"Neji, we can't hold her here. We don't have anything on her."
He briefly closes his eyes, willing away the headache in his frontal lobes. When he opens them again, she is still sitting calmly on the other side of the two-way mirror, legs crossed, her sneakered foot tapping empty air. He observes her for a long moment, taking in her bright yellow cardigan and messy hair.
Slowly, he reaches out for the folder that Sakura, his colleague, is holding. She shoots him an annoyed look.
"You're not going to get anywhere. I've already gone through this with her. She's not going to talk."
"Maybe I can persuade her to do otherwise," he answers in a clipped tone.
Sakura rolls her eyes, but wordlessly hands over the folder, stalking past him to observe out the two-way mirror.
He slips out the door and into the hallway. Sighing, he pushes open the interrogation room door.
She brightens slightly, a sly smile spreading across her lips.
"Sending in reinforcements, Miss Haruno?" she directs to the mirror.
"No, she's all but given up on you," he answers, taking a seat across from her. He slides the folder across the metal table to her.
She nods to the folder. "I've already seen those."
"Right," he answers. "But you still haven't told us where they're hiding right now."
She leans back in her chair and shrugs. "How should I know? Do I look like a trafficker to you? I've already told Miss Haruno that I don't know anything about . . . whatever it is you're trying to discover. So, I'd really like to go home now."
He's very taken in by her eyes—warm brown and focused. She raises a dark eyebrow.
"Let me guess. When I get home, it's going to be ransacked, because it will have been searched—for whatever the hell you're looking for. I hope you at least had a warrant," she adds in disgust.
"We wouldn't search your apartment without a warrant," he says offhandedly, opening the folder once more. He withdraws a photo and casually holds it up for her view. "What is this?"
She purses her lips, her expression patient but unyielding. "Looks like a gun to me."
"What kind of gun?"
She treats him to a small, sweet smile. "Do I look like someone who would know that? Do I come across as a gun enthusiast to you?"
He doesn't answer, shaking the photo a little to gather her attention. "Well?"
She remains silent, looking at him with pity.
He sets the photo down and sighs.
"We know it's you," he tells her with conviction. "We have you on camera at the drop site. I just need you to confess your involvement. Organizations like the one you're running around with—at the end of the day they're just using you. The only way to get out from under their thumb is to let us know what your role is, and who's giving you instructions. If they've threatened you, we can protect you from their influence."
"Well. . ." she begins, then pauses, looking pained.
He waits, trying not to be hopeful.
"That was a lovely speech," she continues, gazing at him, unmoved, "but I really don't know what you're talking about. And if you're going to keep holding me here against my will, then I'd like to call a lawyer."
"We aren't holding you against your will," he responds, refraining from rolling his eyes. "You're free to go when you like."
"I guess I'll be going then," she says, standing.
Slowly, he stands from his chair and escorts her out of the interrogation room. She shakes his hand firmly at the entrance of the police station, and parts with a friendly smile.
When he returns to the observation room where Sakura is waiting, she says without preamble, "I think we should go in a different direction. She's clearly not going to talk, even if she is involved."
"She knows something. I know it," Neji says, sighing. "We just need to figure out what it is."
Sakura stares at him and shakes her head, skeptical. "Whatever you say, partner."
Tenten slides onto the train and slips into an empty seat to quietly check her messages. In the several hours she was at the police station, her phone has blown up. She scrolls through languidly, scanning texts in order of importance.
She clicks on one and reads the messages in full:
Hey—quick question: is there any way I could get an advance on my next payment? There are some new Jimmy Choos that just came out and I am DYING to have them.
Where the hell are you?
Tenten where RU?!
Tenten sighs and types back:
I thought you weren't going to buy any more of those fancy shoes. You said they hurt your feet too much.
She glances through the other messages, and types back quick two-word responses. As she's answering, a buzz signifies a new text.
I said that prematurely. These shoes were made for me to wear them!
Attached is a photo of said-Jimmy Choos, and Tenten must agree, they do look fabulous and perfect for the woman in question. Nonetheless. . .
I don't do advances. You know that, Ino.
Just this once? It's going to a good cause!
Nope, sorry. Besides, this is good character-building for you. Your self-control needs development.
Ino sends a not-so-nice middle finger emoji. She tempers it a moment later with a purple heart.
Tenten smiles and texts a flexing bicep emoji. She puts her phone back in her purse and sighs, leaning back against the seat.
She feels tired from the near three hours of interrogation at the police station. She dreads getting home and finding her apartment in shambles. She just wants to fall into bed and sleep for the next ten hours.
She mulls over her conversation with Haruno and her partner. He had mentioned that they had video, but Tenten was still unsure if that was a bluff or not. She thought she had checked all her drops for cameras, but it was always possible she could have missed one; cameras were getting smaller and smaller these days. And it's not like she was infallible; she'd have to take a backseat to operations for the next few months to ensure things settled.
Their investigation had been irritating her for weeks; Tenten didn't even want to dwell on it for the headache it brought her.
The brunette switches her thoughts to a different problem—the issue with one of her suppliers. His warehouse had been damaged in a recent monsoon, so some of the orders were backlogged. He had called her last night to say that the warehouse wouldn't be fit for work for a month. Even all his finished orders that had been in storage had been damaged—so now she had to figure out how to fill the five-hundred-piece order that was due at the end of August—a week from today.
Tenten sighs again, mentally going through her various suppliers and their capabilities. It was possible she could get an extension on her order, thereby taking a delay in payment, but then she wouldn't have to overextend her other manufacturers. Better that than having to pay a warehouse full of employees double overtime to get the work done.
Tenten glances at her phone again and quickly drafts an email to her vendor, requesting the extra time for completion. Maybe if he's in a good mood, he'll let me have it, she thinks. Otherwise it's going to take a chunk out of my bank account.
She gets off the train at the next stop and walks briskly out of the station.
It is already twilight, and the sidewalks are filled with people going out to dinner or on dates. Tenten stops in at a small café she likes and gets a coffee and pastry to go. She meanders a bit before finding a bench to sit down on.
People watching is a favorite hobby of hers, and as she nibbles on her snack, her bright eyes flit from one passerby to another.
The orphanage caretaker used to call her "Hawk" because even as a child, Tenten would scrutinize anything and everything she could. She credits this childhood curiosity with her level of sharp observance, something she would be remiss without in her profession.
Across the street, Tenten focuses on a man and a woman holding hands as they enter a clothing store. The woman is laughing, and she throws her head back, letting her joy echo out over the street. The man is blushing slightly, but he squeezes the woman's hand. They disappear among the racks of clothes inside the store.
