Standard disclaimers apply.
By Cassandra's Destiny
To do absolutely nothing was a crime nowadays.
The entire Konoha village simply refused to believe they were together.
True, they weren't the touchy-feely pair who was dying to show the world in more ways than one that she was his and he was hers. After all, he was Hyuuga Neji and she was Tenten. He was the renowned Hyuuga genius of the Gentle Fist style and she was the weapons mistress of the leaf village. He was the earth, firm and unchanging as part of the very foundation of the village that is the Hyuuga clan; and she was the wind, blithe and carefree as a daughter of an unknown father. Not the most unlikely couple, but an unlikely couple nonetheless.
It would just be wrong to see them cuddling each other in a soft, tender embrace right in front of every shinobi and every kunoichi in the village.
They were both sensible and logical individuals, masters of their emotions… rational ninjas who do not find much use or importance to flirting shamelessly and endlessly, whispering sweet nothings to each other's ears, and professing their undying love for one another under the violent, pouring rain.
All things considered, the fact remains: the entire Konoha village refused to believe they were together.
"Want some more chips?"
It was one of those lazy afternoons when Chouji and Shikamaru chose to lie down and watch the clouds pass by; at least, that's what Shikamaru was doing. Chouji was trying his best to munch on his bag of potato chips quietly so as not to disturb Shikamaru's train of thought, or lack thereof.
"If Ino saw us, she'd call us lazy and tell us we're supposed to be training."
Chouji looked up to the skies and sighed. "It's a perfectly beautiful day. Who would want to train today?"
"The Hyuuga kid," came Shikamaru's reply.
"Alone? On a fine day for some steak?" Cooked medium rare, sirloin or filet mignon, served with creamed spinach and button mushrooms.
"With the Tenten girl."
Discarding an empty bag of chips, Chouji reached out to open a new one. "I wonder why she never gets tired of training with Neji."
True, they were sparring partners, but that does not automatically mean they're dating. Maito Gai and Rock Lee are sparring partners, if the term is used loosely, but that doesn't equate to – wait, let's not even go there.
It is common knowledge for everyone in the village that Tenten is the only kunoichi Neji willingly trains with. Sure, they spend countless hours together, practicing techniques, enhancing their offense and defense, running, jumping and spinning. Tenten holds high respects for the Hyuuga, knowing full well his reasons to get stronger. Neji, too, holds much respect for the girl.
He may tend to injure her every so often, but never with a conscious desire to inflict pain or knock her dead. He would attack her full force, no holding back, but always confident she can shield herself with the skillful use of her weapons. If at any point she'd be vulnerable, like the one time she was with a high fever, Neji opted to meditate with her in the open field, with the chilly wind swirling around them, rather than perform strenuous training exercises. "Training the mind is still training," he says.
Sweet, especially for an unfeeling Hyuuga genius.
Well, that could account for them being an established couple with a grave concern for one another, couldn't it?
Of course not; it might be, but it couldn't be. He couldn't just ask Tenten to stay in bed because it may give her the wrong notion that he thinks she's weak and fragile. But he was torn. Neji did not want Tenten's condition to worsen either because if it did, he knew he'd be losing his sparring partner, and losing his sparring partner means going through the trouble of looking for a temporary replacement. He can't afford to waste precious training time because of that, so it was only natural he'd ask her to meditate with him instead.
Konoha needed something, an outward sign to make them believe Neji and Tenten were together. They needed a look, an embrace, a kiss – even a simple gesture that would manifest their unique concern for the other without it being overarched by personal motives.
"An important mission in Suna." Tsunade rummaged through her unkempt files; the swishing sound of papers loud in their ears.
Neji watched her fiddle with her kunai. Wrong as it seemed, he had to miss training that morning to discuss certain matters with the Hyuuga elders. When he received word on Tsunade's call, it was already past lunch hour, and so he came later than the rest of the team. Just his luck that Gai and Lee were already standing beside her.
She didn't seem to mind, of course, and he wasn't supposed to either. It's only that he didn't get to spar with her early that morning, and now he's at least three and a half feet away from her.
He inwardly cringed in annoyance, or maybe it was in envy. Why the heck were Hyuuga servants incompetent enough to not deliver messages promptly?
