“Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow; a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sand and fury, signifying nothing.” -William Shakespeare (MacBeth)
Hyuga Neji had at last return to Konoha. He was tired, yes. But he was nonetheless happy that he would soon be with his little minx.
Therefore, immediately upon arrival, he’d dropped his things in his room and had taken a quick shower. Cleansed from the layers of dust and sweat, he left the compound and proceeded to his lover’s apartment. The bandages he’s stolen from her --which he’d taken off before traveling in an effort to keep them from getting dirty-- were, once again, twirled around his chest, just below his white gi.
When he was close to her apartment, he felt the throbbing anxiousness that always seemed to fill him whenever he visited the stunning brunette. It was both startling and pleasant how, even after all this time, she still made him fret inwardly. Despite how uncomfortable that feeling sometimes was –more so considering that there was not much in this world that could make him worry-- Hyuga Neji would have it no other way. He liked these feelings --excitement, fright, concern, happiness and even giddiness-- simply because they reminded him of how important she had become, and how much every fight to keep her was worth it.
When he jumped onto a roof, two blocks away from Tenten’s apartment, he stopped. Her melodic voice was coming from somewhere down the street! Intrigued, he crept forwards, careful to keep himself hidden as he proceeded to follow his little minx. Peeping down from his perch, he was able to catch sight of her as she walked beside none other than the stoic Sai. His first thought, was that the picture they presented was odd. Followed immediately, however, was the realization that ‘they’ being together, was so very wrong!
What are you doing with my Koishsii, Sai? He seethed, feeling a strange grip around his heart that made his insides writhe with a mixture of pain, anger and primal possessiveness. Upon further inspection, Neji felt the pain somewhat subsiding when it was clear to him that Tenten was oblivious to the way Sai was looking at her. Unfortunately or fortunately –he had yet to decide- Neji wasn’t blind to it. He knew damn well what that look meant, because he had that same look –he’d once even caught it on his reflection-- whenever he was gazing at Tenten. His Tenten, to be precise.
Neji narrowed his eyes, he could not believe the nerve of his rival’s replacement. How dare he eyed his minx like that! Like she was someone to be pounced --to be romanced when she was his! His soon to be wife at that! Never mind that he had --due to his barely tolerable circumstances-- not yet made an open claim on her. Tenten was still his, and he would first die than allow someone else to steal her! Or, better yet, he could dispose –very slowly and very cruelly- of the inane thief who dared messed with his woman, and as a result, with him.
Lost in his growing anger, he was unaware that he had activated his byakugan. Neji frowned when he noticed Tenten’s depleted chakra. What the hell…! Why was her chakra flow so slow, her energy so meager? Narrowing his eyes, he studied scrupulously; searching for the signs of fatigue that would indicate she’d been training her jutsus. To his puzzlement, she was the image of health, save for her vast loss of spiritual energy.
Neji deactivated, knowing that the only way to find out what had transpired during his absence was to simply come out and ask. That resolved, he jumped down from his perch and onto the street below. He landed gracefully and quietly, his targets too distracted to even notice his presence.
Now that he was closer to his koishii, he realized that he could hold his need for her no longer at bay. So he thoughtlessly called out to her, his anger long replaced by profound concern mingled with increasing eagerness. “Tenten,” his voice, to his relief, sounded cool and composed, so unlike the turmoil he was currently experiencing.
Faking casualness --which he was far from feeling-- he waited for her reaction, watching –no, studying her with minute attention. The first thing she did was freeze in place. He noted with mixed feelings her muscles tensing slightly under that pearly skin he was yearning to caress. Then, slowly, almost hesitantly, she spun around to face him. The brown eyes that had been for a second wide open, were soon lost under her lids when her lips parted into a smile that made his heart leap inside his ribcage. Kami, he had missed her so much and it was taking all his self-control to keep himself from taking her in his arms and trapping those beautiful lips of her.
