Second part, out of the Academy and now at college. (:
The Only Alliance
Tenten gets used to her new flat near one of the best art colleges in the country, finding new friends like underclassmen Yamanaka Ino and even Neji's cousin and now worthless heir, Hyuuga Hinata. It hurts to look at Hinata's eyes that remind her so much of Neji, and she isn't shocked when Hinata tells her that Neji has succeeded her, even if he is illegitimate. Hiashi-sama sees power through craftily-welded hands, and allows his nephew to follow him. However, now Hinata cannot run the business, not that she particularly wanted to, but is allowed to spend her time doing whatever she pleases, so she took up art.
Tenten tells her she dislikes Neji greatly for being cold and unwelcoming, and that she did not enjoy her three years in his company. They both know it's a lie, but Hinata does not comment to it, and Tenten leaves it as is.
One part of her yearns for Neji to call her once, or e-mail her. There is no card on Christmas, or her birthday, or any holiday, not that she was expecting any. She has stayed in touch with Lee, even occasionally visiting the Academy with Lee to see Gai-sensei. It seems to her that Neji has cut ties with both of them.
Lee tells her that Neji is very much like that, and that they must reach out towards him. Lee has tried countless times, but Neji refused each invitation. Lee is convinced that only Tenten can bring a reunion about, but inside, Tenten is still hurting from the bitter refusal.
Then, six months into the new school year, as she is walking back towards her apartment, already starting a thumb sketch of her latest drawing, she fumbles with her books as she balances them with one hand. The March weather is comfortable but still chilly, and she wears a long skirt and droppy sweater. She hasn't been looking her best, but it has never been standing out. She's not part of the fashion department, so she can hide and just draw.
She moves her papers and pulls out a pencil, mind absorbed in the latest assignment. She looks up thoughtfully to think, and standing outside her apartment building is the long-limbed Neji. He looks so much more taller, staring up at her apartment building. A jacket is slung over his shoulder, the first three buttons of his fitted shirt unbuttoned. His hair is no longer tied loosely, but falls in inky strands over the canvas white of his shirt.
Her pencils and books clatter to the floor, and he looks over, eyes widening only a fraction. She stares at him for a good three seconds, before her skirt lifts in the wind, ticking her ankles, and she instantly drops down to pick up her stuff. She stares at the ground and fumbles, and her heart races. A dizzy spell hits her, and she pants softly, staring at the sidewalk chalk splattered beneath her.
When she finally stands, Neji is in front of her, one hand in his pocket, the other casually keeping the jacket in place over his shoulder. His lips forms her name and she gets lost in those eyes, as she can see, are nothing like Hinata's.
He tells her that it is on his way home, and that he is here to visit Hinata. Tenten nods, and Neji doesn't move to touch her, and she doesn't expect him to. Things have ended badly, there was only a fragile relationship that Tenten should not have tampered with. They checked and balanced each other out, but she pushed too hard, and Neji had abandoned her. And like a long-lost voyager seeing his homeland again, her emotions have no name.
She is at a loss of words to say at him, and she doesn't expect Neji to continue the conversation, he only stares openly at her. Her hand clutching the books against her chest run nervously over the cover, and she wants to lean over and feel his hair between her fingers.
The exchange ends when a fat raindrop lands on her hand suspended in air, and she flinches. Neji turns his head up to the sky and sighs, and Tenten gazes at the curve of his neck.
It is then when Yamanaka Ino comes to her rescue, running over with an umbrella. She glances at Tenten and instantly understands. She tells Neji that Hinata isn't home right now and that she is still at school finishing a project. Neji nods, and turns without a goodbye. Ino leads Tenten inside, and she brokenly tells her worried friend that she is alright.
She doesn't sleep that night, and makes sure to take the long way home everyday after that.
On her birthday, Hinata presents her a surprising gift, a large, leather-bound photo album, and she touches the cover, as it reminds her of her sketchbook from the Academy. She had burned the empty sketchbook, only a cover then, in the furnace when she returned home from her last day at the Konoha Academy.
