A/N: Thank you so much to everyone who read/reviewed/alerted/favorited Changed. Your response has been incredible – I really thought this one was going to land in the epic fail pile! I'm so sorry for the long delay in updating. Blame Neji: he gave me hell throughout Part 2, he absolutely refused to cooperate with the whole romance angle ^_^ (aside: I eventually redid the whole thing in a more Neji-friendly way and that's why it took so long) but I hope that it lives up to everyone's expectations, nonetheless. I know that events seem to progress quite quickly but bear in mind that they have been friends for many years, and that they do know each other quite well - they really just took the relationship to the next level. Also, I didn't want to drag this out, it's already much longer than I planned!

Warning: If lemons bother you please note that the ending has a rather long lemon (Neji felt he deserved it, lol). Nothing too terribly explicit (I think) but definitely for mature audiences. So, with no further ado, I give you the finale of Changed. Pleaaassseee let me know what you thought! (I'm still not ruling out the epic fail label). Happy reading!

Disclaimer: I own nothing but my perverted imagination

Changed: Part 2

One moment Neji was staring into Tenten's eyes, willing her to see things his way, and the next she had given in - or so it seemed. She was kissing him at any rate, and he decided to take that as a yes. Having determined what her action meant, Neji gave himself over to the sensations her lips were causing, and he grunted when her back arched off the trunk of the tree behind her, so she could press closer to him. Apparently his body had only been on stand-by through the night - if the near instantaneous reaction to her proximity was any indication.

Instinctively, his hands came off the bark and settled on her hips, holding her tightly against him. His lungs were screaming for breath but the impulse to his brain barely even registered compared with the pleasure pulsing through every nerve-ending he possessed, and his hands began to wander up the curves of her body.

Abruptly, Tenten shifted sideways, wrenching her mouth away from his, and then she was gone. His body screamed in frustration at being denied again, and with the sinking feeling that he'd better get used to it, if he intended to prove his sincerity, Neji whirled around. Tenten was leaning casually against the tree he'd left only moments before, smiling innocently. Neji glared at her.

Tenten laughed and waved an index finger at him. "None of that – or you'll have me believing I've made a mistake and that you were just trying to sweet-talk me, after all." She turned and started to walk away. She'd only gone a few steps before she turned slightly, and said over her shoulder. "You have your chance, Neji. I'll see you at eight." She disappeared in a puff of smoke before Neji had a chance to reply.

For a minute Neji was unable to gather his lust-filled thoughts – they seemed to be focused solely on Tenten, her body, her movements … He shook his head vigorously, and leaned back against the tree before sliding slowly down its length to settle on the ground. Neji frowned in concentration – he needed a plan.

Tenten had told him to pick her up at eight. But to what end? First things first, he told himself firmly, when his thoughts came very near to being panicked as he realized that Tenten expected him to be as good as his word. Hadn't he just managed to convince her that he could be warm and supportive – not to mention romantic? The only problem was: he had no idea how to go about putting his words into actions. Just because he was capable of it didn't mean he knew how.

I'm so screwed. Neji dropped his head into his hands, and admitted silently that he had no idea how to go about becoming a caring, romantic individual within the space of a few hours. It just wasn't possible. After a long moment spent wracking his brain frantically for any ideas on what one could consider a reasonably romantic outing, his head came up and he could almost feel the light bulb going on in his mind. Dinner and flowers – that's it! Girls like that sort of thing, don't they?

Dinner was, to put it plainly, excruciating. Neji had forgotten to take into account that, even if Tenten enjoyed this kind of thing, he surely didn't. How he'd managed to overlook the fact that he would be incredibly awkward in such surroundings, and that the awkwardness would spill over into their conversation – or lack thereof – and therefore affect Tenten's reaction to the entire debacle, he had no idea. He was currently blaming it on his hormones – if he'd been thinking clearly he would've realized that this was, quite possibly, the worst idea he'd ever had - and that included the time he'd allowed Hanabi to play with his hair – he'd been babysitting and she'd been whining incessantly about being bored, so he'd thought what harm could there be in allowing her to brush it for a while? Ten sparkly butterfly clips and a million braids later, he'd promised himself that he would never have another idea again. Neji took a sip of his water, fighting the urge to bang his head on the table. When will you learn to stop having these brainwaves? he silently berated himself.

Tenten played with her napkin as she stared around the large restaurant, and tried her utmost to look as if she wasn't in the most awkward situation of her life. Still, she had to concentrate on not laughing despite her vague disappointment in Neji - she'd expected a bit more from him – but he was obviously trying. How he could ever have thought that this was her kind of scene she couldn't guess. Though the – surprising - bouquet of flowers he'd presented her with at the beginning of the evening had been quite lovely: a mixture of yellow roses, pink carnations and baby's breath. Stifling the urge to slice the waitress to ribbons when the woman hovered flirtatiously over Neji for the millionth time since they'd arrived – really, wasn't it obvious that Neji wasn't interested – she took a deep breath, and took another stab at making conversation. "The roses were lovely," she offered at last and cringed inwardly. Lame, Tenten. Is that the best you could come up with?

Neji inclined his head slightly in acknowledgement. He wished she wouldn't talk about the flowers he'd bought for her – really the entire episode of buying them had been too agonizing for words. He nearly shrank back in horror when the memories of his afternoon washed over him anyway. He'd gone to the Yamanaka flower shop, and before he'd even managed to properly outline what he was looking for, he'd felt arms encircling him from behind, and small hands had wormed their way into his pockets. He'd instinctively known that it wasn't Tenten – and when he'd turned slightly to tell the unknown girl to let go of him, the hands had started wriggling.

