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nothing says love (like punching their friend in the face)

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“Tenten,” Neji pleaded because he had given up on dignity when it concerned his teammates a very very long time ago. “Please please stop glaring at the Kazekage. I’m pretty sure that’s technically grounds for another war,” he begged, digging his fingers into Tenten’s forearm in a part reassuring (for himself) and mostly restraining hold. Tenten finally smiled at the Kazekage delegation and Neji actually flinched; somehow her smiling looked far more like a threat than her scowl had been. The smile became briefly true when she looked at Temari then swift back to murderous when she looked at Gaara.

“I’m smiling,” Tenten snarled, baring her teeth in a grimaced and gruesome caricature of a smile. Her smile briefly turned strained but genuine as she met Lee’s eyes then turned back into a declaration of war when she side glared at Neji.

“I’m so glad you’re not in politics,” Neji hissed, kicking her ankle rather viciously. His eyes remained firmly fixed forward, expression impassive as the delegation slowly walked through the Konoha guard.

“Ow,” she hissed back, shifting her weight slightly to ease the rising ache. “Well that asshole-”

Neji firmly planted an elbow in Tenten’s ribs causing her breath to escape her in a soft woosh. That bought him enough time to silence Tenten for the duration that the Kazekage and his delegation took to finally enter the Hokage’s office. “Tenten-all I asked for was like thirty minutes of good behavior,” he said pushing his fingers roughly through his hair. He and Tenten huddled together, ignoring the others who were groaning and stretching and ignoring Lee who continued to stare starry eyed at the Hokage’s door.

“Sorry,” Tenten grumbled, looking a vague approximation of apologetic. “I just get... really annoyed,” she admitted, scuffing her feet. Neji stared at his female teammate for a long while before sighing and wrapping an arm around her shoulders. “I just hate that he leads him on, you know,” she grumbled, muffled on his shoulder. Neji gingerly patted Tenten’s back and said nothing. There wasn’t much he could say as one of the leading representatives of the Hyuuga Clan; that wasn’t to say he was super pleased about someone treating his teammate dishonorably. He tried to think of an excuse but couldn’t really bring himself to think of one when they had been dating for upwards six months.

-x-

Lee stared nervously from his teammates to Gaara hands fluttering around the table as he attempted to serve everyone’s favorites while also breaking the tension. “So how was training today?” he finally aked cheerfully giving Tenten and Neji a bright smile. One of his hands stretched out and was gently caught by Gaara’s empty one, the two exchanging almost smiles.

“Great! I asked one of the Suna delegates if I could practice against their doton for a while,” Tenten said, viciously pleasant. “You never know!” She giggled, high pitched and utterly fake; her plate and the silverware let out a shriek of protest. Lee winced and shot his other teammate a pleading look.

“We discussed some interesting theoretical differences between manipulating the dirt of Konoha to the sand of Suna,” Neji offered with a little shrug, poking his food with his chopsticks and pushing it around his plate. He looked sideways at Tenten then shrugged helplessly to Lee, seeing the set scowl on her face.

“The Hyuuga Clan brought up some interesting chakra theory during our discussion,” Gaara offered taking a careful sip of water. Tenten stiffened even further and stabbed her food viciously and shoved it in her mouth, looking like a particularly threatening chipmunk. “I hadn’t thought of doton chakra theory in such a manner before.”

“Admittedly, Gaara,” Lee said with a little laugh, “your usage of doton and chakra is quite different from anyone else we could know.” Lee gave Gaara a rather soppy smile and Gaara offered an almost imperceptible upturn of his lips back. Tenten’s expression darkened even further and she let out a little wheeze of pain as Neji began firmly grinding his heel on her foot to prevent her from spewing whatever vitriol was brewing in her mind.

“I could say the same for your chakra usage,” Gaara offered, the same faint pleasant expression on his face. Lee immediately turned bright red, withdrawing his hand from Gaara’s and dropping his gaze to the table, fingers tangling together on his lap. “Lee?” Gaara added, a little concerned at his boyfriend’s silence. When Tenten’s mouth opened, teeth already bared, Neji firmly dug his fingers into the meat of her thigh causing her to let out another low growl from pain.

“Well,” Neji said pleasantly, standing up and dragging Tenten with him with a firm grip on her arm and fingers digging into the further hip. “Thank you very much for lunch, Kazekage-sama,” he said briskly. He gave Gaara a quick bow, a firm pat on Lee’s shoulder before marching Tenten out of the restaurant, his hand snaking from her hip to her cover her mouth. “I’m actually almost proud of you,” he admitted to Tenten once they reached the training grounds. He eyed her expression then took several healthy steps away from her to and gestured at the training posts.

