A/N: I am rewriting this story, originally crossed published on her and AO3 in 2020. I realized, though, that I never actually uploaded all of the chapters of the original version here. oops! this version is better tho, so. enjoy!

The blow was coming quickly, but Tenten, for once, was faster, reaching out to grab his ankle. His foot hovered mere millimeters from her head, the gush of wind whipping her bangs across her face.

"Yosh, Tenten! Impressive reflexes!" Rock Lee said, voice loud and echoing. Tenten shushed him, her grip on his leg tightening. Lee followed her gaze toward the forest, his ears perking up at the sound of a bird's wings fluttering. Tenten's free hand went to the kunai holster she kept strapped to her thigh.

"Act natural," she mouthed as she released him. Lee stood up straight and bowed.

"Another round, my flower?" He said casually. Tenten rolled her eyes at the nickname, first coined by Gai-sensei, quickly adopted by Lee in earnest, then teasingly by Kakashi-sensei and, later, Neji. She couldn't escape it; she feared she would be known as the Flower of Konoha soon enough.

Tenten reset her stance. She gave Lee her signal, and in unison, the pair struck at the person who suddenly appeared before them.

"Oh crap!" The spy exclaimed, just as Tenten and Lee registered that it was just a Konoha chunin. He jumped back fast enough to avoid the blows. Tenten put her kunai away and crossed her arms.

"Apologies, Hayase-san!" Lee said at the same time that Tenten admonished, "Hasn't anyone ever told you never to sneak up on Gai's team?"

Hayase blanched, putting his hands up as if in surrender, worried Tenten might actually hit him. "Please forgive the intrusion, but Lord Hokage has a mission for the two of you."

"Thank you for informing us," Lee said, giving Hayase a thumbs up. "It's been quite a while since we've gone on a mission together!" Lee beamed, bouncing on his heels. Tenten hummed in agreement and the two of them went to the Hokage's office. Gai-sensei was already in there when they arrived, his wheelchair parked beside Kakashi's desk.

"Yo, Kakashi-sensei, Gai-sensei!" Tenten called as she and Lee entered. Kakashi rolled his eyes at the informality of her greeting. He didn't even bother trying to get Tenten to treat him with even an ounce of the respect she gave Tsunade. He could only blame himself, having developed a familiarity with Gai's kids during all the time he spent with them after his own students started training with the Sannin. At least Lee bowed.

"Lee! Tenten!" Gai bellowed, opening his arms. Lee rushed over to hug his sensei. Tenten rolled her eyes, but quickly did the same, planting a kiss on Gai's cheek. Kakashi sighed, waiting expectantly for his subordinates to finish up with their displays of affection.

"Sir!" Lee stood at attention, saluting Kakashi. "You have a mission for us?"

Kakashi handed Tenten a scroll with the Suna insignia on it. When she shot him a look, Kakashi just shrugged. "The Kazekage has requested your presence. There aren't many details, but I trust that Gaara will explain your assignment further when you arrive."

Unraveling the scroll, Tenten saw at once that Kakashi had overstated the amount of information provided. Rock Lee and Tenten needed in Suna ASAP. C-Rank. Payment 35,000RYO. There were no details at all. She fixed her gaze on the Hokage and handed the scroll to Lee.

"Um, is this a joke? I haven't been on a C-rank assignment since I was thirteen. Why don't you send a genin squad?"

Kakashi sighed and shot Gai a look as if Tenten's attitude was her sensei's doing. Gai shrugged but gave Tenten a wink when Kakashi looked away. "I saw that. And they didn't ask for a genin squad, they asked for Rock Lee and Tenten. Be grateful that you're making an easy 35,000."

Before Tenten could protest further, he waved his hand, directing his attention to the paperwork on his desk. "Dismissed."

