Author's Notes: After looking at this again, I realized I probably should have just included it in the previous chapter, but since I can't do that, here it is for your reading the pleasure. It's the end, my dears! I've had a wonderful time writing this and I hope you've had a wonderful time reading. Thank you for all your support and I'm sure I'll be seeing you again soon.
Crossing the Acheron
"Really, you two. I thought you had this out of your system years ago," Tenten grumbled, exasperated, as she wound bandages over Lee's shoulder and not gently. His wounds were not severe in the least and so she couldn't help being somewhat rough on him. Of all the idiotic ideas…
"Fools never change," Neji commented, his arms crossed over his chest as he watched her begin putting away the medical supplies. He was cool, calm, and if the slight smirk lingering on his lips was any indication, utterly smug in his victory.
"As Keiki's uncle I could not let you continue here unless I was sure it was really you," Lee answered seriously, then his eyes grew watery and his voice shook with emotion. "Ah, but you are as strong as ever, Neji! Only you could beat me so soundly!" He rose slightly from his chair as if to embrace his old teammate but Neji gave him a flat look.
"Touch me and I will hurt you. Again."
Lee grinned, tears of joy flowing down his cheeks. He cried with the same energy in which he did everything else. "It's so good to have you back! Wait until Gai-sensei hears about this!" And before they could stop him, he was out the door and running as if the beating he had just taken was already a distant memory.
Tenten watched the dust trail of his escape fondly. It was a moment before she spoke into the silence. "He took care of me, you know. Me and Keiki."
Neji let his arms fall to his sides. "I know."
She looked up at him from her position near Lee's abandoned chair, a roll of gauze still in her hands. "What?"
"It was a promise he made me before I left." His pale eyes wandered down to her. "To make sure you were never alone."
She paused before smiling softly, her eyes bright. "So that was it," she whispered. "He always talked about a promise but he never told me exactly what it was."
A minute passed as neither of them spoke, both thinking of all the things that had come to pass in the space of a year. Surprisingly, it was Neji that broke their reverie.
"I sometimes wished I hadn't asked him," he said quietly, his gaze stoically fixed on the horizon. Tenten tilted her head, curious. She knew he and Lee had never been what you would call "friends" but they had always respected each other, if grudgingly, and they had relied on each other through every situation imaginable. If nothing else, she knew Neji trusted Lee with his life and that was the most important thing between ninja.
A muscle moved in his jaw. "I thought, if something did happen to me and Lee fulfilled his vow, that you might fall for him." His voice was stiff. "You've always been… affectionate towards Lee, and the idea of you being… close… to him was plausible. When I regained my memory, I knew I might come back to find that things had changed, that you had moved on, perhaps with him." He exhaled silently. "I was prepared to hate him while being thankful he kept his word."
Tenten watched him, taking in his straight posture and the way he refused to look at her. Instead of reaching out to touch him, soothe him, she gazed out into the courtyard as well, her words steady and for him alone.
"Lee is a good person and a remarkable man. Because of him, I was able to hold myself together for Keiki. But…" She felt Neji tense beside her as if bracing himself for some hidden truth. She bowed her head. "He's not you." He turned quickly to look at her, his eyes finally meeting hers as she lifted her head. "You chose a good caretaker but Lee loves only one woman and it is not me." She smiled then, the one she reserved just for him. "Besides, I find I prefer men with white eyes."
Neji's shoulders relaxed and he managed his trademark smirk, slightly softened since it was directed at her. "Remind me to have you surrounded with only female family members."
She rose from the floor and gave him an innocent grin. "Oh, did you think I meant you?" She watched him blink before turning and leaning over Keiki's crib. "I don't think you're really my type. I do like your eyes, but I tend to like my men pudgy and cute. It helps if they giggle when I smile at them too." She smiled at her son just to hear him laugh and glanced at Neji out of the corner of her eye, watching him remember what it was like to be teased. He kept the smirk and leaned back, his expression confidant.
"Really? Well, I guess I should sleep elsewhere tonight then."
She blinked and then put her hands on her hips. "Neji! That's cruel," she pouted before breaking down and laughing lightly. She went to him then, molding herself into him as his arm immediately curved around her shoulder. They stayed like that until Gai suddenly appeared, rivers of tears dripping down his face as he and Lee clung to each other in their mutual happiness.
"Neji, my prodigy! Lee has told me you have returned from beyond all hope to grace us with your beautiful-"
Calmly, Neji reached forward and slid the door closed.
