The End - Part 3
Tenten loved to train. Training meant indulging in her favourite pastime – the use of weapons. Training meant she could try out new tricks and moves that had been choreographed in her head in the last waking moments of her day, those smooth, precise sequences that travelled into her dreams and haunted her waking moments, tantalizing her with the thought that perhaps they were possible to execute. Not only could she try them out, she could do so in a relatively safe environment. For her, a relatively safe environment meant an environment in which she was most likely not going to be killed by an opponent's attack, allowing her to take risks she normally wouldn't be able to take. Not only could she take these risks, she could spar with one of three very distinguished shinobi in their own right. Each one utilized different techniques, allowing for a greater scope of her understanding of the move she employed.
Team Gai set up training sessions twice a week. Usually Tenten could hardly stand the anticipation of these sessions, as eager as she was to try out her new moves. Today, however, she could barely spare the energy to drag herself out of bed. Not only had she not thought of any new moves or any ways to improve her old ones (she'd been a bit distracted with getting her heart broken and all that), she was about to see Neji.
It wasn't as if she hadn't seen him since the End of Her Life. She'd seen him just two nights ago, actually. It was just that what had happened on that fateful first sighting post-End of Her Life was still befuddling her. His actions that had made her breathless with desire had also made her unable to function from the confusion they wrought.
Had he not told her they were to live separate lives despite their apparent love for each, she would have read his actions as an expression of his feelings, albeit a slightly inappropriate expression. Had he not told her they were to move on and forget about their love, she would have read his actions as possessive. Had he not been on a date of his own, she would have read his actions as a confirmation of his desire to be with her.
All she could really get from the whole breathtaking experience was that Neji had totally contradicted himself and now she had to live with the consequences of that contradiction. He had touched her and teased her and prevented her from possibly finding happiness with another guy (not that Kiba was a real contender, but still), satisfying his apparent need to fulfil all these things.
And what did she get in return? Hours of sexual frustration and the inability to ever consider moving on, at least for now. She hadn't been able to satisfy her need to touch him and tease him and prevent him from ever finding happiness with another girl. He'd walked away scot-free, with another girl, while she suffered.
Now she had to see him again and she had no idea how to act or what to say. She'd planned on thinking about that the previous day, but thanks to his actions that night she had instead spent the time trying to figure out what the hell he had meant by everything he'd done. Now that she had finally figured that out - and had become even more depressed from the outcome of that thinking - she had approximately ten minutes to think about how she should act during training.
Maybe she'd just walk extra slow.
As Tenten walked out her front door, she suddenly had the impulse to beat up Lee for arranging this gods-forsaken training session. She'd planned on avoiding it like she'd avoided every other training session for the past few weeks, but Lee had cornered her at the bar that fated night, demanding her presence with the threat of getting Gai on her case (whoever said Lee was stupid obviously didn't know him very well) and then had later threatened Neji with the same, all with that guileless manner that fooled so, so many.
Yep, Lee was totally going to be her sparring partner, though the thought of sinking a few decisively sharp weapons into Neji's person was also particularly appealing.
She was mad at him, for sure. She was angry he decided he had the right to break it off with her, thoroughly smashing her heart to pieces in the process, decided he could completely contradict his own words with actions that were sure to leave her panting for more, and then walked on off like it wasn't worth a thing.
But underlying all that anger was a distinct feeling of brokenness that she could not shake, effectively diffusing any thoughts of purposefully causing Neji bodily harm. Anger needed energy to keep it going strong. She just didn't have that energy. It seemed not only her heart was broken, but her spirit also. Unlike her heart, she knew that this damage was not irreparable. Someday she would manage to get on with her daily life, even without her heart, but it had only been a week. She'd needed a lot longer than a week to get her spirit back.
As she didn't have the energy to face Neji, sparring with Lee seemed like the more attractive option.
Tenten smiled. Speaking of the devil…
Lee enveloped her in a bone-crushing hug, and for once she did not try to wriggle out of it in vain hope that maybe some of Lee's abounding energy would somehow flow into her. It didn't work. She was only left feeling like she'd been squeezed by a boa constrictor. That boy's appearance was amazingly deceptive.
"Tenten!" Gai called from a few meters away. "It seems as though your youthful flower has wilted petals! Never you mind, our blossom! Your petals will soon be fully invigorated with youth after you have stared into the sunset of life!
Tenten interpreted that garble to mean she looked like crap and she'd feel better after a bit of training. She had become skilled at interpreting Gai and Lee's nonsense.
"Sure thing," she replied none too enthusiastically, all the while refusing to look in the direction she knew Neji was. "Just let me spar with Lee and I'll -"
"Nonsense! Nonsense!" Gai interrupted boisterously. "You will be sparring with the worthy opponent, Neji! I have a special technique that I must teach Lee this glorious morning full of youthful wonder! I know it is the special technique that will finally allow him to blossom into his full youthful potential!"
Tenten felt as though she was falling from mid-air – her stomach dropped to her feet, both of which felt as though they weren't standing on anything anymore. She didn't want to spar with Neji. That would take energy and she didn't have any. That would require prolonged close contact and she didn't have the fortitude to withstand that for such a long period without bursting into tears or doing something equally shameful.
She didn't dare look at him but felt his gaze on her, piercing her like a freshly sharpened kunai. It was already whittling away at her shaky resolve - too much more and she'd be a lump of nothingness on the ground.
Okay. I need to stop this melodramatic crap. I won't get better if I don't stop being a whining puddle of pussy, depressed about everything to do with Neji. Consider this the first step to recovery. I'll focus what little energy I do have left to beating his ass. That should make me feel better!
Resolve set, she lifted her head and stared Neji straight in his eyes, and taking strength from the surprise she saw in them.
"Let's do this."
"Gai-sensei! Gai-sensei! What is this special technique that you are so graciously teaching me this glorious day of youthful training?"
Gai grinned down at his eager student. Lee was always so willing to learn. He reminded him of himself back in the day when he was but a young beast of Konoha, ready to learn what he could, wherever he could, whenever he could. Yet Lee was still so innocent when it came to the ways of the world. He could not let his young protégé venture into a jaded world of conflicting forces of good and evil without a basic knowledge of the basic nature of man.
And every great shinobi knew the basic nature of man was sex.
Every and any conflict, no matter what the circumstance, could be resolved by finding out with whom the bad guy was sleeping. Sex was the cause of and the answer to all the problems of the world. That and power, but sex was a far more basic nature, imbedded deep within every man and woman from birth. Not all mankind wanted power, but all mankind wanted sex.
It was Gai's honourable hope that this exercise would allow Lee to have a greater understand of the problems sex could cause.
"Lee, I have once told you that when a man loves a woman," Gai figured he best start explaining sex on terms that Lee would most likely get. Lee was still too ignorant to understand why a man and a woman would have sex when they didn't love each other, "and when a woman loves a man, they perform a very youthful act that allows their love to blossom like never before."
Lee's wide eyes blinked in wonder, "And what is this most youthful act of love called, Gai-sensei?"
Gai beamed. "Sex."
Lee's mouth formed into an O of awe. "Sex?"
Gai beamed brighter. "That's right, Lee. Sex."
Lee sighed. "Wow…sex."
Gai stroked his chin, revelling in the brilliance that was sex. "Yes, Lee, I see you understand the significance of such an intense youthful act."
"I do, Gai-sensei, I really do!"
Gai was suddenly serious and sombre. "But you see, Lee, with everything good there is something bad. You know this."
"Sometimes this youthful gift can make youthful blossoms wither and die. It is a very sad thing to witness." Gai emphasized this point by dramatically placing his hand over his eyes in despair.
"In order to be a good shinobi, you must understand the good and bad effects this wondrous youthful act can have on the people who engage in it."
"How do I do that, Gai-sensei?" Lee questioned eagerly.
Gai grinned broadly and put his hands on his hips in self-satisfaction. "By observation, Lee!"
Lee gasped in amazement. "And who are we going to observe this glorious day, Gai-sensei?"