Neji blushed slightly at the memory of how he'd squirmed while, instead of coming to his aid, Ino had ducked beneath the counter and laughed her head off– he could've simply disabled the girl, but, despite what Lee seemed to think, he did not go around hitting innocent civilians who couldn't defend themselves. And, everything else aside, even if he had been inclined to hit her, he really hadn't been in much of a position to move, pressed against the counter as he was – if he had, the seeking hands really would have become a problem. Finally, he'd given up on twisting and turning to try and avoid the hands, and, much to his shame, he had yelped, more than bellowed, for Ino's help. Still laughing, she'd pried the protesting girl off of him and ushered her out of the shop.

He ducked his head as he thanked his lucky stars – and not for the first time since the incident – that he'd been wearing loose pants with pockets located at the side of the seam rather than at the front of the garment as usual. Needless to say, after that he'd kept a careful lookout for anyone who looked even remotely like they were about to approach him – it seemed Hinata had been right about the interest he'd generated at the wedding.

It seemed to go on endlessly – the courses of food – and he couldn't think of a single romantic thing to say – he suspected that it would only sound insincere coming from him anyway. He'd complimented Tenten on her appearance at beginning of the evening, and he couldn't help but feel that was more than enough romance to satisfy anyone. Frantically, he wracked his brain for anything else – what did men usually say in this kind of situation? He highly doubted that it would count if he told her that she'd thrown her shuriken beautifully at their last sparring match. Finally, he admitted defeat, this idea clearly wasn't going to work, and, after all he'd had to endure in the name of the romance that Tenten prized so highly, he couldn't help but feel resentful – he didn't see her trying to further the emotional connection between them.

"Let's get out of here," Tenten suggested when dessert was finished. Neji nodded gratefully and quickly signaled for the check. In silence they walked back to her apartment – the air between them seemed strangely charged, and not with sexual tension, either. In front of her building, Tenten turned to Neji and asked cautiously, "Why did you put yourself through something you knew you would hate?"

For a long moment Neji simply stared at her. He closed his eyes, and when he opened them again Tenten was taken aback by the fury that blazed in his pearlescent gaze. "Why? Why, you ask. Well, maybe because it was what you wanted – don't blame me if it didn't live up to your fantasies."

Tenten narrowed her eyes, "It was perfect, Neji. In a very bland, perfunctory and uncomfortable way, and if I recall it was all your idea! Why are you blaming me?"

He swallowed hard and then hissed, "It's entirely your fault! Why shouldn't I blame you?"

Tenten gasped, "My fault?"

"Yes, your fault! If you hadn't gone and changed none of this would've happened!"

Tenten stared at Neji in bemusement, "I changed? How did I change?" Neji shook his head, the movement betraying the agitation he felt, "You became … sexy, and alluring, and – I don't even know! But whatever it was, it made me do something as ridiculous as tonight, so the least you can do is show your appreciation!"

She stared at him blankly for a moment before a grin spread slowly across her face, "So, you think I'm alluring?" she mused, "I've never been called alluring before." Tenten caught sight of Neji's unchanging glower and laughed lightly, "Oh, calm down, Neji. I never said I didn't appreciate the effort you'd gone to – and it was obvious that you had made a lot of effort. The problem was that it wasn't you. But let's not fight, please. Would you like to come upstairs for a drink?" Not waiting to see if he would follow, she turned and walked away.

The momentary anger dissipated at the sight of Tenten's swaying hips, and Neji found himself willingly following after her, his frustration with the entire situation pushed to the back of his mind for the time being.

Tenten moaned as Neji's mouth travelled down her neck. She couldn't quite remember how they had wound up twisted together on the couch – Neji's shirt more off than on, and her dress pushed up around her thighs - and, right now, she really didn't care. She squirmed beneath him, reveling in the feel of his hard body pressed against her, and trailed her hands down his back and then up again, to burrow in his silky hair.

One of his hands skimmed down her side, making her shiver, and then came to rest at the back of her knee. He paused there for a moment, tracing soft circles on her skin, before suddenly tightening his grip and wrapping her leg around his hip, pushing her dress even higher in the process. Panting against her neck, Neji ceased his kisses for a moment as he tried to control himself, despite the intimate contact. It really didn't help when Tenten cried out, and arched her back to push their bodies even closer together. Then she brought her other knee up as well, allowing him to fall fully against her, and Neji decided that, for a short while, loss of control was acceptable.

He lowered his head and, unerringly placed his lips on her weakest spot – he'd quickly come to realize that Tenten reacted wonderfully when he sucked lightly at the hollow of her throat. He was still stroking his fingertips across the skin at the top of her thigh and somehow his hand moved higher – to brush lightly over her hip – drawing tantalizing circles over the lacy edge of the fabric his fingers encountered. Tenten arched again, and Neji let go of her hip, pulling back so he could brush a hand slowly across her breasts in an almost reverent motion. Even through the fabric he could feel the hardened tips as they strained against their confines. Tenten gasped, and Neji's entire body jerked in reaction when she moaned, "Neji … please …"

Every fiber of his being screamed at him to fulfill the need that resonated through her voice - and, if he was honest, through his body as well - but a little voice in the back of his mind spoke up to remind him of the quest he was on. He still had to prove to her that this was, in fact, everything she wanted, and it seemed slightly despicable to take advantage of her inexperience. The way she responded, so completely unfeigned and untutored, as if every sensation was a surprise, just proved to him that, though he was sure she wasn't completely innocent, she was a hell of a lot more innocent than he was.

Right now, Tenten wanted him – or, rather, her body did – but Tenten wouldn't necessarily agree with the decision her body had made come morning. And somewhere in the back of his mind was the knowledge that the last thing he wanted was to hurt her – to make her unhappy in any way. When they took that final step he wanted it to be because she had chosen, emotionally and intellectually, to be with him – not because he'd aroused her body to fever-pitch and she was unable to do anything but respond.

