears.
She tries to make an expression of thanks to her spandex-clad teammate. She just ends up sucking the tangerine. It is very sweet.
The urge to vomit miraculously disappears within a minute, and Tenten can finally disengage the remnants of the tangerine from her mouth. "Thanks," she manages, for the second time in about as many minutes.
Gai-sensei promptly hands her the lavender and rosehip brew. "Drink, Tenten!"
Tenten drinks, feeling no small amount of apprehension. To her surprise, the drink doesn't taste foul - it actually does as much to calm her stomach as the tangerine had. With each sip, the ache in her head dissipates, as well as loosening her stiff muscles.
Tenten blinks when the cup is empty. "Gai-sensei," she says at last, relieved to hear that the hoarseness has disappeared from her voice. "You are amazing."
Gai actually wipes away a tear from the corner of his eye. "It is nothing, Tenten. It is the strength of your youthful spirit that has enabled you to overcome your attack by the dreadful food poisoning!"
There is a moment of silence, out of respect for the power of youth, in the cabin. Neji rolls his eyes.
After Team Gai finally mobilizes properly (more accurately, Neji, Lee, and Gai-sensei mobilize; her teacher has insisted that she rest for a little while before they begin their journey back to Konoha), Tenten walks outside the hut for the first time in what feels like forever. The sun is warm but not hot, her clothes smell of lavender, thanks to some of the blossoms that Gai-sensei had left for her, claiming the benefits of aromatherapy, her mouth tastes of yet another tangerine, there is a light breeze, and not a cloud in the sky.
Tenten is content.
Gai-sensei is stretching in preparation for the journey back, and Neji is triple-checking their supplies. She is so busy watching them that she almost doesn't notice Lee waltz her way until they are right next to each other. "Are you feeling better, Tenten?" he asks, all wide-eyed innocence.
"Much," she replies with a smile. "The tangerine was great."
Lee strikes the Good Guy Pose. "Always glad to help, Tenten!"
And then Rock Lee does something that changes her life forever.
He hugs her.
Well, it wasn't as if it was the first time that they had ever hugged. Lee liked hugging. He hugged her, he hugged random old ladies in the street, he hugged Gai-sensei, and even Kakashi-sensei once. He hugged Naruto. Hell, he hugged Neji.
But somehow, this time is different. As she feels his arms wrap around her, her face against his shoulder - when Lee got tall, he got tall - she feels a very odd sensation. At first, she thinks that she's about to puke again. The odd swooping sensation in her stomach is enough to tell her that. And yet, everything stays down, even while her head spins.
By the time she gets herself together enough to really hug him back, he is already pulling away. "Right, Tenten! By tonight we will be back at home, and you can give your spirit all the proper rest you need!"
With that, he is bounding away to assist Neji with the packs.
That had been weird. Must have been a side effect of all that lavender and rosehip blend.
It has been two weeks since their return to Konoha.
Tenten has not eaten anything that would further irritate her sensitive stomach. She hasn't sustained any extensive injuries in sparring with her teammates. There has been no head trauma whatsoever. She hasn't been exposed to anything that would scar her mentally.
And yet, she still feels strange. Off balance, somehow. She feels more conscious of herself than she's felt in years. In a way, it's similar to how she feels when she's working with her weapons. Every nerve in her body sensitized; every one of her five senses excruciatingly aware to the whir of the metal a fraction of an inch away from her skin. Except now it's all the time. She can be standing with her teammates in the clearing, getting ready to train, and as she fastens her arm guards, she can feel everything so acutely. Neji and Lee's gazes as they glance upon her, the warm weight of Lee's fists as they connect with her outer forearm blocks, the way every callus of his palms feels against the bare skin of her upper arms as he lifts her to her feet if she falls to a particularly hard hit.
Tenten is confused. Completely confused.
To be honest, it's really starting to piss her off. She has always been a sensible young kunoichi; both feet firmly planted on the ground. The only flight of fancy she has ever been prone to was dreaming about what lay under that infuriating mask of Hatake Kakashi's. And even that, aside from the tendency to shoot him dreamy looks whenever she happened to be in interaction with Team Seven, or more recently, Team Kakashi, was nothing, compared to whatever the hell mental confusion she is experiencing now. For goodness' sake, it's even distracting her from her training.
"Tenten, are you quite all right?"
Neji's voice breaks her out of her reverie, and she shakes her head firmly. "Yeah. I'm good."