Gai's grinned bigger. "Neji and Tenten."
Lee looked as though he might faint from excitement. "Neji and Tenten? Is it possible that they have committed this most youthful of all acts?"
"Yes, Lee, yes it is."
Lee looked lost for words. "Wow…"
"But!" Gai said with a finger raised, Lee's eyes snapped to attention. "Neji and Tenten are most unfortunately suffering from the bad consequences of this most youthful act. You will remember how I observed Tenten's wilted petals not ten minutes ago?"
"I can only conclude that Neji and Tenten have blossomed together and some unforeseen circumstance has prevented them from continuing this blossoming." Gai grew serious once again. "Lee, it seems as though Neji and Tenten have not had sex for some time."
Lee looked horrified, "Oh no…"
"That's right, Lee. It is quite serious indeed. If two people who love each other do not engage in this most youthful act regularly, their newly blossomed petals start to die. I am hoping that through today's observational exercise you will be able to recognized the effects of this abstention and hopefully, if we are lucky, be able to observe Neji and Tenten regain their blossoms together." Lee nodded eagerly. "Now, it is important to understand that this youthful act is very personal, so when it gets close to happening…"
"We must leave?'
"Leave?" Gai laughed. "What would you learn from that? No, we must be extra careful not to be seen! Now as you know, Neji and Tenten are both very highly skilled shinobi, always very aware of their surroundings, so this will also be an excellent way to test your powers of concealment."
"Okay then, Lee, let us depart and witness this blossoming springtime of youth!"
Neji had the distinct feeling that someone was watching him. He hated that feeling and had the impulsive urge to seek out the offender, but unfortunately he could hardly spare the time for the diversion as it would be unwise to do so at that point in time.
Tenten was in fine form. A second's wavering in concentration and she'd cut through his immaculate defences.
She was angry. That much was blatantly obvious. He did not fault her for her anger. He more than deserved it after his actions two nights ago.
Upon reflection, he concluded that his actions had been foolishly impulsive and decidedly inappropriate. What's worse, they completely contradicted the stand he had made that night one week ago when he'd told her they could not be together. Tenten had since suffered the consequences of those contradictions and for that he was immensely ashamed. She deserved so much more than his petty selfishness concerning her attentions. He had told her that she should move on and forget about her love for him, yet as soon as he'd seen evidence of that he'd contradicted himself by preventing that movement.
He obviously didn't want to let her go just yet.
That was just too bad because he had to. He had to follow through, but it was a lot harder than he had originally thought it would be. Even now when she was facing him – proud, defiant, and angry – he wanted to pull her to him and never let her go, no matter how much she or anyone else protested.
Well, he was in little danger of doing that when she prevented him from getting within three meters of her, which was precisely what she was doing now. The majority of her attacks were long range, a fact she was greatly taking advantage of at present. The only problem with this for her was that he had the ability to utilize a wide variety of effective defences, almost impossible to penetrate without superior force.
On the other hand, he could utilize both long range and short range attacks, but he could hardly use his long range attacks without either seriously damaging her or, as was most often the case, facing her easy avoidance of them. With Tenten, his short range attacks and hand-to-hand combat was most effective, but when she constantly bombarded him with attacks, as she frequently did and was doing now, it was extremely hard to find a moment to stop defending and draw her into the hand-to-hand combat with which he was more aptly skilled.
They had been sparring together for years and had ventured across this particular conundrum many a time. They had both long since learned how to penetrate this stalemate, but each penetration of either his defences or her attacks resulted in further defences or attacks that returned them both to the same stalemate. The only result he had discovered to this was to draw her into hand-to-hand combat without leaving her a second to attack with her weapons, which would give her an opportunity to fall back. Once this had been achieved, which was difficult to accomplish in the first place, he had to make sure she stayed in hand-to-hand combat if he wanted to effectively maintain the advantage. That would allow him to disable her chakra flow and consequently acquire the victory.
He knew that Tenten knew exactly what he planned to do each time they sparred, but she had yet to figure out a way to counter his disarming attacks as he used different manoeuvres each time, preventing her from predicting his actions. This was paired with the natural advantage of observation and prediction his Byakugan gave him. Regardless of this, she was very skilled and accustomed to sparring with him so it became more difficult to take the advantage each time they sparred.
Today he was more eager than ever to obtain and maintain that advantage. The faster the battle was over, the sooner he could apologize and endeavour to set things right between them, and the sooner she would be out of the pain he had selfishly inflicted. She deserved no less and so much more than what he had given.
Her next attack came and he deflected it swiftly, his mind continuously working to find a way to penetrate her continuous attacks. As he deflected yet another attack, he noticed in the far corner of his peripheral vision (that corner being behind him when his Byakugan was activated) that this last deflection had caused a miniscule amount of sand to swirl into the air, congruous with his circular motion.
An idea dawned and he silently thanked Naruto for inspiration. No doubt Tenten was expecting his penetration of her attacks to be an intricate and complicate sequence, all of which she would be more than prepared to counter, but by using a simple attack he could take her by surprise and take the advantage. So with his next deflection he made sure he spun backwards slightly so he was directly over the patch of dirt. Therefore, with the next deflection, which came seconds after, he could create a Shadow Clone without Tenten's detection. Then, by further distracting her with a well-placed long-range attack, he could place the clone in the centre of the whirlwind of sand surrounding them and position himself behind her, waiting for the retreat she would have to allow in order to avoid his latest long range attack.
As she flipped back and simultaneously deployed another weapons attack to counter his distraction, he created another Shadow Clone to attack her from her left, allowing her to notice that one and destroy it, then destroy the clone where he had previously been before attacking her from her right. By the time she had destroyed the two clones and realized he was coming from her right, he was inches away and she barely blocked his hand in time.
He had successfully drawn her into hand-to-hand combat. He had obtained the advantage. Now he had to maintain it, which was a bit more complicated. It required his full attention.
What he had been unable to predict was the reaction he had to her closeness. As their bodies danced around each other in a flurry of arms and legs and motion, her scent would drift past his nose and their shoulders would brush and their breath would mingle, all miniscule occurrences running together to provide one massive distraction that was Tenten.
Suddenly the fight wasn't just about winning - it was about his ability to conquer his feelings for her. It was as though conquering the distractions was akin to conquering his inability to let her go. If he could resist now, he could resist tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day, and so on until he no longer needed to resist anymore.
If that was even possible.
That move had been good; she'd give him that. She'd been expecting something intricate and complicated to disarm her, but it was surprising simplicity that had caught her off guard. He'd known what she'd been expecting and had countered that, which was annoying. She should have known he'd know what she was thinking and countered that herself. Stupid.
Well, nothing to be done for it now. They were in hand-to-hand combat and he had the natural and tactical advantage. He was stronger than her, therefore she took his blows harder and he took hers easier. He had the Byakugan, which meant he could predict her moves in a way she could never hope to predict his. Also, just one finger he may manage to lay on her body could render that section useless for the remainder of the battle. He didn't need the further advantage that would present him as well as all the others, which were more than enough to overpower her on their own.
The only thing for her to do now would be to escape the short range and move back to middle range so she would still be close enough to penetrate his defences and far away enough to utilize an attack. She'd never accomplished this before. It was so frustrating knowing what needed to be done but being unable to do it. Neji knew what she had to do so therefore he knew how to prevent it from happening. Each battle they'd fought had resulted in her defeat because of this, which resulted in him striking the final blow and overpowering her completely.
So she had all this to contend with. That was plenty hard enough. But today…today she also had to deal with the man himself and the distraction his nearness was providing.
Until now, she'd been fine. She'd directed every emotion she had – bad or otherwise – into the fight, allowing that intense spiral of emotion to fuel her every attack, keeping her mind clear to focus on strategy and execution. Now the stakes had changed. With each brush of her body against his, a new wave of misplaced emotion washed over her, blanking out her mind for a precious few seconds, which she could have otherwise used to figure out a plan of extraction from her current detrimental position.