Reluctantly, Neji suppressed the urge to show her exactly how good it could feel, that this was just a small taste of the ecstasy to follow. Having accomplished that feat, he ruthlessly clamped down on the desire raging through his body, and tried to put thoughts of what he would like to do to her – with her – from his mind.

With a small sigh, he pressed his lips to hers in a gentle, and, he hoped, calming kiss. He drew his hands away from her body to cup her face as their tongues met in a sinuous dance. He was relieved when it worked, somewhat, and her frantic movements stilled. For a long time, Neji simply kept kissing her, and he was surprised to discover that there was just as much enjoyment in the action as there would've been in the more intimate joining of their bodies – albeit in a very different way. Finally, he sighed and laid his head on her shoulder, burying his face in her neck and her sweet-smelling hair. Tenten's arms came around him, holding him close, and she whispered, "Wow."

Neji grunted, and quickly levered himself off of her before all his good intentions were overcome by the lure of her mouth and her body. "I think I should go now," Neji straightened his clothing, deliberately not looking at her invitingly spread body, and he gave her a last, quick kiss before heading to the door. Slowly, Tenten followed suit, and - as she struggled to regain control over her unruly hormones and the wants and needs Neji had awakened - she wondered if it was too late to tell him that she had changed her mind. If this was what brooding passion felt liked, she would take brooding passion over romance any day.

Neji groaned and buried his head in the pillows. He'd left Tenten hours ago, and whenever he drifted off, he was woken a short time later by dreams of being inside of her. This is getting ridiculous. He pushed his hair back from his sweaty forehead, and tried, again, to figure out a way to convince Tenten, preferably sooner than later, that maybe a mixture of 'brooding passion' - as she'd put it - and romance was what she wanted, because he couldn't see any way around that aspect of his character. He really hoped she'd be amenable to a compromise; otherwise she was going to have to make peace with the fact that she'd driven him insane. If only she wasn't so dead-set on having romance in her life, he'd already be sleeping peacefully beside her!

After that disaster of a dinner he'd come to the conclusion that he would have to find his own way of being romantic – the tried and trusted methods clearly weren't going to work in his case. He simply wasn't made that way, he couldn't find it in himself to be sentimental. No, soppy and Neji were two words he could happily say held no connection with each other whatsoever. He wanted Tenten, and badly, but he wanted his dignity intact, too – if she was hoping he was going to serenade her as if this was some kind of tasteless movie, she was going to be very disappointed. Plan B was already in place – if romance totally failed, he would simply kiss her, tease her, until she couldn't take it anymore and changed her view of what she required in a relationship.

His body gave a particularly insistent throb and Neji came to the despondent realization that he would be unable to give the problem his full attention as long as half of his mind was constantly focused on the need to give in to his baser instincts – and that was really the crux of the matter. He wanted Tenten with increasing desperation, but he couldn't have her until he could somehow dredge romance from his soul, and he couldn't do that while his body wouldn't let him have any peace in which to really think.

He couldn't quite believe it when he reached a hand into his boxers to stroke his aching length – it really was just too depressing that he had to resort to this - but, a while later, almost simultaneously with his release, an idea finally occurred to him. Or maybe it was just that in the moment of mindless pleasure he could let his defenses down. Whatever the reason, he admitted to himself that, perhaps, in this instance, he needed help, and he resolved to talk to Hinata the first chance he got. He definitely wouldn't make it through another session with Tenten that was denied its rightful conclusion.

When Hinata finally stumbled into the kitchen the next morning, blearily rubbing her eyes, Neji barely contained the urge to snap at her for sleeping so late. After all, it was only a little after eight, and it really wasn't her fault that he was incredibly frustrated – and everything else aside, if he wanted her advice he really couldn't afford to alienate her.

"Would you quit glaring at me like that?" Hinata mumbled, after helping herself to a cup of coffee. Neji fought to even out his scowl as she settled herself at the counter, and simply stayed quiet as he waited for her to really wake up – Hinata was not a morning person.

Half a cup of coffee later Neji judged it safe to broach his request. He'd spent a lot of the time, while waiting for Hinata to wake up, deep in thought, and something Tenten had said really stood out in retrospect. She'd said that the dinner just hadn't been him. Neji couldn't shake the feeling that was where he had gone wrong, and what he really wanted from Hinata was an opinion about that.

Reluctantly Neji cleared his throat. Kami knew, he did not relish the prospect of discussing his private life with anyone much less someone he had to live with, and, therefore, couldn't avoid after the conversation had taken place, but he really had no choice. He opened his mouth and before he'd managed to form a coherent sentence, Hinata spoke up. "Okay, what did you want to talk to me about?"

Neji very nearly gaped – was he that transparent? Hinata grinned, "I may not be at my best first thing in the morning, but when you actually make coffee, I know something's up. Is it Tenten?" Hinata stared at him with barely masked curiosity as she took another slow sip.

The words simply wouldn't come, and Neji tried to hide his discomfort by ducking his head. "Hmm," he finally grunted. His cousin sighed, and her amusement was apparent when she replied, "Okay, I figured as much. I really can't help you unless you talk to me, but let me make a guess. You took her to dinner. I don't think you've ever gone to that much trouble for a girl, so I'm guessing that you really like her, and it's making your head spin."

Cautiously, Neji glanced up at her, thankful when her gaze was fixed firmly on her coffee. "Something like that," he admitted at last, and took a deep breath before saying in a rush, "She wants romance."

Hinata laughed out loud, her eyes lifting to fix him with an incredulous look, "And she thinks you're a good bet for that." She caught sight of the glare beginning to form on her cousin's face and quickly added, "No offence meant. It's just that the words 'romance' and 'Neji' are a little hard to pronounce in the same sentence."

Neji inclined his head, "Exactly." Then he sighed and decided to just get it over with. "I get the distinct impression that there's something I'm missing. The dinner idea didn't exactly work."

