"Fuck me with a tuba, Tenten, where did you put my acrylic paints?"
Neji was so charming in the morning the brunette-haired girl surmised. Not even a foot out of her own door and he was already lambasting her with his groggy pre-dawn scorn. They say that Neji is a cold-hearted, emotionless bastard with a popsicle up his skinny ass, but for Tenten he's that slightly sociopathic hottie she had the honor of being roommates with.
Yawning, uncaring if Neji was standing before her shirtless and ruffled like a violated ostrich as he waited for her answer, Tenten replied leisurely, "They should still be where they were last night." She found his eternal suffering amusing, but she had no intention on him going off on a rant about how much those paints cost. He could turn a blind eye to their third roommate, Rock Lee, if the guy ever got run over by a truck full of squirrels on fire, but misplace even one of his kneadable erasers and he loses it quicker than his cousin does around her long-time crush.
"I checked there!" he shouted indignantly, trailing Tenten into their shared kitchenette as she began her much more important search for some breakfast. He fidgeted uncomfortably as she pulled out a frying pan along with a couple of eggs. "Tenten, I have a piece due by Friday for critique and the entire thing is in acrylics." If one didn't know Neji, it would sound like he was reminding her of a fact that she should be well aware of. In truth, he was being whiny and trying to gloss it over with being an ass.
"Mmhmm," Tenten replied noncommittally. Of course she would know the deadline of Neji's latest art piece, considering she was the model. Glancing over at him, admiring the view of his pasty white chest that didn't seem to have the testosterone needed to grow hair, she asked casually, "Do you want your eggs sunny side up or scrambled."
Without missing an aggravated beat, Neji said, "Scrambled; with a ketchup smiley face. Now where did you put my acrylics?"
Tenten cracked open several eggs onto the pan, listening to the satisfying sound of the yolks sizzling against the burning metal. "I never touched them - do you think Lee will be here in time for breakfast?"
"Well somebody touched them - and probably not, he's still camping out to get that autograph from his idol." Neji made a face, obviously remembering how the bowl cut-haired youth enthusiastically left them to sleep in front of the renowned Hidden Leaf Theaters with all the other drama geeks. It wasn't that Lee will probably never wash his hand again after the famous actor Might Gai shakes it at the signing booth that grossed Neji out, it was having to feed Lee's pet snapping turtle that flaked rotting bits of flesh constantly while both of its lazy eyes seemed to rattle in its bony skull while its owner was gone.
Tenten rolled her eyes at his rather skewed priorities. "You probably shoved them somewhere when you came home last night, trying to make space for more of your junk." Tenten didn't mean to call it 'junk' really, but technically it was junk. Specifically, trash taken from a dumpster. That Neji dove in to retrieve himself. Late at night. Not insane, my fat ass, Tenten thought with a grin as she poked the eggs with a spatula.
"It is not junk!" was the anticipated caterwaul as Neji turned to retreat back to his inner sanctum, probably to prove her right but unwilling to admit it. For an art student he was ridiculously organized. All of his shelves were lined with books and mannequins and all the other nonsense he claims he needs but never uses, kept in immaculate order.
Becoming Neji's roommate had been the craziest thing to happen in her life. It was a sheer luck that Tenten got into Konoha's School or the Arts as a dancer, but having to room with a guy who had prettier hair than most females and an attitude fitting for only the cattiest of top models, felt like hell in the making. Neji didn't look like an art student in the first place. He seemed too pristine for it, too rigid to be in such a place - but that was only the surface. Within a year he proved that underneath his 'holier than thou' nature he was a sweet guy. Albeit, a guy who makes really pointless sculptures that combust when they spin and watches marathons of Bob Ross for fun, but sweet none the less.
Tenten hummed to herself as she filled two plates with scrambled eggs, topping them with some salt and making smiley faces on them with the ketchup. Just as she finished, the expected, "You were right, but don't you dare tell anyone!" came from the white-eyed 'prodigy'.
Feeling exactly as home, Tenten picked up the two plates and headed for Neji's room, knowing that she wouldn't give him up for anything in the world.
Here, take this knife and cut my heart out
Being a dancer surprisingly required skill. Tenten groaned as her dance teacher, Anko, made everyone do the same routine thirty times straight from start to finish. It was also done in ballet, the hardest thing to accomplish in dancing except maybe if one had to tap-dance atop a field of flaming coals. By the time lunch rolled around, Tenten felt like she needed a wheelchair just to get to the cafeteria.
