Is this real life? Am I seriously updating this after two years? I am? Wow. Okay.
Yeah. I have no excuse for my absence from this, and honestly I don't know why I'm going ahead with this. Hopefully I'll finish it. Keep your fingers crossed.
Disclaimer: Masashi Kishimoto owns all characters. The idea is mine.
Song: Crank It Up (feat. Akon) by David Guetta
"Sneaking out again?"
Neji paused at his window and looked over his shoulder at his cousin.
He beckoned her forward, and Hinata obligingly shut his bedroom door behind her.
His cousin attempted a stern gaze, but it fell flat to Neji.
"You shouldn't do this, Neji-niisan. It's illegal. What if you get arrested?"
Neji sighed, ready to tell her that he was fully aware of what he was getting himself into, but her worried gaze stopped him.
"I know what I'm doing," he told her shortly.
Hinata shook her head.
"Neji, if Father knew—"
"You promised you wouldn't say anything," Neji retorted, fixing her with a sharp gaze.
Hinata deflated a little under his harsh eyes.
"And I won't, but I think you need to think very carefully about the decisions you've been making," she responded in her soft voice.
She looked him over briefly and then left, closing his door soundlessly.
Neji frowned and grudgingly moved back to his window, easily slipping out.
"Lean into the turn."
Neji obliged, feeling his jaw clench as TenTen gripped his knee, as if she were guiding his progress.
He cleared his throat to hint he was uncomfortable with her closeness, but TenTen either didn't pick up on it or ignored it.
"Good," she complimented as Neji completed the drift.
Neji smiled lightly at her praise, knowing that it was sincere.
TenTen had rapidly recovered from her cold, and the weekend following the skipped race, she had called Neji up for some help with variables.
They hadn't accomplished much when TenTen shirked her work aside, stir-crazy, and suggested they go for a drive.
"Yumi will probably pick a pretty easy track for the next race," TenTen said conversationally as Neji drifted into another turn.
Neji automatically corrected his hands before TenTen finished, and when Neji eased out of the curve he saw TenTen staring at him.
"What?" he inquired, raising an eyebrow.
TenTen smiled a little.
"Nothing. You're just getting so good you don't need my help anymore," she responded.
"I don't know about that," Neji replied, gazing at her seriously.
TenTen held his eyes for a moment before she blinked, glancing out the window.
"How's everything going with work and school?" Neji asked after a few moments of silence.
TenTen sighed laboriously.
"Fine, I guess. I have a soccer game tomorrow and if we don't win we lose our chance to play in the city-wide tournament. Work is a pain, as usual. What about you?"
Neji shook his head.
"Same old, same old," Neji answered. "School, work, study, repeat."
TenTen stared at his face and she opened her mouth to say something, but her phone began to ring.
"Hello?" she greeted.
Neji waited as TenTen listened to the person on the other line for several minutes. She eventually thanked them and hung up, turning to Neji with a surprised look in her eyes.
"There's going to be a competition."
"For us—for racers." TenTen held up her phone. "Apparently it's being arranged by the Mid Night Club."(1)
Neji's eyebrows rose. The Mid Night Club had an outstanding reputation, and were well-known throughout Tokyo and the surrounding prefectures.
"And we have invitations?" Neji asked.
TenTen nodded, looking at her phone. She grinned at Neji.
"The guy said it'd be in four weeks. The winnings are pretty good, from what he said. He's texting me more details in a few days."
Neji turned onto the side road to reach TenTen's house, saying, "That should be interesting."
TenTen nodded but remained silent, turning to look out the window as she thought.
Neji pulled into her yard and turned off the car, gazing at the fading orange of the sky.
When TenTen made no move to speak or leave the car, Neji glanced at her.
"You okay?" he asked.
"Do you wanna come in?" TenTen blurted out, swiveling her head to raise her eyebrows.
There was a heavy pause as Neji tried to figure out what her outburst was for.
TenTen hurried to clarify, "I mean, it's getting late. You can stay for dinner or something, if you wanted to. My grandma isn't home, but she made food before she left."
"Where is she?"
TenTen rolled her eyes.
Neji smiled and considered her offer.
"I should really get back—"
TenTen frowned slightly.
"Your uncle?" she posed.
TenTen treated Neji to a focused stare.