For a long moment Hinata stared at him searchingly, then she nodded, "Okay, I think I understand. Let's start at the beginning. Why are you doing this, Neji? I mean, why are you trying so hard for Tenten when there are a lot of girls out there that would come running if you just crooked your finger?"

He frowned in concentration, this was skirting dangerously close to an emotional discussion, but wasn't that what he needed to practice anyway? He took another deep breath and averted his eyes, "I guess I'm doing it because she's different from the girls who would just come running."

Hinata narrowed her eyes, "So she's just a challenge for you, then? Something you can't have, or that won't come easy, at any rate, and you can't abide not getting what you want?"

Neji's head jerked up, and his entire body tensed as he glared at his cousin across the table. Hinata coolly took another sip of her coffee, and the part of Neji that wasn't offended that she would think such things of him, marveled again at how much she had changed. "No, all right?" he finally hissed through clenched teeth, "I'm not doing it because I have to have my way all the time. She's different in that … she makes me … feel things." He nearly choked on the last sentence, but despite the blush heating his cheeks he kept his gaze firmly locked with Hinata's. He was damned if he'd let her intimidate him.

Suddenly Hinata smiled and nodded in satisfaction, and Neji was completely thrown off course by her change in attitude. She grinned happily at him, "Then I'm really happy for you, Neji. I think you guys are good together, so all you need to do is really mean it, and I'm sure the romance aspect will sort itself out."

"What do you mean I need to really mean it?" Neji asked in confusion. For the first time he fully appreciated that Hinata was female, and, therefore, given to inexplicable behavior and strange thought patterns. Hinata sighed in exasperation, "Neji, weren't you paying attention? You said that you were missing something and that's why your gesture, well-intentioned as it was, didn't have the romance you wanted it to have – you didn't really mean it." The look she leveled at him implied that he was a total imbecile, but Neji just continued staring at her as if she'd suddenly spoken in tongues.

Hinata groaned, "You really are clueless. Look, Neji, romance isn't about what you do or where you go or how much money and effort you spend. It's about a connection. Anything can be romantic - as long as the people involved feel it. A fancy dinner spent staring deeply into your date's eyes is not your style – so you couldn't get into it, and Tenten would've sensed that. If you really want to show her romance then share something of yourself – something you wouldn't share with anyone else. Romance is about making someone feel special – singled out. Get it?" she stared at him expectantly.

Slowly, Neji nodded, "So, if I want something to be romantic, it should be about sharing something with her that would be exclusively for us?" he hazarded a guess. Understanding was dawning, but he was still quite a ways from turning the new information into an actual plan.

Hinata nodded, "To a certain degree, yes. But it's more than that. It's more than just trying to set up a specific once-off situation. Romance is also about showing her how you feel. Translated into Neji-speak, that roughly means: open up. You need to do something that will convince her that she really means something to you – and to do that you have to share a little of yourself with her, Neji. That's all – show her that she's important enough to you that you want to trust her with the pieces of yourself you keep hidden from the world."

Neji really couldn't help himself at this point; he ducked his head, and firmly tried to ignore the intimate words Hinata had spoken. His cousin sighed, and he could hear her chair scraping back over the floor. At the door Hinata turned around and said, "Good luck, Neji. And thanks for the coffee."

Hours later Neji finally returned home. After his talk with Hinata he'd gone to his favorite meditation spot and spent a long time simply trying to sort out exactly what it was that he was trying to accomplish. Hinata had a point when she asked why he was doing this for Tenten. And, as much as he hated to admit it, her suggestion about opening up had scared the living daylights out of him. He just didn't know if he could do that.

Finally, he'd been honest with himself and admitted that he'd known that from the beginning – he'd known that he would have to open up. But, somehow, he'd clung to the hope that maybe it wouldn't be necessary. He'd pushed the idea to the back of his mind and hoped that it would go away if he ignored it long enough. Because the scariest thing was, there was a part of him that wanted to do it, wanted to share that kind of connection with Tenten.

The thoughts had chased around his mind for a long time until he'd given up on ever finding a logical answer, and so he'd begun listening to what his emotions were telling him. It was only then, when he'd faced everything he was feeling head-on, that the plan had begun to take shape, and once every detail had been hammered out, he had finally regained the peace he'd been sorely missing the last couple of weeks.

Now it was almost dark, and after a quick shower, Neji gathered his resolve, and firmly ignored the nerves that were twisting him up into knots. He left the house quickly, and as he walked to Tenten's apartment, he went over ever little detail in the plan – he was sure he hadn't forgotten anything, but just … in case.

Tenten had just finished clearing up after dinner, when the knock sounded at her door. Automatically, her nerves jumped, and she didn't know how she knew but she was sure it was Neji. Slowly, she made her way to the front door, and eased it open with more than a little disquiet. Why did it feel as if something big was about to happen?

Neji looked the way he always did, cool and composed – and really hot, she couldn't ignore that, not now she knew exactly what those muscles felt like – but something about him seemed different. Tenten smiled cautiously, and waved a hand to invite him in, but he shook his head. "No, come with me," Neji smiled, almost shyly, "there's something I want to show you."

He held out his hand, and Tenten grabbed her keys off the hook by the door, somehow managing to lock the door one-handed. For some reason, despite the awkwardness, she really didn't want to let go of Neji's hand. Once she was done, she turned to look up at him expectantly, and was completely taken aback by the light-hearted smile he gave her. "Ready? We're in for a bit of a walk – if that's okay with you?" Neji stared at her questioningly, but Tenten merely nodded. "Then come on," he tugged at her hand, and led her out of the building, moving at a brisk pace, as if he couldn't wait to get to wherever it was they were going.

