Note: As always, thank you to everybody who reviewed. This chapter featuring ballroom insanity, spying on Lee and Tenten, and some good ol' LeeTen goodness. And, uh, sorry for the long wait.
Vertigo – Chapter Three
"Do you see them?"
Even though they are standing quite close together, locked in some sort of semblance to a waltz that is supposed to be graceful, the ballroom is really quite loud, and Neji frowns and leans down slightly. "What?"
Sakura sighs impatiently; darting covert looks around the extremely crowded dance floor. "Lee and Tenten."
Neji pales. "We lost them again?"
"Apparently." She places her hands on his waist, and sidesteps gracefully, neatly placing the both of them out of the line of fire that is Mitarashi Anko and Morino Ibiki trying – and failing - to dance while inebriated.
Neji is distracted from his attempts at a teammate search by the fact that his pink-haired partner seems to be dragging him in the opposite direction. "Sakura, I'm supposed to be leading," he hisses, scandalized.
"You're leading us in the direction of Kakashi-sensei and Gai-sensei's dance-off, and seeing that once tonight was bad enough! Just relax. I've got this covered."
True enough, Sakura navigates them through the crush of familiar and unfamiliar bodies smoothly, all while appearing to just be dancing innocently with Neji. That is, until she comes to a sudden halt behind Shikamaru, causing Neji to crash rather unceremoniously into her, and, by the domino effect, Shikamaru. The three chuunin and jounin, respectively, end up in a clumsy huddle behind the nearest available decorative pillar, after narrowly avoiding toppling into Jiraiya (which would have been an unpleasant experience, to say the least), dragged there by Sakura's deceptively delicate-looking hands.
"What the hell?" Neji and Shikamaru manage, more or less in unison, while rubbing their respective bumped heads.
Sakura shushes them, before chancing a peek to the land outside the pillar. "Sorry. I didn't want it to look terribly obvious."
Neji joins her, and soon makes out the objects of her interest. Lee and Tenten have managed to find a somewhat less packed area of the floor to themselves, and seem to be dancing in peace. Tenten's arms are wrapped around Lee's shoulders, and his hands rest loosely on her waist. Obviously, they are engaged in some sort of conversation. Out of sheer curiosity, Neji reads Lee's lips for a moment, and quickly deduces that Lee and Tenten are talking about adopting kittens from orphanages and making each kitten a mascot of a different ninja team.
He rolls his eyes, albeit in a somewhat affectionate way.
Sakura elbows him. "They're talking about kittens, Neji! They're so cute…"
Neji sighs. "Right."
Shikamaru starts to mutter something about Neji being completely whipped, but is cut off by the sudden arrival of Gai and Kakashi.
"Neji!" Gai booms enthusiastically. "I was wondering if you would let me borrow the lovely Sakura-san for the waltz-off between myself and my eternal rival!"
Neji, seeing the expression on his kind-of-maybe-girlfriend's face, almost suggests that his sensei go off and borrow Tenten instead. Then, he chances a look off onto the dance floor again, and sighs. Lee and Tenten look almost nauseatingly happy, and honestly, he doesn't want to risk the bad karma that would assuredly come hand-in-hand with splitting them up – or the pain that would ensue if Tenten ever found out about this little incident.
"Of course, Gai-sensei," he says dutifully.
Maito Gai beams brightly and with a great deal of confidence, before Kakashi steps forward and yawns casually, radiating the pure, undiluted coolness that Gai is so envious of. "Well, now that Gai has snagged my student," he drawls, "I seem to be without a dance partner."
"Aha! You forfeit!"
Kakashi raises an eyebrow. "I do not forfeit."
"But you do not have a dance partner!"
Kakashi's eyebrow threatens to disappear into his shock of gray hair. "Why, I am quite sure that Neji wouldn't mind being my partner for a dance or two."
It takes the force of sheer Hyuuga willpower to stop Neji from fainting on the spot. He looks to Sakura instinctively, and she shrugs, her green eyes saying, Suffer. I am.
