A/N: I do NOT own Naruto (See profile for full disclaimer)
Prologue: Three years ago
A soft knock on the terrace door brought Tenten out of her reverie. Neji. She recognized his familiar silhouette through the glass. Oh god, how do I tell him? Trying to ignore the fluttering in her stomach, she crossed her bedroom to let him in. You just have to tell him, that's all, she thought, he'll be okay. He'll make it okay. She opened the door, forcing a smile onto her lips, but before she could step back to let him through, he had reached out and pulled her through the door.
The rough stone of the wall was digging into her back. Her heart beat erratically as he came closer and closer. Involuntarily she gasped as his warm body pressed her into the wall, his lips capturing hers in a searing kiss. The world spun on its axis and everything faded away, there was only him. Then the warm pressure was gone from her mouth. She slowly opened her eyes, still slightly shocked by his unexpected behaviour. His forehead leaning against hers, his silky hair blowing around them both, he held her close for a moment longer before leaning back to look into her eyes. He looked slightly wild, emotional, out of control … completely unlike his usual stoic self. Tenten eyed him apprehensively, then gathered her courage to ask, "What's wrong?"
"I … I couldn't just leave. Not without saying goodbye. Not without asking you, even though I have no right –"
"But where are you going?" she interrupted, frustrated that her voice was more a breathy sigh than the forceful question she'd intended.
"It's better if you don't know. Just telling you goodbye is all the trouble I intend to get you into. They will pry and they will probe and eventually you will be in an intolerable position. I cannot allow that to happen." Years of unthinking trust had her instinctively nodding in agreement.
do you have to go?" she whispered, horrified at the broken sound of
"I just have to. Trust me," his voice was pleading, as he tilted her chin up to look into her eyes.
"Are you coming back?"
"I promise. I have no right to ask this but wait for me."
"Forever." A clatter on the street below drew his attention. "I have to go. I don't want to be seen here." With a last hard kiss he pushed her away, turning to disappear into the darkness.
Frantically she caught hold of his arm, "Wait, Neji. I have to tell you-"
But his arm slipped through her grasp like smoke and his disembodied voice drifted through the night.
"I'll come back for you."
Then he was gone. How long she'd stayed like that, staring into the darkness, she didn't know. She only knew blind panic. Get a hold of yourself, Tenten. You have to be strong. He will come back. He promised. You only have to be strong enough to wait.
Despair clouded her thinking as her legs gave out and she sank slowly to the ground. He was gone, really gone. Placing her hands protectively over her stomach, she fought against the fear. At last, trembling, she stood, and turned to go back inside. It'll be all right. We'll be all right. I'll take care of you. You still have me. We'll wait together.
Tenten jerked awake, the sound of a whispered promise made so long ago echoing down through the years. Breathing deeply to calm the frantic beating of her heart, she stared blankly at the ceiling. You lied Hyuuga Neji, she thought bitterly, after all these years I cannot believe that you'd ever intended to come back home. What are you up to? More importantly, why did you have to leave me behind to do it? Not that I was much better at keeping any of my promises, she admitted to herself out of an innate sense of fair play.
against the memories that threatened to overwhelm her, she shook her
head violently from side to side. And screamed when a figure rose
from the bed beside her.
"Tenten! Are you okay? What is it? It's a dream, just a dream" Shikamaru pulled her into his arms, stroking soothing circles onto her back. God, I completely forgot that he's here. Tenten mentally gave herself a shake before pulling away from him.
fine, don't worry," she smiled gently cupping his cheek with her
"Wow, you nearly gave me a heart attack," Shikamaru leaned back into the pillows, placing a bent arm over his eyes. "And a heart attack at 25 would definitely have been troublesome."
Tenten rolled her eyes, wondering for the umpteenth time how on earth they had managed to wind up like this.
Oh wait, that's right he got dumped and I got … whatever the hell it was that I got. Looking at Shikamaru through her lashes she wondered what he must think of her, always content to allow his physical presence in her life but utterly unable to let him past any emotional barriers.
Though he'd talked to her about the events that had led him here, she'd never really opened up about what had driven her to such a strange situation. Still surveying him carefully from beneath lowered lashes her thoughts turned to the past…
Two years ago
Unable to sleep she had gone for a walk and wound up on a rooftop that provided an excellent view of the stars along with an illusion of total isolation. Only the spot had already been occupied. For some reason it had been entirely natural to plop down next to him and sit in silence. For hours they'd stayed like that, not speaking, and yet comforted by the other's presence.
Finally, as dawn had begun to brush the sky, Shikamaru had started to talk and sensing that he needed to get it all out, she'd listened in silence. "Temari's getting married today. To the Wind Country's feudal lord. An arranged marriage. I guess she really would do anything for her village," his laugh had been tainted with bitterness.
