Title: Just (Best) Friends

Characters: Neji, Tenten, Lee, mention of others

Requested by: Ichigo-chan

Prompt: NejiTen: A fuffy, bestfriendy, confessy one

Universe: Alternate

Category: Romance/Friendship

Rating: T

Summary: Ten years of friendship promised him a permanent spot in the proverbial friend zone, and there was little he could do to get out of it, save for literally plucking a star in the night sky and offering it to her on a platter.


Opening Song: "Horchata" by Vampire Weekend

a.

From the very start, Neji knew it was a very bad idea to fall in love with his best friend. He just knew it.

Tenten was, after all, quirky and popular and everything that he was not, and there was nothing that he could offer her that any of her past boyfriends hadn't before. Besides, ten years of friendship promised him a permanent spot in the proverbial friend zone, and there was little he could do to get out of it, save for literally plucking a star in the night sky and offering it to her on a platter. Except, of course, that would probably mean he had to destroy the entire planet in the process, and Tenten along with it.

Besides, Tenten was not the type of girl—woman, he kept forgetting they've graduated from college, finally—who would appreciate such foolish romantic antics anyway.

All unimportant details aside, Neji did not think it was wise to ruin whatever they had with insignificant feelings, because Tenten was more important to him than any other girls combined, and he knew that he amounted the same to her, him and Lee combined.

That was what usually ten years of friendship did.

b.

"So, Kiba finally asked me out, as predicted," Tenten chirped, as she sprawled on the carpeted floor of Neji and Lee's apartment, stomach propped against a throw pillow, a bowl of caramel popcorn in front of her. Neji sat on the couch, left arm draped on the backrest, a similar bowl of treats on his lap. Lion King was playing on DVD, but both of them had seen it tens of times in the past, together with Lee, who insisted that Timon and Pumba were the most youthful Disney characters created, ever.

Neji nodded, as if he expected the conversation to take place sooner or later. They had noticed how the Inuzuka kid from next door eyed Tenten since Neji and Lee moved five months past, and he was actually three months due of asking her out, if Tenten's record with other guys was any indication.

"He said we could walk his dog Akamaru in the park on Saturday," Tenten continued, thumbing through the bowl in search of that lone walnut that got mixed up with the popcorn. "Play Frisbee or something, maybe."

"Maybe," Neji echoed, not really paying his best friend much attention, preferring to listen to Elton John belt out "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" while Simba chased Nala down the waterfalls.

"So you think I should go?"

Neji blinked and turned to Tenten, who was still on the floor. "You haven't given him an answer yet?" It was seldom for Tenten to turn down a date, and very rarely did she ask for his opinion about the guys who courted her.

Tenten shrugged as she pushed herself up. "Well, he's your neighbor, so I figured you could tell me if he's some sort of serial killer or something."

Neji raised an eyebrow. "Right, because obviously I wouldn't call the cops had I known that."

Tenten chuckled and stood up, plucked the bowl of popcorn from Neji's lap, and sat down on him. At Neji's raised eyebrow, she shrugged again and leaned back against his chest. "What? You're cuddlier than the floor." She grinned and offered him the bowl.

"Popcorn?"

c.

"Sasuke will be here in five minutes, you know," Tenten muttered as she pressed a washcloth against Neji's forehead. They were in her apartment, two weeks after her date with Kiba, and her latest fling, Uchiha Sasuke, her officemate for six months, the official heartthrob of their company, was scheduled to pick her up for dinner and a movie.

And maybe something more, Neji couldn't stop himself from thinking, miserably at that.

Tenten was already dressed up half an hour ago, and was just applying the finishing touches of her mascara, when Neji had inconveniently knocked on her front door, telling him that he was locked out and Lee was still halfway across the state, and could he stay because his head was killing him?

