Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto, nor any places, characters, things, nor ideas therein. The aforementioned belong to Masashi Kishimoto (for what that's worth), Viz Media, Shounen Jump, TV Tokyo, etc. I am writing this fic for entertainment purposes only, not monetary gain, and I will put all characters back in their boxes, neat and shiny and unhurt, when I am finished playing in the sandbox.
Summary: It's Valentine's Day in Konoha, and Team Gai celebrates in their usual - ehm - offbeat manner. Fluff and silliness ensue. :NejiTen:
Warnings: Fluff, silliness, hilarity, Lee and Gai being slightly stalker-ish, and a kiss!
Pairing(s): Neji/Tenten, one-sided Lee/Sakura
Author's Note: I really wanted to write a Valentine's Day fic this year, since I haven't written one since Heart two years ago in my Eyes Like Open Doors compilation. I've been nearly driving myself crazy trying to come up with an idea, and nearly gave up until this one came to me today while I was eating lunch. I wrote about half of it, screamed and nearly gave up, but then my wonderful beta Mama Jo calmed me down and talked (read: threatened) me into finishing it. Thank you, Mama Jo! This is total and complete fluff and silliness, so there might be some OOC-ness ahead. (Sorry...) Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoy! Happy Valentine's Day!
*~Wings of Steel~*
"Look, it's Neji!"
"Neji, look over here!"
"Ne-e-e-ji, I have something for you!"
If Hyuuga Neji had to hear his name (accompanied by squeals, giggles, or sighs) called one more time, he was going to Gentle Fist the person into the next decade.
Clenching his jaw and curling his long fingers into fists at his sides, Neji ignored the (annoying, high-pitched, driving him insane) simpering cries battering his ears from all sides and continued striding purposefully forward. If he stopped, he would get caught. And he'd rather face an entire battalion of rogue nin - at midnight, on a moonless night, in thick fog, in the pouring rain, by himself - then get caught by fangirls wanting to shower him with gifts.
Perhaps if he ignored them long enough, they would finally leave him alone. Then again, that particular strategy hadn't worked for the past seven years, so it seemed likely it wouldn't start now.
He didn't like chocolate. Or flowers. Or fluffy stuffed animals with their creepy, glassy-eyed stares. He didn't want gifts. He'd learned after only once trying to tell his fangirls those things it was better to keep walking instead of stopping, because if he stopped, he'd get caught.
And getting caught was bad. Particularly since it was severely frowned upon for a Hyuuga to use their secret clan techniques on civilians (or even other ninja) without "just cause."
Neji didn't think anyone other than him would see being harrassed to within a millimeter of his sanity as "just cause."
Curse Gai-sensei for cancelling training today because Valentine's Day is such a "wonderful, youthful holiday"! The members of Gai-sensei's team had been told to take Valentine's Day off so they could "enjoy the youthful pursuits of true love." Neji had no idea where Gai and his clone, Rock Lee, were today (though he had his suspicions about the latter), but he wished he'd remained within the safe confines of the walls surrounding the Hyuuga estate. At least there he could get some peace and quiet, because Hyuuga women were far too well-mannered to chase after men.
Except for Hinata... But that was neither here nor there, and didn't have anything to do with Neji besides.
His ardent admirers began to trickle away after being ignored. Neji knew they would only go to the Hyuuga compound and leave their gifts there, but as long as they stopped pestering him, he was fine with it. Besides, the guards there always wound up with the chocolates, flowers, and stuffed animals anyway, so they usually didn't mind dealing with the inevitable crowd which came with the gifts.
Once Neji shook off the last few, he altered his previously random course and went straight to the apartment of his third - and the only other sane - teammate, Tenten. She lived in Konoha's apartment district, where less "prominent" (the opinion of the rest of his clan) members of society kept their abodes. Even though her neighbors were of the rough sort, they all knew better than to bother the kunoichi next door, particularly since every entrance in the apartment was rigged with traps guaranteed to deter even the most determined of criminals.
Long-used to Tenten's traps and their placement, Neji casually straddled the worn doormat on the front stoop, channeled some chakra into his hand, and then knocked on the door. The traps around - and inside - the door had been specifically designed to deactivate in the presence of two people's chakra - Tenten's, and Neji's. Even Gai-sensei and Lee did not know Neji was the only other person in the world who could get into Tenten's apartment without her being present, and he had a feeling they both would rather it stayed that way.
