Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.
Call It Research
Hyuuga Neji did not entertain school-girl crushes. He simply did not. Crushes were for the petty, the irresolute, and the insipid. At a belligerent seven-and-a-half years old, Hyuuga Neji was none of those things.
Hyuuga Neji would be lying, however, if he did not admit that the girl in the front of his Beginning Shinobi class had not caught his eye. She was not particularly quiet, nor was she particularly loud. She was occasionally tardy, and nearly always wore a dark pink shirt with a straight collar and gold trim. Her hair, an unremarkable brown, was bundled up in twin ribbons upon her head. She was also definitely not pretty.
Her name was Tenten, and she could answer absolutely any history question correctly without fail.
At first, Neji found her flawless reiterations of little-known historical facts to be maddening—and slightly big-headed. But she rarely volunteered, and only answered when called upon. She never bragged, even when the other students would shout their latest history essay scores at the top of their lungs. He did not fail to notice the delighted, but silent, dimpled smile as she stuffed her perfect scores into her pocket. In academy class rankings and aptitude comparisons in all other subjects, she tested barely over mediocre.
By the end of the month, Neji was convinced something was wrong with her.
At lunchtime, she disappeared without a trace, only to be seen several minutes before the end of recess. Sometimes, she would use those minutes to practice basic taijutsu forms; other times, she would be seen speaking with the other students. She was not a popular girl, but neither was she an outcast. In the habit of thwarting a line of smitten, little girls, Neji took to perching on the overhang of the tallest tree and, sometimes, when he was not meditating, he would peek at her with a single pearly eye.
One day, when the sensei dismissed them for lunch, Neji found himself leaving his seat as soon as she did hers. She walked out into the hallway at a sedate pace, arms swinging loosely at her sides, and a terribly off-tune whistle streaming out of her lips. Neji determined that she wasn't very bright at spotting a tail—not that he was one. He wandered, from a safe distance behind, until she made her way into the Academy library.
Neji did not personally know of a single kid in his class that ever visited outside of assigned reading time. After she had been inside for well over ten minutes, Neji allowed himself to duck inside. As he suspected, the aisles were practically deserted. The librarian poked her head over the desk, peering down her spectacles at him, but did not say anything. He discovered her bent over a thick, leather-bound volume of The History and Stratagems of Shinobi Warfare. Her finger ghosted over the caption of a picture of a strange, spiked weapon. (It would be a little over five years before Neji was to be attacked by the very same weapon, by the very same girl.)
Curiosity abated, Neji quickly lost interest. There was nothing wrong with her—except that she had the detection range of a damaged fruit-fly—she only disappeared to the library for lunch, to read; that was where she got her answers. She exhibited none of the makings of a natural-born prodigy or challenge-driving rival. Neji left the library as silently as he came, convinced that his interest in her had been indefinitely quelled.
Neji was reminded of that ill-spent month when he was invited to Tenten's room, nine years later.
"Sorry, it's a mess," she said, bending down to pick up several scattered books on foreign treatises and advanced sealing techniques.
Lee bounced immediately to examine the contents of her neatly-lined bookcase. "Tenten, your collection is incredible!"
A masculine yelp came from the kitchen. Tenten twisted up, her arms filled with bookmarked texts, alarm and exasperation written all over her face. "It's Gai-sensei."
"That must be the tea!" exclaimed Lee, leaping nimbly—to Tenten's abject horror—over her mounted sword. He vanished out of the room in an instant.
Tenten dropped the books onto her half-tucked bed-sheets and raced to examine the damage. Neji watched her with an acute sense of amusement. Tenten sighed, running her finger along a dangerously sharp edge as if it were the scruff of her favorite pet. "Phew, no scratches." She raised her head sharply and barked out with den-mother-like ferocity, "Lee, be careful next time! That was an antique you almost knocked over!" She shook her head when she received no response from the kitchen, and finally glanced over at Neji, her brow dipped in apology. "There's not much room to sit, but you can move some of them. I've read those ones already; feel free to just shove them over."
Neji took the tiny square of uncluttered space directly by the low-standing table, electing not to disturb the mass that she claimed was disposable. "You have quite a number of books, Tenten," he said, the murmurings of his memories welling like a vernal pool to the edges of his mind. Neji almost wanted to chide his younger self for ever thinking her incapable. She had proven, in these last several years, to be a gifted kunoichi and a trusted comrade. Her knowledge of the obscure and esoteric had more than once saved their lives. But most things had not changed, such as the fact that she still wore her hair like a schoolchild, or her penchant for rose-colored clothes.
"I like to do research," she replied, not missing a beat. She blew some hair out of her face, and replaced a wayward pole-arm into the ornate vase in the corner. "But it's not like you didn't already know that."
Neji had been rather distractingly attuned to the strange amber-copper hues in her hair—it used to be brown, hadn't it?—when he returned his attention to her words. "Pardon?"
She turned, her lips curving into a dimpled smile. "Oh, you know," she said lightly, "since you had a bit of a school-girl crush on me."
"I am afraid you are mistaken, Tenten," he mustered finally.
"You don't have to be embarrassed," she laughed, plopping down beside him. "I had a bit of a crush on you, too, right after that." Neji stared at her uncomprehendingly. "I mean you never said anything in class—you seemed so aloof, so I didn't bother—but I noticed you up in that tree one day. You were looking at me. I thought I was just imagining it—you know, since it was such a girl thing to think. But day after a day, for a little while, you'd be up in that tree, peeking at me as if you thought I couldn't tell." Tenten's smile spread into a grin at the faint tint of color on his cheeks. "I thought it was kind of cute."
"Tenten, you misunderstand. It was strictly recon—"
"Neji," she nudged him playfully in the shoulder with her own, clearly relishing the trip down memory lane, "you even followed me into the library!" She tapped her chin. "Come to think of it; after that, you didn't trouble yourself anymore."
"As I said, it was reconnaissance," he affirmed.
"Well, you sure knew how to lead a lady on." Tenten got to the feet and brushed the imaginary dust off her trousers. "I had such a sucker's crush on you for years after that."
"And now?" he questioned her curiously.
Tenten quickly averted her eyes. "I really should make sure they haven't turned my kitchen into a battlefield." She gave a theatrical sigh.
"Tenten." She stopped at the doorway. "It was not a crush," he clarified. "It was research."
Tenten gave him a smile with her eyes. "Then, let's just say, I'm still doing my research on you, Hyuuga Neji."
A/N: Partly inspired by Naruto Shippuden Episode 237, in which Tenten is revealed to be an adorable, manic little bookworm with the best bedroom ever. Years later, and I still love this girl.
Any feedback is, as always, greatly appreciated. Thank you for reading!