Disclaimer: Naruto does not belong to me.
Pretend that Neji is alive, please. Warning for disorders.
Hello, welcome, please read on.
In the Academy, there isn't much focus on anything other than the easiest way to slice the flesh of the throat, how to target the most painful points on the body, how to stab but not kill and to be a monster while staying human. Because when you're a shinobi, looks don't matter. All that is needed is the bite of a kunai, low whistle of a shuriken, lightning quick reflexes and a cunning mind and a steel heart.
So it's irrational, Tenten decides, completely irrational to feel the insecurities she feels. It's stupid and mind-boggling and no one else cares but her.
Konoha places a great emphasis on communication, teamwork; there is nothing you can't tell your partner, split your heart open and leave no skeletons buried. That way you'll stay alive because now your weaknesses are known and can be covered. That's the lesson taught; nobody obeys.
Tenten stares at the mirror once more for a long, measured moment. Chubby cheeks puff out in irritation, and seeing this, she quickly deflates them, a surge of something violent rearing in her chest. She turns away, stalking out of her apartment with only a soft brush of wind of left behind.
Everyone knows that Neji and Tenten have a thing. It's a quiet, soft, barely-there thing, but there nonetheless. It started when they were sixteen and young and afraid. Now they're twenty and supposedly more mature and confident.
(But Tenten has never told anyone about this… insecurity. Never told Sakura or Ino or Hinata, never told Lee or Gai or, heavens forbid, Neji. It's a foul part of her that she wants, no, needs, to keep hidden. It's disgusting and so not-Tenten and totally, utterly ugly.)
She makes sure to hide it. Of course, who wouldn't? Always making sure that she acts like she normally does (but then, she isn't sure who she is anymore, because this demon is ravaging and withers away her soul, withers away everything that is her) and smiles when she has to and laughs when she needs to.
And afterwards, after the huge dinner is over and everyone trickles away to their separate paths home, Tenten grins at Neji, says she needs to go to the bathroom, and then, kneeling down on the unforgiving ceramic tiles, shoves two fingers down her throat and vomits back up everything she has eaten.
Then, when nothing comes up anymore except for putrid yellow bile, she stands, flushes and rinses her mouth at the tap. She makes sure everything is in order, tucks a stray hair behind her ear, and walks out with a small smile on her face.
"Ready to go?" Neji asks. His voice is warm and loving; Tenten doesn't deserve him, but she's selfish and conceited, and keeps him to herself.
"Yup," she chirps, and links her arm through his.
This is how she wants it. Everything is fine.
Ino is the first who notices.
"Tenten, babe, are you okay?"
There is a whiff of sweet, candied perfume as Ino sits down next to her, pulling her legs up to the ragged couch. Tenten cracks open an eye from which she was feigning sleep, cocks a brow and chuckles in confusion.
"Um, sure?" There is a small whisper of fear (what if Ino knows oh my God what if she knows I'm a freak) that shoots through her spine and Tenten forces herself to stay calm.
"Sorry," Ino laughs melodically. "No, just, well, you've been looking a little thin lately. Have you been training too hard again? I've seen you on the fields quite a lot recently."
"I'm fine. I have been training a lot, though, but I just need the exercise," Tenten shrugs, battling away the relief that surges over Ino's statement. It's okay, she hasn't found out. But it's true. She needs the exercise.
"Don't push yourself too hard, okay?" Ino is beautiful, concern etched across her perfect, perfect face. "We're already off-status; go on a date with Neji or something instead of working those muscles."
Tenten holds back from saying that that is precisely why she's training. She has to look pretty and skinny for Neji; she has to feel adequate enough in his presence, because she doesn't deserve someone as sweet and thoughtful as him.
"I just feel like I've been putting on a little weight recently," Tenten pouts. Pouting is good. Pouting makes you look cute. It takes the attention away from the content of the words.
Ino gives her a strange look, one that Tenten can't decipher. It unsettles her.
"Hey, Tenten, you know that you are very attractive, right?" Ino says suddenly, urgently.
Instead of the warm rush Tenten normally feels at receiving compliments, something cold balls up in her stomach.
"Aw, thanks, Ino," she laughs, hiding her clenched fists under her (fat, tree-trunk) thighs.
It's easy for Ino to say, Tenten thinks bitterly. Ino is gorgeous and ladylike and lovely. She is self-assured in her looks, always knows what clothes to wear and how to apply just the right amount of makeup. Ino knows how to woo boys and giggle at their jokes and display feminine charm without appearing slutty. It's unfair.
