Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto nor any places, things, characters, or ideas therein. I am writing this fic for entertainment purposes only, not monetary gain.
Summary: Tsunade and Hiashi plot. Neji plans. And Tenten decides that being sick isn't really so bad, after all. NejiTen fluff
Warnings: One teeny-tiny suggestive scene (and lots of fluff)
Pairing(s): Neji/Tenten, fleeting reference to Shikamaru/Ino
Author's Note: My submission for this year's NejiTen month for BladedLove and NejiTenPlz over on dA. This is my first year to actually submit something, and I'm really excited, so I hope you enjoy it!
Sometime well after midnight, the downpour ceased and the sky cleared over the capital of the Land of Rain. Hyuuga Neji lay in bed in the modest inn, flat on his back, white eyes open without a hint of tiredness as he watched the shifting patterns of moonlight across the ceiling. The weight of his increasing responsibilities - both those imposed by himself and those others desired to impose - felt like a giant hand on his chest, pushing him down, down, until he was sure he'd dissolve into the earth, never to be seen again.
ANBU. Liason between the main and branch portions of his family. His "duty" to marry and advance the strength of the clan.
Very few times in his life had Neji ever experienced the urge to scream - none of which he especially wanted to remember. He preferred to think of himself as a rational, calm, and above all self-controlled person. But right then he felt like screaming. At the top of his lungs. And once he started, he wasn't sure he would be able to stop.
The shadows shifted again, marking the movement of time. So many decisions to make. So little time in which to make them. What was he going to do?
In the narrow bed on the other side of the plain table standing against the wall under the room's lone window, his teammate shifted restlessly and let out a little moan. Neji lifted himself onto an elbow and looked over inquisitively. Had he been thinking so loudly he'd actually disturbed Tenten? he wondered with the merest touch of whimsy.
Lying curled on her side, she seemed wrapped in a cocoon with only her head visible above the blankets in which she'd ensconced herself. Wrinkles of distress creased her forehead, and when he concentrated he heard her teeth chattering. He felt his eyebrows draw together; they had gotten awfully wet on their way here. . .
"Tenten?" He spoke quietly so as not to startle her awake, but received no response. "Tenten!" he tried again, slightly louder.
Her eyes snapped open, staring at him with unfocused confusion for a moment before recognition slowly filled their dark depths. She shivered visibly, then sniffled and said hoarsely, "I'm sorry, Neji. Did I wake you?"
"No. Are you sick?" He blinked, resisting with difficulty the urge to activate his Byakugan to check her chakra system for disturbances. This was not an emergency (as far as he could tell), so he refused to invade her privacy that way.
"No." She promptly sneezed, rendering her denial useless. She hesitated, then sighed and sniffed again. "Yes," she muttered. "I'm sorry."
Sitting up fully, Neji scooted over slightly on his bed and drew back the covers. "Come here."
Tenten eyed him warily, clutching her blankets a little tighter to herself. "Why?" she asked suspiciously.
"You're cold. Come here, Tenten."
She shook her head. "No. You'll get sick if I do."
"I'm a Hyuuga. We don't get sick. Now come here." He sat patiently, blankets still lifted invitingly, waiting with every expectation for her to stop being stubborn and see sense.
She shot a glance at the door, as if expecting it to bang open and someone to come darting in (whether to discover them or rescue her, he wasn't sure). Then she sighed, shoved her way free of her blankets and slid out of bed, taking two hurried steps across the floor so she could slide into the bed next to him.
Letting out a sigh of relief, Neji gently tossed the blankets around them both, then reclined and rolled onto his side. "Come here." Tenten, however, clung to the edge of the bed as though seriously considering jumping out and running back to her own. Honestly: Did she mistrust him that much?
She lay still, stiff, seeming frozen in place.
With a long-suffering sigh, Neji scooted forward slightly, wrapped his arms around her, and pulled her back against him. Crossing Tenten's arms over her chest, he laid his own over hers as he pressed his forehead against the back of her head. She still shivered, her chattering teeth the only sound in the room. She lay rigid as a wooden image in his arms, every muscle tensed, resisting his attempts to help her. "Relax, Tenten," he whispered, a few of her hairs that escaped from her night braid tickling his face. "Let me help you."