Tenten has always wondered what that must feel like—to be genuinely carefree. However she paints herself to others, it is not something she can do easily. Even today, with Haruno and the male investigator, it was a mental and emotional stretch, leaving her exhausted by the time she left.
Tenten didn't even like pretending; it was simply necessary. The pity she had felt for the investigator—he had wanted her to spill something so badly—it was mingled with regret. She didn't feel apologetic for her actions necessarily—the cash spoke for itself, and it wasn't like she lacked skill. But the constant deception took a toll.
She sips her coffee, pondering the legality of her business, or lack thereof. Her gaze sweeps upward; the sky has turned a mesmerizing shade of violet. Streetlights flicker on. Tenten takes note of the assortment of cameras stacked on the streetlight pole. Her eyes narrow.
The investigator's words come back to her, needling, "We have you on camera at the drop site."
And suddenly it occurs to her—she had not been as thorough as she should have.
Tenten downs the rest of her coffee and shoves the remainder of her pastry in her mouth. She sets off at a brisk walk towards her apartment.
Neji didn't like to take his work home with him, but lately it had gotten to be unavoidable. It seemed that drops were happening every other week, and he and Sakura were no closer to identifying a paper trail worth tracking. The interview that day with the woman suspect had been the first lead they'd had in months, not that it had profited them anything.
He rides the train for forty-five minutes, until finally getting off at his stop a quarter to ten. He stops by a convenience store and picks up dinner. Fifteen minutes later and Neji is quietly slipping into the courtyard of his uncle's spacious home—almost all the windows dark.
He pads down the hallway, trying to make little noise, and enters his room, softly closing the door. He immediately fires up his laptop from work and sighs, sitting down at his small desk. Absently, he begins eating noodles from the takeout container.
Neji lazily clicks through until black and white grainy footage appears on his screen. He enlarges the video feed and settles back in his chair.
Of the handful of sites he and Sakura had been able to identify, only this one had cameras. After their research, they had figured out that the cameras belonged to and were monitored by the owner of the warehouses the cameras overlooked—a manufacturer of iron bars that were frequently exported on freighters. Once they had tracked him down, he had generously given them access to the video feed to aid their investigation. Not that it had benefitted them much, other than giving them a glimpse of the suspect they had interrogated today. And even tracking her down had taken weeks.
The first camera shows a complete view of the bay. Neji can see the small undulations of the waves, even in the shady darkness of the night.
Neji switches to the next camera—which usually shows a view of the wide stretch of concrete leading up to rows of shipping containers—but is mysteriously blank. Neji stares at the dark footage for a second, before switching to the next camera—and then the next. They are all dark.
Neji sits back in his desk chair, his forehead creasing. He hurriedly clicks back to the first camera—he can still see the small waves of the bay and the small circle of light the streetlight casts below.
So, it wasn't a mechanical malfunction then.
Neji swiftly begins rewinding the footage, leaning towards the screen with renewed focus.
And there—at 6:03 pm, the screen suddenly brightens. Neji slows down the rewinding until it is flickering by frame-by-frame. A disembodied (and gloved) hand comes in and out of view. Neji switches to viewing all four screens simultaneously. The hand moves in and out of various frames. A face does not appear at all. But at 5:46 pm, a slight figure appears on the ground below. Neji pauses the footage and zooms in.
Their face is obscured by a baseball cap, dark blue, and they are dressed in a similar colored jumpsuit. A heavy duty toolbelt is cinched around their waist. A warehouse worker, by all appearances, but Neji is not convinced.
He starts the footage again at normal speed, watching as the figure walks at a leisurely pace and then disappears. A few moments later, gloved hands are carefully affixing tape over the camera eyes. Neji rewinds again from the beginning, to when the figure first comes into view. He plays the video again and begins taking screenshots, frame by frame.
Burned into his brain is the woman in the yellow sweater from that afternoon. Neji clutches the freshly printed pictures tighter.
Sakura is not so easily convinced.
She glances disdainfully at the pictures Neji has laid out in front of her. "Neji, you can't even see their face. There's no way we could know if it's her," she says.
"Who else would it be? We tipped her that there were cameras at the site, and then someone comes and covers up three of the cameras? It's not a coincidence," Neji responds tersely from his office desk.
Sakura shakes her head. "We can't interrogate her again. We don't have any evidence. And we found nothing at her apartment. The judge declined our surveillance on her because we don't have enough cause. You need to drop it."
Neji sighs, irritated. "Sakura," he begins again coolly, "intuitively, I know that she has something to do with this."
"Intuition or not, we don't have enough cause, Neji," Sakura repeats, barely disguising her own annoyance with her partner. "I think the captain is going to tell us to move on."
Neji clenches his jaw but doesn't reply.
True to Sakura's prediction, in their departmental meeting a few days later, their captain asks for an update.
Sakura starts speaking before Neji can begin his pitch.
"Three of the four cameras we had have gone dark. But our interview with the suspect wasn't enlightening. If she does know something, she's not talking. I think we should keep an eye on it and move on to more pressing cases."
Captain Hatake nods.
"I don't agree, sir," Neji says, interjecting before the captain can move onto another team.
"What is it?" Hatake says, looking up lazily from his briefing documents.
"I believe the suspect we interviewed tampered with the cameras. I think she needs to be interrogated further."
"You don't have any evidence."
"I have a hunch that we already have exactly who we're looking for concerning this case."
Hatake treats Neji to a bored expression. "Hunches aren't the same as evidence, Hygua. You and Haruno keep your eyes open but move onto other cases."
Neji leans back in his chair, and Sakura raises her eyebrows at him from across the table. Her I-told-you-so is annoyingly palpable.
Tenten watches as her client runs his hands over his requested merchandise. His hands are meaty, with several gaudy rings adorning his sausage-like fingers. Tenten absently wonders if they cut off his circulation.
He holds up a small handgun, inspecting it from all angles.
"That's a 9mm Glock. Seventeen rounds," Tenten informs, her eyes flitting to the bay of windows.
This is not an unusual client meeting, but it is swankier than usual. They are in a large, modern conference room in one of the imposing skyscrapers of downtown. It is a business district; Tenten noted the smartly dressed employees she shared an elevator with as she rode up to the penthouse of the building.
She self-consciously brushes lint from her dark business suit.
"I like the handguns more than the rifles," the client says, setting the Glock back in its case and moving down the line of open briefcases.
"Yes, they're much more versatile," Tenten agrees, trying to figure out if she has done well or not in her selection.
He reaches the end of the table display and turns to her. His grin is disconcerting. He strides over and shakes her hand.
"We have a deal. Your professional reputation is not misplaced," he compliments, waving over a few of his assistants.
