do you remember, butterfly?
early summer, it's playing on repeat
Damn you, Shikamaru. I know it's your wedding and you could do as you please because you're the groom, but this is really too much! Honestly, what were you thinking? Ohmigod, I wanna die!
What would you do if you were forced to spend time with someone you really didn't want to see for, oh, the foreseeable future of your life?
Why, curse and insult your otherwise very charming and very capable boss, of course. After all, it was his doing that you had to be here, standing beside—beside this person, of all people—when you really could be doing something else way more productive.
At least that was what Tenten was doing, because clearly, this situation was Awkward with a capital A, and she could do without looking at him.
Standing beside her, Hyuuga Neji was still the same person she met almost five years ago. He still had that polite, painfully charming half-smile half-smirk on his lips, still had those cold white eyes that reminded her of winter, the silver moon, and her cat Mr. Socks at the same time, still had the same blank, impassive look that once in a blue moon made her forever wonder what he was thinking.
Taking a deep breath, Tenten tried to refocus on the matter at hand.
A) She was at a wedding. Shikamaru's wedding. Shikamaru's wedding to Ino, both of whom were her closest friends, the former being her boss at the event organizer company she worked for.
B) Apart from being one of the bridesmaids, she was also the wedding planner, and this crossed out any escape routes she thought of earlier, because not only she was a best friend, she was also a professional, and she couldn't leave things just like that.
C) Object of Her Supposedly Non-Existent Thoughts was looking quite hot, even if he was only standing there and doing absolutely nothing. Damn the suit they chose for groomsmen to wear!
D) No wait, he wasn't doing absolutely nothing, he was lookingat her.
E) And smirking that ever-so-familiar, boyishly charming, arrogant smirk of his she remembered so well.
"Why are you looking at me like that?" Tenten asked, unable to help herself.
"Nothing," Neji replied, his voice smooth, unfazed by her tone, "You look nice tonight."
Had this been any other occasion, she would probably blush. And feel happy because hello, he was starting to be open to her, and wasn't this a really good, congratulatory thing?
But this hadn't been any other occasion, and she wasn't blushing or feeling happy, although perhaps she should be.
"Thank you," Tenten muttered, rather grudgingly, "You don't look too bad yourself."
He looked at her and caught her eye. If it weren't so uncharacteristic, she was sure that he would be grinning right now.
But Neji was Neji, after all, and he settled for saying, "Honored."
Ohmigod, the shame.
Brows furrowing and clearing her throat, her eyes went down to her empty hands. She really could do with her clipboard right now. At least she could go over their checklist for the night once more and make sure that everything would go as planned. She was the bridesmaid, though, and therefore should have nothing with her except, well, nothing. Ino even took away her walkie-talkie before they entered the ballroom. Such blasphemy!
When she broke out from her reverie, Neji was staring at her, and he had That Look in his eyes. She knew That Look, because he always had That Look whenever he was about to confront someone, and his job as a high-flying attorney required him to show That Look a lot.
"We're talking, aren't we?" he asked suddenly, catching her off-guard.
She looked at her shoes, pretty golden stilettos she was willing to wear for Ino, and when she replied, her voice was weak, "If you can call this talking. I mean, we're in front of the guests so I'm sure we cannot—"
Stop rambling, Tenten, what are you so nervous about?
"Right," Neji apparently had the same train of thought as she did, because when she dared herself to look up, he was looking at her in amusement. When she finally stood up straight, he asked, his voice soft, "So tell me now, then. Why are you avoiding me, Tenten?"
"A-avoiding you?" Tenten returned, forcing herself to grin awkwardly at him, "What do you mean, Neji? Gee, I'm not avoiding you! I'm standing here, aren't I?"
"You wouldn't be standing here if you had a choice," he replied, matter-of-factly.
He had a point. If she had a choice, she would be running for the hills, because God, she loathed Awkward.
Neji seemed like he knew that, too.
"Look," he began, "I don't like this. I don't like not talking to you. I don't like seeing you and getting ignored, okay? It was a weird week without you, and I—" he paused, "What are you planning, Tenten?"
Tenten stared at her shoes again. She really wasn't planning anything. She didn't even understand why she did what she did, and oh, damn it. She wasn't a good liar and she was pretty damn transparent when it came to him.
His voice was hushed and low when he spoke again, "Did I do something wrong?"
"Said something wrong?"
He looked at her, half-annoyed, half-curious, and finally asked, "What is it, then?"
Making up her mind, she softly said, "Can I ask you a question, Neji?"
Giving her a look that meant yes, he stood there expectantly.
It might be one of those questions she really shouldn't ask because it was might be crossing the line, but their line was one that she didn't understand herself, and so she asked, "What am I to you?"
Seeing the surprise in his usually blank, emotionless eyes, Tenten took a deep breath.