Absently, he admitted that if two weeks without her had been hard, then surely a lifetime without her would be nothing short of a living hell! In fact, he was willing to vow --in Kami-sama’s name-- that he would make sure none of them ever got to know what it was like to lose the other.
“Neji!” She beamed, her doe eyes latching onto his. Unlike him, she was unable to contain the excitement that rolled off of her in powerful waves. That was one of the things that had enticed him. The fact that she cared not to hide how much his presence affected her; how happy she was to simply be with him. If only she knew how much he was affected too … If only she knew just how tempting it was to give in to the urge to grin stupidly at her when she graced him with that radiant smile.
A short pause ensured, before his koishii broke it with a brisk movement. She had given a couple of steps forward before halting with blushed cheeks, barely managing to control her emotional response at the last second. Neji read the silent apology on her beautiful face and realized she had forgotten that Sai was there. Well… it worked for him. He would be lying if he were to say that he didn’t feel a smug sort of satisfaction in knowing that he had the power to make her forget about Sai with a single look. Likewise, he would be lying if he were to confess he was thankful she had stopped. Perhaps it was because he was closer to finally making her truly his, but a vast part of him wanted her to breach the bothersome distance.
Neji felt the desire to have her hugging him right here –in the open and under the bright blue sky. No, not even that. He wanted to have her throw herself into his arms without thinking about the consequences, without having to bother with idiotic thoughts of what society may think. Because Neji was tired and wanted everyone –friends, rivals, companions and even the unknown crowd of Konoha in general-- to witness the excitement of being together. He wanted them to gasp at the sparks of love and attraction they managed to ignite in the air around them.Did he want to show off his happiness? Did he wish for them to squirm with jealousy? …Hell, yes. He especially wanted Sai to feel like, seconds ago, Neji had felt. See if he liked the experience! In the end, though, more than all of that, he wanted them to just know that they were together, and that nothing and no one would ever tear them apart. Hyuga Neji would make sure of that.
Tenten’s was aching. It was physically and emotionally painful to have Neji so near and yet be unable to touch him how she wanted. Stupid Sai! Why couldn’t he just continue on his merry way!
“Did you just arrived, Neji?” she asked, realizing all too late that she had not added the usual honorific to his name, making her words --as intimate as they should be-- but not as they should sound. To her surprise, her lover seemed not to mind. In fact, if she recalled correctly, he hadn’t used any honorifics either, had he? How odd…
“I arrived two hours ago,” he responded, his eyes boring into hers, letting her know in that silent language of his, that he was extremely happy to see her.
She smiled, “Well that’s great! You’re just in time to come to Ichiraku’s for ramen! We are meeting Team Seven and Lee there.”
The look Neji gave her almost sent her into a fit of laughter. It was an expression of utter displeasure, the same look he always had when he had to deal with Lee, Naruto and Sasuke in one sitting. In his way, he was asking, do I have to?
“Come on, Neji,” Tenten cooed, playfully batting her lashes and giving him the puppy-eye look she had aptly perfected. This was also her way of letting him know she would reward him for his painful sacrifice.
Whether it was her look --or the idea of the unvoiced but hinted reward-- Neji accepted with a curt nod of his head. “Fine,” he dug his hands into his pockets. “But before that, may I have a word with you, Tenten.” His milky eyes jumped, for the first time since he intercepted them, to the quiet figure of Sai. He added with deliberate emphasis, “In private.”
Mystified, Tenten cocked her head to one side at his tone. If she didn’t know better, she would have thought her sprite was… jealous? Ha! Impossible! She thought, brushing the stupid assumption aside for now.
When silence descended upon them, she realized that both men were, apparently, waiting for her to say something. “Of course, Neji!” she accepted. Kami, she just couldn’t wait to be alone with him!
Hearing some shuffling beside her, she turned to Sai. As soon as her attention was on him, he nodded once, gave a casual shrug and started to walk down the street. Over his shoulder, he threw, “I’ll see you later.”
