Author's Notes:Written for 50 Alternates and the prompt "hunter." I think I'm addicted to AU NejiTen. As usual, I've given Tenten the last name of Long, since she just can't get by without one in modern times.
Also, this fic will be a two-parter.
Warning: This fic deals with mature content, though nothing graphic, including rape and crime, as well as adult sexual relationships. The theme itself is rather dark, so decide for yourself if you want to read or not. I have watched way too much Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto and am not making any profit from this fan fiction.
Part One: Old Partners
She wasn't alone when she should have been. Dark eyes flew open, and then warmed metal was beneath her fingers, in her hand, the black barrel of the handgun aimed at the center of the intruder's forehead.
Blank eyes stared impassively down at her, silver in the city lights that silhouetted his form against the window across the room. The eyes did not so much as blink out any alarm. Instead, one side of the mouth below them lifted in subtle approval. "Prepared as always, I see."
She damned his lack of reaction and breathed evenly to calm her traitorously-thundering heart. "What are you doing here, Neji?" Her voice was hoarse and came out roughly, and she tried to remain unaffected by his habitual assessment of her; how her free hand clutched the plain white sheet to her chest, how the cotton fell to clearly outline the curves of her waist, her hip, her thighs and ankles while leaving her tanned arms and shoulders bare. Her cheeks were flushed from sleep, the coloring flattering against the dark of her long, slightly tangled hair, a few waves of which tumbled over her right shoulder. The rest flowed down to pool on her pillow she had pulled the gun from beneath – the gun she continued to aim at him.
"I'm disappointed." He ignored her question. "I've been standing here for five minutes. You used to be faster."
She finally lowered the .44, setting it aside to clash like an ink stain on the colorless bed. Letting his infuriating comment pass, she flicked a glance but didn't want to lose sight of him for long. He had become too unpredictable. "Just tell me what the hell you want."
"Tenten," Neji said, her name sounding like some kind of password. In response, she allowed the tension to unwind in her shoulders. "You gave me a key. You didn't take it back. I have a case, so now's the time to relinquish your offer if that's what you want."
At least he hadn't come to check whether or not she still slept in the nude (though that unconscious five minutes bothered her somewhat). With a sigh, Tenten nodded tiredly. "No, it's…it's fine, just – let me put something on."
As she slipped out of bed, Tenten saw the man turn away with a swing of his lengthy, ebony hair. She wondered at his gentlemanly behavior. After all, he had seen her naked far more than once before. In the dark, she shrugged on and belted a light pink robe, the most girly garment she owned, and then flipped on a bedside lamp before facing him. "Talk fast," she commanded, though admittedly some of the effect was lost as a result of her mussed hair and state of undress. "I have to be at the station in four hours."
But of course, he knew that. Detectives Neji Hyuuga and Tenten Long had been the pride of the Los Angeles Police Department for three years, from 2002 to 2005. Their partnership had been unbreakable, if not infallible, due to their equal passion for the work and their willingness to assist each other. They had been on their way to promotions until one investigation gone horribly awry had gotten far too personal for both of them, resulting in Neji leaving the force for private practice and Tenten continuing solo on the state payroll.
Along with their year-long, private affair coming to an abrupt and icy halt.
Yet, as professionals, they had been civil. Neji had not been unkind and Tenten had not been scathing despite each one's tendencies for such actions in their line of work. She had even allowed him to keep the extra key to her condo along with an open invitation to ask for her help should he ever require it. Neji had moved across town and in the eight months since, he had not even called her.
Tenten allowed, however, that it was much more his style to come to her at a god-awful time of night than when it was actually reasonable. That didn't make it any less of a surprise that he was actually here now.
"I have a lead on the bastard who got to Hinata."
The words were spoken so bluntly that she almost missed their meaning, but once caught, it drove her into the present and out of her thoughts. "What? When? What is it?"
"What do you think?" A note of jerky urgency entered Neji's normally unruffled voice. "It's another rape of a college girl."
