A/N: So here it is - my first attempt at fanfic, so I suppose I'm still a baby at this. The story is divided into 12 sections and spans over a year. Neji/Tenten's ages don't really matter, but as a general guide I would say late teens. A little suggestive towards end, so hopefully rating applies.
Hope you enjoy!
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto
Love was never seasonal.
The sky is dappled with pale, grey clouds veiling the dawn sun, and the ground is a shade of dusty white, coated in a fine sprinkling of freshly fallen snow. Tenten moves cautiously, careful not to the rustle the leaves of the tree branch she crouches on. In the clearing in front of her, with his arms out and feet apart in a ready stance, Neji awaits her next barrage of weaponry.
She lets loose a volley of kunai and Neji spins in his kaiten, sending cold, hard steel hurtling into nearby trees. In the moment before he recovers she drops swiftly to the ground, pulling out a katana, vaguely aware of a dull, winter ache in her recently injured elbow.
He turns towards her and pulls a kunai out of his pouch, parrying her blow. She strikes again and he blocks, the sharp cry of steel against steel echoing through the glade. He produces another kunai in his left hand and reaches around to attack her exposed side. She blocks, he strikes, she dodges, and soon their spar becomes a delicately lethal dance. Step, strike, parry, step.
And then suddenly, he gets around her guard. A swift movement, a glint of silver, icy metal against skin.
"Yield?" She nods, a tired but satisfied smile tugging at her lips.
He stretches out a hand to help her up and she goes to retrieve her fallen weapons, scattered around the clearing, dark against the snow. As she reaches down to pick up the last shuriken, fingers frozen, joints sore, she glances at Neji waiting patiently for her. She treads softly over to him and for a few moments they stand together, shivering slightly in the chilly morning wind.
She grins at him
"I hate winter."
Tenten has never understood why Valentine's Day is so important to most girls. As far as she can tell, it's a useless day dedicated to silly, teenage hormones. She and Neji are trying to make their way to the Hokage's Office, but the road is blocked by hordes, packs, swarms, of couples giggling, laughing, chatting, sharing mugs of hot chocolate and steaming cups of sweet jasmine tea. The streets are dotted with vendors selling candy hearts, pink balloons, ribboned teddy bears, strawberry fairy-floss. She groans dramatically.
"This is so stupid! I don't understand why this day is so special. I mean, they could at least move all this somewhere else – we can barely even see the end of the street!"
Neji nods distractedly, and she takes this as permission to continue her rant.
"And look at these!" She points towards a stand for cherry ice cream. "It's already freezing enough as it is. People must be crazy to celebrate this. This isn't even promoting love, it's so commercial. I can't believe – "
"Let's get some fairy-floss."
She halts in her tirade and stares mutely as Neji grasps her wrist and pulls her towards a small booth on their left.
Tenten has never understood why Valentine's Day is so important to most girls, but as she walks down the road wrapped in Neji's jacket, one hand clutching a stick of fairy-floss, the other held safely in his, she begins to understand.
"Happy birthday, Tenten!!"
Neji and Tenten had spent the early morning hours training under the pastel blues of a new, refreshed sky. Their clearing had steamed under the brilliance and warmth of the sun and they had sparred to the forest music, cicadas singing stridently from nooks in cedars and chestnuts, newly hatched birds twittering and chirping.
Upon arriving back at her apartment (Neji had insisted on walking her home – it was her birthday after all) Tenten had opened the door to find it covered from floor to ceiling in green balloons and streamers and a large banner reading "Happy Birthday!" The whole setup had screamed Gai and Lee of course, and when they popped out from behind two large couches complete with gold party hats and a troop of enthusiastic (Chouji – already eating) and unenthusiastic (Shikamaru – asleep on a beanbag) celebrators she saw her assumptions were correct.
