AN: Written because when I fangirl, I fangirl hard. This was a piece I originally intended to be Chapter 11 of The Middle Ground, but it kind of got away from me and became something else. So it's just a piece about Team Gai, doing what they do. It could fit into the Middle Ground storyline, but it also stands alone. I really just wanted to write some more Tenten, because frankly I think her practical, professional, yet occasionally silly mentality is kind of fun. No real warnings, except randomness and only mild plot (I call it plot, anyway, but I'm gutsy like that).
The mission wasn't supposed to be a long one. Three days travel out, maybe a day or two to answer the challenge sent by the team of Hidden Stone shinobi, three days travel back. But for a variety of reasons, the trip had gone from one week to two, then three. The Stone shinobi had been slightly more difficult to defeat than she had expected (it would have been easier if they just could have fought to the death and been done with it, but no, Gai and the Stone team leader had decided to have a cooking competition.)
Then there had been a slight detour when Lee had heard of a taijutsu master in the next village over who turned out to be a master of the Drunken Fist. It had taken an extra four days just to help clean up after one 'lesson.' And of course, there had been that whole thing with the ballet student and the parrot and Tenten was seriously never going to look at fingerpaint the same way again…
And now they were about a day's travel from Konoha, maybe three miles from a nice river where she could conceivable wash the flour and powdered sugar from her kunai, and - oh yes, trapped inside an endless labyrinth of caverns deep underground.
It had been a really freaking long mission.
Well, at least we didn't get lost, Tenten thought resignedly. And using his special Byakugen eyes to guide us back to the surface did a lot for Neji's injured ego. The man may be a genius fighter, but he's a crap chef.
So they were almost home, which was the good news. The bad news was, the only exit out of the caverns was blocked by a massive slab of granite. Tenten watched Gai and Lee eyeballing the smooth stony surface and mentally rolled her eyes. "Lee!" Gai boomed after a moment. "Before us is the final challenge to our successful completion of our mission!"
"Yes, Captain!" Lee nodded vigorously, and put his face an inch from the slab, as if by proximity he could scrutinize it down to it's chemical makeup. Gai struck Pose Number 6: Prelude to an Announcement. Tenten stepped back to stand near Neji, one hand on her hip as her quieter teammate merely folded his arms into the ample sleeves of his robe. Here it comes, she thought, waiting with the patience born of years of experience.
"Yet this ponderous obstacle can be seen as a golden opportunity in clever disguise!" Gai beamed, teeth pinging even in the gloom of the cavern. He turned his head until he was facing the three of them. "And do you know why it is a glorious and fortuitous opportunity, my impressively talented teammates?"
Neji made no outward response. Tenten tilted her chin up slightly.
Lee, on the other hand, was beaming, eyes burning with the fiery passion of youth and strength and potentially indigestion, since he had bravely eaten most of Neji's cooking. "Because it is a chance for unusual and interesting training, Captain!" he replied, jabbing at the air with a wrapped fist for emphasis. "Gai-sensei, this was a marvelous idea!" He looked as thrilled as if the team had somehow contrived to present him with this imposing wall as an early birthday gift.
Tenten caught Neji's gaze and the small smile of the long-suffering passed between them. And there it is, she thought with a fond sort of exasperation. Always with the training.
"Indeed, Lee! An excellent observation. And now, Tenten, if you will draw one of your ever-sharp blades?"
"Sure thing, boss." She reached into her waistband and selected a compact naga dagger about four inches long from it's concealed pocket. It was one of the least of her weapons, but since there was nothing she could possibly do to this wall with a bladed weapon, it was likely Gai only wanted a sharp edge, not a destructive force. That was what explosives were for, after all.
Hey, now there was an idea.
"I could try to blow the thing open," she offered hopefully, suddenly eying the wall with an interest that was only slightly less intense than her louder, greener teammate. Behind her, Neji did not heave a sigh, although the effort probably cost him.
"An interesting idea! I commend your exuberance, Tenten. And doubtlessly this would be a good way to show your true power!" Gai smiled in delight. "But I have another idea in mind for our unsuspecting foe."
"Bah. I haven't thrown a bomb in ages," Tenten complained quietly to Neji.
He shrugged. "An explosion of that magnitude would potentially draw enemies to us when we emerged," he replied.
"Tenten, here!" Gai tapped the wall with one broad finger. "Use your keenly-honed eye and mark the straightest, longest line that you can along this surface."