"You owe me one, Hyuga," TenTen reminded, eyes narrowed.
TenTen nodded and got out of the car, saying, "Come on, Neji", seemingly confident that he would follow her into the house.
Neji leaned back into his seat, sighing. It was impossible to turn her down, and Neji hated her for it.
"You want a fortune cookie?" TenTen asked, offering him one.
Neji shook his head.
"Why not?" TenTen inquired further, tearing open the paper to her own cookie.
"I just don't like them," was Neji's simple answer.
TenTen rolled her eyes and shoved a fortune cookie into his hands.
"That's a dumb excuse. Besides, everyone knows it's all about the fortune, not the cookie itself."
Neji played with the paper for a moment under TenTen's curious gaze, before he ripped the paper and cracked the cookie open.
Neji withdrew the slip of paper inside and examined it.
It read: Savor your freedom—it is precious.
Neji considered the slip and turned to TenTen, only to become instantly aware that she was already close to him, her head hesitating only slightly a breath's away from his own.
She caught his eye, her expression open.
"That's a good one," she commented, choosing to remain almost unbearably close. "Mine are never that wise."
She pulled back suddenly, and Neji felt his breath release in a rush—he had unknowingly been holding it.
TenTen removed her fortune and read it aloud, "'The night life is for you.' See what I mean? Not even a 'live long and prosper'!"
"Do you really believe everything they say?"
"Maybe," she said, winking. "They're fun to read, all the same."
She was quiet for a moment, thoughtful, before she said, "So, can I ask you a question?"
Neji nodded easily.
"Why is your uncle so strict on what you do? It just sounds like you've been under lock and key for most of your life."
"It's not that. . ." Neji began. "My uncle just doesn't want me to waste my potential, and he thinks the best way to do that is to excel in school so I can get a good job and be financially and intellectually independent."
TenTen raised her eyebrows at him, and Neji shrugged.
"My father didn't think like that," Neji divulged softly. "He thought school and college were important, of course, but he was more spirited. He was more . . . fun."
TenTen watched as a faint smile graced Neji's lips, and she caught herself grinning with him.
"My dad was reckless. My grandma says that that's the only thing I inherited from him, besides his love for cars and his temper."
She looked at him, her eyes sparkling a little. Neji felt his gut clench, and—was it just him, or was TenTen leaning towards him?
Her phone trilled out it's melody signaling a call and TenTen sighed loudly.
She irritably picked up and barked out a clearly annoyed, "Hello?"
TenTen listened for a moment and smiled.
"Sorry, Sakura, calm down. I was just—" TenTen glanced at Neji and quickly removed her gaze, "I was just in the middle of something."
Sakura continued speaking, and Neji tried his best not to eavesdrop on their conversation.
TenTen listened for a while, but her eyes incessantly darted back to Neji, a clear apology in her brown eyes.
Neji checked his phone and frowned.
He waited another minute to see if Sakura's conversation would be short, but by the flat expression on TenTen's face, the girl would be a while.
Neji stood and caught TenTen's eye, gesturing towards the door to indicate he had to go.
TenTen mouthed her displeasure at this, but Neji shrugged.
Sighing, she stood with him and walked outside onto the porch with him, her cell phone still clamped to her ear.
TenTen companionably escorted Neji to his car. Neji hesitated at his door and stared down at the brunette.
She was gazing intently back at him, clearly not focused on whatever Sakura was going on about.
It was quiet; TenTen's house was too far removed from the highway to pick up any sounds of traffic. It had long ago grown dark, but the house porch light cast enough light on the yard that the two could see well enough.
"Don't leave," TenTen mouthed to Neji.
"I have to. My curfew is soon," Neji responded softly.
TenTen exhaled, removing her phone from her ear and stepping closer to him.
"Thank you. For today, I mean," she said, looking up at him.
Neji's mouth lifted in a slight smirk.
"Sorry I'm not that entertaining," he apologized.
TenTen grinned and shook her head.
"I think you need to give yourself more credit," was her whispered reply.
She seemed to test the air for a moment before leaning forward, wrapping her arms around his neck as she pulled him into a hug.
Neji hesitated before encircling her waist with one arm. He closed his eyes and tried to ignored the fervent pressure rising beneath his skin.