He only had to wait a few moments before the door opened from the other side and Tenten's cheerful smile brightened his otherwise gloomily overcast day. "Hi, Neji! You're just in time, as always. Come on in."
Stepping through the door, Neji slid off his shoes and stood aside so Tenten could close the door and reset her traps. "Thank you again for agreeing to this," he said. Even though Gai had canceled training, Neji and Tenten had secretly agreed to meet at her apartment and discuss the new technique they were devising. It wasn't quite ready to practice yet, but since their team leader would undoubtly know if they even got close to one of the training grounds, they had decided to spend the day at her apartment and work out the remaining kinks in their new partnered jutsu.
Tenten led the way down the short entry hall and preceded him into her small sitting room. "No problem," she said, waving one hand. "I didn't have anything better planned to do today." She sent him a sparkling smile over her shoulder, mischief dancing in her eyes. "And besides, I can't think of anyone I'd rather spend the day with than you."
Folding himself down onto one of the cushions at the low table in the center of the room, Neji wondered if there were a double meaning to Tenten's words. Immediately, he shook off the thought, sure he was merely projecting his own feelings onto her innocently-intended sentiment. "Hn."
A moment later, Tenten set down a steaming cup of tea in front of him before she sat down across the table with her own. "Before we get started," she said, spinning her cup around without taking a drink, "I was wondering if we could talk."
Neji arched a surprised eyebrow. Their meeting had actually been her idea, and he had expected them to get straight down to business after exchanging the usual pleasantries. The uncertain expression on her face and the way she carefully avoided his gaze, however, told him this had nothing at all to do with business. "Of course," he said, keeping his voice casual and even. "What's on your mind?"
Tenten sat silently for a long moment, just staring at the whorling patterns of steam rising out of her cup. So suddenly Neji jumped, she shoved her tea away, splashing some of the liquid onto the table. Ignoring the spilled tea, she pulled her free hand out from beneath the table and thrust something at him. "Here!" Her bright pink cheeks further flushed as she shook a small box at him. "H-Happy Valentine's Day."
He could only stare at the box for a long moment, his lips parted in shock. Tenten? "What is-?"
"Just take it!"
The slightly hysterical tone in Tenten's voice made him obey her without thinking. Snatching the box before it could fall from its precarious perch in his teammate's trembling fingers, he cradled the box in one hand as he reached for its lid with the other. "This is quite unexpected," he said as he untied the ribbon around it. She's never gotten me a Valentine's Day present before. Why start now, so suddenly?
Tenten sat with her hands clenched together with white-knuckled intensity, as she stared at the little box in Neji's hand. "It's just a little something," she said. "I've wanted to get you something for years, but I usually have enough trouble thinking of something to get you for your birthday, and finding something to get you for Valentine's Day always seemed so - I don't know - well, I didn't want you to take it wrong, and..." She trailed off, eyes full of torture.
Refusing to allow his hopes (which he hadn't even realized he'd raised) to fall, Neji lifted the lid off the plain black box and peered inside. "Tenten..." Her name escaped on a long, surprised rush of escaping air.
She jolted. "You don't like it?"
"Tenten, this is - did you make this yourself?" Even as he asked the question, he knew only she could have made something so intricate, so beautiful. Neji couldn't tear his eyes from the hand-crafted silver bird hanging from a black cord, marveling at the attention to detail on something so small. He could discern every feather in its outstretched wings, see the strength in its wide-open eyes, hear the triumphant cry escaping the open beak...
A fresh burst of red suffused her face. "I - yes." Looking down at her clasped hands, she smiled slightly. "You've always compared yourself to a bird, and the idea for that charm occurred to me back around Christmas. I didn't get it done in time to give to you then, so I decided to give it to you for Valentine's Day." She peeked up at him from beneath her lashes. "You've always seen yourself as a caged bird," she added softly. "But I don't see you that way, Neji." She nodded toward the necklace, which he'd pulled from the box. "I see you like that. Strong and beautiful and free."
Neji opened his mouth, but found he had no words with which to reply. Tenten's speech, spoken honestly and openly, left him reeling. He'd never known she saw him that way - the exact opposite way he saw himself.
He'd been so blinded by the bars of his own cage (partially self-imposed, partially clan-imposed), he had never thought to see himself that way.
Finally he found his voice. "Thank you," he breathed. Tearing his gaze away from the necklace, he looked up at Tenten, allowing all the emotions for which he had no words or even names to show in his eyes.
