Update 25/8/14: Upon receiving a few negative reviews and PMs, I felt I should include this 'disclaimer' - or perhaps 'warning' - at the beginning of this fic so any potential readers can decide if they want to read it or not. I first wrote this in 2008, when I was 17. Back then I was an impressionable teen fresh out of high school whose only love was romance. I didn't much care for tight plots or making statements regarding sexism, gender equality or homosexuality. All I wanted to do was write a fun and hopefully funny story about Neji and Tenten, with a heavy side serve of heat and romance.
Among claims that this fic is sexist - well, I actually think it is. I am much more aware of how the social ideals of gender equality of six years ago (and this present day, unfortunately) automatically found its way into my writing. I am also aware that there are elements many will find homophobic. At the time I wrote this, I was a practicing Christian and homophobia is unfortunately quite rife in much (though not all) of the Christian community, so those ideals also found their way into my writing.
However, I will not rewrite this fic. My recent updates were only to edit grammar, spelling and sentence structure. The 'sexist' element of Exceptions is the core of the plot, so to change that would be to write a new fic entirely. I do not have the time nor the inclination to do that, because despite those areas that some take issue with, many love Exceptions as it is.
All I can say is just be prepared when you go into it and if those elements frustrate you too much, please don't continue reading it. You don't have to. I'd rather you do that than write bad reviews pointing out things I already know. I am still proud of this fic, of the emotions I created within it that people can connect to, but I wouldn't write someting like this today. With age, I have been both more self-aware of the idealisms of society and religion that have and do permeate my writing. Regardless, I hope some can still enjoy reading this.
Update 13/6/14: I have finally fixed as many of the grammatical errors and typos in this fic that I could find! Hopefully this will turn what already seems to be a fairly well liked story into a one that doesn't want to make readers rip their hair out in frustration at the messy sentence structure, with all those words and commas and hyphens running into each other as though they were competing in a marathon to the period. Kind of like that previous sentence, haha!
I have been continuously amazed at how many follows and favourites this fic has garnered over the years, because I found looking back on it somewhat painful. Then again, I am proud of the emotion I created here so perhaps that's why people still like it even though the plot is full of holes (as all my plots are). Also, SPOILER ALERT - Neji has died in the manga so I suspect this fic will actually grow more popular as Neji fans (such as myself) become desperate to encounter any piece of decent writing to do with him, especially if it includes romance ;)
Anyway, this story is particularly close to my heart as it is my favourite story that I've written. Even though I have somewhat abandoned the whole 'Interlude' idea (detailed in the A/N below), this story has managed to stand alone and endure (four years is a long time for me haha). I hope that any new readers that come across it will love it as much as I do.
A/N (2008): So for those of you who don't know, I am writing a few interlude stories for my fic A Whisper in the Night. These interludes are located between A Whisper in the Night and its sequel (which is yet to be written). I decided that because there is a time gap between the two stories, I should momentarily focus on the other pairings I favour in Naruto. So Neji and Tenten are first (just because I love Neji).
I had originally decided to post this AFTER I had finished A Whisper in the Night, but it only has one chapter to go and I REALLY couldn't help myself (patience has never quite been my virtue) so I decided to stuff it and post it anyway.
The good thing about this first interlude is that you don't have to be familiar with the storyline of A Whisper in the Night to get what's going on because nothing in this interlude has much to do with what goes on in that fic. So for those Neji/Tenten fans who happened to stumble onto this story, you don't have to wade through Sasuke and Sakura's story to know what's what. Just read and enjoy.
But for those of you who are reading this after you finished A Whisper in the Night, this story takes place DURING that fic.
"So, Tenten, how much experience do you have?"
Had Tenten been a person with less control, she might have choked on her own saliva at that very point in time. As it was, she simply made do with clenching her jaw to the point of pain.
She swallowed hard and tried to find the words to say to the Hokage. "Uh…what kind of experience did you mean, Hokage-sama?"
Of course she had a pretty good idea what kind of experience the Hokage meant, but she thought it best to clarify lest she unnecessarily supply information concerning her sex life…or lack of one. Because, really, what other kind of experience was there? The Hokage knew the state of her battle experience perfectly well. And they were shinobi. There were only so many kinds of experience to be had that the Hokage would deem useful enough to question.
It did not help that her teammates of seven years were standing beside her. She didn't even want to look at them because she knew what they'd be thinking.
Gai would undoubtedly be eager for her answer whilst simultaneously trying not to appear eager for her answer, but he'd still look eager anyway. The man couldn't be subtle if he were invisible.