At her back, Tenten's own assistants surge forward to accept the silver briefcases on her behalf. The briefcases are popped open, and Tenten glances briefly inside. Stacks of cash sit neatly in rows. Tenten motions for her assistants to close the lids, expressionless.
"I look forward to working with you in the future, Mr. Kakuzu," Tenten says, bowing as she proffers her business card.
"I will contact you again when I have need of your services," he says dismissively.
Tenten bows again and slips out with her team to the elevators.
As the elevator doors close, Ino lets out a squeal. "Did you see how much cash we got from that one deal! That guy is super rich!"
Tenten nods noncommittally. That guy had given her the creeps, no matter what he had paid. Tenten makes a quick wish that he won't be needing her assistance anytime soon.
"You have that meeting at the hotel tonight, right?" Ino asks.
"Yes. Do you think you have something nice I could borrow to wear?" Tenten responds distractedly.
Ino grins, "Oh, I have something perfect for you."
Tenten smiles back weakly.
Generally, Neji sought to avoid all things associated with his family and their business, but sometimes, that was unavoidable. Like tonight.
Two months prior, his cousin had gotten engaged to the love of her life, much to the mortification of her father and a myriad of their aunts, uncles, and cousins. But, true to Hyuga form, all these protestations were kept quiet, behind the walls of their private residence. Which was why Neji was dressed in a suit on a Tuesday night at the hotel, enduring Hinata's ritzy engagement party.
It wasn't so bad, though, Neji thought. There was always the hideaway of the hotel bar, which was where he slipped away to after dinner.
He was nursing a scotch in the corner by the wall when he saw her. Neji almost choked on his drink.
She was stunning, Neji was embarrassed to note. The short, gold halter dress she was wearing accented her curves and showed off her tanned arms and shoulders. Her brunette hair brushed her shoulders in waves.
Neji clutches his drink and moves off his stool to sit next to her.
She glances at him in amusement, as if they are old friends who happened to come across each other in the supermarket. Her smile is genuine as she sips water from a glass.
"What business are you here for?" he asks without preamble, his eyes narrow.
Her smile widens. "I'm here for pleasure, not business, Mr. Investigator. Don't you need your interrogation room to ask me questions? You won't find me feeling intimidated here."
Neji swallows down the rest of his scotch, studying her carefully.
"Another scotch, Mr. Hyuga?" the bartender asks. Neji thrusts out his glass, and the bartender takes it, refilling his drink with exaggerated hurry.
Tenten's eyebrows rise, and Neji can't tell if she is impressed or mocking him.
"Mr. Hyuga, huh? Does that mean you own this hotel?" she asks. Her bright brown eyes flit around the room, noting the chandeliers, bright marble floors, and plush carpeting. "Why on earth do you work for the police department?"
"My family owns this hotel," Neji retorts impatiently. "Why are you here?"
Tenten takes her time answering, surveying the connecting hotel restaurant directly over Neji's shoulder.
"Can't a woman sit in a bar without being questioned?" she replies coolly. "If you're going to bother me, you might as well sit down."
Neji clenches his jaw and sits down stiffly next to her.
"Now," Tenten begins, "please tell me why you would take a job as an investigator when you could be running one of the fanciest hotels in downtown."
"That's not really any of your business."
Tenten pats his hand coyly. "I already told you, Mr. Hyuga. I'm here for pleasure, not business."
Neji stares at her for a long moment, and she gazes back, amusement written all over her face. Then, her eyes are focusing on something over his shoulder and she is standing.
"It was nice to see you again, Mr. Hyuga," she says, walking away without another look back.
Neji turns his head to watch her leave, curious as to who she's meeting. The man is tall and thin, with short dark hair. They disappear into the dim hotel restaurant.
Everything in Neji's being tells him to follow. However, before he can, one of his cousins comes looking for him.
"They're making speeches, and Father wants you," says Hanabi.
Neji sighs and grudgingly follows her, but not before he gives the bartender strict instructions to notify him immediately when the woman in the gold dress exits the restaurant.
"You look well, Tenten."
Tenten smiles wanly, biting the inside of her cheek.
"Thanks, you too. Thank you for meeting me."
"You don't have to thank me for that. Anything for you," he responds.
They fall quiet as they order from the waiter and sit drinking water. Finally, after a period of awkward silence, Tenten clears her throat and says, "I was wondering if I could take out another loan."
Though his eyes are shaded by dark glasses, the man's forehead wrinkles in consternation.
"What do you need a loan for?" he asks quietly.
Tenten absently traces the beads of water on her glass. "Well, one of my warehouses got damaged from flooding, so I've lost almost a whole month's work from that. And I have a new vendor, but he has very . . . extravagant tastes. I need to be in a good place to accept his next order. I wouldn't be asking if I still had all of my suppliers."
"What kind of 'extravagant tastes'?"
"Today was my first delivery for him. He ordered close to a million in merchandise."
"And the payout?" he questions, already calculating in his head.
"A million and five," Tenten says quietly.
He sighs and shakes his head, as if disappointed. "Tenten," he begins.
"I know," Tenten interrupts. "It wasn't exactly a fair payout. But if today was any indication, the next time he places another order should make me a profit, and I'll be able to pay you back."
"You already owe me," he responds.
"I know," Tenten says again, barely above a whisper. "I'm going to pay you back, I promise."
She pauses, waiting.
After a beat, he begins, "I have a lot of respect for you, everything you do for Gai and Lee. I wish you three had better circumstances. But I can't give you another loan, and unfortunately I can't extend your payment deadline either."
He shakes his head, unwilling. "I'm sorry, Tenten. I just can't do it. It's not feasible."
Tenten leans back in her chair, and wonders if she is going to cry.
"Shino, please. You know I don't use this money on myself at all. I'm not swindling you. I just need a little cash to cover my expenses. And Gai—he has another treatment coming up—" she stops abruptly, her voice cracking.
She closes her eyes, trying to summon calm to her rising inward panic.
A hand tentatively pats hers. "I'm sorry," he says. "I just can't."
She hears him stand from the table. He softly says, "Enjoy dinner. It's on me."
Tenten flushes in embarrassment, gritting her teeth. When she opens her eyes, Shino is gone, his glass of water empty. A neat wad of cash sits on the table. Tenten stares at it until the food they had ordered comes. She eats both plates with gusto and pays the tab with Shino's money, brushing away the tears at the corners of her eyes.
Neji sighs, flicking ashes onto the sidewalk as she descends the stairs to stand next to him.
"Occasionally," he answers. He looks her over. The tall man from before is nowhere to be seen. Neji wonders if her date went poorly. From the expression on her face it seemed likely.