Once out of his office, Tenten and Lee parted ways so that they could pack for the journey. If they went at a normal pace, it would be 6 days round trip, but they were going to go fast and cut down on the travel. Tenten sealed everything in a scroll and left quickly, headed to the one place she always stopped at before she left the village. Neji's quiant little house, built by Yamato, was just inside the village gates, merely two kilometers away from the entrance, standing apart from other homes. When Neji first decided to move out of the Hyuuga Compound, Tenten protested his choice in location. If the village were infiltrated again, he would be in a dangerous spot. In the few months since the war ended, his many injuries had healed considerably, but he no longer had use of his right arm. He was more than capable of taking care of himself, Tenten knew, but she worried nonetheless.

"Tenten," Neji said as he opened the door, greeting her with a nod. He stepped aside, allowing her to enter. He led her to the kitchen and put on a kettle for tea.

"I can't stay long. I just wanted to say goodbye before I head to Suna."

Neji turned away from her. "Mission?"

Tenten leaned against the wall, crossing her arms as she watched him move around the kitchen. She couldn't see his expression but noticed how his shoulders tensed up when she answered. Early retirement was not what Neji expected for himself. For the most part, he seemed to like it–especially because it kept him away from his clan–but he missed going on missions with Tenten and Lee. He never actually told Tenten any of that, but she always observed the most subtle of changes in his mood whenever she and Lee went on one together. She had become an expert in reading his body language in the many years that she'd known him.

The village had undergone rapid-fire changes after the war, but none impressed Tenten so much as Neji's newfound fearlessness, a result of his near-death experience. He had always been brave, but it was almost dying (a second time, mind you) that gave him the strength to finally break away from his clan. All his defeatist, childhood rants about fate and destiny had, in fact, come true: when the time came, Neji nearly gave his life for Hinata. Was it his choice? Maybe. But, then again, how much of his choice could it really have been, having been conditioned from birth that this was the choice he was always supposed to make?

"Tenten, are you alright?" Neji asked, breaking her away from her thoughts. She hadn't even noticed that her fists were clenched until Neji tapped his fingers against her knuckles. She flashed him a smile, willing the thoughts away. He had freedom now, she reminded herself. With the help of Kakashi and Gai-sensei, Neji extracted himself from the clutches of the Hyuuga. He still had his curse seal, sure, but he also had the protection of the Hokage, and Naruto, the hero of the shinobi world. It may have cost him his career as a shinobi, but he was finally safe. And finally free.

Tenten, at times, found herself envying him.

"Yes, I'm fine," Tenten said, giving him a thumbs up. She grimaced at the gesture, putting her hand down. She was spending too much time with Lee. "Anyway, do you need anything before I head out? I hope not to be gone too long, but I have no idea."

She gave him the mission scroll to read over. "A C-rank?" He said when he was done, scrunching his nose in displeasure. "It's beneath you."

"That's what I said!"

"On the bright side," Neji began, handing the scroll back to her, his lips forming into something that looked like a smile, "you'll surely get home in one piece."

The journey to Sunagakure was straightforward, easy. Many of the great villages suffered losses to their shinobi population due to the war. A reluctant peace had formed. Tenten was hopeful that it would last, but there were wounds that needed to be tended. Some of the other villages, namely Kumogakure, were unhappy with Kakashi's decision to pardon Sasuke. Rivalries and grievances from years past were still sources of resentment. Hatred was a flame that was not so easily fanned out. But the prospect of peace was more attractive than more war.

Konoha's strong alliance with Suna, a village that just a few years ago attempted to infiltrate and destroy them, was a model for that peace. Tenten and Lee were greeted at the gates of the desert village, Baki standing there to meet them. If Gaara did not directly welcome them himself, he always sent one of his most important advisors to do so. Tenten loved the VIP treatment. When they entered his office, Gaara stood by the window, while Temari sat at his desk, and Kankurou laid across the couch. Gaara turned to face them at the sound of the door opening.

"Good morning, Lord Kazekage! Kankurou-san! Temari-san!" Lee beamed, giving Gaara a deep bow. Tenten noticed the slightest frown on Gaara's face.