It has been full three minutes since she began petting that pathetic excuse for a mutt.
They met with Kiba on their way out of the Hokage compound. Apparently, Akamaru just came back from an operation and was now well and energetic.
"And clingy," Neji mentally added.
Unfortunately enough, the dog has mistaken Tenten's shuriken for a similarly-shaped chew toy he played with while hospitalized. Naturally, she didn't mind the dog playing with her weapon, since it wasn't one of her favorites.
Neji surmised. He probably has to give that dog a real chew toy for the holidays, or a bone, or a leash… or a bottle of cheap booze to knock him unconscious.
"When are you free?"
"Any time actually."
"Well, I have a mission in Suna, and I'm scheduled to be back in a week or earlier."
"Perfect." Sakura gathered three new rolls of gauze and packed them side by side in a medical kit. Tsunade has left her in charge of the medical supplies for the month. "By the way, how about we try this new chicken recipe I found? My mom made it last weekend and it was such a hit!"
"And the lemon squares?"
"I'll still help you make them. You can serve them during dessert time."
The situation in Suna was no different from the one back home. You'd think Lee would be assigned to Gaara, Tenten to Temari, and Neji, without any other options left, to Kankuro. But no; the assignments were made by drawing of lots.
Neji graciously accepted the mission of assisting the Kazekage in the next two or three days.
Lee enthusiastically accepted the mission of tagging along with Temari all around Suna for three days, four days tops.
Tenten, almost systematically, accepted the mission of accompanying Kankuro in three, four, five days, or at least until the main task is over.
The main task, Gai has zealously accepted, pledging on the eternal flames of youth.
Now Neji was sure she worked so hard to fight back the urge to roll her eyes. But this, too, was unspoken of.
He was fortunate enough to be on a mission with her again, a mission in a far away land. Neji didn't talk to her, of course; he doesn't believe in mindless chatter.
By some untimely streak of fate, she was assigned to assist Kankuro. He glared at him every time the puppet master came within a 15-inch pole, but he didn't seem to have taken notice. Instead, he initiated a conversation about the blacksmith in the Tea country whose family has been murdered two days ago. Tenten participated in the conversation rather eagerly. From what Neji overheard, she had been wanting to talk about it with someone else since she has heard about it.
"Damn it," he cursed. He misses training for one day and this is what happens.
Their eyes locked for a second, until her questioning vanished with a wide smile. "We'll be going now then!"
His reply was delayed. "Alright."
At this, Lee's eyes widened with surprise. He never acknowledges the exit of a team mate; in fact, a grunt was the only thing they got from him to date. Perhaps Neji was such in a good mood today?
"Neji," he began slowly. "I'll be going with Temari, okay? I'll see you later!"
He walked away ever so slowly. "…Bye!"
Neji was going to have to see Tenten after the day's mission was over then.
Tenten heard Ino and Sakura talking about it.
Rumor has it; Hyuuga Neji had gone with some random girl to the great falls in the outskirts of Suna a few days ago. The rumor mill, obviously, had details on the so-called random girl: long dark locks falling loosely across her shoulders, fair skin and toned body lightly spattered with fresh water. When a reliable source claimed they were next to each other on a tall rock adjacent to the water fall, mouths dropped. Neji was, in Ino's words, definitely fooling around with her.
Tenten asked them what time it was supposed to have happened.
"Nightfall, last Tuesday," they answered, and she said nothing in reply.
She smiled inwardly.
Tenten knew exactly what Neji was doing at nightfall that day.
It was a quiet evening. A cloudless night sky hovered over Konoha, stars illuminating the entire village. The air was cool and crisp; leaves were with hints of evening dew.
"It's not just any chicken," she slowly relieved herself of the apron she was wearing. "It's a new Sake Chicken Thigh Steak recipe I got from Sakura."
A nod. "The lemon squares I made will be for dessert."
He helped her set the table, everything coming in pairs: two knives, two spoons, two forks, two plates, two glasses… two candles?
With one brow slightly lifted, she already knew what he was thinking. "White taper candles and lilacs – I got the idea from Ino, although she and Sakura argued on what color the candles should be."
He gestured in understanding.
"In the end, I got tired of hearing them bicker and hurriedly paid for two white taper candles. After we got out of the store, they both agreed white goes great with everything." A sigh.
