Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.
Prompt #50: Teammates - They'd come so far together.
Hyuuga Tenten liked to think she'd been through enough to be ready anything. After all, she'd lived through the Kyuubi's attack, two invasions of Konoha within three years, and the Fourth Shinobi War. That made you expect to face the world's surprises at a moment's notice.
But she couldn't have predicted what her son would ask her the summer he turned thirteen.
"Mom, can I ask you something?"
She stopped cooking to give her son her undivided attention. "What is it, Hizoku?" she asked.
His lips twisted into a puckered grimace. "Well...it's about Minazuki."
"Minazuki?" It took her a few seconds to remember the name. "Oh, your teammate, right? With, um, Satori?"
"Yeah. Anyway, Minazuki's been acting weird lately." Hizoku crossed his arms pensively as he moved to sit on the nearest chair. He looked so much like his father that Tenten couldn't help the fond smile on her face. "See, I'm getting mobbed by all the girls nowadays, and it's becoming a hassle to get any training done. Satori's understandably ticked, to be sure, but Minazuki...I dunno, it's like Minazuki disappears or something. Which makes no sense."
"Is Minazuki popular?"
"Not really. I mean, most of the other kids have picked on Minazuki a lot." Hizoku shook his head. "That's why I don't get it. Minazuki hates crowds as much as I do, but it doesn't explain why, lately, we seem to be drifting apart."
The weapons mistress sighed. "Sounds like a real problem. Have you talked to Minazuki about it?"
"Actually, that's what I wanted to ask you." Putting on his best begging face (which he most certainly got from her) Hizoku asked sweetly, "Could we have Minazuki over for dinner tomorrow?"
Of course she agreed. How could she not? She figured it mirrored Lee and Neji's youthful girl experiences (the former having no luck and the latter being uncomfortably swarmed) which could hopefully be solved by a friendly family dinner.
When the knock came at the front door, Tenten was ready to greet her son's teammate. Leaving Neji to finish the preparations and telling Hizoku to get cleaned up, she wiped her hands on a towel and made for the door.
She was expecting to see a boy almost as equally handsome as her son, and maybe a tad more arrogant than her husband had been at that age. Instead she saw a nervous-looking girl wearing an aqua t-shirt under a black sleeveless vest, the attached hood drawn over her head like the cowl of a Grim Reaper, and faded green shorts with black sandals. A pair of large purple eyes stared up at Tenten from under the hood.
"Hello, Mrs. Hyuuga," she said. "I'm Minazuki. Hizoku's teammate?"
"Of course," Tenten said, covering up her surprise at Minazuki's gender well. "Please, come in."
"Thank you." The girl slipped off her sandals and raked back her hood as she entered, revealing messily cut hair a startling shade of orange, like oak leaves in autumn, sticking out every which way. Neji came out and introduced himself, but further introductions were halted when Hizoku came barrelling down the stairs, his long dark hair pulled into a low tail just like his father's.
"You came," he said to Minazuki, relief evident in his voice. "Mom, Dad, this is Minazuki Meiko. C'mon Minazuki, we're having Mom's awesome red bean buns and gyoza tonight!"
The girl smiled. "Sounds delicious!"
It was obvious to the two adults that Meiko relaxed as she related story after story with Hizoku regarding their genin missions. She grew more animated as she and Hizoku dominated the conversations, talking about everything from training to missions to simple events in their lives. It forcibly reminded Tenten of how she and Neji interacted, just reversing their roles. That's when she decided to radically change her gameplan.
It was late when Meiko excused herself and said she had better be leaving. Tenten offered to walk her to the door while Hizoku hurried to clean up before walking his teammate home.
"Meiko, do you like my son?"
The girl looked up at her. "Of course. He's my best friend."
"You know he's concerned about that," Tenten said. "He thinks you're pulling away." She smiled at Meiko. "He's just as uncomfortable with the fangirls as you are, Meiko. Just stick with him, okay? He really thinks a lot of you."