Neji sighs again. The things he does for love and the deep-seated desire to see teammates happy.
Tenten is…happy. On-the-verge-of-letting-her-guard-down happy. At first, she had believed that everything was just an elaborate hallucination brought on by nerves, despite the very warm, very real feeling of Lee's hand against hers and the soft petals and fragrant scent of the daisy currently pinned into her hair.
They had taken to the dance floor almost immediately after their arrival, and Tenten admitted to feeling a considerable amount of trepidation at the prospect. On the occasions that they have had to infiltrate social events as a team, Lee had hardly been the best dancer in the room. As a matter of fact, he had trodden on her toes so much that almost the entirety of the dance had been filled with his apologizing profusely.
Then again, Tenten muses as Lee spins her around carefully, last time, he was fourteen and a half and it took all of our combined efforts to stop him from wearing the dreadful lime green spandex.
She smiles as she remembers it, and Lee catches her back to him, thanking all the gods that her nerves seem to have calmed enough to let him touch her without her entire being screaming with a mixture of emotions, in contrast to their first dance of the night. "What is it, Tenten?" he asks, skillfully avoiding running into Jiraiya-sama on his tenth attempt to beg the Godaime for just one dance.
"Oh, nothing," she dismisses, grinning at the expression of outrage on Tsunade's face. "Just remembering our first ball, you know, that one time right after our first chuunin exams."
A somewhat wounded look slides over Lee's face. "When I was forbidden to wear my best formal attire?"
Tenten laughs. "Lee, it was lime green spandex. You could see it from ten miles away – worse than Naruto's old jumpsuit."
"Exactly! It symbolized the brightness and radiance of the Springtime Of Youth! Marvelous." He sighs in reminiscence, once again lost in his old desire to have the entirety of Team Gai dressed similarly all the time.
Tenten actually sees a tear spring to the corner of his eye, and nudges him playfully. "You're just like Gai-sensei, down to the whole stepping-on-feet thing."
Well, maybe it had been deliberate bait. She intended for him to protest indignantly as he always did, and then demonstrate his newfound amazing dance skills. She had not intended for him to trod on her foot rather painfully – once again, reminiscent of the old times.
Lee gasps with dismay and jumps back, patting her shoulder in a way obviously intended to be comforting. "I apologize, Tenten! I did not mean to wound you! I just thought – never mind. Do you require me to procure some ice?"
Tenten ceases her hopping up and down with pain for a moment, her fingers clutching the shoulder of Lee's black jacket for support. "Wait, Lee, what happened? You look like you've seen a ghost!"
True enough, Lee is much paler than he was five minutes previously. He scans the dance floor, looking nervous and jumpy. "It cannot be," he mutters.
Fancy dress or not, Tenten is on the verge of grabbing Lee by the shoulders and shaking him. However, Lee is saved that indignity by the fact that Tenten has just seen something so disturbing that it really kind of makes her want to puke. She grabs Lee's arm hard. "Lee – is that really –"
Lee nods somberly. "I never thought I would see the day."
Tenten, horrified, continues to hold on to Lee for support. "Gai-sensei! Dancing! With Sakura – and her poor feet! Oh, Kami, she did nothing to deserve this!"
The grave expression on Lee's face changes to confusion. "Gai-sensei and Sakura? I am referring to Kakashi-sensei and Neji!" And he nods toward their rather sickened-looking teammate, who is currently waltzing with Hatake Kakashi.
Lee is watching the two odd couples, rather transfixed. He really hadn't known that Neji could go that shade of pasty, spinach-and-milk green. Honestly, he welcomes the distraction – anything to get his mind off the flu-like symptoms that have been plaguing him all night. Lee knows he hasn't contracted some sort of illness: his youthful constitution is much too strong for that sort of nonsense.
Tenten frowns a little, looking worried. "Lee, you look kind of clammy."