He sat right across her during dinner, his plate almost untouched out of lack of concentration. It was not because the chicken was horrible. It also was not because he wanted to eat the lemon squares first. It was because of the simple reason that instead of paying attention to his dinner, he was paying attention to her, always her.
She was cutting her chicken steak like a proper lady – not with the knife through the fork, but with the fork turned toward her and the knife cutting behind the fork. Her brown hair made in their usual buns, each secured with a hair tie in a pale shade of pink. Tea rose, she says. Her cheeks were a little flushed, from the weather perhaps, and her eyes were in a lovely shade of brown. Russet, sepia or raw umber, he couldn't tell. To him, brown was brown.
"Neji," she started. "Stop staring at me."
Her face screwed up for a moment, upset with his exceptional ability to look good despite being accused of gawking. Her dismay was quickly replaced with a smirk plastered on her face. "The word on the street is you had this trip to some waterfall in the outskirts of Suna, and while on a mission too!"
She nodded once. "With some random girl, they say," she rustled softly, biting her lower lip to repress a giggle. "Who was it this time?"
"This time?" he asked, leaning back on his seat. "Tenten, you know there's only one girl."
Her perfectly shaped eyebrows shot up as she leered at him. "Lucky her."
Lee and Gai were talking about it.
If he was to be thankful for the information, Neji hasn't decided yet.
At the public market the previous day, a certain Shigure Kyoza was hitting on Tenten. Take note, he was not just flirting with Tenten; he was hitting on her. In the public market. In broad daylight. In the presence of companions, Ino and Sakura.
"What do we do, Gai-sensei? It is important we defend her honor since she is the sole flower of our team!"
"Yes, Lee! That boy is at a hot-blared age, and the flames of youth are burning powerfully in him."
Worry was evident in their tone, and Neji recognized this. However, they were blowing this matter out of proportion, to put it mildly. What do the burning flames of youth have to do with a boy hitting on Tenten?
"Hot-blared age? Is that why he tried feeling her bare arm while asking her out?"
A solemn look on Gai's face. "Perhaps. Oh, the springtime of youth is strong in that one."
"But Gai-sensei, does that mean we should punish him for his springtime of youth?"
"No, Lee. We must punish him for allowing the springtime of youth get the better of him, and for deflowering our team's flower!"
"Well said, Gai-sensei!"
And, as if on cue, the usual burning sun cast over the ocean was in the background.
Not wanting to listen to any more of Gai and Lee's youthful antics, Neji disappeared from the training grounds, with every intention of finding a certain boy at a hot-blared age.
He found Shigure Kyoza with two friends in an alley near the cemetery. They eyed Neji questioningly and suspiciously, but he paid no heed to them.
Pointing to a boy with bleached blonde hair, he spat in a tone with the slightest touch of venom, "Are you Shigure Kyoza?"
Brows creased, then a shrug. "What's it to you?"
Neji's lips almost twitched. Almost.
Moments later, Shigure's body was slumped on the ground, hand clutching his jaw, nose bleeding, eyes widened in shock. His friends have abandoned him ages ago.
And Neji was deadpanned, unscathed and collected as usual. "She's mine, so back off."
She made a conscious effort to spend time with the kunoichi of Konoha today. Ino and Sakura decided they all needed a break, so each one asked Hinata and Tenten separately to accompany them for some girl time.
"Shigure Kyoza checked in the hospital earlier today."
A snort from Ino. "What was he in for? Molesting himself?"
"Why would he molest himself?" Hinata asked, settling on a seat in the Ichiraku Ramen stand.
Another snort from Ino. "Sure that guy's got looks, but he was just so rude!"
"Something about a dislocated jaw and a broken nose," Sakura, who has now been assigned temporarily to man the hospital's front desk supplied the much needed information. "Serves him right."
Yet another snort from Ino. "His little fingers should have been twisted maniacally too."
Hinata was growing uncomfortable with the harsh wishes for the boy. Although she had no idea who they were talking about, no man or woman deserved such severity. "Ino, an injured civilian is never a good thing."
"But an injured creep always is."
"Ino…" It was a lament of defeat, not a threat.
