"All human actions have one or more of these seven causes: chance, nature, compulsions, habit, reason, passion and desire." –Aristotle
Her cheeks flushed pink from the few sips of saké she'd stolen from Gai-sensei's cup, Tenten skipped backward down the street, her hands clasped behind her back and a wide grin splayed across her face. "You did it, Neji!"
"Yes, I know." Neji closed his eyes and shook his head, allowing only the smallest smile to caress his lips as he followed her.
"The first chuunin of our team, the first jounin..." Twirling on one foot, she raised her hands high in the air. "Take that, fate!" she called to the crescent moon shining high above the streetlamps illuminating the street.
"Alright, that's enough." Lunging forward and grabbing her hands, he forced them down to her sides. "People are staring."
"Oh please, we're half of Team Gai. They're used to it by now."
As she giggled, Neji had to concede the point, though the more ridiculous antics were usually done by their bushy-browed teammates. Shoving his hands in his pockets, he glanced up at the sky as they resumed walking. Neither had any destination in mind, but their slow footsteps didn't falter. It was enough, after all these years, to simply walk in silence and be content.
Turning down a side street, they made their way into another shop-lined thoroughfare, their beckoning lanterns shining invitingly through the night. Spinning abruptly again, Tenten grabbed his hand without warning. "I have an idea! Come on."
"What?" Neji didn't resist as she led him down the street, weaving around couples and groups of people exiting and entering restaurants and shops.
"When Gai-sensei took us to dinner, we never ordered dessert." Her eyes twinkled as she glanced back over her shoulder. "It'll be my treat."
"As long as you're paying."
As she ducked under the banners lining the doorway of the sweets shop, Neji extricated his hand, steps slowing as he stared up at the building. Looking around, he laughed quietly. This was the same shop in front of which they'd first met, the same shop that had been destroyed during the chuunin exams that they'd taken shelter under. He shook his head helplessly and pushed aside the banners to walk beneath and enter the shop.
From his position just inside the doorway, he could see her leaning against the counter, one finger pressed to her pursed lips, her other pointing at different foods within the case. The ambience of the shop was enough to muffle her words, but he shook his head again and smiled at her enthusiasm. He crossed his arms and leaned back, casing the dimly-lit establishment in a never-forgotten habit of constant awareness, but not once did his attention stray from his teammate.
Receiving two steaming cups, she smiled and thanked the man behind the counter. Before she'd even turned and beckoned, Neji was already making his way through to meet her. "Come on." Handing one of the cups to him, she led the way to the table in the corner beside the window; more barely-registered shinobi habits, this seat allowed one of them to keep an eye on the street outside while the other could observe the restaurant itself. "I ordered us some cake, but it'll take a few minutes for it to be prepared. They just ran out before we got here."
"Cake?" Taking the seat to stare out the window, Neji raised an eyebrow. "I never knew you were into Western foods."
Leaning closer, she confided, "It's the special, so it's on sale."
He snorted through his nose. "I should have known."
With a glare, she huffed and crossed her arms, leaning back in her rickety wooden chair. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing offensive." Neji nodded in acknowledgement to the waiter who leaned over their table to light the small candle on the side. "In any case, thank you for buying it."
"I never paid you back for all those years ago." Sipping her tea, she smiled over the rim. "Remember? You bought me dinner here when we first met."
"I do, actually."
"It seems like such a long time ago, but it's only been... five years?"
He shrugged. "Four or five." Lifting his own cup from the table, he paused before drinking and stared out the window.
Tenten sighed wistfully and propped her elbows on the table, resting her chin on her fists. "A jounin in four years... if that isn't a good start at breaking the cage, I don't know what is."
"Mm." He nodded once and looked at her over the table. "A lot of it is because of you."
"Well, maybe I should train with me more often; then I can be a jounin, too." Her smile sobered. "I guess... you won't be part of Team Gai anymore, will you?"
Neji set down his cup with a little more force than necessary, splashing tea over the edges. Shaking drops of the steaming liquid from his fingers, he reached over calmly and took a paper napkin from beside the candle. Its flickering flame lit his face at a curious angle, casting a deep shadow over his eyes. "I don't know," he said eventually.
"It would be in your best interest." Her body language a study in forced nonchalance, she crossed her arms and stared out the window, stirring her tea unconsciously with her finger. "The head family will be able to see your prowess better if you work individually. At this point, we'll just slow you down."
"I don't think–"
"It's politics, Neji. Clan politics," she cut him off roughly. "I've been around you long enough to know how clans work, even if I'm not a part of one. The Hyuuga clan elders don't want to see a branch family member succeed, so they'll do anything to overlook you."
Silently, the waiter set down a slice of chocolate cake between them. Neither lifted one of the forks set neatly on the fudge-drizzled white plate, even as its enticing aroma drifted across the table.
"Enough," Tenten announced finally, picking up a fork and uncomfortably meeting his eyes. "We're supposed to be celebrating."
