Author's Notes: The second and final part. I appreciate all the feedback, everyone! This is a new style of fic for me so I wasn't sure how it would go over, but I'm glad a lot of you seem to be enjoying it. I hope you enjoy the end, too!
Also, Roses of Sharon was kind enough to point out that there were some problems with chapter one. I apologize for these. Like I said, too much Law & Order! "Perps" is cop slang for perpetrators. (Now, look! You are that much more knowledgeable!)
Also, for those who aren't writers on the site, has a dysfunction that occasionally causes words to run together without spaces (ex: withoutspaces). That is (usually!) not my fault. I'm pretty good at catching such things, but I apologize for the inconvenience in the reading.
Disclaimer:I do not own Naruto and am making no profit from this fan fiction.
Part Two: New Lovers
Hell, Neji thought when he arrived home that night after visiting Naruto and Hinata. and Annoyed at coming home without any new leads, he pulled out the first thing he touched in his fridge – a covered plate of pizza – and practically threw it into the microwave.
Tenten, he mentally fumed. Tenten, Tenten, Tenten…was being uncooperative, deliberately difficult, and altogether defensive toward him. What did she think he was going to do? Take a sledgehammer and go Berlin on those emotional walls of hers?
The case wasn't about emotions anyway. And he was only with her for the case. It wasn't as though he was not aware that the situation was awkward, and it wasn't as though she didn't realize the situation was necessary. They had been the ones hunting the prick before; they had to be the ones to do it now. Though had he still been on the force, Neji imagined she would have already requested a partner exchange.
The microwave went off, and he ignored it for a moment to give his coat a spirited toss into his desk chair right beside his bed in the small, spartanly furnished apartment. She could pair up with Shikamaru if she wanted to, but then they'd be all Bullets and Brains and no street man to balance them out.
And besides all that, it didn't make sense to him that she was still so damn sexy. Weren't women supposed to go into deep depression when their lovers left them, scoff junk food and take up soap opera-watching?
Then again, Tenten was a policewoman. Neji hesitated before biting into his pizza, temporarily scared he was acting like a typical woman before dismissing the notion as absurd. He didn't own a television, at any rate.
Had she even missed him?
But what did it matter, he asked himself as he yanked apart his button-down shirt and dropped it into a clothes hamper – tiny as it was, he made sure to keep his place neat. He was working, she was working, it wasn't as though they'd had time the last eight months to reminisce about the field assignments, the office hours, the sex…
He hadn't actually left her, at any rate. They had broken up after a discussion. For God's sake, he had her spare key in his coat pocket. (That fact had admittedly been the cause of distraction for him over the last eight months.) It was just…there had been moments in his life he had only ever found with her – moments as mundane as looking up from his desk to see Tenten at hers and tapping a pen against the side of her mouth, or waking to the light stroke of her fingers over his stomach at three o' clock in the afternoon on a day off.
Neji dropped into bed with a self-reprimand. These things were irrelevant to the matter at hand. Her tenderness toward him had clearly dissipated; his investment in her had dissolved long ago. They had themselves to rely on. The current arrangement was only temporary and, beyond that, cumbersome. They would both be better off after this case was closed.
He was turning on his side, lights off and drifting, when his cell phone rang, shrill and detestable.
"What?" he snapped without checking to see who the caller was.
"Put your clothes back on and come over," Tenten ordered briskly. "I was just sent a match on the DNA from Hinata's rape kit."
After an hour, Tenten was starting to wonder if her cell phone had joined with the flesh of her right cheek. "No, Shikamaru...he's not supposed to be in the database, not really...of course it counts! What judge would rule it out?" She did her best to ignore the sound of her front door opening and closing, to focus on the officer she was speaking to and not the nearing scent she was so familiar with. "Whether he should be there or not doesn't change the fact that it's a match. But I'll need you to have Lee check up on him, the guy had a lot of paperwork done over the last year. Doesn't even have the same name...fine...yeah, just have him call me when he's done, four hours or whatever...no, I'm not gonna sleep, who the hell sleeps anymore?"