Neji crosses his arms and gives her a look. "We're ten minutes in and you haven't even pulled out your third scroll yet."
Damn, he's good. Tenten crosses her arms right back. "So?"
"Last time we were ten minutes in and only on the second scroll, you started vomiting your innards out five minutes later. I am sure you can understand my wariness."
Tenten snorts. "I can assure you I'm not going to puke this time, Neji."
"Well. Now that we have that cleared up, I would appreciate it if you divulged the reason for your recent absentmindedness." To her dismay, she notes that Neji means business. He actually sweeps some dirt off the nearest rock and sits down on it, looking up at her with an expectant expression. She opens her mouth.
"And don't tell me nothing's wrong, either," he adds, effectively cutting off her escape route.
"But," Tenten protests weakly.
Neji raises an eyebrow. "Do I have to list all the signs that I have noticed that something is wrong? Because I am sure that would embarrass you. It would be faster and more effective if you just came forth now."
The weapons mistress scowls. "Can't you just get up from your precious rock, Jyuuken me until I can't stand up straight, win this spar, and forget that this conversation ever happened?"
Neji considers this briefly. "No."
"Whatever is going on in your personal life is affecting your performance during training as well as a general vagueness during day to day activities. Since your life and behavior are so closely tied in with my own, Lee's, and Gai-sensei's, as well, I deem that it is best for all of us as a team if you let me help work out your issues."
This is all spoken in an entirely smug and self-assured tone of voice that pretty much leaves Tenten defeated. "…You forgot the fact that you're just nosy and want to know every intimate detail of my life."
Neji flexes his elbow experimentally. "This may or may not be true. Continue."
Tenten sighs and outlines her symptoms of the past two weeks to him.
Silence falls in the clearing as the genius Hyuuga settles into a meditating position and closes his eyes. Motes of light flicker through the leaves' shady canopy, and Tenten looks at him expectantly. "Well?"
"I am still thinking," Neji states in a monotone.
Tenten makes it a point to shuffle her feet, rustle leaves, and breathe very loudly.
A cloud drifts away from the sun, and suddenly Neji is bathed in a ray of golden sunlight. He opens his eyes. "I have come to a conclusion."
"…And?" Tenten shifts from foot to foot, barely able to contain her impatience.
Neji yawns. "You are suffering from an emotional affliction that I am currently unable to diagnose."
There is silence once again, only broken by the sound that Tenten's jaw would have made if it had been anatomically able to fall to the ground. "Emotional affliction? What is that supposed to mean?"
"A wide range of things. You could be cripplingly jealous of somebody. You could desire for change in your life. You could want to make a new friend. You could want to beat Akimichi Chouji to the last cookie at the banquet table in Hokage Tower for once. You could be lusting for Morino Ibiki. It varies."
Tenten has to resist the impulse to throw the nearest twig at her immaculate teammate. "What the hell, Neji? Morino Ibiki?"
Neji lifts his hands. "These are just some possible explanations. It isn't like I'm a qualified therapist or anything of that sort."
"But still," huffs Tenten. "I've been asking you for advice and crap for years and you always had the perfect cryptic answers."
Neji shrugs. "I am sorry. Maybe you should ask somebody a little more…experienced…in the realms of emotional afflictions, Tenten."
"Fine." She takes a step back. "Thanks, Neji. See you later."
Neji closes his eyes again, preparing to enter his meditative state. "Anytime."
Experienced in the realms of emotional afflictions.
It takes Tenten exactly five minutes of deep thought to mentally identify a friend experienced in the realms of mental afflictions. For goodness' sake, Sakura had been deeply in love with the biggest traitor Konoha had experienced since Orochimaru. Stuff like that has to go hand-in-hand with emotional afflictions.
So that is how she comes to be sitting next to Haruno Sakura at Ichiraku Ramen, describing her curious symptoms for the second time in as many hours.
Sakura nods wisely, and guides a small bit of chicken to her mouth with her chopsticks. "Yeah, Tenten, I know what's up."
Tenten blinks. "It took Neji ten whole minutes."
Sakura gestures impatiently. "This is Neji we're talking about. Do you want to hear my conclusion or not?"
The weapons mistress nods, her mouth full of steaming hot ramen noodles.
"You like Rock Lee."
The world explodes.
Tenten chokes on her noodles.
Alarmed, Sakura begins pounding her on the back until the other girl finally manages to swallow the noodles, which have turned into so much ash in her mouth. "All right?"
