Tenten doesn't really understand what poor means until she goes to school. She knows that it means that new clothes are only for birthdays and too never waste meat, but that's all. Everyone she knows has patches on the knees of their too-short secondhand pants and old dolls missing limbs.
Her world is a one bedroom apartment filled with her mother's poems and love so strong it's almost tangible.
Her mother never holds the same job for long. Every couple months Tenten finds her mother curled up on the couch past noon.
"It's too much for me, baby," she would say, burying her face in the cushions, not emerging for days. Sometimes she would cry. Sometimes she would write. And sometimes she would unmoving stare at the ceiling without as much as blinking. Tenten brushes her hair and coaxes her to eat. She's scared for Mama. She knows it isn't normal, but she doesn't know how to help.
When the money runs out, Tenten does odd jobs, waiting for that morning to come when she'll find her mother cooking breakfast and smiling, ready to start her life over again.
Tenten's memories of her father are shaky at best. She remembers a large, warm man with only one eye. She remembers her mother laughing more then and always wearing bright colors.
It was safe then.
Neji notices that the nibs of her pens are too dull and her clothes are threadbare. He doesn't think much of it, chalking it up to carelessness. He doesn't think she's poor. Poor people in the books he's read are dirty and tired and disheartened. Neji never even considers it. Tenten is spotless and smart and always smiling.
Tenten tells her mother about her new job at the blacksmith's over cold oatmeal and coffee. He's not paying very much, but it's a steady job and he'll give her a discount on his weapons and that's enough. Her mother just takes a drag of her off brand cigarette and gives her daughter a cryptic smile.
"Money's just paper that affects people like art, darling," she says in her sing-songy way.
And although she loves Mama more than anyone in the entire world, at that moment, Tenten wants nothing more than to scream at her. To scream at her mother's soft-spoken naïveté and her romantic notions of the starving artist. A little money could make everything easier.
Neji's avoiding Hiashi at the graduation reception when he runs into Tenten. She's sitting in a cherry blossom tree, all alone.
"Can I join you?"
"I think your father is looking for you."
"My parents are dead."
Tenten scoots over on the branch without another word and Neji joins her, not fully knowing why he paid the girl even the slightest attention. They sit in comfortable silence, two children alone.
(She tells him later that her mother isn't dead, just busy.)
Neji notices that she's jittery when their first extended mission is announced. Not at all like Lee's overenthusiastic excitement. She was plainly was worried about leaving home.
That's the first time Neji really thinks about her home. Who was she about to leave?
He asks her what she's worried about during their one-on-one spar.
She deliberates for a moment and tells him (half of) the truth.
"I'll have to take unpaid leave from work. Don't want him to find someone else, y'know?"
Neji nods, realizing she was leaving something out, but knowing better than to ask about it.
He wonders how much it costs to live.
Tenten injures her leg badly training one day. While it was not severe enough to require a trip to the hospital at night, she couldn't walk without assistance.
Neji volunteers to take her home, his hands lingering over her petite waist. She guides him to a neighborhood he's never been in before, shanty grey apartments confirming his suspicions about her family's financial status.
Ignoring her protests, Neji insists on taking her inside, motivated more by curiosity rather than chivalry.
He sees her mother on the couch, staring at the wall blankly and averts his eyes, embarrassed to be seeing something he was obviously not privy to.
He takes Tenten to her bedroom and apologizes somewhat awkwardly for his intrusion.
"She's really an adoring mother, don't think badly of her," she says flatly, something stirring behind her eyes.
Neji sits down next to her on the bed and lightly places his hand on hers, not saying anything. After what seems to be an eternity of silence, Tenten whispers, "I think she's getting worse, Neji. She's getting worse and I don't know how to help her."
He holds her until silent tears fade into slumber, leaving a light kiss on her forehead before disappearing into the night.
Tenten is scared to get too close. She can kiss Neji behind the closed doors of the Hyuuga compound and explore his every inch, but afterwards, she turns away. She feels the cool white silk burning her bare skin and slips out of bed quietly, ignoring his silent pleas for her to stay.
The Hyuuga compound isn't where a girl like her belonds.
"It's alright to be sad," Neji says to Tenten after a day of watching the too-rehearsed spring in her step and a smile that didn't quire reach her eyes.
She stops in her tracks but doesn't look at him.
"Let me take care of you."
Without saying anything, Tenten kisses him and then lets him hold her when she cries.
And for the first time, she lets herself be taken care of.
AN: Er, I'm not sure how that turned out. Hope you guys liked it! Please review!