Tenten flipped her phone shut and turned in the swivel chair at her home desk to face Neji...who stood stony-faced and dripping wet all over her carpet.
"Jesus, is it raining out there?" She tossed a look at the windows, which indeed ran with rivulets.
Neji gathered his hair, even darker wet, at the base of his neck and squeezed so that a small waterfall trailed down his back. Tenten didn't know whether to appreciate the sight or be irritated at the increasing dampness of her floor. "It started on my way here," he said. "I didn't think to grab my coat at the house."
She decided vaulting into talking shop would be the best method of keeping her tongue from hanging out. "Turns out the database has been on the fritz the last two days; I just heard from Sai at that department about two hours ago. So they ran Hinata's assaulter again and we found," she rolled her chair to the left so he could get a look at her laptop computer screen, "this guy."
Neji approached her right side and bent to get a good view of the photograph on her e-mail. The sudden propinquity made her breathe slowly in. "Never heard of him."
"Well, supposedly they entered his saliva instead of some other suspect's by mistake a few months ago. I don't even want to know how that happened." Tenten's eyes narrowed. She didn't like the look of the guy, with his strange eyes and oddly-angled head. It wasn't an official mug shot; chances were a force photographer had snapped him when testing a camera or visual computer program. She told herself not to judge based on appearances, and then told herself Neji did not really smell that good and the outline of muscle enhanced by his sopping work shirt was really only so-so and...crap.
"Go take a shower or something, okay?" she said without really thinking.
Neji's reaction was little more than a turn of his head toward her while he was still lowered at her sitting level. It took all of Tenten's willpower to keep her eyes on the computer screen. "What?"
"The last thing I need is for you to get sick and have to abandon the case," explained the female cop in a hurry.
"I thought you wanted me off the case?"
"Well, you're already here."
Neji straightened, and Tenten nearly sighed in relief. Distance, she thought, was favorable right now. "All right," he said after some consideration, though his tone came with caution. "Anything else?"
"Just leave your clothes by the door, and I'll run them through the dryer, I guess." Tenten waited for his steps to end and the sound of the bathroom door shutting, wondering if that I-guess had seemed too forced. When the exhaust fan and water could be heard running, she exhaled the breath she had been more or less holding since he had walked into her place.
This wasn't going to work. It just wasn't. She wanted to kill Gai for setting her up like this (and he had, that ridiculous puppeteer). Maybe she could go work for Asuma Sarutobi downtown. He had expressed interest in her skills before. And it would be less incriminating than seeing to Gai's demise.
Standing, she made her way at a pathetically slow pace toward the bathroom, then pressed her fingers to her temples. She had intended for Neji to leave his clothes outside the door. Building her inner strength by reminding herself this was her territory and Neji knew that, she opened the door with intent to grab his wet things and bolt.
She remembered too late that the shower with its transparent glass doors directly faced the bathroom entrance. And, in this instance, so did Neji.
Had she been able to think properly, Tenten would have reasoned that any warm blooded woman who liked men who have stared like a deer in the headlight at the sight of Neji Hyuuga (a nude Hyuuga under a running shower head) who stared right back with placid, pearl eyes, which would justify her own staring.
As it was, she could notthink at all, let alone properly. So she made little of it when Neji very calmly pushed open the door of the shower. Even with the exhaust fan, the room was filled with steam because, like her, Neji liked a scalding shower – and Tenten wasn't sure she was not melting, but that was different.
When he grabbed her wrist and tugged, she tried to school her features into an arrangement of dispassion, like she had expected it. Despite the effort, she must have looked as stunned as she felt because there was a triumphant gleam in those pale eyes although his mouth remained unsmiling.
"I need you to decide," he said lowly (and she nearly collapsed because he'd pulled her right up against him to speak to her and it didn't matter that she'd seen all of it before because God, it was Neji and had his voice always been that sultry?), "if you want me here or if you don't. I'll stay or leave. It depends on you."
He meant the case. At least Tenten thought he was referring to the case. "I..." Damn, how did words go again? "I want you here." And she thought she meant the case as well.