When she opens it, tears are in her eyes and Hinata is frightened that she has given her the wrong gift. The first page is a tiny note, scrawled in her sloppy handwriting and small darker dots where her tears had fallen.
I love you.
She turns the page, and she already knows what is inside, they are her pictures, all of her sketches, in no particular order, except in the way Hinata pictured them to bee. They are placed meticulously, each page pressed without holes to seal the pictures in perfect tranquility. Some are wrinkled, others are in perfect condition, the ones she couldn't bear to crush, the ones she allowed to slip through her fingers out the window.
She sees the picture of child Neji, not on the first page, then she sees the picture of her and Neji colliding on the train that she has drawn months after the incident, then the picture of Lee's broken jaw. The most intimate pictures, slightly crumpled, are placed in the middle where the seam is bound, and Tenten feels exposed, even though she is only with Ino and Hinata who are quite aware of her feelings.
Hinata tells her she found them all outside on the ground the last day, and spent hours looking for them, and it seemed that she found them all, especially the note. Tenten turns all the way to the end, and sees the crumbled pictures of Sasuke.
She breaks down and cries. She tells herself not to cry, that she never cried when she was with Group 13, that crying over Neji is just like crying over spoiled milk. When she pulls herself together, she carefully shelves the photo album at the bottom of her bookshelf. She tells Hinata that this is the most sacred gift she has ever received, but cannot come up with an excuse as to why she puts it down there.
Hinata only smiles and tells her she already knows. They share something that night, two lonely girls facing the real world
It is then, with these pictures that she longs for back in her hands and shelved on the bottom of her bookcase, does she pluck up enough courage to stop running away from Neji and take the direct way home.
She promptly sees him the next day, and gives him a polite greeting. He breathes her name, and she tells him with a smile that is too bright that he can see through it, that she has to go, and excuses herself to climb the steps to her apartment with fake cheer. Before she leaves, Neji whispers happy birthday, and her hand stops jiggling the keys.
They walk in silence, and she already knows that he knows which apartment is hers. She allows him into her modest flat, and hurries to the kitchen to make tea, her voice miraculously not breaking.
She finds him later standing in her work room, gazing at the drawings. None of them are about her past, of him, Lee, or Gai. They are all still-lifes, or random objects drawn with thorough accuracy, analyzed in front of her. Nothing is drawn from her mind's eye, all her work devoid of emotion.
She tells him as she hands him the hot mug of tea, that she gave up drawing models from her memory. Then Neji fishes in his pocket, and pulls out a small bag, giving it to her wordlessly. She finds it to be a necklace, with a pretty diamond charm.
It isn't overly romantic, just an obligation as ex-classmates to give her a present on her birthday, usually, it was just more art supplies that she cherished and rarely used. It looks expensive, and her voice rises an octave and tells him she can't accept it.
He says that girls should like things like that, and she reassures him in a small voice that she does like it. Neji stares down at her and tells her to keep it and she can only murmur her thanks.
He looks away, and she asks if he would like a tour, trying to be hospitable. He tells her it's not necessary, and that he should be going. She nods, and walks him to the door, but he stops, his back to her and she can feel that he is scrutinizing the door. Then, he turns towards her, leans over and presses the lightest of kisses on her cheek.
Later, she puts on the necklace, and tells others that it is a little trinket she found at a flea market. It will be their secret.
Her first date is a blind date set up by Ino, and she finds out with shock that it is Uchiha Sasuke. The dinner is excruciatingly long and awkward, since neither have any attraction towards each other. The planes on his face are the same, and she ends up studying the dips and crevices to further help her drawings than actually attempt at any romance. She tugs on the low-cut shirt whenever Sasuke looks away, and fixes the skirt. Ino had picked out the outfit earlier, and Tenten had merely agreed, as she did for everyone on this date.
The way she smiles at him and places her hand on his are merely for show, because she can see Ino peek not so secretly at them two booths down.
