Author's Notes: And thus, we come to the end of this story. Thanks to all of those who have been reading and will read. I hope you enjoyed it! So everyone knows, there are still stories to come for the New York Society series, which means Neji and Tenten will be popping up again one way or another.
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto and am making no profit from this fan fiction
Venus or Themis
Part Six: Love or Law
A Styrofoam cup of mint tea purchased in the lobby of the black-tie art gallery heated Tenten's left hand. The right rested on her slightly cocked hip as she looked at one of Lee's newly showcased works, moseying around the pedestal that held it and sipping.
Sweeping a glance around the gallery, she noted an assortment of fellow viewers; it seemed anyone claiming an affinity for the fine arts had shown up. There was a slim, brunette transvestite fawning over another elevated sculpture and a German rock star trying to brush limestone dust from his silk tie. Tenten wore black leather boots that rose to mid-calf over vibrant red tights. A cream wool sweater dress topped off the ensemble. Her hair was parted into its customary two-bun fashion. Chic and comfortable, she appeared to be only one of the many art appreciators attending the highly-anticipated Rock Lee showing.
Except, of course, Lee himself kept bounding over to ask her opinion on whichever item she happened to be viewing at the moment.
"Lee," she eventually snapped, after he had demanded she tell him what she thought of this one. "The only thing I know about this stuff is where to aim a bullet to pulverize it in one hit." But the sculptor was not dissuaded.
She knew his intentions, of course. Since her breakup with Neji, Lee had taken it upon himself to assure that Tenten did not dwell on the matter too much. She held a certain degree of appreciation for her best friend's efforts, but Lee was at the top of his game, both romantically and professionally, and it was not easy being comforted by someone who could not relate.
"Well," Lee tried again, "if you see anything you like, let me know, and I'll have it shipped to your place by Tuesday."
"Limestone would clash with my décor, Lee."
"Just wait then, I'm using jade next. Speaking of décor, there's someone here I think you should meet!" He had effectively ruined her sense of anonymity. Leading her by the hand, Lee brought her over to a woman whose back was turned to them, her straight black hair pulled elegantly back. He called a greeting. "Hinata!"
The woman turned, shining hair swinging. She wore a dark blue dress, long-sleeved to fight the January chill. Her body was trim, neat, her posture not quite straight. Her fingers linked and unlinked continuously; she was so pretty Tenten thought she had no real reason to be nervous. But above all, Tenten noticed her eyes – the very same as...
"Tenten, this is Hinata Hyuuga."
Hinata produced a timid smile even the arms consultant dazedly extended a hand for shaking. "Tenten Long," she murmured, "isn't that right?"
She could hardly speak while looking to the female face of her ex-boyfriend after two and a half months of zero contact. "Yes, that's...yes."
"I believe you know my cousin."
She had believed the same, once. "I..."
"Hinata's the one who designed my loft's interior," Lee broke in jubilantly. "I never knew there were so many shades of green before I hired her!"
"Sounds romantic," Tenten murmured, the words echong in her cup as she took another drink.
Hinata instantly went red. "That's not..."
"Stop spreading your bitterness," Lee cheerfully ordered through his now-clenched grin. "Anyway, you two should talk while I finish the rounds." He sprang off.
The two women stood awkwardly. Tenten felt sorry for Hinata with her obvious timidity and smiled. "Lee's certainly a character. How did you manage to figure him out enough to decorate his home?"
Her pale eyes lowered. "I admit it's outside of my usual style," said the Hyuuga woman quietly. "It's rather loud and...I suppose...flamboyant, but Mr. Lee says he likes it."
Mr. Lee. Tenten almost grinned. Hinata was probably younger than her by about a year, but she carried a childlike innocence; one didn't see much of that anymore. "You know, Hinata, I've been considering redecorating myself. I could use your expertise."
Hinata smiled softly. "Neji told me you have a nice apartment–" She cut herself off by clamping both hands over her mouth. "I'm – I'm – I'm so sorry!" she stammered hurriedly, clearly humiliated. "It's just...Neji and I spoke...at my father's house on New Year's – and..."
Tenten felt better knowing there was at least one less woman in the world who spent Christmas and New Year's Day alone. "You talked? What about?" She tried to sound as un-offended as possible.
Hinata now seemed nervous beyond recovery. "Only...I heard he was seeming someone, so I asked him about you."
Tenten's chuckle was devoid of any mirth. "Did he tell you I'm a mess?"
"No, not at all!" exclaimed the young designer. "That's what was so strange. Neji never spoke of his relationships before that time." Her lovely eyes went to her toes, then back to Tenten. "But with you, he...he said so much to me. He could hardly stop talking about you."