Her breath caught. Tenten grasped the underlying point of the clipped statement. It was another girl who wasn't saved. Who they hadn't saved. She swallowed, took in the barely-leashed rage that lined his brow and tightened his jaw. "What can I do?" she asked, not the least bit of trepidation unsteadying her voice.
"Pull the records from last spring's files. Talk to Lee, see what he knows. Find out if Shikamaru and Chouji have been dealing with any break-in patterns, particularly in homes with girls in college, maybe late high school." Neji talked with a perfectly focused voice. He trained his eyes not on her, but at a point on the wall just over her head.
"I will," she assured him readily. Then, because she had to know: "What are you going to do?"
"I'll be downtown, asking around myself." He went for the door.
"Do you want coffee?" He stopped, his white shirt brilliant under his tan coat in the lamplight, half of his black hair hanging down his back while the rest hung over his shoulder. Tenten could have rammed her head into the wall with all the energy of a very big, very self-conscious ogre. But the question had been asked from force of habit; she used to always offer him coffee before he left her place.
Neji remembered this – she could see it in the side of his face visible to her – but he answered in a way that mercifully cleared the awkwardness. "I've got some in the car."
When he was out and the door had been relocked, Tenten ran lightly trembling fingers through her hair and exhaled a long breath. Then, starting coffee for herself, she headed toward the shower. There was no way she'd have been able to go back to sleep now.
Tenten knew that, as their captain, Gai Maitou (everyone called him Gai) blamed himself for the resignation of one of his two best detectives and the perpetual discontent of the other. She also knew that the man had done nothing to jeopardize hers and Neji's last case together or put their relationship on ice.
Even so, when she asked the squad captain later that morning for the case file on Hinata Hyuuga, Gai's swift agreement was entirely too apologetic. "I'll have Lee bring it to you straightaway! If only there was a matching case, then I could do more to—"
"It's okay," Tenten cut in before he could swamp her with his guilt. "We can't make perps appear out of thin air." She decided against telling Gai about her recent visit from Neji lest he get emotional or overprotective or both. "Please just have Lee take it to my desk."
She had an e-mail from Neji by seven-fifteen. The rape victim was biology major Ayame Ichiraku. Teuchi Ichiraku, her father and a chef, was away at a conference, and the girl's room at home had been broken into. According to the records he had received from the downtown L.A. police station, Ayame had been sleeping until she was woken and raped by a masked man four nights ago, a Wednesday. She had gone to the cops only yesterday evening.
Tenten fought back an urge to vomit. Ayame was all right, not hospitalized as Hinata had been, but aspects of the attack shouted a pattern. The rape had occurred mid-week, perfectly timed.
"What'd you need this for?" asked Lee, Gai's personal assistant and her closest friend, when he came with Hinata's file. "I had a bit of a difficult time finding it now that her last name is Uzumaki…" He trailed off when he saw Tenten take a gulping drink from the water bottle she had brought to work. "Are you okay?"
"'Morning, Lee," she replied quickly, forcing cheerfulness. "Yeah, fine. I'm back to Hinata's case."
Lee's usually happy face went grim. He had been there for the investigation and had witnessed the damages when they had failed to find a suspect. "You'll get him this time, Tenten," he told her with full confidence. "Even if Neji isn't here."
"Oh, Neji's here all right," Tenten said, her voice revealing her uncertainty. "Leading the charge, as always." He had never needed a badge to do that.
"Do you need help with anything?"
"No. Thanks though, Lee." She braced herself for reliving the failure of Hinata's case. "If you could just let Chouji and Shikamaru know I'd like to see them if they have a moment?"
Lee promised to do so, and then left her alone to do her job. Tenten lifted the flap of the thick manila envelope and pretended her hands weren't shaking as she drew out the documents.
"Hinata says she'll do whatever you need. She's pretty shaken up," Neji's cousin-in-law told him on the phone. The detective nodded against the plastic of his cell phone, looking out the window of his tiny apartment/office in downtown Los Angeles. The view showed him pavement, traffic, and people, not one of which he had any interest in at the moment.