"Okay," she settled on her heels, flipping the naga dagger comfortably in her hand as she considered the task. "I can make a perfectly straight line five feet long with one movement, triple that with two. You got a preference?"
"Ha hah! Excellent!" Gai responded, but before he could go on Lee struck a fist in the air again.
"Tenten! If you try, I'm confident you could draw a perfect straight line of six feet in one movement!"
Which would only require that she overcome her natural arm-span. Sure, she could probably do it, but frankly, the whole-do-it-better-every-single-time thing could be hard to put up with on occasion. But Tenten just smiled at Lee, having long since given up on throttling him. "Fine, fine," she waved a hand dismissively before Gai's loud "Yosh!" could continue on into a long, ardent speech about surpassing one's limits and so on. She wasn't really in the mood for it, and Neji's lips were slowly starting to purse, a sure sign that his patience was wearing thin. It had been a long mission, after all.
Okay, so drawing a six foot long line on a wall was not in any way hard. Drawing one that was perfectly straight in a single movement with a four inch blade would require a little more concentration and a slight overstretch of her cutting hand. If she leaned a little further in the spin, and flicked her wrist just so at the end...in the back of her mind, Tenten wondered briefly if she wasn't just as bad as Gai and Lee with their self-imposed 'tests' of strength.
Tenten took a deep breath, blew it out smoothly, and then in one fluid motion, spun. Her blade flashed through the gloom, and a sharp, faint note rang through the cavern. Then she stepped back, examining her work with a critical eye.
"Fantastic! A perfectly straight line, exactly six feet across and completely level with the horizon!" Lee gave her a huge thumbs up as Gai struck Pose Number 15: Congratulations On Surpassing Your Limits!
She smiled, shrugged, and took her place in the back by Neji, who nodded to her slightly in recognition of her achievement. "Neji, you're up!" Gai beckoned, and Tenten winked at his back as he unfolded his arms and stepped forward with only a mild air of weariness.
Gai opened his mouth to speak, but Neji held up a forestalling hand. "I know what you want me to do. This wall is six feet and five inches thick," he said with the sure confidence of the Byakugen eyes. "I normally only extend my Gentle Fist four feet, since it is usually unnecessary to go farther with most opponents."
"Then this will also be a challenge for you, my talented young teammate," Gai beamed at him.
But Neji merely shook his head. "No. I can extend my chakra through an obstacle at a single point much farther than six feet if I need to. The challenge will be doing it enough times along Tenten's line to make a significant impact on the structure of the wall."
The last sentence came out sounding more thoughtful than bored, and from the way he was carefully measuring her drawn line with his eyes as he crouched into his Gentle Fist stance, she knew he was more interested in the task than he would ever let on. It's all Gai-sensei's fault, she thought. He's turned us all into obsessive overachievers. Neji and I are just quieter about it.
"Do your best, my eternal rival!" Lee slapped Neji on the shoulder, then stepped back to stand by Tenten.
Neji smirked. "Of course."
He moved so fast he seemed to blur, and Tenten gave up trying to count the number of strikes. A moment later he stopped, and in the line Tenten had marked were hundreds of closely-placed minuscule holes where he had jabbed long, thin needles of chakra with pinpoint accuracy into the rock.
"Yosh!" Two voices yelled from either side of Tenten. Without turning around and with the perfect timing of long experience, Neji sidestepped neatly in time to avoid the sudden rush of green that came barreling towards him. Two lycra-clad arms lashed out, striking the wall just above the line at the exact same time. The double impact of both Gai and Lee's prodigious strength boomed through the hollow cavern, and then the wall buckled and tore along the perforated line. The top half of the wall groaned and slid forward. The far end of it dropped down behind the bottom half of the wall, leaving a large gap at the top. Tenten could see clear skies and the distant waving treetops through the hole.
Gai stepped back, already moving into Pose Number Four: Youth and Beauty Have Triumphed Again!, but Lee stepped forward, skin turning a deeper red than any blush could ever make him, and swung one more time.
BOOM! The top half of the wall shot forward like a cork from a bottle, sailed into the trees outside, and came to rest some fifteen feet or so from the now huge hole in the cavern wall.
"Unnecessary," Neji commented levelly in the quiet that followed the crash.
"I didn't want to be the only one who did not surpass themselves today," Lee replied, complexion once again relatively pale and voice equally level.
Tenten patted his shoulder. "It was kind of unnecessary, Lee." Then she leaned down and grinned conspiratorially at him. "Totally awesome, though."
He sparkled back at her. "I love this team."