Author's Note: For the purposes of this story, I have given Tenten the last name of Long, the same surname she bore in my NejiTen AU "Cutting Water." Also, as in one of the tie-in fics to this New York Society series, "Professional Secrets," the Sand siblings have the last name of Sands. I suppose you could think of it as my personal fanon.
This has been written for the 50 Alternates challenge, with the prompt "gun." Since it's NejiTen, I couldn't limit it to a one-shot.
Venus – Roman goddess of love.
Themis – Roman goddess of law.
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto and am making no profit from this fan fiction.
Venus or Themis
Part One: Now In Session
There was something to be said for a man who could turn a courtroom into a stage, complete with illusionary spotlight, and still be seen as a ball buster worthy of respect. In the legal world, that something was likely to be a string of curses. Everywhere else, it would probably fall between consideration for switching attorneys to a contemplation of how much an individual was willing to spend on one.
It wasn't that other law firms in the city of New York did not have reliable employees dedicated to the wellbeing of their clients. It was not even that other firms lacked lawyers with a knack for dominating a court.
It was simply that other firms did not have Neji Hyuuga.
"For the benefit of the jury," said a solemn voice that filled the room from the judge's chair to the back row of the gallery, "I wish to restate the events of July sixteenth, 2003. The defendant – my client – Mr. Gaara Sands was soullessly attacked on his way home from seeing his sister, the acclaimed actress Ms. Temari Sands, perform in her latest production."
Neji worked the room like a dealer worked a blackjack table; every eye was on him, and he made sure to meet each pair with his own colorless gaze. When he spoke, the jury stopped their note-scribbling and the judge (this time Judge Ibiki Morino, who was less susceptible to his power than most, but by no means immune) ceased his intermittent glancing at the wall clock.
"The three perpetrators responsible for his brutal mugging have since been caught and sentenced accordingly. Mr. Sands has known the retrieval of his wallet – but what of his pride?"
He did a three-quarter turn, facing the plaintiff's table now instead of the jury's platform. The attorney made a fine image there on the floor. His suit was flawlessly cut, slate grey in color, the shade playing well against the dark of his hair, which he wore in a long but low and well-kempt ponytail. Neji did not smile, as much from habit as from performance. He could be imposing or charming, whichever was more necessary at the moment. For now, he came off as charming that could turn to imposing whenever he wished.
"Mr. Sands was left bleeding and bruised in a dark, damp alley, presumably to die. An estimation of three thousand people passed the mouth of the alley in the three hours he lay there, unable to move but still conscious." Neji outlined the image so conveniently that he was sure every person present could see it in their mind, but instead of the redheaded man at the defendant's table, they would see a loved one – husband, daughter, cousin, mother.
Such was the masochistic tendency of the human psyche, to take a horrible event and envision it in a way that would produce self-torture. Neji knew this fact and played upon it to his advantage. "At approximately two-thirty-six in the morning," he continued prosaically, "Mr. Sands was approached by a figure shrouded in shadow, none other than the plaintiff, Mr. Shino Aburame. Suffering from blood loss and a minor concussion, Mr. Sands could have no more made out a good Samaritan in that alley than if he had been in perfect health.
"He had only instinct to guide him, instinct to end his victimization. Mr. Sands did shoot Mr. Aburame in the left arm, directly in his bicep, but this was in the self-defense Mr. Sands had been unable to utilize earlier that evening when he was outnumbered four to one." Neji's hard gaze swung back to the jury, and he appeared to be pointing without lifting a finger at Aburame's lanky form, buttoned in a coat though it was the end of summer, his left arm dangling in a sling with sunglasses hiding his eyes. The jury immediately had two thoughts – that this man certainly appeared threatening enough even in full lighting and that his eyes stood no chance of being as impressive as Neji Hyuuga's.
The black-robed judge broke in from his high seat. "That's sufficient, Mr. Hyuuga." Morino's scarred face emphasized the no-nonsense courtroom he commanded. "Have you a witness to present to the ladies and gentlemen of the jury?"
"At present, Your Honor, no." The statement was given in a way that was free of any concern yet still serious.
"Then you will relinquish the floor to Mr. Shiranui."
Neji retreated as Aburame's lawyer stood up. Returning to his seat, his cool eyes met those of his firm partner, Shikamaru Nara. If Neji was the blood of the Hyuuga & Nara law office, Shikamaru was the brains. There had been several occasions when he had managed to secure an airtight argument where Neji had not.
Shikamaru did spend time on actual cases and, more often than not, won them, but it was Neji who got them all the attention. Shikamaru simply procured the clients. And while it was not a habit of the two men to attend each of the other's cases, Shikamaru held a personal interest in this particular outcome. After all, he had been in an almost boringly steady relationship with the "acclaimed actress" Temari Sands for close to a year.