Neji breathed deeply, which didn't help matters because it only pushed his chest closer to hers. "Tenten."
His shoulders were warm and wet beneath her fingers – wait, when had she begun touching him? - and his eyelids were beginning to droop but she could definitely feel his hands on her waist, whether to stop or support her, Tenten didn't know.
The fact was, she realized as his thumb began to stroke the skin just under the hem of her sweater at her back, this had been coming ever since she had woken up to aim a gun at him from beneath a thin sheet. This was decent enough payback for dropping in on her while she was naked, but it wasn't nearly enough to satisfy either of them.
"I want you here," she repeated, and Neji breathed out.
When he jerked her again, this time into the shower so that her clothes became as wet as his within moments, his mouth matched the gleam in his eyes. She didn't have time to look at him, however, because the third jerk brought her lips to his and then there was no need to wonder where his hands were because they were everywhere.
And the last eight months had been hell.
Tenten thought it was stupid that she had only now discovered that. To make up for it, she kissed him while he ruined her hair buns and threw out her clothes to add to the soaked messed outside of the shower.
She had forgotten starting over could feel so good.
What had he been thinking about an uncooperative, difficult, defensive Tenten three or so hours ago? Neji couldn't remember. He watched her as she typed furiously in alternation with gulping from a large mug of freshly-brewed Folgers, hair drying in tangled waves that fell in her face from her hastily restyled buns. He hadn't exactly forgotten the energy with which she threw herself into work after a bout of passion, but it had been a long time since he had seen it in action.
Drinking from his own mug, he studied the swift paths her fingers took over the keyboard as she wrote up a timeline of the case so far, her brow furrowing when she occasionally paused to think of an appropriate word or phrase to add to the file. Her posture was better than that of most, but she would probably still have back problems later on in life. And she would whine, he was sure, the way she tended to with little frustrations – like vacuuming, he recalled now. For some reason she had always hated vacuuming. He smiled faintly at the random thought. Tenten was very much her own person.
After another minute, she looked up without warning and their eyes met over the top of her computer. Neither one said anything. She fingered one sleeve of the shirt she had put on, and Neji noticed his, though dry now, was still completely unbuttoned. Tenten smiled. Their coffee steamed in their hands.
Her cell phone went off, and she jumped a bit. It was now a struggle for him to keep his face straight, but he listened carefully as she answered the call.
"Lee? Hi!" That "hi" was probably too energetic. Lee would suspect something. "Yeah, I was about to mail a report to Gai – what? At the...okay." As simple as that, she stood up and lifted her coat from where it had been previously tossed over a table stool. "We're supposed to meet Lee at the downtown police station."
And they were partners again, Neji Hyuuga and Tenten Long. Officers. Lovers.
The rain had fortunately let up. Lee waited in front of the doors for them, and if he noticed that his current teammate and former one walked closer than they had been, he did not mention it.
"Did you find the guy from the database?" asked Neji. He shoved his hands in his pockets, the fabric still warm from Tenten's dryer. Lee nodded. "So why are we here?"
"Becausehe's here," Lee told him.
Tenten looked through one of the glass station doors in surprise, as though their man would be standing right there. "Are you serious? Somebody already caught him?"
"No, not that. He works here!"
Neji started in before either of them could say another word. "Talk and walk, Lee."
"Tenten was right when she found out the guy had a lot of documents to go through. It took quite a while to reach back through everything. However," the bowl-haired man victoriously declared, "once I did, I learned that he had changed his entire identity to be given a position here."
"He's a cop?" The incredulity did not hide itself in Tenten's voice.
"No." They rounded a corner inside, passing Captain Sarutobi's office, though Neji had been sure that was where they had been headed. Instead, Lee led them forward until they arrived at a slim threshold where the door stood ajar, and a single hanging bulb lit the cramped interior of a janitorial closet.
"Mr. Kinuta?" Lee inquired, checking a picture in his hand, the same one Neji had seen on Tenten's laptop. Small print in the bottom left corner, Neji saw, read Dosu Kinuta.
