Author's Notes: Well, my darlings, here ends yet another of my NejiTen tales. This final chapter is a bit shorter because I have said all I needed to say. This story was truly a joy to write and I hope you all enjoyed reading it as much as I hoped you would. As always, feel free to let me know what you thought of the fic – good and bad. I hope you'll come back to check out my future stuff too. I will most certainly maintain my NejiTen muse!
For the curious, you can find all my past works for Neji and Tenten here on Other multi-chapter fics include "Mature Intentions" and "Daring To Bleed," as well as a plethora of one-shots. In my bio, you can also find a link to "The Calendar Suite," a NejiTen fic collaboration with Goldberry. Also in my bio are links to artwork for this fic, name's Skyscape's drawing of Neji and Tenten and (most recently) a proposed book cover for "Cutting Water" by EbonyStar. However, no, "Cutting Water" will not be published in jacketed form as I've no wish to be sued by Kishimoto-san.
Thank you all for reading!
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto and am making no profit from this fan fiction.
The stench of blood and smoke pervaded the air, yet the surrounding forest's sweet perfume eased the sourness of it. Activity livened the clearing in which the Long compound was hardly standing. Uchiha Itachi's fire had done its work. Fortunately, it was still warm and would not get cold for many weeks. There was time to rebuild. The hands of small children diligently scrubbed at blackened stone while older Long family members worked to reconstruct – hauling felled trees from the streams, packing cracked houses with mud. It was the natural course of action, to repair that which had been damaged.
The surprising aspect was that those belonging to the Uchiha clan, if not too injured, were helping the Longs.
"It is an agreement," Tenten was saying to Sasuke, a note of incredulity in her voice. "For your assistance, they may stay." Her arms folding, she added, "I did not believe you would do right by your men; not by me, certainly, but not them either."
"You judge me by my brother," Sasuke replied evenly. It seemed dreamlike now, the idea that these two had very nearly become husband and wife. "Though Itachi sought to harm you for your land, I did only what I weighed necessary in order to get to Itachi. Whether you believe it or not," he said, his dark eyes meeting her slightly lighter ones, "it is the truth."
"And yet," Tenten smiled as she watched her family's determined efforts, "I do believe you. It was for honor, Uchiha. That, if nothing else, I understand."
Away from them, nearer to the forest than the compound, Neji stood with Sakura, their inevitable meeting place. Their speech came more easily than either had perhaps expected. Years of friendship aided them.
"You love him," Neji said simply.
Sakura nodded. She may have blushed from the mention of love when he had last seen her, but now she held her emotion with serious dignity and without apology. "I do. And I heard her say it…I heard Long Tenten tell the Empress of her love for you." Her gaze traveled to where the woman in question stood with Sasuke. "How do you feel, Neji?"
His pale eyes took the same path Sakura's had. They trained on Tenten. "I stayed here as long as I did for her, Sakura. At first I thought I was only walking the same road my father did. But I realize that my feelings alone are not for my care for that brave woman."
Tenten looked over her shoulder, catching his look. One corner of Neji's mouth tipped upward.
"My very life is for her."
A small crowd had gathered on the white beach where a ship was docked. The old and feeble had stayed in the forest with the very young. Gaara, with Temari and Kankurou at his side, stood at the fore of the group of Uchiha. Lee led the Longs, his face a confusing blend of joy and sorrow. All watched the four people who would soon embark.
Tenten's brown eyes glittered with the early-morning light thrown over them all, her smile outshining it. "I am glad the cemetery was not marred, Lee. It is a positive thought to leave with."
"Must you go?" her friend cried out, tears already beginning to rapidly form in his large eyes. "You know I would shelter you here with all that I am! And when my youth has passed on, the following generations would see to your comfort! And when they become—"
"I know." Tenten halted his speech before it began uninterruptible. "But Neji must return to Japan. It is his place. And my place," she said, bringing Neji to her side with an outstretched palm, "is with him."
Neji gripped her hand, felt her squeeze back.
"But in Japan?" The question was not issued by Lee, who seemed to accept, but by Shikamaru, looking on with his usual expression of disinterest, though a glimmer of intrigue lit his face.
"You," Tenten retorted, both soft and firm simultaneously, "I charge with leading the rebuilding of our home. Expand it for your new relations. Work with her." Tenten gestured toward Temari. "I am told she is competent."
Temari sent a startled glance toward Sasuke, who nodded steadily. It took a moment, but then she nodded back before looking at Shikamaru. "I understand," she affirmed quietly.
Shikamaru regarded her with a blink and seemed to hold her gaze a moment longer. "Very well." His voice was just as quiet, as though something had come over him with Tenten's order.
This seemed to be the only goodbye Sasuke needed. Sakura bowed and was led to the ship by Sasuke, who kept a hand on her shoulder.
Neji watched all of this transpire before turning to Lee himself. "It will not be forever," he promised, extending his own hand.
Lee stepped forward to take it. "You were a blessing upon our clan, Hyuuga Neji, as Gai shi-fu often told me your father was." The two men shared a comprehension, then released. Neji felt oddly moved by the words; knowing he had made a difference.
"You will be their leader now. Do not look at me with such eyes, Lee," Tenten admonished when she too went forward to grasp hands with the much taller man. "Have you forgotten? I made a promise to Gai." Casting a particular look at Neji, she said, "I promised to have children."
Lee tenderly lifted a hand and gave his leader's scalp a brotherly rub. "I should like to see them."
"Perform a task for me, my friend. Reserve my place beside my father in this land of ours. Keep another beside mine. In doing so, you will remember that I am to return here one day." Leaning in, she embraced him tightly, the first signs of tears materializing.
It was Lee who gently stepped back, his smile broad. "For you, my Lady Long Tai Na, I will do anything. As I have always."
The green-clad youth then did something Neji had very rarely seen him do. Placing his hands together, he bent at the waist in a flawless bow. More unexpected, however, were the bows performed by the rest of the crowd, Uchiha and Long alike. Neji stood beside Tenten, his hand at her back. When everyone had straightened, she looked up at him.
"Are you ready?" he asked, not wanting to hurry her.
She nodded slowly. "I am ready to go where you will go. And not because I will be your wife, but because I wish for it."
They boarded the ship, joining Sasuke and Sakura where they stood on the port side. Chinese sailors sent by Tsunade and Jiraiya cast off, and Tenten placed her hand in Neji's to watch her beloved family shrink in the distance while ahead of her, her future grew larger.
Neji turned his gaze down to her, his soul filling when he saw her smile. "You will like Japan, Tenten."
She nodded, fully confident in his words. "It is not China. And I am not a Hyuuga."
"But you will be," he told her softly, leaning down until his lips were a grain's length from hers.
"You would die with me so gladly?"
"What better place to end my life," he murmured, "than where I first began it?"
Surprising him, Tenten did not respond the way he anticipated but instead pulled at the sword at her hip – Neji's old sword. The filigree caught the light and doused them in a reflected shimmer. He smiled at the antic and watched as she went to the rear of the ship.
Aiming toward her native land of China, the daughter of the Long clan swirled, the silk of her clothes waving. She gave a spectacular toss, and the length of steel flew into the air before streaking down toward the sea beneath them.
Neji held out both arms and Tenten ran, leaping at him with a grin. He caught her, his eyes closing when Tenten's lips fell whole-heartedly onto his. Their arms held each other in a way that spoke of lifetimes.
Neither saw the way in which the sword cut through the water. Both knew without a doubt that the water would mend.
They would carry on.