He felt TenTen's lips coast against the flesh of his neck and Neji's grip tightened.
The world suddenly turned bright, and TenTen and Neji glanced towards the driveway where a rusty old truck was ambling in.
They watched as the truck crept slowly across the yard and stopped. TenTen's grandma got out and peered at them in the dark.
"Ten-chan, is that you?"
"Yeah, Grandma," TenTen called back, pulling away from Neji with a regretful expression. "I'll be right there!"
"TenTen?" squawked Sakura from TenTen's cell phone.
"Dammit," TenTen cursed, looking at her cell. She chirped shortly to Sakura, "Hold on, Sakura."
TenTen looked back at Neji, shaking her head.
"Obviously if I ever take one minute for myself, the world goes batshit crazy," TenTen irritably informed him, her eyes somewhat pained. "Sorry."
Neji dismissed it easily and opened his car door.
"I'll talk to you tomorrow," Neji promised with a small smile.
TenTen exhaled and nodded heavily, taking a few steps back from his car.
"See you," she muttered, placing her phone back to her ear as she walked backwards to the house. "Yeah, Sakura, I'm here."
Neji stared at his homework, silently asking if it was going to complete itself.
It stared back with no inclination.
Neji shook his head and rubbed his eyes, trying to push the thought of TenTen out of his mind.
She had texted him the night he'd left her house, checking to make sure he'd gotten home okay and apologizing one more time for the interruptions.
Neji hadn't minded much—he had been entirely too focused on her intentions to really care. He recalled vividly how she had pressed up against him, her mouth at his neck.
Neji fought down the sensation that rose up in him, willing himself to keep his self-control intact.
He stood and grabbed his jacket, quitting his room to walk down the hall, keys in hand.
"Hello?" Neji greeted, his gaze flicking around the green field.
"Hi. It's TenTen," the brunette murmured through the line.
Neji smiled, feeling pleased that he was on her mind as well.
"I figured, seeing as you're the only girl who calls me."
Neji spotted her finally, walking onto the field with her cell phone secured to her ear.
She was smiling.
"Hey, where are you?" she asked, head turned away from him as she scanned the opposite field. "It's really loud on your end."
"Oh, you know. The usual."
TenTen scoffed and shook her head.
"The usual? Are you studying?"
TenTen was silent, thinking, from what Neji could tell from the stands.
"Well, where the hell are you?" she finally asked, impatience leaking into her tone.
"I'll give you a hint. It's outside."
TenTen stopped walking, eyebrows drawn together in confusion.
Then, "Oh, my gosh, are you here?"
Neji smiled lightly.
"Yeah. The home stands."
TenTen swivelled to face the home side, brown eyes scanning the spectators before she finally saw Neji.
She grinned and hung up the phone, gesturing for him to come down to the field.
When Neji reached her, she stared up at him through the gate of the soccer field, shaking her head.
"What are you doing here? Why didn't you tell me you were coming?"
"I don't know. You mentioned it yesterday, so I just thought I'd come watch since I had nothing better to do."
TenTen gazed up at him, studying him.
"Whatever, Neji. Just admit that you wanted to come see me."
"TenTen!" came a loud voice from a few feet away. "Come on!"
TenTen sent Neji a what-can-you-do look and stumbled off. Neji reluctantly went back up to the stands and sat down, intending to stay for the whole game.
Neji didn't know much about soccer, but he was almost positive TenTen wasn't allowed to hit people as much as she did.
She bumped, prodded, stepped on, nudged, crunched, and stamped her way to the goal every time she had the ball, showing no regard for the people she ran into.
By the time the game was over, Neji was stunned into silence. He never knew soccer could be so violent.
TenTen found Neji still in the stands after the game.
She had changed into a t-shirt and some grey sweatpants, her hair still plastered to her forehead.
She sat next to him, folding her legs.
"I'm never going to intentionally anger you," Neji started.
TenTen's face was confused.
"Why is that?"
Neji glanced at her.
"You practically slaughtered at least half the people on that field. I was afraid you were going to kill someone."
TenTen cuffed him on the shoulder roughly.
"Shut up. It's part of the game."
Neji shook his head, smirking.
"I highly doubt slamming your foot into someone's kneecap is 'part of the game'."