That night, Sasuke walks her home, and it is raining. The noble blood in him places his jacket over her drenched shoulders, and it reminds her of Neji. She ignores it, and she tells herself the wine is getting a little to her head. She kisses him steadily at the door, presenting him her first kiss for dealing with such an uncomfortable night. When Sasuke has descended the stairs, his jacket thrown over his shoulder just the way Neji does, she listens to his footsteps disappear before she heads over to Hinata's room two doors down.
It is there and through Ino that she finds out that Neji had been watching them the whole time.
Neji doesn't mention it or care about it, or at least she thinks he doesn't, and his visits are become even more common. She rarely bothers to invite him in, or even bother him in general. She doesn't wear the necklace when she sees him, it is usually under the layers of her clothes, the pendant hanging right over her heart.
He is visiting Hinata after all, not her, who has been increasingly agitating Hiashi for not becoming the strong heiress she should be, even if she is stripped from that title. He sometimes nods to her, and she sometimes says his name in greeting. If she feels up to it, she attempts small talk, but that is about it.
When Hinata falls sick through stress and pressure from school and from her family and from her recent heartbreak about Naruto, her frail body coughing fits that make her whole body shake, Neji watches solemnly, almost guiltily.
Tenten quietly offers Neji to stay at her place for a while until Hinata gets better. Neji glances at his sickly cousin and can only agree. She insists he can sleep on her bed, but he settles for her couch, and not much is exchanged.
Neji wakes up early to go to the university on the other side of the city, and she wakes up along with him, to fix him breakfast. She apologizes that it isn't so good, but Neji eats all of it, and he brings home takeout every night. Before he leaves, she presses an extra key into his hand.
Neji watches her draw.
It is a simple request and she can't say no, and by the dim light in her work room, she sets the lone apple up in front of her. Neji pulls up a chair, and gazes at the way her hand moves. She squints at the still life, before sketching the lines gracefully, curving her pencil expertly.
He asks her if she'll go back to drawing people. She shakes her head, shading in the bottom half of the apple. He doesn't speak after that, and Tenten finds herself working well into the night, but Neji says he isn't tired and continues watching intently.
Her eyes begin to get heavy, her limbs are exhausted, but he asks her to continue to draw, he changes the still life in front of er and she draws more, until he changes the still life to an alarm clock that she falls asleep against the table, the pencil loosening in her hand. She wakes up the next morning in her own bed.
The first time Neji himself attempts to draw, she comes in with warm tea for the cold day, and is shocked to see him sitting there, staring focusedly at the paper. He grips the pencil too tightly, and the point cracks as he places it on the paper.
Tenten giggles from the door frame, for the first time that he's heard in a long time, and he turns around, looking as embarrassed as his emotions will let him. She moves towards him, dragging the chair over and gently placing her smaller hand around his. He visibly stiffens.
She applies firm pressure on his fingers, telling him to relax and only when he does, she moves his arm in a circular motion. She presses harder and so does the line of his pencil, as they slowly worked in the curves of the apple. His hand is limp in her hands and they feel strong and rather large, warm and reliable.
When they both look at the finished work with fascination, Tenten asks him to sign the bottom and then hangs it up. Neji stares at it and she can see the shadows of a smile on his lips. It makes her happier seeing this.
She comes home one day and the air feels heavy against her heart. She calls that she's home, and she slips out of her shoes and finds Neji sitting on her couch, flipping through the pages of the leather bound photo album, Hinata's gift. As Neji flips through the pages, his eyes refusing to meet hers, he tells her that this is his.
Suddenly the harsh reality crashes down, that Hinata has lied to her, saying that it was she who found the pages on the ground, but it had been Neji, who missed the train to collect each and every one of them. It is Neji who bought the album, and carefully placed the sketches into them, and poor sweet Hinata, who went and stole it from him to return to the rightful owner, because that is what she thought is right.
