Title: Little Feet Working the Machine
Characters: Tenten, Hyuuga Neji, Rock Lee, Maito Gai, Tsunade
Genre: Family/Friendship/Romance (NejiTen, if you squint really hard)
Summary: There is a reason why Team Gai is not sent on seduction missions.
A/N: A spinoff (or prequel, rather) of "Empire Ants" from the Beginning series, but with a different ending. Or something.
Little Feet Working the Machine
There is a reason why Team Gai is not sent on seduction missions.
It was two months after the second Chunnin Exams, the one that Neji, Lee and Tenten passed with flying colors, that they received the mission. It looked simple enough on paper—a merchant in possession of very important information about a large import of illegal drugs across the border of the country of Fire needed persuasion to share what he knew, and it so happened that said merchant had a certain fetish—pretty girls that were neither too frail nor too buff, petite girls with chocolate brown hair and eyes, young girls who have weird quirks, like a fascination for weapons, perhaps.
Why not just use genjutsu on him? Neji had asked calmly when they received their orders from the Godaime itself. Tsunade had frowned and told him that if it were that easy, she would have already sent a specialist to retrieve the information from the mark. But the target was a former shinobi, learned enough to know when he was under a spell, and trained enough to resist breaking under torture. No, he has to give the information willingly, and it was up to them to coax it out of him.
It was up to Tenten to get him to speak.
None of them liked the idea, and Tsunade was not enthusiastic about it as well. "Truth be told, I'd rather send Ino Yamanaka for such a job because interrogation is her specialty, but she does not fit the bill," the female Sannin had explained, and it did nothing to alleviate the coil in Tenten's stomach. "You've had training, correct?"
Tenten had merely nodded, because she could not tell the person she had looked up to since she was little that her training consisted of flirting with dummies their instructor had set up during her Academy years, in order to teach kunoichi the basics of seduction. She hadn't even paid too much attention then, because she reasoned that she'd probably never get sent to such missions anyway—she was too scrawny, too plain, compared to the other prettier kunoichi in her batch. If she had only known that this day would come, she would have taken the elective more seriously and flirted with the dummy with more fervor.
But it was too late for regrets, because Gai had already signed the mission papers, and they were to set out first thing in the morning, and she, inexperienced as she was, had a key role to play in their mission's success.
"You don't have to do this."
Surprise was the proper reaction for such a statement, and surprised she was. Moreso because it wasn't Lee or Gai who told her that, as she stood waiting by the gates for her other teammates, the morning they have to leave to find their target. It was Neji, who, among them four, was considered the most by-the-book, most concerned about a mission's success, come what may.
"I . . ." she stammered, unsure of what to answer. Was he testing her? To see if she was up to the task, if she would balk the last minute and put their mission in jeopardy? Or was he truly concerned for her wellbeing? It had been a year since Naruto knocked some sense into him, after all; perhaps Neji had in fact changed enough for him to put her first than their assignment?
"Say the word," Neji continued, looking at her with pale gray eyes, eyes that told her that he was indeed concerned about her. "Say the word, Tenten, and I will personally call off the mission and request the Godaime to send another team instead."
His apparent worry only made her resolve stronger. Shaking her head, she offered him a small smile and said, "I'll be fine. This is bound to happen sooner or later anyway."
And Neji nodded, forehead still creased, as if trying to read behind her words, look for a sign that will give him enough reason to cancel the assignment.
He found none.
Catching the attention of the mark was easy; Tenten didn't even need to wear anything seductive—just her usual casual, non-kunoichi attire of green-blue top and black pants—and she was not required to wear excessive makeup, as she originally thought she would. No, all she had to do was expertly twirl a kunai around her left index finger as she walked into the ramen house the mark frequented, pretend to choose from a variety of dishes that the restaurant served while tossing the kunai deftly and catching it with her right hand. She didn't even give the man as much of a glance, pretending that he did not interest her, that she was just an ordinary weapons-loving teenager passing by to buy a meal.
He was immediately drawn to her. So much that he volunteered to pay for her ramen when the waitress gave Tenten her food.
"Oh?" Tenten chirped, raising an eyebrow. "But I don't accept charity," she said, offish, having learned enough from her lessons to know how to sound uninterested in a mark. "Especially not from strangers."
"Then let me introduce myself," the mark grinned, showing a set of fine teeth that failed to blind her the way Lee or Gai could. "Utsumi Tororo." He extended a hand, expecting her to shake it.
Tenten shrugged in response and twirled the kunai around her right index finger this time. "Misa," she answered, feigning boredom. "Well, thank you for the meal, Utsumi-san, but I have to go. I need to practice, you see."