Tenten let out an inarticulate scream of rage before punching through on post, kicking another post clear out of the ground, and then physically wrenching the last post out and throwing it into the trees. Neji watched his teammate rage around for a moment before finding himself some nice shade among the roots and settling in for a wait. After an hour or two of rampant destruction, Tenten was a mess of dirt, splinters, and undone hair who stood panting at the center of a mostly destroyed training ground. “Sorry,” she finally offered, to Neji, half turning to her teammate as she let the ribbons off her buns and let her hair fall on her back.

Neji shrugged easily, rising from his position at the base of a tree. “I’ve definitely thrown worse tantrums than you,” he pointed out. They both grimaced, remembering their first chuunin exams before waving the thought away. “Are you sure you’re calm enough to talk?” Letting out a quiet sigh, Tenten nodded. “Oh good,” Neji said with a sigh. “First things first, I am not paying for us to have to fix another training ground. I don’t think this mess is excusable even by Team Gai standards.”

Tenten sighed again and scrubbed her hand across her face. “Maybe I can convinced Hinata to convince Team Seven to take the fall for it?” Neji scowled at the mention of his cousin. “Hey, you don’t have to like that she befriended the crazy bunch. You just have to let me utilize all our resources.”

Neji’s scowl deepened. “I don’t like it,” he said, sulking. He took another perusal of the destruction Tenten left behind and had to admit that it would be more easily excused in blaming the most destructive trio since the Sannins. “Fine.”

Tenten let out a little laugh then firmly shoved Neji back down under the tree, settling herself at his side. “Well, what did you think about our first official meeting of Lee’s boyfriend?” she asked, nudging him firmly in the ribs. She looked at him flatly and Neji weighed whether she wanted an honest answer or a validation of her own feelings.

“It’s...” Neji trailed out then simply grimaced. “It’s...”

“Rude as all fuck and he’s lucky that he’s the fucking Kazekage-” Tenten snarled because she had a temper and she had never been very fond of being polite.

“I was going to say disrespectful,” Neji said tactfully. “Perhaps things are different in Suna,” he added a little more diplomatically. Tenten was about to say something appropriate scathing when she was cut off with a cheerful shout coming from closer to the village.

“Neji! Tenten!” Both stood and dusted off their pants, smiling as their rambunctious teammate skidded to a stop in front of them. “So?” he asked nervously, eyes fixed on their expressions and feet shifting restlessly in the dirt. “What-What did you think?”

Tenten went mute, her expression fixedly pleasant. Neji glanced from her strained expression to the nervous expectation on Lee’s face and sighed. “You seem happy together,” he finally said, settling on the most benign thing he could think of.

Lee blushed again, eyes dropping to the ground and a shy smile growing on his face. “Gaara is,” he trailed off and his blush deepend. “He makes me very happy,” he finally said shyly. His gaze flitted from the ground to his friends and then back. “I was hoping that you would be happy for me,” he added a little nervously, one hand delicately brushing down the front of his clothing.

Tenten and Neji both grimaced, abruptly remembering the last couple crushes and relationships that Lee had experienced. (One had said Lee was only good for his body and one had actively spent the entire relationship trying to change him; another three had flat out rejected from the start, jeering about his appearance and his quirks. All of them had ended up at the hospital, inexplicably unable to use their arms for any jutsu and most of them with some strange looking wounds; none would speak up to who their attackers were.) “If you’re happy,” Tenten said slowly swallowing the angry words that she wanted to say, “then I’m happy for you,” she finished, reaching forward and gently taking Lee’s callused, scarred hands in her own scarred ones. “You know that Lee,” she added firmly, giving his hands a little squeeze.

Sighing, Neji reached forward and gave Lee a firm squeeze on the shoulder, “Couldn’t have said it better myself,” he said with a rueful shrug. Lee beamed at his two teammates then leaped up, gathering the two into a bear hug with an enthusiastic squeal. Neji grunted in pain as Tenten squealed then immediately attempted to tap out. “Breathing-important!” Neji wheezed, attempting to peel Lee off him.

“I’m glad you like him!” Lee squealed, releasing his two friends and beaming. He clasped his hands together, expression becoming a little starry, “Gaara is just wonderful! You’ll see!”

“He better treat you right, Lee. That’s all I’m saying,” Tenten said with a sigh, attempting to turn her very very serious threat into a bit of a joke. “Otherwise I might have to start a war and Tsunade-sama will be very cross with me.”