“Yeah, tell them we’ll be there soon,” Tenten replied, before turning her attention back to the man who had repeatedly invaded her latest thoughts.
She smiled when his eyes softened considerably after lowering his guard, allowing her to see past the cold front he presented to all but her. In a blink, he closed the distance. Then, without a word, he swept her off her feet and jumped onto one of the nearby rooftops. He continued with his sprint undisturbed, while she tried to get over the shock of having him disregard all the implied rules they had always implemented. Wasn’t he the one who was reluctant to allow anyone to see they loved each other? Wasn’t any affectionate gesture in public a ‘taboo’ for this man?
What happened, Neji? She wondered and regardless of her confusion, she wasn’t worried. If anything, she was extremely pleased. Whatever had prompted this change, she was selfishly glad. It was only in dreams he had ever attempted something like this, out in the open and in plain daylight. Of course, reality with this particular man beat all her fantasies every time.
Tenten snapped out of her musings when she felt him stop. As soon as her feet touched the ground, she spared a quick glance at her surroundings. Tenten noted that he had taken her to their deserted and isolated training grounds. He wasn’t planning on making them train… right?
Neji Hyuga you better— before she could finish her silent threat, her lover pushed her --not quite roughly but certainly not tenderly either-- against a nearby three. One of his hands came to rest on her waist, while with the other he traced her jaw slowly, longingly with electric-infused fingers.
Tenten’s instinctive reaction was to bury one hand into his silky, long hair and to rest the other one on his hip, hooking her thumb inside the waistline of his pants and boxers. Her action garnered a smoldering look that made her blush probably five different shades of red.
With raging desperation, Neji brought his full lips to hers in a kiss that set them both ablaze. Her eyes closed as she gave into the maddening caress of his tongue, the electric touch of his nimble fingers. He pressed her firmly against the trunk of the tree with his own body, trapping her there as he deepened the kiss, tilting her head to have better access. His presence drained her of strength and she was glad he was successfully keeping her on her feet, least she would fall boneless to her knees.
She moved the hand that had been resting on his hip, up to his chest. Undauntedly, she dipped it inside his gi and… stopped. What the hell! Her eyes fluttered open and she pushed him away, provoking him to groan at the interruption.
“Tenten, you better have a—”
“Neji, are you hurt?!” she shot, her urgency almost palpable as she touched his bindings for emphasis.
Her lover’s lips quirked in a lopsided smirk that made her frown. “I’m not hurt,” he assured, leaning towards her and chastely kissing her cheek before moving to her ear. Sensually, he whispered, “These are actually yours… Koishii.”
Her breath caught in her throat at his unusual endearment. Neji had never ever called her anything but Tenten in public. Granted, when in private he would occasionally call her little minx, but it was always with a playful quality to his tone. So to have him call her beloved, outside of the confines of her apartment and with such a solemn tone, was shocking to say the least. But it was also blissfully welcome, hastily accepted.
She bit her lower lip when she felt her eyes welling with tears. How stupidly emotional of her, yes, but she could not help it. Tenten lost her voice right then and there as powerful drops of different emotions finally overflowed the cup of her control. When a tear escaped her, she felt him hastily kissing it away. Tenten could sense his smile. Yes, sense. Because precisely when his lips quirk, did he press them to her heated, tear streaked skin.
“I missed you… Koishii,” he whispered huskily, holding her against him tightly –as though afraid that she would leave him if he didn’t.
Tenten hugged him just as tight, but her fright was of a different kind. She was afraid that she was dreaming. She was also utterly terrified that he would find out that, soon enough, she would have to leave.
How unfair, Neji…she thought with bittersweet realization. Why did he have to change so much now? Why did he have to show her how much he really wanted her when she had to leave! When she would be forced to break his heart while hearing hers also shimmering…
Pushing the lump obstructing her vocals aside, she uttered with heartbreaking honesty, “I love you too, Neji.” Her soft confession elicited a jovial chuckle from her lover, who was still busy tracing kisses in every surface available of her face.