The girl—no, woman—pulled the thermometer out of Neji's mouth and sighed. "101.3," she whispered, exasperated. "Great, just perfect. You haven't been sick in five years, and you choose tonight, of all nights, to catch the flu. Do you know how long I've waited for Sasuke to actually notice me?" She sighed. And then, more to herself than her sick companion, "Damn that Lee. The one time I actually want him to be here, and he is off in some romantic escapade with Sakura. Damn that lovesick idiot."

Tenten sighed once again and stood up, but not before tucking the blanket around Neji's shoulders. "Better call Sasuke and cancel, I guess."

"You don't have to do that," Neji murmured, then followed it with a fit of coughs. "Lee can just pick me up later. I just need an hour of sleep."

"Like hell I'm going to leave you when you're like that," Tenten scowled, poking Neji's forehead in annoyance. "The last time you got sick, we had to rush you to the ER because you stopped breathing. I'm not going to let you die in my apartment alone, you know. My insurance doesn't cover other dead people."

"I'm not going to die because of the flu, Tenten." Cough, cough. Sniff, sniff. More coughing.

"Right." Tenten rolled her eyes and grabbed her phone on the bedside table. "What, don't you want me to play nurse and kiss you better?" she asked as she searched for Sasuke's number in her phonebook.

Neji stiffened. "I didn't—"

"Yeah, yeah, I'm kidding," she said, distractedly, as she placed her phone against her left ear. "There is no way I'm kissing you when you're like that. You're contagious!" And then, with a small smile gracing her lips, "Hey, Sasuke? Yeah, me too. Listen . . . "

Neji could only watch her as she walked away from him, hips swishing in time with the throbbing in his head.

d.

Three months later, Neji came home from a very tiring day in the office to find Tenten under his blankets, hair ruffled, eyes swollen red, his favorite blue T-shirt wrinkled around her small form.

"Hey," she whispered, offering him a small smile, before burying her face in his pillow. "Lee just ran to the convenient store to get me some ice cream. He should be back in a while."

Neji sat down on the side of his bed, as if the idea of Tenten being there, in his clothes, without his knowledge, was not that surprising.

"Who is it?" he merely whispered, placing a warm hand on her shoulder, coaxing her to face him.

"No one," Tenten mumbled against the pillow, refusing to look at him. Instead, she wiggled until she was pressed against his hip, sniffing once, twice, before wrapping her arms around his waist.

"Tenten."

Tenten sniffed once more before pulling herself up and crawling on Neji's lap. She buried her head in the crook of his neck, and Neji felt hot tears kiss his skin.

"It wasn't his fault," she insisted, sniffing once again. "I broke up with him." A pause, as Neji silently placed a hand against the small of her back. "He got upset after, 'tis all."

"What did he do?" Neji demanded, voice cracking in anger, for the unknown man who turned his best friend—one of the strongest, toughest persons he knew—into a puddle of tears.

"Nothing," Tenten whispered, tightening her hold against him.

"Tell me," Neji almost hissed, and the woman in his arms shivered in response. "Tenten, who is it this time? What did he do?"

His best friend sighed, pulling her face away from his neck and then wiping her nose at the collar of his office polo. "He called me a bitch, that's all. Don't worry about it, okay?" she said when Neji felt his muscles contract in so much fury. "Lee will be back with ice cream and it will make things better."

And then she was buried in his arms again, and all Neji could do was try his best to console her, to keep his mind from thinking murderous thoughts.

e.

Tenten sighed as she pressed an ice bag against Lee's right temple. Their hyper best friend thanked her, and then proceeded to shower her with a litany of praises for her concern and the wonders of her blossoming youth, which made Tenten press the bag more roughly than she had intended, until Lee had no choice but to pull the bag away from her.

"Baka," she muttered as she stood up and walked to where Neji was seated on the floor. "All right," she said, holding the first aid kit in front of him. "Your turn."

"I'm fine," Neji said, even when his lip was bleeding and he was sporting a purple bruise under his right eye.

"I'm going to sock you if you don't let me treat that," Tenten threatened, and Neji relented, knowing that threats from his female best friend were usually accompanied with more threats and physical pain.

