For the F.O.I.L. challenge. This is a doozy, and if anyone has read this on my LJ, it's a bit different, because I decided to actually edit it this time. I've decided to break it up into two or three parts.
The Only Alliance
The first time she meets Neji, she is dragging a large suitcase (it is the only one she can afford, and she needs to have everything for the new school year) through the rickety door of the train.
She has studied hard and is accepted into Konoha Academy, one of the finest boarding schools in the city, so she cannot mess up and get kicked out of such a prestigious honor. So far she hasn't seen any other middle-classed students like her, since the funding of the institution is from wealthier families, so only rich children are sent to it. But there are those few who receive the scholarship, only a handful in each grade, and Tenten is unnerved by the intimidating air, even just by looking at the train and the people around her coming out with servants from expensive cars.
No one bothers to help her with her luggage, which is stuck in the door, not even the men that work at the station (who are too busy helping those with money and servants than a lonely girl without a clue), so she wipes the growing sweat from her brow and gives one heavy heave. The weight of the bag overwhelms her and she is thrown backwards into the compartment door behind her. She rubs her sore behind, only for the firm leverage that supports her back to instantly disappear, making her fall flat on the floor, her back pressing uncomfortably to the ridge of the sliding metal.
The boy before her frowns, stepping away from her and she instantly pulls herself up, grabbing the handle of her luggage and apologizing, daring not to meet his eyes. Startling grey eyes stare straight at her uniform and the buns in her hair and he merely asks if she is Tenten.
She then realizes that this boy is Hyuuga Neji, a member of one of the greatest familial run corporations. The Hyuuga corporation runs everything behind the scenes of all of the city, and this boy probably has more pedigree in his pinky than she will ever have in her whole life.
Then a flash of green and black hair instantly pulls her in and she is thrown against the wooden seat with the bright beam and bushy brows of Maito Gai blinding her eyes.
She understands how the whole system the school runs by through Neji, while Gai-sensei is busy scouring for their final member. She is assigned Group 13, the groups specifically designed for an irrationally small student to instructor ratio, only three to a group. The crazy man in green is their sensei, who as Neji quotes, 'an unbearable nuisance to society', and who will be teaching them everything they need to learn.
More than capable teachers have sent their students to be the best of the best. Konoha Academy has boasted many accomplishments in their students, the future leaders, successful businessmen, incredible actors, and ingenious artists of the Fire nation. Of course, the sensei assigned to the three students that balance each other out, and balance the teacher out, making a precise equilibrium.
Neji does not find the latter fact to be true in this case, and Tenten can't help but agree, noting the insanity of their sensei, and how nothing can balance that man out.
That is, until Gai-sensei comes in with what looks like a less insane and younger version of himself, a boy named Rock Lee, who has dyslexia and who has already been brainwashed by Gai. Neji's resolution deepens, but Tenten only gets more aware and suddenly astounded by the cleverness used to make this trio.
The first time she touches Neji, it is a sudden push into him. He flinches and she instantly draws back, nervous.
It is completely by accident, and it is only because Lee has knocked into her as the train is curling around the corner, throwing her back onto him. They are moving farther away from the center of the city, homeland for most of the students here, to the outskirts of their state. She gives out a little yelp, grabbing his black blazer between clenched fingers. She flushes away and Neji clears his throat, straightening the hem of his jacket, and looks away, out of the window at the rolling hills.
Later, she can't help but smile at that tiny awkward moment, lying in her bed in the darkness.
When she realizes that she practically lives with these two boys and their teacher, she's staring at their section of the dormitory. Her room is a double her old bedroom at home with the edges of torn posters on the ceiling and white-washed walls. There is a beautifully crafted desk, an armoire and a dresser, and a comfortable large bed to the side.
It seems more than enough to fit all for her meager necessities, she doesn't have enough clothes to fit the spacious armoire. There is an open window to a balcony, and the room looks like a suite, however she doesn't believe there is anything more blank and sullen than this room.
She pulls out the gift she receives from her parents before she left from her bag, a large leather-bound sketchbook with crisp paper and a beautiful set of sketching equipment, on her desk, and it feels more personal, although the sketchbook is blank and the equipment is unopened. She doesn't know if she'll ever ruin the fresh slate of the book, leaving it to look merely like a decoration. She doesn't know if she'll have anything mind-etching to draw onto the fresh paper.
After she has unpacked it seems more comfortable, but the walls still stare back at her, and she stares back at them, unsure of what to do until Lee comes in to talk. Their conversation is about their dreams and goals, personal beliefs and inspirations.