Lee shakes himself out of his daze and puts his hands on her hips, before giving her his most dazzling smile. "Never, Tenten! I am the spirit of youthful wellness!"
Tenten looks unconvinced. "Still, it's best you get some fresh air. Here, let's go to the gardens." She directs silent apologies to Neji and Sakura for leaving them with their slightly, uh, less-than-desirable dance partners, although that train of thought is effectively derailed when somebody bumps into Lee, who is trailing behind her, causing his light hold on her wrist to slide down a little, so that his fingers actually make contact with hers.
Tenten stops dead, and Lee narrowly avoids crashing into her. "Tenten, are you all right?" he asks, directing a concerned look at the high heels he considers to be considerable safety hazards.
Smiling weakly and cursing her lack of composure, Tenten shakes her head. "Perfectly fine." She doesn't dare to reach out and take his hand again, and settles for relying on their combined navigational skills to work their way out of this crazed mess of a ballroom floor. Clearly, whoever decided it would be an acceptable idea to offer alcohol to one hundred plus shinobi and then let them loose on a dance floor had clearly been hitting the hallucinatory mushrooms…
The cool night air of the gardens, when they finally fight their way out there, is a welcome respite from the packed heat indoors, and Tenten exhales, feeling an inexplicable sense of calmness and relief.
Then she realizes that, yeah, it's cool and there's room to move her elbows here. Which means that she and Lee are…alone. Completely alone. On a beautiful starlit night, with the full moon shining above them, and with every rosebush and decorative specimen of plant life around them lit up with small orbs of golden light. In other words, it's the very picture of the scenarios that happen so often in the romance novels that every kunoichi reads and then denies reading.
Tenten sighs, and somehow, she knows that Sakura had something to do with this.
Lee seems to have regained his customary fresh pallor, obviously reenergized by the change in scenery and the pretty flowers, as they wander through the elaborately landscaped paths, farther and farther away from the ballroom. He's always been a bit of an aspiring gardener, and as he begins to study the nearest rosebush, poking it gently and inspecting each petal carefully, Tenten studies him and wonders what on earth she should do.
The obvious, Sakura-and-Ino-suggested solution would be to pounce on the poor boy while he is vulnerable – in other words, pounce on him right this instant. It's the kind of assertive, direct thing that Tenten is normally really into, so she has no idea why the dreaded passive-aggressive bug has bitten her.
She inches closer – hardly the recommended quick pounce – until she is standing next to him. Now, even Lee, who can be the master of obliviousness when he wants to, can't not notice that his favorite teammate is by his side, watching him with her liquid brown eyes open wide.
Lee straightens, and not for the first time, wishes that he was more like Gai-sensei. Gai-sensei would know exactly what to do or say when confronted with all these strange symptoms. He would probably offer Tenten the nearest rose, wink and flash the Good Guy Pose, and tell her that it was a beautiful rose for a girl who was fairer than the finest flower.
Lee almost does it, but then he remembers that would be intentional vandalism of the Hokage's personal gardens, and everybody knows that Tsunade is anal retentive about her gardens. So the Green Beast thinks fast. Very first.
Tenten blinks when Lee's hand darts out, brushes her hair ever so lightly, and when her eyes open again, he is holding the daisy he had given her at the beginning of the night, looking a little abashed. He holds it back out to her. "I would have gotten a rose, but…roses…Tsunade-sama…obsessive-compulsive, you know," he finishes meekly, and then rushes on to the rest of his surely Gai-sensei-approved statement. "Abeautifulflowerforabeautifulgirl."
Upon finishing his dreadful mockery of a properly youthful courtship line, it takes all of his considerable willpower not to drop the daisy and run thirty laps around Konoha for mangling proper enunciation and for making Tenten look confused.
It takes a few moments for her to decipher Lee's sentence, and a few more moments to come up with a more subtle way of slapping herself across the face in order to clear her ears out. Because there's no way Lee just called her beautiful, and this is just some more of her crazy wishful thinking.