She needed to conquer this. Conquering the effect his nearness wrought would concurrently conquer the situation as a whole. As it was, she was amazed he hadn't yet broken through her blocks and disabled her.
Could he possibly be as distracted as her? Seeking answers, Tenten looked into his eyes as they spun past each other and saw nothing but fierce determination in their pearly depths.
Well, if he could be determined, so could she. Vigour renewed, she spun and brought her hand down towards his face, which he blocked with his left hand and retaliated by bringing his right hand towards her neck in an attempted to disable her from there down. She blocked this with her own right hand, seconds before noticing his left hand coming swiftly towards her face, which she blocked at the last second with her left hand. Too late did she realize her mistake. In this position he could more than easily bring his hand to the major chakra point on her stomach, effectively disabling the chakra flow to her whole body, and even if she did the only thing she could do fast enough to stop this, which was bring her crossed arms down to stop his progress, he could both disable a chakra point in one of her arms and with his other hand, sequentially free of blockage, resume its course to her neck, and disable her from that point as well.
She looked up in horror, anticipating his final attack. Her arms were still crossed over her face and his right hand was in the midst of its journey to the chakra point in her stomach, but it had stopped mid-way as their eyes caught and the whole world stopped moving, stopped being.
The atmosphere shifted instantly. Previously it had been charged with the electricity of determination and the desire to win. Now it was charged with a different sort of determination and a different sort of desire.
Tenten suddenly became very aware of her heart thumping erratically against her ribcage and vaguely thought to herself, so it's there after all…
At least that thought was comforting when all else stood on a precipice, needing just one nudge in the wrong direction to make everything fall. Just one nudge and her determination and resolve to conquer this, conquer him, would be either shattered or fortified.
Despite the cease of action, her heavy breathing did not abate, as neither did his. Both of them were standing there, staring into each other's eyes with a mixture of anticipation and trepidation, waiting for something, anything, to happen which could ruin them both. The wait was driving her insane, and yet she did not want to be the one to make the first move because she didn't know what move she wanted to make. She could determine the way she was nudged, but she didn't yet know which way she wanted to fall.
As indecision plagued her, she noticed something flicker in Neji's eyes. He'd come to his decision.
Tenten waited with bated breath, any thought of battle and fighting long dissolved in the face of this electrifying mixture of anticipation and trepidation – anticipation to see what he would do, what he would choose; trepidation of the consequences that decision would produce.
Her breath caught and her heartbeat stuttered as one hand captured her conjoined wrists and lowered them, while his other hand that had previously rested on her stomach snaked around to the small of her back, exerting a slight pressure that she felt with every module of her being. The space between their eyes sparked with a new heat as he lowered his face, and it came closer and closer…
She knew what was coming. She didn't know what she wanted to do about it. No, she knew what she wanted. She wanted to accept all of him, but she knew she shouldn't. The question was whether she had the strength to do what she must.
Those few seconds had been the most agonizing of his life. He knew what he must do. He must pull away, creating a safe distance between them, and then walk away, allowing her to do what he'd told her to do – move on.
But he couldn't. He just couldn't.
He was disgusted by his own weakness and yet he couldn't do a thing to stop his body from moving towards her, of his hand on the small of her back pushing her body against his, and the other on her wrist moving up to slide along her cheek as he brought his lips closer. He felt her indecision and hated that she could still resist when he'd lost his determination what seemed like an eternity ago.
Her eyes fluttered shut with the next inch he gained and he could feel her resistance abate. Their lips were now only centimetres apart and the distance was killing him slowly. He finally understood what the phrase so close, yet so far truly meant.
He felt her hands move through the air and suppressed a shiver as they settled on his back. Then he let out a grunt of extreme discomfort when she…
Kneed him in the groin.
His hands sought out the area of pain, as if by doing so he could stop the hurting. Not too likely. He sunk to the ground and gasped as he tried to recover from the unexpected blow. He opened his clenched eyes long enough to see Tenten turn around and take a step to walk away.
She was not going to get away with this.
He managed to ignore his pain long enough to reach and take hold of her ankle. Fortunately the unanticipated hindrance to her movement brought her crashing to the ground.
She hadn't planned on kneeing Neji in the groin. Not really. But there was only so much you could do when you were that physically close to someone and she figured that it was the most sure-fire way to completely disable him.
She was mostly right. She hadn't anticipated the ankle-grab.
So she was on the ground, like he was, and he still wasn't letting go of her ankle.
What pity she previously would have felt for his unfortunate plight now dissolved into intense frustration. He'd had his answer – she'd made it more than clear – but he still wouldn't let her go!
It'd been close, far too close. He'd been far too close. She'd almost fallen off the precipice, but a random sliver of sense had run through her brain at the last second, reminding her of the pain and confusion she'd felt the last time she'd let him contradict himself. It wasn't that she didn't want him; that desire was still there in full force. No, she'd just been acting out of self-defence, the most basic of human instincts.
And he wouldn't bloody let her go and wallow in loneliness in peace!
"What?" she demanded as she tried to kick out of his grasp.
Neji glared, still somehow managing to condescend to her even though he was covered in dust and holding his balls, which was extremely annoying. "You just kneed me in the groin and 'what' is all you have to say about it?"
She tried kicking out again, but his iron grip only tightened. "Oh, stop complaining! You deserved it!"
He was obviously taken aback in surprise. "I beg your pardon?"
She sighed in frustration. "You can have all the pardon you like, but that doesn't change the fact that you forced yourself on me."
Neji looked impossibly affronted by this accusation. "I did no such thing." Then his gaze turned arrogant. "I believe you were receptive."
Tenten scoffed. "Yeah, up until the point when I kneed you in the groin." Neji's gaze darkened but she refused to take notice. "Now if you wouldn't mind, could you please let go of my ankle so I can go home and proceed to continue my life without you."
Tenten's eyes shot to his, meeting with that same fierce determination she'd encountered during their battle only minutes ago.
"No? What do you mean no?"
Neji pulled her towards him, causing her to squeak in protest as she was unceremoniously dragged across the ground.
He gazed directly into her eyes, more serious than she had ever seen him. "I mean no."
A thrill passed over Tenten's body before she regained her sense, what little of it there was. "Who said you could dictate the terms between us?" she asked in a whisper, unable to trust her voice with more. "Why are you the only one exempt from the rules?"
Neji clenched his jaw. "What rules?"
"The rules of our love!" Tenten exclaimed even as her voice broke on the last word. She felt the tears burning in her eyes and clogging up her throat and hated them for it. It showed her vulnerability when she didn't want any.
Neji just stared, seemingly unable to formulate a response.
"You say we can't be together, that I should move on, and then you do everything to stop me from doing that! And just now as I finally get the resolve to stop you from contradicting yourself again, you won't let me! What is it that you want, Neji? Because your words are saying one thing, but your actions are saying something completely different."
Tenten rose to her knees, put her hands on either side of Neji's face, and stared deep into his eyes. "Neji, I want to be with you no matter what the circumstances. Just tell me what you want and I will oblige, even if that means I have to let you go. But if I have to let you go, you have to do the same with me. You can't have it both ways. My heart can't handle that. It's either everything or nothing."
She looked down and took a deep breath, steadying her resolve for the risk she was about to take, and then raised her eyes to his once again.
It was the sight of Tenten's tears that brought him back to the realm of common sense. He'd hurt her more than he'd realized and would have done so again if she hadn't stopped him. He had no right to be angry with her. Every word she'd spoken was the truth. He had to abide by the unwritten rules that he himself had set between them.
And now she was giving him a chance to change those rules, to have her, to be with her. She was giving him that chance, even after he'd rejected that chance once before.
Throughout the entirety of his life he couldn't remember a time when he'd ever so fervently wished he was not of the Hyuga clan. With matters concerning his Father, he'd only wished he were of the main branch instead of second. Now he wished he was not of the clan, of any clan, whatsoever. He wished he were free to be with Tenten.
But he wasn't.