She was beginning to feel very warm; Tenten wasn't a crier but the warning signs of tears were swiftly encroaching. "He really messed up, Hinata." Staring at a cube-like limestone work, Tenten folded in the arm that didn't hold her tea. "I guess I should've predicted it – the most reputed lawyer in New York City? It's his job to be clevr, even sneaky. Trusting him is–"
"You can trust him!" Hinata protested in defense of her cousin. "Neji simply isn't very good at doing things in the kind way. But he always does them for the right reasons."
"I assume you know that he paid someone to hack my file where I used to work?"
"It was wrong," conceded Hinata. "But...Miss Long...did you think that...perhaps Neji only did that for your sake?"
Tenten's eyes flew to hers. "I don't think..."
"We were raised to be honest, Miss Long. Actually, my father used the word 'honor' quite frequently." Hinata's fingers were busy again, her pale cheeks darkening with embarrassment. "Um...Neji mentioned you didn't prefer to speak of hr parents. Neji doesn't really like to speak of his, either. So maybe...he only did that so he wouldn't have to see you in pain."
Tenten's mouth had dropped open. "Hinata..."
"It sounds selfish. But I think he was being selfish for you, Miss Long."
Her mind was racing. The torn expression she had seen on Neji's face the last time she'd been with him was imprinted there. Suddenly, unbearable guilt threatened to swamp her.
The two women looked over at the commotion to see a man in a green suit pointing accusingly at a black-suited man with a contrastingly dispassionate face. At their feet was an overturned cup and a suspicious puddle on the hardwood floor.
"You spilled my coffee on purpose, Kakashi!" shouted the Lee-like man Tenten knew to be Maitou Gai.
"Actually, I did," admitted Kakashi Hatake, whom she only recognized from several Times articles hailing him as a star architect bordering on legendary. "I'm convinced you don't need any more caffeine than the amount you seem to produce on your own."
As though this were the highest of insults, Gai tried to demean him. "But you have desecrated this lovely structure!"
"I designed this building," Kakashi quipped cheerfully. "So thanks."
Visibly tensing, Gai sprung loose. "I will sue you!"
"For spilling your coffee? If you must. I have good representation."
It took Lee himself to placate both men. Tenten watched in amusement, explaining the two architects' rivalry to Hinata before asking for her card.
Hinata recognized the tone of farewell. "It's supposed to be bad weather tomorrow – a lot of snow." Smiling gently, Hinata said, "Be careful, Tenten."
From the sudden loss of formality, Tenten knew the request went beyond weather warnings. "Thank you."
There were times Tenten considered leaving New York City, cashing in her savings, and moving West. The most awful snowstorm she had seen since childhood was one such time.
However, she knew that she had a larger chance of surviving a blizzard than an earthquake (she was very susceptible to motion sickness) and as she had never lived anywhere other than New York, the farthest West she would probably make it would be New Jersey.
So when the power zapped out just as she was microwaving a plate of leftovers for dinner, she abandoned her visions of white beaches and seagulls and accepted instead the dozen stalled and honking cabs at the intersection her apartment building stood beside.
At least she had already warmed her hot chocolate. Finding her flashlight, Tenten drank as she set out and lit candles all around the main sitting area where she had fought with Neji. As she set flame to a long stick of wax but the window, she saw a phantom image of herself in the reinforced glass – a woman with shadow-darkened hair, the angles of her face thrown into sharp relief, the mouth unsmiling. Tenten did not need a reflection accentuated with billions of snowflakes to tell her that she was unhappy.
Flopping down in her armchair, she reached for one of the many unread books on the lamp stand to her right, but it stayed closed in her lap. She rubbed her slippered feet together, the winter nightgown she wore providing enough heat, but still she felt cold.
Oh, God, Tenten thought. Her body temperature was trying to be a metaphor! Truth be told, she was in love with Neji Hyuuga. It was a very simple realization, one that had probably occurred when she was so carefully placing strawberries and cherries atop a cheesecake – no labored breathing, no frantic phone calls (not that a phone call would even be possible now, considering the current circumstances). It was just...Neji had, like any she'd dated, had his moments. Moments of tenderness (he used to brush a hand over the back of her neck just as she slipped into bed), moments of passion (he had once stormed in and jerked her toward him for a kiss before hello was even an option); moments of what she had imagined had been love (he would stared at her, just stare...like nothing else he might have seen truly existed).
For a second, Tenten wished her power would come back on so she might call him. Might.
Banishing the wistfulness, she flipped open the novel. Tenten was asleep by page five.
When she woke up again, the first thing she noticed was that the marshmallows had dissolved into a layer of pale foam on her no-longer-hot chocolate. The second was that her door was being ferociously pounded upon.
Blearily, she half-staggered to the door and didn't think twice when she saw a flash of black hair – must have been Lee, hopefully with food because she was starving.
