I do not own Naruto or any of its characters.
I thought I'd try out some other pairings other than the NaruSaku I seem to be spewing out lately. And of all the possibilities, I just had to choose NejiTen. I can't help but feel that they're horribly OOC here, but I did enjoy the procrastination excuse...
Sometimes Tenten can't help but wish that Neji would do something wrong.
He's hardly ever faltered. From the day she met him, he was precise and efficient. He didn't hesitate when they tried to walk on water, and since he did not get a single drop of water on him, the towel and words of encouragement Tenten had been holding went to Lee.
Neji always succeeded. Always. Except when he had lost to Naruto Uzumaki in the Chunin Exam, but even then he had gotten something out of what would have been a loss. Tenten was secretly grateful toward Naruto. Naruto had taught Neji the meaning of mistakes and defeat, had helped him step outside his ring of fate. Naruto had taught Neji how to smile, how to make the occasional joke, and how to pretend that he did not know Lee whenever his enthusiastic teammate did something eccentric.
Tenten wished Naruto had taught Neji how to be imperfect.
She continued to discover just how self-sufficient Neji was when they joined ANBU together. They fought together in perfect tandem, the sign of good teamwork and friendship. But too many times Tenten had fumbled for bandages only to discover that he had already treated his own wounds and was inspecting hers.
He was too damn perfect, and that irritated her.
Or maybe she just didn't want to acknowledge that he didn't need her.
She tells herself that she doesn't need him. After all, it's not like she has a crush on him. It's not like they're anything more than friends.
Neji doesn't seem to notice the change. For some strange reason that Tenten cannot understand, the two of them grow a little closer during this period. They see each other less (she makes less of an effort to be around him) and their conversations live a little longer than they usually do the next time they meet. Neji even invites her to lunch sometimes. Lee tags along whenever he can, and Tenten is strangely alright with her enthusiastic teammate's presence. Lee is a very good distraction.
I can do this, Tenten thinks. Of course she can.
Then her ANBU team leaves on a mission without Neji because he has a solo mission to Mist. It doesn't go over well. Neji isn't there to forewarn them of enemies, giving her no time to lay traps. Neji isn't there to pull everything together. Neji isn't there to watch her back and she can't stop looking for his even though she knows he's not there.
She goes straight to the Hyuuga compound after she bullies the medics into letting her leave. The guards know her by now and they don't even try to stop her. Tenten crosses the courtyard, finds Neji's room and stands outside it. She knows he got back from his mission a day before she did.
Five minutes later he steps out in his kimono, as if he's been waiting for her. But she knows she woke him up. Three in the morning and no sign of bed hair. Perfect.
He sees her and stops, taking in her broken arm. He sits outside with her and doesn't speak. He always waits for her to start conversation, but today Tenten can't bring herself to satiate him – she's the one counting sheep in her head so she won't start counting bodies; she's the one clasping her hands together so they won't tremble.
"I should have been there," Neji says flatly after a while.
Tenten shrugs and rocks a little.
"How are the others?"
"The rookie didn't make it," Tenten hears herself mumble.
Neji closes his eyes briefly. "Ah." He's always so composed, never letting emotions slip. It makes Tenten wonder if he's heartless sometimes. But of course he isn't. Neji is a human and all humans have hearts.
"Are you alright?"
She bites her lip.
He's never needed her to comfort him. He keeps his thoughts to himself and half the time she doesn't know what he's thinking. He always brings the team back alive, even if he has to cling to his life by a thread to ensure that. If Neji had been there, Rookie would still be alive. If Neji had been there, Tenten could have been carried back in his arms because Neji is Neji and he doesn't like her getting hurt.
"This isn't like you," he says. She doesn't need to ask to know that his mission was a success. He didn't need her at all.
She leans into his side and feels him stiffen. She waits for him to wrap his arm around her, but all he does is awkwardly rub her back. Tenten closes her eyes. She couldn't expect more from Neji. "I need you," she whispers, and doesn't see his eyes widen with imperfect surprise because she's already asleep.
