Warning: Heed the rating, please. It mostly applies to later chapters.
Disclaimer: "Naruto" and its characters belong to Masashi Kishimoto. No money is being made with this work of fiction.
By Lady Calliope
Chapter One: In The Moment
She spotted him from across the room.
Not that it was difficult—he was easily one of the most handsome guys in the club. Well, in her opinion, anyway. Most of the men she encountered in these types of establishments were generally of two dispositions: creepy or pompous. Somehow she got the impression that he was neither. He probably belonged to that mythical subset of male clubbers that were as rare as rain in Suna. He was one of the good ones. Of course, if he was one of the good ones, there was a fairly high chance that he would end up being either taken or gay. Because aren't the good ones always taken or gay? Yet that thought didn't manage to deter her as it normally may have.
Normally, she didn't go to clubs unless Sakura or Ino were dragging her there by her buns. Normally, she wasn't the type of girl to approach a guy on first sight—she was a strategist, and as such liked to observe before making plans of attack. Normally, she was content to stay at the table as the designated purse-watcher and emergency bailout-her-friends-from-overly-amorous-dance-partners specialist. Normally, she wouldn't have had three mixed drinks heavy on the drink and light on the mix.
But then, normally, she could count on Neji to be here with her. And he wasn't.
"'Family dinner' my ass," she grumbled to herself, taking another long sip of whatever highly flammable concoction the bartender had passed her. "Never thought they were important before. Oh, no. Just now that I suggest we go out and celebrate does it occur to you that maybe you should actually go to one of those things. They were going on before you went, and they'd keep going on even if you never went. Why start now, huh?"
The bartender, clearly confused as to whether the young woman was aware she was speaking out loud in his direction, had no idea what to say to this. Fortunately, she saved him from having to dream up a response.
"Another, please. I can still feel my extremities."
He was only too glad to comply as it gave him the pretense to slip away from her end of the bar.
While she had been lost in her own world of rejection, she had completely forgotten about the boy across the room. Empty glass in hand, she turned to face the crowd once again, eyes eagerly searching out her lost target. Apparently she wasn't the only one with keen senses: as soon as she started looking for him, he vaporized from the throng of dancers and locked eyes with her. He started walking towards at a calm pace that only gave credence to her belief that he was one of the good ones. He has a nice walk.
"Thanks. Can't say I've ever heard that one before. But I appreciate the originality."
She could have sworn two things at that moment. One, that he was much further away just a few seconds ago. Two, that she had only said that in her head. Clearly, her senses were not operating at anything near full capacity, which meant that she had far surpassed her body's alcohol tolerance level, which meant that Neji would be telling her to stop right about now. Well, Neji's not here. Besides, I deserve some self-indulgence!
"I'm sure you do. Who's Neji?"
"Damn. I said that out loud?"
"Afraid so. And just in case you were wondering, you said that last part out loud, too."
"Thanks for the confirmation. I was getting confused."
"No problem. By the way, I'm already over here, so you can stop that."
"Beckoning me with your finger. Got my attention, but I wouldn't want any other guys thinking you were motioning to them. I'm the jealous type."
Utterly bemused as to what he was talking about, she followed his gaze first down to her right hand, which was holding her empty glass, then to her left hand. There, seemingly independent of her cognitive systems, her pointer finger was hooking itself forward and backward in a very distinct "come hither" motion. As soon as she realized what it was doing, she commanded her hand to stop. Thankfully, it listened. Unsure as to how to proceed after such a radical display of subconscious wantonness, she could only offer an apology. "Sorry about that. I didn't even know I was doing it."
If he was at all offended at her comment, he didn't show it. "Be that as it may, I'd like to think you invited me over here for a reason. Or was I merely the victim of your unconscious muscle spasm?"
"Um…my drink is empty?"
"Finally, something I can work with." And he turned to the bartender to order.
While he was busy with the drink, she mentally checked over her ever-growing list of intriguing things about this man she'd known for all of thirty seconds. He was clever and witty, two characteristics that only added to the attractive curve of his slightly tanned cheekbone and the tousled wave of his bark-colored hair. He was not at all put off by her strange behavior and even stranger patterns of speech. He was smiling a genuine smile, looking for all the world like this was the most amusing situation he'd ever been in. He wasn't making a move to kiss her without permission or stick his hand up her skirt. He looked her in the eye when he spoke, and he had excellent vocabulary. In short, he was exactly the kind of guy she would imagine herself spending time with if her time wasn't already taken up by insufferably admirable prodigies and dangerous round-the-clock missions and frequent trips to the hospital.
