Epilogue

Neji was unexpectedly affectionate, as it so turned out.

Nearly a month of dating and Tenten still found herself getting flustered whenever he so much as kissed her – which he seemed to enjoy doing quite a lot.

When she had first admitted to herself that she'd fallen in love with him, Tenten had never thought that on the off chance they did get together she would have to worry about too much affection as opposed to not enough.

He didn't say it in so many words, and it was really only behind closed doors, but, all the same, Tenten was struggling to remember a time when her hand wasn't firmly encased in his own. Those days seemed to be deceptively far in the past, something she needed to squint to look back on.

And, all in all, she could never, in her whole life, recall being happier.

"The pair of you are, doubtlessly, the soppiest couple I know," Temari wrinkled her nose at Tenten's blushing face.

"That is if you disinclude forehead and Uchiha," Ino called absently from her place on her bed, flipped vaguely through a magazine while her hair was wrapped tightly in heated curlers for the schools dance.

"We are not soppy!" Sakura snapped, ducking her head out of the bathroom so the rest of the girls could catch a glimpse of her face smeared in a hideous mask of green paste. Hinata made a small noise at the back of her throat like she found it funny but thought laughing would be unwise. Excellent judgement, that girl.

Tenten gave a small smile and went back to brushing her own hair. She'd never admit it, but she was looking forward to this dance. Even with her leg firmly encased plaster and her face still covered in a multitude of fading bruises, and even with the dress draped over a nearby chair waiting for her to wear it.

She remembered Neji's face the last time he saw her in a dress. The flash in his eyes, the slight upper curve of his lip and the small, barely audible noise he had made at the back of his throat, as if his heart hat leapt to an uncomfortable height.

Yes, Tenten thought with a small smile, she was looking forward to it.

oOo_oOo_oOo

Women in stylishly low-cut dresses and men looking awkward in suave suits swirled softly around the dance floor; a picture of the awkward adolescence and, if one were to look close enough to make out the blissful, love-lace smiles that lurked on the edges of a few chosen lips, the jewels it could hold to those lucky enough to attain them.

Tenten watched somewhat sulkily as Hinata and Naruto whizzed by, the heiress giggling happily as her partner pulled her close against his chest with a trade mark grin. In truth, Tenten was finding herself just slightly jealous of those she saw spinning circles on the floor. Though never much of a dancer herself, she suspected there would be irreplaceable thrill in doing something so enthrallingly normal after the whole almost-dying ordeal she had just been a part of.

However, with that option taken from her she settled for leaning snuggly back against Neji's chest and reaching for another frosted cupcake from the tray her attentive boyfriend had stolen from the nibbly table.

Tenten could feel Neji's chest vibrate against her back as he gave a light chuckle, pulling her closer into his lap and reaching over to adjust the position of her cast-bound leg so it wouldn't pain her in their positions. She sent him an annoyed look – she wasn't a bloody cripple, if her leg was bothering her Tenten was sure she could muster up the energy to move it a few inches to the right – but allowed the moment to slide.

Over the other side of the room Sakura and Sasuke danced contently in a small circle. It wasn't a spectacularly sight to see as the pair of them were just turning slowly on the spot – neither being particularly good dancers – but if the soft smile on dusk pink lips as Sakura rested her head gently on her love's shoulder was anything to go by, Tenten might venture to say they were having a good time.

A few meters away Shikamaru was asleep on a couch, Temari sitting beside him and looking like, for all the world, she would hurt the next person that approached her and asked her kindly that since her date seemed incapacitated, would they pretty please do the honour of dancing with them? One might say it was blonde's temper that kept her turning down the invite, but Tenten knew for a fact that you needed two hands to dance and it was clear that Temari's left was currently occupied as her slender fingers were comfortably intertwined with a sleeping Nara's.

Further left to the room yet was Ino who was dancing up a storm with a dark haired – but incredibly pale – boy whose smile Tenten found slightly creepy. She wondered if this was the mysterious Sai she'd heard so much about. Well, whoever it was they both looked like they were having a good time.