Wordlessly, he holds out his cigarette for her. She takes it daintily, shooting him a reserved look, and takes a short drag. She hands it back to him with a small smile, blowing smoke into the night.
Standing there in her gold dress and high heels, her profile softly lighted from the hotel lobby behind them, Neji wonders if this magnetism he feels towards her is attraction.
He straightens, takes a final drag on the cigarette, and stubs it out.
"Where are you hiding the weapons?" he asks.
Tenten gives him a sidelong glance. Her face twists, as if she's unsure whether to smile or grimace.
"We were having a nice moment there, and you just ruined it," she informs.
Neji pauses. "I don't want to play games with you. Just tell me what you know, or I'll have to call you in again for interrogation."
Tenten tilts her head at him. "Don't you have to do that anyway? We're not exactly in the throes of formality here."
Neji silently withdraws his badge from the inside of his coat pocket and holds it aloft.
Tenten almost rolls her eyes. "You would be one of those guys."
"Let's not dance around the subject, Miss Lee," Neji says, putting his badge away.
"Unfortunately, I'm not much of a dancer," she responds, crossing her arms.
He stares at her; Tenten gazes back unflinchingly.
"Are you always this infuriating?" he eventually asks, annoyed.
She grins up at him. "Often."
Neji watches as she turns, surveying the hotel lobby from the sidewalk.
"So, tell me, Mr. Hyuga, how much stock do you have in your family's company?"
"You're very nosy," he tells her waspishly.
Tenten sends him a sharp glare. "So are you."
Neji gestures angrily behind him at the dazzling hotel, though he cannot tell anymore who he is more frustrated with—his family, her, or himself. "This? Not a cent."
"That sounds a little bitter. Do you want to talk about it?"
Neji shakes his head at her, incredulous.
"What?" Tenten says, shrugging. "It seems you're intent on dragging me down to a police station any time I cross your mind, which is apparently in high frequency. I'm just trying to acquaint myself with the man who wants to throw me in jail for something he doesn't even have evidence of me doing."
"I have the evidence I need," Neji replies crisply.
Tenten smirks at him. "Sure, you do. That explains why I'm still a free woman, roaming the streets looking for another crime to commit."
Neji breathes deeply, trying to dispel some of his irritation. He wonders if pulling out another cigarette will be deemed a weakness in her eyes; he decides it will and refrains.
"One of these days, you'll make a mistake. And I'll be there to arrest you when you do," he says.
Tenten smiles politely. "I look forward to it, Mr. Hyuga. Now, please tell me, what are you doing here tonight at your family's hotel which you want no part of? Business or pleasure?"
Neji glares at her. "Neither," he says shortly. "My cousin is getting married. Tonight was her engagement party."
"Most people would call that pleasure," Tenten says. "You must be holding onto a big grudge."
Neji is silent. She glances down at her watch and looks back to him.
"Well, at midnight I turn back into a pumpkin, so I should get going," she says. She brushes past him without a goodbye. Neji can hear her heels clicking against the sidewalk as she strides away, until suddenly they stop.
He looks over his shoulder.
She's standing in the dark gap between two streetlights. The gold of her dress shimmers eerily.
"I figured it out," she declares, her tone teasing. "Mr. Hyuga, you don't live in this hotel, do you? Like Eloise?"
"Who?" Neji retorts, puzzled.
Tenten takes a few steps back towards him, her face is half in darkness but entirely beseeching. "Eloise! The girl who lives in the Plaza Hotel in New York. She has adventures and gets in trouble." She raises her eyebrows at him. "You know, I can understand a kid living in a hotel, but not so much a grown man. Though it would explain your mysterious grudge—does your family keep you locked inside?"
"I don't live in the hotel," Neji replies, the conversation lost on him.
"Ah, well," Tenten hums. Her eyes are bright, twinkling with mischief. "Something to think further on, I suppose."
With that, she turns and heads back on her way, leaving Neji feeling confused and worst of all—stirring with amusement and appreciation at her unusual wit.
"How is he doing?" Tenten blurts into the phone.
"He's doing fine. Every day is something new," says Lee, his tone light.
Tenten frowns at this report. "What do you mean something new? What's new?"
"Calm down, Tenten. I simply meant that he is more enthusiastic every day. He's the whole nursing staff's favorite patient."
Tenten chuckles. "I don't find that completely reassuring, Lee."
"Seriously, he's doing well. The treatments are normal. We're just waiting to hear back from the doctor about when we can leave."
"Have his fluid levels balanced out?"
"Yes, Tenten. They're saying we should be able to go home later this afternoon."
Tenten feels relief trickle through the tension in her shoulders and neck. "That's good news," she whispers.
Lee hums his agreement but says nothing more.
Tenten bites her lip. "I'll wire you next month's installment in a few days."
Tenten could almost kick herself for bringing it up.
"Tenten, we've talked about this," Lee begins, his sharp tone apparent, no matter how much he is wanting to hide it. "We don't want your money. We want you to do the right thing."
Tenten grits her teeth. "You might not want my money, but you do need it. You guys can refuse to see me for however long you want, but it doesn't change the fact that every month I send you money and you take it. You don't have to look down from me on your righteous high horse."
"I don't want to argue with you," Lee says. "Please don't send us anything. We'll do fine without. . . We miss you, sis. I have to go now. Dad wants to play cards. Bye."
The call ends and Tenten throws her head back in exhaustion. She didn't even know why she called anymore—it was the same conversation every single time.
But if she didn't call? Tenten shakes her head. The not-knowing wasn't worth it to her, better to endure Lee's criticism than go without news.
Five years ago, when she had started dealing, she had kept it completely under wraps. Lee and Gai hadn't even known until year three—and since then they'd refused to see her, claiming she was better than the path she'd chosen, that they didn't want her dirty money in their hands. It broke Tenten's heart anew every day.
She sighs to herself. I'm not going to think about this anymore. It's just a waste of my time. And she had more pressing matters to attend to.
Tenten turns to her phone, pulling up her schedule. On a pad of paper in front of her, she scratches out dates and drop times, product completion days, and meetings with clients. Next to each date, she writes the monetary value owed or due, positive or negative.
When she finishes, she adds up the numbers and slowly puts down the total. She stares at the number, tapping her pencil against her temple. Her throat swells with emotion, and she allows a few tears to slip down her cheeks before erasing them with her palms.
"All of this cost us a million dollars?"
Kakuzu leans back in his chair, waving around his new Desert Eagle revolver. His eyes follow his dark-haired partner's movements as he surveys the guns packed carefully in black suitcases.
"A million and five," Kakuzu corrects.
Itachi turns and stares at him, looking distinctly unamused.
"We could have found cheaper on the black market." His tone is very displeased.
"This is from the black market. And she's an expert."