Maybe Kiba had spiked the punch again. Maybe she had taken a harder head hit in her latest spar than she had thought. Maybe all those years of stressful living as a kunoichi have just caught up to her. Maybe all the years of subconsciously secretly crushing on Lee have – or, probably, all the years of subconscious secret wishful thinking. Either way, something in Tenten's brain frays, and then snaps. She has already grabbed him by the tie and pulled him close so fast that their heads almost collide, and by the time her mind catches up to her body, she is kissing Rock Lee like she's never going to see him again, and this is the most insane, and, perversely, most perfect moment of her life.
Then Lee stumbles backward into a topiary from the force of impact, trips, and falls into said topiary. Tenten blinks, feeling rather stunned. Her extremely limited experience of romantic moments aside, she does know that something like that isn't supposed to happen.
Before panic sets in, thankfully, Lee surfaces from the topiary, looking somewhat dazed, and with little green leaves adorning his person, and for once, he looks lost for words.
Tenten gulps nervously. "Sorry," she whispers, her usual reserves of courage seeming to desert her. "I shouldn't have."
That seems to have done the trick, strangely enough. Lee actually looks indignant, and draws himself up to his full height. "You have nothing to apologize for, Tenten!" he assures her, his eyes wide and earnest. "It is entirely my fault that I tripped over my own shoelaces in my attempt to tenderly wrap my arms around you and reciprocate the several warm summertimes of your affection."
Tenten blinks. This is really getting to be too much shock for one night.
Lee looks around wildly, until his eyes cast upon the nearby topiary. Vandalism and Tsunade-sama's wrath be damned, he plucks the red rose that comprises the eagle's eye right out and offers it to Tenten. "I'm sorry; I'll do it right this time," he promises.
Tenten exhales, a long sigh she didn't realize she had been holding in, and she feels a smile spread across her face. "Lee," she tells him, "you couldn't do it wrong if you tried."
When he takes a small step forward and kisses her, she feels that familiar swooping sensation in her stomach, although it feels considerably more pleasant now then it first did, on the day she had spent puking her guts out and Lee had given her a tangerine and that hug that had changed everything.
When they finally pull apart, Tenten has a feeling that the thoroughly soppy expression now on Lee's face is completely mirrored on hers. And somehow, she can't find it in herself to mind.
"I feel better now," she says, unable to keep herself from smiling.
Lee takes her hand, and his palm is warm and comforting against her own, and he cheers. "Yes! Better enough to compete in a dance-off against Gai-sensei and Kakashi-sensei?"
Tenten considers it. Eternal mortification. Nausea. Gai-sensei's bad dance moves. Permanently aching toes. Public humiliation.
She tilts her head up and sees the joy in Lee's expression, and she smirks. "Only if they get ready to lose miserably."
"Excellent, Tenten! I have the perfect routine for us, an amazing display of the eternal springtime of youth and the beauty of summers of love…"
From her rather uncomfortable spot crammed behind the eagle topiary with Neji, Sakura sighs dreamily and actually wipes a tear from the corner of her eye. "I told you that shoe-untying jutsu would come in handy!"
Neji exhales, watching his teammates make their way to the ballroom, hand-in-hand and enthusiastically discussing whether they would be allowed to borrow Tonton to be their mascot against Team Gaikashi (the Hyuuga shudders at the mention of the hideous portmanteau name), considering the absence of little kittens. "Something tells me that a new adorable, youthful, fiery couple has just been born."
Sakura smirks up at him, before wrapping her arms around his shoulders and pulling him down to a more reasonable height. "Congratulations for a job well done?"
"Of course," Neji replies agreeably.
Sakura always denies her involvement in the events of that night, and Neji goes temporarily deaf whenever the subject comes up. Still, they get the first two invitations to the wedding.
Thank you so much to everyone who's read or reviewed this fic – and dealt with my breaks between updates, haha. Lee and Tenten love you. :) Go out and spread the joy of LeeTen!