Lee would be beet red. He, too, would be insatiably curious because such was his nature, but he would also be extremely embarrassed to learn the state of her sexual affairs, or what little he understood of sexual affairs in general.
Neji would be…well…actually, she didn't quite know that one. She couldn't possibly guess what he'd be thinking because she never knew what he was thinking. This case would be no different because no matter how possibly shocking her answer Neji, quite simply, didn't really care. Sure, he cared for them, his teammates, but not for the state of their personal affairs, much less their sexual lives. Especially not their sexual lives.
Not that there was much to ponder if one actually wanted to ponder the sex lives of Team Gai. Even if Gai and Lee possessed hormones, they were sadly misplaced. Their entire lives were devoted to their training. Neji possessed about as much sex drive as a tree, which was a shame, really, because he had so much potential.
And her…she didn't even want to begin thinking about the state of her experience…or lack of it. But it seemed that now she just might have to think about it…and share it. Just lovely.
The Hokage raised an eyebrow and smirked at her. "I think you know what kind of experience I mean, Tenten."
Tenten cleared her throat to buy some time. She had no doubt her face was pink by now. Usually she wasn't one prone to blushing, but she supposed there were exceptions. Like now.
Suddenly she became hyperaware of every little sound in the unexpectedly stifling room. She could hear the low hum of the overhead lighting fixtures. She could hear the slight scratching sounds the scribe made as he pretended to continue on with his work. She could hear the shuffling of the ANBU guards who stood at each side of the doorway as they shifted their standing positions. She could hear the rhythmic breathing of her companions beside her. She could hear her own erratic heartbeat as it struggled to keep the blood pumping through her veins.
Right. Right. She was supposed to answer that, wasn't she?
Yes, here goes what had to be most humiliating experience of her life. She was usually not averse to discussing things of sexual nature, even such things pertaining to herself but not – not - in front of the team mates she had fought beside for so long; not in front of the team mates she'd fought so hard with and for just to gain their respect and approval. But what choice did she have? She just had to be as vague as possible. She could effectively fool Lee and Gai so that they would have no idea what she was talking about, but Neji? There was no way she would be able to get anything past his observant eyes and quick thinking. That was probably what pained her the most. She'd never had to fight for respect as much as she'd had to with Neji. His standards were impeccably high and just when she had finally met them they would all come crashing down in a blaze of humiliation.
Vague. Be vague.
"I…I'm afraid I have not experienced all that much, Hokage-sama."
Her breath left her in a single whoosh as she relaxed her tensed muscles. There. She had successfully answered the question without giving anyone the exact details of the amount of her experience, or lack of it. And it was definitely edging towards the latter.
But no one knew that. No one besides Neji, that is.
She chanced a quick glance and him and her suspicions were immediately confirmed. His expression hadn't altered the slightest, but she knew. After so many years spent in his presence, she just knew.
The Hokage scarlet lips turned down at the sides. "Hm…that is a problem, but nothing I didn't expect."
Tenten flushed at the thought that her lack of sexual experience would be so blatantly predictable, though the Hokage was an older woman. Perhaps she could tell these things more easily. Hopefully that was the case.
"On a scale of one to ten."
Tenten blinked at her in confusion. "Pardon?"
The Hokage sighed impatiently, "On a scale of one to ten, how much experience do you have? I need to know how much help you're going to need."
Tenten's eyes widened. Help for what? The question went unspoken, but it hung in the air nonetheless. A sudden bout of fear gripped her as she realized she hadn't even thought about why the Hokage would ask her such personal questions. And now that she did think about it, it wasn't so hard to figure out. She was a shinobi – more specifically, a kunoichi – and the Hokage was currently asking her questions about how much sexual experience she'd had. That could only mean one thing; one thing she had been avoiding her entire time as a shinobi.
"So?" the Hokage asked, becoming more impatient than before.
Tenten had no idea how to answer this question. There was no way she could be vague. And what exactly was the scale? How could she know if her ideas were similar to the Hokage's? And, considering her lack of experience, they probably were.
She assumed ten was sex and that one was 'nothing whatsoever'. But did that mean 'nothing whatsoever' as in she had never hugged a guy or held the hand of one? Or was that 'nothing whatsoever' as in she hadn't kissed anyone?
And then what came in between? She didn't even know what led up to sex, so how was she supposed to guess anyway? She knew there was kissing. But there were different kinds of kissing. There was the quick-peck-on-the-lips kind and then there was I'm-going-to-eat-your-face kind. Was that all part of one, or did that come into the early numbers? And what in god's name made up the rest of the numbers? She sure as hell wasn't going to ask for clarification.