They kept walking, and soon the village was left behind as they entered the trees that surrounded it, angling toward the Hokage Mountain, and Tenten couldn't help but voice her curiosity. "Where are we going?" Neji merely grinned at her and shook his head. Abruptly he sobered, and giving her an intent look, he said, "You agreed to come, with no idea of what to expect. Why would you do that?"

Tenten shrugged, "You want to show me something and I want to see it – what's wrong with that? I trust you."

"Hmm," was the only reply she got, and Tenten gave up on trying to get an answer from him before she'd even begun. Clearly, he was in a very strange mood.

Eventually the trail they were following through the trees began to climb slightly, and when Neji placed a hand at the small of her back to help her over the darker parts, Tenten couldn't help but secretly revel in the contact. His touch quickly became addictive, much to her chagrin. She couldn't imagine how the girls he'd been involved with in the past could've let him go, though she didn't imagine they'd had a lot of say in that, and, for a moment, she was fiercely glad that Neji had left all of them behind, and that she was the one here with him now. Though what that meant from Neji's perspective she couldn't even begin to guess.

Tenten was so lost in her thoughts that she nearly walked into Neji when he stopped, and she quickly brought herself back to the present. They were facing a hill of some kind, a wall of rock covered in moss and vines. Neji glanced over his shoulder, and reached for a few of the vines, pulling them back to reveal a gap in the stone. Without looking at her again, he said, "Hold on to me. We're going through the cave. It's not deep – a few meters at most - but I don't want you walking into the walls and getting hurt."

Wordlessly, Tenten grabbed a handful of his shirt and allowed him to lead her into the darkness. He'd been right – it was only a few meters - but Tenten was glad nonetheless once they'd reached the other side. It had been dark and damp in there, and she hadn't even wanted to think about the possibility of bats.

Tenten waited curiously when Neji stopped again. He pointed at a thin trail that led between two large rocks just in front of them, winding up and over a small incline. Taking the gesture as an invitation for her to precede him, Tenten only shot him another curious look before walking forward. She crested the hill, hoping that this would be the end of their journey, and gasped in surprise when she saw what lay before her.

The trail led down the small incline on this side, and into a little valley. There was grass, and a gorgeous, old willow tree, its branches swaying peacefully over the burbling little brook that ran over the rocky bank. The entire scene was bathed in moonlight, and it was only when Tenten ran her gaze over everything a second time that she noticed the blanket that had been spread next to the tree. Quickly she whirled around to face Neji and nearly laughed when she saw the uncomfortable way he kept shifting from one foot to the other – clearly mentioning his thoughtfulness in supplying a blanket would only embarrass him so she decided to keep her peace on that score.

"Neji, it's - it's ... wow. I can't even describe it. It's beautiful! Where are we?" Tenten walked to the little stream, and dipped her hand into the water, shivering at the coldness. Neji relaxed visibly when she kept the topic neutral, and walked over to where she stood.

"We're up on Hokage Mountain, if you can believe that. How this place formed I don't know, but the stream is fed from underground and that keeps the tree and the foliage growing." He took her hand and pulled her up, then turned her around, and for the first time Tenten saw that, instead of a blank wall of stone, as she'd expected, the other side of the valley faced open sky.

"It's a high drop, but the view is incredible," Neji whispered into her ear, as he wrapped his arms around her from behind. Tenten stood in awed silence, taking in the vast sky dotted with stars that spread in front of her – they were too far from the edge to see the village laid out below, so from here it seemed as if she would be able to walk among them if she left the ledge. She laid her hands over Neji's and whispered, "It's … just … how did you find this place?"

She frowned in confusion when she felt Neji tensing behind her, but the next second he'd taken a deep breath and relaxed. After a moment of silence he finally whispered back, "My father used to bring me here – when he was alive."

Tenten shifted in his arms, trying to turn around but Neji wouldn't let her. Frantically, she tried to think of a way to change the topic – or to apologize for stepping onto hallowed ground. Neji never spoke about his father –he hated even thinking about the past. But this time, he simply tightened his hold around her, rested his chin on top of her head, and whispered, "It's okay, Tenten. This time it doesn't matter – I decided to bring you here, knowing that you would ask questions I would find difficult to answer, so please, relax. I'm not angry at you."

Slowly Tenten relaxed, and when she finally leaned her head on his shoulder Neji dropped a light kiss onto her cheek, before leading her to the blanket. They sat down, and for a long time Neji simply stared at the stars before speaking, "When I was little, my father used to bring me here to teach me forbidden jutsu - the ones that were only meant for the head family. But he felt that I had talent and so he tried to teach me everything he'd ever managed to glean from his brother. I don't think anyone else has ever known about this place except for him – and then me. At least, I've never encountered anyone else here, or seen signs of their presence. After he died, I didn't come back here for a long time, but then it became my … refuge of sorts, a place I could practice, and a place that still retained some essence of my father. Later still, it became a place for meditation, when I had you and Lee to spar with, and Gai-sensei to supervise my training." He took a deep breath, then turned to Tenten and smiled peacefully. "Want to know a secret?"

For a minute, Tenten was silent – she was still trying to take in everything Neji had told her, and his abrupt change to a lighter tone was disconcerting, "Sure," she finally managed, unsure of what exactly he expected from her. Neji laughed a little and drew her down, so she was lying with her head on his chest, his arms securely around her. "Relax," he murmured again, "I don't bite – not unless you ask me to anyway." Tenten couldn't help but laugh with him as she swatted his arm in mock admonishment. Then she settled down with a sigh and gave herself over to the magic of her surroundings. She could see why Neji liked it here, there was something - an air of peace and an oneness with the universe - in this place that hovered somewhere between the earth and the sky.

For a long time they were silent, and Tenten was so caught up in the rhythmic beats of Neji's heart that she jerked in surprise when he spoke, "So, do you want to know the secret?" he asked, softly. Slowly, Tenten nodded, raising herself up onto one elbow to look in his eyes. Neji smiled and stared up at the sky as he began to talk about the stars, and the constellations, and the ancient myths and legends that surrounded them.