Genma Shiranui proceeded without ado. "The defense wishes to call Miss Tenten Long to the stand," he declared. The older and admittedly more experienced lawyer flicked a glance at the defendant's counsel. Neji stared right back, revealing nothing in his face.
The doors behind the gallery opened, and Neji watched as a woman walked between the flanking security officers and up the aisle. She appeared no older than he, dressed professionally yet still in fashion from her designer heels, up the folds of her flared, black skirt and dark pink blouse, to the two buns in which she wore her chocolate-brown hair. Her gait was confident, and when she arrived at the witness chair to Judge Morino's left, she graced Genma with a smile reaching all the way to her large dark eyes.
Tenten Long, Neji noted with his observer's eye, had not only the money to wear a Rolex but also a fantastic pair of legs now hidden behind the wooden panel in front of her chair.
"Miss Long," said Shiranui, initiating the questioning, "would you mind explaining, for the clarification of the court, exactly what is your profession?"
"I'm a research and development worker here in Manhattan." Her voice was pleasant, a pitch higher than Neji might have expected. He sensed a good-natured outgoingness in her; a definite clash with his own personality. He leaned back in his chair next to his client who sat as still and stony-faced as he.
"Where?" continued Shiranui.
"I have a team at Columbia U."
"And what field, please, is your R&D team working in?"
Tenten crossed those stunning legs and angled her head so that the gold teardrops at her ears swung and caught the overhead fluorescent light. "Street artillery and civilian armament."
"The gun Mr. Sands used to shoot Mr. Aburame was sent to your lab. Is that correct?" When Tenten assured him it was, Genma asked, "What did you find of the weapon?"
"The model is from 2001, a .44-caliber Glock." Neji watched as Tenten, posture erect, recited the information from memory. As she spoke of the evidence in question, a slight sheen of rapture came to her eyes. "It carried no prints other than Mr. Aburame's, and the condition showed us it had been fired only three times."
"Concerning us," said Shiranui, turning to the jury's platform, "is the last firing alone, which happened on July sixteenth – the night my client was shot by an unthinking Gaara Sands." He paused, allowing the idea to sink in to all present. His eyes rested briefly on Neji as he smiled. "No further questions for this witness."
As Shiranui left the floor, Judge Morino motioned to the defense counsel. "Mr. Hyuuga?"
Neji stood, buttoning his suit jacket, and went in slow, even strides toward the stand. "Miss Long, isn't it?"
Tenten's bright gaze shifted from Shiranui to him. Neji felt an unanticipated jolt, the only outward sign a barely noticeable twitch of his left thumb. He took a second to realize that he had been mistaken in thinking her eyes were merely brown; he could see lines of gold threading the irises as pure as her earrings. "Yes, that's right."
Her response brought him back, and then Neji was working. "Can you please tell me, Miss Long, what percentage of the population in the city of New York is known to carry firearms on a daily basis?"
"According to the research of my team," she answered smoothly, "sixty-four point three, give or take a few digits."
"I see. And of that fifty-four point three percent, how many of those do not belong to gangs or legitimate armed forces?"
Tenten paused, considered. "Twenty-four point four."
Neji smirked, partly for effect, partly because that focused look she wore made her very cute. "Give or take?"
The witness was surprisingly unmoved. "A few digits," she nodded.
And she smelled very faintly of lavender. "Then we can assume that of that – shall we round down? – twenty-four percent, Mr. Sands stands for less than one percent."
Neji made sure she was looking at him, saw her lips curve in a polite smile. He was impressed. Usually the combination of his pragmatic tone and his eyes was enough to reduce a witness to little more than a block of solid ice.
"Now, then, Miss Long," he went on, "Mr. Sands's gun – was it fully registered with the correct authorities?"
"So in his operation and eventual use of the 2001, .44 Glock, Mr. Sands broke no laws?"
At this, Tenten buckled a little, her eyes flicking to Shiranui. Neji willed himself not to follow her gaze to Genma and waited instead for the Chinese-American woman to return her undivided attention to him. "That…that's right."
This time when Neji smirked, it was from genuine approval. "Thank you, Miss Long. That will be all."
He returned to his seat, unbuttoning his jacket once more. As Tenten Long was escorted from the courtroom, he again caught a whiff of lavender. Her eyes met his for only a second on her way by.
When she was gone, designer heels and hair buns and all, Neji was relieved. He could feel Shikamaru watching him, wondering. And he hated the idea of giving his partner something to wonder about.
"After the evidence and conclusions presented today by the plaintiff and the defense," Judge Morino was saying, "has the jury arrived at a decision?"
"We have, Your Honor."
"And the verdict?" he demanded roughly, no doubt itching to look at the clock again.
