Author's Notes: Well... it's been a long time since I attempted something like this, and it's about time to get back into the saddle. I've been inspired lately. Updates will be once a week, most likely. though life can sometimes get in the way and prevent me from fulfilling my duties. Let's hope not! I would've published sooner, but I had a funeral to attend. Anyway... Praise and encouragement will be eternally cherished and critiques are alwasy most welcome, but flames and other rudeness will be fed to the cat. Hope you enjoy! Oh, and the title means 'fate' or 'destiny', by the way.
Disclaimer: Nah, don't own 'Naruto', the world of Naruto of the characters therein. In fact, I hardly own anything. If I did, that would give a whole new meaning to the term 'canon'! But Nanao is mine. Touch her, and you will be fed to the cat as well.
The initial cause was a letter.
"You want to stay for dinner?"
The three were sitting on the steps in front of her apartment building. Or rather – two were sitting on the steps; Neji stood, straight-backed as always, gazing at the passer-by's, but she was sure he was listening. Tenten rested her head against the wall and looked at the green-clad man beside her.
She and her boys just got back from a mission in the Hidden Rain and they'd been reluctant to go in after finally encountering the sun again for the first time in a week. So Tenten had set down on the ground with her boys beside her, to chat a little about training the next day and which of the Genin that had been scheduled to compete in the Exam in four days would be promoted. But now her stomach was starting to grow a little insistent and clamorous.
Lee shook his head vigorously. "I'm afraid I cannot! I," he announced while pushing his chest forward and pointing both thumbs at it, beaming, "I have a date."
"How could we forget?" Neji commented, advocating his – if limited – commitment to the conversation.
Tenten chuckled. "Hush! That's right, the legendary Nanao... Tell me, Lee, when will we meet her?"
Lee pulled her to him for a quick hug, and then arose to slap Neji on the back forcefully. "Soon! You will be as enchanted as I am. I am going; I need to stop by the Yamanaka shop for roses!"
Tenten smiled and waved him goodbye, watching the very verdantly clad youth bounce off into the throng of people in the shopping district. He'd been even more exuberant ever since the girl he fancied, Nanao, had accepted his invitation for dinner the first time. That was three weeks ago, and they were still going strong. She aimed a fist at Neji's shoulder to whack him out of his coughing fit and stuck her key in the door lock.
Neji nodded. "Gladly."
Tenten frowned at the door knob. The door seemed to be blocked by something behind it. Tenten tensed in preparation to apply force, but Neji got ahead of her and swung it open with relative ease. She rewarded him with a glare.
"Thank you, Neji." The sarcasm in her voice was hard to miss, and so was his smirk. She was affronted, but decided to let it go in favour of answering the beckoning call of home and the ingredients to a delicious stir-fry in her fridge.
Neji followed Tenten up the stairs to her small maisonnette. As Tenten took off towards the kitchen, Neji took a moment to survey his surroundings. He'd been at her place before, and as during those previous times he now found it a most comforting, relaxing place. Tenten's home was small, sporting only a bedroom, a tiny bathroom, a relatively spacious living area and neat little kitchen, but it was light and airy due to the many windows. There was a homely feel to it, but still the whole place was just permeated with a distinct Tenten-like atmosphere.
Plants in cheerily coloured pots thrived in the window sill. An old but not tattered, very comfortable caramel-tinted couch dominated the living room, opposed by a wooden cabinet he knew contained Tenten's small television and a collection of her favourite films, next to the modest, cream-colored fireplace. The glass coffee table in between was covered with mission report forms, several books on weapons taken out from the library and a wayward teacup. A corner of the 'Girl!' peeked out from underneath the couch. It showed Tenten's feminine side.
A stranded roll of bandages was draped over the side table and the walls were hung with decorated scrolls here and there. On the mantelpiece, an old clock ticked quietly. The other side of the room was mainly occupied by a wooden dining table and the old wicker swinging chair that had belonged to her mother, followed by a wall made up of crammed bookcases. The gap in the middle led to a small, but equally light kitchen. He could hear Tenten puttering about in there; the amicable domesticity of it touched him. What would be on the menu?
Lee and he hardly ever backed down at a chance to scrounge a free meal at Tenten's, for the kunoichi managed to balance excellence at her job and great cooking skills. She used one and the same tanto to viciously chop leeks and limbs alike. Tenten would be Tenten.
Neji was just about to move to the kitchen and sneak a little peak in the pot when something caught his eye; the objects that had caused the door jam. A large pile of letters now lay haphazardly bunched up against the skirting board. His eyebrows lifted of their own accord. "Tenten?" he called out.
"It seems you've got mail." Quite the understatement, Neji mused. It had only been a week since she was last here... "A lot," he added.
Tenten appeared around the corner, confusion etched into her brow. She was holding a bowl and spoon, her stirring having momentarily paused. He motioned towards the pile. "Who're they from?" Tenten inquired.
Neji reached down and picked an envelope out of the myriad of paper, flipping it over. "From 'Corazon.'"