Kami… I don’t want to leave him…! She yelled inside her head with desperation as more tears rolled down her cheeks. Expertly, her Hyuga sprite kissed them all away. How unfair…
After a while of cuddling, Tenten reminded him that they had to leave. Reluctantly –he did not make a secret of it- he followed her as they left their training ground and, with it, the intimacy they were both yearning for.
That day, they met their friends and acted as they always did, as though they were nothing more than friends. Yet, just when Tenten was beginning to think nothing really had changed, she felt Neji taking her hand below the table and, despite it all, she beamed. But even the pleasant day could not shake away the feeling of gloom born from a decision she now regretted making.Tenten would have given it all to backtrack time and convince the Hokage that the mission she’d been given was not worth her life. Funny how, two weeks ago, she had been in her office supporting her in the fact that she was the most suited for the job. How cruel a turn of fate, how unfair the hand of destiny… And how inevitable it was…
~Five days later~
Hyuga Neji lied beside the sleeping figure of the woman who had stolen his heart so skillfully and shamelessly. Though they still saw each other almost every night, ever since he’d come back, he could sense something was wrong with Tenten. Something kept bothering her but, as much as it concerned him, she kept denying it existed.
It was disconcerting and baffling what was happening, this change that he could not quite grasp, let alone fix. Tenten was careful, he gave her that. Whatever it was that worried her, she was going through great lengths to hide it, but he knew about it. In fact, Neji was constantly reminded of it. Every time she thought he was not looking, her happy smile would turn into a wistful one, her eyes would attain a glassy look of introspection, and the frown upon her brow would mark painful thoughts.
Neji supposed it had to do with their standstill. Perhaps the fact that she knew he had to find a wife soon in, combination with noting he had not proposed to her, could be eating at her? Perhaps that painful look was due to the idea –the foreboding that he may leave her?
Oh, but how wrong of her if that was the case! Neji was in too deep. He had knowingly, and with selfish optimism, entangled his fate with hers without an ounce of hesitation. He could belong to no one but her, and he wished it no other way. The eyes that were more often than not referred to as blocks of ice, became mellow and warm whenever he gazed at her.
I want your face to be the last thing I see in the evening and the first thing I see in the morning, Tenten… my Koishii, he told her silently, reaching to brush aside a stand of hair that had fallen across her face. Unable to restrain himself, he ran his fingers down her spine, careful not to wake her up as she lay on her belly completely unaware of how he was drinking her in, committing her to memory in this most vulnerable but heartbreakingly beautiful moment. It was due to their trust that she slept so soundly, so unperturbed when in his presence. And he’d come to cherished that immensely.
His fingers stop when he reached the tattoo that decorated her back. He’d been surprised when he’d first seen it, and a bit concerned even -- the idea of someone else touching her did not bode well with him-- but ultimately, he’d been moved. What did it truly mattered that someone had touched her when, in the end, it was him the one she wished to represent with the image. No, that’s untrue. It was them together what the symbol represented with marvelous exactitude.
Neji smiled as he traced the image with gentle fingers. It was upon discovering the tattoo that he’d been inspired to have a jeweler produce a ring he’d designed. The resulting band was admittedly better than expected. It was simple and yet beautiful in its simplicity. The base was made of pure gold. In the center, the figure of a bird with wings outstretched was embedded. This was made of white gold, with diamonds as its eyes. Running along the length of the rest of the ring were two kunai also in white gold. Granted, to any other girl the band would definitely not be considered romantic. Yet, Tenten was not like any other, and if there was something Neji was an expert on was his woman.