The kind of guy she might be dating if she weren't an ANBU shinobi at the age of twenty-three.
"For the lady." He handed her exactly what she had previously been drinking. How did he know? "I saw you drinking it before." Puzzlement, on her part. Can he read minds? "No, you're just talking out loud again."
"I think it's safe to say that my inner monologue is broken. I'll miss it."
"It'll come back tomorrow morning, once the alcohol wears away."
"I hope so. I need it."
"Well, what should we do to speed along the recovery process?"
Her eyes narrowed, mind whirring with the possible implications of that statement. He seemed to immediately understand what she was thinking, even though she was positive she hadn't even opened her mouth.
"Are you glaring at me for suggesting we dance? Is that a glarable offense these days with women?"
"Dancing could be good. Speed the alcohol around my system, get it out faster." The fraction of her brain still dedicated to logic and precision very much doubted that hypothesis.
"Anything in the name of science, right?"
He extended his hand, which she took after setting down her untouched drink. Together they made their way to dance floor, and soon found themselves in much closer proximity than they were previously. The vibrations of the bass were palpable through his touch.
She decided she liked his touch.
A cold clearness permeated the air, crystallizing the light from streetlamps and doing nothing to smooth the frizzing the ends of her hair. Sweat was rapidly evaporating from her skin, causing shivers throughout her body. But as it was, she found herself not caring one whit for her flyaways or the cold. All that mattered was that it was 3am and she'd spent the past four hours dancing, talking, laughing, and now walking with a man she barely knew. All in high heels.
And she was happy.
"So you never told me why you were there by yourself. Not to sound offensive, but you don't seem like the kind of girl who frequents clubs on her own, prowling for unsuspecting, hapless men like me."
She snorted. "Right, hapless. More like hapful."
"Hapful. Opposite of hapless."
"I've never heard it before."
"That's because I just made it up. Aren't I clever?"
Their joint laughter echoed off the walls of the empty streets they were strolling down with no particular destination in mind. The club had closed at 2am and neither had quite felt like parting ways just yet. Thinking fresh desert air would speed the sobering process in a way the dancing hadn't, she'd suggested a nighttime expedition around the village and he'd readily agreed. Now, an hour later, she was feeling considerably more in control of her faculties but no less giddy. Chalking it up to an excess of serotonin resulting from all the giggles, she decided to continue enjoying this blessedly normal night for as long as possible.
"You still didn't answer my question."
Enjoy it, that is, until he decided to bring up the reason for her night out in the first place.
"Maybe I just felt like going. I'm kind of here on vacation, you know."
"No, I didn't know. But you look like you're having a good vacation."
"I was." She tried not to sound petulant, but couldn't tell if she'd succeeded.
"Until I opened my big mouth, right?"
A small silence.
"So whatever made you come out tonight by yourself must have been something big, huh?"
Why was he going and ruining her perfectly good, drama-free evening with all these questions? Maybe if she gave him a little information he'd stop being so persistent. "Yeah. It was." Okay, so perhaps that wouldn't qualify as much information, but it would be enough to get him to stop, right?
"Want to elaborate?" Apparently not.
"Will you leave me alone if I don't?"
"Not a chance."
"Because I'm curious as to what could drive a smart, confident, witty—and attractive, did I mention attractive?—young woman like yourself to the sweaty, hot, hormone-filled Suna club scene all alone when she could obviously do much better."
Wow. That was much more of an explanation than she expected to receive. Her brain stalled, leaving her to fend for her own cover. "Flatterer."
"I prefer truth-teller. Now, care to share? I promise I won't tell."
From what she could tell—and she was trained to recognize these things—he was being entirely sincere. Why was she afraid to tell him? Would retelling it out loud be more any more damaging than having already lived through the experience? She didn't have to go into details—the academy, the genin cell days, the jounin exams—to get the picture across. She certainly wouldn't tell him she was a member of ANBU, or even hint at the fact that she was a ninja. Paranoia and concerns for her village's safety made that decision for her. Besides, she found herself curious as to what it would be like to have someone listen to her vent her frustrations, instead of the other way around. What would it be like to be thought of as a woman, not a kunoichi?
Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
"My…my business partner and I just recently completed our 500th…business deal…here in Suna. It's a pretty big milestone in our company, and I was really looking forward to celebrating with him. But then he decides, just on the spot, that having dinner with his family—they're a really powerful family in my village—is more important than spending time with his oldest friend on the night of our biggest accomplishment. His family has been having these dinners since before he was born, and he's never paid attention to them until now. But—"
"—you still wanted to celebrate?"
"Right. But he left. So I figured I'd do the mature thing, and go out and get completely wasted and stumble back to my hotel room in the wee hours of the morning and wake up to the worst hangover of my life. Or something like that." Surprisingly, she felt better having admitted to everything than keeping it all to herself. She made a mental note to try this cathartic form of conversation more often. But now the question remained: would he find her pathetic, incapable of dealing with rejection?
Why did she find herself caring what this man thought of her anyway?
"And then I came along and ruined your plan."
The teasing note was still in his voice. Her rambling story hadn't changed anything between them at all. She found herself inordinately relieved at that discovery, which caused her to once again wonder at this man's effect on her.
"Exactly. Thanks a lot."
"Well, I guess you'll just have to settle for being escorted by a gentleman back to your hotel at 4am with, unfortunately, a mostly-sober mindset. I hope that's all right with you."
"I think I'll live."
They wandered in companionable silence for a few moments, enjoying the sound their shoes made scuffling against the sand and the shapes their breaths took as they exhaled into the night air. The walk had made her very glad she had thought to bring a jacket to the sweltering club. Many days and nights of desert travel had taught her a valuable lesson in the extremes of desert weather.
They walked at a comfortable distance, not too close but close enough to occasionally hold hands or lean heads on shoulders as they meandered throughout the village. Several times they would catch each other's eye, smile, and laugh about the absurdity of pretending they weren't looking at each other. For once, she wasn't thinking about best way to dispose of a body, what the safest way to cross a flooded river was, or how to deal with the heavy silence that Neji left after telling her he was going back to Konoha that night. All she was thinking about were the calluses on her companion's fingertips, how beautiful the desert could be at night, and how he was slowly steering them in the direction of her hotel.
When she noticed the last part, she drew to a stop and slowly looked around her, eyes blinking in recognition. "How did you know this was where I was staying? Are you a stalker or something?"
"Right, you got me." The heavy sarcasm was offset by his smile. "No, I live around here. I guess I just started drifting this way unconsciously."
Strange, as far as she knew the only accommodations around this part of town were the executive quarters she was staying in as the Kazekage's guest and the residence of the Kazekage and his family. However, there were several shops in the area, so she supposed he could easily live in an apartment above one of them. Such arrangements were quite common in Konoha. But all these thoughts of sleeping arrangements brought something else to the front of her mind. Suddenly, she started wondering if bringing her here had been an accident on his part or something more deliberate.
Just as her guard started rising at the thought of being considered an easy lay, he turned to her. "Well, this is my stop. As much as I'd love to continue exploring every side street of the village with you, I have an early morning meeting. Will you be around tomorrow?"
That put a stop to her feelings of indignation. Instead, she found herself very thankful that her inner monologue was functioning again. What, he's not even going to try and seduce me? She knew she shouldn't be offended at this realization, but she had been enjoying the idea of being looked at as an attractive, available woman instead of a partner, a friend, or a strategist. Although the Hokage didn't need her back immediately, she found herself wanting to test this man. And, in truth, test herself.
"No, actually. I'm scheduled to leave tomorrow morning."
"Oh, I see. Well, let me walk you to your door. It's the least I can do for being such an old lady about my sleep habits." There! A trace of disappointment in his voice. Perhaps he wasn't as ready to say goodbye as he pretended? And he was offering to walk her inside. Maybe he was hoping she'd ask him into her room? She already knew what her answer would be when they got there. The alcohol had worn off, but she didn't want to let go of the happy state it left her in when she was around this man. Not yet.
After all, she had nothing but routine and normality to look forward to once she got back to Konoha. Why not try something different while she still had the chance?