"Practice what?" Utsumi asked, almost leering. Tenten fought the urge to shudder.
"Target practice," she answered instead, throwing the kunai expertly at the mark, hitting her intended target—the small space between his thighs, a few inches away from his crotch.
Utsumi smirked. "My kind of girl," he whispered, and there was something in the way he said it that made Tenten want to scamper away back to the safety of her teammates' company.
"I'm going in then," she breathed, clutching the kunai she held in her left hand. They were a few feet away from the ramen house, having followed the mark the whole morning, trying to find the perfect chance for Tenten to set up an "accident" meeting.
"Yosh," Gai said, flashing her a thumbs up. "Go and be your youthful self, Tenten, and do us proud!"
Lee nodded vigorously, and Neji shut his eyes in mild annoyance. In front of them stood the sole kunoichi in their little group, barely concealing the fact that she was shivering from her very core. She tried to chuckle, but it came out like a cough, and to save what was left of her dignity, she waved them away, turning around and braced herself.
"Remember that you're always within my divination," Neji called after her, silently telling her that she will never be truly alone, even as she faced the mark.
Tenten stopped in midstep and drew a shaky breath. "Right," she managed to whisper, knowing that it was the only way Neji would even allow her to leave their side. She wasn't sure how she knew, but she was almost certain that among the three, it was Neji, not her father figure Gai, not her pseudo-brother Lee, but Neji, once-cold-and-indifferent Neji, who was most concerned about her at the moment.
"Does this not bore you?" Tenten asked, throwing another kunai above Utsumi's head, while said man sat on the grassy field, his back against a tree trunk. Tenten hated the fact that he looked as relaxed as Neji was whenever she did target practice with him, and wondered if her teammate was seething as well at the idea. But Neji was never one to put his emotion before a mission, and there was no reason for him to act otherwise now.
"On the contrary, it actually turns me on," Utsumi replied, and Tenten found herself shivering once more. The mark appeared not to notice, or if he did, he must have chunked it to excitement, because his grin got all the more wider, and as Tenten threw the last kunai she held, he finally stood up, dusted himself, and strode toward her.
This is it, she thought, grimacing.
She offered him a small smile to hide her revulsion, and promptly planted a hand on her hip. "Well, what else turns you on, I wonder?"
The man lewdly smiled back.
They finished plotting their course of action—Tenten must somehow get the mark to tell her where the next shipment of drugs was coming from. In order to do that, she must pretend to be interested in his trade, or at least interested in him, period.
Neji will act as her backup, while Gai and Lee will scout around town, trying to get as much information as they could.
It sounded so simple in paper, Tenten almost laughed. Except that she would be doing most of the hard work, and she was not even well-versed in using her femininity to attract the opposite sex.
"You don't have to seduce him per se," Gai explained as he rolled the parchment containing the mark's profile and stored it back to his belt holster. "Just make him feel at ease enough to tell you things that he would not normally speak about in public."
"Okay," she answered, still wondering how she ever got into that situation in the first place.
"I'll be there before things get ugly," Neji said, and Tenten wondered not for the first time why Neji was being so damn talkative since the beginning of the mission. Usually it was Lee who would be outspoken, while Neji would listen quietly until he deemed it necessary to speak. Now it seemed as if the Hyuuga was trying to fill in the empty spaces by small talk, which sort of weirded her out, because Neji did not do small talk.
Still, she appreciated the gesture. If it was Neji's way to tell her that he cared, far it be for her to stop him.
"Ah," she said, looking around the small room. It was not lavishly decorated; just the basics, and Tenten wondered how someone who should be so rich because of the drug business could be so scant in his living quarters.
"Not impressed?" she heard Utsumi speak from behind, and when she turned around, she found that he was standing close, too close for comfort.
Instinct kicked in and she hopped backward, a safe distance away from his hands. Utsumi seemed pleased.
"Feisty, aren't we?" he chuckled. "I like that in a girl."
Tenten smiled as seductively as she could, which she guessed must have looked like a cross between someone who just ate something sour and someone who was having constipation. "So I've heard."
"Come now," Utsumi said. "You already accepted my invitation to visit my room. Surely you must be interested in me."
Tenten shrugged. "You promised you'll show me something . . . nice." Like a map for the next drug transaction, she hoped.
"I will," came the husky reply, and Tenten was all too aware that Utsumi was advancing once again, with something indefinable in his eyes. "But you have to show me something first."
Tenten didn't even have time to yelp as large hands quickly grabbed her. Although she was considered the fastest kunoichi in her age group, it was obvious that the ex-shinobi was quicker than she was. Within seconds she found herself pinned on his bed, his right hand locking her wrists above her head, his thighs locking her knees, his left hand trailing itself hungrily down her neck.