Lee laughed at the “joke” clapping Tenten on the back and causing her to stumble slightly. “Oh Tenten!” he said, his shiny teeth still displayed, “you’re so funny!”

“Yes I am,” Tenten said, her expression faintly pleasant and faintly murderous. “I’m hilarious.”

Neji winced.

-x-

A couple days after the Suna delegation arrives in Konoha officially for the discussion of a treaty (and unofficially for training Naruto in diplomacy with someone that won’t actually declare war because of Naruto’s idiocy), Temari rises from her bed, dresses in her best ease-in-movement formal robes, straps on her tekken, and walks out of the housing set aside for the delegation, heading toward Yamanaka Flowers. Her jaw is grim and tight, the light in her eyes bloodthirsty.

(Shikamaru, who slept in because Temari had told him the day before that she was going to sleep in, wakes up late and entirely too late to stop his sorta-maybe-kinda serious girlfriend from this path of action.)

Ino looks up from behind the counter, a flower crown perched on her hair, when the bell for the entrance rings. “Temari!” she greeted, darting around the counter to give her friend a hug. “Did we plan to meet today?” she asked a little hesitantly, trying to remember if they had made any plans.

“Yamanaka-san,” Temari said formally, chin lifted high in the air.

Ino took a step back and cocked her head to the side. “Oh.”

“Yamanaka-san,” Temari began again, “I would be the shield at Nara Shikamaru’s back and the sword in his hands.” She took in a long slow breath, “We shall cherish and honor each other. Would you permit it?”

Ino’s eyes went wide for a split second before she quickly composed herself. “I shall not,” she replied, her shoulders straightening. “Why should I trust your sword at the back of one who I’ve shielded?” The two looked at each other for a moment before Ino winced. “Okay, so technically, we should be fighting right now but I would really prefer if we didn’t wreck the shop,” she added quickly, eyeing the hand Temari had clenched onto her tekken.

Temari also winced, looking at all the glass and growing plants around them. “No, no. You’re totally right. I should have considered the location of my proposal first, honestly,” she added, a rueful twist to her lips.

Ino let out a little giggle, eyeing Temari slyly. “Okay, real talk: I can’t believe you’re starting the courting first,” she said with a little giggle. “Also do you want to try this again in training grounds 36?”

“He’s actually already asked,” Temari admittedly, turning uncharacteristically red. “And uh,” she thought quickly about the mapping of Konoha and its training grounds. “Yeah, okay, I can find that one. Meet there in ten?”

“Well, I do need to make sure I’m properly prepared,” Ino said, a sly dangerous smile appearing on her face. Temari let out a loud cackle, noting the very invested expression on Ino’s face before turning quickly and leaving. “Oh my,” Ino said, her voice gleeful, “looks like they’re properly serious then.”

Yamanaka Ino and Sabaku no Temari did indeed meet back up in training ground 36. Or to be exact, the two were witnessed leaving training ground 36, arms slung cheerfully around each other with a rather impressive black eye darkening Temari’s face and a suspicious shadow darkening Ino’s jaw. Both of their outfits are completely torn and Sakura, while impressed, lectures the two on “appropriate restraint” for three hours while she crossly attempts to heal her two friends. Despite Sakura grumbling about “representing Suna” and “it’s a really obvious black eye Temari” Temari proudly keeps the black eye to the hilarious shock of most Suna representatives who do not understand but are quickly convinced to let it go at Temari’s dangerous smile.

Once Shikamaru is finally awake, he immediately realizes what happened from the gleeful smile on Ino’s face and Temari’s black eye. “I already asked ,” he said, despairing. “You’re not even from Konoha,” he added with a long sigh.

“What you don’t want to live together?” Temari snapped a little defensively. The two stared blankly at each other after the words left her mouth, red slowly suffusing both of their cheeks. Ino cackled in the background, slapping the counter as she gasped for breath.

“Of course I would,” Shikamaru blurted before turning even redder. Temari froze, also turning redder. The two quickly spun away from each other, discreetly fanning their cheeks. After a moment, Shikamaru shyly reached out and cautiously linked his pinkie with Temari’s. While she still refused to look at him, her pinkie stayed twisted with his.

(“Oh my god she asked Ino,” Shikamaru whined, burying his face in the dirt and ignoring Chouji who sat calmly eating his way through a bag of chips and preventing himself from laughing. “Why couldn’t she have asked you?

“You know you’re still smiling like a giddy genin about it right now too, right?” Chouji asked with a quiet snort, eyeing his childhood friend.

