I originally planned to make one big piece with all the themes and post it all at once, but I did this thing where I divided the twelve into three parts. What can I say? I like connected pieces. XD Happy New Year, everyone!
Title: [none yet] [Part 1]
Rating: K+ to T
Notes: For the 12 Days of NejiTen Challenge; connected pieces
Crossposted: Later, possibly in my journal
Themes: king, maid, swim, egg
i. every man is king of his own
On his birthday, Neji is a kind of king. He does what he likes first of all, then regally accepts his material gifts, and then allows himself special time with those considered family. All this is done with Neji taking the reigning role in mind. No teacher or uncle or Hokage has the right to push for otherwise. The day is his, and that is all there is to it. However, this year, it is a problem: he finds that he has lost power over his heart.
For any king, it is a blow on pride to lose control.
ii. the loyalty of a fair maid
“Happy Birthday, Neji!”
She says his name with a voice clear as a small bell, and with confidence that will follow him to the ends of the worlds. He doesn’t know if he can risk that confidence.
They walk in companionable silence for the moment. She is humming today, happy because she has something for him in her bento. They’re having a picnic, Tenten’s idea, one of her more generous birthday gifts. His birthday catches her in a good mood this year, and he wishes it would make him more comfortable. It’s a rare day where the skies are bright and clear enough for Neji to agree to such a thing, when they could be training instead. They don’t say much, because they never do, but it is the company that ensures that neither strays very far.
When at last they reach a grassy bank, they sit down. Tenten leans against the tree, kicking off her flat shoes and gazing serenely through the shade. She is occupied by minor thoughts—she could have worn a skirt, it wouldn’t have been bad, maybe somebody would notice? Neji lets her sit with her thoughts. In another minute they will eat and words will come. For now he sits near her, meaning to meditate for a short while.
And all at once he’s done, finished with thorough meditation, but she hasn’t spoken yet. He realizes that she’s fallen asleep against the trunk. The sight of her, sleeping so peaceful and so open to adoration, stirs something in his heart. It only takes him a second to dash all previous rules set around his own ideas of appropriateness; he lays down with his head on her lap and sleeps sweetly. It’s his best nap yet.
He is almost sorry when he wakes up, horrified, when up until then he had maintained himself so well. He has near ruined their friendship, he thinks, their partnership. Wildly he believes that his restraint is the one thing keeping things as is. Tenten is still asleep, but Neji is wide awake now, and he springs up. He knows he needs to leave and think, somewhere as quiet but where he can’t smell her windy scent.
As for Tenten, she wakes up alone, puzzled, but still ready to follow him.
iii. swim, or you’ll drown
He is unappreciative when he returns to find her gone. He wonders if she felt the same upon waking, but merely stands on the bank and searched for her. Her shoes are still there.
Neji begins to feel the rise of panic when he senses someone in the river. He doesn’t consider his notions unreasonable, and commands his Byakugan to find her. He barely sees her when he is already running towards her.
“Oh, hi Neji,” Tenten says, smiling as she sees him. She is midway across the river, holding something carefully in her hand, which she tucks away into a pouch. She stands with the feathery step of a kunoichi on the water, the flow of the river softly licking her bare soles. She keeps a steady flow of chakra trickling into her feet to keep herself above, where the sun is. The light is spilling in to her hair, a careful but loose knot of chestnut. She’s a strange, bright, and beautiful sight. “Where’ve you b—“
In several great strides he is halfway across the river as well, and he has her in his arms. She briefly protests, confused, but he is intent on burying his nose into her neck.
“…I had to think,” he murmurs, without really knowing what he is saying. He can feel her body stiffen in shock at the way he is holding her. His arms are carefully, securely wrapped around her. She could not fight him if she wanted to.
“What are you… Neji… Neji—You—“ Tenten pushes slightly, flustered, and can only try to be playful. The blush is spreading too thickly on her cheeks. Teasing him is her best option. “—You can’t think with me around?”
“No,” he says honestly, “Not clearly…” This quiets her for real. He can’t see her face, only feels her react with surprise. He doesn’t feel any braver, but he knows he has to persist. “Tenten… do you love me?”
She is silent. When he is serious, she becomes silent. He unwinds his arms from her slowly, and keeps his hands on her shoulders. Neji looks at her straight with everything he feels for her, and she can only stare back stunned. His hand somehow finds her cheek, soft from sunlight.
“I love you,” Neji confesses. “And—and I’m sorry, if—“
There is a splash, as Tenten abruptly ceases sending chakra down to her feet. Her weight, though not much, pulls her down like an anchor. Neji is nearly pulled in with her, but catches her quick and pulls her up. She is waist-deep wet and gasping.
“Oh, Neji,” she says, exasperation and adoration and relief all pouring out of her. She wraps her thin arms around his neck to pull herself up and kiss him. “I do. Don’t be sorry.”
This time Neji’s chakra gives way and they both plunge into the river.
iv. life encased in the fragile shell of an egg
It’s not a bad end to their picnic. The food is eaten, their clothes are hanging on the tree to dry, and the little egg that was in Tenten’s pouch now safe in its nest.
“Waterproof pouch,” Tenten explains, all smiles. It seems naughty, scandalous, because they are down to undergarments and they are sitting so close. But it’s nothing but tenderness so far, and she can lean back on him with a song in her heart. She sits inside the circle of his legs, his arms around her middle, and his chin over her head. There’s a small fire, too, and somehow they are staying even as the sun is going down when going home would have been more practical.
“You found a robin’s egg in the river?” Neji asks, memorizing the glow of the fire on her skin.
“On the other side of it, silly,” Tenten says, playing with his hair. She feels like a cat given silken yarn to play with. “A cat took it. I didn’t realize the cat had it in its mouth, but when I fed it a rice ball it let me have it. I just saw the cat there when I went looking for you. Odd of the cat… but as long as we returned the egg unharmed.” She smiles again. “Robin’s eggs are so small. I was afraid the cat might have damaged it.”
“It looked all right,” Neji offers.
“I know,” Tenten shrugs, and gathers her legs up to lean back, into him. “You know Neji, you wouldn’t think a whole life lived inside that tiny breakable thing. It’s too bad the pretty colored shell has to crack.”
He smiles this time, unused to being so content. He knows that some things break open for better things to happen, so he merely kisses her on the head and watches the fire.
It dances on the wood, doing its best to dry them, but they don’t need warmth from it.