For a minute, it seemed she wasn't going to listen to him. She stayed unmoving, except for racking shudders every few seconds, her fingers splayed beneath his and her legs angled away from him, as close to the edge of the bed as possible. But finally she relaxed all of a sudden, melting back against him. She wormed a little bit closer into the curve of his body, shifting her legs so they pressed against his as her icy feet burrowed around in the covers, seeking the warmth of his own. Slowly, Tenten's violent shivers eased into an occasional tremor, her body continuing to relax. Her uneven breathing, broken every now and then by a cough or sniff, slowed into a natural rhythm. At long last she slipped back into sleep.
Neji continued to watch the moonlight and shadows, this time on the wall across the room from him and Tenten instead of the ceiling above. Now his teammate was taken care of, his mind drearily returned to the thoughts that had been swirling around in his head before. So many duties and expectations, everybody wanting him for something and everything equally important. But he couldn't do everything. He had to pick and choose his duties. The only problem: To which things did he say yes, and to which did he say no?
At last his eyelids grew heavy, and the thoughts assaulting his mind began to ease and ebb. Another replaced them, at first just lightly brushing the edge of his conscious, but quickly growing and dominating his half-waking, half-sleeping mind.
Tenten fits in my arms as if she were made to be here, he thought. Holding her feels so - natural. So right. He squeezed his eyes shut against the thoughts, trying to keep himself from tensing. But with his senses filled with the sweet proximity of Tenten - the freshness of her scent, the way her body fit into the curve of his as though precisely shaped to do so, the sight of her soft brown hair just a few centimeters from his nose - he found it quite hard to continue battling against what he'd been feeling for quite some time now. Tenten should be in my arms like this - in my bed like this - all night. Every night.
In his final moment of consciousness before much-needed sleep claimed him, Neji realized his decisions were not quite so hard to make, after all.
Neji woke to sunlight in his eyes and Tenten in his arms.
He blinked for a moment in the early morning light, his sleep-fogged mind taking a few sluggish moments to recall the events of the night before. Once he remembered, he focused on Tenten, realizing she slept peacefully - though her breathing still sounded a bit stuffy - and her shivers had disappeared. She felt warm, but not overly so. Carefully, he extracted his hand from where she (or had it been he?) had curled their fingers together while asleep and pressed it against her forehead, feeling for a fever. Yes, it was nothing too bad or unmanagable. She was better.
Activating his Byakugan, Neji took a few moments to focus his mind before he charged his fingertips with a little bit of his chakra. Then he found some of Tenten's central chakra points and used the Hyuuga clan's Healing Touch - which Hinata had taught him and they both then conveniently forgot to inform anyone else about - to encourage her own chakra network to flow easier, promoting faster healing. Although no medical ninja, at least he could do that much to help Tenten.
Only a few minutes after he finished Tenten began to waken. Neji lay completely still, hardly daring to breathe. What would her reaction be when she realized where she was? Things were finally so clear in his mind. But what if she reacted in a negative way?
Tenten made a soft mewing noise as she woke. She shifted around so she lay half on her side, half on her back, still pressed against him. Now he could see her face, the peaceful expression from sleep still lingering as she stretched. He watched as her fingers uncurled, stretching on their own as she extended her arms out in front of her. Then they dropped to her stomach, and she yawned, eyelids scrunching shut adorably as her pink lips opened to display her perfect white teeth. Her head rolled to the side and then jerked to a stop, her nighttime braid pulled taut: trapped half beneath her shoulder and half beneath his arm.
Her eyes flew open.
Neji's shut. He hated himself for the cowardice of the move, of course, but he just couldn't look at her for fear of the condemnation he might find there.
Well, she didn't sound angry. Slowly, he cracked open his eyes, gazing at her from behind his lashes to try to gauge her mood. "Yes?"
"I feel better. Thank you." She hesitated, staring at him with her wide brown eyes before she leaned over and pressed a kiss to his cheek. While Neji was still frozen in place with surprise (and not a little bit of pleasure), she slipped away and was through the door into the wash room before he could react.