"No!" flails Tenten, aghast. "No! I am most definitely not all right! What the hell, Sakura? Are you all right?"
Sakura blinks. "Um. It's pretty obvious."
"Obvious?" Tenten echoes. By this time her voice has oscillated to a high pitched squeak. "Me? And Lee?"
"Well," Sakura says, with a roll of her eyes, "it was either going to be him or Neji, obviously. And for some completely unfathomable reason, your subconscious chose Lee."
"But…but…but." Tenten, fully aware that she sounds remarkably like a broken record player, is rapidly trying to come up with a list of reasons why the pink-haired kunoichi is completely delusional, and how she does not like Lee.
Giving her a completely unconvincing I'm-going-to-humor-you look, Sakura pushes her bowl of ramen aside and flops an arm on the counter, leaning on it so she can make full eye contact with her companion. "You're right, Tenten. You must not like Lee. I mean, seriously. What girl in their right mind would ever like Rock Lee?"
"That's right." Tenten crosses her arms over her chest and puts her nose in the air, as if this is the end of the matter.
Unfortunately, Sakura has other ideas. "That bowl cut. It's hideous. And don't even get me started on the green spandex. He's the most unfortunately-dressed shinobi to ever walk the streets of Konoha."
Before she knows it, Tenten is rising to the bait. "Sakura! The bowl cut is the only one that would really suit his facial type-would you really want him running around with a ponytail like Shikamaru's? Besides, the form-fitting green spandex really highlights his physique--"
As she speaks, Sakura raises an eyebrow wordlessly.
Tenten claps a hand over her mouth, horrified at the traitorousness of her mind. "Oh. No." Her hand muffles her voice, and her eyes are now just about as wide as table tennis balls. "Oh. Please. No. Way. I did not just say any of that."
Sakura smirks. "Well, I think it's obvious now, isn't it?"
There is a muffled thump as Tenten's head makes contact with the solid wood of the counter. Repeatedly.
The other girl waits patiently for the barrage of self-injury to stop. When it does, Tenten lifts herself up from the counter and stares at her with bleak eyes. "You're the medic-nin. Help me."
Sakura snorts. "I can't help you. You're the only one who can do that."
Tenten actually grabs Sakura by the shoulders, a rather demented expression on her face. "How?"
Sakura disentangles herself calmly, and then gives her a sweet smile. "Tell him, of course."
In the shocked silence that follows, Sakura yawns and glances at the clock in the corner of the shop. "Aah, I'll be late for training with Tsunade-sama. See you later, Tenten."
Tenten is able to nod weakly, and Sakura forms a few hand signs and disappears in a swirl of cherry blossoms. Leaving Tenten to collapse back onto the counter again. The image of her teammate pops up into her mind again, grinning his bright grin and flashing the thumbs up.
Tenten is undoubtedly one of the best kunoichi in the village. The first exclusive weapons specialist to come out of Konoha in more than three generations. Accomplished by anybody's account.
And yet, for all of that skill, she has just about zero experience in anything to do with romantic relationships.
For these past sixteen years, she's just viewed them as distractions. So now, the realization that she has been subconsciously crushing on one of her teammates for the past four years is fittingly shocking.
Unsurprisingly, the first thing she does is run back to the clearing, where she finds Neji still meditating on his rock. As all best friends are prone to do, the first thing that comes out of her mouth is her stunning realization of the past half hour.
Neji doesn't blink. "Yes."
Tenten stares. "Yes? Did you know all along?"
He considers. "No. The possibility struck me about five minutes after you had left here. But I thought that maybe there would be better people to explain it than myself."
Overwhelmed, but not overly surprised at her teammate's perceptiveness, Tenten sits at the foot of the rock and buries her head in her hands. "Neji. This is absolutely insane. I soul-searched for about half an hour at Ichiraku, and I guess I've liked him for much longer than I even knew. And I just realized it now."
"Hmm. This is an interesting situation." He folds his arms and thinks. "When exactly did you realize this?"
"Um. After I finished throwing up and he gave me a hug."
"Right. Obviously all the feelings that had accumulated over the years decided to present themselves at a time of stress. And since then, the symptoms have just manifested themselves in day-to-day life."
Tenten nods. "Right."
Neji stands up and stretches. "I wish I had more time to discuss this with you, Tenten, but according to our plans of yesterday, Lee should be arriving very shortly."
True enough, before her incredulous gasp is finished echoing around the clearing, she catches sight of a telltale flash of green and orange against the treetops. As she watches, Lee backflips down the branches swiftly, until he comes to a neat landing in front of them, striking a salute. "Good afternoon, my wonderful teammates!"