They never talk about that night again, but from then on Neji makes sure that he never leaves Tenten alone on a mission.
Tenten spends more time with Lee now. She's not avoiding Neji, of course not. He'll find her if he needs her. Which would be never.
She was wrong.
Two months after the incident, Neji finds her in the teahouse. Much to Tenten's surprise, he drags Lee outside for a long discussion. Tenten has never seen Neji so uncertain of himself.
Neji stalks back inside without Lee and gulps down the nearest cup of tea.
"Uh, Neji? That's my cup," Tenten tells him.
He looks at it with narrowed eyes and places it back down. "So it is."
She blinks at him. "So," she says, and she's more than happy to start the conversation now. "Want to eat something? And where's Lee?"
"We'll order later," he answers absently, completely ignoring her question about their teammate.
"Is there something you want to talk about?"
He looks uncomfortable. "The clan elders," Neji mutters. "They want me to marry Hinata."
Tenten chokes on her tea. Wordlessly, he hands her a napkin. She wipes her mouth and ignores the pang in her chest. "Congratulations," she croaks.
"I don't want to."
An eyebrow raises despite the small spark of... hope. "Why not?" she asks.
"Because I just don't," Neji growls, and Tenten giggles because he looks so frustrated. Perfect? Not anymore. He shoots her an irritable glare that silences her, but his eyes soften an instant later. "The elders only want me to marry her because my Byakugan is more potent... I don't want to marry my cousin."
"Why not?" Tenten asks again, and moves on before he can open his mouth. "You'll become part of the Main House, won't you? Isn't that..." Her voice trails off. She knows that she is wrong. Neji never wanted to become part of the Main House.
It's the way he's looking at her that makes her realise. Or rather, the way he's not looking at her. He looks anywhere but at her, but she catches his glances, and he quickly diverts his gaze as if he doesn't know how to look at her anymore. And Tenten starts laughing in disbelief. "You're kidding me," she gasps out. Her voice sounds a little thick and her eyes are wider than they have ever been.
Neji remains silent.
Tenten gets a hold of herself and swallows. "Neji... you can't be serious. You actually..." She's waiting for him to look at her like she's gone crazy and tell her that's she is wrong. But he doesn't – and was he blushing?
"This is ridiculous," he grumbles, but doesn't leave. She can't wrap her mind around the realisation that the only thing keeping him in his seat is her.
"When did this start?"
"I don't know." He's staring down at his hands. "I don't understand."
Her heart plummets a little. "You don't like this, do you?"
He finally meets her eyes. "I don't understand why I do," he says.
"You have to marry Hinata," she says carefully and slowly.
"I don't want to. I don't have to. They can't make me." This was Neji. Neji who followed orders without questions. Neji who was willing to defy his clan... for her.
She couldn't believe this.
"Tenten." He leans forward, gazes at her. "Why are you crying?"
"I'm not crying..." She wipes at her face and smiles at him. "Lee was telling me something before you kicked him out. He said we were a love triangle."
Neji's face contorts. "Lee is-"
"Tenten, Neji and Neji's perfection. Love triangle."
His eyes widen and he sits back. He pours more tea but doesn't drink it. Finally, he says, "Why perfection?"
"Um... because you're perfect?"
"I am not perfect, Tenten."
She looks at his frown. "Okay, maybe not. But you like perfection. I... I like you, you like perfection, and perfection..." Perfection likes... her?
"Perfection doesn't like you, Tenten," Neji says softly.
"Really? Then who likes me?"
She's got him now and she's fighting giggles as Neji Hyuuga goes rigid. She's not scared at all. She has nothing to lose and everything to win.
"I need you," is all he says.
They don't kiss – they don't even hold hands. Tenten wonders if Lee is watching them. The teahouse seems eerily silent. Neji is clumsy when it comes to her and she finds that she likes him this way. His clan will not be happy but she knows that Neji will do as he says. No one can make Neji Hyuuga do something he didn't want to.
Neji sips some more tea. His brow is smooth now, and his expression peaceful.
"Neji, you're drinking from my cup again."
He smiles at her. "I know."
He really was perfect.