"I don't blame her," he replied. "For now, there's no point in interviewing her again. I have access to the files from nine months ago. I can't promise it'll stay that way."
"Okay, I get it. But I don't want her so stressed, it could be bad on her body." In his mind's eye, Neji could see the blond head of his conversation partner nodding with a rare and worried frown.
"I understand. Just tell her I said to stay calm. Thanks, Naruto." He terminated the call with a flip of his phone. Though he had never admitted as much, Neji liked Naruto. He was the outgoingness his shy cousin lacked, and he had been magnificent support to Hinata after her assault nearly a year ago, never wavering in his desire to marry her. It was thanks to Naruto, Neji was certain, that Hinata had been able to recover her life with any semblance of normalcy.
Unfortunately, he could not say as much for Ayame Ichiraku. She had been alone for a week following her rape because she had been too ashamed to contact her absent father and too scared to go to the police. She had gone to classes, her teachers had reported, but her friends had described her as zombie-like and unfocused, a direct about-face to her usual disposition. Neji would be stunned if she would not need a fortune's worth of therapy after holding onto a secret like that.
He was about to call the downtown police station again to pry the smallest detail that could possibly have been skipped from the squads there when his phone rang once more. "Neji Hyuuga."
"Hyuuga, this is Chouji. Shikamaru thinks you should get uptown. He wants to have a meeting."
Neji's eyes narrowed. "What have you got?"
"An almost-victim, and we think it's the work of the guy you and Tenten were onto earlier this year."
Something inside him twisted brutally at hearing his former partner's name. "And?"
"She saw his face."
Even after two years of knowing the man, it was a mystery to Neji how Shikamaru Nara had gotten into the LAPD. He boasted only mediocre talents with field work, never having caught a running perp or taken down an armed threat. His partner, Choiji Akimichi, had done, though Chouji's girth belied his skills.
Then Shikamaru met him on the steps leading into the station, and Neji remembered. The slacker was a goddamn genius.
"Tenten told me about your cousin's case eleven months ago." Shikamaru had not, at that time, yet been transferred to Gai's division. "Just this morning she loaned the file to Chouji, and he went over it with me. It's a strange guy who would be so meticulous." Neji appreciated the younger cop's focus. Most people would have found a window to inquire after Hinata's wellbeing, and this was neither the time nor the place. Shikamaru stayed on-task. "He knew exactly when she would be alone – father out for the weekend, little sister on a school trip. Hell, the landlord wasn't even there that night."
Neji listened while Shikamaru went over details he already knew. "We questioned the landlord. He was clear."
"Well, that kills that theory." Shikamaru led the independent detective out of the February chill and into a conference room. He didn't bother to introduce anyone at the long table inside; Gai, Lee, Tenten, and Chouji were all known but the arrival, but none of them could say with perfect confidence that they really knew Neji. Shikamaru simply took a chair and gestured for Neji to do the same. "Let's get started. Has everyone been briefed?"
All had. It was Gai, however, who couldn't resist a greeting to his ex-employee. "Welcome back, Neji! Even if you did quit during the height of the summer when criminals run rampant, it is good to see you in our presence once more!"
Neji, who had the misfortune of sitting directly across from Lee, felt a disjointed humiliation, as though Gai had only partially succeeded in alienating him. He saw Tenten's head jerk toward her captain in mild surprise of his poorly-veiled barb. Lee looked unsure of whether to be shocked or amused. Gai's frightening white grin did not fade.
In the end, Tenten was the one to break the ice. "Right, so, Chouji, you have something for us regarding our guy?"
"Shikamaru actually," replied the rotund agent from Neji's left, who kept one hand on a closed bakery box in front of him.
With his head balanced in the palm of one hand, Shikamaru answered in lingering exasperation of his captain, "A friend of mine, Ino Yamanaka—"
"Ex-girlfriend," Chouji whispered to Neji conspiratorially.
