Author's Notes: For those of you who were confused during the last chapter, the reason Neji was so upset at having interrupted Tenten's trance this time is because instead of just SEEING the future, she was actually trying to CHANGE it, which should have been beyond her ability and is twenty times more dangerous. Hence, Tenten's pretty much catatonic state after Neji touches her, unlike the time when she was a child and had mild amnesia for twenty-four hours. I hope that helps in explaining the differences in the two situations.
Also, no, I'm afraid I don't know any English translators, although I guess it would depend on what language you want something translated into?
Here's the end, kiddies. Well, sort of. There is actually a sequel to this story which I hope to start posting here soon. The sequel is more SasuSaku based, although NejiTen of course will be a big influence. I hope you all have enjoyed the journey thus far and that you leave it feeling content. This story was actually written to a song by Trading Yesterday called "One Day" and on Livejournal this chapter ended with some of the lyrics from that particular song. However, since that is illegal here, I hope the ending doesn't feel like it's missing something. If you'd like to read the ending in its original form, please visit my Livejournal.
It's been a great ride. Enjoy the show.
Hinata took her time that morning, laying out a rose-colored dress with an intricately-laced back on the bed along with a cloak of a darker hue. There was no jewelry but for a small white stone on a silver chain, a moondrop that Hinata had had for years. Slippers, fine enough for a lady's feet, and a small purse of things a man would never think of. There was an ivory comb and silk ribbons and a shift for sleeping in – Hinata paused wondering if she had forgotten anything.
The morning was bright, sunlight streaming in through the open windows. Hinata had pushed them open that morning, the panes groaning as they were forced apart for the first time in seven years. A fresh breeze ruffled the heavy curtains and seemed to clear the air of the oppressive atmosphere she had been accustomed to. It was a brand new day and no one knew that more than her.
Her hand dropped to her belly and she rubbed the skin just to the left of her navel absently. It didn't hurt – there wasn't even a scar – but the knowledge that there should have been made her aware of it at the oddest times.
Pushing those thoughts away, she crossed the room and opened the door to the sitting room, finding the Fortuneteller right where she left her.
"Everything's ready, my lady," she said softly, crossing the thick carpets and taking Tenten's hand, pulling her lightly up from the chair. The Fortuneteller rose gracefully, a pleasant look on her face, and Hinata smiled back without hesitation. She would never feel awkward around the woman who changed destiny for her, no matter how empty her expression was.
She led Tenten into the bedroom and asked her to stand in the middle of the floor. Her lady did as she was bid and Hinata helped her into her dress, lacing up the back while humming gently. She had discovered that the sound seemed to soothe Tenten and the Fortuneteller's lips curved in a fragile, soap-bubble smile. His mistress was aware of things, much more than she had been that very first, horrible night when Neji had disappeared for hours, grief-stricken by the glassy look in his love's eyes.
Hinata just kept telling him that Tenten would get better. It would take time, but she would come back. She would. Hinata believed it.
She slid Tenten's slippers on her feet and combed out her hair, letting it fall in rich waves around her shoulders. There was no gold circlet of rank but Hinata fixed the moondrop around her throat instead, patting the cool stone in place.
"I want you to have it, my lady, to remember me by," she said, feeling a little emotional as she realized this might indeed by the last time she ever saw the other woman. "The Hyuugas count the moondrop as being lucky. I hope it will bring you good fortune." Then, before she lost her composure, she leaned forward and gently hugged the Fortuneteller, her eyes welling with silver tears. "I am happy I was able to serve you, Tenten, and…and to become your friend." She leaned back to look into the other girl's face. "Neji will look after you now but please, don't forget me."
There was no response but that didn't matter to Hinata. She curved her arm through Tenten's and they walked together out of the Fortuneteller's old rooms, slowly and with little attention to the more damaged parts of the hall. That close to the sanctuary everything was rather intact, but other parts of the temple had been demolished by Neji's army. As far as Hinata knew, Sasuke had no plans to rebuild them.
There was no need for a temple without an oracle.
Hinata would be moved to the new Lord of the Sound's estate, a place never used by Orochimaru but one that Sasuke had taken a liking to in his first days there. She was looking forward to a new home, a new start.
