Summary: Tenten, Neji, and the locked door. And make-up.
Notes: Incontrovertible proof that I either read too much Pratchett lately or was repeatedly dropped on my head as an infant. Ignoring evident lack of classical western influences. Filler episodes have Elvis references and a Zelda clone, so there. Enjoy.
"Neji!" Tenten shrieked— yes, shrieked— and Neji startled to attention. He immediately began to analyse his surroundings, trying to discern if enemy ninja had entered the building.
He heard no indications of combat, but that didn't mean anything. If they were enemy ninja, they would probably have the sense to be quiet.
But Tenten had shrieked. That kind of noise meant ambush or injury. Here, Neji felt his usual unstoppable determination to Get The Job Done waver. She was still in the dressing room, and therefore was likely in a state of undress. He, being a good and conscientious partner, was somewhat reluctant to go near Tenten when she wasn't dressed.
Only Tenten didn't shriek. Not even in case of ambush. During ambushes, she made sure that the people trying to ambush her shrieked, bled, and did other things most ninja tried to avoid doing. This generally involved taking out pointy, sharp things Neji didn't want near his eyes and using them as Bishamon intended, which was to cut, stab, bludgeon, impale, garrotte, decapitate, disembowel, strangle, and perform very precise but excruciatingly traumatic field amputations.
Injury, then. And that was as far as Neji thought before something that might pass for instinct but was probably closer to deeply rooted self-conditioning took over. It was a simple process, one that was more like muscle memory than actual cognition: his partner was in trouble. Therefore, he provided aid. There was no room for conscious thought and even less room for hesitation. Without any further input from his brain, his legs moved him forward very quickly and very quietly.
He stopped just in front of the door to Tenten's dressing room. There were boundaries. As the sparring partner of a combat kunoichi, he had determined the lines he shouldn't cross. This door to a room where Tenten had taken off all her clothes and was trying to find new ones was a very large Do Not Even Look At This kind of line.
The part of him that calculated his field of divination reminded him that boundaries were all well and fair, but this door was also the door to a room where Tenten had removed her clothes and most of her weapons. And she had just screamed. The usual boundaries did not apply.
The decision was easy. He opened the door and walked through, perfectly prepared for shouting and throwing of heavy objects and the need to retreat.
Two women were moving toward the door, and therefore toward him. He instinctively appraised them. Average height, slightly curvier than average build, demure posture and feminine clothing. But something about them seemed predatory. They had dangerously calm, collected expressions. As they moved, he got glimpses of musculature that hinted at trained, experienced, hardened killers.
"Soft" kunoichi. Women who had never seen a battlefield and likely never would. That didn't make them helpless, though. Far from it. He had no way to determine exactly how much combat training the soft kunoichi had unless he knew their kill counts. That fact didn't leave him in any doubt as to the existence of their kill counts, and the existence of kill counts was the sole requirement for considering them a potential threat.
They were beautiful. They were deadly. He knew nothing about them or their fighting styles.
And they were very, very angry.
Wisely, he stepped aside. They passed right by him. Nobody said anything.
The door slid closed behind them.
She didn't answer, and he took another step forward.
Somebody had divided the room with a screen. The screen enclosed a small space in the rear of the room, obscuring parts of the left-hand wall. Various garments hung atop it. He didn't look at very much of the clothing for long. He had tight control over his hormones, but he had his limits, and he knew them.
He moved further into the room. So much further, in fact, that he was now very far from the door. On the opposite end of the room from where he'd started, as luck would have it. Smack between the screen, the window, and the right-hand wall.
Right next to him, on the right-hand wall and thus directly opposite the screen, lounged a dresser. Maybe it was a vanity. If it had been larger, it might have loomed, but the top of it (not counting the mirror) wasn't even a meter high. Its drawers made it look rather squat, almost dumpy. Rather than giving it the elegant appearance the slender, beautifully carven legs said it should have, the attached mirror merely made it look off balance somehow. Its complementary low stool had the same wood, legs of the same style, and an equally dumpy look caused by copious amounts of rich upholstery.
It was probably supposed to look classically feminine, like a relic from a time when women ensconced themselves in hedonistic luxury. What it actually looked like was an intimidating piece of lopsided driftwood with a cream puff sitting in front of it.
The vanity's contents didn't help. The top of the thing looked as though three crazed women had dumped every cosmetic product they owned onto it. It practically sagged under the weight of lipsticks and creams and powders and little porcelain tins of traditional paints. And of course there were hairbrushes and powder brushes and brushes which he didn't think were for hair or powder. There were also razors he wouldn't shave with if he was staggering drunk and fishnet-like sleeves that were closed at one end and bottles of liquids so fragrant he could smell them from roughly a meter up. The jumble of scents made his eyes water, and he took a half step backward.