But in all its sweetness, it frightened her a little, left her feeling a little unsure. Until now, birthdays had always been a private affair; just her, a photo of her parents and a small pile of presents received during the day. Now, with what seemed like half of Konoha in her living room, there was a strange, bittersweet emotion unfurling in her chest.
She was scared. Because loving this many people meant having more people to lose. And she'd had enough of loss.
But as she struggled with herself, Neji reached over and gently squeezed her hand, and suddenly she felt ready for anything.
Because, she realised, loving them also meant being loved.
With many an exclamation of "Come on, we'll be late!", Tenten drags Neji towards their rendezvous, where Gai has asked Lee and them to meet him. Neji is reluctant however, because Gai's note made mention of "the Springtime of Youth Secret Meeting", and being spring, he's a little wary of any meeting instigated by Gai (last spring, the 'Secret Meeting' saw them spending the night at a karaoke bar).
Eventually Tenten gives up and releases his sleeve, walking ahead. She turns around at the end of the path, one hand on her hip, and taps her foot.
A gust of mellow spring wind blows towards her, and Neji watches as the last of the cherry blossoms lift from their stalks and dance in the breeze, petals landing in her hair. She laughs softly, and lifts her arms, spinning, welcoming the blossoms, reaching out long honey-coloured fingers to the sky. The petals whirl and scatter around her, and Neji is reminded of his own kaiten.
And his breath hitches in his throat when he realises he wants to see her like this forever, because watching Tenten, he knows what it means to be free.
Dusk settles, and the dying embers of the sun bathe the world in a wash of oranges and pinks and molten gold. In a small coppice beyond the rice paddies and the wheat fields that give way to secret bamboo groves, Neji and Tenten sit between the thick, knotted roots of an old tree trunk.
They watch the world.
Tenten rests her head on Neji's shoulder and he wraps an arm around her. The air is fresh and crisp, and here, hidden away from the rest of the world, they are not shinobi. They are not the Hyuuga Branch House prodigy and the Konoha weapons mistress. They are not emotionless tools. They are not fighting machines.
Here, they are Neji and Tenten.
Neji pulls Tenten closer and listens to her breathing. He presses a kiss into her hair and watches as she dozes.
He watches his world.
After a particularly gruelling battle against a group of bandits, Neji walks over to Tenten; both of them covered in sweat and streaks of blood and dirt. The air is thick with heat and the metallic stench of spilt blood and burning flesh, but Tenten smiles at him.
"I'm glad we fight for Konoha."
Neji nods, not thinking to explain that he fights for her.
Neji sits in their clearing waiting for Tenten to arrive. Konoha is in the midst of an extreme heatwave and the summer heat is intense, air rising in shimmering waves before him and he thinks that maybe, just today, they should take a break from training.
A sudden noise startles him from his reverie (though he would never show it, of course) and he glances up to find Tenten walking towards him, a small white package in her right hand. She sits down in front of him and rips open the plastic to reveal a red-and-white twin icy-pole.
She snaps it in half and hands him the lemonade side – his favourite – and keeps the strawberry half for herself. They lie down in the grass, and even though it's positively boiling, Tenten leans towards him, a knee against his thigh, and he places his palm on her back, spreading long, supple fingers against the soft fabric of her shirt.
He wishes summer would never end.
Tenten watches him.
They are spending a day by the river with Lee. A picnic lunch, a game of Hide and Seek (given up when Neji wins every round), a lazy afternoon with secret touches and kisses to her wrist.
And she watches him.
The way his pale eyes flash lilac in place of a laugh. The way his face eases when he looks at her. The way he brushes off an over-excited Lee, but always with the edge of his mouth lifting ever so slightly. She sees tentative hopes written in his features, a longing for something more, and she hopes that she is part of this something.
And when they talk and reminisce about their academy days, with several animated re-enactments by Lee, Neji doesn't say much, but she doesn't need him to because she understands his silences.
She can read the gaps between his syllables.
She falls back against a pile of leaves; her arms flung skyward, red-veined russets clashing with her top. And Neji isn't happy.