She startled at the loud shout of her name and then smiled when she realized it was Naruto, barreling down the hall towards them. The blonde had become her friend in that last few days while everyone else was seeing to Sasuke or to Tenten or to the many others who had been hurt in battle. She found him to be lively and good-natured but most of all, he believed whole-heartedly that Tenten would recover, too. For that alone, she could have loved him.
"Hinata," he said again, sliding to a stop in front of her. He was out of breath but still found enough energy to grin widely at her. "The carriage is here. Sakura sent me to bring you." He looked over at Tenten and whistled through his teeth. "Whoo! You outdid yourself, Hinata, she looks amazing!"
Hinata turned scarlet. "I..it was nothing. I mean, T..Tenten has always been beautiful…" She trailed off, wondering if she could just vanish into thin air, but Naruto only laughed.
"True." He shook his head and took Tenten's other arm as if he were a gallant prince. The Fortuneteller smiled whimsically at him. "Neji is one lucky guy, that's for sure."
Naruto chattered on animatedly as they walked, making Hinata feel comfortable again, enough to laugh shyly at a few of his jokes. Soon enough they reached the open-aired pillared corridor leading to the entrance and found Sasuke and Sakura waiting for them, both of them dressed in their finery. Behind them stood Lee, official Commander of Sasuke's army, and Shikamaru, his Captain of the Guard. Shikamaru had recovered from his poisoning thanks to Sakura and he had pledged his fealty to Sasuke the moment he had learned of Orochimaru's demise. He'd stated that he had never cared for Orochimaru one way or the other, but that he was loyal to his oaths. He would do the same for Sasuke. For now, that seemed to be enough.
Sakura came to greet them. The medic's bruises were fading, the signs of Orochimaru's torture disappearing every day. It was clear she was still wearing a few bandages underneath her clothes, the lines visible through the soft fabric, but Sakura's smile was undimmed. She and Sasuke had seemed to come to some sort of understanding in the days following Orochimaru's defeat. Hinata had seem them together quite a bit, sometimes talking, sometimes not – always she noticed that they stood close to each other, and that sometimes Sasuke put his hand on the small of Sakura's back, a minute gesture that spoke volumes for the stoic heir.
They had had their fights, too, of course. Sasuke had not wanted to take his rightful place as the new Lord and it had been Sakura who had convinced him, saying that someone had to rebuild the kingdom and protect the people. Who else but the man who had defeated their former tyrant?
Hinata was glad Sasuke had chosen to fulfill his role. If he had not, it was very possible the kingdom would have sunk into civil war. Sasuke himself still seemed uncomfortable with the idea but Sakura seemed very good at supporting him while soothing away his irritation. Hinata thought the Sound would soon flourish under their combined leadership, for she knew it was only a matter of time before the Sasuke realized he needed Sakura – if hadn't already.
"There you are," Sakura greeted, a bit of exasperation in her voice for Naruto, "The carriage is here. Could you go make sure all her things are loaded?" Naruto grumbled but ducked away to fulfill his friend's wish and Sakura took Tenten's hand, holding it gently in both of hers.
"Do you think she can really hear me, Hinata?" Sakura asked softly, looking into Tenten's amber eyes. The Fortuneteller looked back at her idly, mute. She had not spoken since that day in the sanctuary, not even a vision.
"I do," she replied.
Sakura nodded. "Well then…" She squeezed Tenten's fingers. "Thank you for everything, Tenten." She laughed abruptly, a note of sadness in her voice. "That's so inadequate, isn't it, for everything you've done? Thank you for helping me and Sasuke. Neji told me about your prophecy, the one with the three choices? He could have killed Orochimaru or Neji in that first moment. If he had killed Neji, Orochimaru would have made him a king. If he had killed Orochimaru, I would be dead and I have no doubt that his curse would have taken him completely." She smiled. "Instead, he took the third choice and attacked neither and now…" She glanced over her shoulder at the new, young Lord. "Now I think he's free." She laughed lightly, "And almost a king as well."
"Sakura." It was Sasuke calling for her, his low voice echoing among the pillars. "It's time."