"You guys are both idiots," Tenten said matter-of-factly as she poured antiseptic on a cotton ball. "I mean, how did you even know where Kankuro lives?"

"Tenten, my youthful flower!" Lee bounced somewhere to their left, obviously forgetting his injuries. "You should not doubt our ability to protect your honor from the villains of love!"

"Really?" A roll of the eyes. "And you just had to challenge him the one day his brother Gaara is in town. You're lucky all you got are cuts and bruises. Gaara belongs to a gang in another city!"

"He shouldn't have called you that, Tenten!" Lee continued. "We will never let anyone tarnish your reputation with such vulgar words!"

Tenten raised an eye at Neji, as if it was him that spouted such nonsense—except it was not nonsense, because Neji agreed with Lee one hundred percent, though he wouldn't be caught dead saying what Lee just said.

"Whatever," Tenten sighed, but Neji saw that hazelnut brown eyes sparkled with appreciation, and Neji felt a stirring in his heart that told him it was the right thing to do, even if he had to walk around with a black eye and a cut lip for days.

And then cotton ball kissed wound, and all he was left to do was wince at the sting.

f.

He dated once in a while, because Lee was in a long-term relationship with his lovely Sakura-san, and Tenten had a new guy every month on the average, and really, he did feel lonely too.

So when his and Lee's taekwondo teammate Kin asked him out to dinner, Neji didn't see anything wrong with it, until Lee overheard and insisted that they go out on a triple date—him and Kin, Lee and Sakura, and Tenten and whoever was her beau at the moment.

Kin thought it was a great idea, but Neji wanted nothing more than for the ground to open up and swallow Lee whole.

g.

"She's sweet," Kin commented as they parted ways after dinner, Lee to take Sakura home, Tenten to wherever her newest boyfriend, Shino, his name was, would take her.

Probably his place, Neji thought darkly, before he felt Kin link her arm with his.

"Aa," Neji muttered, eyes still following Tenten and Shino's retreating forms, the man's arm around Tenten's waist.

"You're in love with her, aren't you?"

Neji blinked, surprised, before turning to the grinning woman beside him.

Kin chuckled. "Oh don't try to deny it, Neji," she teased. "You barely spared anyone else a glance the whole evening. Your eyes were practically glued to her, or to Shino, whom you were trying to impale with your glare."

"I did not," Neji answered, feeling he should be indignant.

Kin merely shrugged, the grin still on her lips. "Why don't you just tell her?" she advised, as she dragged him across the street to where his car was parked. "She might just feel the same."

"She's my best friend," Neji replied, though in his heart he knew, he just knew, that he had not considered her just that for a very long time.

"Mmm," Kin nodded as they stopped in front of his car. She unlinked herself from him then, and turned to give him another grin. "And while you tell yourself that, one guy will swoop in and steal her away from you forever."

h.

"Oi, Neji," Tenten called from the kitchen, waving what appeared to be a box of flour up in the air. "Don't you have any sugar left here? How am I supposed to bake cookies if you don't have sugar?"

"It's in the cupboard, Tenten. Use your eyes," Neji answered, not lifting his head from the book he was reading. Really, no one told her to bake in his and Lee's apartment anyway. And shouldn't she have brought her own ingredients?

"You suck," he heard her pout, and Neji smirked before closing his book and heading to where she was. "Here," he said, reaching for the sugar in the cupboard and placing it on top of the counter. "Happy?"

"Hah!" Tenten pointed, and Neji couldn't help but notice how cute she looked in a pink apron. "You cannot resist my charms, I knew it!"

And then Neji's eyes softened, and before he knew what he was doing, he was already reaching out to her, gently tucking a stray of brown locks that fell in front of her face.

"You have no idea."

Tenten sucked in a sharp, surprised gasp, and Neji instinctively pulled his hand and dropped it to his side.

