Thirty Degrees Below ZeroFor Kaneha – I Hope You Like It!
~ 30° ~ ‘Great…just great…’ I thought. I had gone and done it again. Here I am, sitting in Konoha Park trying not to cry. It wasn’t working. I had stolen some of my mom’s precious weapons and decided to play with them. Five kunai were embedded in the tree standing across from me, and five more were sitting in front of me – one faintly stained with my blood. I had calmed myself down long enough to hear someone approaching.
“Hey, are you okay?” asked a boy my age. He had long brown hair and possessed the Hyuuga eyes. I recognized them immediately. “Do you need some help?” he offered.
“N-no, Hyuuga-sama!!” I rushed. I was seriously scared of these people. Weren’t they supposed to be the strongest in Konoha? “I-I’ll be fine!”
“Hm…” the boy cocked his head to the right, looking at my bleeding hand. “I don’t think so. Here, lemme help you!”
“N-No, really, I’ll be okay!” I struggled to hide my hand. I didn’t want him to see my foolishness.
“Hm. I’m going to help you…um…” he stumbled, realizing he didn’t know my name.
“…Tenten,” I supplied, hesitantly offering him my bleeding hand.
“Tenten-chan!” he smiled, reaching for the first-aid kit, “I’m Neji! Nice to meet ya!”
~ 25° ~
I was running around Konoha a week later. A towel was hung around my shoulders and my hair was in a low ponytail. Shorts and a T-shirt were always okay to wear when running…right?
I heard some familiar shouts as I was running past a small field. Shaking the thought away, I continued my jog right past the area. Then again, that voice did sound really familiar. Hm.
“Hey you!” someone shouted. “Um…uh…”
‘Is he talking to me? Probably not.’ I ignored the calls of the person, but froze once I heard my name.
“Tenten-chan!” he called again. “You’re Tenten-chan, right?”
I swiveled around on one of my heels and faced him. It was the same boy who had helped me a week ago. He ran towards me with a smile on his face.
“Tenten-chan!” he smiled, “How’s your hand?”
“Hm…It feels okay. It hasn’t been hurting lately,” I responded, inspecting my right hand.
“Wow, that’s good! Oh yeah, guess what?”
“It’s my cousin’s third birthday in one month!” he shouted, obviously proud. “They say she’ll be the next head of the clan! And I get to be the one to protect her!”
“Whoa…really?” I squealed, “Tell her happy birthday for me!! You think you can guard her?”
“Of course!” he smiled, putting a fist to his heart, “Hey, when’s your birthday?”
“Uh…It’s on March 9th!” I shouted happily. Neji looked at me all funny-like.
“Really? I thought it would be on October 10th,”
“Why?” I asked, trying to think. Before I knew it he poked my nose and said, “Because that’s 10/10! Get it?”
~ 10° ~
It had been one month since I last saw Neji. His cousin’s birthday was probably over already. But still, I thought I should go see him and his cousin. I ran to the last place I saw him – his private field. Or at least I thought it was. Anyway, I saw him there, furiously punching a tree.
“Neji-kun!” I called, waving one arm in the air. He stopped torturing the tree and turned my way. But instead of his cheery face, I saw a sullen and hurt one. And there was even a bandage around his forehead.
“Ohayo…Tenten-chan,” he mumbled.
“Neji-kun? Are you okay? You have a bandage around your head. Did you bump into anything?” I questioned.
“Not really…” he muttered, “I kinda…got something new on my forehead…”
“Hm,” Tenten cocked her head and intently peered at his forehead, “What do you mean by that?”
“I can’t tell you,”
“Why not?” I stared at Neji. Why wasn’t he happy? ‘Why can’t he tell me what happened? Why?’ I asked myself.
“I just can’t!” he shouted. He turned around and ran away from me, one arm shielding his eyes. ‘Is he…Is he crying?’
~ 0° ~
‘I finally found him again!’ I thought with glee. He was just a speck at the moment, but I started sprinting towards him.
“Neji-kun!” I shouted as I tackled him. With an ‘oof’ we both fell to the ground. I laughed, but when I realized I didn’t hear him laughing with me, I stopped. “N-Neji-kun?” I asked nervously.