"Talk to me when you're ready," she said softly.
And then left.
There were a lot of things she remembered about Hyuuga Neji.
The first thing that came to mind was that whenever he had this blank look in his eyes, it usually meant that he was thinking hard, and so was uninterested in his surroundings.
The second thing she remembered was that he liked miso ramen and secretly enjoyed going to Ichiraku's for lunch. Only he didn't do it often because, well, as good as Ichiraku's food was, the restaurant wasn't exactly high-class and he could do without being talked about among his Hyuuga higher-ups, which made number one on his hate list.
He liked meditating, but hated going to relaxation spas. He would put up with it for her, though.
Like most workaholics, he never remembered his birthday. She had to scribble it down weeks in advance in his agenda for the two years they were kindofsortof together. When he remembered, he always used it as an excuse to give her presents.
But the thing she always, always remembered although she tried not to was this: they were never really Officially Together.
She supposed it was that part of him that was… 'emotionally constipated'. She wasn't exactly sure why she decided to avoid him, either, wasn't sure what she would achieve but doing so. Did she want to see if he really cared, if he would miss her? Thinking back, it probably had been a lapse of judgment, a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing. Not one she regretted, though, because, hey, at least it got him to admit that she mattered. In a way.
"Hey," he handed her a glass of wine, "Enjoying yourself?"
"Yes," she grinned, "Thank you for this, by the way. And aren't you supposed to be… I don't know, out there? It's your wedding, Shika. You're supposed to… I don't know, greet guests and receive congratulations and all that jazz, I'm sure."
He tilted his neck and sat on the chair beside Tenten's, "I saw you talking to Neji earlier."
"What? Oh, yeah," her face dimmed, "We talked."
"Tenten…" Shikamaru sighed, the way he usually did whenever there was something troublesome coming his way. "Look," he said, "normally I don't meddle in people's business because it's so troublesome and neither do I really care whether or not you get together with Neji, but he requested to be put in the same post as you. Just so you know."
Pausing, she looked at the glass in her hand as if it were the most interesting thing in the room, "He probably… wants to practice his people skills. He's a lawyer, you know. Being put in the post where you have to greet people all the time will surely… hone his skills, or something, right?"
"Hyuuga Neji, wanting to be a people person? Tenten, don't make my toes laugh."
She glared and uncharacteristically, he snickered.
"Well, if that's not in, there still shouldn't be any hidden meaning to it," she insisted, "I mean, it's Hyuuga Neji."
Shikamaru raised his eyebrows. "I never said that there is any hidden meaning to it," he began, "but so what if it's him?"
"Dude, Shikamaru, it's Hyuuga Neji," Tenten laughed awkwardly, waving her hand, "It's Hyuuga Neji. I mean, he would never… he'd never… he'd never. Right?"
"Never what?" he gave her a lazy smile. "You know him better than I do, Tenten. He'd never what?"
"Shikamaru!" flustered, she glared at him again, blushing to the ends of her hair, "When did you turn into such a—such a jokey person?"
"When you suddenly went blind," he stood up and picked up his empty glass wine. "Well, I should go back to Ino now. Just… talk to him, okay? Oh, hey, Neji," he looked past Tenten's head, smirking at the figure standing tall behind her, "Since you're here, I'll leave her to you, then. Take care of her."
"Sure," Neji replied, his voice even.
"Ohmigod, Shikamaru, no—" Tenten quickly stood up, adding another mental note to kill Shikamaru as soon as possible. The groom he might be, and his wedding day it might be, but seriously, he was one of those who knew exactly what a failure she was when she encountered Awkward situations and just how much she wanted to hide behind a rock now.
But before she could run away, he caught her wrist and pulled her closer. When he met her gaze, his smirk was boyishly charming, and in his eyes was the look that told her he knew something she didn't.
"Are you going to run away again?" he asked, his voice husky, his grip on her wrist tightening a little, but not enough to hurt her.
"No," she glared at him, "and I wasn't running away. I was giving you time. To think."
"Good," he told her, reaching to hold her in his arms, "because now, you're going to dance with me."
I'm a strong and independent woman. I'm in a really good place in my life. I'm a twenty-seven-year old wedding planner and my job is very fulfilling. I don't need men to survive, and marriage is way, way down the road I can't even see it.
Taking a deep breath, Tenten mentally berated herself for spending more time than necessary to calm down.
It had been three days since the wedding; enough time for her to think what the hell was actually happening to him, to her, to them.
Why did she avoid him? Because she wanted to know if he cared. Did he care? He did, although he went on great lengths to hide it. Why did he have to do such a thing? Because he was Neji, goddamnit, and while he seemed like he knew all the things he should know and did all the right things at all the right times, he was still Neji, still the man who tried too hard because he wanted to get everything perfectly, still the man who was too prideful to admit just how much he cared, still the man who knew and understood her better than anybody else, still the man that—
—still the man she loved, and very possibly loved her too.
