notes: Midnight Insomniac's request. Her prompt was "candlelight". Requests are still open on my LJ if anyone wants a little something from me. The link is on my profile. :)
the many ways feelings can be conveyed
This, Neji decided, was going to have to work.
He withdrew the cake from the fridge and stared at it. It was chocolaty and of course, like anything that came out of Hinata's kitchen, it smelled really delicious. She had baked it especially for this occasion, and while Neji was grateful, he was also very annoyed. His threats weren't enough to stop the Hyuuga heiress from bursting out laughing when he asked for her help just yesterday.
"Don't worry, Neji-niisan," she had said, cheeks flushed red with pleasure. "I won't forget to put this in. This will work, I promise. She'll never see this coming." She held the ring between her thumb and her forefinger and inspected it casually, her smile widening as she watched him writhe in agony, "Lee-san sure has great ideas."
Neji, too embarrassed to protest, had simply nodded, knowing even then that he was never, never going through that again.
Across the kitchen, the dining table was laden with half-empty plates of Tenten's favorite dishes: sesame dumplings, dry-fried green beans, sweet and sour pork, soy-steamed fish, claypot rice. The woman herself was resting her cheek on her hand, her eyes watching him.
Her lips curved into a smile when he reentered the room with two slices of chocolate cake. "Hinata's?"
"Then it must be delicious," Tenten remarked after thanking him, examining the cake with great interest. She picked up her fork and began digging in enthusiastically, big bite after big bite. "So what's the occasion?" she asked, gesturing towards the gold candleholders standing proudly in the middle of the table, "You just feel like doing something nice?"
His hand stilled over his plate. "Something like that," he replied after a moment of silence.
Tenten laughed, and their conversation turned to more casual topics: recent developments in Konoha's rebuilding plan (they finished painting the school's gym just this morning), Kiba's twenty-second birthday party that Neji had missed (lots of dancing and alcohol), food prices (meat was getting more expensive but at least vegetables were down), Naruto's latest attempts to ask an oblivious Hinata out on a date.
"He's going to ask her to accompany him to the Emiru's wedding next week," Tenten informed Neji, scooping yet another bite of chocolate cake with her fork. There was only very little of it left, now. "If Hinata still doesn't get it by then, he's probably going to try more extreme methods."
"Emiru's wedding," Neji murmured, only half-listening. The orange glow of the candlelight flickered over her face, alighting her lovely features, and he was both too distracted and too anxious to be enjoying his dessert properly. "Extreme methods."
"Yeah. Like, I don't know, kidnapping her or something," Tenten shrugged. "I don't understand why he couldn't just tell her. After all, Hinata also—urk!" she gasped suddenly, dropping her fork as she clutched her throat. Her eyes wide, she doubled over in an intense fit of coughs.
Alarmed, Neji was on her side immediately, a glass of water already in his hand as his heart sank in dismay, already understanding what was happening. He was about to help her drink when a predicament suddenly struck him: water would only help Tenten swallow, and her swallowing could only mean one thing, that there would be no more ring to give to her. Torn, as she launched into another violent choking episode, Neji did the only thing he never thought he would do to her outside Team Gai's training grounds:
His fist connected with her back, chakra passing from his skin to hers, and Tenten coughed violently once more, the object caught in her throat jumping out of her lips. Before she could say anything, her attention was already stolen what was now lying in abandon on the wooden floor. Abruptly she turned to Neji, who was currently gazing at the space next to it, determinedly ignoring her eyes.
"Um," she said hesitantly, kneeling down to pick it up. It was a very simple ring with two thin silver bands, one of them covered with glittering diamonds. Rolling it between her fingers, she rose to her feet and met his gaze nervously. "Um, is this…" she fidgeted, brown eyes wide and surprised as she cleared her throat. Awkwardly, she said, "Oh my god, I'm so sorry."
Neji's heart plummeted to his stomach and he didn't hear anything else, even as she rambled on. It was when Tenten finally realized he wasn't responding at all that she looked up at him, worry written all over her face.
"Uh, are you okay?"
Muttering something that suspiciously sounded like "I'm going to kill Lee", Neji turned around and headed for the door. He was gone before she could make sense of the situation and Tenten stood in the empty room, speechless and more confused than she had been in her entire life.
In a perfect world, Neji imagined it would be much more romantic than this.