“I can’t wait to give it to you, Koishii,” he whispered, smiling as he imagined her blushed cheeks and bright eyes when at last he would be able to ask her to spend the rest of her life with him… out in the open and under the bright blue sky. It shouldn’t be long now. Hiashi had been snooping around with the rest of the Elders, searching and pondering Tenten’s attributes. Perhaps a week from now, he would be able to see her wearing the ring that had cost him a small fortune. Yet, ironically, that small item was the best investment he’d ever made.
A whimper broke his train of thought. His eyes filled with pain when he saw the brow of his sleeping beauty knitting and tears running down her cheeks like drops of rains. This was not the first time she’d been visited by nightmares which, as much as he loathed to confess, he was unable to vanquish altogether. The only thing he could do was dissipate them for the time being.
Shushing her soothingly, Neji pulled Tenten into his warm embrace, pressing her against his chest. Immediately, without waking, she molded to his side, laying her head on his chest and draping her arm across his stomach. As though the beating of his heart was her medicine, her body relaxed and the frown gave way to a blissful smile.Tenten… what’s going on? He wondered for perhaps the fiftieth time, as he kissed her brow lovingly and then, knowing the nightmares had been quelled for tonight, he slept.
~Two days later~
Tenten’s heart was drumming hard as she pressed her pace, traveling under the cloak of the night and through the roofs of a sleeping Konoha. She had yet to decide whether she was feeling nervous or excited. Or perhaps it was both in equal amounts…?
As he target drew near, she slowed her pace, else she would wake one or more of the inhabitants she was not planning on visiting. Crouching, she gazed at the Hyuga compound for a long while, trying to figure out how to get into Neji’s room without alerting someone to her intrusion.
Tenten deduced that, as long as she moved carefully through the west side of the compound, she should be safe. Maybe not from Neji’s sharpened senses, but definitely from the rest of the Clan’s –or so she hoped. Deciding it was now or never, she commenced her infiltration when the last light inside the compound turned off. Like dark liquid, she glided through the night, expertly climbed the wall, and –with feline grace- she proceeded inside. Tenten padded across their beautiful garden, moving through the independent houses, always careful to remain draped by shadows.
After a while –which felt like a small eternity for her—she found the house belonging to Neji. Naturally, the main door was closed and locked, but she knew his bedroom window had to be opened. So, walking around the house to the back, she skillfully climbed a nearby tree. Finding her equilibrium on one of the thickest branches, she breached the distance to his window and, without ceremony, she pulled the half-open entrance all the way up and stole inside. She gave one step in, only to run right into a very solid and hard surface.
“Ow, ow, ow,” she mumbled, holding her head but hurryingly latching a hand onto that solid something to regain her balance.
“Koishii…?” the voice sounded between surprised and amused.
Tenten beamed when she realized that the solid something was, in fact, Neji.
“What are you doing here?” he asked in a hushed whisper, brushing her hair out of her forehead and inspecting it, as though trying to see whether the damage done when she ran into him would leave a mark behind.
“Let’s sleep here tonight,” she suggested, grabbing him by the waistline of his pants and pulling him into a kiss before he could hesitate. That seemed to do the trick and, before long, he led her to his bed –all the while refusing to stop kissing her.
Moments later, they were side by side in only their underwear. This was the very first time Tenten was in Neji’s room and, though curious, she didn’t want to leave his side, especially because tonight was her last night in Konoha. At four in the morning tomorrow, she would be leaving for her mission in hopes that she would be able to return to Neji, safe and sound. Unlike other times, they did not have sex. Instead, they just cuddled. She was impressed but also quite pleased by how Neji seemed to just know what she wanted. He didn’t even try to take off her undergarments, but seemed just as pleased to be lying with her in this intimate position.
Even their kisses, though passionate in their own way, were not heated and lustful. Rather, they were soft, tender and filled with unbound love. In a different way, they were making love just by touching each other with these innocent but zealous caresses. Perhaps their bodies were not merging, but their souls definitely were…
“I love you, Neji,” she whispered, kissing his neck and taking in the peculiar aroma that was simply and undeniably him. If she was supposed to leave him for Kami knew how long, she wanted to remember for as long as possible how it felt to be with him, in his protective and loving embrace.