"Right," the woman said, flustered, before turning around and fiddling with the tray of eggs she stole from their pantry. "Uh, you want to help me bake?" she said, even when she refused to look at him still.

And suddenly, Kin's words rang in Neji's ears, and the next second, he had both arms wrapped around Tenten's waist, his face buried in her left shoulder.

"Neji!" Tenten squeaked.

"Kami, you're so beautiful," was the only thing he managed to say, before the front door suddenly swung open, announcing that Lee had returned from his usual morning jog.

Neji immediately pulled away, just in time for Lee to bounce to the kitchen, joyously proclaiming how wonderful it was for their youthful, beautiful best friend to visit them on a fine, lovely Saturday morning.

i.

One year later, Neji found himself standing in the middle of their small apartment living room, staring at his best friend, the woman who suddenly disappeared, with only a note to tell him and Lee that she got a promotion and she was leaving town, and she'll visit them the first thing she has the chance, okay?

"Shikamaru proposed to me."

Not even a goddamned hi or a hello or an apology for leaving like that, and Neji did not even have a fucking clue who this Shikamaru fellow was.

"… congratulations then."

Seriously, where was Lee when he needed him? Neji was sure he could handle awkward situations better, and Lee always had a way of making Tenten uncomfortable anyway.

"What are you congratulating me for? I haven't said yes yet, idiot."

Neji blinked, and his heart hammered rapidly in his chest, because he didn't know if he should be angry or insulted or just plain grateful.

"… why not?"

Tenten shrugged, fingering the hem of her green blouse, her eyes trained on her toes.

"Don't be mistaken. I love Shika. I actually love a guy, can you believe it? But when he popped the big question, all I could see was your face, and it annoyed me so much." She looked up, and Neji was not sure if it was irritation or fondness that was reflected in her eyes. "Now what do you think is wrong with the picture, huh, Neji?"

He decided the truth was something she deserved, no matter how overdue it was.

"Tenten, listen . . ."

Still, she beat him to it.

"This is what we're going to do, okay? I am going to kiss you, and then I'm going to leave, and we won't see each other again. I will marry Shikamaru, and you will find a pretty girl, someone as pretty as you. And we will send postcards and greeting cards during Christmas, but we will not see each other again . . ." and then suddenly, her voice broke, "because I can't, I won't let myself stay in love with you, and really, you should stop being in love with me too."

Neji blinked. How could she have known? He had never told anyone, not even Lee. And then something registered in his muddled mind, something about Tenten being in love, Tenten's in love with me?

Gathering what was left of his wits, he whispered, taking a small step forward, thankful that Tenten did not seem to mind. "Or I have an alternate suggestion."

Hazelnut eyes stared defiantly back at him. "And what might that be?"

Neji smiled, not smirked, and let his left palm hover near Tenten's cheek, not really touching her, at least not yet.

"I kiss you, and then you're not going to leave. You will not marry Shikamaru—whoever he is—and I will not find a pretty girl, and the only cards we will receive from each other are for Valentines and anniversaries, because I cannot stop being in love with you, and really, you should not try to stop being in love with me."

They stared at each other for a long time, silent except for the beating of their tired little hearts.

And then Tenten grinned, and leaned in his touch. "I think I like your idea better."

Ending Song: "Electric Twist" by A Fine Frenzy


For Ichigo-chan. Sorry, I don't have a DA account, so I could not reply/message you! Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this. I'm not really good with AUs, but I tried, I swear!

And for the rest of you lovelies, feel free to leave your own request via review or PM, and I'll see what I can do. This will now be my official one-shot collection of everything Naruto, and so we need not concentrate on NejiTen sparkles all the time! (I can't write yaoi or yuri though, I'm afraid. And I suck at writing smut, so anything beyond a T rating will be unfortunately horrid.)

Update for Scars and Stitches will come by Tuesday latest, because I am off to a three-day retreat in, well, an hour. Yikes.

Reviews, lovelies?