He rested his chin on his fist and sighed deeply, darting yet another vengeful glare at Lee, who only managed to give him a pained smile as he lay three feet away, bloodied and bruised. In a perfect world, he wouldn't be foolish enough to take on Lee's suggestion. In a perfect world, he wouldn't almost kill the girl of his dreams with a would-be proposal. In a perfect world, he wouldn't—
—hear said girl scream his name like that. Wouldn't see her standing right in front of him, hands on her hips and chest heaving with what seemed more like barely concealed fury rather than physical exertion. Wouldn't feel her fingers suddenly curling into the front of his shirt, pulling him up to his feet before giving him a violent shake that made his head spin.
Catching her wrists in a firm grip, he stared at her in confusion. "What are you doing here?"
The glare she gave him was heated as she snatched her hands away. She sauntered towards their third teammate and helped him up. "Are you okay, Lee?" she asked, her hand on his face, gently brushing away the dirt that had gathered there.
"I'm alright," Lee answered, grabbing Tenten's shoulders and planting a firm kiss on her cheek in a moment of sudden inspiration. A surge of jealousy washed over Neji like a bucket of iced water and the green-clad ninja snickered, his grin knowing and almost mischievous as he pulled away. "Ta!" he waved, extraordinarily cheerful, "See you later!"
As soon as Lee disappeared, Tenten whirled around to face Neji. "You," she hissed, pointing a dangerous finger at him, "are so dead."
"Um," he managed, instinctively taking a step backwards.
"Running away like that, even when I haven't said anything," she said, suddenly in front of him, nunchaku dangerously close to his throat, "Lashing out at Lee, even when he's done nothing wrong," she swung it around. "Leaving me to clean the whole mess alone. Alone! You never learn, do you, Neji?" her eyes narrowing as he avoided what would be a very painful hit to his crotch, she charged at him, exclaiming, "Fight me!"
Well, if she put it that way, then he hadn't a choice, had he? Neji activated his Byakugan and met her blow for blow, flinging her nunchaku away as soon as he was able to. She sprang away right as he thought he had her cornered, the moonlight filtering through the leaves casting a shadow over her pretty face.
He stepped into the clearing. "Tenten—"
She vanished at once. Neji closed his eyes and focused, drawing out his senses to figure out where she was. Stepping closer to a tree, he placed a hand on the bark, calloused fingers stroking the leaves gently. He turned around, counted to three patiently, and true to his prediction, she reappeared in front of him.
To his surprise, she charged at him still, trying to drive him into a corner. When her nunchaku touched his throat, she grinned. It was mocking and cunning and so utterly lovely, and she had never looked more beautiful or more like Tenten that it was only a matter of time before he stepped back, completely defeated.
"You idiot," she whispered, warm affection rising in her eyes, "I didn't say no."
Neji was speechless. Momentarily. "Wh… what?"
"I didn't say no," she repeated, her nunchaku dropping to the grass with a soft thud. She took a step backwards and smiled at him. "For the record, just so you don't misunderstand, I wasn't apologizing because I was going to say no, I was apologizing for ruining your surprise," she rolled her eyes. "Seriously, Neji, I'm disappointed. I thought you knew me better than that."
"I do," he hurried to say. "Really."
A chuckle escaped her lips. "I know."
Still not quite believing what was happening, Neji was torn between pulling her into his arms and kissing her senseless or upholding some form of etiquette and dropping to one knee. Fortunately, Tenten, seemingly able to read his mind even without the aid of a Byakugan, laughed and took the first step. She gave him the ring and extended her hand, amused and expectant.
"So," he cleared his throat, suddenly nervous, "May… may I?"
The even timbre of her voice was pure silver. "Yes."
He slid the ring to her finger, a thousand bricks lifted from his shoulders when it made a perfect fit. The tiny diamonds on the ring glittered under the moonlight, and Neji sighed contentedly, bringing their intertwined hands to his lips. This was before she yanked him to her and kissed him, right there in the middle of their training grounds, propriety be damned. Then it was only liquid fire right where her lips touched his, so warm and so good and so damn perfect, and just like that, Neji knew:
This was Tenten, and this was love.
notes: Because I like to tease Neji a lot, apparently. And because some things always go (hilariously) wrong no matter what you anticipate. Midnight Insomniac, I hope this was to your liking! :D