He laid his hands over hers and drew them away from his face. Her face fell and he almost gave in at the sight.
"Tenten, I would give anything to be with you, but all that I have to give is not mine to do so. It is not up to me to give it away. Were I but a free man, deserving of your love –"
Tenten grabbed his hand in hers and pulled it towards her chest, tears falling down her pale cheeks. "Neji, you are. You are!"
Neji shook his head, withdrew his hand from hers and used it to wipe her tears away. "It hardly signifies either way, as I am not a free man."
He stood up and she followed suit. "I apologize for any pain I have caused you out of my own selfish desire to monopolize your attentions. You are free to love whomever you wish. Know that I will endeavour to never let such happen again."
A sob broke free from Tenten's throat. "No…"
Tenten felt frozen as she watched the man she loved walk away forever. Surely this couldn't be it? How could it be possible that two people in love were not allowed to be together? That was not how love was supposed to work! Love was supposed to bring two people together, not tear them apart!
With each step he took, another piece of herself died. And here she'd thought she'd already had nothing left.
Without another thought to what she had lost or what she was supposed to do, her feet started running, each step bringing her closer to him, and when she got there she threw her arms around him, pressing her face in into his back, wetting his clothes with her tears.
She felt him stiffen underneath her embrace, indecision wracking his body. She knew she was breaking the rules that he'd just set, but she didn't care. Was this what he had felt like? If so, she was no longer mad. In fact, he could break the rules whenever he liked. That was better than nothing at all.
His hands grasped hers and disconnected them from his body, but before he moved away she could have sworn she felt something wet and warm land on her skin.
As he started to walk away once more she looked down at her hand. Resting on it was one, single tear.
Unknown to Neji and Tenten were the two spectators crouching in the bushes, their otherwise ostentatious green spandex suits now allowing them to flawlessly blend in with their leafy surroundings.
"Well, Lee," Gai started as he saw Tenten begin to walk home, "what do you make of that?"
One look at Lee revealed him to be staring open-mouthed at the spot Tenten just vacated. "Gai-sensei! I had no idea sex was so emotional!"
Gai chuckled in amusement. "They didn't have sex, Lee. What we witnessed were the effects of sex. That youthful act is something that surpasses mere words! Lee, once you understand what sex really is you will never see the world the same. Each sunset is brighter than the last, each blossom blooms a little bigger. It will change your life, Lee."
Lee's eyes widened immeasurably. "So…so…if that wasn't sex, then what is? What does it look like?"
Gai chuckled again and ruffled Lee's hair. "Ah, Lee - my eager, young student. You have much to learn, much to experience. I remember when I was so innocent of the world, such as you are right now. But do not fear, my protégé! When the time is right, I will…"
"…Let you read one of Kakashi's books!"
Something had happened between Neji and Tenten. That much was unmistakable. But what? She had no way of helping the situation if she didn't know what the problem was. There was no way she could ask Neji. He hadn't been out of his room all afternoon, but the look on his face as he had come home had almost broken her heart. She hated seeing such a look on pain on her dear cousin's face. And if she had seen correctly, which she always did, those had been tear streaks down his face. Through all her eighteen (almost nineteen!) years of knowing Neji, she had never seen him cry. The closest time would be when his father died, but he was a boy then and she even younger, so the memory was blurred with time.
If Neji had that kind of look, what kind of look did Tenten have? What pain was she also suffering as a result of whatever had occurred between them? She didn't have to think much to wager a guess as to what the root of their problems was: the clan. Its rules and restrictions were suffocating Neji and Tenten's love and she'd be damned if she sat by and watched Neji's only chance for happiness pass on by because of some stupid, ancient law that wasn't even relevant in modern society!
Neji and Tenten deserved each other and they both deserved an equal chance at happiness. If that could only be found in each other, then she'd damn well make sure they had that even if she had to go against her father's wishes! She'd always rebelled against her father's wishes in her heart and mind, maybe now was the time to defy him openly.
A part of her – a large part of her – was terrified at the thought of his wrath, but she took strength in the possibility of Neji and Tenten's happiness.
With this thought guiding her heart, Hyuga Hinata went to the library in search of a loophole.
She couldn't go home. Home meant watching sad movies, eating bulk amounts of ice cream, and feeling sorry for herself. She'd done enough of that. It was just that…well…she was restless. She felt like she needed to do something, but didn't quite know what that something was supposed to be. It was an important something, rolling around her in stomach like bad ramen and tightening her chest like one of Lee's hugs. Her breath was quickening and her palms were getting clammy.
Ino would know what she had to do. Ino had provided her with good advice to this point (well, some of the time anyway) and it wasn't like she had anyone else to go to. Hinata was another option, but she would be at the Hyuga residence at this time of night. Hyuga residence equalled unacceptable. Even if she didn't tell Ino about what had happened that morning, just going there to hang out was better than wandering around aimlessly, which was what she had been doing all day. Besides, she heard thunder.
And then it was raining. Heavily.
Well isn't this just wonderful.
There was no debate about it now. She was going to Ino's house.
Unfortunately by the time she got there she was soaked to the skin and felt as though she was suffering from hypothermia, or at least frostbite, over her whole body.
She knocked. No answer. She knocked again. Still no answer. Then she knocked again and…
Apparently Ino was not in a good mood. Were it any other day Tenten would have turned around by that point. As it was, she was wet and cold and surprisingly still restless. It just wouldn't bloody go away.
"Can I please come in?" she asked as nicely as possible.
Ino didn't look impressed. "You can't just show up unexpectedly on someone's doorstep and expect them to let you in at your convenience. People say it's rude if you don't, but I say screw them. It's rude of people to show up without warning anyway. I could look like crap right now!"
"But you don't."
Pause. "True, but what if I was entertaining someone?"
"You live with your parents. Who could you possibly be entertaining?"
"And I'm kind of really cold and wet so I would really appreciate it if I could, you know, just come in. I'll just stand inside the doorway if you want."
Ino glared at her, "Who do you think I am, some inhospitable bitch that doesn't let friends in the house? What are you waiting for? Come in!"
Tenten didn't even bother to point out the contradiction, as grateful as she was to be somewhere dry.
Ino looked her over in disgust. "You look like a wet cat. Gross. Take those clothes off and I'll give you some of my clothes to wear while they dry off in front of the fire. Come on."
After a (pointless) argument about the clothes she was going to change into and whether or not she should take her hair down (she did), Tenten joined Ino on a chair in front of the blazing fire.
She was warm, she was mostly dry, she was out of the rain, and yet she was still restless. That pressure on her chest and that rolling of her stomach required movement. But what movement? What was she supposed to do? Whatever it was, just sitting there was killing her.
"I guess you have something on your mind," Ino observed.
Without a moment's hesitation, Tenten proceeded to relate the events of that morning. As she spoke them aloud in sequence, she couldn't help but feel emotionally detached from the otherwise emotionally trying experience, as though her mind and her heart were telling her she needed to see something and act on it, but she couldn't place it.
"So let me get this straight. Neji almost gave into his baser instincts, for once choosing them over his insufferable rationality, and you rejected him on principle."
"No, I rejected them out of self-defence."
Ino looked at her.
"Okay and maybe a little principle. I was pissed."
"And then he doesn't let you reject him, which is, once again, very uncharacteristic. And then you try to reject him again, but as you do, you end up offering an alternative course of action instead."
Tenten thought for a moment. "Yeah, I guess that is what I did."
Tenten sighed impatiently. "Yes, then…"
Ino shook her head in bewilderment. "I'm sorry; I'm just trying to get my head around the idiocy of your actions!"
"Then," Ino punctuated, "you give him the choice whether or not to accept this new offer - this new offer being whether or not you recognize your love for each other and get together like you should."
"Then! He decides he's going to change his mind again and reject it!" Ino huffed. "So then you are the one who ends up getting rejected again!"
Pause. "Yep…that sounds about right."
Ino exhaled in exasperation. "Tenten! Are you not seeing what I'm seeing?"