She was thinking way too hard about this. It was probably easiest just to guess and hope for the best. There weren't any other options she was aware of.
Oh, please let that not be slutty.
The worst thing was that it wasn't just her opinion on the numbers or the Hokage's opinion on the numbers…it included the opinion of everyone else in the room and everyone else's opinion depended on how much experience they'd had. So while Lee would think she had barely kissed a guy, one of the ANBU could be thinking something much, much worse. It was unsettling.
However, she couldn't have just said one, even though that was most certainly the correct answer. While she didn't want anyone thinking she got around, she didn't want anyone thinking she was a complete prude either. Well, she was a prude, but she didn't want anyone to know that.
Normally she wouldn't have cared too much that she had absolutely no experience. She had forgone the usual adolescent lusts in pursuit of much more important things, like her reputation as a skilled kunoichi, but in this context she was loath to admit that she didn't even know what it was like to be with a guy. Sure, she had been with guys her whole life - her profession caused her to be surrounded by them - but she had never been with a guy to the extent that they meant something special, something significantly more, to one another. It hadn't really seemed important until now that she was required to have some of this elusive experience. Quite frankly, she'd prefer it a whole lot more if her sex life was simply not speculated on.
"Gods above, it's worse than I thought."
Tenten turned startled eyes towards the Hokage. Worse than she'd thought? So she should have said something higher? But if she'd said something higher then maybe that scribe would have thought her easy and…
Oh gods, she was really thinking too much.
"If I may interrupt, Hokage-sama."
Tenten's eyes shot to her right where Neji stood, proud and rigid as always. She was surprised he had spoken out of turn, regardless of how respectful his address. It was not characteristic of him.
"Speak," the Hokage barked.
"May I be so forward as to inquire why exactly you need to know the extent of Tenten's sexual experience?"
He spoke as formerly and politely as he always did, but Tenten did not miss the slight strained tone than ran beneath his steady tenor. However, she could not help but be relieved that Neji had the guts to ask the question she dared not. He was the only one who could get away with it.
The Hokage narrowed her eyes as she studied the stoic Hyuga. Finally, after a few agonizing seconds, she seemed to deem him worth of a reply.
And Tenten's fear had come to be.
Neji eyed his female companion carefully as she swallowed hard in acute apprehension. The fear painted on her features was displayed for all to see. He could not remember a time when she had looked so openly anxious. That was one of the things he had grown to respect about Tenten. No matter how afraid she might have been of a task, she would put her fear behind her and move through it.
Yet there seemed to be some exceptions to this otherwise iron control.
As soon as the Hokage had asked Tenten of the state of her sexual experience, Neji had known exactly what it had been about. Apparently no one else had. So instead of watching his lone female teammate struggle through potentially embarrassing answers to incredibly forthcoming questions, he decided it would be best if everyone was aware of why such answers were needed.
He had deduced right from the beginning that Tenten had no sexual experience whatsoever. It was clearly palpable; to him, at least (he had never put much faith in Lee or Gai's observation abilities). It would be too unseemly for Tenten to have been otherwise. She was much too focused on perfecting her skill, much too centred on professional progression. He doubted even the thought of engaging in such relations had crossed her mind. It was another aspect of her character he admired greatly. She had determination and dedication that matched his. If one wanted to be the best they could be, did they not have to sacrifice all else in order to obtain that goal? This was the driving force of Team Gai: dedication and determination, and she had certainly not let them down.
It was obvious that she had been lying when the Hokage had asked her for specifics. He doubted Tenten even knew what led up to sex, so there was an extremely low possibility that she'd partaken in such activities. Apparently she had not wanted anyone else to notice how completely lacking in knowledge and familiarity she was. That was predictable. She never had liked the implication of failing at anything, even something personal like this.
One thing for which Neji had been entirely unprepared was her reaction to the situation. He would have thought that she would come to terms with what was required of her and follow her orders without complaint or fear. However, judging from the look of her face, she was definitely having a hard time coming to terms with it.
He could understand her reluctance in the matter. She had no experience and she certainly wouldn't want to gain such experience with someone she had no interest in. She would also be apprehensive about the prospect of carrying out such a task for fear that she would have no idea what to do. But he had expected her to simply overcome her fears like she always did and carry on regardless of her personal inhibitions.
"You…you don't mean…"
The Hokage smiled, but it was not a friendly or reassuring one. "Yes, that is exactly what I mean."
Tenten went white just as Gai spoke up. As annoying as his voice was, Neji had become accustomed to the noise and had even come to find it uncomfortable when neither Gai nor Lee was loudly vocalising some form of asinine verbalisation.
