A/N: You all blow me away with your comments! I see now that I must STRIVE to become EVEN BETTER! NE, BERRY-SENSEI! Seriously though, you are all waaaay too nice about this fic. G-Bee, Alana, Ennariel, Cyberwolf, HyuugaTenTenHot, nejitentenlee13, AmazingSensation…and everyone else! (Oh noes, the name game will get me in trouble!) ; Thank you for your kind words, they make my YOUTHFUL ENERGY IGNITE! Nice guy pose.
You know, I'm starting to realize that by impersonating Lee, I've become the biggest dork on FFN, hehehe.
Also, this is the end! Surprise! Actually, this was never meant to be an incredibly long fic. It started off in my mind as a one-shot. I guess sometimes things don't work out as planned. But I hope you all enjoyed it! I just know there'll be more NejiTen from me in the future. I love them! And you! Thanks again.
Warning: Spoilers for Naruto II. Thanks, Wikipedia!
Disclaimer: I dis the claim of Naruto!
Part Four: Accomplished
Sunlight trickled in like golden water, filling the room as a rising tide might, splashing over Tenten's eyes and stirring her into awareness. She had been trained to become fully alert upon the second she woke and had done just that since she was thirteen – but that particular mechanism was somehow broken this morning.
Habit forced her to sit up right away, but fog rolled through her brain and clouded all working thought processes for several moments. She looked around with half-seeing eyes at the sunny window, the clean walls of the guest room, the puddle of silk on the floor that was really the kimono she had worn last night…
That triggered it. Awareness came in a whoosh, almost audible as she suddenly took in her surroundings all at once. Her hair was unbound and tangled to the middle of her back, there were slight aches in places she hadn't even known about, and to top it all off, she was naked!
Though dreaming was still hovering too close for Tenten to sound panicked, her sleep-husky voice managed to project some alarm. "What time—!"
The desperate question died in throat as she felt a warm, strong hand brush over and onto her bare hip. Jerking her head down, she saw Neji, still lying down on the futon. He was looking at her with half-hooded eyes, long hair whispering over both of their bodies. (She was comforted a little to see that he was naked too.) From Tenten's place on the floor beside the futon, he appeared very serious. "We still have a few minutes before we should get up."
That was a decidedly un-Neji-like thing to say, Tenten thought. Something was very wrong. What had they…
Oh. She felt her own mouth form the word, but no sound came out. The memories came back, a bundle of images sliding through her mind. She remembered pitch black, his eyes, and unpracticed movements on the futon. Mostly she remembered the clumsiness of it all, but there was no doubt that it had been worth it.
After a recovering second, she narrowed her eyes at him. "You pushed me off in your sleep," she said in annoyance, motioning to where she sat on the floor.
Closing his eyes again, Neji gave a short snort that somehow sounded amused. "That's the least you deserve," he retorted indifferently. "I nearly impaled myself about a dozen times trying to get all those kunai off of you." And indeed, there were an impressive number of sharp implements that seemed to have been tossed around the room in a hurry.
Her jaw dropped for a second at the bold, blatant statement, but then a blush crept over her cheeks and nose. With a grin, she poked him in the side. "I thought you were worried about me."
"I know better than that." It was a flat-out lie, and they both knew it. Tenten couldn't suppress a giggle and in a swift movement she took her place back on the futon, tugging a bit of blanket over herself. Neji was not good at sharing, she discovered. "Are you alright?"
The question had her sobering. She knew he wasn't asking about her sleeping on the floor. "Yes," she answered carefully. "Did you think I wouldn't be?"
His face was close, and Neji finally opened his eyes again. White met brown…light met dark. It was a good combination. Tenten knew that whatever he saw as he looked at her was something she would never be able to understand. "I wasn't thinking at all."
She turned her eyes away, suddenly overwhelmed with what was inside of his gaze. He touched a couple of fingers to her jaw and turned her face back to him.
"I can't see inside you if you look away," he murmured. He absently stroked some loose strands back over the curve of her ear.
Tenten gave him something like a shy smile; as shy as one can be after growing up with someone. "I never knew you were looking."
Silence fell between them for several minutes, but the lack of conversation didn't make either of them feel uncomfortable. If Tenten was honest, the dramatic change in their relationship was not entirely a surprise to her. While she had never anticipated this, she had always known that Neji would burst with feeling one day. After bottling it up for so long, it was only natural.