And in the end, when she really thought about it, it really couldn't get any simpler than that.
He would be waiting for her; she knew him, and it was just like him to approach her, bombard her with questions, and then retreat the moment she got unsure.
And now it was her turn.
As she braced herself, she extended her hand and gently knocked on the door. A rough, familiar "enter" came from behind it and she reached for the metal handle, slowly turning it, and then stepped into the room, closing the door behind her.
He looked up, "Tenten."
If he was surprised, he didn't show it. In fact, he looked so unfazed that she kind of wanted to throw a doughnut at him, the way she did throw one a long time ago when they got into one of their infamous food fights. It wasn't a very Hyuuga Neji thing to do, and thinking about it now, she was actually proud that she managed to get him to do sonething he would never otherwise have done.
"Why are you here?" he asked.
"Shikamaru told me something interesting," she began.
"Really?" keeping his eyes trained on her face, he signed a document, moving it from the first pile to the second. His face was impassive when he asked, in all nonchalance, "What did he say?"
"He said you requested to be put in the guest post with me."
Neji put down his pen and smiled lazily at her, "Did he, now?"
Tenten watched his finger trail the document line by line, took a deep breath and then asked, "Is it true?"
"Is what true?"
"Did you really want to…" she paused, "Did you really do that?"
Not missing a beat, he replied, "Yes."
"Why?" she asked.
There was a lengthy silence as he looked at her, studying her face. Very, very slowly, he picked up his fountain pen and twirled it with his fingers, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.
And then he asked, "Do you remember this?"
Tenten swallowed, and then sat down on the seat across him. She took the pen from him and fingered its smooth surface, her face softening, "How can I not?"
It had been last year, his twenty-eighth birthday. She'd given him this because he'd given her one, too, days in advance, and also as compensation for putting up a day of spa just for her. She had bought it using her paycheck—making it all the more special because it was the first time she handled an event without Shikamaru, just her leading the team, and it had turned out really successful. Knowing that, he decided to store it safely, but she made sure that he began using it because hello, that was what pens were for.
"You asked why I requested to be put at the same place with you," Neji started, reaching for her hand, "I had to if I want you back," he paused, and when he continued, his voice was husky and he looked a little nervous, "And I do, Tenten."
"You do what?" she asked.
He met her eyes, cold white clashing with warm brown, "I want you back. I want you here. I want you with me."
Tenten looked at him, searching for any sign that he was joking. When she found none, all of a sudden she wanted to laugh. Not because it was funny—it wasn't, really, but this whole situation was just unbelievable for her.
Because this was what she wanted, all along, from the start of their kind-of-relationship until… until now; some sort of declaration, some sort of clarification that he was hers and hers alone, that he wanted her just as much as she wanted him, that they were actually going somewhere, together.
And now it was being offered to her on a silver plate, and she didn't even have to ask. She hadn't expected this to happen—not now, at least, and not for the foreseeable future—but perhaps, she really shouldn't expect anything at all from the start.
Because this was Neji, after all, and he'd always be Neji no matter what. And God, she trusted him. This was Neji, and she trusted him with her life, with her secrets, with everything she had, with everything she could offer and more, because God, this was Neji.
This was her Neji.
And here he was, in front of her, saying the things that she wanted to hear ever since Day One.
He might not be on one knee the way she imagined he would be many, many, many months ago, but things never did go exactly according to how she planned it. She was a wedding planner, for God's sake, and of course she knew how it usually went. Never exactly according to her checklist, never exactly according to her plan, but it could be just as good or even better.
Because life was unpredictable like that.
"Tenten, I—" Neji paused and cleared his throat, "I know I made a lot of mistakes in my time. To you, to us. This may not be much, but I promise you that I'm learning and that I do cherish you, more than I've ever cherished anyone else." He cleared his throat once more, looking anywhere but her, because oh God, how can this be more embarrassing? "I was just—I was just hoping if you'd give me another chance?"
Sitting across of him and with an unreadable look on her face, Tenten's head was spinning.
But it didn't take her long to make a decision.
I'm a strong and independent woman. I'm in a really good place in my life. I'm a twenty-seven-year old wedding planner and my job is very fulfilling. I don't need men to survive, and marriage—
Ah, fuck it.
And so Tenten smiled brightly and took his hand, entwining their fingers together, "Yes."
I can see it now.
notes: ASDFGHJKL; this is super agonizing to write. I don't exactly know why. Also, I can't seem to use the phrase "I love you" in fic effectively anymore. It's all too corny for me, since I've been hearing it said thoughtlessly over the past few… weeks. Ugh.