Shikamaru glared up at his friend, utterly betrayed before burying his face back into the dirt, a ridiculously wide smile fixed on his face.)

(“I thought you said that Suna has different traditions,” Tenten grumbled, even as she offered a smile for Temari and cooed mockingly at their entwined pinkies.

“Yeah well,” Neji began defensively, eying Temari’s black eye, “clearly I misjudged him then.”

Tenten grunted, shoving another bite of food in her mouth and glaring at the Suna trio. Kankuro was raucously teasing his sister, getting dangerously close to being hit judging by the red on Temari’s face. Gaara sat between Kankuro and Lee, the corners of his mouth turned vaguely upward and his ear tilted down toward Lee. “Clearly.”)

-x-

“Did you hear that Temari-san asked Ino in order to make her relationship with Shikamaru official?” Lee gushed, gently bumping elbows against Gaara as they walked down the marketplace. They stood a few with a safe distance between the two of them, almost close enough to reach out and brush fingers.

“I did,” Gaara responded, ignoring the flickering ANBU signatures he could feel stalking him and Lee through the marketplace. “Shikamaru also asked the last time he came to Suna,” he added because Lee was smiling guilelessly at him and he was weak to Lee’s smiles. He mainly had heard because the Suna delegation had spent a lot of time attempting to get him to file a restraining order against Ino for the black eye that Temari had proudly displayed for weeks. It had taken a rather frosty silence and the faint rustle of agitated sand to get them all the stand down.

“Oh that’s so sweet!” Lee said cheerfully, beaming. “I’m glad our friends have found their Springtime of Youth!” he cheered, punching his fist through the air.

Gaara grimaced, considering the “springtime of youth” with his older sister and quickly wiped the thought from his mind. “They seem happy,” he said, trying to ignore the thought.

Beaming, Lee reached out and shyly tangled their fingers together. “They do,” he said a little more softly. Gaara glanced at Lee but kept their hands together, a faint smile on his face.

-x-

Not too long after what was referred to as the Diplomatic Incident by the Suna delegation and the finally-thank-god-Shikamaru-and-Temari-got-their-shit-together Incident by everyone in Konoha, Ino firms her resolve and stalks over to the common training ground of Team Seven, resolutely ignoring the the destruction occurring around her.

“Haruno-san!” she yells, ignoring the way that Naruto and Sasuke are blindly fighting each other and focusing on Sakura, who is staring at a cliff with a worryingly determined look in her eye.

“Ino,” Sai greets, looking up from where he is practicing painting. One of his rare, very faint but thankfully genuine smiles flits across his lips. “I wasn’t expecting you,” he added, starting to rise.

“Ino!” Sakura greets cheerfully, finally turning away from the cliff and waving. “Hey!”

“Haruno-san,” Ino repeats, glaring at Sakura with a single hand on her pouch and all of her hair pulled back into severe braided bun. Sakura freezes in the middle of her wave, her hands slowly falling to her side. Sai looks from his teammate to his girlfriend, a vaguely confused smile on his face. “I shall be his shield and his sword. Do you permit it?”

“Ino?” Sai repeats, a little hurt that he is being completely ignored by his girlfriend.

“I do not,” Sakura snarls, her expression twisting into vicious glee. In the next second, she rears back and punches the ground, absolutely crumbling the foundations and causing Sasuke, Naruto and Sai to let out identical shrieks of surprise.

Three decimated training grounds and and an obliterated cliff face later, Sakura and Ino are back to being friends and Sai is still adorably confused. “I don’t get it,” he said, staring at the destruction surrounding them.

“Oh honey,” Ino said sweetly, patting his cheek. “Don’t worry about it, okay?”

“It’s a Konoha tradition, Sai,” Sakura said with a giggle, absentmindedly healing a cracked rib as Ino heals her own bruises. “When a relationship is supposed to be serious, it’s considered good manners to ask the teammates for, uh, permission.”

“The idiot and the traitor haven’t,” Sai pointed out, even while giving Ino the closest he gets to a soppy look.

“I told you not to-,” Sakura cut herself off with a sigh. “Anyway,” she added with a shrug, “I’m pretty sure they’ve beaten each other up enough times that it almost counts as asking for permission.”

Ino snorted, quickly covering her face with an embarrassed flush. “That’s cute,” Sai blurted before quickly avoiding Sakura’s gleeful smile.

“Thanks,” Ino squeaked, also avoiding Sakura’s gaze.

“Alright love birds,” Sakura said with a little roll of her eyes. “I’ll leave you be.”