"Do you think you can pose for me?" Neji asked the second she came into his view. He had been arguing with Sasuke, a junior photographer a year younger than them whom the teachers were trying to get into painting because of his potential and eye for detail. Because it was Uchiha though, Neji stopped mid-sentence to begin addressing her. The raven-haired male let out a growl before walking away to patronize his own roommates.
Tenten didn't know if she should fawn over Neji's childish passive-aggressive way for dealing with guys he didn't like, or enraged that he couldn't see her legs were still trembling from standing en-pointe for three hours. "Why yes, Neji, I would love to," she bit out, drenching the words in more sweetness than Candyland itself, and fueled by a rumbling stomach and aching toes. "In fact, for your next piece why don't I pose naked with a flock of doves around me, one perched lovingly on my ass as I bend over to flash my womanhood on an alabaster pedestal for all to see and gawk at?"
Either he really believed her words, or he was playing along with her, but Neji got a wide glassy look in his eye as he smiled softly and clasped his hands together hopefully. "Wow, you would do that for me?" he whispered like a kid who has just been told he was getting a puppy for his birthday. Groaning in frustration, Tenten didn't bother answering as she began to drag him off to go get lunch.
You're sleeping on the floor tonight
Posing is not a hard job unless you are Tenten. She is a dancer; moving is her thing. To sit still as Neji silently judges the skin cells on her elbows was nearly impossible the first times he had asked her to do so. He usually placed a pillow or ottoman for her to lean against, and would allow breaks unless he really needed to finish something, but Tenten still found herself needing to fidget this way or that. In the beginning, Neji would stonily correct her posture and even grab and maneuver her as if she was one of his mannequins dummies.
He forced her to slow down, to become patient and think over her actions. Tenten could ponder long and hard about choices she had made just by posing for a few hours. It not only helped keep her still, but allowed to make clear-minded decisions or rewind from a strenuous day of dancing. Looking back on it, Tenten decided she should thank Neji for being a stick in the mud.
"I've been wanting to incorporate my studies on avians with my realistic paintings," he had told her nearly a year and a half ago as they ate cereal and microwaved pizza for dinner. Tenten fondly remembered Neji leaving sometimes for the weekends, sleeping out in the nearby woods to take photographs of birds and draw them nestling in trees. He would often come back filthy, sleep-deprived, and happier than ever.
"I'd like it if you would be my model, because the ones in the studio cost too much. Plus, they think I want to have sex with them." Neji was also an astounding hyperrealistic painter. The detail and likeness he imbued into his work was like looking into a mirror. Of course, others had called him rather 'plain' and 'boring' and he had a habit of being uncouth to buyers, but no one else had been able to master such remarkable technical skill as his in a long time. "It will broaden my subjects and maybe get those critics off my back. And I've always wanted to... paint you, so... will you?"
And here she was, about two years later and practically the central theme of all of Neji's big projects. He still drew others or sketched them with charcoal (which he would like to point out, "is the messiest, most kiddie-bullshit medium I have ever used.") but she ended up as his main focus in his expansion. Instead of being his 'bland' hyperrealistic self, Neji had shifted to rather surrealistic works that were still very detailed, but catered more to abstract meanings instead of 'I just painted a pretty picture'. His work had life in it. His work had her.
But sometimes she had to stay still long into the night - such as now - usually after dinner (or else the roar of her stomach would echo in their shared dorm room) and she got tired. Tenten tried hard to fight it off, to be as subtle as possible, but nothing could fool Neji's eyes as he noticed her head lean against her shoulder and her eyelids droop heavily.
"Tenten, it's nearly three in the morning... Do you want to go to bed?" But she was already in the soft clutches of slumber, a warm lazy smile on her face as she dreamed of bird wings and the spotlight on her as she danced the lead in the school's next show.
When she awoke, it was always in her own bed with the covers pulled up to her chin and the sounds and smells of Neji trying to make her favorite chocolate chip pancakes.
Why do I love turpentine so much?
"Sakura is so beautiful," Lee swooned for the twelfth time in the theater. Tenten silently swatted him in the back of his shiny round head, shushing him so that his loud voice wouldn't disrupt the intermediate-dance class.