"Please, Lee, you can call me Gaara," he said, voice soft, as he averted his gaze from Lee. Tenten looked between the two of them, eyebrows raised. Gaara's eyes met hers, and Tenten swore she could see the faintest pink tint on his cheeks. She grinned.

"Can I call you Gaara, too, Lord Kazekage?" Tenten chirped, her tone sultry. Temari stood up, just in time for Gaara to step behind her. Tenten's attention was immediately on the blonde, who looked…different, somehow, though Tenten couldn't quite place it. Her brown skin had the same sheen–which could be attributed to her ritual of carefully applying aloe and shea butter every morning to keep her body moisturized in the desert heat, her vibrant, teal eyes had the same glow. Her war uniform had been replaced by a long, dark purple kimono, tied loosely at the waist and with a slit that revealed her toned legs.

"Tenten! Stop teasing my brother!" Temari barked. "And stop ogling me! That's not what I called you here for."

Tenten was still regarding her, but Temari's words averted her attention. "You called me here? Then…" She glanced at Gaara, who poked his head out from behind Temari.

"Lee," he said, ignoring Tenten's scrutinizing eyes, "breakfast?"

Tenten ran her hands over her face. So this was peace, then? Getting paid 35,000 RYO to escort your friend to a different village so that the Kazekage could ask him on a date?

"Certainly!" Lee exclaimed, flashing a smile. "Tenten and I exerted much energy to get here as quickly as possible! A nice meal with the lovely Kazekage will greatly revive the fires of my youth!"

"Oh, Gods," Temari muttered under her breath. She waved her hands towards the door. "Get out, everyone out."

Tenten began to turn, silently wondering why they were all listening to her, who was very much not the Kazekage, when Temari stopped her. "Not you. You stay."

Tenten glanced at Lee, who shrugged, gave her a wave, and followed Gaara and Kankurou out of the office. As soon as the door closed behind them, Temari dropped into her seat. It was as if a mask had slipped off once her brothers left the room. She suddenly looked so tired, Tenten noticing the dark circles under her somewhat bloodshot eyes. Temari, Tenten knew, was one of Gaara's top advisors and his liaison to Konoha. She worked alongside her brothers to improve Suna's relations with other villages, forming alliances and creating treaties. In this period immediately following the war, of course she would have a lot to do, but, sheesh, Tenten thought, Gaara needed to give his sister some PTO.

"Temari, are you alright?" Tenten asked, crouching slightly so that she and Temari were at eye level. The Suna kunoichi avoided her penetrating gaze, her eyes shifting to the left. She rested her elbows on the desk and folded her fingers together in front of her face, partially obscuring her mouth. When she spoke, her mumble was so soft and strained that Tenten asked her to repeat herself. She sighed, running anxious fingers through her bangs, and finally met Tenten's eyes.

"I'm pregnant."


this is a slight canon-divergent, most glaring changes being that Neji is alive, and that there is some lgbt+ rep (it's not a major component of the story, but some of the side ships like GaaLee are there. if you don't like that, never read my work, thx!) there's another big one but it's kind of a spoiler so i won't say what it is yet. i am currently suffering from Naruto brainrot, & i actually have a lot of "this is what i would've done instead" opinions/lore that'll show up in other fics, but this one is gonna be pretty tame in comparison.

please keep in mind that i…haven't actually finished Naruto, despite being in this fandom for 18 years now. when i wrote the first version of this fic, i only ever watched up to the confrontation at Orochimaru's hideout (when Sai was gonna kill Sasuke, lol.) currently, at the time of writing, i am up to the tail-end of the Pain's Assault arc. i have never read the manga, & certainly have never laid eyes on Boruto (and don't plan to.) please forgive any imperfect characterizations.

& finally - the title of this fic and all chapter titles are from Paramore/Hayley Williams lyrics.