She nodded and together she and Hinata helped Tenten down the steps, guiding her gently to where Neji was waiting by a carriage bearing the paper fan crest of the Uchiha. Her cousin was solemn-faced and still, silently grieving for the woman next to her, but his eyes softened when they fell upon Tenten's face and Hinata knew they would be alright. Nothing was impossible if done with love.
Neji opened the carriage door for the Fortuneteller but Sakura halted them in order to hug Tenten carefully.
"Someday, I want you to come back and see what we've made of this place," she whispered, her eyes flicking up to Sasuke who was walking down the temple steps to join them. "I hope you will be proud of what we've done."
She released the young woman and Hinata only had a moment to give her lady one last look before Neji and Naruto helped her into the carriage, making sure she was settled securely. Neji turned to them at the last, his expression unreadable as always, and Hinata suddenly could not bear that he was going on alone, without them. She flung her arms around his neck, hugging him quickly, brave in this last instance she had.
"Please take care of yourself," she told him, "and her, too. We…we'll always be here, if you need us." She released him just as abruptly, stepping back red-faced as he gave her a mildly surprised look. His voice, though, was quiet, appreciative.
"Neji." Sakura looked at him a moment and then half-shrugged, smiling. "If you ever need anything…" She trailed off but he seemed to understand. He and Sasuke nodded at each other and then Lee came running over, great tears running down his face as he wailed his goodbye. He also crawled inside the carriage to enthusiastically hug Tenten goodbye, rocking the whole thing and making the horses prance nervously until Neji ordered him out.
"My father wanted to be here as well," Lee said gravely, still crying and making Neji shift uncomfortably, "but he is helping with the restoration." He took a letter out of his coat and handed it to his friend. "He found this after you left. He told me to give it to you." The envelope bore Neji's name in flowing script and was sealed with Gai's own sigil pressed into the wax.
Neji frowned lightly in confusion but slipped the letter into his jacket, eyeing them all one last time. He had never been a man of grand speeches or long farewells however, and Hinata was not surprised when he simply bowed to them, a show of great respect from a Hyuuga and climbed inside the carriage.
The door shut behind him, the driver flicked the reins, and Hyuuga Neji and the Fortuneteller finally escaped the Sound, at long last.
Tenten was sleeping on his shoulder when they finally arrived home.
He almost didn't want to wake her. When she was asleep, he could fool himself into thinking that everything was alright, that when she blinked her eyes open he would see himself in them. No blank look, no airy gaze that said she had used too much of herself and now there was nothing left.
He did wake her, though, and took her to the home of her childhood, where her parents had lived and died, where she had been born. Neji no longer had family in their village but there were others that recognized them, stopping to talk. Neji made short conversation and then excused them when some of the villagers began looking askance at Tenten. He didn't want anyone to pity her – she was far and above anyone's pity.
Instead, he walked with her to all their old places. The cave where she had gotten lost, the fields they ran in, the orchard where they had eaten apples in the spring. He talked to her, bringing back memories, telling her all that they had done together long before Orochimaru had come into their lives. She smiled and let the wind tangle in her long hair, but she would not speak, and sometimes her gaze drifted off to a place he could not reach, far beyond the meadows and the river of their home.
At night, he held her silently, wishing with all the pieces of his heart that he could see into the future as well and know what was to become of them.
Days passed. He got a message from Sakura instating him as an ambassador of the Sound and thereby qualified to draw from his coffers at the garrison there. It also reminded him of the letter Lee had given him, which had left forgotten in his coat pocket.
He found it and split the seal, unfolding the thin paper, his chest tightening as Tenten's handwriting looked up at him, sure and graceful. There was only one line and it branded itself into his heart.
No matter what happens, I love you.
He sat there with the letter for a long time before folding it carefully and slipping it back into his jacket. Then he put a cloak on Tenten, pulling the hood over her hair to protect her from the brisk wind, and led her out of the village and down to the river, to their tree.
It was a massive thing and old. Its branches creaked in the evening wind, the leaves fluttering. He led her beneath it, to the same spot they had sat a thousand times before, and there he told her the single truth of his life, the one thing that he now knew he had been destined for the moment they had met.
"I love you."
He was not touching her, simply standing before her, determined. He did not expect anything in return.
He just wanted her to know that he had chosen.