Neji turns back to the first page, where the words "I love you" are scrawled, and he traces them with a long finger, before shutting the book. He is angry, and she can feel it, and she gets the chills when he looks at her. He moves towards her, and she backs into the wall, and flinches one last time until she's pushed hard against it. Her face is in his hands, and he's grabbing too hard, one knee pressed between her legs, and she feels cold-blooded terror and hot-burning ache in her heart. He angles his head slightly and she closes her eyes as her heart races and her lips form a soft 'no'. She can feel his breath mingling with her own erratic one, and then he drops his hands back to his sides and steps away.
He asks to watch her draw again after a long while, his voice calmer, and she has nothing else to say but go to her study room and draw. She draws from memory now, the first time in a while, and she draws the day after her birthday, when Neji presents her the gift. Her body is angled awkwardly, his frame long and sturdy. She feels his hand cover hers, halting her pencil to a stop.
He gently turns her towards him, taking her chin in his hand and presses a chaste kiss to her lips without hesitation. Their first kiss together leads to a second and third, their awkwardness dissolving into passionate embrace until he suddenly stops and does not continue. She doesn't pressure him to.
Hinata feels better the next day, leaving Neji no reason to stay, and she doesn't ask him to, but returns the photo album to him. He leaves again in the presence of both of them, and in front of his cousin, he kisses her again, something he refrains since the night before. Tenten blushes, and as they watch Neji's back, Tenten confesses everything.
After contemplation, Hinata tells her that Neji is scared of rejection, wanting and needing ever since he saw the sketches to have her, to have someone love him. She warns her though, that as soon as Tenten allows him, Neji will never let go, that he will grow even more possessive, even angrier than that night he saw her with Sasuke.
When he comes back biweekly the few weeks after Hinata's recovery, he doesn't kiss her. She can tell what he is thinking, what he wants to ask her, but he doesn't so she doesn't. He merely comes to watch her draw, back to still-life, and leaves at night after she is asleep.
He comes the next week with a brand-new sketchbook, exactly identical to her old one from the Academy. Inside, written in his elegant font, he asks her to continue drawing like she used to.
He stops visiting after that, but Tenten continues to draw, and this time, it is only him.
During her graduation from the art university, Neji comes and stands in the back. He asks to take her out to dinner alone, and she can only accept. She changes into something prettier, pulling out the buns in her hair, but staring at her reflection, she cannot live up to his own beauty.
She holds the sketchbook in her hands, waiting for Neji to come, mindlessly going through the pages without bothering to fix any mistakes. When he does come, as she did five years ago, she thrusts the sketchbook into his hands, turning away from him nervously. He stares at it, and she can read his eyes when he looks back at her, they are filled with longing and he sets the book on the table and brings her out to dinner.
It is rather awkward, because Tenten lacks anything to say but Neji seems content watching her like this, with her hair down and eyes downcast. Tenten drinks too much wine in desperation to start a conversation, and her head is spinning when Neji helps her out of the restaurant, and on their way home, he tells her she looks beautiful with her hair down. She has seen him smile more in this one night than she can ever remember.
Tenten blushes at this comment, and Neji opens the door for her, picking up the sketchbook on the way to the couch, Tenten sitting in his lap. They look through the pictures together, his hands so long and big compared to hers, and the warmth of his fingers entangled with his.
He asks questions about it, and she explains it the best as she can, trying to ignore the low breathing that is brushing her neck. Halfway through, he shuts the book, gingerly placing it on the counter, and burying his face into her neck, moving her so he is towering over her. He grips her wrists tightly and his lips send shudders through her skin before they are pressed on her lips, and his tongue is begging for permission and his hand is threaded through her hair and he's hungrily taking as much body contact as possible.
She pants breathlessly when he forces himself to stop, his shoulders shaking as his hands are gripping the arch of her waist, the other leaning on the arm of the couch. He looks at her with so much desire, and he warns her the same way Hinata has, that if she allows him, he will never let her leave him, he will keep her too close to him.
She smiles back at him, and nods.
She regrets this the next morning, when she wakes with Neji's arm around her waist, his breath warm against the crook of her shoulder, her arms around him, enveloping him in her body heat, her still wearing the slim skirt and shirt from the night before. He is too close, now unseparable from his heart. What if she can't see him after this? She doesn't know if she'll be able to survive.