Dancing.

Tenten glanced sourly down at her leg.

God dammnit all.

Neji, perhaps sensing her displeasure, leaned around and took the cupcake she was wielding from her grip to prevent her squashing the sweet mix of sugar and calories. Tenten gave a miffed squeak – she was planning to eat that once she was done with her sulking – but Neji just gave her a calm expression.

"You'll get icing all over your dress if you destroy it," he wisely pointed out.

"I'm not exactly planning on wearing this dress again anyway," Tenten pointed out.

"I thought you were planning on returning it to get your money back? You can't do that if it's ruined."

"Oh…"

Neji gave her once of his annoying smirks and allowed his girlfriend to relax back in his arms, mood slightly less murderous but still with a significant damper. They were silent for a moment, simply watching other happy couples twirl by them.

"You know," Tenten started suddenly, "This is nice."

"I have been told I make an excellent pillow," Neji agreed and received an elbow in his gut for his cheek, Tenten far too preoccupied in the moment to realize that her usually stoic significant other had cracked a joke.

"Not that you freak. I mean this," She elaborated by gesturing widely around her at the dance – much more tame than the last one – a small, thoughtful look in her eye, "Just being here with everyone. Being happy with everyone. When was the last time any of us were happy?"

Neji thought at this for a moment, arms tightening expertly around Tenten's waist. "I suppose you're right," he conceded, "But don't you think we deserve this. All of us. Being happy, I mean?"

"Damn right we do," Tenten nodded, "It's about bloody time, too. One more week moping around about the Akatsuki and all that and I might as well have shot us all dead and saved them the trouble."

"We're not dead, Tenten."

"I know," she said, "nearly were though."

"But we're not."

"When did you get so positive?" Tenten teased and Neji rolled his eyes at her childish question.

"Okay, can we just agree that everybody's happy, they deserve to be happy and that we were nearly dead but aren't?" Neji requested, rethinking that part about happiness as he watched Lee and Kiba do the chicken dance across the floor while classical music drifted easily from the speakers.

"I think I can agree to your conditions Master Hyuuga," Tenten said with a mocking respective edge to her tone. Neji decided to ignore that. She was injured and for the time being that made her immune from the flaming candle of Hyuuga wit.

"Thank you very much. Now, talk about something more cheerful."

Tenten thought this over and answered by snuggling deeper into the light grey of his suit. "Less talky and more sitting comfy."

Neji complied excellently by remaining still aside from his soft, memorizing breathing. It was wonderful, really, Tenten thought with a small smirk as she allowed he eyes to drift closed. Whoever thought that one day she, Tenten of no last name, would find herself curled up next to possibly the most beautiful man she had ever had the pleasure of knowing? However thought that she, Tenten of no meaningful talent, would triumph over a band of blood hungry assassins and find happiness waiting for her upon the end? Whoever thought that she, Tenten of all things horrible, would find herself a group of friends so perfect that she'd never feel lonely again?

Certainly not she, but nobody was about to complain.

She was satisfied with the way things were for the moment.

Listening to the hypnotizing breathing below her ear Tenten gave a soft dreamy smile as she wondered deeper into the now peaceful realm of her subconscious that had once been the home of blood soaked nightmares.

After a moment Neji asked softly, "Tenten?"

He received no response so he slowly gave her bare shoulder a light shove and received a soft breath for his trouble. He almost drew the conclusion she was asleep until she said in a voice slurred by drowsiness, "I wanted to dance…"

Caught off guard by this sudden admittance Neji gave a faint smile – rarely seen though they were – and said, "There's always next year."

"Hmm… and the next…"

Neji blinked in surprise but before he could open his mouth Tenten gave a light snore and rolled closer to his chest, one hand entangling with his own.

Yes there was always next year.

And the next.

And the next.

They had a long time ahead of them.

An entire life one might venture to say.

Lifting her limp hand to his lips Neji pressed a light kiss to the palm of the girl he had loved so much he almost lost.

"Always next year," he affirmed, "stay with me till then."