But something did happen, Neji felt it along his skin, in his bones, in the very wind itself. Tenten blinked slowly and then reached up and pulled back her hood, freeing her chestnut hair and letting him see her face clearly.
Her eyes were shining and Neji was sure, in that instant, that he stopped breathing.
She stepped towards him and lifted shaky hands to his face, curving her palms against his cheekbones, her fingertips in his hair. She laughed then, a hiccupping sort of laugh, and tears sparkled in her eyelashes.
"You found me," she whispered.
Nothing could have stopped him from putting his arms around her, closing the gap between their bodies as he pressed his lips to hers fiercely. She kissed him back until they were both breathless and dizzy and she was laughing and crying both at once.
It was the best moment of Neji's life.
Tenten was never really sure what saved her. Unable to foretell her own future, she'd only been able to piece it together from reading Neji's. She told him how she had glimpsed their future that day she had gone back to Orochimaru, how everything had hinged on Neji reading a certain letter. Whether or not the letter was hers, she didn't know, but she had left him one in hopes that, in whatever way, it might reach him if something went wrong.
"I knew there was a chance that I…I might not come back," she told him later, in their own bed and with his skin against hers. "I didn't see myself, of course, but I could tell, through visions about you, that something had happened to me." His arm tightened around her waist and she let her hand drift down his chest soothingly.
"But there were other foretellings, too," she added, laying a kiss on his jaw. "And in them, you had a letter…"
"What do they say?" Neji asked.
She looked down at him, his head in her lap, long hair pooling into the ripples of her skirts. His eyes were closed, his ivory skin warming in the late afternoon sun. She smiled.
"You tell me," she answered impishly.
He opened one moon-gray eye at her and the cards in her hands. "I'm not an oracle," he pointed out.
"Hmmmmm. Well," she flipped one over so he could see, "this one says you're going to be defeated by an unlooked for opponent." He snorted as if that were beyond the realm of probability and she shook her head bemusedly at his arrogance. "And this one says you're going to learn how to fish." She brightened. "Ah, it's clear to me now."
He arched an eyebrow. "What is?"
"You're going to fail at fishing, of course," she answered idly, reshuffling her deck. "It's apparent that you're not going to catch a thing – a defeat of sorts."
He closed his eyes again, unworried.
"Good," he said, intertwining their fingers, "I would rather stay here, anyway."
Greetings to the Ambassador & His Lady, Thank you so very much for your letter! I was so happy to hear that the both of you are doing well. It seems all of our wishes for you have come true and I am anxiously awaiting your visit once the snows melt. You will be surprised at the changes here. The temple has been turned into a monument with a garden that Hinata has tended to herself. Naruto has been helping her and I confess that it's probably not because he likes flowers – or perhaps he only likes a specific one, if you get my meaning. (Tell Neji not to be too disgruntled. I'm fairly sure that Hinata is smitten with Naruto herself.) As for myself, I am busy with the coming wedding ceremony in the spring. There seem to be quite a few laws and traditions regarding the marriage of a Lord and Sasuke's advisors are irritating him to death with details and planning. I think he slammed the door in Lee's face the other day when the Commander suggested we wear nothing but flowers to symbolize our "blooming love". We all miss you, but I do not need Tenten's vision to know that you are happy there, together. Come to us in the spring. We will be here and waiting to welcome you. Your friend always,
Thank you so very much for your letter! I was so happy to hear that the both of you are doing well. It seems all of our wishes for you have come true and I am anxiously awaiting your visit once the snows melt. You will be surprised at the changes here. The temple has been turned into a monument with a garden that Hinata has tended to herself. Naruto has been helping her and I confess that it's probably not because he likes flowers – or perhaps he only likes a specific one, if you get my meaning. (Tell Neji not to be too disgruntled. I'm fairly sure that Hinata is smitten with Naruto herself.)
As for myself, I am busy with the coming wedding ceremony in the spring. There seem to be quite a few laws and traditions regarding the marriage of a Lord and Sasuke's advisors are irritating him to death with details and planning. I think he slammed the door in Lee's face the other day when the Commander suggested we wear nothing but flowers to symbolize our "blooming love".
We all miss you, but I do not need Tenten's vision to know that you are happy there, together.
Come to us in the spring. We will be here and waiting to welcome you.
Your friend always,