Itachi glances over his shoulder at the rows of guns. "And how do you know that?"
"I do my research."
Itachi crosses his arms, expressionless. "We need more than just guns."
"I know that. She's a weapons expert. Guns, tactical armor, missiles. . . She has access to it all. Her display was very impressive."
Itachi turns and walks the length of the room, staring out the window at the city below. "We can't allow this to go wrong, Kakuzu. Too much is at stake. How can we be sure she won't cause us any trouble?"
"You worry too much," Kakuzu replies. He cocks the revolver and lets that suffice as answer.
Heeding Captain Hatake's instructions, Neji and Sakura put the weapons trafficking case on hold until more breakthroughs. Neji had briefed Sakura on seeing their only suspect at his family's hotel, meeting someone mysterious, but Sakura had merely rolled her eyes.
Today, they were tailing a known drug dealer out on parole. They had received tips that he was back to his old ways.
Sakura sips her coffee as they sit in the car, waiting for something suspicious to happen.
"I hate days like this," she sighs, leaning her head against the window.
Neji sighs in response. He opens the car door. "I'm going to stretch my legs."
"Fine," Sakura answers, covering a yawn with her free hand.
They are parked in the warehouse district, surrounded by run-down businesses and aging apartment complexes. Neji steps out the car and inhales the diesel-scented air.
He begins walking aimlessly down the cracked sidewalk. At the next street, he turns the corner to the left and promptly runs into a woman with bright, brown eyes. She stumbles back from him, her mouth agape. Neji stares back, mirroring her astonishment.
"Are you stalking me?" she demands to know, crossing her arms tight across her chest.
"No, of course not," he retorts, gaze narrowing. She is wearing a black shirt and black pants. Her sneakers are a faded white, dingy and worn. Her brown hair is twisted into twin buns.
She sighs, irritated, re-adjusting a canvas bag hanging from her shoulder.
She squints up at him, suddenly mistrustful. "What are you doing in this neighborhood? It's not exactly your scene."
"My scene? I'm working," Neji replies.
They exchange a look, and Tenten finally shrugs. "Okay, well, I'll be going then," she starts to move past him, but Neji stops her way, his arm outstretched. She looks up at him in surprise.
"What?" she snaps.
"What's in the bag?" Neji asks, gesturing.
Her face contorts. "None of your business."
He tries not to smirk. "Actually, it's exactly my business. Open the bag, please."
"No," she says, glaring.
"Are you refusing to comply with an officer of the law's orders?"
She pauses a moment, and Neji can see the debate in her head, playing across her face.
"Yes," she finally says, defiantly raising her eyebrows.
"You know I can arrest you, right?"
She doesn't reply, looking up at him.
"I'm not bluffing," Neji says, answering her unasked question. "My partner is just around the corner. We can do this the easy or the hard way."
She rolls her eyes and shrugs off her bag.
"You're a walking cliché, you know that, right?" She hands him the bag.
Neji ignores her and peers in the tote. Inside, there is an assortment of fruit and vegetables, along with a jug of milk. Groceries.
Silently, he closes the bag and hands it back to her, trying not to let his embarrassment show on his face. Tenten stares up at him, smug. She puts the bag back on her shoulder.
"Seriously, what are you doing here, Mr. Hyuga? Pretty far from your family's hotel."
"I could ask the same of you. Your apartment is nowhere near here."
Tenten's mouth fades to a small smile, but her tone releases its hostility.
"I'm paying a social call."
"So am I," Neji says.
Her eyebrows raise, clearly denoting that she didn't believe him. "You said Miss Haruno is here too? Please give her my regards."
"You could come say hello," Neji says. "I'm sure she would be thrilled to see you."
Tenten takes a step past him, heading back on her way. "I sense a trap."
Neji shakes his head. "No trap. You're not what we're here for."
She tilts her head to the side and takes a deep breath, her usual amused expression dropping for a second. "You know, I have a lot going on. I don't need to be worried about getting arrested too."
"Then don't do anything that warrants arresting."
She grins, her usual playful disposition back in place. "Easier said than done."
Tenten turns, resuming her journey, but glances over her shoulder once she's a few steps away. "You look really sharp in that suit, by the way."
Neji watches her walk away, her steps quick and lithe, feeling a flush creep up his neck.
He returns to the car, where Sakura has finished her coffee and has reached her limit of surveillance for the day. Neji says nothing about running into Miss Lee.
"We would like to hire your services again."
Tenten straightens, absently scratching her pen on the notepad in front of her.
"Of course. Will you be needing more firearms?"
"We would like something a little different. I have heard from my sources that you have an extensive supply of . . . heavier machinery."
Tenten blinks, her mouth tightening.
"Yes, you could say that," she responds cautiously. "Are you looking for something specific?"
"What can you offer in the vein of ballistics?"
Tenten pauses, placing her pen down. "I have an array of bombs and smaller-size projectile rockets. I have one or two missiles."
"Hmm," Kakuzu hums over the line. "I'm assuming the missiles are very precious to you."
"I'd be grieved to part with them," Tenten replies, clenching her phone tighter.
"But you would part with them . . . for the right price, I assume?" Kakuzu muses.
"I think you might be underestimating how big a price tag that might be, Mr. Kakuzu. Missiles are not easily manufactured, especially in secret."
"How big of a price tag are we discussing, Miss Lee?"
Tenten picks up her pen again, hurriedly scratching out numbers on her notepad. She circles her total and says, "Five million for a pair."
Kakuzu releases a low breath. "Come now, Miss Lee. Surely we can arrange a discount."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Kakuzu. The manufacturing alone costs me over a million. If you want only the bombs or rockets, then it would be significantly cheaper." And less risky for me, Tenten thinks to herself.
The line goes silent for a moment, and Tenten waits, chewing her bottom lip.
"Five million and a half, including the setup fee. Do we have a deal?"
"Yes," Tenten answers breathlessly.
"Good," Kakuzu murmurs. "Miss Lee, I hope I don't have to remind you of the secrecy of this deal. We expect complete discretion, or we'll have to take . . . aggressive measures."
Tenten stills. "I understand," she whispers.
"Good. Please keep me updated on the production schedule."
The line goes dead, and Tenten places the phone face down on her coffee table. She runs a hand through her bangs and tries to calm the rising unease bubbling in her gut.
"This is your livelihood," she says to herself. "This is Lee and Gai and Ino and all your other staff's livelihood. This is their groceries and their rent and their medical bills. This is what's at stake."
Despite this self-reassurance, Tenten cannot push away her sense of foreboding.
Tenten rarely cared what her clients did with her merchandise. Selfishly, it helped her feel better about what she was doing if she didn't ask any questions. But with Mr. Kakuzu, it was not to be helped anymore.