The man who Neji had not seen occupying the closet now appeared, broom in one hand, a roll of paper towels in the other. He wore a baseball cap. His right eye in addition to his nose and mouth was obscured by what looked to be a yard of Ace bandages. His visible left eye immediately swung to Tenten, and Neji felt the sudden urge to step in front of her, but Tenten placed on hand on his arm, stilling him, without removing her eyes from Kinuta.
"I believe so. But first, can you tell us why you are wearing those bandages?" Lee's politeness was unfaltering. "Are you injured?"
"Oh, no." The man's voice sounded like gravel scattering beneath the roll of tires. "The fumes in the cleaning products, you know. I try to keep from breathing 'em in."
"That's a good idea," Tenten said prosaically, taking a look at the photo Lee held. "Maybe you should try wearing those the next time you decide to rape a woman."
At that, the custodian's eyes went wide, and Neji saw very clearly in his mind the drawing a sketch artist had done almost a year ago using Hinata's description of her attacker.
"Yes, you did." Tenten's voice was so steady, but Neji was still missing one detail. All three of the girls – Hinata, Ayame, and Ino – had told them of a hunch in their guy's back. Kinuta suffered from no hunch.
Dosu Kinuta shifted, and Neji went on alert. He knew when a guy looked like he was about to bolt. Sure enough, the broom and paper towels went down, and Kinuta took off. Lee dropped his picture. Tenten's gun was out in as much time, and Neji dashed forward. Lee caught up and then passed him a moment later, but even Lee wasn't faster than a bullet. A shot rang out, and then Kinuta was clutching at his left elbow.
And there was the hunch, just as the sketch artist had guessed it would be.
Both Neji and Lee had Kinuta in their unforgiving grips in the next two seconds. Tenten went to join them at the end of the hall just as Captain Sarutobi burst from his office, lit cigarette in his mouth, to demand what the hell was going on.
"What happened?" Tenten asked Kinuta when she was near him. "Did I tickle your arm? Or did I shatter your whole elbow?"
"Bitch! You – goddamn – bitch!"
If Neji punched him in the shoulder over his ruined elbow, it was entirely due to reflex. Well, mostly.
"Tell us why," Lee ordered Kinuta, his eyes narrowed solemnly. "Why would you opt to be right here after what you did?"
Kinuta gave a dry chuckle through his obvious pain. "For one thing, I already worked here before that little white-eyed girl. Those girls came here, didn't they? If I was here, I could see them again, couldn't I?"
Tenten recoiled. "You sick..."
"That sounded like a confession." Neji tightened his hold on Kinuta but met her eyes. "Why don't you go home, Tenten, and get started on the report? Lee and I will finish here." Tenten stared at him for a moment, then nodded once, before locking the safety on her gun and holstering it. "Actually," Neji amended, "give Hinata a call. Tell her everything's fine."
At that, Tenten smiled. "What about you?"
Neji inclined his head. "I'll be along."
For the next two hours, Neji ignored astonished sputtering from Lee and fielded confused expletives from Captain Sarutobi who insisted on smoking a cigarette through the story of Dosu Kinuta, then had to wait for Gai to arrive to tell it all again.
But when it was done, and Kinuta was officially behind bars to await trial, Neji went home. And it wasn't to his tiny apartment where he had received second-rate commissions from people who may or may not have had a real problem.
It was to a woman whose ways were pure and amusing and things he admired. And Tenten, he knew, felt precisely the same way about him.
"What just happened?" she asked the next day when she was wearing that girly pink robe and Neji took his turn at making the coffee. As smart as she was, she could adopt a genuinely mystified expression that made him hate the number of times he'd missed his chance at seeing it in their time apart. "Between us?"
Kissing her, he gave the most honest answer he had. "You love me." Saying the less self-centered reverse was unnecessary.
When Neji rejoined the Los Angeles Police Department one month later, his life was more or less the same but for the fact that he had sold his apartment and that Detectives Hyuuga and Long were now Detectives Hyuuga and Hyuuga.