He pressed a finger against a round, flesh-coloured… something. It felt cool to the touch, faintly rubbery. He poked it. It jiggled. Even worse, the one underneath it jiggled. He decided that he very much didn't want to know what they were, where they went, or why anybody thought Tenten might need them.
He withdrew his finger and turned his back to the vanity piled over with Things Men Probably Aren't Supposed To See. Instead, he looked at the screen. It had a pattern he couldn't quite make out. Part of that came from poor lighting, and part of it came from the assortment of women's clothing covering up key portions of the painting.
He could identify either cherry or plum trees in full bloom, with pink or purplish petals drifting in an invisible wind. One panel depicted a young woman (or a feminine man) holding a peach in one hand and a plum in the other. But that was about all he could tell of the thing.
Somebody (probably Tenten) tossed a corset over the plum holder's head. Neji sidestepped it. It landed right by where his foot had been before he'd moved. He tilted his head to look at the evidently unworthy corset.
Had she chucked that because she didn't like it? Was it too large? Too small? His brain made soft gulping noises at the thought of it being too small.
"Tenten?" He called again.
There was still a chance that the soft kunoichi had injured her. There was also a chance he would pick up that corset and wear it. They were both sounding about equally likely, at this point.
"They tried to make me wear a corset!" His partner didn't actually wail this, no, but it was Tenten's equivalent of a wail. "It's not bad enough I have to abuse a whip!"
Only Tenten would think of this mission as 'abusing' a 'perfectly good weapon'. As if the first cattle farmer hadn't coiled the first bullwhip out of leather specifically for the purpose of flogging particularly intractable steer with it. As if hitting people with a whip wasn't a perfectly acceptable way to kill people. As if she wasn't going to grab that bullwhip, wrap the whip proper around the target's throat, and squeeze until he suffocated or his neck snapped.
Then again, he saw this mission as a waste of a perfectly good combat kunoichi.
Tenten stepped out from behind the screen. She wore only a short bathrobe. Neji watched her every movement. Why hadn't he ever realised her legs looked like that?
She seemed completely oblivious to his presence, even as she propelled herself directly toward him. Maybe she was going for the dresser.
While she moved, she swept her hair off the back of her neck, into a careless bun. He swivelled to keep watching. A few wispy strands of hair tumbled right back down, slightly obscuring his view of her neck, but it didn't do his hormones any good. He couldn't seem to stop himself from staring at the smooth, beautiful skin on the nape of her neck.
Hair out of her way, she made frustrated noises as she searched through the contents of the dresser. Tins of powder fell to the floor and rolled in slow, silent circles. Tubes of lipstick and mascara flew through the air like poisoned darts. Brushes of varying sizes, shapes and purposes decided to seek shelter under the vanity, or near its legs.
At last, she found what she was looking for. Or maybe she'd found something that would pass.
She turned to look at him, finally. In each hand she held a cosmetic brush. Her eyes locked onto his.
"Neji, what is the difference between these two brushes?"
He eyed them. Was this a test? A code? A signal for him to shove her against the dresser and— no. It wasn't that.
"One is larger than the other."
Tenten smiled. Her entire countenance went from unintentionally sexy to radiant. Beatific. Seraphic.
The less intelligent, core mammalian portions of Neji's brain whimpered that now was the time to run. The slightly more intelligent, not-so-core mammalian portions of Neji's brain informed him that the time for running had passed long ago and now was the time for either hoping for reinforcements or that the predator would overlook him.
She transferred the brushes to one hand, used the other to grab his right palm, and pressed the brushes into his grasp. She forced his fingers to curl closed, patting his hand lightly.
He stared at his hand. So many impossibilities had just taken place that for a moment he wouldn't have known his hand from a cup of coffee. Tenten had just touched him, which nobody did because everybody either knew or figured out that touching him was a very bad idea. And not only had she touched him, she'd put women's cosmetic products in his hand and was making him hold them. This was unnatural and strange because he was a man. You didn't just randomly give men women's cosmetic products except in a highly special set of circumstances which did not apply to Neji.
"Since you know so much about it, you put it on," she said. She gave him a deliberately friendly, if just as deliberately dismissing, pat on the shoulder.
Neji stared harder.
Tenten breezed right out of the room.
He eyed the brushes in his hand and the contents of the vanity. How hard could it be?
Were painted all the secret ways of love
And covered things thereof,
That hold delight as grape-flowers hold their wine;
Red mouths of maidens and red feet of doves,
And brides that kept within the bride-chamber
Their garment of soft shame
—Swinburne, "A Ballad of Death"