No matter how goofy and dumb he looks, Lee is actually a sensitive person, and can actually understand her feelings. She tells him she wants to be an artist and as successful as the once-doctor, now principal-figure, Tsunade-sama, and he truly respects it. They also come from similar middle-class backgrounds, and they actually live only a few city blocks away from each other, and now, they live across the hall. Tenten knows that Lee will become very important to her, and it scares her later on when he becomes too important.
Tenten sees Neji fight only twice, and the first time, it is unexpected. An upperclassman places a hand on her, a snarl on his lips at the sight of a commoner, ready to tear her pride into pieces.
Before he could lunge, Tenten sees a black flash, and her eyes catch a roundhouse kick across the head, making the older boy sprawl over on the tiles. Neji looks down disgustedly, muttering how worthless and pathetic it is to fight a girl.
The older boy growls up at him, arrogance overriding the fact that this is a Hyuuga, and aims a heavy punch at him. Neji's moves are graceful and cruel, for he dodges, and slams his fist in a short left, blooding the other's mouth. Tenten shudders, watching the upperclassman lay awkwardly on the floor.
Neji merely states a low pesk cannot beat a Hyuuga. Tenten somehow takes this comment personally.
Even if the realistic part of her mind says she should scold Neji, because she can take care of herself, Neji glances back at her before walking past, ordering her to follow by merely speaking her name. She apologizes to the bleeding thing in front of her, turns, and runs after him.
When Tenten learns about Neji's past, it makes complete sense for the reason of his stoic and cruel demeanor. His father died in what is presumed a tragic accident, but Neji is sure that it is of his uncle's doing, his brother's twin, to inherit more power over the corporation. His mother left soon after, too consumed in grief, so he grew up an orphan under the constant strain and pressure of his uncle, watching the future heiress fail miserably, but who will still inherit the company even though he can do thrice a better job.
And to cry to the world that he is worthless, there is the stitching of a lower insignia on the collar of his shirt, only noticeable upon close inspection, because otherwise, the dominant genes in his beautiful eyes overrides this fact. He cannot remove the stitching nor the prejudice, for it is a barrier around him, shielding him from getting close to anyone, reminding him of the cruelties of his birth.
He blames it on fate that he cannot change the past so it affects his future, that he is rigidly bound to what has previously been set to him. She feels wet tear tracks on her cheeks, not because she is moved by his story, but because she pities how narrow-minded and closed he is.
His life is a tragedy, and as Lee passes her a tissue, she knows she must help him fix it. It is this night that Tenten carefully opens to the first page of her still unused sketchbook, and puts pencil on paper.
A year passes by, and Neji opens up more to them, and she learns that Neji is expert at certain aspects, beating Lee and her in practically anything, living up to any and all expectations, and speaking monologues about his life, but she listens to every word when Lee and Gai-sensei tune out, because this way, she knows which approach to take to help him. She doesn't make much progress, it seems, since his beliefs still hinder him, and she can only draw.
It is the only tool that Neji does not possess, because as Gai-sensei puts it, Neji has very little creativity. Tenten cannot help but feel proud at the fact that she can do something better than Neji, but he only reasons that Lee can be a better idiot all he wants.
Tenten only smiles, mentally tracing the curve of his jaw as he speaks, to emphasize her drawings, which are feverish and quick sketches.
It becomes one of the few secrets she keeps from Group 13, and the only secret she keeps from Neji.
When introduced to Group 7, under Kakashi-sensei, she doubts that the lowerclassmen live up to Kakashi-sensei, who is Gai-sensei's greatest rival, the way Neji is Lee's. She often is reminded of their score, with Gai in the lead by one, and she finds it incredibly worthless, unlike the struggle between her teammates.
She glances at the loud annoying blonde, the ditzy girl with bubblegum pink hair, and the moody boy, famous for being the last Uchiha, and is unimpressed. They lack any kind of potential.
This holds true until Naruto defeats him in a fight, leaving himself with broken bones but Neji with a broken pride. Naruto has lifted the first shard of his heart, and Tenten cannot be anymore grateful.
After the fight, Sakura performs amazing medical techniques, gaining the attention of Tsunade-sama. She offers to personally teach the girl, and Tenten's heart wrenches and twists harder than it ever has.
Her gaze shifts towards Sasuke, who has always been cute and so mysterious, and she ends up sketching him into her drawing pad. A small crush forms for the last Uchiha, and Neji and Lee never fail to notice it, but they speak little.
Tenten only designates a few pages of her sketchbook for Sasuke, because she knows that her group will be center stage, because they are her family.
She realizes that after Konoha Academy is over, they will never see each other again because of their different dreams. Third year begins entrance exams, and a flurry of stressful tests and essays and applications.
