A/N: Prepare to be doused in an unhealthy layer of fluff. That is my only warning.
P.S. This story takes place during World War II. I found it hard to incorporate this into the text so I will notify you of that now before confusion ensues.
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.
Tenten was curled under her duvet as the first rays of morning sunshine wormed through her curtains and cast a mellow glow on her bed. She pulled the comforter over her exposed shoulder, making a small noise of contentment as she basked in the warmth of the sun.
The faded yellow paint on the walls of her kitchen was chipped, the tacky wallpaper in her room was peeling at edges, there was crack in the ceiling of her living room from which rainwater dripped during a storm, and some of her windows were permanently coated in a layer of dirt. However, in the early hours of the day, half conscious, half dreaming, she escaped all her worries.
She could hear her neighbors fighting next door over some miniscule nuisance, she could hear the grocer downstairs prepare his shop for the day, and she could hear the tap in her bathroom leak drop after drop into her sink, but this was all a dull hum in the background of her reality. At the moment, the loudest sound she could perceive was the clock ticking on her bedside table; every twitch of the hands signaling another minute of her life lived.
She swallowed, her throat dry from the hot, sticky weather. She reached for the bottle of sake on her nightstand, frowning when she shook it: empty. Sighing, she rolled onto her back and threw it across the room, the clang as it shattered to the ground barely audible to her ears.
Last night was a blur to her. Between her latest spontaneous inspirations for her next romantic novel (all which mind you, ended up in the garbage with whatever portion of the manuscripts she had typed) and the nth bottle of sake (far over her alcoholic limit) she recalled nothing. It didn't bother her in the least, she decided, wiggling her toasty toes, for her past held no meaning to her, nor was it ever dwelled upon on any occasion. Whether it was an hour, a minute, a second before, she refused to delve into detail. It was because of her resentment of her history, quite a peculiar hatred for a young, accomplished woman like her, that she was dubbed as an enigma at her work place (a quaint café a mere five blocks from her apartment), and any place hereafter to which she paid a visit.
A small smile twisted her lips, and mirth filled her eyes at the very thought of her nickname. She'd slip in with the stealth of some government trained agent, and then she leave through the back door, her footsteps leaving no tracks on the dusty floor, nor an echoing sound between the walls of the facility. She had lived her life as a hushed whisper, fading into the background. Yet at the same time, she had the ability to charm anyone she set her eyes on. She'd often engage a conversation with the customers of the aforementioned café, quite excitedly one might add, leaning over the counter to better hear them for good measure. She was strange, an oddity.
She was different, and that was all she had ever aspired to be.
Tenten groaned as she kicked the covers off her legs and sat up. It was Saturday, a beautiful Saturday actually (the past three had been awfully cold and dreary), and she was stuck going to work. It wasn't that she did not enjoy her occupation, but it was the fact that she'd be spending an extra hour covering a vacationing co-worker's shift, that had produced her moan of despair. She cursed at herself for making such tasteless decisions. She hated most of her colleagues, and what had possessed her to offer to take the shift was beyond her. God, she concluded, had a surprise in mind for her today.
She finished dressing an hour later, her movements sluggish and her enthusiasm rivaling that of a sloth's. Even so, she had to admit serving coffee was much more entertaining than moping about her cramped home.
Slipping into the corridor, making sure she had locked the door behind her, Tenten headed to the stairwell that led to the interior back entrance of the grocery store. Maito Gai, the owner of the shop, was waiting at the foot of the steps. His only employee, Rock Lee, was animatedly sweeping a little ways behind him.
"Good morning, Miss Tenten!" Gai greeted.
Tenten managed a small, pleasant smile, all the while responding with her own salutation. "Good morning, Sir. Lee," she added, nodding at the boy who had paused in his chores to wave at her. Thus was their everyday encounter, and the brunette female did not seek to change it now, for she was running late. "I must be going now. Have a nice day you two. I'll be back later this evening," she said, heading towards the exit. She heard a shout of "alright" as the glass door shut behind her.
She had misjudged the weather, she realized to her dismay. Although the sun was shining as bright as could be, the air was still frigid. Not wanting to catch a cold, she picked up her gait and hurried along, wrapping her arms about herself to retain some warmth as she walked.
Ichiraku, located at the intersection of Elm and Manor, was quite the epitome of normalcy when compared to the rules governing society at that time. The only thing that set it apart from every other restaurant in the city was that it had a sign displayed in the window that read "NO JOBS AVAILABLE! DO NOT INQUIRE WITHIN!" in large bold lettering. Tenten had indulged in a bout of merry laughter when her employer had first unveiled the poster at a staff meeting a year ago. Since then, they had been getting a flood of applicants ranging from lawyers to conductors. Apparently, people thought the poster was written in sarcasm.
Chuckling, Tenten entered the café and headed to the employee lounge. In there, she donned her apron and lined her lips in red. By the time the door chime rattled (signaling the arrival of a customer) she was nearly finished boiling a pot of coffee.
The day went by slowly, time being dragged and stretched to the point where it was excruciating. Tenten had planned to go to the library after work to start her manuscript over again (She prayed it would be as appalling as whatever she had written the previous night), but as darkness slowly enveloped the world and the moon rose in place of the sun, she frowned. She fully understand that such an excursion at night, though the streets were heavily guarded ever since the commencement of the war, was dangerous, but she could not persuade her mind to seek a different direction. However, her predicament was soon forgotten as her mind became infatuated with what one might call a "welcome" distraction.
