Birds on a Wire

Chapter 1: For the Sake of the Mission

Tenten sighed and glared at the formalwear draped across the foot of her bed at the inn. This was ludicrous. The mission had been completed, the scroll gathered and the opposition neutralized. Staying in the village for the festival was, quite frankly put, a complete waste of her time and energy. Not to mention cliche and ridiculous. With a small pout, the woman surmised that Tsunade had been drunk off her ass when she'd written up the mission itinerary.

Not that she would ever say such a thing to Tsunade's face. Sighing, Tenten picked up the yukata and crossed into the bathroom. She'd discovered that as she grew older and more experienced, the mission requirements became increasingly centered around the general mantra of 'shut up and obey.' As such, she'd become a master at keeping a running dialogue of complaints inside her head and a content, borderline-vapid smile on her face.

It took a few minutes to arrange the robe-like garment and the stiff, wide bow into some semblance of order and another minute or two to pull her hair from their customary buns and arrange the brown locks around her shoulders. Those tasks completed, she closed her eyes and formed a hand seal for a transformation jutsu. Upon opening her now-green eyes, she grinned at the mirror. Chikami Suzuki, dressmaker and visitor, was ready for the festival.

Not that she'd be going unescorted, of course. "Hey, princess, you done yet?" Tenten called out, hopping out of the bathroom as she slipped sandals on her feet. "I swear, he takes longer than any girl I-" Tenten bit her tongue when she opened the door to be faced with an irate man with his arms crossed and a scowl on his handsome face. His brown eyes glared at her.

"You should speak, Chikami," the man in question said smoothly. Tenten smiled. Even with a transformation jutsu on his hair and his famous eyes, she'd recognize his voice any day of the week. Neji Hyuuga.

"Sorry sweetheart," Tenten said, slipping her hand into his larger one with practiced ease. "Putting on a yukata can be a pain."

Neji raised his eyebrows slightly at her as they walked out of the doors. "In case you haven't noticed, I've put one on myself. I didn't find it a very taxing endeavor." Shocked, Tenten glanced over at Neji and looked away just as soon. As many years of training as she'd had, it was difficult hiding her blush when he looked so handsome. "But you look very lovely, no matter how long it took you to put it on."

The familiar feeling of her heart beating painfully registered once again, and Tenten had to swallow several times before she chastised herself for being a silly love struck girl. He was Masaru talking to his new wife, Chikami. "Thanks, love," Tenten said, reaching up and patting his cheek affectionately with the hand not enclosed within his own.

A comfortable silence stretched around them and Tenten sighed before surveying the crowd, her thoughts fluttering chaotically. Sometimes she wondered if Tsunade suspected Tenten's feelings and sent her and Neji on undercover missions together on purpose. It had happened plenty of times since Tenten had become a Jonin, and she was beginning to fear there was a reason other than coincidence.

Of course there was a reason other than coincidence, Tenten reminded herself tartly. It was because they worked well as a pair and were the only two in Team Gai capable of acting like normal human beings. She sighed quietly. Even drunk, Tsunade wouldn't be horrible enough to put her and Neji together to spite her feelings.

Frowning slightly, Neji glanced over at Tenten. It was the second time she'd sighed in the last few moments, and she'd ignored him the first time he'd tried to get her attention. "Chikami?" He called out the second time, but she was engrossed in the crowd. Neji looked in the direction she was gazing, wondering if there was something he should be concerned about. Like a male she was staring at.

...Or an enemy ninja.

Priorities, Neji, priorities.

"Chikami!" he uttered, more forcefully, squeezing her small hand.

Tenten was returned to reality with a bit of an unpleasant jolt. "What?" she asked, inwardly cringing at her own stupidity. Way to impress him, the woman thought, frowning. Zoning out on a mission. Like some Genin.

The small cough Neji let out could have been masking a chuckle, but soon his face was completely composed. "Just wondering if everything is all right, dear. You seem somewhat inattentive."

She turned a light shade of pink. Great, now he was calling her out on her foolishness. "Oh, I was just thinking it was a bit of a waste of time going here," Tenten mumbled. It was somewhat close to the truth. Close enough anyway.

"You've never been particularly fond of festivals, have you?" It was one of the traits he found endearing about her. Most of the other females in Konoha would be insufferable the week before any major event, but not her. "Don't worry. We should be home soon enough. Are you homesick or something, Chikami?" he asked her, a bit curious.

Her shoulders lifted quickly in a small shrug. "A little bit, I guess." And this mission is breaking my heart, she added silently. Like all those other ones where you pretend you actually love me and I don't have to do any acting.

Neji nodded and tugged her off in one direction. "If you continue to mope, I'll be forced to lock you in a room with Lee when we return. That would certainly cheer you up," he said wryly.