To say that Tenten was astounded would be an understatement, but soon she lost herself in the flow of his voice, and in the stories he painted for her. They lay like that for hours – with Neji talking and Tenten listening in rapt attention. Finally, he laughed and pushed her off, "I need water, and it's probably best I stop boring you before you fall asleep anyway."

Tenten rolled onto her stomach to watch him as he made his way over to the stream. "It's fascinating. I never knew you had such an interest in the stars," she admitted quietly, guiltily. It was only now that it occurred to her how little she really knew about Neji as a person, even after all these years.

He dropped down beside her again and shrugged, "I was totally obsessed with fate and destiny and all of that – it follows that I should have had a great deal of interest in the stars, and I stumbled across the old stories when I was researching it. Before I knew it, they'd captured my imagination to such an extent that I read everything about them that I could lay my hands on – and Tenten, don't look so guilty. It's not as if you could've known, or should've known, I've never told anyone before. I rarely told anyone anything if you recall," he grinned wryly down at her, "I was an arrogant bastard who would've put you in a coma if you'd dared to ask me about my interests, so it's no crime that you didn't."

"Like you would've been able to," Tenten retorted, but then she continued in a more serious tone, "Neji, I am sorry, though. Even if you wouldn't have allowed it, I should still have tried."

He looked very uncomfortable, and, for a moment, Tenten simply stared at him, before she gave up and admitted to herself that she had fallen for him somewhere along the line. Maybe some part of her had always been in love with him. Tenten took a deep breath, "Tonight, this, it's been amazing, and I completely retract my previous statements. You may not show it every day, and definitely not just to anyone, but you do have romance – and imagination - in you, and I'm sorry for ever doubting it – but why would you share that with me after all this time?"

Neji cocked his head to one side, as if considering her question, "Because you were worth it," he finally answered simply. "Because I wanted to, and, finally, because I trust you." Much to her horror, Tenten could feel the tears springing into her eyes, and she tried to hide them by ducking her head, allowing her hair to swing forward, but Neji's eyes rarely missed anything, and he sat bolt upright, something near to panic in his tone when he said, "Don't cry. Please. It's really not anything to cry over."

Tenten sniffed and smiled up at him through the tears, "It's happy tears, you idiot." Neji looked at her uncertainly, but seemed satisfied with her explanation when Tenten couldn't help but laugh at his expression. Slowly, he reached out and cupped her head, drawing her closer for a kiss that had her toes curling, as always.

The sparks quickly flared into a flame, and their kisses grew feverish as their hands roamed over every inch of skin they could uncover with quick caresses. Suddenly, Neji drew back and threw himself down next to her, a bent arm over his eyes, "What?" Tenten questioned, leaning over him to lay a trail of kisses along his jaw line. He groaned when her fingers wormed into the gaps between buttons of his shirt to trace patterns on his chest, "No, Tenten, stop." He reached down and grabbed her wrists in one hand, as he pushed himself up onto an elbow. "That is not what I was angling for. I didn't bring you here, and feed you some line so I could seduce you."

She allowed him to hold her hands prisoner but leaned forward to lick at his lips, "I know," she breathed across his mouth, before she sat back and looked at him seriously, "Neji, I was very naïve before. I thought that I wanted romance and candlelight and the whole charade. I had a very set idea about what romance should be, but I didn't realize what romance really was. Turns out, all I really want is you. Exactly the way you are. So, just trust me, I know what I'm doing." She didn't give him a chance to reply. In a smooth motion she straddled his hips and pulled her hands free. Tenten leaned forward to kiss him again, but he grabbed her by the shoulders and held her away.

Tenten sighed and sat back, waiting expectantly for whatever it was he had to say, "You wanted me regardless of romance and all of that?" he questioned. Tenten nodded patiently, and Neji continued, "Why would you want me if I was everything you weren't looking for?"

Tenten cocked her head to the side, as if considering his question, then she said softly, "Because you were worth it." Neji laughed at hearing his own words quoted back at him, and slid his hands down her arms to intertwine their fingers. "Tenten," he began seriously, "do you remember when we were fifteen and that boy asked you on a date?"

Tenten rolled her eyes, "You mean the one you beat the hell out of for 'interrupting your training'? How could I forget?" Neji stared at her intently, and Tenten sobered when she finally got the message that whatever he wanted to say about that incident was important. In silence she waited, until Neji opened his mouth and said slowly, "I lied. It had nothing to do with my training. Instead, it had everything to do with you – up till that point I'd never had to share you with anyone before and I discovered that I really didn't like the idea of starting. So I took him out of the equation - in a very typical fifteen-year-old-male-who-has-no-idea-what-he's-doing way. And I'm sorry it took me this long to finally follow through on that."

Tenten stared at him incredulously, and he continued quickly, motioning for her to be patient and hear him out. "I don't want you to feel pressured," Neji grimaced slightly, "I know I can be … overbearing … but I don't expect anything from you, Tenten. But if we start something here, there won't be anyone to interrupt us, no outside distractions to bring us back from the edge, so you have to be very sure that it's what you want, if you continue along this path. I know you haven't done this before, and I don't want you to have any regrets." With a deep breath, Neji let go of her and lay back down, staring at her with unreadable eyes, before he grinned playfully, "Now, by all means, proceed. You have my total cooperation."

Tenten laughed and leaned forward to whisper against his mouth, "I won't have any regrets. I think some part of me has always known that I would eventually wind up here with you. I think we were meant to be like this, and the part of me that knew that wouldn't let me settle for anything less." She grinned and bit his lower lip, enjoying the breath that hissed through his teeth in reaction, and suddenly, it seemed they were done talking. Neji reached up and wound a hand into her hair, pulling her down for a kiss that, very clearly, showed his intent was anything but pure.