Neji's eyes closed again, but this time a hint of a smile curled his lips upwards. Tenten.
They ate a quick breakfast, checked out of the hotel, and then picked up the scroll from the daimyo's palace that they'd been sent to retrieve before heading back toward Konoha. Fortunately the clear weather from the night before held into the morning, giving them appreciably better conditions when leaving than they'd had upon arrival the day before.
Several hours into the return trip, after they abandoned the muddy roads and took to the trees, Tenten finally spoke. "Thanks again, Neji," she said. "I feel so much better than I did last night."
He nodded once, his attention mostly on their surroundings to make sure no one attacked them. Though the Allied Nations were rather peaceful post-war, pockets of rebellion still cropped up sometimes. The last thing they (and particularly Tenten) needed was an encounter with one of those rogue cells. "You're welcome. I'm glad."
A few more minutes of comfortable silence passed. Neji and Tenten were always able to travel like this, occasionally conversing with each other but usually remaining in companionable silence. When the Green Beasts were along, silence became a foreign concept and a longed-for luxury.
"It's a good thing that cold didn't hang around long, if that's what it was," Tenten said at length. "Ino wouldn't want to be around me if I were still sick."
Neji shot a surprised glance at her. "She's staying with you?" he asked.
Tenten's cheeks turned red, and she lifted a hand to her mouth. She muttered something to her hand, then sighed and lowered it. "I didn't mean to say that," she said. "Actually I-" she swallowed hard "-I'm staying with her." She avoided his gaze determinedly, her face still a rather interesting shade of red.
Trying to digest that piece of news was an exercise in futility. Neji thought the blonde Yamanaka rather irritating, loud and boistrous, more interested in how she looked than in being a kunoichi. Thinking about Tenten rooming with her made his head throb slightly. "Really?" he asked, he hoped in a casual manner.
"I lost my apartment," Tenten said, tone subdued. "Ino offered to let me stay with her, at least until the wedding." A short chuckle, devoid of humor, left her lips. "She also offered to let me keep using her apartment after she moves out, but I can't do that. It's bad enough already that I'm having to impose on her now."
Neji glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. "Why didn't you say something?" he asked. He tried to think of a time recently where she had mentioned something about it, or acted differently than her usual cheerful manner, but came up empty.
Tenten shrugged. "Wouldn't have made a difference," she said. "Nothing you said would make the landlord change his mind, and Gai and Lee, bless their hearts, probably just would have just made things worse."
Despite his frustration at her not having told at least him about what had happened, Neji realized this as just the sort of thing to further help him make up his mind. It couldn't be coincidence that Tenten had lost her apartment, and that she would soon be out of a place to live - again.
He would have to move quickly. In fact, he would have to set things in motion as soon as he got home. But he felt happier, and more at peace, than he had since everything started piling up on him. He'd started making his decisions last night. Now he was certain. He knew what to do - what he needed to do.
Perhaps he was getting ahead of himself, but now he couldn't stop. He'd just have to hope Tenten would go along with him once he got everything ready.
After they finished giving their initial report to the Hokage, Neji lingered after Tenten left the office, headed toward her temporary home.
Lady Tsunade looked up from her paperwork, a gloomy expression on her face. "Yes, Hyuuga?" she said impatiently. "Was there something more you wanted to add?"
Clearing his throat, Neji kept his head tilted down respectfully even as he spoke, not a hint of uncertainty anywhere in his heart or soul. "I wanted to thank you, ma'am, for considering me for ANBU. But with all respect I wish to tell you I cannot accept the position." He let out his breath, the certainty he'd been feeling before even stronger. The path he'd chosen was the right one.
Abandoning all pretenses of working on her paperwork, Tsunade shot a quick glance at the door, then brought a bottle of saké and a glass from somewhere Neji couldn't quite pinpoint. "What made you decide this?" she asked on a sigh as she poured.
Neji hesitated, wondering how much, exactly, to tell her. It wasn't that he willfully wanted to lie to his superior, it was just that he wasn't exactly sure how she'd react to what had really happened to help him make up his mind. "I've put a lot of thought into the matter," he said at last. "I've considered the matter thoroughly, from every angle. When I finished, I knew ANBU was not right for me. I'm sorry, milady."