It had always been this way. He'd spent his entire life trying to keep people out, to keep them from getting too close. But Tenten had somehow found a way around his defenses at the beginning, working her way ever-closer to the vulnerable boy he always tried to keep hidden deep inside himself - and, at the same time, working her way deeper and deeper into his heart.
This time Tenten opened her mouth soundlessly. She stared at him, a thousand expressions flitting through her own eyes, seeming at the same time shaken and excited by his taking a chance and opening himself up to her.
Clearing his throat, Neji lifted the cord to tie it behind his neck, allowing the cool silver charm to fall against his chest. Tenten had measured it just right - the bird rested right next to his heart. "You know," he began, then paused, searching for the perfect words. Tenten had exposed her own vulnerability by giving him this gift, one far more personal than any she'd ever offered before. It was only fair he return the favor. "It's somewhat strange you see me as a bird, for I've always seen you as a bird. You have no wings, but you always fly so freely in the air, dancing and laughing and spinning..." He trailed off and touched the charm lying next to his heart. "I have always loved birds," he added. He spoke so quietly he was both hopeful and afraid she didn't hear him.
When Neji dared look up at Tenten again, he found her smiling at him. "Me, too," she agreed.
In a move so natural it felt like he'd been doing it his entire life, Neji reached for her hand. At the same time, Tenten's stretched across the table, and their fingers brushed, briefly retreated, then caught and held in the exact center of the wooden surface.
As they had been doing for so many years - sometimes without even realizing it - they met in the middle.
"What do you think our youthful teammates did for Valentine's Day, Lee?" Maito Gai questioned the moment he caught sight of the younger man the next morning.
Rock Lee paused for a long moment, considering the question, before replying. "I hope they followed your instructions, Gai-sensei - and my own example - and walked the youthful path of finding true love." He hesitated, then sighed loudly, normally cheerful expression falling. "But I am afraid they met secretly and trained instead."
Gai's own overly-enthusiastic expression faded, as well. "As much as I hope you are wrong, Lee, I fear you are right."
The two green-clad men sighed, momentarily lost in the opposite of the flowers-fairies-and-rainbows la-la land in which they usually resided. Then, with matching shrugs, they turned their jogging steps toward Team Gai's usual training grounds. "What did you do for Valentine's Day, Lee?" Gai asked.
"The same thing I do every year, Gai-sensei!" Lee replied, earlier cheerful manner fully intact once more. "I went to declare my undying love to the beautiful, youthful flower Sakura."
"And?" Gai asked hopefully, his eyes almost as wide as his student's.
"She turned me down once more." Lee shrugged. "But I shall try again next year, Gai-sensei! I will not give up until I have won the fair cherry blossom's heart!"
As the pair continued to wax poetic over the virtues of true love (and the vaguely stalker-ish pursuit of the aforementioned emotion), they reached the threshold where the trees thinned out to give way to the clearing where Neji and Tenten went about their usual daily activities (including, but not limited to, the throwing of various sharp and pointy things, creating deep holes in the ground, and separating tree limbs from their anchors).
The sight which met their disbeleiving eyes, however, was one shocking enough to bring them both to a freezing halt and send them into complete silence - a truly noteworthy event.
In the very center of the training field, Tenten stood grinning mischievously up at her sparring partner. Neji stared down at her with the softest expression he'd ever worn on his face, one hand joined with hers between them, the other lightly brushing Tenten's cheek.
"Come fly with me, Neji?" Tenten rose up on her tiptoes, expression expectant.
"Always." At the same moment, Neji tilted forward, and the pair's lips met in the most youthful, beautiful kiss Maito Gai and Rock Lee had ever witnessed in their entire combined lives.
It took a full minute before the Green Beasts recovered themselves enough to let out simultaneous shouts of joy and run back towards the village, crying out at the tops of their lungs that Tenten and Hyuuga Neji had finally, finally, discovered the youthfully wonderful path to true love.
Neji and Tenten decided they could wait until later - much later - to kill the pair.
Author's Ending Notes: ...Complete and total sap and fluff. And extremely fun to write! I wanted to do something a little different from my other Valentine's Day piece (included in my fic Eyes Like Open Doors collection), but sadly had to wait until today to get this idea. Then I got frustrated halfway through and almost quit, but thankfully my wonderful beta Mama Jo managed to get me calmed down and talked (read: threatened) me into finishing it. (Thank you, Mama Jo!) I really hope you enjoyed this piece, and thank you for reading it!