TenTen rolled her eyes.
"You're exaggerating," she claimed with a wide grin. "Why are you even here? Don't you have stuff to do?"
"I'll get around to it," he brushed off.
TenTen smiled clumsily, and opened her mouth to speak, but she was interrupted when a girl with pink hair stamped up the bleachers with an annoyed expression.
"TenTen, what the hell? You were supposed to—"
Sakura stopped as she took in Neji, a single eyebrow rising questioningly.
"Hello," she greeted uncertainly.
TenTen stood, and introduced, "Sakura, this is Neji."
Sakura silently appraised him as Neji stood to shake her hand, which Sakura accepted loosely.
She easily turned to TenTen, her annoyance resurfacing.
"Are we going to eat or what?" the girl demanded.
TenTen nodded, biting her lip as she glanced at Neji.
"We're going to get some waffles . . . if you wanted to come," TenTen lightly, her eyes darting to Sakura for approval.
The pink-haired girl shrugged, non-committal.
"I don't want to intrude—" Neji began.
"You're not!" TenTen exclaimed quickly. "You can even invite Naruto, if you want!"
Sakura sent a look to TenTen that Neji easily deciphered.
"No, that's okay," Neji said, picking up the hints that he wasn't wanted. "Both of you played really well. Congratulations on winning your game. I'll see you later, TenTen."
Neji began to walk down the steps of the bleachers and immediately heard TenTen start whispering angrily to Sakura.
Before Neji reached the ground, Sakura coolly addressed, "Hey, you're welcome to come with us, if you want."
Neji looked back up at them.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, she is," TenTen answered, unable to keep the pleased grin from her mouth. "Now call Naruto up and meet us at the waffle place in Tama City."(2)
The two girls traipsed down the bleachers and treaded down the walkway to the back parking lot. TenTen winked at Neji as she passed, her expression lively and excited.
Neji watched her disappear and then flipped open his phone to call Naruto.
It was clear to everyone at the table that Sakura Haruno was less than pleased to be in the company of the two boys who had joined she and TenTen.
True to his nature, however, Naruto jumped right into the tension. Much to Sakura's displeasure.
"So, Sakura-chan, I don't know if you've been told this before, but your eyes are captivating," Naruto complimented with his easy smile.
Sakura stared Naruto down.
"Has that particular line worked for you before?" Sakura posed coldly.
Naruto's forehead wrinkled in confusion.
"What line? I was being serious."
TenTen snorted, but sought to cover it up when Sakura glared at her.
TenTen waited until Sakura turned her blistering gaze back to Naruto to look at Neji.
She was careful to keep her expression schooled, but her eyes were animated. With one look she could set him on fire inside, and Neji almost hated her for it.
Her knee knocked against his, and Neji started from the impact.
TenTen cleared her throat and leaned back in the booth, breaking eye contact and engaging Naruto as if nothing had passed between she and Neji.
Later, in the car, Naruto turned to Neji seriously.
"What was that?" the blonde demanded to know.
"What?" Neji responded, pulling out of the parking lot.
Naruto exhaled loudly, exasperated.
"Neji, what was going on between you and TenTen tonight? I mean, yeah, there was that tension with Sakura, but there was something completely intense happening between you two!"
Neji shook his head, careful to not meet Naruto's honest eyes.
"Nothing," answered Neji.
But Naruto wasn't letting him off that easily.
"I mean, it's obvious that something happened," Naruto stated, his eyes narrowed.
Neji sighed, but did not divulge.
"Neji! I'm your best friend! Are you really not going to tell me if something happened between you—"
"Naruto, if you don't shut up you'll be getting back on the train to go home."
"But I'm out of money!"
"Walk, then," Neji replied shortly.
Naruto scoffed, looking out the car window.
Neji considered what Naruto had said and sighed softly.
Damn, he thought, feeling guilty.
"Fine," Neji released, quickly informing Naruto of the previous day.
At the end of Neji's retelling, he glanced at the blonde. Naruto was staring at him with wide, blue eyes.
"Neji," breathed Naruto. "She likes you. A lot."
Neji rolled his eyes.
"Stop it, Naruto. You're reading too much into it."
"No, I'm not!" Naruto cried out, his eyes growing wider. "The looks and the hugging and the lips-on-the-neck? Neji!"