Tenten moaned into his mouth, and he let go of her hair, his hands stroking down her back, travelling all over her body in fleeting touches. His hands swept up her ribcage to cup her breasts, and instinctively she rocked her hips against him, Neji's eyes flew open, and he wrenched his mouth from hers as he gasped for breath, his hands falling to her hips to hold her still. Tenten opened her eyes to look at him in confusion, and she couldn't stop the thrill running through her when she saw the look he was leveling at her. Desire blazed from his eyes, and in one smooth motion, he flipped her over and took back control.

She shivered when his eyes raked her from head to toe, as if he was deciding where to start undressing, but his hands were gentle when the traced a line down her throat, between her breasts, to rest on her stomach. Then his mouth was on hers again, and Tenten quite forgot about anything aside from the way it felt when he kissed her, and the way his hands slowly pushed the material of her shirt upwards, until they had to break the kiss so Neji could slide the garment over her head. She'd always thought she'd be embarrassed at being so exposed to another person's gaze but she found that she was rather enjoying the look on Neji's face as he brushed a hand down the middle of her body.

Finally, Neji had Tenten in a state of semi-undress, and he couldn't help the way he responded to the sight of her naked flesh - the part of him that wasn't totally dazed with passion wondered if she ever wore a bra, but the thought was fleeting, and already gone when he skimmed one hand gently down between her breasts. Unable to resist, and despite trying to reign himself in so that they could take it slow, Neji leaned forward to take one pebbled tip into his mouth, sucking lightly on her flesh as she cradled his head against her.

Tenten cried out, and arched off the ground, and Neji quickly decided that he could take it slow once she was sans all the irritating clothing. Without lifting his mouth, he quickly undid the fastenings on her trousers, and then sat back to push them off of her legs. Finally, she laid spread before him, in only a lacy bit of nothing that he wouldn't even begin to contemplate right now - not when his control was so sketchy already – and Neji groaned before capturing her mouth in another desperate kiss. Tenten wrapped her arms around him, her legs parting automatically, as she invited his weight to settle onto her, and Neji quickly drew back to divest himself of most of his clothes, though he kept the boxers, for now.

Tenten panted into his hair, and drew her legs up, so he was pressed against her in the most intimate way, and the sound of his name falling from her mouth very nearly had Neji ripping the last barriers away so he could finally be inside of her. It required every bit of his willpower to slow down and kiss her softly. "No rush, Ten," he whispered into her mouth but he couldn't stop himself from rocking against her a little. Both of them groaned out loud, and then Neji drew back, lying more beside her than on top of her, and slowly kissed his way from her mouth, across her cheek, to finally trace her ear with his teeth.

His hands explored her in slow deliberate sweeps, ignoring the places he knew she wanted to be touched most. Intentionally, he kissed every bit of skin thoroughly before moving on to the next – every part of her had to be explored, after everything he wouldn't deny himself this pleasure - and he slowly licked and sucked his way down her neck – taking an almost primal pleasure in marking the soft skin.

When he reached her breasts, he brought his hands up to cup her while his tongue swirled and, by the time he'd finished his ministrations, Tenten was very nearly sobbing. Still, she tensed up considerably when he began to kiss his way up from her right knee to her inner thigh. He stroked soothing circles on her stomach as he inexorably made his way upward. Just before he could touch her with his tongue, even if it was only through fabric, Tenten grabbed fistfuls of his hair and dragged him up again.

Tenten writhed frantically beneath him, her hands running up and down his back, their tongues twisting together – all the while making those low, mewling noises in the back of her throat that had gotten him into trouble in the first place. He shifted off her again, turned her onto her side a little, as he coaxed her body against his, and resumed the heated kiss, while his hand slipped slowly down the side of her body, to rest on her hip. Neji could feel Tenten trembling, but the lack of tension in her reassured him that it was only from anticipation. Slowly, he slid his hand beneath the fabric that still covered her body. Tenten jerked in shock, or desire – he couldn't tell - but he quickly slipped his fingers lower, to find that little bundle of nerves that had Tenten arching off the ground, clutching at his shoulders for support, her eyes wide as she gasped for breath.

Neji kept his thumb in place rubbing in slow, soft circles, as he waited for Tenten to get her breath back. Soon, her head was tossing from side to side, and her hips were moving in time with the motion of his hand, and Neji let his hand fall lower. Tenten tried to jerk away, but with his weight half over her she had nowhere to go, and quickly Neji slid a finger into her before resuming his previous caresses. Her eyes rolled back in her head, and she cried out, some garbled version of his name, and Neji could feel his own body twitching in response, straining against his boxers.

Quickly, Neji pulled his hand away from her body, ignoring Tenten's whine of protest, and dragged her last piece of clothing off roughly. Before she had a chance to begin feeling insecure, or embarrassed, Neji had resumed his teasing - his thumb tracing circles over the little nub of flesh, while, this time, he slipped two fingers into her wet heat. Tenten shifted, trying to adjust to the added pressure, but then he curled his fingers deep inside of her, and she wanted to scream at the almost unbearable pleasure, but was unable to push a sound past her lips, so she settled for panting desperately as she waited to see what he would do next. More than anything - with the possible exception of Neji inside of her - she wanted him to touch that spot again - the place that made her see stars.

She had quite forgotten that Neji knelt between her spread legs, his mouth uncomfortably close to his fingers, and it was a shock when his thumb was replaced with his tongue, but he moved it quickly, while his fingers were hitting all the right spots in rapid succession, and she forgot to feel embarrassed, and gave herself over to the sensations he was causing.