"—is in grad school studying horticulture. I wasn't going to bring this up here because she reported it downtown at Captain Sarutobi's station, but Ino had me do the report. She was attacked in her apartment while her roommate, Sakura Haruno, was out on a date." Shikamaru read from a folder on the table in front of him, lifting pages as he went. "The rape wasn't actually committed – she fought him off – but the break-in method was similar to that used with Hinata Hyuuga. Household members out, landlord out."
"What did Asuma say about you taking the file?" asked Gai.
"We have his full support. He's a friend of the Yamanaka family."
"I thought you said she saw him?" Neji asked Chouji.
"She did," said Shikamaru. "But it was late and all the lights were off. He broke through her bedroom window, but she still had curtains over most of it. All she could see was that his eyes were very wide, bloodshot, and he seemed to always be hunched over even when he struggled with her."
"That was what Hinata said!" exclaimed Lee. "Bent over the whole time, like his back was crooked."
"Breaking windows and raping women takes more reliable strength than a severe scoliosis patient would be likely to have," Tenten said placidly. Neji saw an only too-familiar line appear over her nose as she thought. "What about Ayama Ichiraku?"
"She kept her eyes closed throughout the – attack," Neji replied, faltering only because she had met his gaze. "But he threatened her, said she better stay clear of the uptown police. And then the standard power-play filth…"
"He said uptownpolice, specifically?" Chouji reached into his box of doughnuts and began to contemplatively munch.
"That was why Ayama went downtown," Shikamaru observed with a frown. "I wonder if Ino—"
"He might have known Ino knew Asuma," Gai interposed. "and that she would go to him first."
"And Hinata's father's house in only three blocks away from the downtown station." Tenten did not need the file but recited the information from memory. "When she was put into the hospital, the cops down there took the case first before it was passed on to us."
"Why would he leave them a window to crawl through?" Lee asked the room in general. "Why not just scare the girls into staying quiet? A lot of rape kits get lost because they're so terrified."
"We have Hinata's, but there was no matching DNA in the system. I just ran it again, but nobody's got anything on this guy," Tenten reported dutifully. Her hands fisted on the tabletop, the only outward sign of frustration.
Neji stood up. Sitting around and talking was doing only fractional good. "I'm going."
"Where?" Tenten demanded, her eyes sharpening.
"To Hinata's. Maybe she'll think of something we haven't."
"Excellent idea!" praised Gai. "Tenten, go with him."
At that, the female cop froze while in the action of scooting back her chair, her expression mutinous. "Captain, you're kidding me."
"Neji's in on the case, but not without a member of this squad, as this is all confidential information we're merely tossing at him. Otherwise, we cut him loose." Gai smiled jovially. "Your call."
Tenten's eyes shot to his. Neji endured her stare, though she made him feel decidedly uncomfortable, until she blew out an impatient breath. "Fine. Let's go."
Neji followed her out, highly sensitized by her unrestrained disdain. As he was pulling out his keys, "I'm driving," she snapped out.
The drive to Naruto Uzumaki's condominium was blessedly short, and manning the car gaze her something to thrust her attention on, but Neji's presence was a distraction and therefore a cause of discomfiture to Tenten. She realized, however, that she couldn't simply ignore him.
"How's Hinata been doing?" she asked, partly because she genuinely cared for his cousin and partly because the silence was strangling her.
"Fine," he replied tersely. "She's happy."
"Oh, that's…that's good." Tenten released a long exhale. It felt like the days after their first meeting, but instead of being on the receiving end of his resentment, she was feeding Neji hers. "I used to think she'd never get over it."
"Would you have?"
She flicked a glance at him but kept her gaze mainly on the road because LA traffic was hellish. "I wasn't raised the way she was."
"That doesn't answer the question."
Her temper spiked. "Well, you aren't really in a position to ask things, are you?"
"The truth," Neji responded, his voice so calm that Tenten was envious, "is that you would have been because you would tell yourself you would. That's how you do everything. You convince yourself, you don't act on your—"
"No!" Gripping the wheel tightly enough for her knuckles to blanch, Tenten seethed at him as she pulled into the lot next to Naruto's apartment complex. "The only truth is that you're here, on my case, with my squad, and you have no right. We both know that, Neji." She jerked the gearshift into park too forcefully and then flashed her eyes at the Hyuuga.