"How kind. Going to protect me from all those brigands lying in wait in the lobby?"
"Of course. Since you're staying here, that means you're an important guest. They only ever attack important guests. Especially the pretty ones."
"Well aren't we gallant? Lead the way, then." And she took his arm as they headed towards the building entrance.
Once inside, she found it odd that he seemed to know exactly where he was going. He only paused to ask her if she was staying on the 3rd floor or the 4th. She told him, and he continued on as if that was all the information he needed. No room number or anything. As much as she liked him, she couldn't ignore her gut instinct that something was off.
"You sure know your way around here. How do you know where we're going?"
"Am I freaking you out? Sorry. I guess I forgot to say I work for the village and so I have to escort a lot of visiting dignitaries in and out of here."
"You work for the village? Do you know the Kazekage?" She definitely didn't want to accidentally entangle herself with a village councilmember's son or something equally as damaging.
His eyes darted to her face and back before he continued on his way. "Quite well, actually. I work for him."
That meant he couldn't have any relation to the council—they never saw themselves as working for anyone but the village. But if he worked for Gaara, why didn't he look familiar to her? Brown hair in a wild cut, rounded cheekbones, straight nose, dark eyes. She could have sworn she knew the faces of all the shinobi and officials constantly hanging around the kage. Perhaps he worked in a more background position? She hadn't noticed anything unusual about his chakra signature, but then if he were jounin like her he would be well versed in the art of keeping it masked at all times. Even when inebriated. Maybe he was a recent hire?
"You work for Gaara-sama? I do a lot of business with him and I haven't seen you around."
"That's because I only recently started in my official capacity. I've known the Kazekage for years, and I've lived in the village my whole life."
Her gut slowly unclenched itself; her senses wound down from high alert. She really needed to take a vacation: the stress of constantly watching her back was clearly taking its toll. He was just a citizen doing his duty to the village and his kage. "Well, congratulations on the new job. I'm sure you deserved it."
"I did." They had arrived at her door. "And now, can I ask you something? Be warned that you would be perfectly within your rights to smack me for this."
Her heart started thudding against her ribcage. The conversation up to this point had distracted her from her previous thoughts, but now she was brought back to the current situation with all the force of his eyes on her. Him. Her. A door. A bed beyond the door. Did she want to do this?
"Do I deserve a goodnight kiss? For protecting you from the brigands in the lobby and escorting you safely to your door."
Did he deserve one? He was the reason this night had been so wonderful. Did she want to give him more? She knew what she should do, what would be proper—she should bid him farewell and slip into bed. Alone. It's what she had done every time she'd been here in the past. What her partner would expect her to do, if Neji were here.
But he wasn't.
And she was enjoying this illusion that her life was uncomplicated, that it was at its most stressful when trying to decide whether or not to invite a man inside her room. That she was just a desirable woman standing outside her door in a hotel hallway. Standing with one of the good ones.
"I think you deserve a little more than that."
"Um…two kisses?" It was the first time he'd been caught off guard all night, and she found she liked knocking him off balance. No one ever really expected surprises from her. She wanted to be daring, for once. Not brave, not courageous. She wanted to take an uncalculated risk and experience all that went with it.
"Would you like to come inside?"
Tenten wanted something for herself.
"Well, when you put it like that—"
He never finished his sentence, because her lips were covering his. Far from perturbed, he helped her fish the key out of her back pocket—taking care to grab her rear on the way—and unlock the door. All without breaking the kiss. By the time they had shut and locked the door behind them, his shirt was already off and her bra expertly unclasped beneath her tank top.
The night had really just begun.
Author's Note: And we're off. My second piece of "Naruto" fanfiction, as chosen by the reader's poll on my profile. I have a vague outline of where this is going, but expect many bumps along the way. My style is to finish the story, then go back and edit the whole thing for continuity and such.
Yes, there are more chapters to come. No, I don't know what my update schedule will be like. Yes, there will be eventual lemon. Yes, I love this pairing, too. Does that about cover it? And, as always, please feel free to leave feedback. Did you understand it? Are they in character? Did you like it? Are you going to kill me for giving Tenten an Inner Tenten? Let me hear it!
"Don't hold back, it's time for a love affair." – Kylie Minogue