Neji and Lee were in Tenten's apartment for the first time since they had become a part of Team Gai more than eight years ago. The kunoichi had moved constantly, her improved circumstances after making jounin last year finally allowing her to settle down on a comfortable apartment not far from the main marketplace of Konoha. Not one for extravagant gestures, Tenten had not even hosted a housewarming party for her new home and it was only half a year after she had moved in that Neji and Lee had been invited for a simple lunch together.
Neji was seated calmly on the tatami, steaming cups of green tea cooling on the low table set in the middle of the apartment. He liked how she had decorated her apartment in clean, sharp lines, with a few scrolls of Yong poems hanging on the cream walls that added a taste of elegance to the room. Even though she had a wide collection of weapons for her ninjutsu, the only weapon in the apartment was an ornate sword displayed above a wooden dresser, the jeweled hilt and curve of the blade hinting at superior swordsmithship. Wooden bookshelves lined the far wall of the apartment, with a bonsai tree resting beside a framed picture of their team.
Inquisitive Lee had bounded around the room as expected, touching every surface of furniture and décor. This was their youthful flower's room and it was the first time Tenten had allowed them into her home. Said kunoichi was currently in the shower, having exerted herself as usual in her spar with Neji.
Neji was just raising the tea to his lips when his spandex- clad teammate had given an excited shout of discovery. Placing the cup down resignedly, the long- haired shinobi sighed and turned, the smooth midnight locks sweeping softly across his back as he did so. Lee had extracted a simple lacquered box from behind some thick volumes on the history of weaponry on the bookshelf, shiny and dust- free despite its dark hiding place. Neji frowned slightly; Tenten obviously did not want that box discovered.
"Lee, I think you should put it back. Tenten will be out from the shower any minute." He warned his overexcited friend.
The bowled-hair shinobi only extracted the box further from the bookshelf and when he had it fully in his hands, brought it to the table where the silvery- eyed man looked on disapprovingly.
"But Neji! Don't you recognize this box? It was the one you gave to her for making jounin last year! I wonder why it's hidden behind so many books when she obviously liked it when you gave it to her!" Lee's curiosity was positively boiling over. His hands moved to slide the lid of the box, the fragrance of sandalwood delicately scenting the air.
Neji paused, disapproval forgotten for the moment. A faint flush dusted his cheeks at Lee's words. Tenten had hugged him after he handed the box to her the day after her jounin examination, a box that he had ordered a month before from the specialty ware store that the Hyuugas frequented. Neji had carved her name in kanji, "heaven", on the bottom right corner of the lid, and glossed it with rose lacquer that complemented the dark grain of the wood. The box had been the first gift he had given her, the first manifestation of his feelings for her.
Neji was not an overly emotional man; such positions were more suited to describe Naruto and Lee. Yet, those who knew him as friend or acquaintance also knew that this reserved man with the elegant features of the Hyuuga clan and distinctive lavender- white eyes was affectionate in his reserved ways.
His feelings for Tenten were like a murmuring stream in his heart, whose depth had only increased with time as Team Gai bonded over missions and trainings. Trust in each other's abilities to defend one another and admiration for each other's strengths had become solid bedrock of the stream. Tenten's determination to become the best weapon wielder in Konoha and beyond spurred her to higher heights, even as she endured the pain and injury of tough trainings by herself and with Neji. She was smart and feisty, witty comebacks whenever her teammates teased her or when Lee and Gai got up to their antics. And she was kind, the first to step out whenever an injustice was done in front of her.
The Hyuuga jounin had not made his feelings known to anybody. It was not for fear of rejection, although he had noticed Tenten's crush on Lee when they were still chuunin. It was sufficient so long as she was happy. Neji had thus remained silently by her side, protecting her even as she protected him. Such was his way with family and indeed, Team Gai had become his family in the years of fighting together through all the hardships and heartache of war and loss. Love, even romantic ones, could crystallize into a more permanent, albeit less exuberant form of treasure stored always in the heart.
"Lee! Give that back!" An enraged feminine voice brought Neji back to the present, where Tenten, long brown locks still damp from the shower, was now chasing Lee around the small apartment, the lacquered box held high in the shinobi's hands. A small smile quirked the corners of his lips as Neji took up the cup of tea again and sipped.
"Tenten, what's in the box! Why was it hidden behind the bookshelf! Didn't you like what Neji gave you?"
"No! I-it's none of your business! Give it back to me, now! I swear, I'll use you for my kunai target practise once I catch y—urghhh!"
