It all began one late winter afternoon.
The wind was brutal, forcing the inhabitants of Konohagakure to seek warmth almost immediately. Those that braved the fierce wind and occasional snow bundled themselves up in hats, scarves, gloves, coats, and anything else they could find.
Many citizens found themselves in the coffee shops, wistfully sipping away at hot chocolate, coffee, or tea, ignoring the howl of the wind as they chatted up a friend or employee. Near the front window of one coffee shop in particular sat three young kunoichi, all sporting wind-swept hair and bright red noses.
"Where's Tenten?" Hyuga Hinata asked, her lavender-toned eyes searching the frigid street outside. "She said she was going to be here ten minutes ago."
"Oh, I'm sure your cousin delayed her," the blonde of the group said, scanning the street herself. She absentmindedly wrapped her fingers around the warm cup of tea she had ordered, relieved to have escaped Konoha's brutal arctic wind after a long day of training with Shikamaru. She turned her gaze back to Hinata. "As always."
Hinata chuckled, realizing that Ino had a point. No matter how cold or hot, rainy or sunny, windy or humid the day was, Neji always liked to train for six consecutive hours. Unfortunately for Tenten—his preferred sparring partner—this meant extreme fatigue and discomfort. She was also usually late to their gatherings.
"What happens when a blizzard hits?" Sakura asked, sipping her hot chocolate. "Does he still train?"
Hinata nodded. "He trains in one of the dojos if the weather is too severe. However, because the dojo limits him so much, he doubles the training time. He spends the entire day there, training with a family member," she replied.
"Sheesh, that's some dedication," Ino mumbled. "Still, he could loosen up a bit. You know, go outside, join the snowball fights—build Frosty the Snowman, perhaps?"
Sakura smirked. "Who would have known that the Blondes of Konoha are so much alike," she said, calmly slipping her fingers into her rose locks and gingerly pulling out the knots the wind had formed.
"And just what is that supposed to mean?" Ino demanded, her eyebrows knitting together.
"Oh, just that you and Naruto think alike. Nothing else," her amused friend replied.
Before Ino could throw a rebuttal, Hinata straightened up in her seat, craning her neck as she looked out the window. "She's coming!" she announced, waving her hand in an effort to grab Tenten's attention. Once the older woman saw her friends seated in the café, she made her way towards the door and entered, smiling in relief once she stepped into the cozy sanctuary.
"I'm so sorry I'm late. Neji had a new technique he wanted to try out," she sighed, shrugging out of her thick coat and settling it down on the empty chair next to Hinata.
"I think the wind burned your cheeks," Ino pointed out, passing Tenten a compact mirror so that she could see the damage. True enough, her face was bright pink, from her forehead to her cheeks. Tenten groaned, slightly slumping in her chair and burying her face in her hands.
"Oh Tenten, it's not that bad!" Sakura said, trying to comfort her friend. "Just put some lotion and aloe vera once you get home. It works like a charm."
"It's not that," she said, her voice slightly muffled. She sighed and lowered her arms, shyly meeting everyone's stares. "I-I just don't know what to do anymore. I think I've made it quite obvious to him that I have feelings for him, but he just…I don't know. I don't know what I'm doing wrong. Maybe he just doesn't like me," she said, sadly lowering her eyes back down to her rough hands. Today's training practice had certainly taken a toll on them, what with both Neji and Mother Nature testing her limits.
"Oh," Hinata said softly, watching her friend with worried eyes. Although she was on much friendlier terms with her cousin, Hinata did not know much about his feelings towards the opposite sex. He never showed much interest in any of the females in Konoha—instead, he focused on the task at hand. Now that she thought about it, she couldn't remember the last time Neji had gone out on a formal date!
And now here sat poor Tenten, who deeply admired her teammate ever since their Genin days, back when they were young and not concerned with many adult matters. That admiration had slowly developed into love, which was quite evident to anyone that truly knew the weapon mistress. She had turned down countless dates in the hope of Neji one day asking her to dinner. Even if it was just ramen at Ichiraku's, Tenten would have been elated.