"We find the defendant, Mr. Sands, to be innocent of malicious intent toward Mr. Aburame. Not guilty."
Judge Morino nodded curtly, as if he had predicted the result as thus no other outcome was possible. "I understand Mr. Sands has a plane taking off for Cairo in three hours. You are free to leave, Mr. Sands, with the court's apologies." A bang of his gavel, and the courtroom buzzed with movement and discussion.
Neji and his client rose together, Gaara turning to him. "Thank you, Mr. Hyuuga." His face was grim, as much from the unhealed wounds he had sustained during his mugging as from his detached nature, but he was sincere. "It appears I'll just make my plane."
"To be honest," Neji admitted (something he would never do normally, but he valued Gaara's straightforwardness), "I would have had trouble if Aburame had been any less unwilling to speak in court. Shiranui had a chance to turn it around but was stopped by his own client."
"I don't know, Hyuuga," quipped Shikamaru, joining them. "You did a number with that R&D woman. She might as well have been a witness for your side, Mr. Sands." Lowering his voice, he added to the acquitted, "Your sister wishes you the best in Egypt."
Gaara nodded. Shaking hands with both of them, he promised to have his secretary send a check to their office before departing.
"Heading home?" Neji asked Shikamaru as they walked out together, the city clocks chiming six P.M.
Nara hissed between his teeth. "As bothersome as it is, I'm in trouble. Temari was shifted into a principal role in her current show today, and I didn't catch the matinee because I came to Gaara's trial."
"I had imagined you came because she asked you to."
Confused, the Hyuuga ventured, "So what if you'd gone to her play?"
"I'd have been in trouble anyway for not going to the trial." Neji stared. Shikamaru sighed. "I know, I know…"
"How are you going to get out of trouble?"
"I'm seeing the eight o' clock curtain. And…" Digging deep into his suit pocket, Shikamaru fished out a small velvet box and held it between his thumb and forefinger. "I'm gonna have to kneel."
Neji's eyebrows arched. "Good luck."
"Yeah. Hey, there's your R&D girl," said Shikamaru, eager to divert attention away from himself and his abnormally romantic intentions. "See you Monday. We'll talk about the Yamato case then."
"All right." Discussing their upcoming projects was often how they said goodbye or initiated conversations. Both attorneys of Hyuuga & Nara preferred talk of work to that of their personal lives.
However, Neji couldn't resist looking toward where Shikamaru had gestured. He found Tenten nearing the bottom of the long slant of courthouse steps, sleek legs alternating for front and back. In an instant, he was sure that she could dance but was not sure why the notion had so suddenly sprung to mind. Neji barely realized that he was swiftly descending the stairs himself until he was calling after her: "Miss Long!"
She stopped six feet from the first step, slinging the strap of her leather handbag over her shoulder as she looked back at him. Neji joined her in a matter of seconds, feeling warm from something that only added to the heat. "Mr. Hyuuga, yes?"
"Yes," he affirmed. "I…I wanted to…" He wanted to curse. Ridiculously enough, he hadn't actually worked out what he had wanted from her. He had been thinking of her likely ability to dance but wasn't about to inquire into it. "I wanted to thank you for your cooperation today," he recovered.
"Oh." Summarily she smiled, full pink lips. "Well…you're – welcome. I guess. I was under the impression that Mr. Aburame was going to win his law suit, but it seems I thought wrong. You're quite the lawyer, Mr. Hyuuga." All of this was said with the utmost courtesy, yet Neji felt somehow slighted in spite of the obvious compliment.
"I appreciate you saying so," he politely returned. The sun was dimming in preparation for night, little more now than slants of light between skyscrapers falling on them. New York bustled about them, not waiting for two people on the courthouse steps to find a path. "If you ever decide to switch lawyers," Neji invited before too much awkward silence could submerge them.
Tenten gave a quick laugh. "I don't have a lawyer. Actually, after seeing your performance today, I consider myself officially interested in Hyuuga & Nara. I've heard of your firm, of course."
Neji thought nothing of the added "of course." He and Shikamaru had been interviewed, lectured about, and mentioned in the latest revisions of law textbooks all over the country. "Well, you're free to call – our office," he said, faltering just a little.
"Thank you." She extended her hand, and he shook it. "To be honest, Mr. Hyuuga, it's good to know that the quality of a lawyer is not fully dependent on how much you pay. Of course," she assured him on a laugh, "if I was any lower on the arms consultant list, I wouldn't even be able to consider you an option now." Starting down the street, Tenten tossed a last cheerful smile over her shoulder.
Neji was left on the courthouse steps, stricken. He stood there until the crowd thinned from throng to trickle of passersby and then continued home. Tenten Long, Neji thought; he made a mental note to e-mail Shikamaru and call dibs on this client.
To Be Continued