She knows she wants to be an artist, the way she sharpens her pencils with knives and carves the wood with metal. She knows Lee wants to remain at the school like Gai-sensei, his flashy appearance as the Second Beautiful Green Beast of the Academy. And she knows more than she knows what Lee and even what she wants is that Neji wants to, hell, he will go to the renowned Fire University, where only those directly associated with the mayor himself or those incredible geniuses can go.
She doesn't share these feelings of despair with either Neji or Lee, and hopes that they can spend every moment together before their last.
She finds herself truly alone with Neji for more than just a few moments, she spots him in the courtyard after the entrance examinations. Many people go into the courtyard, diverting it from its original goal, peace and quiet of this inner sanctuary. However today, everyone is back in the dorms but she wants to relieve her mind by walking the empty hallways.
She walks in, silently, peering over at his still form. He is asleep. She gazes at him longer, the pale eyelids closed, both hands folded over his lap. It looks like he is meditating, but Tenten knows he's not -- he's sleeping.
She inches closer before ever so quietly joining to sit down across from him, her limbs moving as stealthily as she can. His eyes flutter open when she leans over to shake him after she has settled down. He looks at her and frowns and she sheepishly explains her predicament.
He stands after a moment, looking down at her, and says they should go back. The walk towards the dorm building is insufferable, and she shivers in the cold. She closes her eyes, dreading the coming exam for getting into the art college. Then she can feel a heavy warmth around her shoulders, and looks up to see his black blazer around her shoulders.
That night, she draws again, and the drawings (three, she drew that night) are utterly intimate, incredibly personal.
Despair overcomes all her senses when they are packing up and leaving, not for summer vacation, but forever. She stares at the walls, still blank but now less lonely, and looks back at the sketchbook, worn in from constant use, only stubs for her set of pencils.
She thumbs through it, and memories flood back to her, the emotions she feels that she hides in these drawings. Most of them just speak of a certain event, like when Lee broke his jaw, or when Lee and Tenten visited Neji over the summer. She knows this will be a useful tool and inspiration for further artwork.
But before she knows it, she's running towards Neji's room, knocking frantically at the door, and when it opens, she thrusts her only secret into his hands, her fingers pressed against the back of his palms. She rambles incoherently, that she wants him to have it.
He steps back to let her in, and moves to lean against the armoire. She gazes at him, now almost eighteen, long lanky frame and dark hair that covered parts of his face.
When he opens the book, his expression seems to harden, unreadable but strong, and she feels instantly uneasy. Her heart plummets as she glances down at the sketchbook, the first picture a portrait of what she views as Neji as a child. There are shadows in his eyes, and he stares back at the both of them, childhood innocence lost, and Tenten begins to feel humiliated, exposed.
After an excruciating long moment, he flips to the next page, and most of the pictures are of the four of them, together, with more emphasis on Neji than Lee, Gai, or even herself. The shadows of his face are done laboriously for each drawing, his eyes well-drawn.She knows this the best, because she spends most of time drawing her memory's eye of Neji. It never looks quite right.
The pictures continue, and they become more of Neji himself and more of Neji and Tenten together. His hand stops at the picture of Sasuke, what he sees as her best done portrait, and his fingers touch the graphite around the eyes, and he turns to see another picture of Sasuke. And then another and another, and they seem to be done with much vigor, with what they both can see as shining admiration, rather than just a representative of events as her other drawings consisting Neji and her.
These seem to be shining emotions and a clear picture, not of what small idea of him and her is stamped into the back of her eyes. His eyes seem to darken and suddenly there is the crackling sound of ripping paper and her heart stops. He shoves the book back into her hands, his fingers still clenching the wad of what is Sasuke, and he tells her he doesn't want it. Tenten keeps the tears at bay and runs out.
Tenten recognizes these feelings, with her tears plopping and being absorbed by the paper and she draws dark angry lines across the paper, long scribbles and harsh lines that can't be erased, and when the picture ends up being Neji, everything falls apart. She can hear the yell of Gai-sensei telling her that the bus is leaving soon, that Neji and Lee have already left.
She takes the sketchbook, and slowly, rips out each page one by one, seeing that all her pictures of Sasuke are already gone, letting them fly out the window into the wind. She stops to touch the more intimate pictures, and rips them more harshly than the others, crumpling them before throwing them out the window.
When there is yet only one page left in the book, she takes the only stub left of her pencils, and writes, 'I love you'. She folds this one, and allows it to flutter from her fingers. Neji isn't on the train ride home, and she isn't looking.
Part One Done. (: