A/N: I've divided this into 2 parts – so please let me know if it is worth continuing ^_^
Warning: This is a VERY fluffy piece so a lot of OOC-ness may occur!

Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto

Changed: Part 1

Neji stared at the gyrating bodies beneath the flashing lights, wishing he was anywhere but here. Why he'd been invited to Kiba's sister's wedding in the first place completely mystified him. He knew neither the bride nor the jounin she was marrying. His connection with the bride's younger brother could be described as a passing acquaintanceship at best – Kiba was Hinata's teammate, not his. Despite having worked with Kiba on missions in the past they had never really struck up a friendship. Neji didn't make friends easily – he didn't need to – and the few friends he did have weren't all his friends by choice.

Still, none of that had seemed to matter, and he'd received the heavily engraved parchment invitation same as Hinata and Hiashi-sama had. He remembered thinking, at the time, that they'd probably felt it would be rude to invite Hinata only but he'd revised that opinion as soon as he'd arrived at the wedding – it seemed everyone in Konoha had been invited – and spent the rest of the evening kicking himself for allowing Hinata to manipulate him into coming. She must have known about the extensive guest-list but that hadn't deterred her from nagging incessantly about how rude it would be if he declined after they had gone to all the trouble to invite him specially. Only now did he realize how much she had benefitted from their training sessions – she'd become a lot more confident - not too long ago Hinata would've jumped into a burning pit before telling him what to do. Really, he was beginning to have a bad influence on her, and she used to be such a sweet, pliable girl. Neji shook his head regretfully, torn between admiration for Hinata's successful manipulation techniques, and disgust at his own gullibility. In the end, he'd given in, more for the sake of his sanity than out of any real appreciation for the Inuzukas' gesture.

Now, here he stood, at a crowded bar, in a dimly lit room – if you could count the spinning, multi-colored flashes as lighting – only to find that he'd been suckered into attending an event where no one really cared whether he was present or not. He was going to kill Hinata. Tomorrow. Definitely. But for now, tonight, he'd given himself over to the inevitable and so he'd done the only thing that had made sense in his current predicament – he'd consumed a reasonable amount of sake. The alcohol had done the job and he was quite relaxed, though far from actually enjoying himself.

His mouth twisted with distaste as another scantily clad young woman brushed against him deliberately, under the guise of stepping up to the bar. He'd lost count of the number of times he'd had to insist that he was not looking for company tonight or any other night - to members of both sexes. For the umpteenth time he wondered what it was about a man having long hair that made people think that he swung both ways – that was a fairly sexist assumption – but he'd given up on explaining that line of reasoning - it had, unfailingly, been met with blank stares - by the third inebriated come-on he'd had to endure. Don't even think about that, he told himself firmly. Losing patience with the girl that was still throwing seductive looks up at him every so often – despite the fact that Neji had made damned sure not to look in her direction at all – he moved away, closer to the edge of the bar, and the doors that led to the terrace which skirted the edge of the dance floor.

With something close to relief he spotted Shino leaning against the bar, next to the door. True, he didn't know Shino any better than he knew Kiba, but at least it was someone he recognized, and maybe if it looked like he was with another person the come-ons would stop. Decision made, Neji headed straight for the Aburame, and gave him a quick nod when he leaned against the bar next to him, angling his body to make sure it looked as if they were engaged in a discussion. Thankfully the music was too loud to really carry on a conversation, so he wouldn't be expected to make small-talk.

Neji sent a quick glance over the crowded dance-floor once he'd settled himself in his new position, and, having found Hinata dancing with Sakura, and looking in no way as if harm would befall her at any time in the near future, he relaxed somewhat. Of course, she was the reason he was still here, or he would've left the second the ceremony had been concluded. But no, Hinata wanted to dance and how could he leave her in this kind of atmosphere? Heaven alone knew what would happen to her if he did – she'd become more confident but she was still innocent Hinata and, therefore, a dream come true for any predator whose eye she caught - it was his duty to protect her after all.

Resigning himself anew to the long night ahead, Neji allowed his gaze to sweep idly over the dancers. A flash of white skin caught his eye, and for a moment Neji allowed his gaze to settle on the dancing girl. Her skin was pale, without being pasty, and contrasted nicely with the midnight blue of her dress. Though, in Neji's humble opinion, what she was wearing could hardly be called a dress. There was far too little of it for that. It was some sort of strapless affair that clung closely to the curves of her body, and ended in a short, ruffled skirt that barely came to mid-thigh, though Neji had to concede, it was rather fascinating - the way the skirt flared out when she moved. He found himself nearly laughing at the ingenious way women had of designing clothes to tempt when it became obvious that though the ruffles were flaring flirtily away from her body, they were sewed on to the actual dress which clung to her legs tightly. A glance around showed him that he was not the only one who had been staring at her legs, and the way the skirt flared when she twirled – promising everything but in actual fact revealing very little. Though she did have nice legs, Neji admitted to himself. Toned without being overly muscular, shapely and long – and why did the way she moved seem so familiar? Neji frowned. Locating the still twirling girl, he swept his gaze up her body this time – to her face. And nearly choked on his drink when she turned and the light fell full on her very familiar features. Tenten? Neji eyed his one-time teammate incredulously, taking in the long, dark hair swinging in a silken cloud around her shoulders, her curvaceous body, and that sinful dress that he had just been admiring. Oh, dear Kami in heaven, he'd been admiring Tenten.

Carefully, Neji replaced his half-drunk cup of sake on the bar – if he was ogling Tenten he'd definitely had more than enough to drink. At least that explains why she seemed so familiar. Still half dazed, and caught between disbelief and admiration, Neji smirked at his nonsensical thoughts, his near instinctive reaction. What did it matter if it was Tenten after all? So she had once been his teammate, so he'd watched her grow up, so what? He was still male, and if she was dressed like that then she couldn't expect him not to look. Defiantly he reached for the sake again.

Maybe he hoped to drown out the little voice in the back of his mind that whispered that he didn't mind so much about looking at Tenten himself, it was all the other men lining the bar and practically drooling over her that had his gut twisting with new and uncomfortable emotions.

Having reached the conclusion that it didn't matter that it was Tenten – and having pushed the other thoughts to the back of his mind - Neji quite happily gave himself over to the visual pleasure inherent to watching Tenten dance. Of course, he'd been watching her move for years, but it had never occurred to him that the grace she displayed when launching her weapons or whirling into a taijutsu move could be translated to something as frivolous as dancing. Not that he was complaining.

A hand on his shoulder yanked Neji out of his pleasurable past-time, and with a start he saw Lee standing next to him, for once not wearing green spandex, but a surprisingly tasteful pair of black trousers and a black dress-shirt. "How long have you been there?" he asked Lee in surprise.

Lee's eyebrows rose, it was unheard of for anyone to catch Neji by surprise. "Not long," he replied before turning to the barman and ordering a drink. While Lee was occupied, Neji shot another glance towards the place he'd last seen Tenten, and, for the second time, nearly choked on his sake. She was surrounded, literally surrounded, by men, all of them casting appreciative glances at her spinning form as she danced in the middle of the circle they'd created.

Another hand on his shoulder had Neji glancing back at Lee again. "You know, Neji, maybe you shouldn't glare at them like that. Tenten would never forgive you if you ruined her love life again." Neji turned his glare on Lee, not really registering the words except for 'love life', before he caught on, "What do you mean again?" he asked testily.

Lee laughed, "Oh, come on, Neji. You must know about the effect you had on Tenten's would-be suitors when we were younger. Her love life is only now recovering from the blow you dealt it in our teens."

"I have no idea what you mean," Neji retorted coldly. Lee's eyebrows arched, "Neji. Remember when we were, what, about fifteen or sixteen? And Tenten got asked out on a date for the first time?" Neji met Lee's gaze squarely, and forestalled the rest of the story with a tense, "He interrupted my training."

With an incredulous look, Lee said wryly, "Neji, you gentle-fisted the poor boy straight into a hospital bed, where he remained for nearly a week!" Stubbornly, Neji shook his head, "He interrupted my training," he repeated. Lee sighed in defeat, "Whatever you say, Neji, the point remains that the rest of the teenaged male population at the time learned from that poor boy's mistake, and didn't go anywhere near Tenten after that. It's only since we've been working together a lot less that Tenten has been having a bit of a revival in the romance department."

Neji glared at Lee again, "I fail to see how that is my fault. If they didn't have the guts to ask her even if they were afraid I'd hit them – which I wouldn't have done so long as they didn't interrupt my training – then they weren't worth her time anyway. And what do you mean a 'revival'? How do you know all this?" Neji eyed Lee suspiciously.

Lee sighed, "Tenten told me. You've been gone a lot lately or else you'd have known, too. And I'm not having this conversation with you. I have no desire to watch you beat another innocent man into a coma – once was enough." Lee turned and walked away, leaving Neji staring after him in frustration, "What revival?" he called after Lee, in the faint hope that an answer would be forthcoming, but Lee simply waved a hand over his shoulder.

The rest of Neji's evening was spent in a tense silence as he alternated between watching over Hinata and watching over Tenten - although Hinata didn't bear watching nearly as much as Tenten did. It had been common knowledge for years now, how Hinata felt about Naruto – to everyone but Naruto that is - and she was sticking close to the blonde's side. Neji had no doubts that Hinata would be safe with Naruto – he was clueless in the first place, and in the second, he would definitely defend her honor should she receive any unwanted attention. No, as much as Neji wished he could be called upon to protect Hinata – and, therefore, get the hell out of here – it was Tenten who was making him incredibly nervous, surrounded as she was with a constant stream of admirers. It didn't help to tell himself that Tenten was a big girl, and that she could take care of herself – because she'd consumed one alcoholic beverage after another. All bought for her by one panting male after another, and Neji was damned if he would let any of them reap any benefits from trying to get her drunk. Critically, he ran an assessing eye over Tenten – her movements in particular – and was pleased to note that she was completely steady on her feet. A little tipsy, perhaps, but definitely far from the plastered state the surrounding fan-club obviously wanted her in.

He sighed, and gritted his teeth, as Tenten moved into another man's arms. Was she planning to dance with every damn man in the place? Neji's eyes narrowed as he recognized the current dance partner from earlier – this had to be the third dance he'd claimed. In growing consternation, Neji watched as, through the course of the next few songs, the rest of the men faded away. Great. Now what? Obviously the guy was staking a claim, and the rest of them were abiding by the lady's choice but there was no way on this earth that he was allowing Tenten to leave with that man. He was obviously only after one thing. Really, Neji's honor demanded that he stop Tenten from making a drunken decision that she would regret come morning. Staunchly he told himself that he would've done exactly the same for any of his other friends.

Just to add insult to injury – Neji was sure fate was mocking him tonight – the song changed to one with a much slower beat. Gritting his teeth he watched as Tenten moved closer to the man, and abruptly he decided that, once the song finished, he was taking Tenten home, whether she wanted to go or not. His resolution to try and be polite about it lasted only as long as it took the man to slide a hand down her back to trace fleetingly over her shapely rear.