But really, Tenten did not want to hear how pretty, talented, and absolutely flawless that Haruno girl was. Like Sasuke and Naruto, she transferred in at the middle of the year and quickly became a teacher's favorite. Diligent, hard-working, and brilliant she was.
It wasn't that Tenten was jealous of the pink-haired cherub either, because she was already the lead dancer and was already a lot more skilled. It was just that Sakura was so fucking talented.
Tenten had to struggle long and hard to get where she was. Nearly every day after grade school she forewent hanging out with classmates to attend lessons for a grueling old-school dance teacher who would hit you in the knees with a hollow iron rod if you messed up. Her family wasn't privileged like the other ones too, and she worked illegally for two years at several shady run-down diners and restaurants before she could get her job permit to help her parents afford the various classes.
Tenten wasn't a good dancer when she started either, and her mother often told her to give up before she drove her family to the poor house. But Tenten wanted to be as graceful as the dancer Lady Tsunade, and she kept practicing even when her toes bleed and her ankles buckled beneath her so she had to literally drag herself to bed some nights.
Seeing Sakura progress so easily and elegantly throughout the ranks was like a harsh punch to all of her own efforts, and it made Tenten despise that about the otherwise sweet girl.
"She's more like a baby than a goddess," someone said to her right, taking her attention immediately. Neji always had that ability about him.
Lee puffed up. "How can you say that? She is like a spring deity up there!" Neji quickly glared at Lee to remind to keep his volume low before glancing at Sakura like one would do a dissected specimen.
"She's not a goddess. A goddess is refined with high cheekbones and a size 0 waist. Sakura's face is too rounded and her forehead is way too big. Her entire body looks like she hasn't hit puberty yet." Before the two could get into a fight, Tenten covered Lee's mouth with her hand (a feat in and of itself), and yanked Neji down into the seat beside her.
"Can you two shut up about Sakura for one goddamn minute?" she questioned lowly, holding them physically hostage as she watched Sakura complete her practice routine. She couldn't help but frown when Sakura faltered on the ending.
I'll dawdle away time if it's time with you
Neji can be a real motherfucker sometimes.
"Move your ass, Tenten! You're a hundred and thirty-seven goddamn pounds of muscle, you can't be that slow!"
Tenten daydreamed about tackling her best friend to the floor and crushing his fragile milk bones underneath her 'hundred and thirty-seven goddamn pounds of muscle' as she jogged to keep up with the frantic Hyuuga. For a guy who is rarely seen outside of the studio, his long legs could take him far very quickly.
"Shut up! I'm the one carrying the food!" She watched as Neji's lanky rear end disappeared past another rot-infested alleyway full of dumpsters and suspicious stains streaking the walls. Snorting her bangs out of her faces (she needed another haircut) Tenten pursued her cupid with a disgruntled sigh.
They ended up in the nearby forest. Neji's Nirvana, she liked to call it as he finally began to slow down and scout the surroundings. His vigilant white eyes spotted land marks only someone as maniacal he could understand. If Neji wasn't raised by his stuffy, borderline-senile uncle Tenten would have waited for him to crawl around the dirt floor like a bloodhound. They spent the morning simply walking around, following some fairy dust path seen only by Neji as he guided her through the bushes and over streams with a firm hand.
"I'm glad I didn't pack anything that needs to be reheated," she said as she gazed up and watched as the sun soared to its highest point in the sky already. A refreshing breeze brushed past her, tickling her nose and nearly making her sneeze. "It's so pretty out here."
"Pretty...," Neji murmured contemplatively as he pushed a large shrub out of the way and allowed her to duck under his arm to get by. He at least had the sense to not wear anything that needed to be smoothed down (god forbid he walk around with wrinkled cuffs) and instead wore a light tan jacket tucked into dark shorts. Tenten herself had pulled on a sweater over a pink shirt and knee-length overalls, barely slipping her feet into proper sneakers before Neji told her they were off to have a 'picnic'.
Picnics with Neji were like tribal hunts sans face paint and cannibalism.
He had rules for these picnics, restrictions Tenten had simply puzzled out over the years. For one, it was only her and him. Not even Neji's darling little sisters were allowed to join him; even when Tenten invited them countless times they would stutter out excuses, flushing and rapidly glancing at their brother's stoney face. She tried to get Kiba to come along since the dog-lover enjoyed nature as well, but before their picnic Neji had disappeared while she was making the food and then Kiba had shakily called her telling her he couldn't make it because Akamaru had somehow suddenly gotten sick.