"We just spent the last two hours clearing this area."
Tenten looks around her. Leaves are flying in every direction, spiralling and zigzagging through the air, crumbling as she rolls over them.
"It's fun." Neji raises an eyebrow.
Tenten stands up and pushes the leaves back into a rough, messy pile and glances at Neji.
"Your turn now."
He stares at her.
Tenten smirks good-naturedly. "Are you scared? Here, I'll do it with you; it's more fun like this, anyway."
She takes his hand and smiles at him as they position themselves in front of the leaves.
And this time, they fall together.
The autumn sun rises as dawn emerges, and the world is on fire. The sky is a canvas of vermillion and gold and the trees burn in all shades of glorious orange.
Sunlight trickles through a half-open blind into Tenten's living room and finds her curled up on the couch with Neji, his arm wrapped protectively around her waist, his cheek against her hair. A glimpse of the present.
Warm, crimson light filters through the kitchen window immersing a wooden table in soft hues of coral and pale cerise, a table where three genin once carved their names, where two chuunin made a lifelong pact. A glimpse of the past.
Tenten shifts against Neji in her sleep, her lips grazing his collarbone, and he turns towards her, filling her space, their limbs fitting together, their bodies harmonising.
A glimpse of the future.
Sometimes on missions, it rains so heavily vision is impossible beyond an arm's length, and the world seems to be roaring with thunder while lightning splinters the sky. When they travel in this weather, Tenten almost inevitably always falls ill, and this time is no different. By the time they get to the last inn, she has a throbbing headache, a sore throat and a steadily rising fever.
When she sleeps, she pictures trees ablaze and houses on fire and rivers flooding, her mind toying with her subconsciousness. She tosses and turns in her restlessness, all the while making sure she doesn't wake Lee or Gai or Neji, and her treacherous heart thuds against her chest, sweat dampening her pillow.
But this time, Neji is there, keeping a silent vigil beside her. He wraps her in his own blanket, careful not to let her overheat, and brings a glass of water for her throat and a cool towel for her forehead and she holds onto his offered hand with weary fingers. He places gentle butterfly kisses on her knuckles and she's glad of something to anchor her to reality, to keep her from dreams of ghosts and phantoms. He watches as she shakes, her breathing shallow, and when he can't stand it anymore he lies down beside her and holds her tightly, wanting nothing more than to absorb her pain.
By the time her fever breaks it's the early hours of sunrise and Neji finally relaxes, allowing himself a few precious moments of blessed rest. Outside, the rain subsides and the shadowy thunderclouds clear as the sun peeks shyly from behind them.
A day for healing.
On Christmas morning, Neji watches Tenten and Lee run into his room sprinkling his bed and desk and floor with specks of soiled snow. They hold out presents covered in vibrantly coloured gift-wrap and red and gold ribbon, and when he actually lets them decorate his usually impersonal and economically bare room in glittery tinsel and lustrous baubles, Tenten thinks that this, this is friendship.
Tenten stays at the Hyuuga compound for lunch and she watches as many men and women and children with eyes of pearls chat happily, musical voices lifting and lilting (not all Hyuuga's are as reserved as Neji). They treat her as one of them, asking her to pass the butter, telling her the mandatory Christmas tales of embarrassing childhoods. And as Neji places a hand on her knee while listening to Hiashi tell him about his father, a whisper of a smile gracing his features, Tenten thinks that this, this is family.
On Christmas evening Neji goes to her place, and they have a quiet meal by themselves with only a pale waning moon and two soft candles as witnesses. Afterwards, Neji shows her how much he loves her, and when he tugs off her top she lets him. She helps him out of his own, and in the midst of their awkward movements and honest kisses she finds a promise for the future.
Because somewhere down the line they'll work out how this is supposed go and Tenten thinks that this – this is love.
A/N: Thanks for reading - reviews are much appreciated!