Tenten was awoken by the sounds of birds that morning. She grumbled and rolled over to face away from the window in an attempt to block out the noise, heavy lids falling closed again.
Suddenly she was jolted awake as her home phone screamed for attention from her bedside table, sending her crashing out of a dream and onto the bedroom floor. Rolling over and sitting bolt upright in shock, she grasped the offending object and pressed a button on the keypad, rubbing her left eye drowsily.
"Hello?" she grumbled but cried out in shock when her ear was met with another ring from the officiously loud appliance. 'Wrong button.' She thought wryly, half fumbling the phone as she mashed her thumb into the green 'Talk' button. Upon answering again, albeit less enthusiatically, a familiar voice called back at her.
"Tenten-san! Where are you? Gai-sensei and I have been worrying about the flower of our group! Surely you were not thinking of skipping our daily morning youth development?"
'Morning youth development?' "Shit! Lee! What time is it?" her eyes scanned the room for her alarm clock.
"It is 5:13 a.m. Tenten-san, is it that you were not yet awake?"
Tenten sighed, detecting that particular tone in Lee's voice that indicated an impending youth-related lecture, quoted nearly word-for-word from Gai-sensei. "Lee," she sighed, adjusting the phone so it was between her shoulder and her ear as she crossed the room to her dresser, "I'll be there soon, okay? Don't start without me."
"Of course, Tenten-san! It would not be right to begin a morning of youthful exercise without our flower!"
"Thanks, See you in half an hour."
One very rushed shower and several strings of creative curses later, Tenten was on her bicycle sprinting toward Konoha's public dojo.
Why she still attended Gai and Lee's 5:00 a.m extra warm-up and training session was anyone's guess but she mused that it had something to do with not wanting to lose a bond she had shared with the two eccentric men since she had left The Dojo's childrens' classes (affectionately nick-named 'The Academy') and began attending the official training meets at the tender age of 12.
She smiled at the memory of the graduation ceremony and swerved to avoid a still-lit lamp post. Thank God there were so few people on the streets at this time of the morning, especially in winter.
Arriving at the light green building in record time, Tenten hadn't even hit the brakes before she was off her bike and wheeling it into the bike rack. When it was securely chained up, she stood upright and nervously adjusted the long bag on her back. This was the first time she had ever been late to any training session. Taking a deep breath, she rehearsed the excuse she had to offer to Gai-sensei one last time in her mind.
It was then that she noticed the long black car parked in the small parking lot.
'A limo?' she thought to herself, in awe of the stunning vehicle. 'Who do I know that owns a limo?' her thoughts were cut short by Lee calling to her from the entrance, in all his spandex-clad glory, shouting something about her youth being wasted. She was suddenly reminded about why she was in such a hurry in the first place.
"Coming, Lee!" she gave the limozine one last fleeting glance before dashing through the tall wooden doors and into The Dojo.
Tenten wiped a thin sheet of sweat from her brow and sighed. Usually these morning training sessions (or 'Morning Youth developments') consisted of a warm-up followed by some extra one-on-one training with Gai-sensei before the rest of the squad arrived. Today, however, she had been informed that she must run laps around the facilities to make up for her tardiness.
She stopped to catch her breath near the small garden to the rear of the main hall. Smiling, she listened to the rhythmic sound of the Shishi-Odoshi that sat at the edge of the tiny decorative koi pond. Feeling her body relax, she closed her eyes. Big mistake.
"Tenten! Why have you stopped all of a sudden?"
"Ah! Gai-sensei I was just-"
"Your youth will suffer if you give up! Run 25 more laps and you can have a break!" he flashed a smile, giving her a enthusiastic thumbs-up.
"Eh, there's no way I can run 25 laps before 8 o'clock! It's 7:30 already!" her stomach growled audibly.
Gai looked at her and opened his mouth to begin a new lecture.
She changed tactics "Plus I skipped breakfast this morning to get here and I think my youth will suffer more if I don't eat something soon," she reasoned, clutching her tummy in emphasis, "a-and it's like you said: 'Breakfast is the foundation of a productive and youthful day'!"
Gai's eyes widened. "Aah, Tenten! You are right! You must seek nourishment so that the flower of your youth is not withered!" he exclaimed.
She sighed, relieved. In all these years spent with Gai and Lee, she had learned how to curb their vivaciousness.
"You can begin running 30 laps to make up for lost time at 8:00 sharp!" he grinned, bleached-white teeth gleaming in the morning sun, and gave her another thumbs up as if this was the most exciting thing imaginable. "Dismissed!"
'Almost.' She sighed again. "Okay." 'Half an hour? Geez...'
Letting out a loud breath of relief, Tenten trudged inside and into the girls locker room. Half an hour wasn't enough time to ride to any stores for food, plus she was reluctant to return to the freezing winter temperatures outside until absolutely necessary.
She opened her locker and took out her bag, unzipping it and fishing out her tacky plastic water bottle. As she proceeded to drain its contents she briefly wondered if she could trick her body into thinking water was food. Suddenly she remembered something.
She turned around and began digging through her large sports bag again. 'Please please please be in here!' "YES!" she cried in triumph, retrieving a two day old apple. Hey, food's food. Wiping the dust and lint off on her sweaty tank top, she went to take a bite.
"Tenten! No eating in the locker rooms!" came a stern voice from behind her causing her to jump and almost drop her sole source of nourishment.
She spun around to face the younger girl who was now giggling at her reaction. "Sakura! Don't do that to me!"
Sakura swallowed her laughter. "I'm sorry, I couldn't help myself. You looked so flustered."
She winced. "Yeah that reminds me. I have to get back out there and start running laps soon or Gai-sensei will give me another youth-lecture." sighing, she took a large bite out of her improvised snack.
Sakura waved a hand at her dismissively. "Oh I wouldn't worry about that. Tsunade-sama called all the instructors in for a meeting with a client."
She painfully swallowed the rather large half-chewed mouthful. "What? You mean I rushed for nothing?" Tenten sighed for the umpteenth time that morning. Today was not a good day. "Since when does Tsunade-sama call meetings with the instructors, anyway?"
Sakura shrugged and walked over to the mirrors to fix her hair. "All I really know is that it has to do with a rich man who arrived early this morning and I'm not allowed to attend."
Haruno Sakura had been under the tutelage of Tsunade-sama, a famous practitioner of ancient forms of medicine, since she was 13 years old and had begun working alongside her a year ago upon the completion of her studies, something Tenten had long been jealous of.
The comment about the wealthy man had not gone unnoticed, however. "A rich man?"
"Yeah, he looked like he was from one of those old clans. He was wearing really formal clothes too; even a haori! I wish I knew more but Tsunade-sama never mentioned anything about it before today." she tucked some strands of her bubblegum-pink hair back into her red headband and turned to winked at her. "Still, it is exciting, isn't it? I wonder what's happening?"
"Yeah." Tenten sat down on a bench in front of her and took a smaller bite of her apple. "I wonder."