“Wait, Sakura,” Sai called, grabbing Sakura’s hand before she could get too far.

“Hm?”

“Why ask you?” he asked, glancing quickly at Ino and then back.

Sakura snorted, shaking her hand in denial. “Oh god, Sai” she said, still giggling. “Can you imagine Ino asking those two idiots? They wouldn’t even know what was happening,” She let out another loud laugh, even as Ino joined in.

“Well,” Sai said with a little shrug, ignoring the way the two women were laughing at him. “I would be honored to fight for your relationship,” he said.

Her laughter fading, Sakura gently cupped Sai’s cheek with a soft smile. “That’s sweet, thanks Sai,” she said a little touched. She withdrew her hands and shrugged, “But honestly, unless they can shatter a cliff with their bare hands, I’m not really interested.” With another cheerful wave, she turned away from her two friends and began walking back into the village, remembering she had a shift starting soon.

“She’s only going to be able to date Tsunade-sama,” Ino said, a little despairing.

“If she counts breaking a cliff with your spine, she might be able to date the two idiots,” Sai pointed out diplomatically, glancing over at where Naruto and Sasuke had once again devolved into a wrestling fistfight.

“I don’t think that counts, hun,” Ino said gently, patting Sai on the head. “Besides, my best friend deserves better than those two idiots.”

Letting out a little sound of agreement, Sai stares into distance for a second. “Should I have asked Shikamaru? Or Chouji?” Sai added after a moment of silence.

Ino let out a little hum of consideration and tangled her fingers with Sai’s. “No darling. They know better than to try and decide what’s best for me.” Sai let out a little noise of agreement but spent another second wondering if perhaps he could coax one of them into fight; it only seemed fair after the gloriously destructive display Ino had made for him.

(Shikamaru, staring up at the clouds with Temari, had an abrupt shudder of fear run up his spine. Ignoring Temari’s half mocking, half worried look, he resolved to find himself a mission far from Suna and Konoha just in case it was a premonition.)

-x-

Team Gai and Gaara were having another rather uncomfortable dinner together with stilted conversation between Gaara and Neji and flickering ANBU signatures were Gai and Lee were abruptly summoned to the Hokage’s Office.

“Enjoy dinner my precious students! Kazekage-sama!” Gai said cheerfully, giving everyone an enthusiastic thumbs up and thankfully extricating himself from the rather awkward dinner.

“I’ll be right back,” Lee promised, giving Gaara’s hand a quick squeeze before shuffling his way out of his seat and following Gai-sensei to the Hokage Tower.

After the two left, there was a rather uncomfortable silence that Neji valiantly attempted to ignore. “I must ask,” Gaara said slowly, eyeing the worrying tight grip Tenten had on her chopsticks and the way Neji’s eyes would tightened as if he wanted to activate his Byakugan, “do you have a problem with our relationship?”

“Of course not, Kazekage-sama-” Neji interjected hastily.

“I have a problem with you,” Tenten spat, smacking her chopsticks on the table with a dangerous rattle.

“Tenten,” Neji snapped, attempting the steer the conversation away from the trainwreck it was becoming.

“Please elaborate,” Gaara responded stiffly. He and Tenten stared at each other, Neji’s awkward attempts to interject firmly ignored.

“You’re playing around with my family, Gaara-can I call you Gaara?” Tenten added abruptly, a scowl set in her features.

“Please.”

“I can excuse you almost ruining Lee’s dreams forever,” Tenten said firmly, ignoring the way the muscles of Gaara’s jaw tightened. “He’s forgiven you and Tsunade-sama made sure that he would have full functionality.” She gave a dismissive wave of her hand, something scornful in the twist of her lips, “I’ll tolerate your friendship with Lee on those grounds considering that is simply a shinobi’s lot in life. To live with risk and to find old enemies as new friends.”

“That’s in not the basis of your... distaste with me,” Gaara said delicately, the corners of his mouth turned down and his expression carved from stone.

“Of course not.” Ignoring the quelling glare at Neji sent her, Tenten faced Gaara fully, her expression fixed in lines of anger. “I got over wanted to stab you through the throat a long time ago.” Neji let out a little choked noise and Gaara hastily waved a hand to prevent ANBU from springing down in defensive formation. “But Lee deserves better than someone playing with him.”

“I’m quite serious,” Gaara said sternly, his expression briefly flaring with anger at the accusation.

“So Lee’s told me,” Tenten said, a cold smile on her face and with a dismissive wave of her hand. “However, your behavior has clearly shown that you’re being dishonorable concerning you intentions with Lee and I cannot and will not forgive that.”

