Quite the longest one so far, hm? NOT connected to the previous two NejiTen drabbles; much lighter-hearted in tone. Not a oneshot, though.


sake – theme thirty-one


One sip of alcohol turned Lee into a whirling dervish of destruction. One sip of alcohol usually knocked Neji out for the duration. And Gai – well, Gai just wasn't an option.

So it fell to Tenten to lure their target out of the tavern. (And, as everyone knew but didn't point out, a pretty young girl had a much better chance of that than somewhat intimidating young men).

So Tenten went in, and Tenten got him out – but she had to drink quite a few saucers of sake in the process. There was a limit to what sleight-of-hand could do, especially when her target insisted on pouring her sake and lifting it to her lips himself, in full view of several other people.

As soon as she had him out in the dark alley behind the bar, pressing her against the wall so that his back was to the alleyway, a silent trio of taijutsu-users dropped from the shadows. Neji flashed forward, for once quicker than Lee, and hit several tenketsu on the target's body. Tenten wondered – woozily – if all of them had been strictly necessary, but as the man dropped to the ground and the unpleasant weight (and stench) of him was removed from her, she couldn't bring herself to care.

She leaned against the brickwork, letting her head fall forward in an effort to stop her vision from spinning. She could hear her teammates murmuring to each other quietly as they stood around the fallen target, and then the sudden cool whoosh of air caused by the leaping of shinobi at full speed. She shook her head in a failed attempt to chase away the haze, then prepared to push off from the wall to follow them.

Hands against her shoulders stopped her movement, and she looked up in surprise. "Neji?" she said quizzically, after squinting at the surprisingly blurry figure for a moment.

"Lee and Gai-sensei are taking him to Konoha. Don't push yourself. We'll catch up with them later," Neji told her, shifting his hold on her shoulders into a carry that was half-embrace as Tenten swayed on her feet.

"Okay," Tenten mumbled, still dizzy. She vaguely felt herself being led – or carried – away from the alley. She took deep draughts of the cool evening air, appreciating the clean feel of it inside her head. She realized that Neji had brought them to a small park, and was leading her to a wooden bench, made of curved wooden slats and black wrought-iron.

She suddenly found herself sitting down on it, unsure whether Neji had pushed her or she had seated – or half-collapsed, more likely – herself. The wood felt cold through the thin silk of her red-and-gold dress, and she shivered.

"Are you cold?"

She realized that Neji was sitting beside her – not so much from any cognitive process as from the detection of a new source of heat. She nodded, instinctively drawing closer to his warmth.

"…here." She suddenly felt the weight of Neji's white jacket being draped over her shoulders. She hunched herself over, trying to curl into as small a shape as possible to get as much of her cold-shivering body under the warmth of the jacket.

"You're really shaking," Neji said, a tinge of worry entering his normally bland voice. It was true; Tenten, far from warming up, was now shivering so hard it actually hurt, jolting her spine and rattling her teeth together. Neji put his hands on her bare arms and began to chafe them gently.

Tenten, whimpering softly – Neji's jaw clenched at the unfamiliar sound – huddled closer to Neji, seeking out his body-heat as instintively as a puppy. She climbed blindly into his lap, Neji holding her hard as if trying to force his own life-force into her. She burrowed into his chest, shaking so hard that Neji had to tighten his hold on her.

Neji's eyes were soft as he tried to keep his partner from shivering, but his clenched jaw and stiff spine spoke of anger. He began to suspect that there had been a little extra something slipped into Tenten's sake by their target. Something that reacted badly with Tenten's system, something designed to make her defenseless and weak.

He hoped Lee and Gai had put him in a solitary cell. It would make it easier for Neji to…visit him, later.

Neji held onto Tenten until her shaking died down, and her skin underneath his hands had begun to lose a little of the chill, clammy feel. Tenten breathed a long, shuddery sigh, and her tense figure curled against him relaxed a little, her shoulders slumping. Unconsciously, Neji echoed the sigh, one hand absent-mindedly stroking down an arm in a now-reflexive remnant of his earlier chafing.

Tenten's head was still spinning a little, but it had lost that manic quality that had made her feel as if the world was moving too fast; she could form thoughts again, though they were hazy and clouded. The cold no longer bothered her; in fact, tucked against Neji's body as she was, with his white jacket draped over her, she was feeling quite pleasantly warmed. Her limbs were heavy with a soft, sleepy lassitude, as if she had just finished a long sparring-session with Neji.

She turned her head slightly, and saw Neji's face in silhoutte as he stared into the sky. She gave another, more contented sigh and snuggled deeper into Neji, deciding that she liked the way he was slowly stroking her arm. She let her eyes return to Neji's face, admiring the clean lines of his profile.

She decided she wanted to kiss him. She asked herself why she'd never kissed him before, and her slightly dizzy mind searched in vain for an answer. For some reason – one she couldn't quite remember now – something had told her it would be a bad idea. She thought she had been very silly, because it seemed like an eminently good and desirable prospect to her now.

So she did.