Not even bothering to think through the action, Neji marched onto the dance floor and unceremoniously pushed in between them. "Mind if I cut in," he very nearly snarled, and, with one look at the deadly serious intent on Neji's face, the man hastily raised his hands, "No, not at all." Neji didn't spare him any further thoughts as he looked down at Tenten. "Neji," she sighed, winding her arms around his neck, "are you dancing with me now?"

Neji swore inwardly, obviously he'd miscalculated her alcohol intake – she was far more intoxicated than he'd thought. Must've been the ninja reflexes and balance that fooled me, he realized grimly. She hadn't even had that much to drink, much less than he had, for example, but, obviously she couldn't handle alcohol.

"Come on, we're going," he ground out, taking her elbow to propel her forward. To his surprise she didn't argue. "Okay," Tenten agreed, holding on to his arm quite happily as they made their way across the dance floor and out into the night.

Neji tried to ignore the pounding headache that had developed somewhere between the wedding venue and Tenten's apartment. The fresh air had done Tenten absolutely no good; instead, she seemed to become more and more giggly the further they went. The fourth time she'd stumbled on her delicate, high-heeled shoes, Neji had given up on propriety and wrapped an arm firmly around her waist. The strange thing was that she didn't seem to mind, she'd leaned into him contentedly. He'd been completely wrong-footed by the soft, trust-filled smiles she kept directing at him and now this, when they'd finally made it to Tenten's apartment, albeit with many false stops and starts.

"What do you mean you don't have the key?" he asked Tenten, fighting to hold on to his patience. She giggled. "Is okay," she said, happily, "I'll climb in the window." Neji closed his eyes as he rubbed a hand across his face. "What window, Tenten? You live on the fifth floor. In your state you'd fall and break your neck."

She frowned in concentration, "I won't. I'm a ninja." She looked at him in confusion, and suddenly Neji felt a bit guilty at being so short with her. Resolutely he pushed the thoughts away, but when he spoke again, his voice had gentled. "Come. You'll have to come home with me. In the morning, we'll come back and get the superintendent to open with the master key. It's too late to bother him now, when we have a solution to the problem."

"'kay," Tenten agreed, and promptly grabbed his arm, staring expectantly up at him. Neji shook his head as he started to move forward again. That was … in no way … cute, he told himself fiercely, not in the least. I did not just think that was cute. Obviously, he was also beginning to feel the effects of the fresh air on top of the sake if he was thinking such things.

About a block from the Hyuuga compound Tenten's legs gave way to her exhaustion, and with a resigned sigh, Neji lifted her into his arms. When he finally reached his bedroom, he simply sank down with her on top of the bedcovers, thankful to finally be able to put her down. Who knew such a slight girl could weigh so much? But if he was honest with himself, the relief of putting her down had far more to do with him liking how she had felt against his chest, than it did with the burning muscles in his arms.

Groaning, Neji levered himself up again, took off Tenten's shoes, and after placing her under the covers, he unzipped her dress. With some maneuvering – firmly fighting the urge to peek – he finally managed to get the dress off. Tenten sighed and buried her face in the pillows, and before he could really take in the sight of Tenten sleeping half-naked in his bed, Neji grabbed a pillow and an extra blanket. He was so tired the hardness of the floor barely even registered as he drifted off to blessed oblivion.

Tenten woke slowly. The light that was hitting her eyes – quite apart from making her head ache - was coming from the wrong direction. She took stock of her surroundings. She was in a bed, not hers, but a bed nonetheless. She felt dirty and tired and slightly ill. Judging by the horrible taste in her mouth and the pounding headache, she'd obviously been drinking. Why did I do that? she wondered, I know how low my tolerance for alcohol is. Suddenly memory kicked in, and in flashes she remembered the wedding, the dances, and the drinks. And, dear Kami, she'd been drinking, and now she was in an unfamiliar bed.

Carefully Tenten cracked her eyes open, readying herself for the worst. Instead, the room her gaze lighted upon was familiar without being overly familiar. She rolled carefully onto her side, her eyes dropping to the floor, and she nearly shrieked when they collided with a pearly, white gaze.

"You nearly gave me a heart-attack," she gasped. Typically, Neji only raised his eyebrows at her. Instinctively she relaxed, she might be in a strange bedroom, but with Neji present it couldn't be as bad as all that. Tenten rolled onto her back, and for a moment silence reigned before her brain began putting two and two together. She was in an unfamiliar bed, with Neji on the floor beside said bed. She'd been drinking.

Trying to stifle the unease at the thought that she was clearly missing something, she gathered her courage to ask the burning questions. "Neji?" she whispered. "Hm," was the only response she got but she went on regardless, "Neji, where am I?" Tenten cringed as she heard him shifting – that she had to appear like such a dimwit, in front of Neji of all people, really just wasn't fair.

"You are in my bedroom. Specifically, in my bed," Neji answered, and his dry tone was not lost on Tenten as she tried to assimilate the new information. Silence descended, and then Tenten gathered her courage again. "Neji, why am I in your bed?" she asked timidly.

Neji sighed, "Because you locked yourself out of your apartment last night." He really was being uncharacteristically patient with her, Tenten had to give him credit for that, and now he'd mentioned it, she did vaguely recall something of the sort happening when they'd reached her apartment the previous evening.

"Oh," she finally replied, feeling the need to answer but not really having anything to say in response to his matter-of-fact statement. Tenten struggled to get her thoughts in order. After another long silence she asked, "Neji, why are you on the floor?"

This time the huff of breath was anything but patient, and Tenten winced, but when his voice sounded, it was laced with humor, "Would you rather have woken up wrapped around me, and been even more embarrassed than you are now?"

Regretfully, Tenten reflected that waking up wrapped around Neji would make up for a lot of embarrassment, but she was faintly touched by the gentlemanly gesture nonetheless. "Right," she replied vaguely, still caught up in fantasizing about waking up with Neji. Then she shook her head to dislodge the thoughts. He was a friend, a one time teammate, and she trusted him with her life, and that was all. She'd never before viewed him in a romantic light – and she wasn't about to start now - but, damnit, he'd grown up very nicely and she'd have to be blind not to have noticed his good looks.

All the thinking was making her head ache, and when Tenten shifted trying to get comfortable, she became aware, for the first time, that the sheets were brushing against her bare skin. Quickly she decided that she didn't dare ask Neji why she was naked. Surreptiously, she looked around for her dress – she had no memory of removing it – but with a sinking feeling in her stomach she realized she would have to ask after the garment.

As if he'd read her mind, Neji suddenly got to his feet and stared at her almost … sympathetically? That couldn't be right, but at the moment Tenten was too busy worrying about her lack of clothing to really pay much attention. "Your head must hurt," Neji's voice interrupted her frantic thoughts, and when she glanced up at him, Tenten didn't know whether she should be grateful that he'd gone to sleep fully dressed, or if she should be bemoaning her luck in not catching him shirtless. Before she'd managed to formulate a coherent reply, Neji bent down at the foot of the bed, and tossed a piece of dark blue fabric at her. Gratefully, Tenten recognized her dress. "I'll go get you some painkillers while you get dressed," Neji stated, and he quickly exited the room, leaving Tenten alone with her jumbled thoughts.

After he'd seen Tenten off, Neji made his way to the kitchen. He was in desperate need of some caffeine, but his plans for a peaceful cup of coffee rapidly evaporated when he entered the kitchen and saw Hinata already seated at the counter. Preemptively he glared at her, his entire body sending out 'don't-you-dare-say-a-word' signals.

Hinata raised her hands in silent surrender, "Don't shoot," she said, dryly. Still glaring, Neji settled himself at the counter, and decided to forgive Hinata for the comment when she placed a fresh cup of coffee in front of him. He raised his eyes questioningly, and she said, "You look like you need it."

He curled his hands around the warm cup and took a grateful sip of the hot liquid, then he sighed, and, once again, gave himself over to the inevitable, "Okay, spit it out," he told Hinata, staring at the contents of his cup. Hinata stifled a giggle behind her hand at his obvious discomfort and replied loftily, "Wasn't going to say anything." Neji sighed; the new Hinata was much too forthcoming in his presence for his peace of mind.

A long pause followed in which Neji stared straight ahead, refusing to meet her gaze, and suddenly Hinata giggled again, "So, Tenten spent the night," she said, gleefully. Neji couldn't help himself, his head jerked up in response. Sending his cousin a death glare, he quickly put an end to her speculations, "Yes, Tenten spent the night because she'd locked herself out of her apartment. And I spent the night on my floor." He added emphasis to the last words in the vain hope that it would be enough to get through to Hinata that absolutely nothing improper had taken place. Looking at his cousin's shining eyes he admitted defeat; clearly she wasn't going to be put off.

Moodily, Neji swirled the remains of his coffee around the cup, wondering if there was any way that he could avoid speculations now. He was just thankful that Hiashi-sama had been away on business for the last week, and had not attended the wedding. Or been in the house for Tenten's awkward rush out the front door.

Hinata watched the usually composed Neji fidget for a moment longer before she took pity on him. Getting to her feet, she headed for the door, "Neji, what you do is your business but, in all fairness, I have to warn you, your actions last night – admirable as they were – generated quite a bit of interest from your … um … fans," she only stopped herself giggling just in time. Watching Neji fend off advances from men last night had been exceptionally entertaining – he was used to fending off girls, of course, but the look on his face when one man after another had tried to chat him up, had been the funniest thing she'd seen in a long time. Stifling another giggle, she turned so he wouldn't see the big grin she couldn't suppress and added over her shoulder, "After you left, quite a few people came to ask me about you. They just couldn't stop swooning about how 'masterful' and 'gentlemanly' you'd been. So, prepare yourself for the attention – I don't think the fact that you left with Tenten is going to be much of a deterrent." Quickly she left, but not before catching a brief glimpse of her cousin's horror-struck features before he dropped his head onto his arms and groaned.

"You want to do what?" Neji stared at Hinata in disbelief. No, oh no, there is no way that she's doing that to me. Hinata smiled serenely before replying, "I'm having a birthday party for Naruto. I've already discussed it with Father, and he said it would be fine, and to tell you that he's counting on you to make sure his daughter and his house come out of it in one piece. He'll only be back from his trip next week, by the way," she added nonchalantly, deliberately ignoring the mulish expression on her cousin's face.

Neji shook his head in bemusement. The damn wedding had only taken place a week ago, and already Hinata wanted to have more parties? Neji winced when, as per usual, thoughts of the wedding led straight to thoughts of Tenten. And that damn scrap of material she'd had the audacity to call a dress. Not that he'd had any further trouble out of her – she'd avoided him like the plague since the morning she'd rushed out of his house with a quick thank you. Neji gritted his teeth and pulled himself back to the present – he'd spent far too much time thinking about Tenten in the last week. He glared at Hinata, who was still smiling peacefully up at him. "No," he announced, forcefully, glaring daggers at his cousin. Was she trying to kill him?

Neji groaned when the front door opened to admit even more people. He'd tried everything to dissuade Hinata, but she'd blithely gone on her way, arranging the party. Finally, in desperation, he'd threatened to deliberately stay away, and then inform his uncle that she'd had the party without his presence. Hinata had glared at him, and the gentle reproof in her voice should've warned him that the battle had been lost. "Really, Neji. How can you be so selfish? You know what kind of childhood Naruto had. He's never had a birthday party before, and now you, his supposed friend, won't even grant him that small pleasure." Her words had taken all the fight out of him, and, glumly, he'd conceded defeat. Damn the girl, what else could he do, once she'd stated it in those terms?

So, here he was, for the second time in a week, watching lights flashing, and dancers moving about the makeshift dance-floor Hinata had arranged on the patio. Only this time, instead of having to worry about a couple of girls, they were all his problem. I hate my life, Neji thought as he took another swig of his second cup of sake – and the party had only started an hour ago. At this rate, he would be a total alcoholic before too long.

His gaze swept the room again, quite against his will, and fiercely denied to himself that he was searching for Tenten. He was, most definitely, not looking for her. No, he was merely ensuring that his unwanted guests were enjoying themselves. Thankfully, he caught sight of Lee, and quickly made his way over to where his friend was standing – wearing his usual green spandex and talking delightedly to his longtime crush, Sakura. Reaching the pair, Neji gave a short nod in greeting. Lee was far too used to Neji's taciturn behavior to even notice that he wasn't being particularly friendly, but Sakura eyed him curiously. Neji wished she would stop.

It took him a while, but finally he noticed that Lee was being very attentive to Sakura, and that she wasn't moving away to join her blonde teammate on the other side of the room, where he stood talking to a blushing Hinata. For a moment, he was completely non-plussed as the feeling that he'd missed something welled up in his mind. Then Sakura addressed him directly for the first time, and it all began to make a horrible kind of sense, "So, are you here with Tenten? Where is she? I haven't seen her yet." Sakura twisted her neck, standing on her toes, looking for a glimpse of Tenten through the crowd.

Neji couldn't help jerking his head towards an embarrassed-looking Lee for confirmation of his thoughts. Lee shrugged, "Yes, Neji, Sakura agreed to accompany me tonight." Neji's eyes narrowed as he took in the rest of the room. Sure enough, most people seemed to be paired off. His eyes closed slowly and he couldn't help but feel that if he didn't kill Hinata after this then he never would.

Suddenly realizing that Sakura was still waiting for a reply to her question, he said shortly, "No, Tenten is not with me, and I have not seen her either." Quickly, he excused himself, before Sakura could give voice to the curiosity burning in her eyes. Damn Hinata for not telling him that this was a bring-a-date kind of party!

Fighting his way through the crowd, Neji headed for the relative peace of the hallway. Now that the topic had been brought to light, he couldn't help but wonder who Tenten was coming with, or if she was even planning to attend. Unfortunately, he'd not sorted out how he felt about either of those two scenarios before he reached the hallway, and walked smack into Tenten and her date – obviously just arriving. Before he could help himself the words burst from his lips, and to his alarm, he could feel the relief washing through him even as he heard the amusement lacing his tone. "You're here with Shino?"

Tenten jerked in surprise that quickly turned to resentment at his words. "Yes, Neji, I'm here with Shino, because thanks to your interfering last week, I'm back to accepting pity dates from my friends!" Then it was Neji's turn to jerk in surprise at the venom in her tone. His eyebrows rose, and he regarded her flushed face coolly, "I didn't realize. Forgive me. Next time I'll let you be pawed by drunken strangers since that's obviously what you want." He pushed past her and headed for the stairs, not really sure why he was angry but angry nonetheless. With a sigh of relief, he reached the quiet of the landing, and leaned against the wall for a moment, struggling with his chaotic thoughts. What the hell was that all about?

Some time later a quiet knock on his bedroom door reminded Neji that there was, in fact, a party going on downstairs. In the aftermath of the little scene with Tenten, he'd headed for his bedroom, determined not to show his face again. He had no desire to be there anyway, and watching Tenten dance again was quite out of the question. So, he'd decided, for once Hinata would have to look out for herself. And damned if he would feel guilty about dereliction of duty and all that, everyone downstairs was a friend, so he doubted Hinata would come to any harm. He'd just begun to relax in the dark peace of his room when the knock had sounded.

"Bathroom down the hall, on the left," he growled at the door, when the knocking intensified. To his complete disbelief the doorknob turned anyway, and the door swung open to reveal Tenten leaning against the doorframe. "Hi," she said, almost shyly, toying nervously with the fabric of her shirt. Neji stared at her for a moment, refusing to acknowledge how the sight of her skin-tight leggings, and long, floaty, off-the-shoulder blouse affected his hormones. It is simply because, her clothes hint at more than reveal her body, it makes you curious that's all, he told himself firmly.

"Hi," he finally grumbled back. Tenten stared at him questioningly, and he jerked his head to invite her inside, since that was obviously what she was waiting for. She stepped inside and closed the door softly behind her. Turning to face him again, she leaned against the door and cleared her throat nervously. "So, um, great party," she offered lamely, after a moment of silence. Neji glared at her. "Ah, right," she muttered, staring at her shoes.

As if she'd suddenly gathered her courage, she lifted her head, and she said, "Look, I just wanted to apologize for earlier. I didn't mean it the way it sounded – of course I'm grateful that you helped me last week." She stared at her shoes again.

"Hinata made you come up here, didn't she?" Neji responded dryly. Tenten's head jerked up, and he was not, absolutely was not, admiring the way the moonlight streaming in through the window played off the silken waves of her hair. "No," she denied quietly, "in fact, Hinata told me that it was my funeral but since I was set on this course she would gladly point me in the right direction, and then washed her hands of the entire affair."

Neji couldn't help the laugh that escaped him – sometimes he could almost appreciate his cousin's sense of humor. "What?" he asked defensively, when Tenten stared at him in silence. "You should laugh more often," she said, and then her hands flew to her mouth when she realized what she'd just said. Neji smirked at her, just to show that he didn't really mind her comment, and her hands dropped down again as she relaxed.

"So, are you going to come back to the party?" she asked finally, moving forward to join him on the bed. "Um, let me see … no," Neji said sarcastically, "and no, it's not because of you, I just hate crowds." Tenten hung her head, her hair swishing forward, and, frustratingly, Neji couldn't see her expression. "Mmm, me too," she murmured, scuffing her feet along the floor. His eyebrows rose, "Really," he stated, disbelief evident in his tone. "Really, I just got like that last week because of the champagne, and then more drinks seemed like a good idea … vicious circle," Tenten grimaced, "needless to say, I am definitely not touching a drop of alcohol tonight!"

"That might be for the best," Neji agreed gravely, hiding his smile at her uncomfortable wiggle. "Won't your date wonder where you'd gotten to?" Neji asked finally, when she made no move to leave. Tenten jumped to her feet, for some reason she was very agitated tonight, "Oh, right, you want to be alone."

"I never said that," Neji replied slowly, "but you haven't answered the question." Tenten sighed, "I doubt he'll notice – he was talking to Sai the last time I saw him." Nervously, she stepped back to the door – something was different about Neji, and she didn't like the way it was making her feel, "So, I'll just … leave you to your thoughts, then," she mumbled, her hand fumbling behind her for the doorknob. She met with little success, and finally whirled around to see where the damn doorknob had gotten to, but completely miscalculated the turn. One heel caught on the other, and Tenten simply closed her eyes, as she waited for the inevitable connection with the floor. Only it never came, instead, a pair of strong arms wrapped around her, righting her slipping form and pressing her firmly back against the door. "You know, for such a graceful fighter, you're extraordinarily uncoordinated when wearing high heels," Neji drawled down at her.

Breathlessly, Tenten stared up at Neji's dark shape, and before she'd given the action much thought her hand lifted to brush his silky hair away from his cheek. Neji's breathing hitched at her touch, and almost against his volition, he bent his head to press his lips firmly against hers. What the hell are you doing? he screamed at himself, but then Tenten made a soft, breathy, mewling kind of sound, and wrapped her arms around his neck, standing on tiptoe to press closer - even in the heels, she didn't quite reach his height. And, just like that, Neji decided that he didn't care about anything at the moment but the pleasure of her mouth on his.

His hands stroked down her back to coax her body tightly against him, and his tongue swept out to trace against her lower lip, asking for entrance. Tenten sighed, and opened her mouth, allowing the invasion. For a long while, Neji was unable to recall the reasons why this was a bad idea as she pressed against him and their tongues battled for dominance.

Tenten's head was whirling. Never in a million years, could she have imagined that kissing Neji would be so … so … incredible. Of course, she'd admired his good looks in the past – much as every member of the female population in Konoha between the ages of 10 and 90 had done at one time or another – she wasn't blind. But somehow she'd never translated that admiration for a beautiful masculine form into a desire to kiss him. But now, with his arms wrapped around her, holding her securely against his hard body, and his tongue coiling with hers, she couldn't deny that this was just pure bliss.

Never before had her body responded to another human being's in this way. Kisses had always been pleasant – the few she'd received – and touches quickly stopped. But with Neji … his kiss was a dark, drugging force that dragged her inexorably into a whirlpool of unthinking desire. She writhed in his arms, trying to get even closer, wishing Neji had about ten more hands so he could touch her everywhere at once.

"Stay still," Neji growled against her lips, his body responding to the arousing feel of her soft curves rubbing against him despite his best efforts. If she continued to do things like that he really would not be responsible for his actions. Tenten moaned in response, and reading the desire in her eyes, he realized that she was silently, unintentionally, asking him to touch her. He groaned, low in his throat, when the undulating movements of her body didn't cease, and with a surge of fierce satisfaction he decided to comply with the demands of her body. Kissing her softly, reassuringly, in the hope of stilling her movements somewhat, Neji backed her up against the door, and all the while his lips moved persuasively over hers. Feeling the press of the wood at her back, Tenten gratefully leaned back against its solid weight – her own legs seemed to be incapable of supporting her at the moment.

Her moan shivered down his spine when he transferred his mouth to her neck, sucking softly on the curve when she arched back to give him better access. His arms were finally free – no longer needed to support her - and he used his body to press her firmly against the door, as his hands trailed down her sides, learning the shape of her body, and his mouth teased the soft skin of her neck.

With a barely audible sigh, Tenten wound her fingers in his long hair, pulling him closer, and Neji gave up the silent battle that had been raging in the back of his mind. He allowed his hands to slip down her sides until his thumbs were stroking circles over her hips, and when she arched encouragingly against him again, he slid his hands around to cup her rear. Finally, he admitted to himself that this was exactly what he'd been aching to do since he'd first seen her in that stupid dress a week ago. He stroked his hands over the firm mounds, dragging her up and closer and Tenten instinctively wrapped her legs around his waist as she tried to keep her balance.

Their mouths wrenched apart and each gave in to the urge to gasp, as the more intimate contact of their bodies demanded. Silently, they stared at each other, desire thrumming through the air between them, and then Neji was turning. He carried Tenten, still wrapped around him, to the bed and laid her gently down onto the covers. She whimpered in protest when his body left hers to remove her shoes, but a moment later, she sighed in satisfaction when he came to rest on top of her, her spread legs creating a cradle for his hips.

Neji kept his upper body raised on one arm, so as not to crush her, his lips blindly seeking hers again, and his other hand stroked over her middle, raising the fabric of her shirt so his fingers could slip beneath it, to trace burning patterns on her silky skin. Slowly, teasingly, his fingertips traced up, over the lines of her ribs, dipping back down to draw tantalizing circles around her navel. Each upward stroke went higher, until his knuckles were brushing at the underside of her breast. Tenten jerked in reaction, as the touch sent her overwrought nerves into hyper drive, and Neji nearly moaned with the realization that she wasn't wearing a bra.

Just when Tenten thought she would surely go insane if he delayed a moment longer, his hand swept up, cupping her breast in a warm palm, kneading her aching flesh gently, his thumb brushing light circles over the pebbled tip. Her hips jerked upward in a reactionary thrust that had Neji grunting at the friction her involuntary movement created against his aroused body. Tenten moaned, quite loudly, when he thrust back with a smooth roll of his hips and locked her ankles behind his back. Only with great restraint did Neji manage to hold back the sounds of pleasure that wanted to escape his throat at the feel of her warmth pressing against him, and wanting to prolong the pleasurable feeling, and since he rather liked hearing that sound leave her lips, he decided to do it again.

Soon he had a smooth rhythm going as he rocked against her writhing, and sadly, still fully clothed form. They panted heavily between kisses, as their hands frantically explored each other's bodies, Neji's lips returning again, and again, to the wet heat of Tenten's mouth. Inevitably, each time he kissed his way down her neck, his forays went lower and lower, until, finally, his mouth brushed over the curve of her breast and he took a pebbled tip into his mouth, suckling her through the diaphanous fabric of the shirt. Tenten cried out, her hands tangling in his hair, as she pressed his head closer to her, and his other hand instinctively reached under the irritating garment to stroke her other breast.

Neji was so completely lost in the feel of Tenten's soft, warm flesh, her throaty cries of pleasure, and the tormenting friction of their lower bodies rubbing sensuously against each other, that he never even heard the soft knocking at his door. The first inkling he had that they were no longer alone, was the gasping voice behind him that proclaimed nearly incoherent sentences of apology, "Oh, wow, um … sorry … I … Tenten was gone for so long …. I … I'm going now," Hinata finished at last, blushing madly as she whirled out of the room slamming the door behind her in her haste to be gone.

Neji turned his head back to Tenten, and groaned when he saw the veil of wanting lifting from her eyes, leaving them clear and horrified. She pushed futilely at his shoulders, and in the moonlight he could just make out the blush staining her cheeks silver. "Neji," she gasped, "get off. We have to get up!" Her frantic movements didn't seem to want to cease, but nonetheless, Neji gave it a try. Leaning down he slowly licked the pulse point at the hollow of her throat, sucking lightly and pressed her harder into the mattress, "We don't," he disagreed, silently gratified by the way her breathing hitched at the touch of his lips, and at the way her body responded to him.

She quieted beneath him, and her breathing was shallow when she whispered, "Please, Neji." For a moment he thought about pretending to misunderstand what she was asking for. He was confident that, in a few minutes, he could return her to her previous pleasure-filled state, but the quiet desperation in her tone convinced him– no matter what her body was begging for – Tenten wanted out.

The next morning dawned dull and gray, perfectly reflecting the way Neji felt. After he had, unwillingly, let Tenten go, he'd spent a restless night, tossing and turning with frustration, as his body craved the fulfillment that it had been denied. Somewhere between a toss and a turn, Neji had made up his mind that he wanted to be with Tenten like that again. For the first time in his life, desire was not something that he could easily ignore, or that could be easily sated, and he'd decided that he wanted Tenten so nothing and no one else would do.

As soon as it had been light enough, he'd left the house – barely suppressing a smirk when he caught sight of the mess Hinata would have to clean - and headed straight to their old training grounds. He'd been right, Tenten was already there, and if the way she was kicking the tree she faced was any indication, she wasn't any happier than he was this morning.

Quietly he approached, and leaned against another tree, waiting for her to finish her bout. After a while it became apparent that it wasn't going to end any time soon, so he took matters into his own hands. "You know, it's not going to suddenly kick back if you kick it hard enough," he commented when the strength of her kicks increased. With a gasp Tenten whirled around, "Are you trying to off me with a heart attack before my time?" she asked irritably when she caught sight of him. "What do you want, Neji? As you can see, I'm a little busy right now."

Neji frowned, why was she being so dismissive? The Tenten he faced this morning was quite different from the wanton creature he'd held in his arms last night – and he knew which one he preferred. She was probably embarrassed but that didn't mean that she needed to act this way around him. He opened his mouth to reassure her that his regard for her had not slipped in the slightest and that he would quite like to see her again, socially that was, sometime, but somewhere between his brain and his mouth the intended words turned into, "I want to finish what we started last night."

He was so shocked at his own words – he hadn't noticed another part of his brain was busy supplying possible answers to her question – that his eyes widened, and flew to hers in an uncharacteristic display of uncertainty. Tenten stared at him, shocked into total silence, and suddenly, they were both laughing. Neji couldn't remember the last time, if ever, he'd laughed so much, but it released all the pent up tension, and lightened the atmosphere so he wasn't going to complain too loudly.

Finally, Tenten sobered, and still wiping tears of laughter from her eyes, she said, "I'm sure you do, but I don't think that's such a good idea." Abruptly, all amusement fled, and Neji couldn't help the resentment rising when he asked, "Why not?"

Tenten sighed, "I'm sorry about last night, Neji. I didn't mean to tease; I guess I got carried away. I just don't think that you and I would be such a good idea. For one thing I'm definitely not looking for a one night stand."

Neji briefly basked in the surge of relief that she felt the same attraction he did, and that her objection was something so easily overcome, "I never said I was only looking for a one night stand."

She sighed again, "A fling then. Whatever you want to call it, I'm not in the market for it. I'm looking for something a little more lasting – more real." Her eyes met his, pleading with him to understand and not take offence. For a moment, Neji was taken totally aback by her candor but then he rallied his wits, "Stop putting words into my mouth. Who said I didn't want it to be real? I realize that with us the situation would be more complicated than a simple affair, but I never said that I was opposed to that." He watched her reaction carefully, gratified that she was the one being wrong-footed for a change when she simply eyed him anxiously.

Silence reigned as they stared at each other and Neji waited for her to get her thoughts in order. Finally Tenten said, "I'm flattered, but I just don't see how that could ever work. It's bound to end badly and I don't want that. I don't want our friendship to be ruined because we gave in to fleeting lust."

Neji smirked, "Who said it would be fleeting?" Tenten threw her hands into the air impatiently, "Stop doing that, Neji. Stop playing around with words and just say what you mean!" She glared at him. Slowly, Neji walked towards her, "Fine then. I'm saying that, though I don't know how long it would last or where it would end up any more than you do, you would definitely enjoy the ride."

His eyes smoldered with suppressed passion, and it took everything Tenten had not to give in to the dark promise of his words. She backed away, fighting to hold on to the present and her sanity. "No, Neji. I mean, I'm sure I would, but that's not what I want." Her back hit the tree she'd been kicking earlier in a vain attempt to exorcise the memory of Neji's mouth and his hands, and with nowhere left to run Tenten stared at Neji's advancing form in trepidation.

"What do you want then, Tenten?" Neji whispered, as his body came within inches of touching hers. He rested his hands on either side of her head, and his breath brushed over her ear, making her shiver, when he said, "I promise to deliver."

Weakly, Tenten pushed at his shoulders and when he didn't move she threw caution to the winds, and stopped trying to be polite in getting her point across. "That's just it, Neji. I know you would. But with you it would be all dark and brooding passion, and I have enough darkness in my life. I want warmth, and stability, and companionship and, damnit, I want romance! Not just incredible sex!" she was breathing hard by the end of her tirade, but, thankfully, her words had given Neji pause – if he had actually touched her, she wasn't so sure she would've been able to resist.

Neji drew back a little, "Are you implying that I'm incapable of being warm and supportive, companionable and romantic?" he asked, looking offended. Tenten gave a little huff of laughter, but it was devoid of any real amusement, "Okay, fine, I concede, you've got companionable down, but the rest? Please, Neji, you don't have a warm, romantic bone in your body. And I didn't mean supportive in the I'll-help-you-train-to-get-stronger way, either – I meant emotionally supportive," perplexingly, a sad look washed across her face, "You and I both know that you don't do emotional intimacy."

Neji's hands bit into the bark. Where did she get the idea that she knew everything about him? Just because he'd never been emotionally intimate with her – just because he'd never been warm and romantic or any of that with her – didn't mean that he was incapable of it! He'd just never before had the desire to have any of those things with someone. There hadn't been anyone special enough. But now, as he stared into her chocolate eyes, he slowly came to the realization that, perhaps, he wanted that with her. Briefly, he imagined a life with Tenten, sharing himself with her in a way he never had before. It was disturbingly easy to imagine. But Tenten was still trying to duck out from under his arm and he knew instinctively that it would take more than his word to convince her that he could and wanted to be those things for her.

"Let me prove it to you," where the words had come from he had no idea, but Tenten stopped trying to get free and looked up at him skeptically. "Just give me a chance to prove to you that we could be good together – be everything that you want – before you close the door on that possibility." Why on earth was he pleading with her? He had no clue, he only knew that he wanted Tenten more than he'd ever wanted anything in his entire life – and not just physically, though that was certainly a big part of it – for some unfathomable reason he burned to prove to her that he could be the kind of man that she would want in her life. That he was not so caught up in the darkness of the shinobi life and his own past that he couldn't make someone happy.

Wonderingly, he examined the thought and discovered that he would quite like to make someone happy, he never had before. No one had ever needed him to do that for them. And it couldn't be overlooked that he really just was incapable of backing down from a challenge. His shinobi skills had leveled out, and though he grew marginally stronger still, he was mostly honing his abilities now - developing new techniques. Maybe it was time to try and develop personally, too. He really was beginning to be quite sick and tired of being accused of being emotionally stunted, when nothing could be further from the truth. It was just that no one had ever bothered trying to crack his shell, and he'd never before thought anyone worth the effort of coming out of it on his own. Tenten gnawed her lower lip, "Neji-"

Before she could finish what she started to say, Neji interrupted her again, "Just give it a chance, Tenten. What could that hurt?" Tenten stared into his eyes indecisively. The images of herself with Neji just wouldn't stop dancing enticingly through her mind, and suddenly she decided to take a risk. She'd never before felt for anyone what she felt when Neji was near her, when he touched her, and, somehow, it just made sense that it should be for that kind of feeling that she took the risk of being hurt.

So, she took a deep breath, and firmly ignored the voice screaming in her head that Neji was dangerous for her. After all, who knew her better than he did? He was already only one step away from being as close to her as she'd ever let anyone be before. She swiftly silenced the voice - it was still screaming about how he'd always had the potential to be the one to break her heart into so many tiny pieces that she would never be quite whole again – and reached up to wind her hands into his hair, pulling his head down in a strong kiss that effectively sealed the deal.