She was almost giddily happy that the feelings were for her.
Once the few minutes he had spoken of were gone, Tenten forced herself to sit up again. She winced as she stretched, and her muscles protested loudly as she left the warmth of the futon and Neji's body. Feeling Neji's eyes on her, she almost wanted to cover up, but if she went around in the kimono today, there was a stronger possibility that she would be figured out.
"Here." Tenten felt something thick and warm being held against her back, and she responded instinctually by holding out her arms. Neji slipped his yukata over her and tied the belt around her waist from behind her. It was far too big on her slender frame. Leaning her head back, she felt her hair slip over his naked arm as she rested her head in the crook of his neck and shoulder. She breathed him in; the yukata bore his scent and she delighted in being covered by the essence of him.
The Hyuuga angled his head to look down at her, and she fit her lips against his perfectly, the same way their two bodies fit together. His hands laced with her fingers briefly, and Tenten felt that heating sensation again, a slow simmer, until he willfully gripped her shoulders and gently pushed her away.
"Mission," he muttered, not sounding at all convincing.
She made a sound that was something like a half-sigh of agreement. "Mission. What about Urume?"
"I sent a message to Konoha yesterday when he first told me when the operation to steal the medicine is to take place. Tsunade-sama should receive it in an hour or so." Neji's expression changed into something more serious, more like the duty-bound Hyuuga that he showed the world. "Technically, that will be enough to prevent the robbery. But it would be nice to find out who his associates are and take care of them as well." A silent apology for ruining the chance to do just that passed from him to her.
"Don't worry." Ever optimistic, Tenten only smiled. "I may still be able to get it out of him. Any suggestions?"
He surprised her with his reply. "No. I trust you."
Something in Tenten stiffened, but not with tension. In the next instant, that same thing started to melt away. She wondered what on earth it could have been. "Neji…"
Another companionable silence brought them closer rather than stretching them further apart. Neji broke it first by saying, "I also messaged the Hidden Sand."
"Why?" she asked, startled.
"Kankuro already contacted me. I found out three hours ago, before you woke up." A corner of his mouth quirked up into a smirk that Neji had perfected long ago. "Apparently Urume's operated in their village before, and they've been trying to get him. They're interested in taking him off of our hands."
Tenten was admittedly amused by the fact that he had been up even before her. That was the genius at work. "What does that mean?"
"I don't know. But you should hurry." He started to help her retrieve kunai and shuriken from around the room, completely unabashed by his state of undress. He handed her the weapons and also the ornamental hair stick she had thrown away in her anger the night before.
Tenten frowned momentarily. Urume still had the other one. "I'll meet up with you later." She went for the window, intending to get back to her room by going over the roof. She had only gotten one leg out and was still half inside when Neji softly touched her hand.
His expression was solemn. "Put your hair back up," he told her.
Interested, Tenten lifted an eyebrow at him. "I thought you liked it down."
"I do." Leaning forward, he seized her in a final kiss. When she was properly dazed, he added, "But no one is going to see you that way except me."
She couldn't help it. Tenten beamed. "Okay," she promised and hurried out the window before he could distract her any longer.
No, she thought as she ran over the rooftop of the Yumuwa Inn in the direction of her room. They definitely were not children anymore.
Tenten came upon her first real problem later that afternoon. Once she had showered, changed, and made sure her hair was secured very, very tightly, she had been able to track Urume down in the hot spring. Though he asked her to join him, she took evasive action and was able to convince him to instead go on a walk with her.
"The gardens are so beautiful right now. All of the flowers have bloomed, and the butterflies are out. Besides," she added hastily when Urume began to look disinterested, "we haven't really gotten to know each other – ah – personally yet."
Urume, being a completely self-absorbed person, seemed to warm up at the possibility of talking about himself. "Well, I don't know how much I care about butterflies," he began. Ryo, who was now never more than a stone's throw away from his employer, whispered something that Tenten couldn't hear. To this Urume simply waved a hand carelessly and retorted, "Don't be silly, Ryo! Amaya-chan is a damsel – not a dragon."
Tenten inwardly smirked at this. Hinata had once compared her to a lioness, with many sharp teeth. "And they all come down at once!" the Hyuuga heiress had exclaimed admiringly.
Maybe Hinata was right. Once Urume had dressed and joined her, she led him outside to the back of the inn where the lush gardens were. As she did, she couldn't help but feel as though she might be leading the syndicate leader to the proverbial lion's den.