She stares down at the name of his organization she had written down. After two months, Tenten had called to schedule delivery for the following week, where he had ultimately divulged the name of the group he spoke for.
Tenten could curse herself for being so stupid. She knew Akatsuki—or at least, she knew what they did. They were terrorists—subversives who planned and carried out assassinations and coups all around the world.
Her palms start sweating, and she tries to take a deep breath against her rising panic. What were they going to do with all the firearms she'd supplied them with? What were they planning to carry out?
It all made sense to her now—the exorbitant amounts of money, the curiosity about weapons that usually only concerned military personnel. . . Tenten suddenly felt furious with herself. And underneath those feelings of anger, a growing fear.
"We expect complete discretion, or we'll have to take . . . aggressive measures."
Lee and Gai's faces flash in her mind's eye. Ino, her other staff. Bile rises in her throat, and Tenten rushes to her bathroom, just in time to vomit into the toilet bowl.
When her stomach is emptied, she sits back on her heels, wiping sweat from her forehead.
Tenten didn't consider herself a bad person, not really. Yes, she broke the law and sold dangerous merchandise on the black market. But at the end of the day, she was just trying to survive, like anyone else.
But Tenten knew she was no terrorist. She knew she would rather go to prison for twenty years than have a hand in killing some political official or bombing innocents. How could she go through with this deal? She wouldn't be able to live with herself after it.
Shakily, she gets to her feet and walks back to her shabby living room. She scrolls through her phone until she finds the number she's searching for and dials, her hands quivering.
"Yes?" answers a lazy voice.
"Shikamaru," Tenten exhales. "I need some counsel."
"Mr. Hyuga, you have a visitor," informs the station secretary. "They're waiting in the first interview room."
Neji's brow wrinkles, unsure of who would come to visit him at work. He walks down the hall and opens the first door on the left.
Inside, Tenten sits quietly at the table, her face drawn and serious.
"I need your help," she says as Neji shuts the door.
Sitting on the far side of the wall is a man with hair haphazardly tied in a ponytail. There are dark shadows underneath his eyes.
"This is my lawyer, Mr. Nara," Tenten introduces. The man nods once to Neji, then turns back to the laptop he is typing away on.
"Help with what?" Neji says as he settles across from her.
She sighs, her expression penitent. "I've made a big mistake."
Neji waits for her to elaborate. She tilts her head to him, smiling weakly. "You should probably go get Miss Haruno. I'm ready to confess."
Tenten starts from the beginning, five years past. How she made a name for herself on the black market, how she developed relationships with manufacturers, how she recruited staff to run deliveries and errands, the way she kept her activities beneath law enforcement notice. . .
She tells them her reasons—about how she was adopted at sixteen from an orphanage by a friend of the owner, how he had given her a safe place to live and a brother, and how heartbreaking it had been when he had been diagnosed with kidney failure. How she had to abandon her college classes to work full time, how a waitressing job couldn't even begin to cover the medical bills, so she turned to the black market, because she had always been obsessed with firearms and owned a few of her own.
From there, it had almost been easy—to let go of the waitressing job and turn to arms trafficking full time. And then, three years in, her brother had discovered one of her stashes and gone snooping and confronted her. They had wanted nothing to do with her after that, though she still paid off all the medical bills and rent and other expenses.
She tells them about Akatsuki and Kakuzu and their order to be delivered the following week, detailing every interaction she had with the latter.
She finishes and grows silent, handing them her burner phone, which Sakura scrolls through, making notes on a pad of paper. Tenten flicks her eyes to Neji, wondering what is going through his mind.
From behind, Shikamaru shuffles over to sit next to her. He rubs his eyes tiredly. "Obviously, we'll be wanting a plea deal for Tenten's cooperation."
Sakura shakes her head slightly, still searching through the phone. "You know we can't make any promises concerning that. We have to confirm her confession first. As well as participate in the deal next week. If all of that is successful, then we'll consider speaking to the DA."
Shikamaru sighs and opens his mouth to speak, but Neji interrupts, leveling his gaze at Tenten. "We're going to have to put you under constant surveillance until the Akatsuki deal is made. After we take down Akatsuki, you'll be arrested. Do you understand?"
"She's not a flight risk," Shikamaru says, shooting a look at Tenten to stay quiet. "She won't run. She wants to help you guys catch them."
"She's also lied to us, ever since we first interrogated her three months ago," Sakura interjects, shutting the phone.
Shikamaru waves his hand lazily, as if such a thing hardly mattered. "What counts is she's being honest now. You don't have to arrest her. Hell, just put her on house arrest until trial."
Sakura purses her lips, but Neji says, gazing at Tenten, "We'll recommend it to the DA and see what he says. Regardless, we must arrest you after you complete the deal. You and your lawyer will meet with the DA afterwards and figure something out for the arraignment."
Tenten sighs heavily, but nods once her understanding.
"Fine," Shikamaru says, standing again to retrieve his laptop.
Sakura leaves the room to inform Captain Hatake of their developments, and Neji ushers Shikamaru and Tenten to the entrance of the station.
While Shikamaru goes to pull around the car to drive his client home, Tenten lifts her eyes to Neji, feeling shy and embarrassed.
She scuffs the toe of her sneaker against the crack in the sidewalk and says jokingly, "Let's not treat each other like this, Mr. Hyuga."
"Like what?" Neji murmurs.
She gestures between them vaguely. "You're fond of grudges. I don't want you to hold a grudge against me."
Neji crosses his arms, remaining expressionless. "There's no grudge."
Tenten purses her lips. "Really? I get the feeling I disappointed you."
"Does it matter whether you did or not?" Neji replies, shrugging. "You did what I expected, nothing more."
Tenten is surprised by how much his words sting. Shikamaru cruises up to the sidewalk and honks the horn once.
"There'll be officers surveilling you beginning tonight until the delivery next week. Sakura or I will be around soon to talk about how everything will proceed."
Tenten nods once and gets into the car, keeping her eyes straight ahead as they drive off.
Tenten picks up her phone, and immediately sets it back down for the sixth time that hour.
She wants to call Lee. She wants to talk to her dad. But she doesn't think she could communicate clearly everything she wants to say. She doesn't want to explain how much a failure she is, how much shame she's carrying from all her decisions, especially the ones of late.
She grasps her phone from the coffee table and stares at the blank screen, sighing. She puts it down and shakes her head at no one.