The something in Tenten's chest began tightened around her heart, constricting it, constricting it…"What? What don't I see?"
"Each time your love has been rejected it's because Neji decided he wanted to reject it!" Ino exclaimed.
The pressure was almost unbearable now… "I'm not seeing the significance."
Now Ino stood up and huffed and made noises of disgust and waved her hands around. "Why does he always get to decide, huh? Who gave him the power to decide matters of the heart? Love is not something that logic can just decide to live without! It's illogical! Love is illogical; therefore, logic has no power over it!"
Tenten could hardly breathe now. "I…I think I'm seeing it…"
Ino was waving her hands even more enthusiastically now. "Your love has been rejected every time because Neji decided that loving you was an illogical decision, so using his logic, he made the choice to reject it. However, that in itself is illogical because love is illogical – it does not come under the power of logic – so therefore, he is wrong!"
Now her heart was beating so fast and erratically she feared it would break past its cage and free itself of the restrictions of her body to go and do what she was supposed to.
"He's wrong…" she whispered, disbelieving the idea yet marvelling at the sense of it, "He's wrong."
Tenten sunk down on the chair behind her and Ino kneeled in front of her. "Tenten, you need to tell him he's wrong, make him see the logic in loving you. It is so obvious that both of you are absolutely miserable denying this love, therefore how could it possibly be logical to disallow it from being?"
She was breathing faster now, her mind grappling for a hook to sink itself into, a way of anchoring to something concrete, familiar. "But the clan…"
"Stuff the clan!" Ino exclaimed as she stood up and began pacing. "The clan is as wrong as Neji! Who in the hell gave that stuffy institution of out-of-date rules the power to deny love? Huh? Who? If anyone did, I'd like to meet them and tell them to shove those stupid rules where they belong – up their ass! That is, if they can get past the five-foot pole already stuck up there!"
Tenten laughed, amazed at the idea the clan could be wrong. It was so…so simple that she couldn't believe she'd never seen it until now. Ino was right. The clan was no infallible organization and no power from above had ever given it permission to decide who should love whom, nor had they the power to deny what should be – and she knew with everything she was that she and Neji should be.
"So the clan is wrong. Neji is wrong." Then her elation died. "But the rules still exist. No one gave them the power to make rules denying people's love, but they are there all the same and Neji is still bound by them. How do I get around those?"
Ino threw her hands above her head in disbelief. "Tenten! Were you even listening to a word I said?"
"Then what did I just say?"
"You were going to stick a five-foot pole up someone's ass?" Tenten guessed.
Ino thought for a moment. "Close…but no. Stuff the clan! Stuff the clan!"
"Stuff the clan…."
"Yes! Exactly! If the clan doesn't have the power to make rules against love then those rules are farces! They don't exist! If they don't exist, Neji isn't bound by them!"
Tenten pursued her lips in thought. "I have a feeling Neji won't agree."
"Then convince him, for goodness sake!" Ino yelled. "Make him believe they don't exist! You're just doing what you've done every other time! You're giving him the power to decide. Don't! This time you're going to decide and you're damn well not taking no for an answer!"
Her heart started beating erratically again, pounding and pounding and pounding… "Stuff the clan."
"That's it, Tenten! Stuff the clan!" Ino egged on.
"Stuff the clan!" Tenten exclaimed as she stood to her feet.
"Come on, now! Put a bit more fire into it!"
"Stuff the clan!" Tenten shouted.
"Girls, what in the world are you yelling about? What exactly are you stuffing?"
Tenten blushed furiously as she saw Ino's mother standing in the doorway with her arms crossed and a bemused expression on her face.
Ino didn't have the decency to look even slightly abashed. "We're yelling 'stuff the clan'. It's Tenten's spirit-building chant - very important stuff."
Ino's mother raised a brow in disbelief. "Yes, well, can you spirit-build a bit more quietly? Your father is trying to sleep."
Now Ino had the decency to look abashed. "Sorry, Mother."
"Sorry, Yamanaka-san," Tenten chimed in for good measure.
As soon as Ino's mother shut the door, Ino turned to her with excitement lighting up her eyes. "Okay, so first thing tomorrow you're going to march up to the compound of hell – right up to the enemy's gate – and you're going to demand to see Neji and you're going to tell him 'Stuff the clan!' and you sure as hell are not leaving without him!"
Tenten shook her head in disagreement - the pounding of her heart and the tightening of her chest and the rolling of her stomach were getting more and more insistent… "I can't wait for tomorrow. I'm going now."
Ino's eyes widened. "Are you crazy? You can't go now! It's raining! And there's, like, thunder and lightning and…come on, Tenten! You can stuff the clan in the morning, when you'll be dry and somewhat presentable!"
Tenten shook her head again, more emphatically this time. "No, I'm going now." Her feet were beginning to move of their own accord; her breathing was starting to increase without cause. "I'm going now." Her heart wasn't waiting any longer than it already had had to.
Too long, it was whispering, over and over… too long…
It had waited too long for her to buck up and realize what should be happening here and now that she saw, it wasn't going to wait for a little rain to lighten up or a little thunder to fade away. No, such things were insignificant in the face of what she could gain.
And then she was running, and Ino was yelling after her, but she couldn't make out the sound over the blood thumping in her ears in perfect sync with the beating of her feet on the pavement, and her legs just seemed to know where to take her, even though her eyes were blinded with the pouring rain that somehow couldn't cool the fever that had taken hold of her, that all-consuming fire of sweet anticipation that was burning up all her inhibitions and doubts. This was it. This was it.
And then after a moment, after a lifetime, she was there and knocking on the door, but the formidable residence no longer held the trepidation it once did, it no longer slowed her steps or made her concrete resolve waver. The grandeur no longer intimidated and the restrictions it represented no longer held her captive under their oppressive weight of expectation.
But the man who opened the door did.
As his cold, white eyes bore holes into her steely resolve, trepidation crept up on her, intimidation began to drown her along with the stinging rain, and the oppressive restrictions all came crashing down on her, suffocating her. He represented everything she was up against…and it terrified her. Never had she felt more inadequate, so far below disregard. And all of this with one single look.
Suddenly, she was very cold.
In hindsight, it probably would have been better to wear some shoes.
Neji was restless, insufferably so. Why? Nothing had looked right, sounded right nor been right since he'd walked away from Tenten that morning. Why? It was like his world had been encased in a blur, everything running together to form one big pool of insignificance. Why? What was he supposed to be doing?
The last time he'd walked away from her, rejected her love, he'd been thrown into a cesspool of pain and misery, every day without her he'd drowned a little more. This time, it was worse. Nothing was right. Even pain and misery had their place, but now it was as though he were numb and misplaced in his surroundings. Numb was not the tingling of nerves when you're foot fell asleep. It wasn't the inability to move an appendage. Numb was the absence of feeling and it wasn't right.
He needed to move. He stood up and paced around his bedroom to no avail. He didn't just need to move, he needed to do something.
"What are you doing here? And without any shoes on, no less."
Yep, it really would have been a good idea to put some shoes on.
"I am very sorry for disturbing you, Lord Hiashi," Tenten murmured, not caring if he couldn't hear her over the rain that was belting down on her body. She was so wet it felt as though she were soaked from under her skin.
"As well you should be. Do you know how unseemly it is of a young woman to be out at these hours? And without shoes on, no less," he condescended.
I think we've already covered the 'no shoes' thing. Could we please move on?
"You would never catch a member of the Hyuga clan demeaning themselves in such a degrading manner. You should be ashamed," he continued ruthlessly.
I'm not part of the clan so screw you, buddy. I can do what I want!
"Furthermore, it is plain foolishness to expose oneself to such harsh elements of nature. One can acquire all sorts of diseases and infections from such impulsive behaviour."
Then let me come inside, dickface.
"This shows a careless treatment of a shinobi's greatest weapon – their body. Do you really take your sacred duty so lightly as to risk your greatest weapon so flippantly?"
Right now my only sacred duty is to kick your ass!
