It was a balmy night, the paper lanterns hanging outside giving a warm and inviting glow to the bar.
"I just don't understand it," Lee sighed, as he put down his drink of water. "I thought I finally had her."
"So did I," Tenten shook her head as she downed a glass of sake. Though she normally kept away from liquor, they were both feeling pretty down in the dumps tonight, and considering what would happen if Lee had even a drop of the alcohol, she was drinking for the both of them.
"I thought that move would definitely impress her!" He exclaimed emphatically.
"After waiting so long, I thought she finally noticed me," she said mournfully.
"Yet all she did was smile and tell me what a great job I did!" Lee smacked his forehead in an aggravated manner.
"And when she was finally ready to see me, all she had to say was my performance was lacking in the last mission," Tenten buried her face in her arms.
"I don't get what she sees in him!"
"I don't know what she sees in her!"
"Sakura…" Lee shook his head.
"Sakura…" Tenten hissed.
Lee, who hadn't had anything to drink except water, and therefore still in possession of a lucid mind, looked over at his teammate quizzically.
"Are…we talking about the same thing?" He asked.
Tenten propped her head on one hand, refilling her glass. "I'm talking about Sakura the Hag. Who are you talking about?"
Lee was taken aback. He had never heard Tenten speak so disparagingly about another person. Something was obviously wrong, but his impulse to defend the kunoichi's honor was faster.
"Don't speak that way about Sakura! She is not a hag at all!"
"Oh, I see. You're speaking about Sakura the Angel," Tenten rolled her eyes as she downed the glass in one shot. "What happened, did she reject you again?"
Lee, who had been all fired up, ready to defend Sakura passionately against any denigration, felt himself deflate like a hot air balloon.
"Yes," he answered, shoulders slumping forward. He turned to look at her. "But why are you so upset? Did Sakura-chan say something insulting to you?"
Tenten sighed as she shook her head. "No, Lee, it's not that. It's just…never mind, I'd rather not talk about it."
"It's not good to keep things all bottled up inside," Lee reasoned. "Sometimes talking helps."
Tenten deliberated this for a moment before she sighed again. "Do you remember when we first became a team?"
Lee nodded his head vigorously. He remembered it extremely well. It had been one of the happiest days in his entire life.
Tenten traced the rim of her now empty cup as she continued. "Remember when Gai-sensei asked us to tell what our goals were?"
This took a few minutes for the boy to recall. He knew his answer by heart, of course. Neji, he remembered…Neji had said that he didn't want to answer. And Tenten? What had she responded?
He didn't have to wait long to find out.
"I answered that I wanted to become a strong kunoichi, like the legendary Tsunade-sama."
Lee nodded, even though he didn't remember. He had been too focused at the time on wanting to give his response, to pay attention to what anyone else was saying. "And…?"
Tenten bit her lip for a moment before answering. "And nothing. It's obvious, isn't it? I failed. I'm not the one being trained as her apprentice, nor am I the one with amazing chakra control, or healing abilities, or super strength. I'm not…"
But Lee finished her sentence for her. "You're not Sakura. Tenten, are you jealous?"
"What?!" Tenten yelped. "Of course not!" But then she caught sight of her teammate's expression and relented. "Okay, fine, maybe just a little."
"But Tenten!" Lee exclaimed. "You're an amazing kunoichi! No one can do the things you can!"
If Tenten were a sardonic person, she probably would've snorted at his predictable answer. As it were, she only poured herself another drink.
Lee, seeing his response hadn't stirred her, tried again. "Tenten, just because Sakura-san is the Godaime's apprentice, doesn't mean you failed at all. You are still strong and independent, much like Tsunade-sama herself, perhaps in a different way than her."
Tenten didn't seem to be listening, as she downed her glass, though in truth, his words had touched her, warming her inside and out. She was determined not to let him know that though.
"And what about you, Lee? Weren't you just saying how frustrated you were that Sakura doesn't like you the same way?"
Lee wanted to object vehemently, but couldn't. She was right, he knew, and she knew it too, which was why she continued speaking.
"I mean, you've been after her for like, what? The last three years?"
Last three years was probably an understatement. He had been after Sakura since the moment he'd laid eyes on her. Lee looked down, ashamed. Here he was, telling his teammate that she was still amazing, even without validation from the Godaime, while he himself still couldn't look past any other girl aside from the pink haired one.
