Notes: I wrote this for the "Carved" challenge on the Livejournal Tenten fan community. I actually really liked how it turned out. Team Gai is my second favorite (next to Team 10) because of their perseverance and different personalities. ANBU just seems like a natural step for them. Tenten's really starting to grow on me as a character. I love how such a cute and petite girl is really a disciplined, skilled weapons master and fighter. People will think twice to mess with someone like her.
ANBU headquarters is nestled in a deceptively peaceful corner of the village, almost completely obscured by trees. Tenten is surprised that the base of such a mysterious organization is so quiet. She wonders what her teammates are feeling as they walk together toward what will soon be their new home. She glances sidelong at Neji, whose pearl-like eyes are staring resolutely ahead. His face is calm, but there is a rigid determination in the creased line of his brow, and she knows he must be as excited as she. All of his life he has waited to prove himself, to show the Main House that he can defy the course of fate.

On her other side is Lee, who has always been the complete opposite of Neji in everything but what Team Gai shares: determination. Tenten knows it was only her firm resolve that got her this far. The road to being a jounin was tough, and she knew that it was even harder to get into ANBU. They took only the best, and many highly-qualified shinobi never passed its extremely difficult test.

For six months, Tenten has trained both physically and mentally. She ran laps around the village at dawn, shaking off sleep as her sweat mixes with the chill air of morning. She would spend hours in the incense-filled meditation chamber, practicing the seals that would summon her weapon-scrolls. She also read up on battlefield strategies and ambush tactics, among other technical skills required. She can't remember the last time she did anything for fun.

The other girls had wanted to be professional kunoichi, who had their lessons in pouring tea and the secrets hidden in the color of a rose. She has never been interested in showing skin and the subtle ways of deception. She just wants to fight, to protect her village. To be the best.

She had already taken the series of tests that would test her strength in mind and body, and today she will find out if she passed. She replays the topics of the assessment over and over in her mind, analyzing every detail, every action or gesture or quiver in her voice. She was brave, that day, but now there is a twisting sick feeling in her stomach that all her resolve will not allieviate. Tenten takes a few deep breaths, trying to calm her erratic nerves. She hopes Neji and Lee don't notice her fear, and clenches her sweaty palms into fists. Tenten has always been the calm one, earth where the others are water and fire.

They stop outside the entrance.

"You ready?" Lee asks. They don't speak. Neji nods curtly, his shoulders tense. Tenten opens the door.

The lobby is air-conditioned and quiet. The clerk marks their names off a list and points them to a small waiting area with two benches to sit on. Tenten sits beside Lee, who shakes his leg in agitation. Neji, whose posture is unnusually slouched, gives him a look and Lee calms down. He looks down resolutely, and Tenten wonders if he's trying to memorize the pattern of the wooden floor. Neji's hands are gripped tightly together, and his lips are rigidly set. She looks away and leans back against the wall, closing her eyes.

After what feels like forever, the door opens and a man walks in. He delivers a single blunt sentence, and it takes a moment for Tenten to realize that all of them have been accepted into ANBU.

The rest of what happens is a blur. Neji's stance becoming a little more relaxed, the tense line in his neck smoothing. Lee screaming and punching the air in a victorious imitation of their sensei's enthusiastic poses. And Tenten can only smile, because she is one step closer to her goal.

She doesn't cry when the crimson symbol of the black ops is carved onto her skin.