Pursing her lips, she threw Neji a sharp look. "As if. That would scare people more than it could ever cheer them up. And somehow I fear that I'd end up in spandex at the end of my confinement." It was an image Neji forced out of his mind, though certainly not one he found unpleasant. "Where are we going, Masaru?"

"Over to the food stands. You're usually less insufferable when you've been fed, Chikami," he said dryly. She punched him in the shoulder with her free hand and huffed. "Somewhere that serves dumplings?" Neji asked.

At this comment, Tenten softened a bit. Although she had known him for so long, she hadn't quite expected him to know her favorite food. "Yeah. That sounds good. A noodle stand for you? There should be some good soba somewhere around here." She was rewarded with a nod and a small smile.

Ten minutes later found the two of them wandering around, a few plate of dumplings and some takoyaki in Tenten's right hand and her left still nestled in Neji's right. All for the sake of the mission, of course. What a horrible, bittersweet feeling.

Neji waved his left hand in a somewhat agitated manner, almost upsetting the cup of herring soba, his favorite food. "There's no place for us to sit here," he complained. "There are too many people here."

Tenten giggled quietly. "You were the one telling me not to mope a while ago, Masaru," she teasingly reminded him. Suddenly, she jerked Neji along, weaving through the throngs of people to settle on a small bench. "Here we go. You can stop whining now, sweetheart," Tenten said, trying not to laugh at his expression.

Instead of dignifying that with a reply, Neji began to eat, only getting a couple of bites into his noodles before he made a face. "There's probably more grease than noodles in this. Festival food is disgusting," he sighed.

She looked over at him, a stick of dumplings halfway to her mouth and a puzzled expression on her face, and for a moment Neji couldn't think of having ever seen anything or anyone cuter. Mission, he reminded himself angrily. You're on a mission and she's your damn teammate. "How can you not like festival food? It's about the only good thing about festivals," Tenten said obstinately.

"It's disgusting," Neji repeated.

In return, Tenten simply smiled. "Once or twice a year, it's not about to kill you, Masaru." He scoffed but offered no further comment, opting instead to eat his noodles in whatever remnants of his dignity he could gather. Festival food. Really.

About halfway through the cup, he gave up on it and put it beside him on the bench, not willing to stand to find a trash can and lose Tenten in the process. Instead, he placed his hands on the bench to either side of him and watched all of the people as they walked by, a parade of colors in front of his very eyes.

Few people, it seemed, were there alone. Those who were seemed to always be looking around, Neji noticed, craning their necks for a glimpse of a familiar face. Hungry for attention and the company of others. The lonely ones, the ones who weren't searching, looked downcast. The bright colors and cacophony of sounds seemed not to effect them; they were wrapped up in their loneliness.

Before Team Gai and the first few months–maybe even a year–after joining, Neji had been one of those. A visitor to the festival that couldn't be cheered by the spectacles around them. He'd been wrapped up in his own anger and self-righteousness and sorrow, too occupied trying to beat the world to be cheered up by it.

Later, he was always accompanied by Lee, who was unsufferable unless he pretended he was having (or, more often than not, had but pretended he was not having) at least a little bit of fun. Often, Tenten would join the two of them, though she sometimes preferred the company of other females. He couldn't quite blame her for trying to avoid Lee, but such times were sometimes mentally scarring for him.

And now? Neji's eyes lit on a couple, a grinning female hand-in-hand with a male who looked exasperated but happy beyond words. He could feel the warmth from Tenten's hand, which rested centimeters away from his own. Of course they seemed like a couple, he reminded himself bitterly, it was part of what they were being paid to do. Just another role until they went back to their normal selves. Friends and teammates, sparring partners but nothing more. Never anything more. Hoping was foolish. She'd want someone else.

Someone who wasn't branded.

And he? Well, the Hyuuga clan would have their own plans for him. His future was never only his own. Fate and the clan both tugged the marionette strings.

Tenten glanced over at Neji. His eyes were fixed forward, seemingly staring into the crowds, but they were also uninterested and far, far away. She bit her lip and grabbed his hand, startling him out of his reverie. "Well, if you're done eating, Masaru, let's go. I want some cotton candy before the fireworks start, please."

To Neji, the smile that fell over his lips tasted bittersweet. "Chikami, is there ever a time when you're not hungry or craving sweets? Are you pregnant already?" he questioned her. God. Pregnant Tenten. Now that was an image that was both frightening and enthralling.

"I resent that, jerk," she responded to his first question, jerking him unsympathetically from the park bench. "And no, I don't think so. Guess it's your lack of ability to perform, Masaru," she said sweetly, looking pleased with herself.

