Word count: 2,305
Summary: It was interesting how their childhood were polar opposites of each other
Note: this could be read as a prequel to one of the fics I'm working on at the moment or as a separate oneshot on it's own
One could hardly tell if the young, scrawny street rat was indeed a girl or boy under the multiple layers of dirt and grime. The child skulked around, hungrily eyeing the loaves of bread on display. The stall owner, a plump middle-aged man with a bristling moustache shooed her away indignantly. Customers approached the stall and he busied himself serving them. The young girl crept closer to the stall, and while the owner was distracted, seized her opportunity to snatch a loaf of bread and ran, tucking it into her ragged tunic as she went. Shouts rang out after her as she dodged and weaved through the crowds expertly and scurried through openings only a child of her size could squeeze through. Soldiers ran after her, long strides quickly catching up to her short ones. The girl turned into a deserted alleyway and climbed desperately up a fence before hauling herself onto the rooftop of a quiet building. She breathed hard and grinned triumphantly down at the men who had only just caught up to her. Her grin fell when one of the soldiers began climbing up after her and she took off once more, running across the sloped tiled roofs. She skidded to a stop when she reached a dead end and turned around. The man was approaching her, a ferocious scowl on his face.
The girl nervously eyed the distance between the building she was on and the next one, could she jump the distance? She didn’t particularly want to face the man’s anger, she had received enough beatings to last her a lifetime in her opinion. The decision was not an easy one to make but she would rather not take her chances getting caught so she jumped. There was a brief sensation of exhilaration which quickly turned to panic; she would not make the distance. She reached out frantically for the edge of the roof and by some miracle she managed to grab on but she was hanging on for dear life to a roof tile she could feel was becoming loose under her weight. The tile finally became loose and she found herself suspended in mid-air for a second before she plummeted down to the ground, shrieking with dismay.
Fortune had been kind to her that day as she landed in a large wooden bathtub which had yet to be emptied. Water rushed into her nose and throat and she choked and spluttered as she rose to the surface. Women screamed and the girl clamboured clumsily out of the tub. She crouched down, her back against the tub as she surveyed her surroundings with wide eyes. There were many women in dressing gowns milling around staring at her and most had grabbed a broom, saucepan, or anything else nearby to fend off an attack from her. One woman with her arms on her hips approached slowly and examined her carefully. She was pretty and wore a colourful satin dressing gown which had begun to fall open. “Hey kid, are you alright?”
The street urchin backed away from her but there was nowhere she could run. She was cornered, like a rat, and she thought she was going to die.
“Hey, hey, hey, it’s okay, I’m not going to hurt you,” the woman told her in as soothing a tone as she could manage.
The young girl trembled. She had been beaten by grown-ups before, she didn’t trust them but this one seemed different. The other women who were their audience began murmuring amongst themselves, lowering their make-shift weapons.
“My name is Anko, what’s yours?” The lady crouched down so that she was level with the frightened child.
The street rat stared at her, trying to remember what her own name was. She had never known her parents and had been raised in an orphanage which had been run with an iron clad grip. They had not given her a name as there were many children who came and went. She had ceased returning last spring as she often found herself on the wrong side of the guardians’ tempers. “No name,” she finally rasped out. The words felt unfamiliar on her tongue as she hardly used her voice nowadays. There had been little need to. Street rats were invisible to the rest of society.
The dark haired lady frowned, “That’s no good. But you know what, I’m going to call you Tenten because you fell out of the heavens.”
It had been a brothel Tenten had landed in and the mistress had made it clear to Anko, who had taken her under her wing, that they were not a charity and couldn’t afford to raise an orphan. Either Tenten had to leave or she would have to earn her keep. At the moment, the young girl was being given household chores but it would not be enough in the long run. The mistress, with her sharp eye, had noted her budding beauty beneath the boniness and had told Anko sharply that she either started training her foundling in the arts of seduction or throw her back out onto the streets. The young dark-haired woman had been furious.
Tenten stared into the darkness above her. It was late nightfall and she listened to the soft moans and grunts from the rooms above her disinterestedly. Some of the other women who lived there often gave her looks of pity, whispering that this was no place for a child to be brought up. Tenten had once asked Anko if she could stay with her here but Anko’s face had darkened and refused the girl’s request firmly. She was making arrangements. Tenten scowled fiercely before turning onto her side and glared at the wall, she would be abandoned and alone again.
When dawn broke, Tenten stirred and opened her eyes to find Anko sleeping beside her. Sometimes the woman crept back into their room in the early hours of the morning after entertaining men. Tenten fingered the edge of the sleeve of her brightly coloured dress reverently, she loved the colours that Anko and most of the other women wore.
Tenten sulked, a gypsy man had arrived to visit Anko that afternoon and had brought with him a boy her age. Both had been dressed in the brightest shades of green possible and had strange identical hairstyles. She thought that it looked like a bowl had been placed on their heads. The boy kept smiling widely at her and trying to talk to her. She refused to look at either of them and tried to stay hidden behind Anko. They had brought some exotic treats which they had with their lunch. Tenten had gobbled most of her food down then ate the last few mouthfuls on her plate slowly, savouring the taste in her mouth. Anko and the man called Gai watched her with mild amusement.