Tentens face cleared, and she laughed, once more disappearing. "This guy has been sending me letters anonymously. Corazon is his nom de plume."
Jealousy reared its ugly head and Neji instantly grew rigid. A secret admirer?
Without any regard for Tenten's privacy – this could be a lunatic; it was his duty to find out so that he could protect her! – Neji tore the envelope open, his fingers tense, and extracted a sheet of sickeningly pink paper. He perused it hastily.
Magnificent angel eyes, crashing waves of chestnut, perky-
The sudden influx of emotion was disconcerting. Neji crumpled the letter and stalked across the room towards the balcony. He needed fresh air to clear his head. This seething fury wouldn't do. Why did these incidents have to affect him so...?
Tenten got attention from men relatively often. Whenever they went on a mission together, but also just when they were out in town together after training, there were plenty of young men who attempted to make a move on her. And then there were those who she did not notice; secret admirers who stared and followed her around. She dealt with the most daring and obnoxious ones first by telling them off, then, if needed, by giving a demonstration of her weapon skills.
Even though she never indulged in any of the attention, he still felt the burning sting of jealousy whenever incidents like these occurred. He was a man. He appreciated the curve of her ass in tight pants and the toned muscles of her stomach, topped by perky breasts. Not to mention the way her hair just dusted the sweat glistening small of her back when she let it down after training or the way her legs looked in that summer dress she so seldom wore. But having others look at her the same way... Knowing that someone sent her such letters and that she didn't even mind or try to stop them...
She was his. The first time that thought had crossed his mind, he'd banned it. He had been fifteen, a teenage boy just discovering how appealing the other sex could be... And he'd known Tenten for years. It was difficult to accept thinking of her like that. But they were older now, wiser. Three years had passed since then, filled with sexual tension here and there. Three years of singledom for the both of them. Well, there had been a couple of nights with Lee and the Rookie Nine boys that he did not quite remember, and once she'd been more than flattered by the ministrations of a foreign son of a rich lord. But there had never truly been anyone but her. Sometimes, he wondered if she knew...
"Neji? Come inside!"
Her call brought Neji back from his reverie. He returned to her living room. Tenten was serving something that smelled incredibly appetising. She deserved some sign of gratitude for her efforts, did she not? "Thanks for inviting me up."
"Anytime." Tenten peered at him suspiciously. "Are you okay?" Neji realised his voice had sounded somewhat strangled. He dropped the crumpled letter onto the coffee table, but the pink had already caught her eye. She raised an eyebrow and arranged the dishes she carries on the table elegantly, shaking her head with a soft sigh.
"Ever heard of secrecy of correspondence?"
He huffed for lack of a better reply.
"They're only letters, Neji. What harm is there in that? Besides, it's kind of flattering." Tenten sat down, legs curled up beside her.
"Flattering? More like obtrusive and suspicious." He glared at the remainder of the letters near the front door, willing them to spontaneously combust.
"Any girl likes to be complimented, Neji. And besides, I can look out for myself. If you didn't realise that during the last seven years..."
"That's not it-"
"Yeah, I know. It's that you know I can look out for myself, you just don't want me to in case I get hurt, right? I know you don't like it when I take risks, but this is hardly risky. A lovesick guy is no threat, Neji." She scooped some more rice onto her plate, topping it with vegetables and soy sauce before handing him the bowl. "Eat."
"Tenten..." How did she always get him so well? It was uncanny; the way Tenten read his mind without even having to try, when his inner thoughts were usually a mystery to even his uncle or Hinata. He supposed an apology was in order, if only to keep the peace until he emptied his plate and could leave to hunt down a very unlucky man, but Tenten beat him to it.
She looked up from her plate with a cheeky smile, poking her chopsticks at him. "Next time let me open my door myself, and you're forgiven."
Tenten perched on the edge of the sofa and pried open the crushed pink note. She skimmed through the letter, smiling softly. She hadn't lied to Neji; she did find this secret correspondence flattering. But not as much as she used to, now. It was nice to know someone thought of her in such a way, but when it wasn't the right person, it didn't seem to matter much.
Tenten flipped one of the other envelopes, staring at the Spanish name written in loopy, slanted script. She had been hoping they were from Neji. But his earlier reaction to the letters had thrown that theory right out of the window. It was a silly notion, of course. If Neji was going to proclaim his undying love to her, he had plenty of opportunities to do it in person. And besides, the thought of Neji behind his desk late at night, wielding pen and pink writing paper to sing her praises was ridiculous.
She'd never really considered him a viable option. But some part of her mind had toyed with it, just enough to allow a small string of hope to be formed. "Snap," Tenten muttered, almost physically feeling her cord of hope sever. She flopped back into the sofa cushions, gazing at the ceiling wistfully. Love truly made a fool out of her.
Somewhere on a tiled rooftop near the shopping district, a self-proclaimed matchmaker snickered behind the cover of his mask. He observed the rigidity in a certain Hyuuga male's gait, feeling giddy with anticipation.
"Stage One - Complete!"
P.S.: Of course it's not Kakashi. How obvious do you think I am? Remember, remember, reviews are love!