Lee had tripped over the corner of the table and gone sprawling. Tenten, who had practically been on Lee's heels, had not managed to stop in time and she knocked into Lee as they both fell together on the floor. The box flew out of Lee's hands and the lid slid off fully, fluttering pieces of rice paper scattering onto the tatami. Neji raised an eyebrow in curiosity as the kunoichi, extracting herself from the dangling limbs of Lee, frantically began to gather up the pieces of paper back into the box, unusual for a woman who was straightforward and upfront of her actions.
"Hah! Got one! Now let's see what this paper says." Lee had sat up equally swiftly, the taijutsu master's reflexes admittedly faster than Tenten's.
"No, Lee! Give that back! Don't read it!"
It was too late. Lee's round eyes were already devouring the neat rows of words written in ink on the thin paper. His eyes widened after reading it, fingers going slack and Tenten took the opportunity to nip the paper from him, placing it back in the box before stalking to her desk and locking it in a drawer.
Throughout the uproar, Neji had calmly sat there sipping his tea, used to his teammates' antics. Lee's reaction to the paper had caught his curiosity though and the shinobi, who normally did not pry, opened his mouth to ask.
The kunoichi, noticing that Neji was about to ask about the papers, quickly preempted him. "No, it's nothing!" A pretty blush was creeping up on her cheeks, accentuating the chocolate hues of her eyes and lashes. Her hair, thick and healthy, curled around her slim face, softening the strength set in her jaw.
Neji took a quiet moment to admire her natural beauty, a small smile hidden by the teacup as he raised it again to drink. "If you say so." He was rewarded with a bright smile from her.
"No, Neji! It is something that you should r—mmph!" Tenten's hands muffled Lee's loud voice; the kunoichi had practically flown from the desk to the other side of the apartment where Lee still sprawled on the floor.
"Do. Not. Say. Anything. More. Lee." A kunai twirled threateningly from her finger in front of his face as she slowly released her hand from Lee's mouth. Which proved to be a big mistake. She should have known that when Lee was adamant about something, not even threat of death would deter him.
"You should tell him yourself then! If you like him, you should tell him! Just like how I confess every day to Sakura- san!"
The cup froze halfway to his lips as Neji processed Lee's words. Did it mean what he thought it meant? Setting down the porcelain cup gently on the wooden table, all thoughts of tea appreciation swept from his mind when he saw that Tenten's face now spotted a full blush, and she was pointedly avoiding his gaze.
"Wellll, looks like I should leave now! Sakura- san is probably at Ichiraku's now anyway! Bye and see you both!" A mischievous smile that hinted at all sorts of things hung on Lee's face and he had to duck when Tenten aimed a fist at him. The shinobi swiftly left the apartment, the door clicking shut loudly in the sudden silence of the apartment.
Tenten seemed to hesitate as she remained standing at the same spot, Neji already on his feet. The kunoichi suddenly nodded to herself, and resolutely made her way back to the desk again, retrieving the box that she had locked up just a few moments ago. Moving to stand in front of the Hyuuga, she handed the box to him.
"The papers were meant for you anyway; although I never intended to show them to anyone but myself…" Tenten was uncharacteristically shy, not looking at him even as she spoke.
Her long hair hid her face from his view, and Neji was half- tempted to activate his Byakugan, the need to see her expression burning suddenly hot in his chest. He slowly took the box from her hands and removed the lid. There were about ten pieces of folded paper within, each the size of his palm. He picked the topmost one that Lee had read and unfolded the paper, a long finger smoothing out the creases.
I dreamt of you again today. It is said that when someone appears in your dreams more than once, he is someone you were thinking of constantly. Well, I guess that's true in my case then. I'm just glad that I can get to see you and hang out together on top of thinking of you! Although at times, I wonder what you are thinking behind that calm face of yours. Would you tell me one day? I would love to know what occupies your mind, what interests you. I would love to be the one you confide in, as you have been mine for as long as I remember. I think I love you, Neji Hyuuga, though it will probably take a million kunai before I open my mouth. Really, I wish I could read your mind to see what you are thinking!
Such sweet warmth as the quiet stream in his heart overflowed, knowing that his feelings were reciprocated. Neji placed the paper back carefully into the wooden box before setting it on the table. He was happy, he realized. Truly happy and contented in this moment as the afternoon sun shone into the apartment and she was standing there in front of him, as he stepped towards her to close the distance between them, as he felt her heart beat in tandem with his.
"It was you on my mind always, Tenten."