Neji gripped the steering wheel, suddenly regretting his decision to share information.
"What are you going to do about it?" Naruto posed, eager.
"Nothing," Neji replied firmly.
And that was his decision—he was most likely reading too much into TenTen's natural friendliness anyway. There was no reason to put himself out there (even if he did like her), and cause embarrassment for both of them.
"We're just friends, Naruto," Neji claimed for at least the hundredth time. "I help her with math and she helps me to drive better. That's it. We have a normal, platonic friendship."
Naruto cackled, clearly finding Neji's words hilarious.
"Sure, Neji. That was completely evident when you practically jumped out of the booth when she hit you underneath the table."
Neji groaned, agitated. He had forgotten how annoyingly observant Naruto could be.
Yumi mass-texted the details of her race the following weekend.
Neji did a double-take when he received the message, his forehead furrowed in bemusement. It wasn't the location that was throwing him, but the time.
As he was looking at his phone, attempting to comprehend the message, a phone call came through.
"What the hell is she thinking?" TenTen snapped, foregoing a more pleasant greeting.
"I'm guessing you don't understand it either?" Neji responded.
"No," TenTen replied, clearly disgruntled. "She wants to get us all arrested, is what she wants."
"You think it's real, then?"
"Guess we'll find out, won't we?"
Neji had to lie to his boss to get out of work Saturday, and he was contemplating his guilt as he sped to arrive at Route 6 by noon.(3)
The expressway was congested as usual, and it did not help that it was midday on a Saturday.
Annoyed, Neji coasted to the Hakozaki Junction from the Horikiri Junction, looking around for recognizable cars from previous races.
TenTen's white S2000 was steadily approaching in Neji's rearview mirror, and Yumi's blatantly pink Saleen was a few yards in front of him.
Neji's phone buzzed with a text from Yumi. It said: Race starts precisely at 12. First racer to reach the Edo-bashi exit wins.
Neji gritted his teeth and looked at his clock.
Neji glanced over as TenTen pulled up beside him, her window rolled down. Neji rolled down his passenger window to oblige her.
"Don't use NoS this time. The expressway is too clogged for that kind of stuff," TenTen said hurriedly, checking her side mirrors swiftly. "I'm going to kill Yumi, the psychotic bitch."
TenTen glimpsed her clock and grinned, turning back to Neji.
"See you at the end, Neji!"
With that, TenTen tapped her gas pedal and quickly sped past him. Neji sighed and accelerated, watching as TenTen weaved tightly through the slowly congesting cars.
Grudgingly, Neji snaked among the cars, receiving angry beeps as he did so.
It was almost impossible to navigate through the cars—traffic was just too clogged. There was no way Neji was getting over 100 mph and walking out alive.
Still, he pressed on, maneuvering around and cutting off various cars as he sped towards the Edo-bashi exit that emptied into Harumi.(4)
As he was entering the Hakozaki Junction, Neji saw Yumi's car, falling behind. TenTen was nowhere in sight—she'd disappeared from his sight early on. The red Spyker that had won a couple of races was also near, only a few cars in front of Neji.
Neji swerved to avoid a collision with a car coming up from the Hakozaki ramp and found himself drawing level with Yumi's Saleen. He looked fleetingly, and the girl blew him a kiss through her passenger window.
Neji tried not to roll his eyes.
A space opened up between a van and a four-door Prius, and Neji slipped through, leaving Yumi behind.
Overhead, he saw the sign indicating the Edo-bashi exit and he unconsciously sped up, whipping through a few lanes recklessly.
However, his carelessness was not enough to win him the race.
Both the red Spyker and TenTen were already parked and waiting below, pulled off to the side of the street that led into Chuo City.
TenTen exited her car easily, an irritated expression creased between her brows. The raven-haired driver of the Spyker emerged too, his arms crossed.
"Who won?" Neji inquired, slipping out of his own car.
"Uchiha," TenTen muttered, gesturing to the raven-haired boy. "But I don't care. Yumi is a freaking idiot. We could have killed someone doing this in the middle of the day!"
"We didn't have to come," Sasuke reminded levelly.
TenTen put her hands on her hips, saying, "I don't back down from a challenge, and neither do you, Uchiha. Yumi knows that about us."