"I asked him whether he was going to the winter solstice festival with anyone. All he gave me was a simple 'No'. He didn't even give me time to continue talking about it because before I knew it, he had his Byakugan activated again. So I just dropped it. I'm not going to try anymore. I'm done," she sighed. "I know what rejection is. I've seen it over and over again. I'd be an idiot to think he saw me as a woman and not just a friend."
"I'm sorry, Tenten," Sakura said, her green eyes concerned and saddened. "I wish there was something we could do to make this all better."
"We could find you a date to the festival!" Ino piped up, her eyes lighting up instantly. "Yeah, you know, to take your mind off Rapunzel. Think about it, Tenten, you're going to be miserable if you don't have a cute date to distract you."
"I don't think—˝
"Okay then!" Ino announced, grinning. "It's official. Girls, we are going to find Tenten a date."
"But I really don't—!"
"You know, for once I have to agree with Ino on this one," Sakura said, nodding her head. "A cute date would definitely take your mind off Neji. I'm in."
Tenten, horrified, looked at Hinata, her wide brown eyes pleading her to stick by her side.
"I think they have a point," she said quietly. "Just trust me, okay? I'll be able to pick out the right suitor for you."
The Hyuga heiress smiled at Tenten, which offered her a small bit of comfort. Hinata definitely understood Tenten's taste in men more than the blonde and rosette.
"Fine," Tenten conceded, watching Ino and Sakura share identical grins.
Had Tenten known exactly what she was getting herself into, the young woman would have immediately stopped her friends from playing stupid cupids.
"What about Kiba?"
"What about him?"
Ino found herself at Konoha's hospital the next day, leaning against the front desk of the emergency room while Sakura flicked through a stack of papers, absent-mindedly taking sips from her coffee cup.
"Well you know, as a date. He's single, he's become more tolerable, and after that haircut he got last week, he looks pretty decent," Ino said, twirling a long lock of hair around her forefinger. Sakura shook her head.
"Trust me…no," she said.
"What do you mean?" Ino demanded, her eyebrows knitting together in confusion. Was Sakura blind? Inuzuka Kiba was definitely growing up to be quite a handsome shinobi. He no longer smelled like a wet dog, he finally began to clip his fingernails, and he wasn't as obnoxious as he was in his younger days.
"I-I just don't think he's Tenten's type," Sakura murmured, purposely avoiding Ino's gaze.
"Listen, he's a hell of a lot more sociable than Neji, he can be funny, and I'm sure Tenten would have a good time with him. He's a lot better than Shino, and you know it. Tenten hates bugs, remember?" Ino asked.
"I know, I know, but they're not…it would be impossible because…" Sakura groaned, flustered. She had stopped focusing on the paperwork in front of her, instead fiddling with the pen in her hand.
Ino narrowed her eyes and stared at her friend. "There's something you're not telling me, and I want to know what it is, Sakura," she said. Sakura sighed, rubbing her nose bridge. Had it been any other day, she would tell Ino to get lost and that she didn't need to know everything about everyone's personal lives, but she knew that if she didn't tell Ino precisely why Kiba was out of the equation, there would be trouble.
"He's planning to ask Hinata to the festival, okay?" she said in a hushed voice, her green eyes darting around the room. "He told me a week ago. He's not interested in going with anyone else because he's trying to get Hinata to notice him."
Ino's hard stare dissipated and a smile spread across her pale face. "That is so cute!" she squealed.
"Quiet, pig!" Sakura chastised. "He told me in confidence. I wasn't supposed to tell anyone else, so you'd better keep your mouth shut, got it?"
"Yeah, yeah," Ino said, rolling her eyes. Sakura, however, knew the young woman would not say anything. "Okay, so Kiba's ruled out. Shino is also. Who's next?"
Sakura pointed her attention back to the stack of papers on her desk, a million thoughts darting around in her mind. "Chouji?" she offered. Ino shook her head.
"He already asked Ayame-chan to the festival. And don't even think about Shikamaru because Tenten will slit our throats and place our heads over her mantel. That idiot is too lazy for his own good. In fact, I'm shocked that he's even going to the festival!" Ino cried, flicking a piece of her bangs away from her face. Sakura couldn't help but smile—although Shikamaru and Ino had ended their week-long relationship rather amicably, Ino was still resentful over the fact that it had been Shikamaru's idea to break up—not hers.