"And yet you have the nerve to present yourself, here, now, to me?"
The only thing I'm going to present to you is my fist as it comes towards your face!
Why couldn't she speak? The fire was there, but it was trapped inside her frozen body and that fire was dying with every word Hiashi spoke. Suddenly 'Stuff the clan!' wasn't cutting it anymore.
"Yes? Do you have something to say? Some possible explanation to explain your untimely and unwelcomed appearance? Well, do go on."
Tenten took a deep breath and attempted to make some sense, "I need to talk to Neji. It is urgent."
Hiashi's eyes turned colder than her almost-frostbitten feet. "The last time you came here, as untimely and unwelcomed as you are now, you said the matter was urgent. What could possibly be urgent this time?"
Tenten held back the tears of frustration that burned in her eyes. "You don't understand…"
Hiashi's shoulders straightened and his chin rose just a little higher and his eyes seemed to chill a just a few more degrees and his voice condescended. "I don't understand? I disagree. Let me tell you just how much I understand."
He braced one hand on the doorframe and brought himself to her eye-level, boring into her chocolate eyes as though he could burn holes through them and out the back of her head.
It felt like it was working.
"You're in love with my nephew. Your last visit here made that unfortunate fact excruciatingly clear. And my nephew, as talented and bright as he is, seemed to have made a brief lapse in judgment. Somehow he has deluded himself into thinking he loves you. How laughable, as though a young man of Neji's pedigree, talent, skill, class, prestige and heritage could love a nameless, forgettable girl such as yourself. Fortunately for Neji, this lapse in judgment has been dually addressed and rectified. Therefore, your presence is no longer needed here."
Shame burned Tenten's cold face. "You may have thought you have 'rectified' the situation, but Neji loves me. I know he does. I saw it just this morning, in fact."
"What you witnessed was nothing but your own pathetic delusions. Even if Neji himself is still caught up in this childish infatuation, it matters not. With time it will fade. He will never leave the clan to be with the likes of you. Neji is the embodiment of the values and ideals the clan has upheld since its time of establishment. Neji is the clan." Hiashi smirked, a replica of the one Neji so often gave her, which made it even more painful to witness - it was a reminder of how right Hiashi was, how embedded Neji's identity was in the clan and the people within it. "If you think that I am going to let you tear his identity away from him, you are unbelievably mistaken. I will not allow the nephew I care so much about to be ruined by an illogical infatuation of youth. He may not understand it now, but with full maturity he will see the wisdom – the logic – of my actions. You know this as well as I. So why are you still here?"
The tears that had burned her eyes now burned her cheeks as they fell, as her heart seemed to contract and falter and her stomach imploded and her body began to shake. It didn't matter if Neji believed in their illogical love – they would never let him go. Even if he wanted to go, who was she to take away his identity? Who gave love the power to take away someone's identity? Their love was right, but it would be wrong if her selfishness clouded its true intentions.
Defeated, dejected, Tenten raised her eyes to meet the fate she had chosen. "Okay, you win. I will leave Neji alone. But know this – I will always love him. Always. Nothing you say or do to me or to anyone else will ever change that."
With those final words, her fate was sealed and she turned to walk away into the life that it would bring.
She had to find him. She had to find him. The knowledge she held meant liberation for both he and Tenten!
As Hinata ran through the winding corridors and past the uniform doors of the Hyuga residence, she wished her legs could propel her faster towards her goal. Any second might be too late and all she had worked for, all Neji and Tenten deserved, would be lost.
She'd seen her father with Tenten and she'd seen the look on Tenten's face. She, more than anyone, knew the effects of her father's powerful gift of persuasion and intimidation…and manipulation. No doubt at that very instant he was making Tenten feel like the lowest insect ever to crawl the earth, or maybe he was onto the next phase, which was 'kick 'em while they're wounded', or maybe – and she prayed it was not so – he was at the point when he delivered his final blow: making the victim feel bad for not doing what he wanted so then they'd volunteer to do just that. That got everyone, her especially. It was even worse for Tenten because Tenten loved Neji, so therefore she'd be willing to do almost anything to keep him from what she thought would hurt him.
She loved her father despite his numerous shortcomings, and she knew he meant well, but he didn't understand that disallowing Neji's love would cause more pain than allowing it would. Her father may think that Neji will only be in pain for a short while, but he was wrong. It wouldn't end. It would destroy his life and she was not going to let that happen. Besides, her father may be the head of the clan, but he was not a god. He had no right to decide who could love whom simply because he thought it best. He was not infallible and it was time he realized that.
She knew he cared for Neji deeply. She'd just have to appeal to that area…maybe that would soften his resolve somewhat…
But first, she had to find Neji. It was imperative that he know what she did. Maybe that would give him the push he needed to realize that he couldn't live without Tenten.
Neji was about to leave his room when Hinata burst through the door, out-of-breath and panting like she was about to die.
"Hinata, what's wrong?" he asked, alarmed at the state of her. He hadn't seen Hinata so worked up, ever.
Neji rushed forward and grabbed her forearms. "What? What about Tenten?"
Hinata held up a finger and he reluctantly let go, impatiently waiting for her to regain her breath. He paced to the other side of the room, so intent was his need to do something.
It seemed like a couple of millenniums had passed before she could speak.
"I saw Tenten," she started, still gasping for breath.
His head whipped around to face her. "When? Today? What time?"
Hinata rest her hands on her knees. "A few minutes ago, actually."
Neji rushed over to her. "What? What was she doing?"
"Talking," she paused, "to father."
Neji's stomach lurched at the implications those words presented. Tenten was here – at his house – talking to his uncle. His uncle knew she loved him. His uncle didn't want her to love him. His uncle didn't want him to love her. His uncle wanted him to marry someone else. His uncle would make sure Tenten was separated from him for the rest of his days.
His heart started pounding against his ribcage as if it had somewhere to go, something to do, and it was just waiting and waiting for him to get on board and take it there.
Hinata grasped his hands and held them between her own, imploring him, imploring him. "Neji, Tenten loves you. She really loves you. Why are you keeping yourself from happiness for the sake of the clan? Why are you separating yourself from her for the clan? It is the single most stupid thing I have ever heard!"
And then it dawned on him. That was stupid, so stupid he wondered that he hadn't seen just how stupid before. He needed Tenten far more than he needed the clan, far more than he had ever needed the clan. The clan was his identity, but Tenten had his heart and he needed his heart a lot more than he needed his identity. He could find another damn identity with her, an identity that was his own and did not belong to anyone else. He could finally become his own man, worthy of her love.
"Where is she?"
Hinata's smile could have outshone the sun. "At the front door. You better hurry. Father could have driven her off by now!"
He took his cousin's face between his hands and kissed her on the forehead, more affection than he'd ever shown her before, not giving a damn about it. "Thank you."
But before he could race out the door and to the woman he loved, a hand on his arm prevented his movement.
She was beaming. "One more thing. There are no laws bounding you to marriage within the clan."
That stopped him.
"Neji, you don't have to marry within the clan! Secondary branch members are free to marry whomever they wish! It is only the main branch that has to preserve the lineage! Everyone these days just assumes everyone has to marry in the clan because everyone does anyway. But I researched for hours and hours and didn't find one single law that contradicted this one! Neji…you're free!"
A lightness that he had never before experienced settled on his chest. Was this what freedom felt like? He'd peruse that feeling later, after he'd secured his future with the woman he loved.
Hiashi watched until the girl could no longer been seen, and then he watched some more – just in case she needed a second helping. He was certain his words had had the desired effect. Her body language had certainly indicated as much, but infatuation was a foolish emotion and could affect the bearer in strange ways, embed in their minds ridiculous notions of bravery and the idea that they could overstep the boundaries that made them who they were. These foolish notions and ideals had to be destroyed as quickly as possible so they would no longer infect the host.