"Well, you wanted to talk." Urume sounded slightly impatient with her. "So I expect you to talk, Amaya-chan."
His Amaya-chan wasn't quite as fawning now as it had been last night. Tenten supposed she had struck a nerve upon her departure, and Urume didn't seem like one who could handle his nerves getting struck. "I want to apologize," she said softly. "I left so rudely last night."
"Indeed," he sniffed. "I had plans for us and you ran off at the slightest little setback. That isn't a very graceful thing to do, you realize."
Tenten realized that waiting around for him to attempt his sick fantasies was not only disgraceful but perfectly stupid. And, if she was honest, it may have come close to that last night. She mentally thanked Neji for the thousandth time. Forcing herself to appear pathetic, she said, "I do realize that, Urume-sama. I do hope that you can find it in your kind heart to forgive me. I never meant to offend you."
He studied her with cold eyes, and Tenten couldn't believe she had ever thought there was anything nice about that dimly-lit green color. At first it seemed that Urume didn't believe her, but then his shoulders slackened their tightness, and he nodded. Setting a hand on her elbow (just below where she had a shuriken hidden), he pulled her closer to him.
"You were right," he said at last. "These gardens are lovely."
She tried to make herself sound elated. "You think so! Oh! Then does that mean Urume-sama is pleased by me?"
Something entered his face, oozing off of him like a watery mold. "Yes," he told her, his voice sounding thick. "Yes, I am pleased by you."
Tenten stopped her hand when it was halfway around to a stashed kunai at the small of her back and had to deliberately lay her fingers against her side. "Then I'm glad. But please, the interruption of last night has saddened me all day. Your words were so very interesting!"
"What can a little servant girl possibly find interesting about business?" he asked, bemused. "I was rambling."
No, you were distracted."When you have led a life such as mine—" Here she clutched his sleeve as though it was a precious jewel within her reach. "—you find many things interesting."
Urume's eyebrows arched, and Tenten knew she had struck gold. "Well, I could always show you many other things…"
Keep smiling, Tenten ordered herself so that the hate in her head would not reach her eyes. "Oh, but Urume-sama is surely too busy to spend much time with me."
"What nonsense do you say? I've spent nearly the past three days in their entirety with you, haven't I? Amaya-chan, you are far too modest." Urume grinned. "All a girl needs is to look like you, and I would gladly surrender my time."
"Then please," she begged, "finish telling me what you were in the middle of saying last night."
With a sigh, he nodded. "I suppose I must. You beautiful women are so relentless!" Once she had guided him to a bench, he surprised her by pulling Tenten straight onto his lap instead of next to him. Her abdomen tightened in resistance, but Urume took the action as nervousness instead of the disgust it truly was. "Very well. But I honestly can't see what a simple woman like you could find interesting about normal business affairs."
If he thought stealing medicine to distribute as drugs was a normal process, Tenten thought angrily, she had absolutely no desire to know what he thought of as unusual. "As long as you tell me, I'm sure I will find all of it fascinating."
"Flatterer," he admonished but was pleased. "Actually, dear Amaya-chan, I've already told you about my associate. But I suppose I shouldn't expect you to have caught on."
Startled, Tenten was thrown off. What did he mean by that? He had to be lying. Surely if he had revealed the true dealing partner's identity, Tenten would have recognized the meaning the instant he said the name. "You…you've told me already, Urume-sama?"
"Weren't you paying any attention last night?" Chuckling, he tapped a wandering hand against her thigh. Tenten had a growing wish to inflict great bodily harm upon the man, and she wished he would hurry up and quit stalling so that she could give in to that wish. "Oh, but you are just a girl."
The grip on his sleeve tightened with the rising of her temper, but she only hardened her smile. "Please indulge my foolishness."
"Of course. Well, I told you when we tried that brandy you so disliked. I told you I received the drink from my associate in the Hidden Cloud, didn't I? He is my only reliable trader. I do all my exchange deals with him."
The memory walloped Tenten in the brain. She'd been too intrigued by him at the time to fully hear him, but she now remembered the words. "I obtained this from an associate of mine in the Hidden Cloud. He tells me they make it there, but I have reason to believe he got it from America."
It was the key to everything.
"His name," she demanded, unable to hold back the desperation that squeezed out from her tone. "Tell me his name…please."