Without a word, Neji shaved off a narrow bite with his fork and put it in his mouth. "For being the special, it's good," he offered. "Listen, Tenten–"
"I don't want to talk about this right now." Again, she cut him off, focusing intently on her own bite balanced precariously on the fork.
"Please don't cry."
She flinched and tore her eyes away, dropping the fork on the table with a clatter. "I'm not going to hold you back, Neji," she snapped. "I want you to be happy. I want you to be able to tell the head family just where they can shove their destiny crap." Picking up her fork, she finally took a bite, closing her eyes as if to savor the taste. "But my job is done now. You don't need me anymore, if you even did in the first place." Carefully setting the fork back down, she wiped her lips with a napkin and stood. "Congratulations on your promotion," she said quietly, in an eerie mimic of the first thing she'd ever said to him.
And then she was gone, swiftly vanishing through the line standing before the counter. Neji took one look at the cake and picked up the plate, carrying it to the waiter. "Would you please," he asked, "put this in a box for me?"
Tenten broke into a full out sprint as soon as she was clear of the shop, tears blurring her vision. People scattered before her as she fled the town and its bright lights, leaving it behind until, gasping for breath, she stumbled into their familiar training field, lit only by the crescent moon and stars, and collapsed. Drawing her knees in to her chest, she buried her face in her arms and wept silently, pressing her back to the worn wooden post marked with the number 2.
She wouldn't blame him when he decided to set out on his own. He was easily the match of Gai-sensei or Kakashi-sensei in terms of power. He could even be ANBU if he really wanted. She'd seen the look in his eyes on those rare occasions when they would discuss the Hyuuga clan, the longing hidden behind anger and bitterness. She understood his feelings so well it hurt; the need to belong, the need to be acknowledged... On some level, she'd understood him from their first meeting in the Academy courtyard, been able to sense their kindred spirits.
She pulled her knees in tighter and cried. Maybe if she cried hard enough now, she wouldn't later.
"You forgot this."
His voice whispered with the wind as Neji sat next to her, the silver light reflecting in his eyes and allowing them to shine through the shadows. Silently, he offered the wrapped box of cake, setting it down at her feet when she made no move to take it. "Tenten, please, don't cry." Tentatively he reached out with one hand and lifted her chin, wiping her tears with the other. "I never had any intention of leaving Team Gai. None whatsoever."
"There is no 'but.'" Neji shifted closer to her and stared into her eyes. "Wasn't it always you who told me to make my own destiny? I'm choosing, right here, right now, not to leave Team Gai. No matter what."
"Because Lee would fall apart without a rival." Cautiously, he stroked her cheek, wiping away the tears. "Because Team Gai needs four members to be Team Gai." When she didn't move his hand, he shifted his grip to brush some stray strands of hair from her face, disheveled from her run. "Because I want to stay here... with you."
Her eyes widened, but before she could respond he closed the distance between them and seized her lips with a kiss. Closing his eyes, Neji blindly wrapped his other arm around her waist and gently guided their fall to the ground. He could still taste the crumbs of chocolate cake on her lips mixed with the salt of her tears and the sweet honey in her green tea. After an eternity, he pulled away, reluctance and indecision clear on his face.
Tenten's chest heaved as she gasped for breath, staring up at her stoic teammate with undisguised shock. Her heart pounded as if she'd been running for kilometers, and she barely managed, "You'd give up a place in the main family... for me?"
Silence. He drew back a little, until the moon backlighting him shadowed his face. Neji closed his eyes and though for a moment. A cloud passed over the moon and cast the entire training field into darkness.
And then it passed. "Yes," he whispered hoarsely. "If you'd have me."
Her eyes softened, and she reached up to touch his face and bring him back into the moonlight. "Neji..." Pushing herself up on her elbows, Tenten pulled him closer. "I..." Stammering over a few words, she shrugged and smiled at the confusion clear in his eyes. Trailing her hand across his face, she stroked his neck and pulled him in. "You may have convinced me of love at first sight," she breathed, her warmth breath caressing his face.
Before he could speak, she propelled herself up and brushed his lips with her own, closing her eyes as he took the opportunity and kissed her back, harder. The pressure of his body against hers slowly forced her to the ground, but she didn't care. Her breasts heaved beneath him, and when they broke apart to breathe, she moaned as he ran a hand down her body and kissed her again and again. All the passion they'd both repressed for years boiled out in their kisses and the touch of their bodies.
"Neji..." she whispered, running her tongue across his neck and grinning as he only groaned in response. "Congratulations on your promotion."
Trying to regain his dignity, he pulled back and raised an eyebrow. "Well, I suppose this is a little better than dinner and cake."
--Six Days, One Night--
A/N: I want to thank everyone who's been following this since I've posted it: 8,816 words in two weeks is a new record for me, I'm fairly certain, and it was thanks to the interest I've received from my readers and reviewers! Thank you all so much!
To those following my other multi-chap NejiTen work The Revenant Scroll, expect to see updates on that within the next few days! I hope to see my readers from this over there as well to continue to critique my writing. Again, thank you to everyone; this cuold not have been completed without your support.