When the door was opened, storm lights from the corridor spilled across the first few feet of her apartment and glimmered in Neji's snowy eyes.
Still half-asleep, Tenten started to lift a hand toward his. As she gradually became more alert, the hand fisted and returned to her side. "What the hell, Neji? It's the middle of the night during a blizzard!"
He blinked. Tenten assumed her doze-husked voice did not manage the threatening tone she'd be trying for. "No, it's only eleven o' clock. But you're right about the blizzard."
So she'd only been sleeping for half an hour? Damn. Stepping back, she waited for him to enter. Neji hesitated.
"You're letting me in?" he asked, gaze narrowed warily.
"The heat isn't on in the hall. It's cold out there." As though this was still his fault, she arched her eyebrows until he was in and the door was shut. The air surrounding them was as charged as on the night she had kicked him out. "What is it? What's that?"
Neji held up the plastic, soggy sacks she had eyed. "Dinner. It...well, it's probably cold. My taxi was caught in the traffic jam four blocks down, so I had to walk the rest of the way."
"You walked four blocks?" Tenten threw a hand gesture toward the snow-ravaged windows. "In this?"
He said nothing to that. Under the weight of his intense stare, Tenten felt exposed even in the unsteady, dim light the many candles emitted. To stave off her growing apprehension, she tossed her hand back and launched a preemptive strike.
"Are you absolutely insane?"
"It's not as though I waited for the storm announcement before coming over. Shikamaru and I were in court all day, and I was already in the cab on my way here before the driver turned on the radio."
"So the dinner..." She shrugged, waiting for him to supply.
"Was to win your forgiveness. You usually wait so long to eat, and I estimated you'd be without electricity before you began to think about it."
The utmost truthfulness and professionalism with which he said this – just like an attorney – blended with just a touch of characteristic arrogance was nearly enough to make Tenten smirk, but she held her mirth at bay. Just looking at him was enough to relive the hurt she'd felt when he had last been here. Shaking her head a little, she sighed. "Lee had to come eat here that day, Neji. I couldn't put all that food away."
"I know. He mentioned it to me cousin. Hinata told me."
Oh, Lee was such an ass! "What makes you think my forgiveness can be won with food?"
"I've also calculated the potentiality that you will require coffee, jewelry, a puppy, an expensive firearm, or groveling."
The mental image that accompanied the latter had her biting her lip to keep from cracking up. "You would never grovel."
"I would; but I confess my hope that you'll decide on one – or all, if you must – of the other options." Neji's brow furrowed, as though he had seen the same image and was disturbed by it.
His bluntness made Tenten feel merciful. "All right...jewelry."
For the first time since he had arrived, the locked set of Neji's posture visibly relaxed. "Well chosen." Fishing in his coat pocket, he pulled out a very small, black velvet-covered box. "I happen to have that."
The blood drained in a rush from Tenten's face. As far as predicting the outcome of the current situation went, her imagination had fallen very short of this. "Neji..."
He slowly stepped toward her. "I know you think I'd take my job over our relationship, Tenten. I wouldn't."
Now was when the labored breathing began, the arms consultant realized.
"I don't want," he continued softly, "to have to choose between love and the law. If I have to decide anything, I would easily decide to be with you over not being with you."
The right was gorgeous; not huge and capable of putting out an eye like Sakura's, but subtle and more reasonable, shining like fire in the candlelight.
She found she couldn't speak for lack of air.
"I know we only met six months ago," Neji conceded. "If you don't want to answer now, that's fine. I'm very patient."
Tenten's eyes widened. "I'm not! I'm scared you'll be like Shikamaru – did you know he and Temari haven't set a date?" She grabbed his hand. "I don't want to take forever to get married!"
Neji's face was drawn in confusion, as though she had flown directly over his head and he couldn't figure out how. "So...we are getting married?"
She laughed, her air passage perfect now. "Yes!" Throwing her arms around his neck, she kissed him, getting emotional when he pulled her closer. "I thought falling in love with him was the worst idea in the world," she confided.
The lawyer's lips quirked. "Thank you. I think getting you to marry me is the best."
She fully agreed.
As Neji took the engagement ring from the box and slipped it onto her left, Tenten's light flickered on.
Grinning at him, she made a suggestion. "Should we pack up the candles?"
"Why would we?" Going to the light-switch, Neji cast them back into near darkness. Catching hold of her, Tenten let out a girlish giggle as he swept her neatly over both arms. She held on as he carried her into the pitch black of her bedroom.
And when he tripped on an empty shoe box, she heard him declare: "When we're married, I am designating a daily clean-up time."
Tenten only laughed at that. He would not, after all, be the one laying down the law.