"Soooo…what was her reason for rejecting you this time?" Tenten drawled.
Lee sighed, as he tipped back his stool. "She didn't…outright reject me, but she wasn't impressed with anything I did either."
"In other words, you didn't woo her over."
"No," Lee looked rather miserable. "I don't know, Tenten," he slumped forward again, the chair falling forward with a thud. "I feel like I've tried everything, but nothing works! She still won't be mine."
If this comment would have come from anyone else, Tenten would have probably smacked them upside the head because it sounded so sexist. As it was Lee, she knew he didn't mean it that way.
"Sometimes I wonder if there's something I should change. Maybe there's something about me she doesn't like, and that's her reason for turning me down every time," Lee sighed dejectedly.
"Lee," Tenten said in disgust, as she poured herself her fourth glass of sake that night. "If you can't get a girl to like you for who you are, than you shouldn't be trying to get her to like you for who you're not."
On sudden inspiration, Lee turned her words right back at her. "And if the Godaime can't see you for the amazing kunoichi that you are, than you shouldn't be jealous because she's training someone else." He flashed her one of his blue ribbon smiles and a wink. Tenten felt her eye twitch. This time, she really did smack him upside the head.
"Lee! Those are two completely different things!" She yelled.
"Oww! Okay, okay, I'm sorry!" The boy cowered, as the weapons mistress turned her attention back to her sake. She was about to bring the glass to her lips, when her teammate's hand stopped her.
"Tenten, I think you drank enough for one night, don't you?" Lee asked gently, as he rubbed the sore spot on his head.
She wanted to respond that she'll drink as much as she likes, but had to concede that he was right. Besides, the alcohol was beginning to make her feel sick.
"Yeah, I guess you're right," she sighed. "We should start heading back, anyway. It's already dark."
Lee grinned at her as they stood up and paid for their drinks. "It's so unlike you to be drinking, Tenten." He commented.
"I know, but I've been feeling pretty down, and I figured a drink or two couldn't hurt." She closed her eyes and squeezed her temples. "I'm definitely going to feel this in the morning."
Lee kneeled down in front of her. "Come on my back," he instructed when she opened her eyes. "I'll carry you home."
"What?!" Tenten took a step back, her cheeks reddening. "No way! I'm absolutely fine; I can walk by myself, thank you!"
Lee looked her up and down, causing her blush to deepen. "But you just had three cups of sake, and that stuff is very strong," he answered her honestly.
"You mean very strong for you," she replied, brushing past him. A hand on her shoulder halted her movements, and she turned to glare at him. "I just said I'm fine!"
"Um, Tenten, you were just about to walk into a wall," Lee responded awkwardly.
There was a long pause. Finally, the weapons mistress gave a defeated sigh. "Alright, you can carry me home."
"Yes!" Lee looked excited, as he helped her onto his back. Tenten grimaced, wondering if she was going to regret this in a few minutes.
"But don't go so fast!" She said nervously, as he stood up, grasping her legs firmly. "And no jumps, or spins, or anything like that. I feel nauseous enough as it is, the last thing I want to do is throw up."
"Don't worry Tenten," Lee craned his neck, flashing her a winning smile. "I'll take good care of you."
He said it so sincerely, she found herself believing it. As he began to move, she buried her face in the back of his jounin vest to protect against the wind, his hair tickling her forehead as he flew forward.
True to his word, the ride was a smooth one. By the time they got there, Tenten was half asleep, as he set her down gently on her feet.
"Thanks, Lee," she murmured, stifling a yawn.
"Do you want me to help you inside?"
She shook her head. "No, thas okay, thanks for taking me home."
"No problem," Lee smiled, as he waited for her to go in before going to his own apartment.
Opening the door, she stepped inside, then paused and turned back around.
"You know, Lee," she said thoughtfully. "I don't see why a girl like Sakura isn't falling head over heels for you. If it were up to me, I wouldn't change a thing about you. I love you just the way you are." She gave a shrug as she closed the door, unaware that she had said anything strange or unusual.
Lee said nothing as he stared at the point where his teammate had disappeared. He felt rather awed and touched by her words. As he turned to leave, his steps were lighter than they had been that entire day.