Title: Scars and Stitches
Characters: Team Gai
Summary: A love triangle of Gai-stronomic proportions.
Her laughter was like a waterfall—ticklish, almost taunting him with its melody. He found himself being bothered for a reason he could not define. That she, a kunoichi from an unknown clan, would laugh at his clan's customs, was an insult he felt he should not let go of lightly. Still, he realized she did not mean to be rude; it was simply in her nature to be vocal about her thoughts, uncaring if others find them offensive. He guessed it came with growing up without a generation of noblemen watching her every move; she had all the freedom to act the way she wanted, without thinking of repercussions that would affect not only her but her whole family.
He envied her for that.
"You guys seriously still do that?" she continued, chuckling, as she rubbed a blade of grass between her left index finger and thumb. "The Hyuugas are an old fashioned bunch, aren't they?"
He scoffed; what did she know about the Hyuuga's traditions? They were one of the most prestigious clans in Konoha, no, in Fire Country, so it was only natural that their means and ways were different from the other, more common, families in their village.
"Well," it was obvious that she was not finished, "Who's the lucky girl?"
She gave him another reason to frown. Now he wasn't sure if she was taunting him. One downside of arranged marriages is that the people involved have little to no opinion as to who they would be paired up with. In his case, the "lucky girl" was a distant relative, not even seventeen years old, who chose the path of being a dainty, pretty lady than that of a shinobi.
"Ah," she murmured, flicking the blade of grass away, almost carelessly. "You barely know her, do you?"
"It doesn't matter," he answered quietly. "It is my duty." Somewhere to their left, a pair of pigeons took off from a tree branch, their feathers fluttering as they took flight.
He saw her shrug. "Right," she finished, standing and dusting off her pants. "I feel sorry for you."
There it was. What he suspected she would feel when he told her about the engagement, the reason it took him so long before he told anyone outside of the clan about it. He had hoped she would prove him wrong, that years of friendship and teamwork would make her more understanding, less judgmental, about his situation. In the end, she proved that she and he were different, that no matter how long they've been together, she could never truly empathize with him.
It disappointed him more than he thought it would.
"Marrying someone you don't love," he heard her whisper, so sadly he thought her heart was broken, "no one should have to go through that."
And when he looked up to her in surprise, she turned to him, offered him the widest smile she could muster, and said, "You deserve so much better than that, Neji." Her smile didn't quite reach her eyes. "I can't say I know how you feel, because I don't, but I'm still sorry."
A pause. He opened his mouth to respond, but she beat him to it. "Do you think Lee and I can kidnap you or something, so you won't have to be forced to do something you don't want to do?"
He shot her with his most exasperated glare, but he was really trying his very best not to smile. "Tenten."
She chuckled. "I'm kidding, I'm kidding!" And then, extending her arm to him, "The offer still stands though, if you change your mind." She finished with a wink, and he fought the urge to roll his eyes. Instead, he took her hand and pulled himself up.
"Thank you." He found himself smiling for the first time since he was informed of the clan's decision.
She raised an eyebrow. "For what?"
He shrugged, turning to watch the field of grass dance before their eyes. "For listening."
She laughed, and it was beautiful. "Well, it's definitely better than listening to Lee whine about his unfortunate unrequited love for Sakura." And then, her voice growing soft once again, "I wish he'd just stop, you know."
And he turned to her, and saw that she was sad. "You're affected by it?"
Surprised, she suddenly looked up, and, pulling her hand away from him, waved it between them. He found that he missed her warmth. "N-no!" she said, too quickly. "I'm just, uh, worried, about him, that's all."
It was then that he realized it.
"You're in love with Lee."
Breath hitched, she blushed tomato red. "Neji!" she hissed. "You cannot tell him that!" And then, quietly, "I don't want him to feel awkward. He sees me as her sister, you know."
"He does," he answered, just as quietly, and realized that she treated him the same way Lee treated her. Still, "There's hope, you know. At least he's not engaged to her."
She blinked at him, and he suddenly wished he hadn't said anything. "Huh," she whispered, suddenly thoughtful. "You're right." And then, shaking her head, she smiled at him once again. "Can we just forget I ever said anything about that?" Chuckling, she rubbed the back of her head. "We have more important things to take care of," she continued, "like helping you with your wedding preparations."
He frowned. "What?"
She smiled conspiratorially. "Come on," she whispered, reaching for his hand again. "It will be like training. If you can't back out of the engagement, the least we could do to help is to make it as painless for you as possible."
He wondered why she was being so touchy all of a sudden. Not that he minded; she was one of the few kunoichi—no, scratch that, probably the only kunoichi—he was comfortable being in physical contact with.
"I doubt letting Lee and Gai help in the preparations would make it painless, especially for me," he muttered, trying to make light of the situation.
She laughed. "True, but better they help from the start, than have them crash during your ceremony, screaming something about how unyouthful you've been for keeping them in the dark."
He grimaced. Maybe she did have a point.
"We still need to ask the permission of the clan," he murmured, not pulling his hand away from her. Call it a childish impulse, but he had been a child for far too short a time, and in a couple of months, he would say goodbye to the concept altogether. Surely not even Fate would be so cruel as to deny him even this much.
She chuckled, squeezing his hand lightly. "I'm sure you'll find a way around it."
"I'll try," he replied, subconsciously running his thumb across her palm.
"Good." She finished their conversation by pulling her hand out of his grasp. "Come on," she grinned as she started to walk away from him. "I can't wait to see Gai's and Lee's reaction when you tell them the big news."
Now that was something he most certainly wished he didn't have to go through.
End of Chapter One
For the record, I blame aloetea for the creation of this story, waaaaay back when we were still discussing Talk on Corners. She unintentionally (or maybe it was intentional) introduced me to the possibility of a TentenxLee, and although I know it existed in fanfiction (and maybe canon too), it was only when we were talking about it that I actually thought of a concrete scenario for a possible story.
So yes, blame her. /points accusing finger at aloetea
Chapter Two is already written but needs heavy editing, and I'm in the middle of writing Chapter Three. I'd like to say this will end as NejiTen, but LeeTen is a tempting prospect as well. So I don't have a final pairing as of the moment, and the ending will ultimately depend on how the story writes itself (because, really, my stories sometimes literally have minds of their own).
I hope you enjoy this first installment though, and I must say, I'm really excited how this series comes out.
Reviews will be lovely, flames will be used to roast marshmallows, and trolls will be roasted with the marshmallows.