She squinted at him after swallowing her first shot of saké. "Hmm," she said ambiguously. "Well."
That's it? Neji certainly hadn't expected the woman to get down on her knees and beg him to join, but he also hadn't expected her to take it quite so ... calmly. She'd seemed so confident when she'd told him to consider (seriously) joining ANBU he'd anticipated her having a more violent reaction when he declined. "Milady?" He couldn't help the confused question from slipping past his lips.
Arching one eyebrow at him, she studied him over the rim of her (third) glass of saké with her bloodshot honey eyes. "You know," she said thoughtfully, "I admire you, Hyuuga. I really do."
Neji blinked and once again said, in no little amount of confusion, "Milady?"
"Oh, don't play naive with me," Tsunade said with a wave of her (thankfully empty) glass. "I'm proud of you. You finally did something for yourself, not what anyone else expected you to do. Not what I wanted you to do. Not what your clan wanted you to do. Not what your sensei wanted you to do. You did something you wanted to do. Or didn't want to do, in this case." She tilted her head to the side, then muttered a curse and quickly hid her glass and bottle away again before picking up her pen and going back to work. "Now go on, Hyuuga. I'll look forward to your written mission report tomorrow." Without looking up from her scroll, she waved a vague hand in his direction.
Still rather confused, Neji executed a quick bow, which he doubted Tsunade saw, then passed Shizune on his way out. He half-smiled at the dark-haired woman, who looked frazzled and suspicious, and then hurried on his way. He wondered if at any moment he would wake up in his bed at the Hyuuga manor only to discover all this only dream. He certainly hoped not! The past couple of days, though somewhat unexpected, were turning out rather nicely in his opinion. He would be quite disappointed if it all turned out to be a fantasy conjoured by his sleeping mind.
As he left the Hokage's tower, Neji turned his steps toward the Hyuuga estate. Now all he had to do was report to the other person of leadership expecting his decision, and then - if everything went according to plan, naturally - he could put the rest of his plan into action.
He could hardly wait.
"Here you go!"
Tenten stared blearily at Ino, who looked far too chipper considering it was only six in the morning. Taking the cup the blonde handed her, she muttered a thanks as she eagerly gulped down the warm liquid that succeeded in bringing her to a halfway wakened state. "How can you be so happy at this hour?" she asked, now able to verbalize her earlier question.
Ino shrugged, holding her own cup in one hand as she flipped through one of the many magazines scattered across her kitchen table. Her engagement ring flashed with each flip, dazzling Tenten's eyes. "I don't know," she said without looking up. "I've always been a morning person. And I'm excited." This time she did look up, and the grin on her face spoke volumes. "You headed out?"
"Trying to get rid of me?" Tenten said. Now she felt a little more awake, with nothing to suggest she'd had a cold a week before, she felt more like joking with her cheerful roommate. "I mean, I know I'm a night person and probably bother you, what with my staying up all hours..."
Rolling her eyes, Ino set down her cup and shoved it aside. "No, I'm not trying to get rid of you. I just don't want you to be late. Don't your teammates get impatient when you are? I know you've got Maito Gai as a sensei, and I've heard he's rather - ah - strict about being on time and the like."
Tenten rolled her eyes. "Tell me about it," she muttered. "In our genin days, if we were late, we had to do five hundred pushups or twenty laps around the village-" She paused for effect.
Ino's eyes widened slightly, and Tenten delivered the rest of her statement. "-on our hands."
"Ugh. Asuma-sensei never really seemed to mind if we were late. Which is good, because Shikamaru almost always was, the lazy bum. As time wore on, I wound up swinging by his house every day to drag him out of bed by his ponytail so we'd be halfway on time." She rolled her eyes, but the silly grin on her face softened her words.
Finishing off the contents of her cup, Tenten pushed to her feet and snatched up an apple on her way to the door. "Thanks for breakfast, Ino!" she called over her shoulder.
The blonde waved her hand over her shoulder as she returned to her magazine. "No problem! See you later!"