"But what possible difference can it make to you?"
She abruptly left his lap and stood up. "Urume-sama…"
"Oh, all right. He goes by Ousuke Jiban. There, are you satisfied?"
The name meant nothing to her, but Tenten smiled to see the frown that crossed his face. He was apparently disappointed that she did not immediately return to her previous position on his legs. "Not quite, Urume-sama." She was aware that her voice had altered and sounded once again like Tenten instead of Amaya-chan.
Before she could elaborate on why she was not satisfied, a new aura made itself known from behind her. She did not know the presence, but it seemed somehow familiar to her. Was it Ryo? Looking over her shoulder, Tenten's eyes widened.
Of all the people to show up here and now, on this already-mysterious mission, she had never expected that she might cross paths with this person.
The Fifth Kazekage stood with his back perfectly straight, his arms crossed, and an invincible expression on his face. He did not carry his trademark enormous gourd on his back, but that did nothing to lessen the intimidation that Gaara had always possessed. Though Tenten had never known him personally, she remembered his presence during her first Chuunin Exam, and she had heard the stories of his kidnapping by Akatsuki.
That alone told her that Gaara was no one to mess with, even though it had been said that there was an evident change in his personality since taking over the leadership of the Hidden Sand village.
The redhead didn't meet her eyes as his gaze was trained steadily on Urume, but he spoke in even, smooth tones. "Tenten. I've heard about you from Naruto. He told me you're quite the kunoichi."
Naruto said that? Letting it go for now, she smiled at the dark-eyed newcomer. "I've heard a few things about you, too, Gaara-san. Or…sama."
"San is fine," he assured her. He had a strange way of sounding casual even while a threat hung in his aquamarine eyes. "You've done well. We of the Hidden Sand have been trying to get a confession out of Urume Hidegaya for almost two years now."
He turned his eyes briefly to her. Tenten felt a rush, as though she was face-to-face with an old power. While it was being questioned how much of his technique Gaara had retained after supposedly dying, the memory of his strength lingered and affected her in a peculiar way. When he looked at Urume again, she couldn't help but feel somewhat relieved.
"Stay," he ordered Urume, who promptly fell backwards off of the bench and trembled beneath the Kazekage's gaze. He said absolutely nothing and showed no signs of moving but turned murderous eyes to Tenten, who didn't resist a smug smile.
It was at that moment that Neji appeared, seeming to materialize at her side. She felt his hand on her shoulder and turned her smile, this one much kinder, to him. "Where did you come from?"
"I just took out that Ryo guy," he explained. "I timed myself. It took about three seconds."
She shook her head. He was always the number-one rookie.
"Hyuuga Neji," said Gaara.
Neji turned to him with an expression that was not wholly surprised. "Gaara of the Sand." Though a handshake wasn't impending for these two who were alike in personality, Tenten could feel the respect they instantly shared, even though Neji hadn't known Gaara any better than she.
"Your partner has done excellent work. And you have my thanks for that letter you sent this morning. As soon as I heard about Urume Hidegaya being here, I decided I had to come myself. The Sand has already captured the criminal named Ousuke Jiban. With one look at Kankuro's puppet, he confessed everything." There was no smile from this strange man, but somehow he still projected his fractional amusement.
Neji cast a look at Urume. "What will you do with him?"
"The Hidden Sand is much better equipped than Konoha for dealing with exchange vermin like him. He's hardly a powerful threat. We may confine him or possibly send him to America where all that nasty brandy came from. His bodyguard I have no care for." Gaara shrugged one shoulder. "I've already sent an informant to tell all of this to your Hokage. She knows that I'll be taking care of it."
"Gaara-san," smiled Tenten.
He looked at her again, but this time he seemed far less abrasive. "I can only imagine what you had to go through with scum like this. You're to be admired."
With a soft chuckle, Tenten sent Neji a pointed glance. "It wasn't that bad," she murmured.
Gaara looked between the two of them, and then nodded as though he was understanding something new. "Well, then. I'll be going." Stepping toward Urume, he grabbed the older man by the collar of his gi and hauled him up. "If there's anything I can do for you," began Gaara.
"There is," Tenten said. She looked at Urume, then at Neji. "Together?"
"I think that's best," nodded the Hyuuga. Raising his hand, he Gentle Fisted Urume in the jaw just as Tenten leapt up and delivered a meager roundhouse kick to his side. Urume groaned, but neither blow would leave any lasting damage. He passed out from fear rather than pain.