"Oh, Hokage-sama! I have patiently waited for the day Tenten would receive this honourable mission and allow her youth to blossom!"
His foolish speech was accompanied with that irritating sparkling of his teeth and those ridiculously overdramatic gestures. Neji had come to expect no less of him.
Lee looked up at his idol with wide eyes. "Gai-sensei! I am afraid I do not understand what this means! Please, guide me!"
Neji had come to expect no less of him either.
He found himself looking to Tenten to meet her eyes and share an exasperated look. It was more out of habit than anything else as it seemed to happen every time Gai and Lee did something stupid, which was quite often. He had to admit he had come to rather enjoy their privately shared glances laced with mutual understanding and sympathy. It seemed to be the only good thing that came out of Gai and Lee's humiliating antics.
But she had not met his gaze this time. Instead, she was staring at the floor beneath her feet with a startling intensity and blinking profusely as she did so.
And – wait – were those tears she was trying to hold back?
If there was ever a time Neji had felt more surprised, he certainly couldn't remember it now. The last time he had seen Tenten cry was when she'd been thirteen and had just broken her arm, bruised her ribs and had a kunai sticking out of her side. It was the worst she had ever inflicted on her body at that time and she had been unprepared for the physical and emotional pain of it. Even then the tears hadn't lasted for more than a few minutes. Yet she was crying now?
Neji was momentarily distracted as Gai endeavoured to instruct his pupil, who was actually officially no longer his pupil.
He put a large hand on Lee's bony shoulder and smiled as though it was his job to reflect the sun. "Lee, this is a monumental time for our dear Tenten."
Lee looked up at him beseechingly. "What time is that, Gai-sensei?"
Gai's toothy grin grew in proportions, a feat worth acknowledging. "Lee, it is time for Tenten to seduce a man."
Lee gasped in amazement, as if it was the single most amazing thing that could ever happen to a girl and Neji wondered why he felt more annoyed by their foolish antics than usual.
He became aware of the Hokage's incredulous stare. "Are they always like this?" she asked in astounded amazement.
Seeing as Tenten was still trying to bore holes in the floor with the force of her gaze, Neji deigned it fit for him to answer.
"For the most part, yes."
The Hokage shook her head in disbelief. "How do you put up with it?"
Neji had never been one to take on a casual standing with his superiors and especially not with the Hokage, so he answered as seriously as he possibly could. "With much patience."
One side of the Hokage's mouth lifted into a small smile of amusement. "You have my admiration for that."
Suddenly, Neji felt awkward. He had never had a conversation with the Hokage about anything other than things pertaining to missions. He had never seen her as more than the leader of their village. It was easy to forget that she was a human who was as disturbed by Gai and Lee's ludicrous shenanigans as much as he was.
At that point Lee turned to the Hokage with a grin to match Gai's. "When are we embarking on this most honourable of missions?" he asked keenly.
"As soon as Tenten is ready. I'd say give it a week."
Everyone's eyes turned to Tenten, who was looking a little more composed than she was earlier, but her face was still as pale as his eyes.
"Hokage-sama…" she spoke quietly, "I'm afraid I must protest this assignment."
Neji's eyes widened as Gai and Lee gasped beside him. They had never known Tenten to protest against any mission.
The Hokage raised an eyebrow. "And why is that?"
Tenten raised her eyes to look at the Hokage. "I am clearly not suited for this type of mission."
"No, you're not," the Hokage stated bluntly. "You're far too shy, far too inexperienced and far too unconfident to pull something like this off, but…"
Tenten flushed at the criticism, but held her tongue. The Hokage didn't like to be interrupted.
"…but it is high time you learned how to do this. You can't go through your whole career expecting these kinds of missions to be herded off to the girls who are more comfortable doing them. There may come a time when there is no one else available. Or there may come a time when you need to improvise. One can never predict the outcome of a mission with perfect accuracy. You need to learn how to do these kinds of missions. Think of it as another weapon in your extensive arsenal. A weapon only you, as a female, can wield. It is your responsibility to learn how to wield it correctly."
Neji saw the wisdom in the Hokage's words. She was right. One never knew when such measures had to be taken and it was best to be prepared. At the moment, if Team Gai encountered such a situation Tenten would be nowhere near prepared to take on such a task.
It appeared that Tenten also saw the truth in the Hokage's words as she nodded her head in meek compliance. "Yes, Hokage-sama."
"And don't worry about your lack of experience, Tenten. I have arranged for someone to tutor you this week."
"Yes. Ino Yamanaka."
