Story: The Oddity

Title: Chopsticks

Summary: "In her infant way, she knows that these are Bad Things, which Tenten is Not Allowed to Touch; this doesn't stop her, however, from picking up a chopstick and rubbing it between her little fingers."

Character: Tenten

Disclaimer: Unowned.

Notes: Well . . . this is it. For now at least, I suppose. Tenten has always been my favorite character, and so finishing with her seems right. I'm working on a Neji/Tenten 1940's noir-esque mystery at the moment (whew, mouthful), and it'll probably be posted in a few days. If any of you are interested. So thanks to those of you who took the time to review, and to those of you who stopped by at all.

At age two, Tenten sits at the kitchen table of the orphanage where she was deposited by mysterious parents ("The vanishing sort, Hokage-sama. No one important, to be sure – but odd-looking"). Sitting on the table in front of her is a pair of chopsticks.

"Oh my god," says the teenager who is supposed to be making her dinner. "He said what? That ass. I hope you buried a kunai into his rectum, that freak." She is talking into the phone nestled into her shoulder, gesturing with a spoon. Flecks of broth splatter across the linoleum floor.

Tenten looks at the chopsticks in front of her. In her infant way, she knows that these are Bad Things, which Tenten is Not Allowed to Touch; this doesn't stop her, however, from picking up a chopstick and rubbing it between her little fingers. Her motor control is fine for her age, but certainly not deft enough to handle the slim wooden stick.

Or, at least, it shouldn't.

The teenager pauses to listen to her friend. She tastes the salty broth and makes a face. "Wait," she interrupts. "So you didn't kill him? God, I would've. For Kami's sake, Hi-chan . . ."

Tenten curls her index finger around the chopstick and pushes with her thumb. With a slight twitch, the chopstick spins in her hand and flips over her knuckles. It takes her two more times before she can catch it to the palm of her hand.

"I know! I know. It's like, what? What? Who do you think you are?"

Tenten's eyes narrow. She twirls the chopstick around twice, and then a third time, and then the chopstick is moving quickly (too quickly, to be manipulated by a two-year-old with scraggly pigtails who doesn't speak). The teenager doesn't notice, pouring herself a glass of something from a pitcher on the counter.

The chopstick is a blur around her hand, making a little whoosp every time it slaps against her first knuckle. Her whole body bends forward and back with the rhythm, a whoosp whoosp whoosp whoospwhoospwhoosp, speeding up, faster faster fasterfasterfaster.

The teenager sees Tenten and drops the phone.

From the forgotten headset, her friend's tinny voice prattles on.

The orphanage master, who is already getting trouble with the new blonde baby boy, takes her to the Hokage's office. He sits there, fingers steepled, and watches as the master hands Tenten a chopstick. She is already bored by it, though, and refuses. She doesn't speak, ever. She doesn't tell them anything helpful.

Over her head a conversation is being conducted, about her missing parents and the trunk they left behind. The master is insisting that Tenten is a genius. The Hokage is politely disbelieving.

As they talk, Tenten looks around. The shiny kunai on the center of his desk, ornamental and lavish, catches her eye. The rubber kunai back at the orphanage has a wooden handle, and the wrapping is frayed. This handle is red silk and embroidered with gold flowers. It makes Tenten think of warm weather, and a soft shirt that smelled like trees.

She tries to reach it, but she is too small and her knees are wobbly. She doesn't gurgle her demand, but silently focuses on her adversary, pulling and reaching until her fingers sneak up over the lip of the desk. The master hasn't noticed her progress, but the Hokage has, and he watches her struggle. She manages to tip over the stand and the kunai slips off to drop into the floor. Its fall is marked by a heavy thwuuud, and the master sees.

"Tenten!" shrieks the master, but Tenten is arrested by the sight of the kunai, the silver blade in the light. She pets the handle and the silk is so nice, so different from her cotton shift, that she wraps her fingers around it and refuses to let go.

It is familiar.

At age twelve, Tenten impresses her new sensei with her ornamental kunai. It is old, an antique, and Gai and Lee and Neji can all tell this just from looking at it. They don't know that it was a half-bribe for the Hokage from her parents, asking that Konoha foster their daughter with her oddly tilted eyes and penchant for silk clothes. Tenten didn't know, either, until she graduated two days ago and the same Hokage who watched her with steepled fingers gave it to her, along with the heavy key to a trunk full of sweet-smelling clothes.

"Remember," he told her, "that while you are a shinobi of Konoha, you will always have parts of you that are different. Use them."

She nails Hyuuga Neji to a tree with her dull, antique kunai, and feels triumph flood her at the silky phwud it makes through his sleeve.

"YOSH!" cries her sensei.

Lee gives her the Good Guy pose.

Neji glares and rips his sleeve removing the heavy kunai.

At age twenty, Mai-chan, the new maid who is small and demure and serves tea with a provocatively turned inner wrist, is summoned to the master's room.

He watches from the dark corner, smile twisting his lips, as she slides the door shut and jerks a short but graceful bow, and he says, "Mai-chan. Come closer."

"S-sir," she stutters, blushing, cloud of mahogany hair twisting around her head to hide her eyes. "I-I would like t-to know what-t it is y-you require."

He puts down the senbon he automatically grabbed at the twitch of the door and stretches out a hand, quirking his fingers. "Come, come Mai-chan. I think you know what I require, and I won't get it if you are across the room." His eyes catch the flash of blue at her ears, pink at her cheeks, and bare gold at her feet.

Her rustling yukata, swshoosh swshoosh swshoosh, releases the scent of jasmine as she crosses the room in small, polite steps. She is still looking down when she hesitantly accepts his offered hand. He grasps her wrist instead of her palm, and the skin is just as smooth as it looked pouring tea.

"Mai-chan," he murmurs into her neck, and pulls her warm body into his lap. He kisses her collarbone and her ear and is gently tugging on the tie of her yukata when she picks up a wooden chopstick from the lip of the forgotten bowl of rice at his feet and drives it into his skull.

The muscles in her delicate, tea-pouring wrist are firm.

"Tenten!" cries Lee, when she is clean and presentable and her hair caught up behind her emotionless porcelain mask.

"He's dead," she says, slipping a final kunai up her sleeve. "We can go now."

Neji, as mission leader, is really the only one who has the authority to say when they will leave and when they will go, but both he and Tenten are ANBU, and he trusts her when she says that the mission is finished.

"YOSH!" yells Lee, and is quickly shushed.

"Do you want us to get caught?" asks Tenten, lightly smacking him on the back of the head. Although the mask hides her emotions, Neji knows from the tension falling out of her body that she will be fine. She is always fine.

"We eat," says Neji through his mask. "Then we will depart."

They leap through the trees and settle in a clearing that is a proper distance away. Lee unpacks dumplings and Tenten's favorite, fresh dango. Neji hands her a pair of portable chopsticks.

She doesn't pause as she pulls them apart with a crack of splintering wood. Half-smiling at Lee's antics, she spears a loose ball with her chopstick and bites it in half. The sweetness spreads on her tongue, and she smiles for real.

"Good dango, Lee," she says, and sucks the rest of the dough off the chopstick.

Ahh . . . the end. Thoughts?