Taking the four flights of stairs down from Ino's apartment at a run, Tenten burst out the door at the bottom as she took her first bite of her apple. A quick glance at the rising sun on the horizon made her take to the rooftops, hopping her way along as she headed toward Team Gai's training ground. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught a glimpse of two flashes of green - Gai and Lee getting started on their laps around the village earlier than usual, but that suited her just fine - and, on the opposite side, a flash of orange that was undoubtedly Naruto, late to his own training with the extended Team Kakashi. Shaking her head, she finished off her apple as she jumped from a rooftop to a tree, before gracefully sommersaulting over the fence to land on the ground inside the area.
This time she kept her pace rather slow as she slid her apple core into her pocket and enjoyed the patterns the rising sun was making through the screen of trees overhead. She inhaled the scent of the freshly-washed earth from the storm the night before as chirping birds woke and began to greet the new day with their songs. The ground would be muddy today, but that would be to her advantage. Since she spent most of her time in the trees or the air, she would stay out of the mud, which would slow down Neji's kaiten and his fast footwork.
Tenten broke through the treeline into the clearing, smiling when she was greeted by the familiar sight of Neji seated beneath one of the trees marked with her targets. He opened one eye, smiled at her, and then returned to his meditation.
"Morning, Neji!" she greeted him. He made a soft "Hn" sound, which satisfied her as she got to work sorting out her scrolls and warming up. The routine was comfortable, familiar, as natural as breathing. They'd been doing the same thing for six years, and as far as she knew, it wouldn't be changing any time soon.
She'd just pulled out one of her scrolls and was setting up to do some target practice when Neji opened his eyes - seven minutes early - and stood up. "May I talk to you before we get started?" he asked.
Surprised, Tenten blinked and then slid her scroll back into its holster on her left leg. "Sure," she said, somewhat suspiciously. Truthfully, she'd been both hoping for and dreading this conversation for over a week, ever since she woke up in Neji's bed. Every night since then she'd woken up in the middle of the night feeling cold and lonely, though she kept telling herself that she was ridiculous for letting one night - which didn't mean anything, anyway, at least not to Neji - get to her so much. It shouldn't matter that much to her, either.
But the truth was, she couldn't lie to herself any more. The feeling she'd been fighting so hard to keep at bay, hidden and secret in the darkest corner of her mind, had come to the surface in a big way and refused to be ignored any longer. She loved Hyuuga Neji, may all the spirits and ancestors help her. However, she couldn't just admit it, and put their friendship, their comraderie as teammates, sparring partners, and fighting partners, at risk. If she lost that, she lost him. At least now she could be with him, even if he never knew the truth.
Neji came to a stop in front of her, studied her (what she hoped was) calm expression with his pale eyes, and then opened his mouth to speak. But then he compressed his lips tightly and glanced away, suddenly uncertain, which surprised her. He was never uncertain.
"Neji? Is - is something wrong?" Tenten hated how her voice shook, and how she had stuttered. She had been dreading this conversation, but yearning for it at the same time. At least once it came, she could get it over with, and things could go back to as normal as they ever were. Once Neji confirmed that he hadn't felt the same things she had that night a week ago in Rain Country, they could both forget that anything had ever happened.
"No. Nothing's wrong. In fact - I think everything is right." Neji drew in a deep breath, his eyes snapping back up to meet hers so suddenly she started. "I haven't told you this - I haven't told anyone this. But a few weeks ago, Lady Tsunade approached me about entering the ANBU."
Tenten felt her heart fall into her stomach, and then both organs crash into the ground with a resounding thud. She had been wrong. This wasn't about them, not in the way she'd thought. This was about Neji leaving the team - leaving her - and joining ANBU. Once he did, she wouldn't be able to go on missions with him anymore. She would probably never even be able to see him, at least not very often.
That thought hurt more than it should have. Her arms unconsciously raised to wrap around her stomach, trying to hold herself together. She wouldn't cry. She wouldn't fall apart. She wouldn't hurt this much. Not yet. She would smile, and be happy for him, and then let herself fall apart that night, once she got back to Ino's apartment. "Oh," she said softly. It took incredible force of will, but she managed to get a smile to curl her lips. She thought her face would crack with the effort, and she hoped it didn't look as much like a grimace as it felt. "I'm so happy for you, Neji!" Her voice rang with false cheerfulness, and she knew she was blowing it. Badly.
