NejiTen LJ Community Challenge: F.O.I.L (First. Outer. Inner. Last.)
Notes/Warnings: Light awkward sauce and a rather frenzied use of the prompt/s. Connected pieces; my favorite!
On Plans Unheeded
First, it was her fault. So he shouldn’t have been feeling guilty like some kind of naughty puppy as far as everything was concerned. But Tenten was the one apologizing, over and over without meeting his eye and without noticing the generous spread of rouge on her cheeks.
“I just—I’m really sorry, Neji,” Tenten said, still not looking at him. “I really am.”
He didn’t answer. Such a situation called for him to not say a thing. The situation being… his humiliation.
“I’m sorry,” Tenten said again. “It’s—it’s just that—well, I’ve never—my first k—“
(He was irrationally annoyed with her fumbling. Were they, or were they not fully grown Jounin?)
(Then again, the fact that they worked so hard to reach that level could have been why they didn’t have time to meet a civilian’s average social experience.)
Neji began to sulk. Had he been a hair’s breadth closer their lips would have met, and he was sure she would have responded. Instead, she had pulled away. He could hold her hands, using the cold weather as an excuse, but then the cold air wouldn’t feel so cold anymore… and that was weeks and weeks of planning and dreaming and anticipating that one moment—ruined.
“I’ll make you dinner,” Tenten offered miserably. She was trying to say that it was not that she didn’t feel the same things, It was just that… just that… “Tomorrow night? To make it up to you? We’ve never done that before…”
“And then, Tenten, you will simply have to move out of his line of sight while I move in, so that you and Neji can at last catch him off guard—“ Lee frowned. “Is something the matter?”
They had at first formed a circle around Lee’s plans, traced hastily on dirt, but Tenten had edged out of the ring and was sitting down. She picked at the grass, giving it her most unreadable stare. Neji was standing a little away, suddenly looking very intently at Lee’s dirt scrawls.
“Go on, Lee,” Tenten said loftily. “I’m still listening.” Her manner was bored, detached, and very unlike her usual warmer self. He had first attributed it to the cold, or maybe even a random bout of homesickness—the outer regions were both freezing and desolate. But there seemed to be something else…
“But there is something wrong here,” Lee insisted from his gut, looking from one of them to the other. “I feel left out somehow…” Their silence swelled up to match his eyebrows. He blinked. “Does this… have anything to do with the date—?”
“Just finish the briefing, Lee,” Tenten snapped, like she was upset something had come out. Lee was taken aback. He glanced at Neji.
The Hyuuga was looking up at the sky, as if watching out for something.
Lee resolved to find out what had happened. It was as if they were blocking him out, so he couldn’t see through them like their team harmony of five years usually let him. Unfortunately, those five years had also improved them as shinobi—meaning they completed the mission with excellence like usual—meaning he couldn’t call them on it and force them to work it out.
But he knew it had to do with that second date, so…
“Neji,” Lee asked him on the way home, as quietly as a Lee could. Tenten was a little away from them, inside a clearing examining a new weapon she had purchased. Supposedly it had come from a western country, and she was puzzled and thrilled with it. Lee paused, appreciating the smile on her face from where he stood. “What’s happened? And don’t tell me ‘nothing’, please. I know it’s about that second date you had…”
“…There wasn’t any second date,” Neji said stiffly. Lee was confused. He recalled that Tenten did say she couldn’t come to a gathering with him and a few others that night because she was cooking for Neji. Inwardly Lee had been very proud; Tenten was not a confident cook, especially with Neji being a picky eater.
“But the other night she said she was making dinner for y—“ Lee’s eyes widened in terror. “You—you didn’t!”
His voice got a little loud, and Tenten looked up from where she was sitting. Neji winced as she regarded them coldly, and shoved her new weapon into its case with a good grip on the handle. Neji got the impression she wanted to cut him open and skewer his innards with it. He turned to give Lee a sour look, but suddenly Lee wasn’t interested in what he had to say.
He was more interested in bashing Neji’s head in.
In short, not at all what Neji had expected. The Hokage had been extremely amused when she learned why he had come home with more injuries than Lee and Tenten combined. To her credit, she didn’t have any advise for him, just a remark that she’d thought he had grown up at last—only to find that he’d been childish.
He resented it, but she was right. He had been childish. In fact, after he had treated her, he was probably lucky she hadn’t impaled him with her new… sword… thing.
Which was why Neji had another plan. Motivated by the pain of Lee’s beatings (and powerfully annoying sermon), the Hokage’s offhand comment, and just every single thing he felt for her, he was going to make it up. It didn’t matter if she never did let him kiss her, but another mission with their cold teamwork would kill him. He’d make today the last day they weren’t speaking.
Devising then a make-up scheme in their next training session that involved flowers and a nicer pointy object than that weird thing she had purchased, he prepared himself to give up his pride. Somehow, he knew he’d never win her back if he expected the luxury of his self-importance. He briefly entertained the notion of coming armed, but dismissed it—if she killed him, he was secretly sure Lee would avenge him somehow. And anyway, she couldn’t kill him. Neji knew, deep down, that she, Tenten…
Three hours into training sans actual training and Neji’s mind was numb. Five years. Five years as teammates. The last time she had missed a training session without telling him prior had been that time she had nearly drowned in some silly breathing exercise she forced upon herself in her free time. She had pinned three medic nin to the wall when none of them would leave to inform Neji, and she would have pinned more if Lee hadn’t come by and she hadn’t run out of kunai.
Where was she?!
Another two hours passed. Neji wasn’t standing, wasn’t looking up, wasn’t even meditating—he was sitting quietly under a tree. He sensed her coming at last, and almost didn’t want to look at her.
“Hi,” she said. He was surprised to note that she was carrying a bowl, covered in foil. He assumed it was to keep the heat as she carried it through the cold. He was more surprised that she wasn’t dressed very well for the weather. He noticed she had a blanket, folded and hanging over her arm and waiting patiently. Tenten smiled, and he noticed that too—she was shy. “Are those for me?”
The flowers had been dropped in numb shock earlier, along with the long thin parcel with her name on it. Neji nodded.
“We’ve both been silly,” Tenten said, making a face. “Can I sit here?”
“I’m sorry,” Neji blurted out. It sounded so strange to him, his voice. Why was he… pleading? He didn’t remember the last time he did something like—pleading. He just wanted her to—wanted her to—
Tenten knew. She put the bowl down, wrapped the blanket around them both, and took his hand.
Later, when they were warm and full and so comfortable their hearts had probably dissolved into fine vapor, Neji could not help but ask, “What made you come in the end?”
“Well,” said Tenten, lacing her fingers through his with one hand and handling the bowl with her other. “Apart from having to withstand a beating from Lee? I knew five hours of waiting is just about the span I waited before clearing the table and keeping the food that night.”
“It was good,” Neji found himself saying dutifully. Tenten rolled her eyes.
“Now, if you had come that night, you would have known that!”
“If you hadn’t given me something to think about, I would have,” Neji retorted, feeling that the bit of emotion that came with it was quite unnecessary.
“…Touché.” Tenten replied… with a smile. Warmth rushed to his cheeks.
Neji was lost. So very lost. So lost that he decided to try and kiss her—he’d calculated that the moment she put down the bowl once full of herring noodles, he could grab her arm and pull her in—and this time she’d accept it—and then—and then he found that Tenten had been the one to press her lips to his first. Suddenly everything on the outside mirrored everything he felt inside, and he initially thought at last but could not help adding, foiled again.
Not that he minded.