Well, that was a bit of a low blow, Neji though, amused. Although Tenten didn't exactly avoid underhanded techniques. "And I resent that. Come on, let's go get your cotton candy."

The brunette grinned her approval and pulled him with her as she began to meander towards the stalls, depositing her empty plate and into the trash bin she passed. Neji followed and tried not to gag at the smell emanating from the waste inside of it. He would never understand how she could stand the food served at these festivals.

Only a few moments passed before Tenten's sharp eyes spied a gaudy booth advertising cotton candy. Her treat acquired, she began to happily eat it until a loud booming sound distracted her. "Oh, the fireworks are starting! Come on, Masaru, let's go find a good place to watch them!" she exclaimed, pulling him with her as she hurried away from the stands and towards the grassy knoll they'd passed on their way in.

He sighed good-naturedly and allowed himself to be towed along with her. Once she had found a spot to her satisfaction, the two settled down, leaning back to gaze at the sky earnestly, though now only stars showed. "Well, I thought they were starting," Tenten said, not pleased.

Neji was about to reply that perhaps it had just been a single firework as a reminder the show would soon be starting. Before he could, though, a voice cut in. "Chikami! Masaru! Hey!" A short redhead bounded towards them, seemingly unhindered by the especially tall blonde man whom she was dragging along.

"Huh? Oh! Hey, Isari," Tenten sang out, patting the grass next to her. "Come on, sit down. I rushed over here 'cause I thought the fireworks were starting out, but I guess not," she said.

The woman named Isari waved a dismissive hand. "No, no. They always do that about five minutes before the show starts. Oh well, it's all fine. Hey, have you guys met Hikaru?" The man in question raised a hand in greeting and smiled. He was certainly good looking enough, Tenten decided, though she certainly had it better.

"Are you guys together?" Tenten asked slyly, grinning. Isari grinned and nodded, and Hikaru blushed but smiled. "Ah, you're such a cute couple," Tenten laughed. "Good luck with her, Hikaru. You'll need it," she joked. The days she'd spent with the redhead (the days they'd spent doing actual work, she though, still slightly annoyed), she'd learned of Isari's excessive energy and endless capacity for silliness.

The aforementioned woman only laughed. "Like you should talk. You can totally tell you and Masaru are newlyweds. Hanging off of each other like you can't be apart for a moment." A cunning look caught in her eyes, and she grinned sneakily. "You know what, though? Something's wrong with the two of you."

It took a deal of effort for Neji to keep alarm from showing across his features. "Oh, really? And what is that, Isari?" he asked cooly.

The young woman smiled trickily at the two of them. "We-ell," she said, dragging out the word, "you've been around for a week here on vacation, right?" At their nodded agreement, she went on. "A whole week I've seen you, and I've never once seen you two kiss! That's completely crazy from a new husband and wife! What, are you two shy or something?"

Feeling his face burn, Neji hazarded a glance at Tenten, who looked every inch as red as he felt. As she began to stammer out a reply, a notion gripped him and wouldn't let him go.

Just kiss her.

A simple enough action. It would put to rest Isari's suspicions and fears, and if Tenten questioned it he could say it was all for the mission. Furthermore, he wanted to do it. To feel her lips on his. To see her reaction.

It was crazy, ridiculous, impulsive. Things he wasn't and never had any intention of being there.

Yet sitting there in the twilight, the soft glow of the festival surrounding them in what seemed like a soft gold halo, Neji couldn't think of a single reason why not. There were plenty, he knew. And a nagging voice in the back of his head told him that he'd regret it when they were away from the comforting and warm ambiance of the festival.

But he couldn't think of a single reason not to kiss the woman whom he had loved so long.

He leaned over and placed his hand on her chin and tilted it up. So many emotions flashed behind her eyes that he doubted he could have deciphered them even with the help of the Sharingan. Hope was last, and he almost pulled away. He couldn't do it, shouldn't do it. He couldn't stop himself.

As her lips parted, he captured them with his own. Somewhere above him, the fireworks had started, but he couldn't care less. Tenten felt thousands of questions bubble up her throat, but she swallowed them before she could force herself to pull away from him and ask them. The mission, it was all for the mission. So why, she wondered, did it feel like her heart was swelling to the bursting point? Why, Neji pondered, did it feel like his heart was beating so deeply, so rapidly that it ached?

Somewhere they both could feel something tearing, and amazing as the kiss was, as they pulled away, each would have given anything for it to never have happened.

Everything would go to hell in a handbasket; they knew it. All for a stupid, wonderful kiss.

AN: Hope you guys enjoyed this chapter! The remaining ones will definitely not be so fluffy, so sorry if I got your hopes up. Thank you for reading.