Another rule was it had to be beautiful, new, and tightly-packed. The first two were easy, especially with Neji constantly searching for different places and the forest being incredibly large, but the last part always caught Tenten's attention. Sometimes they would climb up a mountain and have to share a single rock to balance their weights on, or they would practically sit in each other's laps as they squeezed into a tiny crevice surrounded by wild flowers. Tenten vividly remembered the time Neji thought he could push her into a tree hollow, practically spanking her for the whole afternoon before he relented and then spent a good two hours trying to pull her back out.
Tenten had hoped Neji's ways would change, and he would decide they didn't need to be octopi and could just rest beside a babbling brook or a creaking widow.
"Do you think you can push your ass through this?"
It seems that Lady Luck was not on her side (Tenten never was a lucky person she concluded).
Tenten stared at the small entrance, an old burrow of sorts underneath a large rock overgrown with creepers and vines. She took another chance at the sun, and was disappointed to see it already falling past the tree tops.
"It's probably way too late by now," she said reasonably, trying not to see Neji's disappointed face. "I mean, we spent the entire day walking around and it would take ages to slip into that… hole in the ground. There wouldn't even be enough space to eat in there I bet. We can just eat on the way back. I know you're hungry, you haven't even eaten in two days and I made your favorite salads -"
Neji covered her mouth with his hand, which smelled of mint and tree sap and tasted like salty dirt. Tenten quickly stopped talking, looking up at Neji inquisitively. "I've checked the den already. It's much larger inside," he clarified, his eyes twinkling silver for a moment. "And I… thought we could sleep in it. I have some blankets and flashlights prepared already." Tenten stared at him a bit, wondering if this is really how Neji wants to spend his time with her: in a tiny hole underneath a rock in the middle of the forest more cramped than two peas in a pod.
But seeing his thoughts displayed so vividly, Tenten couldn't help but smile and remove his large clammy palm (when had he begun sweating so much?) with a nod.
It could have been romantic (but Neji just didn't do romance and Tenten had long ago stopped wishing for it) had they ended off with the implications that they spent the night cuddling together. In truth, it involved Tenten having to spend an hour enlarging the den entrance to get her body through it and then realizing that she had accidentally taken Lee's bag of leg warmers with her instead of the picnic basket. And they didn't cuddle because it was nice, they clung to each other because Neji's idea of a blanket was a thin strip of cloth and temperatures dived below twenty degrees when night falls.
As her teeth jackhammered against each other and she was gripping onto Neji for dear life though, Neji doing the same thing as he tried to get them both wrapped up in the sheet, Tenten couldn't help but grin and think that this picnic had gone pretty well.
Neji has certainly made her sleep in worse conditions with him before.
(Such locations involving in a swamp, a zoo, a mall, the top of Mount Konohagakure, and once underneath a horse.)
Sakura is beautiful.
Ino is gorgeous.
Hinata is graceful.
Temari is seductive.
Kin is exotic.
Karui is fiery.
Tayuya is freaky.
Shiho is cute.
Karin is passionate.
And Tenten is just there.
This will be hilarious on our honeymoon
What Neji wants Neji gets.
Except for now.
He growled slightly from the back of his throat as he stared down his teacher. Kakashi was unimpressed.
"You will do it. I won't let you turn down another commission like this," the one-eyed male said sternly, the two of them standing in an empty classroom after school. Tenten had already gone with Lee to buy Chinese take-out for their dinner. "Your uncle is pressuring you into taking over the company, right? He thinks you're wasting your time here. This can prove him wrong."
Neji narrowed his eyes. "But I don't want to paint Sakura nude."
Kakashi rolled his eye. "What are you, gay? She won't be nude either, she'll be wearing a white dress. Sakura's father has asked personally for you to give him a painting of his little cherry blossom. He's even promised to cover the cost of the canvas and paints."
Pressing his hands to his temple, Neji said, "This is just another plan for my uncle to get me to like Haruno. It's nothing more than trying to strengthen the company to him."
"It is," Kakashi replied stoically. "But you can't decline it."
Glaring, Neji turned on his heel and promptly walked out of the room. He would need to find the biggest, most expensive canvas he could find.
Meanwhile Kakashi leaned against his desk and sighed, pulling out a little orange book.
Caged birds always struggle the hardest.