Neji sits outside of Tenten's apartment a few days later, peering out the window. His disappointment—hell, his hurt—had grown that much sharper over the last few days. The worst of it was that he was embarrassed he felt anything at all. He had tried to tell himself that what he was feeling was just a visceral reaction to being lied to. But Neji had been lied to countless times over the course of his career, and nothing—no one—had ever lingered on his mind like she had. How could he feel deceived by her when he knew she was lying the whole time? Why did it bother him so much?
He had let Sakura come earlier in the week to brief Tenten on their plan for delivering the goods to Akatsuki. Sakura had just shrugged when Neji had asked her how it had gone.
He sighs, rubbing his temples where a headache was forming.
In the steadily growing darkness of twilight, a figure emerges from Tenten's building and saunters over to the car, knocking twice on the driver's side window. Neji rolls down the window to see Tenten standing next to the car. In her outstretched hand is a water bottle; in the crook of her arm is a beer.
Momentary surprise flickers across her face as she registers him, but she says nothing except, "I figured you can't drink on the job, so I brought you this."
Neji takes the water gingerly. "That assumption would be correct," he replies.
He unscrews the cap on his water bottle and takes a swig. Out of the corner of his eye, he watches Tenten pop the tab on her beer can.
"Cheers," she whispers, gulping down some of her drink.
He can't help but trace the faded lines of her face, her messy hair pushed into buns. She seems even more beautiful now than when he saw her in the gold dress at the hotel.
Tenten doesn't leave. She quietly sits down on the curb next to the car, resting her forearms across her knees. From Neji's position in the car, Tenten seems like a head without a body.
"I've gotten very skilled at identifying unmarked squad cars as of late," she says, amused. "Never thought I would be able to say that about myself. Do you think I could put it on a résumé in the future?"
Neji doesn't answer, at a loss for what to say.
A few minutes pass. They take turns staring up at the sky, sipping their respective libations.
Finally, Tenten murmurs, "I wish we had run into each other again on better terms, or with better circumstances."
Neji taps his fingers against the steering wheel. "It wouldn't have changed anything," he replies a beat later.
"It might have," she says. "You know, there's a lot more to me than what you see. I'm more than what you think of me."
"I never presumed to know you."
"That's not true." Tenten's head snaps up, her eyes ablaze with fury. She sears him with just one look. "You passed judgment on me, as soon as you met me. You flirted with me, but—"
"I didn't flirt with you," Neji interjects hotly, whipping his head to stare at her.
Tenten's cheeks flush, but she amends, "Fine, I flirted with you. But you thought you knew me, you thought you had me pegged, and when it comes out that you were right? How can you be so . . . so. . ."
"Cruel!" Tenten stands from the curb, leaning into the window the car. Her brown eyes are wide and filled with turmoil. "You were cruel to burden me with your disappointment, on top of everything else. Don't you know how much that hurt?"
"Hurt?" Neji snaps, pushing his way out of the car to stand in front of her. "What hurt was being lied to, relentlessly, I might add, for months. I thought—" He stops himself, noting how heavy he's breathing, how spiked his emotions feel. He slowly leans back against the squad car and takes a deep breath, trying to clear his head.
Tenten chugs the rest of her beer, eyeing him waspishly.
"You thought what?" she asks, a hand coming up to rest on her hip.
Neji stares down at her through the darkness; the flicker of a street lamp a few yards away casts them in an eerie orange glow.
"I thought . . . maybe it was real, for a moment," he sighs.
Tenten rocks on her heels, considering him. "Parts of it were," she says in a soft voice.
"Which parts?" Neji questions, shaking his head slightly. "Is there anything at all you didn't lie about?"
Tenten pauses, thinking for a moment.
"You really do look nice in a suit," she says, a slow smile spreading across her lips. She crosses her arms and tilts her head at him, something Neji has noticed must be a tic of hers. "I'm sorry for leading you on. You know, cop, criminal. Historically, not a good mix."
Neji nods once, wincing as he says, "You have an effect on me that I don't understand."
Tenten's lips widen into a grin. "That's called attraction. It's okay—I'm attracted to you as well, Mr. Hyuga."
"Neji," he corrects.
She smirks and extends her hand as she replies, "Tenten. Beer makes me chatty, by the way. And I'm getting arrested in two days, so there's that, but well, you knew that already."
Their fingers brush together as they shake hands.
Tenten is so nervous she thinks she's going to be sick.
She is sitting in the van with the rest of her delivery team, waiting for the large warehouse doors to slide open. Usually, her deliveries are uneventful and quick exchanges. But this? Tenten shifts in her seat, mindful of the mic that Sakura had pinned to the inside of her shirt an hour before.
Before them, the big doors crack open and Tenten's driver starts inching forward. As they creep into the warehouse, flood lights turn on, revealing Kakuzu and a handful of other men dressed in dark jackets.
"Stay in the car," Tenten instructs her staff, jumping out of the passenger side.
Tenten strides over to the men, holding out her hand to shake. "Mr. Kakuzu, it's nice to see you again."
"You as well," Kakuzu replies, surveying the van behind her. He waves a hand, and three of the men separate, going around to the back of the van. They open the doors and examine the contents. After a few moments of Tenten waiting with bated breath, one of the men pokes his head around the corner and nods.
"Bring it out."
The men carefully begin to remove the contents from the back of the van and lay them out on tables set up along the wall. Tenten unlocks the array of suitcases with a key and starts pointing out the different collection.
Her nerves ease as she begins to detail the ins and outs of each piece. Fifteen minutes later, reaching the last suitcase, Kakuzu finally speaks.
"Where are the missiles?"
Tenten swallows. "There was a problem with my manufacturer. Unfortunately. I addressed the problem, but it will be another two weeks before they're ready."
Kakuzu's eyes narrow on her.
"Why didn't you address this with me?"
"It—it happened suddenly, a day or so ago," Tenten stammers. "I'm sorry. I didn't realize it would be an issue. I assure you it will be delivered in a couple of weeks."
Kakuzu stares her down, saying nothing. Tenten fidgets, glancing at her staff waiting in the van.
"Search her," Kakuzu says suddenly.
Tenten turns to him, eyes wide. "Mr. Kakuzu, I really don't understand what the problem is—hey!" One of Kakuzu's men grabs her roughly by the arm and starts patting her down. It takes him only a few seconds to find the mic and to rip it from her shirt, holding it out for all to see.
"She's got a mic."
All at once it seems, guns are trained on Tenten, and her staff is being pulled from the van. Tenten looks at Kakuzu, his eyes cold and unfeeling. In his hand, pointed towards her head, is a shiny silver revolver. A Desert Eagle, by the looks of it, a .50 caliber, semi-automatic. Tenten blinks and wonders how it will feel to be shot by the same gun she sold.
