Disclaimer: I don't own anything. Just the plotline. :)
Author's Notes: I wrote this for the Team Gai 100fanfic challenge that I'm starting over. The prompt for this fic was "Beginnings" and although this is a Team Gai-centered challenge, most of the fics will probably have Neji/Tenten in the background because I ship them like crazy. Ahaha. Anyway, here's to the first fic out of a hundred.
The Good Days
In the beginning, they were simply individuals.
They each had their own pasts, presents, and goals for the future. From Gai's point of view, despite the way their personalities clashed, they were perfect. They were the epitome of youth.
"The epitome of youth?"
Tenten raised a delicate eyebrow at the expression. It was always youth when it came to their team. Leave it to Gai to still see them as the standard of youthful even though they were all adults. Neji let out a light snort and forced himself not to even bother rolling his eyes. Even Lee looked unconvinced.
"But beloved sensei, as much as it pains me to say this, we're not the youth we once were," Lee replied, bottom lip quivering in what Tenten believed was shame. Tenten prayed he would refrain from bursting out in tears. Grown up or not, some things would always remain the same and as endearing as it was, she wasn't really looking forward to getting kicked out of the café for causing a scene… again.
"Don't you have a new group of kids to stick that awful label onto?" Neji pointed out. It was more of a statement than a question but Gai answered it anyway, as he did to most of the indifferent Hyuuga's remarks.
It was true Gai had been assigned a new three-genin cell since the three of them had all ranked up and acquired proper occupations to make use of their high ranks. So what exactly made the three of them more youthful than kids who were several years younger than them? Surely Gai wasn't serious.
"They are youthful too, but you three are the torch-bearers of youth! The top of the top! The burning definition of what it means to be young!"
The three of them remained unmoved.
It was difficult to believe that a bunch of restless genin, straight out of the Academy and ready, and eager, to learn the true ways of the life of a shinobi, were not more youthful than the three of them. Though they weren't exactly old, they definitely were not the same balls of energy they were when they first met Gai.
Of course, years of being a ninja did that to you, regardless of whom you once were. Even Gai, the most vibrant of them all, had lines of age on his grinning face and eyes that knew death almost too well, seeing it countless times in the field, in spite of the laughter that did its best to hide it.
The three of them were sure those lines, those pains, those experiences; they were all starting to show on their faces too.
Lee choked back a sob, shining eyes reflecting how deeply touched he was by their former sensei's kind words. "G-Gai-sensei!"
The exclamation earned a couple of stares from to civilians occupying the nearby booths. Tenten quickly gave Lee a couple of gentle pats on his back, hoping to calm what felt like the rising tension of Lee's infamous waterworks. Neji nudged Lee in the thigh as a warning when the owner of the café began to eye Lee warily.
Gai beamed at them and took a sip of his coffee.
Neji absently wondered if the coffee was getting to his head. Or if this was, perhaps, the result of one too many team Gai gatherings in the coffee house. If Gai and his ridiculous notion of youthfulness was the result of all the caffeine from their meetings, Neji was glad he always ordered water.
Though he'd probably have to avoid Lee and possibly his own fiancée later seeing as they usual ordered similarly to Gai.
"Remember the time we all first met?" Gai said with a nostalgic look that would have rivaled a doting grandfather. Neji and Tenten shared a look. How on earth could they forget? Lee furiously rubbed at his watering eyes and nodded, his evenly trimmed bangs flying up and down with the gusto.
"Of course, Gai-sensei! Neji was the brooding enigma, my ultimate rival with pale, seemingly unseeing eyes that were in actuality, ALL SEEING! He was same as he is today. And Tenten was the beautiful flower!"
Tenten twitched. Was?
Gai nodded and gave Lee a thumbs-up, which made the younger male puff up in pride. The memory of their first meeting seemed like it had been a long time ago but was still vivid in their minds, as if it had only been yesterday. Neji gently placed his hand over Tenten's in a gesture of his acknowledgment of that fateful day and also in an attempt placate the irritation that was currently present on the young woman's face.
Tenten sent Neji an exasperated look.
"And sensei! Remember the time Neji was defeated and changed by our beloved Hokage? We must thank Naruto for bringing our team to the next stage of closeness for had Neji not met his defeat, who knows where we would be today!"
It was now Tenten's hand attempting to placate Neji.
"Let's not forget the time Lee foolishly battled the boy from the Sand and almost got himself destroyed, managing to mangle himself to the point of utter uselessness as a ninja."
It was a somewhat typical statement from Neji directed towards Lee, though his tone was slightly bitter in borderline childish retaliation. Lee heartily clapped a hand on Neji's back, oblivious to the negative tone in the remark. His grinning face only further annoyed his pale-eyed friend.
"It was the utmost peak of my life! I am honored you remember!"
Neji sighed. He gave up.
"Our poor flower, Tenten, had suffered so much during that time," Lee frowned, remembering that Tenten had made many trips to the hospital to visit them. Gai-sensei too. Neji grunted in agreement.
"Boys will be boys," Tenten smiled. "So you worry me every now and then. At least you make me proud."
Lee smiled widely in return. "Anything for Tenten!" He paused, realizing his words (and well aware of just how possessive Neji was when it came to the petite brunette, despite knowing that Lee only saw his beloved female teammate as a best friend and sister-figure, nothing more), stealing a glance at the male to his left. He expected a scowl to form on the pale man's face, but instead, a rare smile graced his features.
"Anything for Tenten," Neji echoed casually. Tenten laughed, finishing her cup of coffee. Lee brightened and took a final swig at his own mug, letting out a satisfied sigh when he finished. A comfortable atmosphere settled over the group and Gai, who had been surprisingly quiet during their reminiscing, chuckled lightly.
"Those were the good days," Lee remarked, setting his mug down. Tenten hummed in agreement.
"Don't you three have a meeting to attend?" Gai said casually, a warm smile on his face. "If I can remember correctly, Naruto-kun wanted you to be there thirty minutes early."
They blinked at him, recognition making its way onto their faces. Neji scoffed and took final sip of his water before standing up. "That idiot is going to be late anyway. Why ask us to come thirty minutes early when he, himself, is going to end up thirty minutes late?"
"Thank you for reminding us, Gai-sensei!" Lee grinned. "We'll be right on time."
Gai remained seated as his three students made their way towards the door. Lee stepped out first and Neji held the door open, waiting for Tenten to follow Lee. As she took a step outside, she turned around and waved at the older man, a bright smile on her pretty face. "See you soon, sensei! Let's meet up again next week, okay?"
Gai beamed and shot them a thumbs-up in response, eliciting a giggle from the girl in the doorway. "Of course, dear students of mine!"
Neji gave Gai a small smile and a short wave good-bye before letting the door close behind him.
Gai watched their backs as they disappeared down the street, overfilled with pride at the sight of the three of them casually walking together. Tenten's hand had woven with Neji's, whose other hand reached forward to cuff Lee in the head as something the other boy said. Tenten laughed cheerfully, ruffling Lee's hair and Lee grinned sheepishly, rubbing at the back of his neck.
As they walked out of sight, Gai drank the last of his coffee, smiling to himself.
Ah, to be young.
"Those were the good days."
Gai chuckled inwardly remembering the silly remark Lee had made a couple of minutes ago. He shook his head and gently set down his cup. Those were the good days, but in Gai's opinion, these days were much better.
These are the good days.
Without a doubt.