Neji's expression wavered for a moment. "No," he said, obviously confused. "I don't think you quite understand, Tenten. I turned her down." When she stared at him, her grimace-smile stuck on her face and her eyes suddenly as wide as Lee's, he repeated, "I said no. I'm not going into ANBU."
Her heart jolted, starting again as it yanked her stomach back into place, then leaped back into place in her chest. "I - what?" It was more a breath than actual words.
He smiled, and at that moment he looked at the same time so like, and yet unlike, the Neji she'd always known. He looked certain, confident, like usual, but at the same time, he was almost - excited. Hopeful. "At the same time, my uncle approached me about being liason between the main and branch houses in my clan. I knew I couldn't do both. But I was left wondering which one I should do. Duty to clan, or duty to village and country? I was so torn, Tenten." He reached out toward her, then hesitated. He studied her expression with solemn eyes, and whatever he must have seen on her face made him reach out with confidence to grasp her hand tightly in his. "I'm going to be liason."
This time it was a little easier for her to manage a smile. "I'm so glad!" she said. The weight on her chest had lifted slightly, and it was no trouble to sound genuinely excited. "I know you've always wanted something like this."
Nodding, Neji smiled again. "It's a start, anyway, towards what I've been hoping for. But these things take time." He looked down at their hands, shifting so their fingers were twined together. "And there is one more thing."
Tenten wasn't sure she could handle "one more thing." Her heart wasn't sure whether to jump in excitement or fall in disappointment, so she steeled herself as best she could and asked, "What is that?"
He took another step closer. Tenten's heart definitely jumped, and it was definitely in excitement. It was suddenly hard to breathe, and she found herself starting to get lost in Neji's white eyes, so much so that she nearly missed what he said next. "My uncle and the Elders want me to get married."
She blinked. What? She felt her jaw drop, and wanted to say something, but she couldn't seem to get any words out.
Neji wasn't waiting for her to respond, though. He rushed on, his words coming out with uncharacteristic nervousness, and excitement. "I'll admit that I didn't think much of it at first. I didn't want to get married. I wasn't interested in anyone." If he noticed the pain in Tenten's eyes when he said that, he didn't let on. "But then came our mission to Rain Country. You got sick, and one thing led to another..."
Tenten's breath got caught somewhere between her chest and throat. His words, his tone, his hand around hers, the way he was looking at her... Was it really possible that it all meant what she thought it did?
"I've been lying, Tenten. To you, to myself, to everyone. I don't know when or how it happened, but-" He swallowed, his Adam's apple bobbing convulsively as he stared at her, almost pleadingly. "I love you," he finished on a whisper.
Tears were beginning to stream Tenten's face, without her being able to recall when or how they had gotten started. Neji...!
Regardless of the mud, Neji went to his knees before her, still clinging to her hand and staring - hard - into her eyes. "I've hardly dared let myself hope this past week that you feel the same. I've nearly talked myself out of all this several times. But I talked to my uncle and Hinata last night, and - and if you say yes, they'll accept you as my wife." He swallowed again, his other hand lifting to grasp her other one. "Tenten, will you - will you marry me?"
The world suddenly halted around them. But, at the exact same moment, everything slid into place. The pain she'd been feeling the past week melted away, taking the tension in her body with it as she let out a shaky breath. Without removing her gaze from Neji's, she extracted her hands from his, fell to her knees in front of him, and then threw her arms around his shoulders. Burying her face in his neck, she inhaled his scent - the best cologne all its own, unbottled and belonging solely to him - as she breathed only one word. "Yes."
There were things to do, people to tell, plans to make. But as Neji's mouth claimed hers in their first kiss, one that far outdid any (the many) that she had ever dreamed about, Tenten decided they could all wait until later. They could all wait forever, for that matter.
And to think, it had all started with a little head cold!
Tenten decided she wouldn't mind being sick more often, just so long as Neji would always be there to keep her warm and kiss it all better.
Author's Ending Notes: Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed, and I'd love to hear what you think!