With a clatter of the chair, Gaara abruptly stood, genuine anger flashing in his eyes. “My intentions with Lee are nothing but honorable,” he snarled.

“So you’ve said,” Tenten snarled right back, also standing with an abrupt clatter of her chair. “Your action speak differently.” She paused and her lips curled, “Dishonorably.”

“Tenten!” Neji snapped, placing a restraining hand on her shoulder as the two of them began leaning in a little threateningly.

“Is something wrong?” All three froze and slowly turned to the voice. Lee stood at the end of the table, his eyebrows furrowed and clear hurt in his eyes. “Gaara? Tenten?” Lee asked slowly.

“Lee,” Tenten said slowly, carefully shifting her weight back. “What did Hokage-sama want?”

“Do you not approve, Tenten?” Lee asked carefully, uncharacteristically rude. His hand began to reach out as if he wanted to grasp Gaara’s hand then hesitated, slowly falling back to his side.

“I don’t appreciate what his actions reflect,” Tenten said carefully in a rare moment of diplomacy. “But as I said: if you’re happy, I am content.”

“Content doesn’t mean happy,” Lee said quietly.

Tenten’s gaze flickered away then back to Lee, “No,” she agreed quietly. “It doesn’t.”

“I am serious about Gaara, Tenten,” Lee added softly, the same hurt note still in his voice. Gaara’s gaze flickered from Tenten’s set feature to Lee’s strangely vulnerable expression. Hesitantly, he reached out and gave Lee’s hand a gentle squeeze.

“Yes,” Tenten agreed emotionlessly, eyes flickering down to their hands then back up to Lee’s expression.

“Tenten,” Neji said sternly.

Tenten’s lips turned down in a moue of disappointment. “Perhaps dinner would be better another time,” she said slowly.

“That may be best,” Lee responded, just as slow. There was another frozen moment before Tenten delicately reached into her pouch and carefully laid enough money to pay for everyone’s food. “Tenten,” Lee began abruptly.

Gently, Tenten reached out and touched Lee’s cheek. “Another time,” she repeated, her lips turning up with a rueful imitation of a smile. “Sorry about dinner, Lee,” she added. Giving Neji a quick squeeze on the shoulder and Gaara a curt nod, she turned fluidly and strode out of the shop.

“I don’t like it,” Lee said faintly, his hand falling away from Gaara as a hurt frown crossed his face.

“I know,” Neji said slowly, gaze flickering from the flash of hurt on Gaara’s face to the vulnerable look in Lee’s eyes. “She’ll come around,” he added, wincing at the rather blatant lie.

-x-

Waking up at five am really was not Neji’s idea of a good time but he figured that if today was successful it was a small sacrifice to pay. “Lee!” he called, greeting his teammate with a small, awkward wave. The request would have been a lot easier if things weren’t as strained between the team as it was but he supposed he couldn’t exactly wait for a good timing. Waiting for “good timing” was what had led him to waiting so long after all.

“Neji!” Lee said cheerfully. While his expression was genuinely pleased, Neji noticed the dark circles on his eyes. After the fifth strained silence between the team, even Gai-sensei had given up on trying to make Lee and Tenten talk. “Are you joining me for a youthful jog around the village?”

Neji firmly squashed down the little voice that pointed out that there was nothing youthful or a jog about running around the village at five am every morning the way Lee did. “I will be Tenten’s sword and shield,” he said slowly, facing Lee with feet firmly planted a shoulder’s width apart. “I will catch her anytime she may fall and I will remain faithful by her side. Do you permit it?”

There was an awkward pause and Neji stared very seriously at Lee and Lee stared back in confusion. “I.... don’t know what’s going on?” Lee finally said slowly. “What do I permit?”

“I want to ask Tenten into a relationship,” Neji said slowly, only stumbling a little over the words. “You’re-”

“Oh Neji! That’s fantastic!” Lee cheered, grabbing Neji in a fim hug. “Oh I’ve been watching you two dance around each other for years!” he said cheerfully, shaking Neji’s hand enthusiastically.

“That’s.... Not how this is supposed to happen,” Neji said slowly, careful extricating his hand from Lee’s grip.

Blinking in confusion, Lee cocked his head to the side. “What am I supposed to do?” he asked, frowning.

“Oh god that explains so much,” Neji mumbled, dropping his face in his hands and suddenly connecting all the dots of the rather tumultuous chaos that had overtaken the team’s cohesiveness.