Her hands reached down to wind his long hair around her fingers as she pushed his head closer to her body, her hips moving in time with the thrusting of his fingers, and the heat gathered low in her belly. Her entire being yearned for that elusive, blissful feeling that, frustratingly, remained just out of reach. Finally, she realized that it remained out of reach because Neji was making it that way – without fail he took her right to the edge then drew her back, only to build the pressure again. Sobbing breaths were falling from her lips, and quite without thought, she gasped, "N-Neji, p-please … please …"

His head lifted from her body, and Tenten nearly cried at the loss. Neji laid his head on her stomach, and groaned softly, "Don't say things like that." Suddenly, he moved back down again, and this time his tongue took the place of his fingers, as he slowly drove her to the brink yet again. At last, it seemed that he had reached the end of his control as well, and in a swift movement he removed the last article of clothing that separated them, and covered her body with his own. Gratefully, Tenten held on to his shoulders, and for a long moment they simply stared at each other, breathing hard. Neji slowly pulled back and positioned himself, and, for the first time, there was a fleeting stab of fear when she felt him against her. Frantically, Tenten wondered how he would fit. This felt a lot bigger than his fingers, but at the same time it felt a lot warmer and harder, and, even through the fear, her body longed for that. Neji stared searchingly into her eyes, and ground out, "We can still stop."

With wide eyes Tenten stared back in silence, and then Neji dropped his head onto her shoulder burying his face in her neck, a ragged groan escaping him as he rocked his hips against her, granting her another small taste of ecstasy, "Please … don't make me stop now … you feel so good." The words sent a little thrill all along her spine, and, in lieu of a verbal reply, Tenten tilted her hips upward.

Neji grunted and bit his lip – obviously struggling to hold back - and lifted his head to look searchingly into her eyes. He must have found the permission he was looking for in her steady gaze, but Tenten was really only focusing on how he felt. With a smooth roll of his hips, he pushed into her with no warning. Tenten arched up, and cried out against the pain, as he tore through the thin barrier inside. Neji stilled and pressed soothing kisses all along her neck, murmuring words of comfort as he waited for her to adjust.

The pain was soon forgotten and her body began to react to the feel of his in a whole new way. Just when Tenten thought that no sensation could match the intensity of the last, Neji surprised her with something that felt even more incredible, and she slowly bucked her hips, letting him know that she wanted him to move again.

Neji pulled back and thrust into her again - shallow, gentle thrusts – and he gritted his teeth against the urge to simply slam forward until he lost himself inside of her. He soon had a steady rhythm going, and Tenten quickly caught onto the trick of moving her hips in time with his, allowing him to slide deeper with every plunge. Neji took that as a sign that there was no more discomfort, and, indeed, her eyes were so glazed over with pleasure he doubted she was aware of anything around her. So, finally, he was able to do the same, and he simply gave control over to his body – stopped thinking entirely.

His movements quickened, became harder. He didn't have his Byakugan activated – he hadn't wanted to take anything away from his other senses with advanced eyesight - so Neji was quite surprised when Tenten writhed violently beneath him and panted his name hoarsely, her eyes closed. As he hit that elusive spot inside of her again – committing it to memory – he thought vaguely that maybe Tenten had a point when she said this was meant to be. Much quicker than he wanted - he never wanted this to end - Neji felt Tenten trembling beneath him as slight tremors began to run through her body.

Tenten gasped, incoherent words falling from her lips, and the coil deep in her body stretched, and snapped when Neji hit that spot again. She held onto his solid form desperately as wave after wave of pleasure broke over her, and her cries echoed through the rocks surrounding the hidden valley. The feel of Tenten contracting strongly around him was too much, and Neji thrust into her almost too hard, once, twice more, before he followed her over the edge, buried to the hilt inside her slick warmth.

Tenten had no idea how long they lay tangled with each other like that, as their breathing slowly returned to normal. Her mind was completely blank. Vaguely, she thought that she'd been right to hold out for this. Neji stirred and rolled over, bringing her with him so she rested on his chest again, and, happily, she pressed an ear over his heart, listening to the reassuring thump. A smile lifted her mouth as she felt him ghost a kiss over her hair, and, even though she was fairly sure that this should be a quiet moment, she said, "I'm really glad I decided to give it a chance."

Neji laughed, a low rumble in his chest, "See? Told you I could change." His tone was smug, and Tenten couldn't let the opportunity pass – her years of trying to keep his overblown ego in check had resulted in a habit of teasing him that she just couldn't break. Even if she had wanted to. "Mmm," she agreed, cuddling closer and hiding her smile in his neck, "you've certainly proved that you can be romantic and warm and caring. But your supportiveness remains to be seen."

She nearly laughed when his entire body jerked with sudden tension. When his voice sounded, it was low, as if he was trying very hard to reign in his temper. "Do you mean to tell me, that after everything, you're still not satisfied?" Disbelief wound through the words and Tenten couldn't contain her amusement anymore.

Lifting herself up on one elbow up she hovered over him, ignoring the glare he directed at her, and brushed her mouth over his. Her tongue slid out to trace the seam of his lips and her hand trailed slowly down his chest. His breath caught and the glare disappeared. Tenten lifted her eyes to his, and giggled. Tilting her head as she mock-seriously considered the matter, she lowered her lashes and let her hand trail over his stomach to draw small circles on his hip, "I'm not sure supportiveness matters so much when it's weighed against satisfaction, though. What do you think?" Neji growled and moved so swiftly that the next thing she knew she was lying beneath him again, his voice vibrating pleasurably against her skin as he kissed her neck, "Maybe satisfied is the wrong word – shall I rather say that I can't believe that you still doubt me?"

Tenten laughed. "I only doubt you a little. I'm sure you can convince me otherwise-" her words were cut off when he captured her lips in another searing kiss.

"Do you want me to convince you or do you want to talk?" Neji murmured against her mouth.

She smiled into his kiss, and sighed as she wound her arms around his neck, "Convince away," she whispered.