Because Tenten is here, on the side, flailing and drowning and so, so afraid. Afraid that she'll mess up with Neji, afraid that Lee and Gai will judge her, afraid of what Ino and Hinata and Sakura will think of her. She's just so damn afraid–
"You can always talk to us if you're having any problems," Ino presses on.
"I know," Tenten says. She feels as if her mouth is stretching much too tightly. "Thank you."
There's nothing in her stomach, but she continues to dry-heave. There's nothing in there, but she can feel it. The weight of food (she can't remember if she's eaten or not, if she's just imagining it) that just sits in her gut, refusing to leave.
She's just weighed herself. And now she's terrified. She's gained half a kilo.
"This isn't happening."
Come out come out come out get out get out get out–
Tenten swears and sways up, stumbling over to the door. There's a headache pounding away and she can see black spots in her vision.
"Neji, what are you doing here?" Tenten is pleased that her voice comes out bright and normal, heart racing away beneath her ribs as Neji's pearl eyes rest on her face.
There is a silence that goes on for eternity. At that moment, Tenten is suddenly aware of how handsome Neji looks. He stands there in her doorway, broad shoulders stiff, lips pressed into a thin white line. His clothes smell like fresh laundry and a hint of something him, something that is entirely Neji and is something like a mixture of daisies and rain and soap. But she can't look at his face, can't bear to meet his eyes, because she's afraid of what will be reflected back.
"So it's true," Neji breathes. There is something about the way he says that. It sends Tenten into a silent state of panic.
There are innumerable types of fear. Tenten thinks that she has experienced most, if not almost all of them. Fear of death, fear for friends, fear when you miss a step on the staircase, fear when you trip over, fear when a spider jumps onto your face, fear when you think your teacher has just died, and so on so forth.
But she has never felt this before. The fear of disappointment. She is suddenly terrified, so, so afraid of what Neji will say next. She doesn't want to hear it, she's afraid that he's going to scold her, lecture her, and she can't handle his disappointment. She can't. She's going to shatter, she knows it, and she doesn't know how to stop it.
Please don't say it. Please, please, please don't.
"Tenten, look at me."
No, no I won't look at you. I don't want to look at you.
She turns away, smile never faltering, and says, "Do you want something to drink? I made–"
There is an iron grip that clamps upon her arm. Neji spins her around so that she has no choice but to face him. What she sees in his expression throws her off completely.
Neji is afraid. Neji is afraid, too. But she doesn't understand why.
"Tenten, Tenten, I'm not joking here." His voice, already so deep, drops down a few octaves lower. There is a furrow between his brows and he's searching her face almost frantically. Like he needs to know. "Tenten, how long has this been going on for?"
"I don't know what you mean," Tenten replies. She pushes him off of her and stalks to the bathroom. He calls after her.
"You have bile on your mouth. You look like a skeleton."
Tenten bends over and washes it away. It's two o'clock in the afternoon and she's brushing her teeth. She needs to eradicate all evidence. Neji doesn't say anything as he stands statue-like in the living room.
When Tenten is finished, she procrastinates in the bathroom for five minutes before deciding that she has to confront him sooner or later. She already has a story made up.
"I had the stomach bug," Tenten says lightly as she flounces back. "It's almost gone now."
"Don't lie." He is so harsh and so unyielding.
First crack. Tenten plasters over it smoothly.
Neji's face is breaking, she can tell. She doesn't want to look. It will break her too. "Tenten, why didn't you say anything? Oh my God, I can't believe this…"
Second crack. It's bigger this time, and Tenten has trouble sealing it up again.
"Why would you do this? Why, why, why are you starving yourself? Bulimia?"
The agonizing pain in Neji's voice, his face, his everything, sends a huge blow that shatters through her entire body. Broken, broken, gone.
"Ino told me. She warned me, but I didn't believe her."
"Ino told you?" Tenten snaps. The betrayal slaps her in the face. "How dare she, she had no right."
Neji's mouth is open. "What is wrong with you? Since when did you ever speak about Ino like that?"
"If you want to keep defending her so much, then why don't you run back to her side? Leave me alone."
Because deep down, that is Tenten's greatest fear. That Neji will abandon her for someone much more capable and eye-catching. And even deeper down, she privately agrees, because what can she, Tenten, offer to someone as great as Hyuuga Neji?
"Tenten, don't drag Ino into this. She said there were signs that you had–have–an eating disorder. Please don't tell me that true. You have no reason to, you're beautiful–"
"I'm not beautiful," Tenten mumbles inaudibly. She sees Neji flinch in the corner of her eyes. Her voice has changed now; it's different, deeper, darker, hollow, sad.