He'd probably done that girl a favour, though she would have no idea (the ungrateful thing). By preventing the unequal union between her and his nephew, he was preventing her inevitable future heartbreak when Neji realized the different between them was a gap too wide to overcome with an emotion as foolish as love and left her for the destiny he should have recognized as belonging to him from the beginning. He had hoped that Neji would have recognized this destiny earlier, but emotion had an unseemly way of clouding logic. When his nephew's logic was so obviously clouded, it was the responsibility of those whose eyes were still clear to lead them back onto the right path, regardless of their say in the matter.
He cared too much about Neji's future to let him sabotage it with youthful lusts that would amount to insignificance in the fires of time and experience. One day – though he was not sure when this day would come – Neji would thank him.
"Where is she?" Neji asked as soon as he reached Hiashi, who was standing erectly at the threshold of the residence, looking far too pleased with himself for Neji to feel anything close to ease.
Hiashi did not register surprise at his sudden appearance. "I assume you are referring to your unfortunate teammate? Who notified you to her presence?"
"That is irrelevant. Tell me what you did to her," Neji demanded.
Hiashi turned to him, his eyes harder than granite. "All I did was allow her to see the truth."
Neji gritted his teeth as despair gripped his heart. "And what truth would that be, uncle?"
"The truth that any emotion spared between the two of you was pointless and would soon develop into nothingness, and that any attempt of hers to separate you from who you are was pure selfishness."
Neji felt a beast rising in his chest, a beast that roared and clawed at the insides of his chest and felt suspiciously like furious indignation. "And she believed you."
Hiashi blinked. "Why shouldn't she? The truth shall make itself known even in the direst of circumstances."
"Excuse me?" He could say little else past the roaring of blood in his ears.
"She saw the truth because it was the truth," Hiashi clarified, though he well knew Neji had understood him the first time.
"That is not the truth," Neji bit out through clenched teeth.
Hiashi put a hand on his shoulder in what was supposed to be a gesture of comfort. The raging beast inside him roared in protest.
"I do not expect you to be able to see the truth in your current state, clouded by emotion as you are. It is my job as your guardian and superior to take the right course of action while you are unable to do so."
"You have no right," Neji stated, feeling the truth of those words with every part of his being.
"I know you'll be angry with me for a while, Neji, but one day you will see the logic of my actions," Hiashi countered gently.
Neji roughly brushed off Hiashi's comforting hand. "To hell with logic. If living by logic means I'm miserable, then I don't want it. What is so logical about denying my heart what it needs, anyway?" He laughed humourlessly. "Well, then I guess I am living by logic after all - just not yours."
Hiashi shook his head. "I don't expect you to understand…"
"No," Neji interrupted. "I don't expect you to understand when you have never known love. How can you understand when you haven't felt the way it rips apart your insides when you deny it? Your advice in inadequate because you don't understand. Therefore you're logic is inadequate also."
Now Hiashi's eyes flashed in anger, the first emotion Neji had seen in them for a long time.
"You are defying me?"
Neji set his jaw. "I am."
"What about your commitment to the clan? Are you going to go against the promise you made, the oath you swore?" Hiashi challenged.
Neji straightened his shoulders. "No, I'm not because there is no such law binding me to marriage within the clan and you well know it. It is only your ambitions for my future that are binding me, no more."
Hiashi shook his head. "The law of the clan has never bound you, Neji. It doesn't need to. I said this to that girl because it was the truth and I will say it to you for the same reason. Your identity is etched within the deepest recesses of what makes a Hyuga. You are the clan. You are a Hyuga. By aligning yourself with this girl, you are denying yourself the destiny that belongs to you – the destiny that can only be found in the clan. What is your decision, Neji?" Hiashi demanded, as he looked his nephew square in the eyes identical to his own. "Are you going to give this all up for her?"
He didn't like the way Hiashi said her, like Tenten was not worth the sacrifice, if he indeed chose the sacrifice. This was a different kind of sacrifice than the one he had made all those years ago. That one was out of courage and devotion to his clan. This one would be out of love.
So as Hiashi asked him the make the most important decision of his life, Neji could only wonder if love was enough.
He looked back into his uncle's eyes, not as a boy who needed guidance and the safety of a body of set ideals to find his way, but as a man with an identity of his own.
"I love the clan and I am proud that I am a Hyuga, more proud than I can ever describe. However, if a destiny of misery, pain, and loneliness is all the clan can offer me – no matter how great the compensations – then yes, I will give it up for Tenten. No compensation that the Hyuga destiny could give me could ever compare to how she makes me feel. It doesn't even come close."
Hiashi stared at him in utter disbelief, as though what he had just heard was completely fictional, some kind of ridiculous embellishment. "You are giving up your identity?"
Neji smiled, that unfamiliar lightness that he suspected was freedom settling on his chest. "I never said I was giving up anything. I'm just gaining something precious." And judging by the look on Hiashi's face, it seemed as though he was finished here. "Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go find it."
With each step she took her feet became heavier until it was almost impossible to move forward. She didn't know if she'd made the biggest mistake of her life or committed the most unselfish act of her life. Either one sucked.
It wasn't as if she could go back there anyway. Hiashi would be watching out for her with those cold, cold eyes of his. That guy was like a freaking ice block. He could freeze her legs and melt her resolved from a mile away with that piercing gaze. No doubt he'd be guarding Neji like a freaking ANBU squad from now on. She probably wouldn't be able to get within ten meters of him without being obliterated by those goddamn eyes. And if he were too busy to guard Neji, he'd probably booby-trap him with explosions set to recognize her chakra alone. Better to blow up his own nephew than let her have him, what, her being so shameless and nameless and all. Ho ho…but he'd thank him one day!
What's worse, he'd probably brainwashed Neji by now, telling him how brazen she was, how below his level she was, how utterly worthless any further association with her would be. She knew how manipulative and convincing that guy was. After Hiashi had his little talk with Neji – complete with Secret Hyuga Ninja Brainwashing Technique 101 – Neji would never want to lay eyes on her again. That is if she ever even saw him again. Neji could see her coming from ten miles away, more than enough time to cower and hide before she, gods forbid, infected him with these filthy plebeian hands of hers. Oh, the horror!
Yep, the future was looking bright and –
All movement ceased, including breathing. Especially breathing.
Her ears picked up a sound her brain registered as Neji's voice calling what seemed to be her name in a frantic, breathless fashion as if he were – but surely not – running after her.
Running to her.
Dare she turn? She wanted to know if he were really there and if that was really his voice she was hearing, but would she turn to be disappointed once again, to find that her desperate heart was playing tricks on her brain frequencies? She didn't need another disappointment.
But what if it was him.
Rain ran down her hair, clothes, skin, eyes, lips, permeating every second she waited in breathless anticipation for that voice to call her name once more…
Her heartbeat faltered, and then quickened double-time. The voice was closer now.
She turned to see an unmistakable figure in the darkness, a silhouette shaped by the rain that failed to cool the fire that consumed her body.
The figure grew closer now, closer, and she strained to catch a glimpse of his face, cursing her eyes for failing her in this time of desperate need. Lightning flashed, giving her what she so desperately craved and a sob caught in her throat.
She willed her feet to please just move but they wouldn't. Her body screamed its protests – it was barely managing to inhale, what more did she want?
Now he was no more than ten feet away and she could make out his features – so perfect to her – and then he was closer and closer still, yet she couldn't move, and then he was kissing her and her body responded immediately to his touch, not caring about anything but his lips on hers, over and over and over again…
Water enveloped them, ran between them, united them as she pulled him closer and he pulled her closer. And then her body was running out of air and she cursed the need for it – who wanted air – and then their mouths were apart but their foreheads were together and all she could see before her were the pearly depths that held nothing but love for her. They didn't need words. From that moment on she knew that nothing – no warped ideas of logic, no erroneously preconceived notions of what love was supposed to be, no rules or laws, no power that existed – was ever going to separate them again.
It was far too bright for her to want to open her eyes and she was far too comfortable to even begin to consider moving. Asking such a thing of her at that moment would be inconsiderate to the origin of the word!