“…Get off me,”
“Now, Tenten,” he hissed. ‘What happened to Tenten-chan?’ I thought.
“N-Neji-kun? I-Is there something wrong?” I trembled. ‘He isn’t nice. Now he’s scary!’
“They killed him…” he whispered, “They killed my dad.” Neji started violently shaking as he tightly balled his hands into fists. I was…concerned. “They killed him,” he repeated.
“The main branch…my uncle…they killed him!!” he cried, breaking down into sobs. “Tenten, they killed my dad!!”
He turned to run away a second time. I didn’t let him go. I grabbed his wrist and yanked him back towards me. He fell against my small frame and I ended up falling on my behind. But that’s okay. Now I’m hugging Neji…and maybe, just maybe…I can help him.
~ -10° ~
It’s been ten years since I last met that boy – the one with brown hair and clear eyes. I don’t even remember his name anymore. All I know is that the last time I saw him, he was crying. I wonder if he still does. I bet he doesn’t. After all, boys don’t cry…or at least they try not to, right?
Today is my first day at the Academy. I heard that we finally get to learn about being a ninja there! I couldn’t wait, so I left my home early, sprinting towards the Academy. ‘Wait a sec…’ I froze, ‘I don’t even know where it is! Crap!’
“Tenten, right? Why are you late? Apologize to the class now!” Iruka-sensei scolded, “And don’t be late again.”
“I’m sorry everyone,” I sighed, turning back to my new teacher, “I got lost and I couldn’t find my way here.”
“Hm?” Iruka-sensei raised a brow, “Didn’t your parents tell you?”
I bit my bottom lip. “I-I…My parents…are dead,” I mumbled.
“My parents are dead!” I screamed. I felt tears fall from my eyes and I ran out of the class room. I ran past some instructors in the hallway, and soon found myself outside. I wiped my eyes with the back of my arms and took a seat on the swing. I sat on it sideways, my hands hanging onto the flimsy rope that attached the swing to the tree; my legs, hanging inches above the ground on both sides of the swing.
I sat there, hidden in the shadows of the tree, regretting the tears that I had once again shed. All of a sudden…I didn’t want to go to the academy anymore. I wanted to stay as far away as possible. ‘Now they all know,’ I thought. ‘They all know…’ Leaves and twigs crunched behind me – someone was there. I slowly craned my neck towards the sound.
It was him, that boy from years ago. His pale eyes told me half of the story – he was a Hyuuga. But that was all I could decipher from my memory. The rest of him – his name, his voice, his strength – was all still foreign to me.
“You,” he commanded, “have to go back to class. I’ve been ordered to retrieve you.”
“Tch. Like I’d wanna go back. I wouldn’t belong, anyway.” I replied. “Why don’t you go back? There’s no way you can make me move.”
‘Just great,’ I groaned inwardly, ‘He knocked me out cold and dragged me back. What a jerk.’
“…Tenten are you listening?” Iruka-sensei asked.
“Wha?” I snapped back into reality. “What were you saying?” Iruka-sensei sighed, putting a hand to his forehead.
“Don’t go running off like that again. Understood?”
“Hai,” I muttered. “I understand.”
“Hey you!!” I shouted, hoping that boy would hear. “You!!” He turned around.
“What do you want?” he seethed, “I have no time to waste on the likes of you.”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever, Mr. I’m-so-high-and-mighty,” I rolled my eyes. “Ya didn’t have to go and knock me out and drag me to the classroom.”
“For your information, my name is Hyuuga Neji,” he stated, “And blame Fate.”
“Fate?” I asked, completely forgetting my grudge. “Whaddaya mean ‘Fate’?”
“Fate chose me to be the one to bring you back. As a result, you were knocked out.” And without another word, he spun around and walked off.
“Kill poor Tenten, why don’t ya,” I huffed. And the last thing I saw was a twitch of his ear.