"She told me last week. Came all the way to Konoha because she wanted to explain. How the hell do you explain something like that? "Hi, honey, how are you? I missed you. Oh, and by the way, I'm marrying someone else next week, but don't worry I don't love him or anything, it's just politics!" he'd mimicked Temari's voice, anger in every line of his body. But Tenten could see the hurt beneath the anger and she'd done what came naturally, she'd simply put her arms around him and held him.
Before long the rooftop sessions had become a nightly occurrence. At first they'd only sat in silence, sometimes sharing a thought, drawing comfort from the fact that there was someone else who really understood the feeling of abandonment. Tenten had never opened up the way Shikamaru had but that had been all right, too. How he had known that she was a kindred spirit she'd never asked but it hadn't exactly been a secret that she had been the only one to warrant a goodbye from Neji. It wasn't a hard conclusion to draw, especially for the resident genius.
"It's okay if you don't want to talk about it," he'd told her one night. "What do you mean?" she'd asked warily.
"I'm not prying or anything, I just wanted you to know that if you want to talk, or if you don't, whatever, is fine.
feel that because I dumped my troubles on you that you have to tell
me anything. Whatever your problems, that's your business." She'd
been so surprised, so sure that he was going to pressure her for
answers - everyone else did at every opportunity.
"Thank you," she'd whispered. He hadn't replied, but he'd taken her hand and pulled her back into their companionable silence.
Weeks passed and their meetings had begun to take on a ritual feel, unless there were missions to attend to, or horrifically bad storms, they would meet on the rooftop. One stormy night had found her on the roof anyway.
It had been the one year anniversary of Neji's departure and the horrifying turn her life had taken in the months since had preyed on her mind incessantly, she'd tried everything to forget but nothing had helped.
Eventually she'd gone to the only place where she'd found some peace in the last months. She hadn't been there very long when Shikamaru had joined her, braving the elements to ask whether she was suicidal now. She'd burst into hysterical laughter and before she'd known what was happening the laughter had turned to tears. She'd sobbed her heart out on his shoulder. Tenten, who never cried. For the first time since the night that Neji had left she had let her emotions have a completely free rein.
In between the sobs, she'd shared some of her story. How she worried, when would he come back? Was he dead? But their last meeting, and it's ramifications that she could not share. Shikamaru had listened quietly and when she was done raging and crying with the storm, he'd picked her exhausted form up, as if she were a child, and taken her to his apartment.
She'd barely even noticed where they were going, had allowed him to take off her wet clothes – some part of her registering his averted eyes with amusement – she'd been as unresisting as a ragdoll when he'd wrapped her in something warm and placed her in his bed. She'd been sunk into a kind of stupor, as if after all the months of suppressing her memories, they had broken free and overwhelmed her completely. He'd let her be. But somewhere in the middle of the night, his warmth had made her aware of just how cold she was.
His body beside hers had radiated heat and instinctively she'd moved closer, wanting to be warm. He had stiffened slightly in surprise, so she'd known he was still awake and slowly his arms had come around her, drawing her close. With a soft sigh she'd settled into the circle of his arms, burying her face in his neck and for the first time since that horrible night she'd felt … safe. As she'd nestled into him her lips had brushed the smooth column of his throat. And she'd begun wondering whether he tasted as good as he smelled.
Without any clear idea of what she was doing, her lips had begun exploring his skin. His breath had hissed from his chest, but he hadn't pulled away. One of his hands had skimmed down the curve of her body, coming to rest on her hip, pulling her closer. When her tongue had snaked out to trace the shell of his ear, he'd gasped, his hand tightening on her hip. He had allowed her to satisfy her curiosity, let her continue with her exploration, but she'd been aware of the rigidity of his body, as if he held himself firmly in check.
She'd wondered if his skin was this silky and soft all over, and her hands had trailed down his chest, her fingers searching for the hem of his shirt, slipping under the fabric and tracing the defined muscles of his stomach, enjoying the shudders that ran through him at her light touch. She'd lost herself in the feel of his skin, his hands on her hips, had been able to forget who she was.
Then he'd groaned almost helplessly and rolled over so she came to rest beneath his hard body. Distantly she'd been aware that this was Shikamaru but that rational part of her brain had been swiftly silenced when his mouth had descended to hers. His lips had been so gentle, yet insistent, his tongue tracing the line of her lips, requesting entrance. Barely aware of anything besides the feel of his mouth on hers, the sane part of her had warned that she was yielding to much more than a simple kiss, yet she'd opened her mouth and when his tongue had touched hers and something exploded between them, she'd known that she wanted, no, needed this. Needed to feel wanted, needed the comfort that his heat brought.
Firmly pushing all thoughts of Neji away she'd given herself up to the moment – and to Shikamaru's unrelenting hands and warm mouth. And she'd discovered that he could banish even the darkest thoughts to the hidden depths of her soul. And so their relationship had begun. But there was no awkwardness, no sense of owing. Both knew that the other's heart was far away. This was all either of them had left. Before long they'd fallen into a pattern that had lasted nearly two years now.