A man, a handsome man at that, stepped up to the counter, the stool legs screeching against the tiled floor, and the springs in the cushion groaning as they became accustomed to his weight. He placed a briefcase on the space before him, unhitching the locks and opening the lid with a flick of his wrist. He dug out a pen from his pocket, and a few packets of stapled paper from the briefcase, and began to write. Tenten took him in as he labored away. He had a wonderfully structured jaw, such soft silky hair, and the most gorgeous pair of lilac eyes she had ever seen (though she had never seen lilac eyes before). He sat with his spine perfectly erect and his broad shoulders pulled back. His attire consisted of a suit, tie, and fedora, the latest of which he had taken off before even entering the café. He didn't seem to notice her, and he was obviously waiting for someone to come to him, so without a second thought, she strode over.
"Good evening," she greeted politely. He fascinated her; perhaps it was the fact the female hadn't even noticed him until his seat caused a ruckus, or maybe it was his looks and the air of gentlemanliness that surrounded him, but whatever the reason, she found herself craving to have a chat with this enticing stranger.
He looked up at her slowly; brow quirked and head cocked a centimeter to the side. "Good evening Miss," he said, a small smile flitting across his lips. His voice was quiet, deep, but authoritative. "I'd like a cup of black coffee, please," he answered to her expectant look and fingers poised to scribble his order. Tenten nodded, turning to fill the pot with hot water and set it to boil.
The room was silent. The man had resumed his task, much to Tenten's despair, and she once again found herself trapped in boredom (much like she had been for the past few hours. There hadn't been anyone interesting at the café that day). Tapping her nails on the counter, a throaty hum escaping her lips, she waited for excitement to strike. To her surprise, it did in the form of a question.
"I've never seen you before at this hour. Have you recently been hired?" the man inquired, gazing at her with genuine curiosity. Tenten stopped her incessant noises and shook her head.
"No, Sir. I've worked here for years, just not this shift. I'm covering for a colleague. Besides, with that sign in the window (here she jutted a finger in its direction), I'd feel rather discouraged to submit an application. I don't understand how people still have the nerve to apply," she told him. "Why, do you come here often? I've never seen you before either," she added.
The man's eyes flashed with amusement, "I've been coming here regularly for maybe a month or two. Usually I eat dinner here, but today was rough," he said, gesturing towards the pot on the stove.
"You eat dinner here? What about your wife?" Tenten asked, leaning on the counter as she so often did when interested in someone.
This time, the man chuckled. His entire frame seemed to shake as he laughed, the sound starting deep within his chest, moving up his respiratory passageways, and finally slipped over his tongue. He smirked at her, "I'm not married. You?"
"I don't live romance, I write it," Tenten responded, before standing upright and taking the pot off the stove.
The male considered this for a moment, before nodding in acceptance. He reached for his pen again as Tenten poured the readied coffee into a mug. She slid it in front of him, peering at his work while he took a sip. "So, what's your job, Sir?" she questioned, eyeing the papers.
"I'm a math teacher at a high school," he answered, "And please, my name is Neji. Call me Neji." Tenten tried the name on her tongue, and when she decided she fancied it, she beamed at the new tidbit of information.
"My name is Tenten," she informed him, though she doubted he would care. Once again, Neji proved her wrong. He gently took her hand in his and momentarily tore his eyes from hers as he brought it to his mouth for a kiss.
"Pleasure to meet you," he murmured against her skin. Tenten's stomach flipped at the feel of his lips and shivers racked her spine.
"Pleasure to meet you as well," the female reciprocated, clearing her throat as to not stutter. Neji kept his fingers intertwined with Tenten's, liking how hers fit in between his like two pieces of a puzzle. For a tiny second, the entire world stopped as their eyes met. A blush colored their cheeks as they each worried the other would hear their thundering heart. The room became warmer, and smaller, and brighter. Even the shadiest corner seemed to glow with life anew. Tenten let out a soft laugh for a reason unknown to her. Neji soon joined in, the noise easing the romantic tension between them.
The conversation that flowed thereafter consisted of frivolous topics and at times of awkward silences, the weather was mentioned.
Neji downed his coffee a little too fast for Tenten's liking, and she was even more upset when he refused a second cup. "I have to be going," he explained, placing a few bills on the counter, "But," he stopped the female as she began to turn on her heel," may I ask if you'd like an escort home?"
It took Tenten all the strength she could muster to simply stand upright, and she set the coffee pot down lest she dropped it. She blinked up at him, her visage appearing to be that of delight. "I'd be honored," she said, but then her earlier agenda came to mind. "A-actually, if it's not too much to ask, I had originally planned to go to the library after work. Do you mind walking me there instead?" she asked bashfully, looking at him from underneath her thick eyelashes.
Neji found her terribly hard to resist and alarmingly cute. He leaned down to press his forehead to hers, beckoning her to let down her walls. There was no reason for her to be shy; he, to his surprise, was willing to do anything for her. Never before, he realized, had any woman affected him this way.
She was different, and that was all he had ever wanted.
"I was going to head there after I dropped you home. It's no problem at all, " he assured her. Tenten smiled, her breathing quickening slightly at their close proximity. She promptly excused herself to the backroom to gather her things. When she emerged, Neji was waiting at the door. He offered her his arm and together, the two stepped out into the night.
This memory, Tenten decided, was worth remembering.
A/N: The inspiration for this story came from the displays at a furniture shop. Odd, I know. I may publish a multi-chapter sequel to this, but I'm not absolutely sure. Anyway, tell me what you think.
Thank you for reading and please review!