“Neji?” Lee asked slowly, eyeing his teammate worriedly.

“Okay, culture lesson,” Neji said abruptly, staring at Lee seriously. “In Konoha, when a relationship is serious it’s considered good manners to asked permission from the teammate. Konoha language tends to favor becoming someone’s sword and shield but the language is really up to you.”

“Oh.... Oh!” Lee said, lighting up in realization. “Of course I permit it!” he said cheerfully, trying to give Neji another hug.

“Yeah, that’s not how it works,” Neji retorted, quickly dodging Lee’s reaching hands. He ignored the part of him that pointed out that Lee was missing the big point when it came to his own situation and pushed on. “The teammate always says that they don’t permit it. The idea being that if you aren’t willing to fight for permission then you were never serious to begin with.”

“Oh,” Lee said slowly, nodding. “I see.”

“Most parents tend to tell their children after you become part of a genin team,” Neji added, shrugging a little. “That way there’s less Academy children attempting to duel each other to the death over simple crushes.”

Lee let out a little laugh over that thought then nodded seriously. “I see,” he repeated. Slowly, he shifted his weight and came into his typical sparring stance. “I do not permit it, Neji,” he said seriously. “Kaimon, kai!” he snapped, the chakra around him rising rapidly.

“That’s more like it,” Neji said, a slow smirk crossing his face.

“Boys!” Tenten snarled, even as Hinata pushed chakra back into Lee’s tenketsu under her stern gaze and Sakura healed Neji’s ribs in between bouts of laughter. “Honestly, going so far as to open a gate, Lee! What were you thinking!” she snapped, previous arguments forgotten as she lectured her idiot teammates on their recklessness.

Neji snorted then groaned when it strained his ribs. Lee flapped his hand at Neji, also trying to suppress his laughter.

“And you!” Tenten growled, turning on her other idiot. “Even if you wanted to-” she abruptly stopped, her cheeks turning red. “That isn’t the right way about it!” she finally snapped, crossing her arms defensively even as Sakura had to stop healing because she was laughing too hard. “Sakura! Stop laughing!” Tenten whined, kicking at Sakura who was too busy curling in fetal position from laughter to block her.

“Oh man, Team Gai is the best,” Sakura snorted, finally suppressing her giggles enough to continue healing a blushing Neji’s ribs. “You guys are all idiots.” Ignoring Tenten’s under-the-breath rants, Sakura turned back to Neji after finishing his ribs. “Want me to leave the rather impressive shiner?” she asked cheerfully.

“I really don’t want to hear about restraint from you ,” Neji grumbled. “Yes,” he added, glancing at Lee and Tenten’s back.

“Fair enough,” Sakura agreed with another giggle as she ran another quick diagnostic scan. “Other than an impressive number of bruises, you’re fine now,” she said cheerfully, slapping Neji on the back.

“Ow,” he grumbled, as he rocked forward from the blow.

“Go get her!” Lee cheered, ignoring Hinata’s attempts to stop him and attempting to slap Neji on the back. His arm instead flopped like a rather useless fish and Sakura dissolved into giggles again.

“Lee,” Hinata said sternly, drawing his arm back into her lap.

(“I would have asked myself too. You know that, right?” Tenten asked a little hesitantly as she petted Neji’s hair.

“Of course,” Neji said easily shrugging one shoulder because the other was still mostly purple. “I don’t doubt that.” He paused then fixed Tenten with a slightly stern look, “But you two were... at odds lately and I wanted to ask now.”

Tenten grimaced slightly but shrugged in agreement. “Yeah, okay.”

“Yeah?” Neji asked a little eagerly.

The smile that bloomed on Tenten’s face was a little hesitant but a lot happy. “Yeah,” she agreed, something tremulous and tender and happy on her face. “Yeah.”)

-x-

“What is that.” Gaara’s voice rang sharply and threateningly through the room when Lee walked into the rooms afforded the Suna delegation with the left half of his jaw purple.

“Gaara!” Lee greeted, smiling cheerfully then abruptly frowning at the sharp pain that crawled along his jaw. “Did you have a good day?”

“Who the hell did that to you?” Gaara demanded, looking at the injury from several different angles and already planning to murder someone. His sand whispered loudly and vengefully around him, determined for blood.

“Neji!” Lee said cheerfully, blithely ignoring the rather bloodthirsty aura starting to surround Gaara. “He’s dating Tenten now, you know!”

“What does that have to do with this ?” Gaara snarled, eyeing the bruise and mentally calculating how much force he would need to generate to place an identical bruise on the Hyuuga.