Gaara looked openly amused now, with a tiny smile that seemed to outdo the oddity of the "love" tattoo on his forehead. "Goodbye," he said to both of them, and after hesting Urume's unconscious body over his shoulder, he jumped up and was gone in the blink of an eye.
Tenten inhaled deeply and let out a long, muscle-loosening sigh. "I'm so glad that's over," she declared.
Neji smiled. It was a facial expression reserved for the privacy shared between the two of them. He dipped his hand into the fold of his gi. "I found this after defeating the bodyguard," he told her, holding his hand out palm-up to reveal the jade hair ornament that had been left in Urume's room.
"Oh, good! Sakura would have been upset if I lost it." Tenten reached out to take it from him, but kept her hand in his. Her eyes softening, she murmured to him. "Thank you."
It was understood that the gratitude went deeper than a hair accessory, and the Hyuuga's fingers tightened over hers.
"I'm ready to leave," she told him, sounding somewhat tired.
He nodded, saying nothing, and together they headed back into the Yumuwa, intending to gather their things. Before they reached the door, Neji stopped. "Tenten."
She looked up at him. "What is it?"
Neji's face was completely serious. He seemed to be considering something because she could practically hear the wheels turning in his head. After a minute, he asked, "What's brandy?"
Blinking, Tenten stared. Her shoulder began to shake, and in a moment she was laughing with abandon, tears of mirth streaming down her face.
They took their time getting back, enjoying the summer journey back toward their village. Sunlight dappled the leafy green trees, and Tenten was perfectly content to walk hand-in-hand with Neji. They could pretend for a few hours that they were just normal young people. They talked little, preferring to appreciate each other and the brilliant show of nature in quiet.
By the time they got close, the sun had set and the moon had risen full and pale, like a landmark in a sea of stars. Neither minded the dark, having already been given their share of it. When they reached the top of the final hill, they paused to see Konoha stretched out below them.
The village was unusually noisy, and they were both somewhat surprised to see the city aglow with thousands of torches and lanterns. Music drifted up to them, and Tenten could almost swear that above all of it, she could hear Naruto demanding ramen and Sakura losing her patience with him.
"A festival?" she inquired, looking at her companion. Perhaps Tsunade-sama had used the prevention of the medicine being stolen as an excuse to have a party and drink sake all night. It seemed like something the reckless Hokage would do.
Neji only shrugged. "It looks that way." An unexpected look crossed his face, something that almost seemed…mischievous. "In that case, you should hurry and change before we go join them."
"Change?" She glanced down at her usual black pants and collared shirt and then eyed him quizzically.
"That's right." He slipped the pack he carried off of his back and opened it. Since it was Neji, he didn't hurry, but Tenten found herself growing strangely excited. Before long, he had taken from the bag a garment of stunning purple silk. Crescent moons dotted the material. It was, in fact, the sleeveless kimono Tenten had admired and had last been seen upon the floor of Neji's room at the inn. "Your Baa-chan asked me to give this to you. I think she took to you, Tenten."
Tenten grinned as she shed her current uniform in favor for the lighter, more flattering piece. She felt Neji watch her task with a certain look she was really starting to appreciate. Once she was changed, she took up her own backpack again, but Neji made her pause by setting a hand on her shoulder.
In one, unexpected motion, he removed the ties that held up her customary buns, and her hair tumbled down wildly. Tenten tilted her head up at him. "Didn't you say," she asked teasingly, "that you wanted to be the only one who saw me like this?"
He nodded, but he set his hands under her jaw and gently turned her face up to his with his thumbs. "Tonight," he told her in a quiet voice that had her pulse skidding, "I'll make an exception."
The kiss was slow and warm, but not overpowering, and when they parted it was with a smile.
"Why?" she asked him as they began down the hill.
Neji gave her a sidelong look, and she flushed without knowing why.
"It's the only way I know how to show everyone that I love you."
Startled only briefly, Tenten took his hand into her own. As the only entrance into Konoha opened wide to welcome them home, she whispered, "I think your intentions are a little more mature than that."
With the slightest of smirks, he grabbed her by the waist and pulled her to him, and Tenten responded by throwing her head back and challenging him with her own fiery stare. Hyuuga Neji's white eyes managed to darken.