He wakes up when she stirs, and he smiles at her, lifting himself up slightly to kiss her.
She struggles, and his kiss becomes hungry, and when he finally breaks, looking down at her quizzically, she looks away breathless. He frowns and leans towards her ear as she stiffens and asks if she regrets it. She doesn't answer and he pulls himself off her, picking up the sketchbook to look through it on the opposite single chair.
She watches him and he doesn't meet her gaze, as his hand stops at the picture where he has kissed her for the first time. He stares at it for a long time, and then he finally stands, and tells her that he will not give her up, not now and not ever. It doesn't matter if she'll push him away, because she gave herself to him, so he will keep her.
He comes back the next day, and the next, and she asks him why he does. He tells her that because she has loved him through it all and he is merely returning a favor.
She tells him that is a bad reason, but he ignores it, moving closer to kiss her again. She freaks out at this, and he watches her for a long time, before telling her that he won't do it again if it really upsets her.
She looks up at him and smiles, unable to see the fighting going on his mind. She figures if Neji is willing to take the risk, a man who never would take risks when the chances were below his favor, she could too. Her arms wrap around his neck and she tells him to kiss her now. Neji obliges.
When she moves towards an empty studio overlooking the city through large warehouse-like windows, her apartment is emptier than her dorm room at the Academy and the apartment in college. There is a small kitchen room, where she can cook meals and sit at a table only big enough for two people. There is a bedroom that has only a futon and a dresser. There is not much else, not even proper lighting.
She sets up her art desk and the messy sketches over the walls, and Neji only watches her work. When she can't reach to put the last of her drawings, he leans over her to place it up, trapping her between his arms.
She turns and he stares down at her and tells her he wants to live here with her, and eventually, he wants to take her away to a beautiful apartment only for them.
She reasons that it won't help him commute to his job, but she doesn't tell him that she picked this studio because it is particularly farther away from his internship at the Hyuuga Corporation.
He says he doesn't care, and tells her those three words. Her eyes widen and her heart thumps painfully, as his forearms travel down the wall to end besides her face, fingers curling into the wall as he asks if he can kiss her. She allows him to.
His uncle looks so much like Neji, it unnerves her. He has introduced her as his fiancée, something she hasn't agreed to until the day before. She wonders why Neji is rushing about getting married.
Hiashi asks what she does for a living, and she tells him she's an artist. His eyebrows rise and Neji moves a possessive hand over her waist, with much notice from the Hyuuga President. Hiashi stares at Neji, who is glaring back, and who is telling his uncle that he doesn't care what profession she's in, because he will marry her, despite that he promises her the night before that their engagement will be a long one.
Hiashi gazes at Tenten under a view that is even more uncomfortable than Neji's and turns away, telling Neji he does what he must. Neji's hands tighten as he excuses himself from his uncle, and soon as they are away from sight and hearing, he apologizes.
Tenten doesn't understand why, and it is the first time she hears him utter those words. Their engagement does last a long time, she is glad to realize.
She stares at Neji, whose eyes are closed as he sleeps serenely on his stomach, one arm seemingly always around her and the other tangled in his hair.
She moves slightly, and trails out of bed, shivering at her naked form as Neji frowns, still asleep.
She glances back at him, and pads quietly to her studio space, curling onto the stool and picking up the blunt pencil. She closes her eyes, remembering how Neji looks asleep, and her pencils draw the planes of his back only half-covered by the blanket, hair strewn over the white pillow and the sheets. She smiles, drawing in the folds of the sheets, then the long fingers, making sure his arm is extended out and that she is not in the picture.
She jumps slightly when Neji and the bed covers wrap around her, giving her the warmth she was always looking for.
Note: This is a long one. Sorry. ; Oh dear, look at all the run-on sentences, gigantour paragraphs, stupid title, and suffocating fluff.And I did a semi-high school AU fic. Ack.