Meiko shrugged. "He doesn't act like that."
"Yeah, that's a trait he's picked up from his father. Don't worry, he'll grow out of it eventually."
Hizoku ran to the doorway and kissed his mother's cheek. "Bye Mom. C'mon Minazuki, I'll walk you home."
Meiko bowed to Tenten. "Thank you for having me, Mrs. Hyuuga."
"Our pleasure, Meiko." When the teenagers left, Tenten went to sit beside her husband and relax. "They're kind of like we were," she remarked.
"I hope not," Neji replied. "I'd like to think Hizoku isn't quite as dense as I was."
Hyuuga Neji liked to think that he was an intelligent person. After all, he was the first of his friends to get to jonin rank, and the first to make ANBU, and the first to make Captain of his own squad. He certainly thought he was smart enough to explain an unfamiliar situation to his son.
But he couldn't have expected his son's question the spring he turned fifteen.
"Dad, can I talk to you about something?"
Neji set down his papers and faced Hizoku fully. "What is it, son?" he asked.
"It's about Minazuki."
Unlike his wife, it didn't take Neji long to place the name. "Ah. Your female teammate. What about her?"
"It's just, well...she's still Minazuki, but at the same time she's not. Like, people are noticing her." A hard edge entered his tone. "Other guys are noticing her."
Something came back to Neji. "She wasn't popular before, was she?"
"No! They called her Pumpkin-Head because of her hair color!" Old rage made Hizoku's voice snap like a steel trap. "But now that she's...she's...different, they're flocking around her like Inuzuka's pack around a bone!"
"Different? Different how?"
Hizoku shrugged angrily. "I dunno...pretty! She's dressing different, kinda, and she looks like a girl now!"
"She didn't before?" Neji asked deliberately.
"She did, but that's different! She was just Minazuki," his son said as if spelling out an obvious word. "But now it's like she's wearing a neon sign! It's annoying!" He scowled now, as if this sudden influx of attention was a personal insult to him. "And I don't know why, but it bugs me!" Hizoku nervously swallowed and fiddled with his fingers in a way that reminded Neji of the boy's aunt. "Um...well...when did you know you had a crush on Mom?"
Neji's eyebrow rose in surprise. "Crush?" he repeated. "You have a crush on her?"
"Maybe. I dunno." Now Hizuko was lightly blushing. "I think so. Maybe?"
Neji didn't feel like watching his son flounder around in the uncertainty of his feelings. He'd already had that unpleasant experience, thanks. "You're feeling jealous about how other boys look at her," he said bluntly.
"Then you should do something about it," Neji advised. "And fast, before she thinks you won't and another guy comes along."
The challenge lit up Hizuko's gold-pearl eyes. With a stiff nod, he got up and headed out. Neji smiled and returned to his paperwork.
Tenten stepped out of the kitchen and sat beside her husband with a smile. "How long have we been together?"
"Almost twenty-three years." He grinned back. "But you knew that. Worried about your son?"
"What mother wouldn't be?" She heaved a sigh. "I can't believe we've been through all that we've been through, and we still can't figure out how to help Hizoku."
"Best friends tend to notice when the dynamic shifts that drastically."
She smiled. "And Meiko's a perceptive girl. I'm sure she'll catch on soon."
"Even if she doesn't, Hizoku won't push it before she's ready. He's like you that way."
"And he's loyal and steady, just like you," Tenten replied. "Think they'll figure it out soon?"
He reached over and threaded his fingers between Tenten's. "Five years."
"That's about how long it took for me to realize how much I cared about you," he confessed with an awkward smile. "But Hizoku's a smarter genius than I was. He noticed in two."
"So he'll be fine?" Tenten asked.
"He's our son, remember." Neji leaned over and kissed her gently. "And we'll be together for quite some time, am I right?"
She snuggled against him. "For the rest of our lives," she promised.
"Then trust me, those two will be fine."
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