"Hinata, if you were in our position yesterday morning, better yet, if you were in Tenten's position yesterday morning, you'd be screaming for joy Shigure Kyoza broke his nose." Sakura's statement shone light on something; what that something is exactly, Hinata is yet to find out.
"Ino-pig, would you stop snorting?"
Rude as it was, the exchange defined Sakura and Ino's friendship.
"Huh? What are you getting at forehead girl? I was only trying to say that maybe Tenten actually likes the blonde boy and we should stop the backbiting."
Tenten was silent the entire time, thoughtfully eating her ramen. The sudden shift of attention to her almost made her gush the spoonful of noodles in her mouth. "What?"
"Do you find him attractive?"
"Find who attractive?"
"No." Her reply was flat, but it only made the other girls push the matter further.
"Do you like him?"
Ino snapped. "Tenten!"
"Alright, alright!" She waved her hands in front of her defensively. "Do I like him? Heck no."
"Is it because you already have a boyfriend?"
She raised a brow.
"Or maybe not. What do you think, Sakura?"
The girl pursed her lips. "I bet not. Neji couldn't possibly allow any guy near her."
"What if Neji's the boyfriend?"
A light bulb on Sakura's head. "Um, no. It's not as if he's open about romantic feelings, and you don't see them kiss or hug or cuddle – act like a real couple, right?"
"Not at all."
"So they can't be."
A pregnant pause; only the sound of Hinata chomping on her food filled the room.
"Maybe he likes her." It was Sakura who broke the silence.
"Maybe… maybe not."
"Or he's just protective of her…?"
"Could be; after all, he might lose his sparring partner."
Sakura nodded her head in agreement. "It's a shame," a sigh. "You would have made a wonderful couple," she adds.
Hinata smiled knowingly, and Tenten just… smiled.
"We always train at the crack of dawn; why change the routine now?" She entered the training grounds, spotting Neji seated under the shade of a giant plum tree.
His voice was hoarse from disuse all afternoon. "I didn't say I wanted to train."
"Then why ask me to come here?"
"A reason is not required for one to go to the training grounds."
She rolled her eyes. "Whatever you say, Neji."
She positioned herself on the patch of grass beside him. Together, they sat in comfortable silence, their breathing the only sound foreign in their surroundings.
A twinkle passed, and his hand snaked to hers, entwining their fingers. "Your hands… are rough and calloused from all the weapon-handling."
Rough and calloused? He asked her to come to the training grounds for him to insult her hands?
"And in the many years I have known you," he started. "Now is one of the very few times I was bold enough to hold them." His tone was hushed, the sound of the wind almost drowning his voice.
"Neji…" She felt his warmth as he pressed her hand on his cheek. "They don't know we're together."
He grunted in acknowledgement to her statement.
"They think you've been going out with random women."
"Playing them for fools?"
"Mhmm," she hummed.
"Absurd. A Hyuuga does not fool around like that."
"Guys think I'm up for grabs."
He paused. "Guys like Shigure Kyoza?"
Tenten's eyes widened. "You know him?"
"We've met." A smirk marked the Hyuuga's face.
She whimpered, but neither in nitpicking nor disdain. "You beat him up, didn't you?"
His face was expressionless – and that was all the response she required.
"You broke his nose and dislocated his jaw."
A scowl. "Serves him right."
"Funny," she let out a small laugh. "That's exactly what Sakura said."
Tenten shook her head in amusement. "Things like this can be avoided. It's just that they don't think we act much like a couple, Neji."
"They know what we are," he stated with the firmness expected of a Hyuuga. "They only refuse to believe." He began placing light kisses on each of her fingertips, each encounter of flesh sending sharp tingling impressions on her spine. Her body relaxed, Tenten rested her head on his chest and let out an idyllic sigh.
"Does it bother you?"
Her ecstasy was interrupted by his words. "Huh?"
"That they don't think we act a certain way?"
"Well," she gave it a little thought. A kiss or an embrace in public could change everything. "Not really."
"Good." Neji stopped his ministrations and settled his head above hers. "If they all knew, we might lose the privacy we're enjoying now."
Tenten smiled. He was right. Flirting shamelessly and endlessly, whispering sweet nothing to each other's ears, professing their undying love for one another under the violent, pouring rain – all unnecessary. It was each other they were involved with, not the entire village of Konoha.