“Is everything alright, Koishii?” he asked, his tone worried but not pressing.
Tenten smiled. “I just felt like surprising you today.”
It was a lie. She wanted to be here because this way, she would be able to leave him when he was still asleep. This way, he would not find it that odd if he felt her leaving, for the Hyugas were early risers and their secret relationship would excuse her action. This way… she would be able to leave her own scent –her presence, on his bed; to warm him with her memory if she was unable to come back to him.
Was it selfish of her? Of course it was! It was even cruel, for if she were unable to return, he would be constantly reminded of her and of the fact that she was absent –that he did nothing to stop her from leaving…
I’m sorry, love. How cowardly of her to think it and not say it! But it was for the good of Konoha, or so she had to believe, else her resolve to endure her mission crumbled.
“I love you too, Tenten,” he whispered it with eyes close, as though just realizing he hadn’t said it before. Pulling her closer, he was lulled to sleep by the hand she was using to trace patterns on his chest. When she was sure he was completely asleep, she traced the kanji of her name right above his heart, before closing her eyes and settling into a shallow and perturbed slumber.
Six hours later, she untangled herself from her lover, careful not to wake him with her stiff movements. He stirred slightly, mumbled something unintelligently, but otherwise remained in dreamland.
Good. She retrieved her scattered clothing and got dressed silently. From the pocket of her pants, she produced the letter she’d written in which she explained she had to go on a harmless intelligence-gathering mission. It was only half the truth, but that was as far as she dared give him.
Tenten couldn’t help the bitter smile as she considered her actions. She was cowardly leaving him a vague message instead of telling him as was customary. Of course, Neji was going to be pretty pissed. They had a rule for these things, after all. Whenever one was given a mission that the other was not, they were required to tell each other four days in advance. That way, they would search for a way for them to go together or –in any case—they would have time to mentally prepare themselves for the short parting. Tenten, for the first time, had broken the rule and she felt guilty. But she convinced herself that there was no other way to do it. Never mind that it wasn’t true.
So, placing the letter atop his desk –where she’d folded Neji’s discarded clothes carefully—she returned to his sleeping form and planted a loving kiss on his cursed mark.
I will be back, Neji… I swear I will do my best to come back to you… Please forgive me… An obstinate tear rolled down her cheek. Before she could brush it away, it plunged down on Neji’s own cheek. She froze, thinking he would wake, but he didn’t. A part of her was disappointed, the other was relieved…
Leaning down, she kissed the tear away and, with glassy eyes, she slipped out of his window and melted into the crisp night. After going to her house and retrieving her bag, she went to meet Sai, whom she knew would be waiting by Konoha’s main door. Sure enough, by the time she arrived, her partner was there. Surprisingly, he was not alone. Two other people were waiting for her, wishing to see her one last time before her mission. Her heart threatened to shimmer at the sight of them.
“Good luck, Tenten,” the Hokage said, shaking her hand and looking at her with solemn pride.
Tenten nodded, “I’ll be back.”
The other figure stepped forward and, after only a second of hesitation, trapped her in an awkward hug of one who is unused to showing affection. “Come back, Tenten,” Ibiki whispered, giving her a soft slap on the cheek and smiling gently.
“I’ll be back before you know it, sensei,” she assured, pouring into her words as much confidence as she could muster. What good would it do to let them know how scared she really was? Better for them to believe she was positive of her success.
“You ready, Kunai-ishi?” Sai prompted after a pause.
Tenten nodded, “Let’s go.”
And with that, Tenten left the oblivious Konoha behind. There was no parade, no crowd to cheer for her as she embarked on a dangerous journey that could end with her death. But she did not resent them. This was, after all, the ninja’s way.