~ -21° ~
“…Rock Lee, Hyuuga Neji, and Tenten – Maito Gai will be your new instructor,” Iruka-sensei called out. My years at the academy were finally over. Now I can go out on missions, just like real shinobi and kunoichi. I sat in the room, waiting for my new instructor, Maito Gai. I heard that he was a specialist in taijutsu, and that he had unrivaled speed. But the other thing I heard was the he had a terrible fashion sense…
“Urgh…” I sighed. ‘Terrible fashion sense, indeed.’ I sat on a tree stump, my forehead resting in the palm of my hand. ‘If I hear the word “youth” one more time I swear I’ll -’
“YOSH!! GAI-SENSEI YOU ARE SO YOUTHFUL!!”
“Shut the he -” I started.
I looked at Neji, who was sitting under a tree, trying to meditate. I frowned at how he spoke so impolitely. Then again, what I was about to say wasn’t so nice either. I then viewed my psycho teammate and sensei sobbing into their arms about how ‘unyouthful’ Neji was. I shook my head.
Since when was Neji so cold and distant? The one I remember was happy, hyper, and even optimistic. But I guess he was long gone since that day. It’s so fuzzy; even I can barely remember it. All I know is that Neji’s dad is dead. I can’t recall anything else.
“You,” he called. “Get over here.” I ignored his commands. Why should I have to listen to a freaking, fate-obsessed guy like him?
“Tenten,” he called again, this time sternly. “Now.”
“Why should I?” I glared at him.
“Because I said so. Get over here now, unless you want me to drag you again.”
Grumbling, I stood up and walked over to him. I shoved my hands in my pockets and avoided eye contact with him. “So whaddaya want Mr. I’m-so-high-and-mighty?” His eyebrow twitched.
“My name is Hyuuga Neji,” he hissed, “And starting tomorrow, you are to be here at five o’clock in the morning for practice.”
“What the?!” I yelled. “Five o’clock?! In the morning?! Are you nuts?!”
“No,” he smirked. “Five. In. The. Morning. Deal with it.”
~ -30° ~
“The final rounds of the Chuunin Exam begin today, Tenten,”
“I know, Neji. I know,” I responded. “So what are you gonna do about it?”
“Train,” he said. I rolled my eyes and laughed.
“And may I ask what’s so funny?”
“You’re so predictable, Neji. I swear, you’re response to every problem in life is ‘training’.” I poked him on the arm. He twitched.
“Don’t. Touch. Me.”
“Alright, alright! Forgot you hated human contact.” I mumbled, backing away.
“Come,” he commanded, “I need to train.”
I was panting heavily. Another training session, another two hours of my life wasted. Joy. My arms are hanging at my sides, and my knees were painfully bent. They couldn’t even support my body. The last unused kunai I had slipped out of my hand. I couldn’t even hold onto it anymore.
“…Is that all you have, Tenten?”
“Shut up!” I yelled. “Not all of us are ‘prodigies’ like you!”
“If that’s all you’ve got, then this warm-up is over,” he whispered.
“Hey, I’m still recovering from that fight with Temari!” I protested. “If it weren’t for that, I could train for another two hours!!”
“What now?” I snapped.
“That match was over a month ago,”
“Damn you.” ‘Great. Just when I thought I had an excuse.’
The winds blew through our silence and shook the tree branches. An onslaught of leaves and dirt came raining down. It was that time of the year again, eh? I brushed the sand-like dirt off my shoulder and looked at Neji’s back. And eagle flew overhead in circles. We stared up at it.
“Tenten…” he murmured, “It’s time.”
He turned around and walked away, shoving his hands into his pockets. I knew where he was heading; straight to the arena. I stood motionless in silence. I wanted to ask him, “Where was that boy I knew years ago? What happened to the old you?” But I knew I couldn’t; I just watched his back. But he stopped.
“...You aren’t coming?”
And in a flash, I saw it – the old him. That little kid he was when I first met him. And in those eyes of his were filled with disappointment and sadness - even longing. But I didn’t see it physically. His back was still turned to me. But I saw it. The Neji I had been waiting to see for so long. I smiled.
“I’m coming, Neji!”
‘And maybe…just maybe…I can help him – again. And this time, I'll do it right.'