"There is nothing I don't love about you, Tenten," Neji says softly. And Tenten wants to cry because it isn't true. There are too many things wrong with her, and Neji is a liar.
"Don't." She is horrified to hear the word splinter. "Don't be fake. Don't lie to me, please. Anyone but you, Neji."
"Tenten, what are you talking about? Why would I lie to you?"
"I'm not pretty!" Tenten cries, throwing her hands up in the air. She's said it, and now she can't stop. "I'm not beautiful or thin! I'm ugly and plain and boring! I don't even understand why you're going out with me. I eat so much and I have these gross muscles and I'm a tomboy and I can't dress well or do anything well except chuck shiny weapons and kill people. I'm just me, Tenten, dull, hideous, revolting Tenten. I can't even lose weight in training, and I've been training so hard, Neji, and I'm sick and tired of looking fat and feeling fat and not being pretty enough."
She doesn't remember the tears coming until Neji snaps out of his shocked daze and comes over, stricken, crushing her against his chest and murmuring things she can't hear and she doesn't know he's crying until she feels the vibrations and the shaking fingers on her back.
Neji doesn't cry.
"I'm not good enough–" Tenten manages to whisper.
"Stop," Neji chokes out. "Don't say anything else."
So Tenten reduces herself into a sobbing mess while Neji's heart breaks slowly, piece by piece by piece.
It takes a while for them both to calm down. When they do, Neji brushes a gentle finger across her face, kisses her forehead, and then leads her to the mirror. He stands behind her, wrapping strong arms around her waist, and tells her to look.
"Okay, Tenten, tell me what you see. What don't you like about yourself?"
Tenten doesn't want to do this. It's baring her body for him to see. She's ashamed, doesn't he get it? Doesn't he understand? But Neji is quiet, and Tenten forces herself to speak. The words come through bulky, ungraceful, and blunt.
"I–I don't like anything about me."
"Be more specific."
"My thighs are so big. My eyes are uneven. I have no cheekbones. I have abs, but I want a flatter stomach. I think my arms are terrible. The little mole on my shoulder annoys me. I have so many scars. My hips are wide. I don't have any collarbones. My face gets oily easily. There's just nothing special about me at all, Neji."
She can't go on, because if she does, she'll start to cry again.
Neji presses his lips into her hair, inhaling slowly, eyes closed, before he speaks.
"I like your thighs. They're strong, firm, good for running and launching off trees when in a battle. You abs are the result of hard work and dedication to the shinobi arts. Your arms are perfect for kunai-throwing. I love your eyes; they're expressive and are the exact same colour is my favourite milk chocolate. I like kissing the little mole on your shoulder. Your scars are a sign of survival and the fact that you're better than all those shinobi you've defeated. Your smile is breathtaking and bright and I love the way your eyes crinkle when you laugh. Your wide hips will be good for child-bearing later on in life, too."
Tenten's throat is too tight.
"I'm not upset because you've hidden this from me. I am, but I'm more upset about the fact that you can't see how amazing you are. You can't see that you're beautiful and gorgeous and pretty and stunning and I feel so lucky that you're mine. And I'm upset because you think that I'm superficial enough to care about how fat or skinny you look. Tenten, you almost got killed the last time we went on a mission because you were having dizzy spells. Now I know it's from the lack of food, and I'm even angrier. I don't want to lose you, Tenten. I don't want to lose you, because I love you too much."
She's crying again, and she can't stop.
Neji spins her around, spins her around so that her back is to the mirror and he gently clasps his hands around her face, lifting her chin up.
"You're imperfect, but so am I. What matters most to me is that you're Tenten, and that's all I ever want you to be."
Her heart, slowly, painfully, stitches itself back together again.
Omg cheesy cheesy cheesy ending lol. I really wanted to end it on an emotional note, though, so please forgive this rehash of cheesiness.
Idk I feel like Tenten is always placed under a stereotype, especially in canon-fics. People get this idea that Tenten's a tomboy and she doesn't care about looks. I'm not saying it's wrong, but I wanted to try a different approach because I actually see Tenten as being someone who can be quite girly. Plus I wanted to write about insecurities. And since I've been feeling very NejiTen ever since our precious Hyuuga died, this came out.
Probably contains typos. Please tell me if there are and I'll fix it up, since I have a bad habit of missing them.
Remember, if you have an eating disorder like bulimia or anorexia, don't keep it to yourself. Talk to your friends, family, or seek professional help. It's not healthy; please don't do it.