Anko smirked, “Anyway Gai, what news have you brought for me?”
The adults began talking about politics in low voices. Tenten only half-listened, not particularly interested in their conversation. Instead she studied the strange gypsy man and the other boy curiously, it was the first time she had ever seen gypsies this close. When she had still been at the orphanage, the guardians often told them not to trust gypsies as they would steal the clothes off your backs before selling you to slave traders in Suna. But this rather strange colourful man seemed honest and kind. The boy had apparently been found working in the mines. Her former orphanage guardians had often threatened to send her to work at the mines and it was a fate she was glad she had avoided. She had heard terrible stories from other orphans.
“Tenten, my little flower,” he addressed her suddenly.
Tenten snapped her attention to him and watched him warily with dark eyes. She didn’t reply.
“Would you like to see a magic trick?” he asked her with a wide grin, showing his white teeth.
The boy, Lee, began bouncing up and down in his seat excitedly. “Do the coin trick, do the coin trick!”
Tenten continued staring at Gai wordlessly.
He cast an amused look at Anko. “She doesn’t talk much,” the woman told him.
Gai nodded and suddenly pulled at something behind the little girl’s ear. “Well what have we got here?” He showed her his large clenched fist before carefully unfurling it to reveal a gold coin sitting in his palm.
Tenten stared at it with wonder, a growing smile slowly spreading across her face. She reached out to touch the coin in his hand to make sure it was real. “Do it again,” she told him, finally speaking her first words to him.
The man beamed at her and gave her the coin. He showed her both his empty palms before reaching behind her other ear and pulling out another gold coin. Tenten clasped her hands together excitedly, then patted behind her ears to check for coins. Anko smiled sadly as she watched the both of them.
It took weeks for Gai and Lee to draw Tenten out of her shell. The former street rat was wary of letting her guard down. Gai had often tried to amuse her by standing on his head and doing all kinds of silly acrobatic tricks. Lee would often attempt to do the same but with comical results. She had burst out laughing at their antics more than once. Then one day she finally joined in. The gypsy life suited Tenten well and she blossomed under Gai’s nurturing. Her life prior to this just seemed so colourless and grey in comparison.
Neji used to be a sunny child until his father, whom he adored, broke his neck in a fall trying to break in a horse for his uncle. Neji had then become a withdrawn silent child and it seemed to him that his life had suddenly lost all of its colour. He often sat on top of the odd rock formation in one of the lower fields of the Hyuuga estate. His father used to bring him there and it was away from the rest of the large household. His younger cousin, Hinata, sometimes sat with him in silence. She instinctively knew that he needed some company as well as quiet. For that he was grateful.
One of his last memories of his father had been his last trip down to the main town to see the gypsies. The gypsies often brought letters to be delivered as well as exotic goods to be sold. One particular gypsy would do all kinds of acrobatic tricks as well as giving out exotic treats to the children. Hizashi always brought Neji with him whenever he had an errand to run in town and it had been the second time he saw the gypsies. Neji was always fascinated by the bright outfits and the noise. Bells attached to the caravans tinkered constantly and there was always a troupe making music and singing with their lilting voices while animals and children wandered freely through the camping grounds. No matter how loud and chaotic it was, it still sounded like music to his ears.
He had been standing by his father’s side with wide eyes as he took in the colourful chaos around him that he never ever saw back at home. Hizashi and the gypsy man who regularly looked after their letters exchanged greetings; Hizashi quietly asking for news, and the green-garbed gypsy replying animatedly. That man was an extremely colourful man and had the oddest hairstyle he had ever seen. It looked just like a bowl. Children’s laughter rang through the air a split-second before a boy and girl who looked to be his age came running out of the long grass holding chains of wild daisies.
“Gai! Look we found flowers!” they both exclaimed in unison rather breathlessly.
“Good work!” he told them as he crouched down to have a better look at the flowers. The girl then deftly wound one of the chains around his neck.
“What about our little friend here?” Gai asked her teasingly.
Tenten turned towards the two Hyuugas and smiled shyly before holding out a daisy chain to Neji. The young Hyuuga accepted it as gravely as a young boy his age could but he couldn’t help smiling bashfully back at the girl, whom he thought looked like one of his cousin’s dolls. His father smiled with amusement as he watched the exchange between his son and the little gypsy girl.
Gai bellowed with laughter and then he crouched down in front of Neji. “Would you like to see a magic trick young man?”
“Do the coin trick, do the coin trick!” Lee exclaimed bouncing around them. Tenten quickly joined in with her adopted brother.
“Well what do we have here,” Gai reached behind Neji’s ear and opened his clenched fist to reveal an exotic sweet sitting in the middle of his palm.
A wide smile of amazement broke across his face as he checked behind his ears for more sweets. Neji was given the sweet and it tasted heavenly. There was a hint of cinnamon in the sweetness in his mouth and something else that he could not quite describe. He was then sent off to play with the gypsy children while his father exchanged more news with Gai. The other boy, Lee, had already gone barrelling into the long grass and shouted that he was going to be the first one to bring back another daisy chain.
Tenten then turned to him and held out her small hand. Neji took it without a second thought and they both ran into the long grass to find daisies to make more chains.
It had been one of the happiest days of his childhood.