“Oh!” Lee said a little cluelessly. “Apparently in Konoha you should ask a teammate for permission for serious relationships!” Lee declared, completely oblivious to the way Gaara suddenly stilled.

“What?”

“Yes! So Neji and I fought and now Tenten and he are dating!” Lee cheered turning away from Gaara and therefore missing the suddenly thoughtful expression that crossed his face.

“Huh.”

-x-

Finally, Gaara decides that he is ready after a thorough interrogation of his older sister.

(“How the hell was I supposed to know you didn’t know,” Temari demanded, trying to provoke her little brother out of his rather deep sulk. “I figured that Lee would have told you!”

“Lee is an orphan ,” Gaara said rather acerbically. Temari winced.)

“Tenten-san,” Gaara said slowly, interrupting a training session between Neji and Tenten. Giving Gaara a rather dismissive glance, Tenten easily turns back to Neji. “I would be his oasis in the desert,” Gaara said firmly, causing Tenten to freeze and Neji to slowly back away. “I would be his sword and shield and family. Do you permit it?”

Tenten slowly turns around, a dangerous light in her eyes. Unbuckling the weights attached to her ankles, she tosses them carelessly to the side, breaking a tree and causing a crater wih the other. “I do not,” she said slowly, a smile on her face. In a blur, she is gone.

“I can’t believe you summoned suitons from your scrolls,” Lee complained, giving Tenten a deeply Disappointed stare.

“We’re shinobi. Cheating is actively encouraged,” Tenten responded cheerfully, a wide smile on her face.

“Kunoichi-san, please stop moving,” the Suna medic said, rather beleaguered. “There is sand embedded in your injuries and they require careful cleaning.”

“I can’t believe you punched the Kazekage in the face,” Tsunade said, despairing, as she healed Gaara’s broken arm. “And I can’t believe you attacked his ANBU,” she added, glaring at an utterly unrepentant Neji.

“It would be dishonorable to allow them to interrupt the fight,” Neji said, completely straight-faced. Tsunade let out a low, despairing groan as Neji and Tenten exchanged quick winks.

“I did warn them not to interfere,” Gaara pointed out, carefully wiggling his fingers as Tsunade finished the healing. “And I was getting permission,” he added, nodding respectfully at Tenten.

“You’re alright, Kazekage-sama,” she said cheerfully.

“Stop moving,” the Suna medic snapped, as Tenten twitched again.

“It itches,” Tenten whined, shifting restlessly.

“I am disappointed in all of you,” Lee said severely. Gaara, Neji, Tenten finally quailed a little at Lee’s expression. Tsunade suppressed her irritation, wondering if she should point out that she was one: their Hokage, and two: one of the Legendary Sannin, and these three brats were more afraid of their teammate’s wrath than hers. “I expected better from all of you,” he added, still frowning.

“Ah come on, Lee,” Tenten said, nudging Lee with her foot and causing the wrath of her medic once again. “He finally acted honorably in regards to your relationship. I had to respond appropriately.”

“You threw a mace at his face,” Lee said slowly, his hands planted firmly on his hips.

“You have to admit that’s impressive considering the weight distribution,” Tenten said cheekily.

“I admit nothing.”

“It was impressive,” Neji whispered to Tenten, nudging her shoulder with a little proud smile.

As Lee continued to lecture his teammates on their behavior, Tsunade turned to Gaara with a tired sigh. “I’ll deal with my elders if you deal with yours,” she offered, rubbing a hand on her face.

“I think you have the easier end of the deal,” Gaara said with a sigh, wondering if he could perhaps foist “dealing with the elders” off on his siblings.

“Admittedly,” Tsunade pointed out dangerously, “I was not the one that decided to fight a Konoha kunoichi because you wanted to date yet another Konoha shinobi.”

There was a pause, then, “Fair,” Gaara admitted, frowning.

Clapping Gaara on the back, Tsunade turned toward the three Konoha shinobi still arguing in her office and the poor Suna medic who was desperately trying to finish healing Tenten under Gaara’s orders. “Alright brats,” she snarled, rolling up her sleeves and gathering her chakra to dangerous levels. “Let’s talk.”

Snatching Lee, Gaara immediately disappeared from the room, even as Neji grabbed both the medic and Tenten then flickered out of the room. Surveying her emptied office, Tsunade considered the paperwork and complaints sitting at her desk and wondered at her chances of forcing Kakashi to immediately take the hat. Seeing as her chances were anywhere between nonexistent and low, she let out another sigh and settled behind the desk, starting on the complaints.