Neji appeared unaffected by the cold way she dismissed him. "You have had two chances to keep us apart, Tenten. You did not deny me your help or refuse my own."
Only because she had known Gai would have kept him on board anyway to make use of his connections. "And?" she challenged, because damn it, she couldn't think of anything else to say.
Neji reached for the door handle on his side. "And now you're stuck with me."
He was out and closing the door before Tenten could gain enough control of herself to follow without punching him in his pretty face. They did not speak as they went up to the Uzumaki condo.
When the familiar, slightly mischievous face of Naruto Uzumaki met them, it was with a wide grin and a loud greeting. "I didn't think you'd be coming by so soon, Neji." Tenten couldn't be sure, but she thought she detected some displeasure in the blond's voice before her turned to her in full excitement. "Hi, Tenten!"
"Hi, Naruto." She had always liked him even if he was a tad overwhelming. "Is your wife home?"
"Of course, she doesn't go out too much nowadays. Hinata! We're coming in!"
Tenten thought that an odd thing to say in such a cheerful tone. Naruto led the two of them into the main living room. Tenten spotted Hinata rising from the couch very slowly…because she was very pregnant.
Even through her immense surprise, she could see that Hinata Uzumaki still embodied everything Tenten sorely lacked as a woman: grace, gentleness, patience. Her short hair, dark as Neji's, was neatly combed and styled unlike Tenten's hasty, messy buns. She held herself well, though there had been a time when she had always seemed to be hiding. Marriage had transformed her into a confident, self-accepting woman. Tenten momentarily switched her envy from one Hyuuga to the other.
"It's so good to see you," Hinata said to her warmly, and Tenten moved forward to give her a perhaps too careful hug over her large stomach. "I thought you would be here before long. I heard of Ayame on the news." Her eyes lowered. "So I had hoped to be able to help."
"That's why we're here," Neji explained shortly. "I don't imagine you have a more detailed description of your attacker after this long?"
Tenten wished she were close enough to him to step on his foot or something equally immature. He was being such an unemotional jerk!
Hinata placed on hand on her stomach, as though to shield her unborn child from either her own experiences or Neji's necessary detachment. "I'm afraid not. Unless – you have something?"
They relayed Ino Yamanka's updated description of the rapist, which Hinata confirmed at once. "But I told you that a year ago."
"I know," Neji said, bothered by it. "The only connection we have between you all is that you were all motherless college girls at the time of the attack, whose fathers were absent and, besides that, quite rich."
"That's connection enough," Tenten pointed out, helping Hinata back into her seat as Naruto sat on the other side of his wife. Neji's eyes, identical to those of the woman they were visiting, went warningly to hers but she lifted her chin defiantly. "What we need to know is, besides personal gratification, what motive would he have for setting you all up to go to the downtown station rather than Captain Gai's uptown?"
Naruto, after considering, presented his thought. "What if it's you two? Your partnership was pretty well-known at the time. What if the bastard's one of those sickos who likes a playing hide-and-seek with good seekers?"
Apparently not good enough, Tenten couldn't help but think. "Possibly. But he didn't keep it up with clues or anything. Neji…" She caught herself before she could intone ran off, remembering that Hinata was Neji's cousin and speaking ill of him in front of her was of high rudeness. "Neji moved on to private work because the case was closed. So he didn't win."
Neji spoke quietly from behind her, his words cutting. "But neither did we."
Hinata, though useful in her willingness to have her Sunday afternoon interrupted, did not provide any new inspiration for the case. But Tenten did feel rejuvenated on it; spending time with the younger woman had reignited her drive and yearning to get Mrs. Uzumaki's rapist off the streets and in jail where he belonged. And while Neji said nothing to her during the drive back to Gai's station, she was sure he felt the same way.
Which meant, Tenten reflected, he wouldn't be leaving anytime soon.
To Be Continued