Still aggravated, TenTen withdrew her amount of the cash and tossed it to the driver of the Spyker, who caught it deftly with one hand. Neji gave his own portion, which Sasuke accepted silently.
Yumi arrived in that second and easily climbed out of her pink vehicle, tossing her hair over her shoulder.
She sauntered over to Sasuke and withdrew her wad of money from her bra, shooting the winner a cheeky smile.
"Congratulations," she said sweetly.
He nodded shortly and got back into his car, speeding off a second later, gone as fast as he'd come.
Yumi turned to Neji, eyeing him as she walked up to him, ignoring TenTen.
"Those were some clever moves, Neji-san," Yumi complimented, batting her eyelashes.
Neji's eyes slipped to TenTen, whose face looked pinched.
"Thank you," Neji responded stiffly.
Seeing that she would have to try harder, Yumi drew closer and hastily kissed Neji's cheek. She withdrew quickly, probably sensing Neji's discomfort and the hostile tension radiating from TenTen.
"I guess I'll see you both at the Mid Night Club competition?" Yumi called over her shoulder as she headed to her Saleen.
TenTen's expression grew darker and she said sharply, "You were invited?"
Yumi shot her a sugary smile.
"Of course. You're not the only girl who can race, TenTen-chan."
TenTen's fists clenched, her eyebrows drawn together.
"I'm the only one who respects other people. What was that crap today, Yumi? Why were we racing in the middle of the day? We could have all gotten arrested, or worse—hit someone."
Yumi's passive expression cracked a little, a small vein of annoyance popping in her forehead.
"You didn't have to come, TenTen. And besides, everything turned out fine. If you ask me, the races needed to have a more challenging element to them," Yumi retorted.
TenTen rolled her eyes.
"Yeah, because threatening other people's lives is the exact challenge we need."
Yumi shrugged, unconcerned.
"Like I said, you didn't have to come. Now, if you'll excuse me," Yumi said delicately, sliding into her car.
She waved at Neji as she passed and sped off, tracing Sasuke's previously-made path.
"One day, I'm really going to end up killing her," TenTen muttered, catching Neji's eye. A small, strained smile pulled at the corner of her mouth. "Bitch left her lipstick on you."
Neji wiped his hand along his cheek and TenTen snorted, shaking her head.
"I've got it," she said, walking over to him.
She wetted her thumb and pressed it to his cheek, easily relieving him of Yumi's mark.
Neji watched her, trying to relax his tight chest.
Her russet eyes flickered to his, and her lips twitched. For a second, they stood there, each trying to gauge the other's expression, but then Neji's phone rang and the moment was broken.
TenTen sighed, putting more space between them as Neji looked at the caller ID.
He swallowed, hesitant to answer.
"Who is it?" TenTen asked.
"My uncle," Neji responded, grimacing.
TenTen waited as Neji ran through his options as the phone still continued to ring.
A few seconds later, the call went to voicemail, while Neji was still debating.
"What do you think he wanted?" TenTen inquired curiously.
"I don't know. I guess I'll find out soon enough."
(1) The Mid Night Club was a street racing club that arranged races along the Bayshore Route of the Shuto Expressway. They were a very elite club, and they stressed legitimate racing and safety (your membership would be revoked if you drove recklessly). The group disbanded after a misfortunate accident in 1999. Obviously I'm using their name for my own personal purposes, but I have no affiliation with the group. You can read more about them on Wikipedia.
(2) Tama City is a city within Tokyo's prefectures. It is to the south, and is home to Hello Kitty-Land.
(3) Route 6 (otherwise known as the Mukojima Route) is on Shuto Expressway. It is an elevated highway that runs eastward along the Sumida River. I found the expressways pretty confusing (mostly because I haven't been to Japan to experience it), but I found several helpful maps that I used to write this chapter. There is also a video on YouTube that I used to get a feel for it. If you message me, I'd be happy to share my resources with you, should you like them.
(4) Harumi is a central ward of Tokyo. It is referred to as Chuo City in English. It is usually considered to be the commercial center of Tokyo, though Shinjuku is also competing for this title.
I know it was dreadfully awful. Forgive me-I haven't touched this in a couple of years.
If I still have any readers out there, I'd love to hear what you think.