"Afternoon, Lee," Tenten and Neji say in unison, his voice luckily masking her weak and rather shocked tone.
Normally Tenten loves training with them. Normally she loves the hours they spend in the clearing together, sparring and throwing weapons and punching trees and racing through the leaves, avoiding the traps that the others set. When night falls, and all three of them, sweaty and panting, walk their sore selves over to Ichiraku for dinner, she almost wishes the day wasn't over.
But normally, Tenten isn't working extremely hard at masking her feelings for one Rock Lee.
For god's sake, she feels like there's a huge sign taped to her forehead that screams out to the world, 'I LIKE ROCK LEE.' She feels her cheeks heat up every time they make eye contact. She avoids his punches and kicks when they spar with hyperaware speed; anything to prevent their skin from making contact.
She fails, once, and Lee's open palm strike connects squarely with her chest. She staggers back, but his arm is around her before she makes contact with the ground. She has flinched already, and when she opens her eyes, she is greeted with a concerned look in his big eyes.
Suddenly uncomfortably aware of the warmth of his arm supporting her back, Tenten leaps away, into a fighting stance, as if burned. "I'm fine," she insists in response to his question, lifting her fists into a defensive guard. "Come on."
The rest of their training session continues as usual - if this new state of events can be considered usual. By the time night falls and the weary three come to a rest, collapsed under a single tree, Tenten's nerves are worn paper-thin. She would have been content to just bash her head against the trunk of the tree until blissful unconsciousness claims her, but Neji effectively kills that plan by standing up and folding his arms decisively. "Dinner."
Tenten ends up at the dango stand a little while later, sandwiched between Neji and Lee as usual. To her dismay, even the heavenly dango doesn't do much to stop her from feeling uncomfortably aware of the heat of Lee's body a few inches from hers.
She feels a sense of mingled disappointment and relief when he declares that he needs to leave soon, so that he will be able to rise at four-thirty the next morning to run his customary thirty laps around Konoha, along with helping Inuzuka Hana walk the clan's dogs.
When Lee is safely out of sight, Tenten allows herself to slouch on her stool, under Neji's understanding gaze. "This is awful," she mutters.
Neji passes her another stick of dango. "There is no visible awkwardness whatsoever, if that makes you happier."
Tenten sighs and bites down on the delicious confection. "Yeah. It helps. But, seriously, Neji, what should I do?"
Neji shrugs. "I would advise telling him. The unresolved sexual tension is giving me the urge to slam my head into a wall of solid bedrock."
She flicks a stray drop of red bean sauce at him playfully. "That's all very well for you to say. The dynamics of our team hinge on this. What if I say something and everything gets screwed up? We've always been one of the best teams in Konoha in terms of teamwork and - everything. I don't want to be the one to compromise that."
The look in Neji's eyes softens almost imperceptibly. "Tenten. I would hardly be giving you advice if I felt that it had the potential to screw things up."
"So…do you actually think that I - that we, I mean - Lee and I - could work?" she asks, hardly daring to believe it.
"Obviously. Of course, that means-" He trails off thoughtfully, regarding the pan of frying sauce nearby.
Tenten takes a sip of lemonade. "Means?"
"It means you will actually have to tell him. Which may be slightly difficult."
Tenten allows herself to contemplate the scenario briefly. Even within the confines of her mind, she can only imagine three kinds of results - humiliating, disastrous, and cataclysmic. She collapses upon the counter, cursing the kunoichi inside her. The one that isn't put off by the idea of doing potentially humiliating, disastrous, and cataclysmic things, if it means the fulfillment of a mission "…Fine. I'll do it. But you have to help me out."
Neji looks slightly affronted, as if everybody should know the thought of his aiding in romantic matters is nothing compared to his sizeable achievements as a shinobi. "Of course."
Tenten picks up her glass of lemonade with new confidence. "To Mission…"
"…Mission…Capture The Green Beast?" He is obviously at a loss.
Tenten smacks his upper arm. "Neji! That's so lame and clichéd!"
Neji snorts. "Fine, you come up with something."
Defeated, the kunoichi clinks her glass to her teammate's. "Mission: Capture The Green Beast, commenced."
Neji smirks. "I'll drink to that."
Commenced, Tenten thinks, with an unwelcome prickle of ominousness, after she sets her empty glass back down on the counter, for better or worse.