But alas, a problem of the most unfortunate kind presented itself to her in an unwelcomed moment of common sense. It was a two-fold problem – the worst kind – more commonly referred to as The Problem. Even moving was better than encountering The Problem.
But now she was face with another problem: how to wake Neji. He was surprisingly difficult to wake, at least when he was with her, but then again, she'd never really had to think about it because when he was with her, she never wanted to wake up anyway. No, actually; waking up was okay because then she got to look at him while he was sleeping, which was always a welcomed sight. Moving, however, was an entirely different matter, one that she'd be encountering soon enough.
She turned in the circle of his arms, taking a brief moment to marvel in the knowledge that she was in the circle of his arms, before opening her eyes. The sight that greeted her made her breath catch in her throat. It always did.
Many a time had she wondered how she'd become as lucky as to end up with Neji. Many a time she had wondered just how it happened. It all seemed a blur – one big, happy blur. They'd be kissing in the rain (sigh) and then BAM – next day they were together. Obviously there'd been some exchanging of stories (his were very interesting, especially the one about the clan's marriage laws) and all that, but that still didn't explain how in the hell she'd ended up with Neji.
But she'd been through this question before, had yet to come up with a decent answer, didn't think she was ever going to get one, so had decided to just give up and enjoy being with the man she loved – who, it so happened, loved her back.
Oh damn, now she was marvelling again! It was just the look on his face as he slept and the fact that she was sleeping right next to him, in his arms, and so many other things that prevented the reality from sinking in.
But she still had to wake him up.
Tenten sighed and poked his arm. No good. Then she poked his chest, resisting the urge to start feeling it up (he had a good chest). No good. She poked his cheek, resisting the urge to kiss it (or his lips, either one would suffice). No good. She poked his ribs. No good.
Option Two presented itself to her and she decided that she liked this option. It provided mutual benefits – as in both benefits went to her. She'd wake him up and get to indulge in her favourite fascination, that being the one she had with his lips (especially when they were on hers).
After taking another moment to marvel in the perfection of his face and the fact that she got to kiss it (regularly), she leaned up and did just that.
His response was immediate. It always was.
His eyes fluttered open in surprise as she pulled away, having achieved her desired objective, only slightly disappointed she couldn't continue (she could get to that later once The Problem had been remedied). Unfortunately (or possibly fortunately), Neji was not of the same mindset she was at that point in time.
He kissed her back.
This was not going to end well.
Neji awoke to a bright morning, comfortable warmth, and a sweet pressure on his lips. Before his eyes even opened he knew what the pressure was from.
He opened his eyes to look into hers, taking a moment to marvel at his good fortune. He still wondered what he'd done to ever deserve her. After much fruitless deliberation, he'd decided it best not question in case whoever had graced him with her love decided to take it away.
But it was moments like these that took his breath away. And it was in his best interests to ensure that the moment continued.
He kissed her.
She responded immediately. She always did.
Without wasting any time, he rolled on top of her and opened his mouth to deepen the kiss. She didn't respond this time.
Irritated, he proceeded to kiss down her neck, making sure to spend extra time in all the places he knew she liked. There was no way she was going to deny his affections. Such an outcome was unacceptable; therefore, it was imperative that he do all in his power to ensure it did not venture into existence.
"Neji, wait!" she hissed as she tried to wriggle from his embrace.
"Why should I?" he answered before claiming her mouth again. She responded once more and he thought he had her until she pushed him back again.
"We can't, that's why!" she protested, still whispering.
He returned to her neck. "Why not?" he asked against her skin, smirking when he felt her shiver.
"Gai and Lee!"
No other two words could have brought a speedier demise to his current favourable state of being.
All too soon, but a little too late, he remembered that he and Tenten were not in the privacy of a bedroom, but the open plain of a dirt floor with the two most unwelcomed companions he could ever desire at any time, much less this time.
He rolled off her immediately. "Why did you not notify me of this unfortunate situation earlier?"
She glared at him. "Because you wouldn't stop kissing me!"
Having no relevant counter, he wisely decided to change the topic of conversation. "Then let us not waste any more time."
He sat up only to meet the wide eyes of none other than Rock Lee.
Excellent. Just excellent.
Tenten sat up beside him and he heard her curse. He completely agreed with her assessment of the situation.
Lee looked between them with a bewildered expression. Neji only hoped he would not turn to Gai for assistance in his evaluation of the situation. Suffering Gai's incessant nonsense, which would be sure to recur constantly for the remainder of the mission, was undesired and unacceptable.
Then Lee's eyes brightened with understanding. "Oh, I see! Neji, you were just keeping Tenten warm again! I did not know she had forgotten her sleeping bag once again. How fortunate that you were here!"
Neji smirked. He figured telling Lee some inkling of the truth would do no harm to their current situation, taking into account Lee's ignorance of all ways of the world.
"No, Lee. I wasn't. Not this time."
He felt rather than saw Tenten smile and she whispered in his ear, "Well, you were sort of doing both, weren't you?"
His blood fired up and he certainly had ideas about doing something more than both before he saw Lee's eyes widen in a mixture of amazement and awe. Then Lee ran off, possibly (and preferably) seeking a sunrise to stare at for the remainder of the morning.
Neji was entertaining thoughts of returning to the continuation of the morning's activities when he heard Lee's voice in the distance, effectively cutting short any hope of peace for the remainder of the mission.
"Gai-sensei! Gai-sensei! Guess what! Neji and Tenten had sex!"
A/N Edit 19th July, 2014: Just a quick note about the ending. I remember that, upon first completing the story, a few reviewers got a little confused in regards to Neji's eventual resolution to chase after and be with Tenten. I know everything happens pretty quickly (like breakneck, whiplash kind of speed here), so let me slow it down for all. Neji made the decision to go after Tenten before he found out he was legally (according to the clan's laws) allowed to be with her. It was Hinata's exclamation of 'This is the most stupid thing ever' that made him realise that – you know what? – yes, it was. What was he even doing? Etc.
Also, I wouldn't be too harsh on Neji for needing that extra push to get his ass into gear. Tenten also needed one; she just happened to get hers first, prompting her to madly run to the Hyuga compound. They were both stupid, putting what they thought was duty over love, because that's what they'd done their entire lives. They couldn't tell what was duty and what wasn't.
Anyway, just wanted to defend my main man Neji. Until next time…
A/N Original Update: Wow...I can't believe I've actually finished this! It's kind of sad. I really liked writing this story. It was a lot of fun! Had I not promised many readers that I was writing a sequel to A Whisper in the Night, I would have extended this story considerably. As it was, it took way longer than expected. Anyway, it's over now and I'm free to move on to the next Interlude - Ino and Shikamaru! Now I know (for sure, for sure) it won't be as long as this one was, but I still hope you guys read it!
I will now apologize for the insanely late update. Granted, I spent the majority of this time acquiring a higher education (takes up a lot of brain power), but I will admit to being caught out stalling (otherwise known as being lazy) by Social Riot, so for those of you who checked for this update every day (so sorry), you should get on your hands and knees and thank Social Riot, because without her taking my ass to task, this update wouldn't have come for a while. I think I just might get on my hands and knees as well...
As for the final chapter itself, I hope you guys think it's a sufficient end to the fic! If I'd had more time to make it longer it would have been better, but I think I'm more than a little happy with it ;P I know it's pretty angsty and emotional, but I couldn't avoid it and it needed it. Besides, I just love that stuff so as compensation I injected humour whenever I could (thanks Gai & Lee). I hope the ending was to everyone's satisfaction and please, please, please (I beg of you!) tell me what you think of it all! I don't think I'll be able to sleep tonight because I'll be so nervous to hear what everyone thinks about it! I'm satisfied with it so I can only hope you guys feel the same!
Well, I think that's all from me! Thank you all so much for your amazing support! It was so much more than I had ever hoped for, so much more than I had ever expected. You guys are amazing! I've said this so many times and it becomes truer with each repetition - you, the readers and reviewers are what keep me writing. I owe this story to all of you.