And then, there is a flurry of action. Police officers rush in, shouting orders, and Tenten crouches to the ground like she was coached to do. A few bullets ring out, and Tenten curses to herself, hoping no one is stupid enough to shoot close enough to the open briefcases lined with bombs.
A man crouches by her side and tells her to lie face down on the ground. Tenten puts her hands behind her back, and she's handcuffed. Briefly, Neji squeezes her fingers and disappears into the fray.
It takes almost an hour to create some order. Two of Akatsuki's bodyguards flee, and the rest are cumbersome to subdue. A single bullet penetrates a police officer's leg, but other than that, the only injuries are bruises and chafed wrists. Tenten is lined up next to the detained Akatsuki, as they are slowly sorted into a transfer vehicle. She avoids meeting Kakuzu's burning gaze.
Thankfully, the ride to the jail is speedy. Shikamaru is waiting for her when she arrives.
"I want my phone call," Tenten says as she is led past him to a holding cell.
"Yep," Shikamaru responds, waving down the nearest officer. "Phone call for my client. Now, please."
Tenten is shuffled to a small hall with a landline phone mounted to the wall. She stares at it for a moment, before hesitantly calling the only number she knows by heart.
She is only mildly disappointed when it goes to voicemail. "Hey, it's me. I just—I wanted to let you know that I've been arrested. And I'm staying arrested. No bail. If you need to contact me, my lawyer's name is Shikamaru Nara. And I wanted to say that . . . money is going to be tight for the foreseeable future, but I have some put aside for you and Dad—just go by the apartment. It's in a suitcase in my closet. And . . . I'm sorry. Tell Dad I'm sorry."
Tenten hangs up and leans her head against the cool, concrete wall.
From a few feet down the hall, Shikamaru says, "It's all downhill from here, Tenten."
Tenten turns her head and grins at him bitterly, thinking about the future and how much she could be hopeful about it.
Lee finds the suitcase exactly where Tenten said it would be. He sits back on his heels and looks at the contents—stacks of bills and wrapped coin.
He hated how complicated the relationship with his sister had gotten. It used to be so simple—just Tenten, Lee, and Dad. They would go camping and hiking often in the summer when they didn't have any school, and watch movies late into the night on weekends. Tenten had been his first and best confidante for over ten years. . . But everything had changed when he had found what looked like a spy's armory hidden away in her bedroom closet, when she had still lived with them.
Lee had a strong sense of justice—which was why it was he who had pushed Tenten out of the house, out of their lives. He knew he was responsible for the rift, and yet—his righteousness kept him from reaching out to her, his thoughts locked up tight when she called.
As much as he cringed at feeling this way, Lee knew Tenten deserved her sentence. Shikamaru had left a voicemail for him after the arraignment—six years in prison, though in the lawyer's expert opinion she would be out on parole sooner than that.
Lee picks up one of the stacks of cash, expertly wrapped as if it came straight from the bank.
Lee only made so much money, being a medical tech assistant. And the hours he wasn't slaving away at work, he was taking care of Dad at home—he was almost in constant discomfort these days.
He had detested the way Tenten threw money at him for so long. And now, with her incarcerated, he wondered how much those fights with her were worth it.
Lee carefully places the cash back in the suitcase and shuts the lid, zipping it closed thoughtfully.
"Somehow, I did not expect this."
He hesitates a beat before saying, "I feel bad about that."
Tenten regards her brother, sitting back in her chair. She places her cuffed hands on the table, lacing her fingers together.
"I feel bad about a lot of things, actually," Lee continues. "I went and got the suitcase from your apartment. It'll keep us afloat for a while. I think I've concluded that I picked the wrong things to fight with you about, these past few years."
Tenten picks at the skin around one of her nails.
"And what brought you to that conclusion?"
"It'll probably sound really stupid to you. But looking at that suitcase, it just occurred to me how you've spent all this time making sure Dad and I are taken care of, and all I've done is push you out of our lives more."
Tenten looks down, her expression withdrawn. "You know that you and Dad are the most important people in my life, right? Even when . . . even when I was disappointing you and doing things you didn't approve of. I was trying to help us survive, and I don't expect you to understand that, but it was one reason—the most important one—why I pursued that life."
Lee nods. "I wish . . . I wish I could be okay with seeing things that way. But I just can't."
Tenten shrugs. "Well, I guess fortunately for you, you didn't have to see it that way. But I did. I chose to see it that way."
Lee reaches out and pats his sister's cuffed hands. "I'm really sorry, for all the judgment I passed on you."
Tenten laughs. She gives Lee a knowing look. "It's okay, you know. For you to be mad at me and sorry at the same time. It's not like relationships, especially familial ones, are one-dimensional. That's what love is all about right?"
Lee furrows his eyebrows. "What happened to you?"
"What do you mean?" Tenten asks, looking surprised.
"You just seem . . . more in-tune with yourself, somehow."
Tenten smiles slowly. "I guess you could say I've grown in clarity."
"How so?" Lee asks.
Tenten's smile broadens, and she begins to tell him.
It's a crisp autumn day the next time he sees her.
Her grin is bright, though she is noticeably thinner after eight months in prison. Her GPS monitor blinks a happy green from where it is fitted snugly around her ankle.
They exchange shy smiles and eat lunch together, talking sparsely.
Finally, Tenten turns to him and says, almost exasperated, "It almost seems like there's too much to say, right?"
Neji nods, some of the awkward tension easing out of his shoulders.
"I guess my most important question is do you think—is there anything to this? I know I've been . . . away for a while." Tenten asks, starting at the hardest part.
Neji meets her gaze, thinking. "Do you want there to be something to this?"
Tenten flushes a little, her cheeks growing pink. "I want to know you," she finally says. "Do you want to know me?"
Neji considers her, feeling nervous as his heartbeat quickens.
"No games this time. No deception. I promise," Tenten murmurs, her brown eyes bright and hopeful. "Well," she amends a beat later, "as long as you don't try and arrest me again."
Neji's mouth pulls into a smirk. "I don't know if I can guarantee that," he jokes.
"We don't have a deal then," Tenten replies, shrugging.
Neji extends his hand, letting it hover in the air.
"I'll let you close to me, if you let me close to you. That's the only deal I want to make," he says.
Tenten raises her eyebrows, a slow smile spreading across her lips.
"Done," she says.
She slips her hand into his and laughs.
This is by far the longest one-shot I've ever written, and boy was it a doozy to complete. This is also NejiTen month apparently-so consider this my submission for that (though I'm not sure if it fits neatly with any of the themes). Anyway, this fic is a result of listening to a lot of mob/crime podcasts. I was originally trying to make it noir-esque, but I think I strayed from that genre quite a bit. Nonetheless, I hope you enjoyed it. :) -KNO