"Get off me!" she shrieked, and Utsumi laughed. "That's it," he chuckled, fingering the buttons on her top, "I like it better when they scream." With a yank he tore the blouse away, revealing her chest, bounded by bandages, as she was accustomed to do.
Tenten struggled to break free, but no amount of struggling was able to stop Utsumi from trailing his finger on her stomach, drawing lazy circles around her skin, and then promptly biting her in the shoulder. Tenten screamed.
"Just call out for help if you need it," Neji called out again as she was about to emerge from the bushes. Exasperated, she turned around and frowned.
"Can you just let me go and get this over with?" she almost hissed. Behind the Hyuuga, the two Konoha Green Beasts looked on, feigning ignorance about the whole exchange. Or maybe Gai was; Lee was almost always ignorant about such matters anyway.
"I mean it," Neji said. "Call for help if you need it."
Throwing her hands up in mock surrender, Tenten rolled her eyes and sighed. "Fine. I'll holler when he starts molesting me."
And there was such gravity in his voice that Tenten forgot what she was supposed to say next. Mellowing a bit, she offered him a grin and said, "I know," and turning away again, waving a hand, she finished, "I'll call for help if I need it."
She heard the crack of bones before she actually saw what happened.
The next instant, she found Utsumi being yanked away from her, and there standing in his place was Neji, fury written all over his face.
"Nej—" she choked, and tried to scramble up.
The Hyuuga met her halfway, and made no protest when she flung her arms around him, shivering like a little kitten in the rain. He wrapped his arms around her frail body, covering her up as best as he could, even when there were no other occupants in the room, save from the dead target lying at his feet.
"He . . . he tried to . . ." Tenten started, choking on her words, the memory of being violated still fresh in her mind. "I failed . . . I was so weak Neji . . . he . . . the mission . . ."
"I'm sorry I didn't get here sooner."
And Tenten found herself sobbing all the more, because instead of reprimanding her for being so weak, Neji, the Hyuuga Neji, was apologizing to her because he wasn't able to stop Utsumi before he started doing something bad to her.
"I can take care of myself," she told him as they hopped from one tree to the next, their little team nearing the village where their informant said the mark was last seen.
"I know," came Neji's quiet reply, "but that doesn't mean you have to carry the burden of the mission by yourself."
She watched him from the corner of her eyes, all too aware of how serious he was.
"We're a team, after all."
Lee and Gai reached the room a couple of seconds later, blasting against the door and shattering the wood into splinters.
But Utsumi Tororo already lay dead on the floor, and Tenten was shivering uncontrollably in Neji's arms.
"Tenten!" Lee yelled, rushing to her side. "What has he done to you?" And eyeing the torn blouse on the floor, he continued, a little too foolishly, "Did he do something to your blossoming youth?"
And Tenten cried all the more, and Lee found Neji giving him the deadliest glare he had ever seen, and even Gai, who usually joined his antics—or, to be more exact, started them—dragged the younger green beast back to stop him from saying anything more stupid than he already had.
"Lee," Gai said, somberly, "for your next training, you must look for the scroll containing a map of the next drug shipment."
Lee nodded enthusiastically, not realizing that there might be no scroll containing a map for the next drug shipment. "Yes, Gai-sensei!" he boomed, rushing out of the room, and Gai followed suit, but not before giving his two other charges one last look. "We'll be back in a few minutes," he said quietly, and then he was gone.
"I entrust our youthful flower to you then," Gai said by way of goodbye, before he and Lee depart for town. "Keep her safe, Neji."
They reached Konoha two days later, carrying a scroll Lee found in what appeared to be a small storage room in Utsumi's humble abode. Not only did it contain information about the next drug shipment, it also listed down Utsumi's other contacts and clients.
The mission was deemed a success.
Tenten had not spoken a word ever since they left Utsumi's village.
"Tenten!" Lee bounded toward her, and Neji instinctively glared and put his right foot forward, effectively standing in between his two teammates.
Lee halted a few feet away, eyes filled with unspoken repentance. "I am so sorry for what I said earlier!" he suddenly said, bowing low, and in true Lee fashion, banged his head on the hard wooden floor in repentance. "As punishment for myself, I promise to run one thousand laps around Konoha as soon as we get back, and if I don't finish it, I'll run five hundred more!"
Tenten gave no answer, but she approached Lee, who lay prostate on the floor, and pulled him up. Impossibly round eyes locked with chocolate orbs, and before he could stop himself, Lee threw his arms around his friend, enveloping her in a hug that told her how sorry he was for being so ignorant about her feelings.