Tenten was visibly surprised and Neji could not blame her. Ino was notoriously Konoha's number one seducer. She had the looks, the body, the charm and the confidence, but as far as Neji was concerned, that was all she was good for and that was simply not enough to catch his interest. That and the fact she was known to be a bit…loose. He hoped her habits would not rub off on Tenten.
"Ino?" Tenten squeaked, no doubt picturing the humiliation the following week held in store for her.
"Yes, Ino. You start tomorrow."
Tenten blinked. "I…uh…okay."
The Hokage smiled, looking the happiest she had been since they'd walked through the door. "Excellent! Now I will tell you the details of your mission."
"I am all ears, sir!" Lee all but shouted, saluting enthusiastically.
The Hokage gave him withering glare before continuing.
"Your target is Yuraka Masuma. He is a merchant of approximately 52 years of age. He owns a large shipping company at the border of the Fire Country. We have reason to believe that he is shipping illegal goods into the country, but this was only reported by a former employee of his and we have no hard proof. We need to know firstly, if he is actually shipping illegal goods into the country. Up until now he has maintained a clean slate and has given us no reason to believe that he is acting outside the law. But he is a cold, calculating, and ruthless man who loves money and I personally wouldn't put it past him. Secondly, if he is indeed smuggling in goods, we need to know what those goods are. You are not to engage the target unless the situation calls for it, and then only if it is unavoidably necessary. We do not want him to know that we are investigating him."
She turned her attention solely to Tenten. "This is where you come in. It is a widely known fact that Yuraka's son, Tyran, is a spoilt brat who gets whatever he wants. It is also a widely known fact that what he wants most are women."
Neji saw Tenten gulp anxiously yet again in a bid to maintain her composure.
"Our informant gave us quite a bit of useful information concerning both Yuraka and his son. It is all in this scroll." The Hokage motioned to a single scroll that lay on her desk. "Tenten's duty is to seduce Tyran in order to get him to take her into their compound where operations are carried out. At that point, Tenten is to neutralise him and scout the compound for information about his father's business."
Lee put his hand up excitedly. The Hokage looked at him, but he still kept it up there with a fervent expression on his face.
The Hokage groaned audibly. "Yes, Lee. What is it?"
Lee finally put his hand down. "Hokage-sama! What is it that you would have Neji, Gai-sensei and I accomplish on this most honourable of missions?"
The Hokage smirked. "Not much, actually."
Lee bowed dramatically. "I am sorry, Hokage-sama! I do not quite understand!"
The Hokage rolled her eyes. "Technically, this mission belongs solely to Tenten."
Neji thought Tenten's brown eyes might fall out of her head if they bulged anymore.
"In a normal situation, Tenten would be doing this mission by herself, or possibly with one other jonin. However, because this is Tenten's first time attempting something like this, I figured she would like the support of her much-trusted team along with her. So that means all you'll be doing is staying on the lookout for any potential danger. Hyuga will be able to see what is going on at all times with his Byakugan and therefore will know if Tenten is in any need of assistance."
Tenten's cheeks were tinted pink with embarrassment. Neji surmised she was probably not comfortable with the idea of him looking in on her while she seduced a man. It would be…awkward for him, to say the least, but it had to be done, so he would do it.
Neji inclined his head in respectful acceptance. "Understood."
"We shall do all that is required of us, Hokage-sama!" Gai saluted. Lee followed suit closely after.
"Tenten, come and get this scroll, seeing as you're the one who's going to need it the most," the Hokage barked.
Tenten wordlessly approached the desk and picked up the scroll.
"Report to Yamanaka at nine tomorrow morning, understood?"
Tenten bowed slightly. "Yes, Hokage-sama," she said quietly.
Neji narrowed his eyes at her. He knew she did not want to do this. Hell, if he were a kunoichi he would not want to do something of that nature either. But it had to be done. He felt the strangest need to comfort her, to tell her it would be alright even though he knew it wouldn't be. That was unlike him. If something wasn't going to be alright, he didn't see the point in deluding anyone, but now he just wanted to see Tenten look herself again. He wanted her to feel alright, even if just for a moment.
They silently walked out the Hokage's office. Well, at least he and Tenten were silent. Gai and Lee were loudly discussing the mission in enthusiastic detail. Tenten walked by his side, her eyes never straying from the scroll she held before her.
She looked up at him, her brown eyes wide.
One side of his mouth lifted in a soft smile "It will be alright."
A/N: So how was the first chapter? Not too bad, I hope. It is going to get a LOT more interesting as the story develops! Please review and tell me what you think!