"I want to take you there someday," Neji told her that night, afterwards. They were lying together under the sheets, disheveled and with the sleep of the satisfied mere moments away. Tenten moved her head slightly against his shoulder, eyes closed as she draped one arm over his chest.
"To a fisherman's cottage by a river."
She smiled and hummed softly in the back of her throat. "I would like that."
She opened her eyes then, realizing he was not simply voicing an errant thought, but a very real wish. She pressed a kiss into his collarbone. "Alright."
"And I want you to marry me."
In a flash she had raised herself up on one elbow, pulling the sheets over her chest as she gazed at him in shock. Moonbeams slid across his skin as he turned his head to look at her calmly, stray strands of long hair pooled at his throat. His eyes were staring at her, through her, and she wondered if he already knew what she was going to say from that world-wise gaze.
When she didn't reply right away, he shifted again, as if trying to better view her facial expressions. "You don't want to."
Her heart lurched. "No, I just…" She licked her lips and kept herself from glancing at the wall that separated them from Keiki. "Do you really want to marry me?"
"I just said I did."
"No, you just said you wanted me to marry you, but what about your own feelings?" She looked away briefly. "Regaining your memories, coming back here, seeing Keiki, it's been overwhelming, hasn't it? I don't want you to do this because you think you should. Keiki and I, we've gotten this far. If you're not sure…"
His fingers brushed her cheek. "I love you. The choice is simple."
Her skin tingled where he had touched her and her eyes widened. Only Hyuuga Neji could tell a woman he loved her so calmly, so efficiently, without all the fanfare you read about in romance novels. There were no bells, no fireworks, no earthquakes. There was just starlight and shadow, the smoky smell of spent candles, and three words that meant nothing unless put in a certain order.
Neji was right. It was simple.
A gentle smile curved her lips. "I must make a decision?" she murmured questioningly, watching as he remembered he had said those exact words to her on another night, long ago, when they had taken their first steps down a winding road together.
"Yes," he answered, almost voiceless. She leaned down to kiss him sweetly.
"Then I make it."
"There's fish, Mother!"
Tenten looked up from unloading the basket of food the cooks had handed her that morning, shielding her eyes against the bright afternoon sun to gaze towards the riverbank where an excited seven year old boy was waving at her. She smiled and stood, brushing grass off her clothes as she went to join him, white glare from the water dancing over her skin as bent near him. The gray flickers of fish darted merrily as they danced with the mild current, the musical trickle of water over stones a pleasant backdrop to the summery day.
"My, there are a lot of fish, aren't there?" she said with a smile. Keiki grinned.
"Seichiro-san picked a good spot to catch them. He must have been a very good fisherman."
She laughed. "Well, he did fish your father out from the river, didn't he?" She flicked water at him playfully and watched his eyebrows rise in surprise, his scar-less forehead creasing. She straightened before he could splash her back and tugged on the long fall of his hair. "Don't get too wet. We're going to eat in a few minutes."
"Yes, Mother," he replied, with perfect Hyuuga manners before destroying the image by running full speed into the water, laughing as he was sprayed with the splash. She shook her head and headed up the small hill, eyeing the simple, wooden cabin with a sense of contentment. She was grateful for that place and for the man who had lived there once upon a time. It was empty now but that didn't mean she would forget. No, the memory of this place was with her now, just as it was with Neji.
He was standing in the middle of the outer room when she stepped inside, hands at his side as his eyes swept the dusty floor and the smudged windows. The smell of the river was in the air, along with the heaviness of summer heat. It was comfortable though and she knew he liked it there, away from everything except the two people he held the closest. She went to him, curling her fingers into his and leaning her head against his arm and wondering if she would ever truly understand what he had gone through there.
He squeezed her hand briefly. "I remembered you in this room," he said and she blinked. "I was holding a knife and trying to cut a snare from a fishing net and I just remembered. Just like that."
She couldn't help but smile. "It would have to be a weapon, wouldn't it."
He smirked but said nothing, still remembering, and she stood with him until Keiki ran in, dripping wet and calling for his father to come see the shark he was sure he had seen in the water. Watching their son lead Neji out to the river, holding his hand, Tenten realized she would never have to ask for anything else. That empty void had been filled a long time ago.
Hoping she wasn't about to disgrace herself by crying, she turned back to the deserted room full of memories and bowed low.
"Thank you, Seichiro, for sending him home to me."
And then she too went out into the sunshine, to her husband and to her son and a fresh summer day, together.