Typical Ino, she thought. Always has to be the one in charge.
"Okay, so Kiba, Shino, Chouji, and Shikamaru are not in the game plan. That leaves us with Sai, Naruto, and Rock Lee," Sakura pointed out, grabbing a pen from a drawer and signing some forms. She suddenly looked at Ino, whose grimace said everything.
"Scratch that," the rosette girl said, "that only leaves Sai and Naruto."
Ino bit her lip, knowing that they had two very good candidates. On the one hand, Sai had become more sociable and agreeable. He was now covering his midriff, he smiled more, and he was becoming quite popular with everyone around town now that he was painting portraits for the citizens.
On the other, however, out of all the males that Tenten knew, Sai was the most mysterious one. They never spoke much, if at all. The date is supposed to be a fun one, not an awkward one.
But then there was Naruto, whose personality was the best ice breaker. He was loud and boisterous, but in an endearing way. Not only that, he did his very best to make his friends happy—surely he would be able to take Tenten's mind off Neji, at least for that one night.
"I go for Naruto," Ino said, nodding her head. "He's more fun to be around; he'll surely be able to distract her. And they've grown closer over the years, too. Just last week they were training together."
"Okay then," Sakura replied, her gaze directed past Ino's shoulder. "Now's the perfect chance to ask Naruto."
"Ask me what?" asked the deep voice of the Kyuubi vessel. Ino turned and found herself face-to-face with the blond young man, a relaxed smile on his face as he approached his friends. Just as Ino was about to answer, Sakura stood up, ironed the wrinkles out of her uniform with her hands, and grinned.
"Actually, my shift is over in five minutes. What if we all went to Ichiraku's for lunch? Ino and I will tell you everything," she said. Naruto eyed the two young women wearily, not quite sure whether he wanted to accept her offer.
"My treat!" Ino said, noticing Naruto's reluctance.
"So you want me to ask Tenten to the festival…to upset Neji?" Naruto asked.
"No, no, no," Ino sighed. "To forget Neji. At least for that one night."
Naruto shook his head, his eyebrows knitting together. "Are you sure about that?" he asked apprehensively. Sakura sipped on her water, watching the two blondes come to terms. So far, Naruto was not too happy about it.
"Of course I'm sure about it!" Ino cried, glaring at him. "Tenten's spent all these years pining after that ice block only to end up getting hurt! She's been nothing but good—no, great to him, and yet he treats her so unfairly! That man is asexual, okay? There's more than enough evidence to prove that!"
"Ino, tone it down," Sakura reminded her. The blonde woman took a deep breath and settled back down. She flashed her baby blues back at Naruto, meeting his own set of cerulean orbs.
"Listen, you're the only one available, okay? It's just one date. Can't you do a friend a favor?" Ino asked, flashing Naruto a smile.
He exhaled, taking a drink from his glass of water. "Well…fine. But only because Tenten's my friend. And you're sure Neji won't tear my limbs off, right?" he asked. Ino nodded. "He has no reason to tear your limbs off, Naruto. He's probably not even going to the festival."
"All right, it's a deal," he grinned, slurping up the last of his ramen. "I'll go find Tenten. Thanks for the lunch, guys!"
Before they could get another word in, Sakura and Ino watched the energetic young man make his way towards Konoha's training fields.
"That wasn't as easy as I thought it would be," Ino muttered to Sakura. "I guess everyone was under the impression that Neji liked Tenten. But, we now know that this is not the case, so it should all work out well, right?"
She turned back to Sakura, who now looked pensive. "What if he's right, though? What if Neji does actually like Tenten…he just doesn't know how to express his emotions?" she asked.
"Oh please," Ino said, shaking her head as she pulled her wallet out of her bag. "I think he's made it quite clear that he has no interest in a relationship. Tenten's spent all these years fawning after him, defending him when she shouldn't have, and for what?"
Sakura said nothing else, instead directing her gaze towards the window, watching as the snow began to fall on Konoha once again.
This is a two-shot, so the next chapter will probably be up in two to three days. Please read and review :)