Tenten sobbed and returned Lee's embrace.
Neji watched on quietly.
A few feet away stood Gai, hidden behind an adjoining wall, his eyes closed, his demeanor serious.
At that very moment, the three men in Team Gai came to a decision, without even consulting each other.
They will never accept any seduction mission ever again.
"You changed your usual attire," Neji said by way of greeting, as he regarded her with warm gray eyes. "You're more . . . covered up now."
Tenten grinned and nodded, smoothing out the crinkle in her white longsleeve top. "I got sick of the pink top," she explained. "Besides, this allows me to move more easily during missions."
Neji nodded. "I'm thinking of changing my shinobi clothes too."
"Oh?" the kunoichi asked, then shrugged and looked away. "I guess we're all due for a change anyway."
A comfortable silence followed, and then, "You're okay." It was a statement, not a question.
Chocolate brown eyes met with pale gray ones, and Tenten found herself smiling all the more.
"Of course." Then, "Thank you."
Neji raised an eyebrow. "For what?" It was a question this time.
Tenten took a step forward, and squeezed his hand. "Just . . . thank you."
Neji found himself squeezing Tenten's hand in return, and, with a small smile, whispered, "Anytime."
"We found the scroll in a storage area in the mark's room," Gai said, finishing off his report. Beside him stood Neji, and then Tenten, with Lee flanking the other side, as if the kunoichi needed protection, even in the Hokage's office.
Tsunade nodded somberly, indicating that she has accepted their report.
"The mission was a success then," she said. "Congratulations."
Suddenly, "The scroll was in a separate room."
Four pair of eyes turned to the Hyuuga in the team. Tsunade nodded. "Yes," she said, all too slowly, because she wasn't the Hokage for nothing, and she knew what Neji was trying to say. "Gai already mentioned it in his report."
"A reconnaissance team would have been enough," Neji pressed on, because he knew the Godaime knew what he wanted to say, but he wasn't going to let her just wave it off as mindless chatter. "Seducing the mark had been unnecessary."
And aside from Tenten's stifled gasp, the room remained deadly quiet.
Finally, Tsunade closed her eyes, sighed, and when she opened them, said, "I understand."
And she did.
"Are we sparring today?" she asked, twirling a kunai around her left index finger, but the action made her think of lewd smiles and slimy hands. Pushing the image in the deepest recesses of her mind, she continued, "Or will you be content with me throwing weapons above your head?" And sinister chuckles echoed in her ear.
Neji regarded his teammate quietly, noticing the uneasiness she tried so hard to mask behind fake smiles. Then, "How about doing laps around the village?"
Tenten blinked. Usually, it was Lee who suggests such exercises, not Neji. "Are you sure?" Something heavy lifted from her heart.
And Neji nodded, and Tenten saw the corner of his right lip tug upward, and she suddenly understood. It was his way of telling her that she didn't need to force herself to act normal, that it was okay to try to forget what had happened.
"Okay," she grinned, before she started bursting into tears. Then, "Race you to the Hokage mountain!" she called back, taking off suddenly.
Neji smiled before running after her.
"I can't believe you did that," she whispered as their team exited the Hokage tower, the first words she said since they arrived in Konoha. "I was half-frightened the Godaime would suddenly throw you out of the window for being insolent."
"She wouldn't," came the monotone response, sounding relieved because Tenten was talking again. "She knew the mission had been a mistake."
Tenten drew a shaky breath and risked a glance at her two other teammates. Lee was smiling at her, and Gai gave her a thumbs up.
"We're sorry for letting you go through that, Tenten," Lee suddenly said, stopping in the middle of the road, bowing low once again. To his left, Gai bowed as well. Tenten was about to scold them for being silly, because it was a mission, and she was a kunoichi, and missions like that were bound to happen to her sooner or later, when Neji suddenly stood beside Lee, and followed the two green beasts' gesture.
Civilians and shinobi alike threw them curious glances, but Tenten found herself not caring about them at all. All she wanted that very moment was to throw her arms around her boys, to tell them that they're forgiven.
"Stand up, you fools," she said, grinning, with tears in her eyes. The three straightened up, and suddenly Tenten was there, her arms wrapped around Neji and Lee, with Gai patting her head affectionately. "I'm just glad that it's over," she whispered, her face buried in the crook of Neji's neck. "Let's never do that again, 'kay?"
And Neji tightened his hold around her waist, and Lee squeezed her shoulder affectionately, and Gai flashed all three a big thumbs up and boomed, "Never again."
Longer than I expected, and I had to stop before it became multichaptered. I wanted to include more Lee, but I can't seem to make it work. I still hope this came out just fine.