This is a pretty short chapter, but I'm very pleased with how I wrote it. :)
Tiny Sparks: I love your penname. :) And thanks so much! I really appreciate it!
Kamisaka Ayumi: Thank you. :)
Nocturnal Dream: Kohaku is the son of Neji and Cho. . . :) And Wrong. . . Well, it hates me currently. I literally can't write anything for it, so, I guess the technical term would be the dreaded Writer's Block. I'll update it when it stops hating me, and I stop hating it. :)
xXanime-mistressXx: Don't be too hasty to hate Cho, is all I will say. :)
Shubhs: Now that I think about it, it's not much of a stunner. . . But I like to exaggerate, so yeah. ;) Be nice to Cho!!! ;P
FallenAngel92: Hahaha. That's saying something, since I'm not skilled at suspense at all. :)
freddieangie: :) Updated.
Muroony: Dramatic for me is a good compliment. I'm not particularly skilled at writing it. :) So, thanks. :D She has more depth to her this chapter. . . And next chapter as well. :) Thanks for the review.
Drea1284: Hahah. Maybe if they weren't twenty-somethings they would have a catfight. But they're adults. . . The least they can do is act like it. ;) Yeah, the whole thing with Kohaku is sad. But it turns out well for him. :)
Disclaimer: I don't own. Sigh.
Neji had thought he was being sneaky when he snuck back into his house.
Unfortunately though, Cho was waiting for him.
"Sit down, Neji."
Neji almost made up a lie to excuse himself, but he thought better of it and sat opposite Cho.
After a moment of silence, he asked, "Where's Kohaku?"
Cho's expression did not alter as she answered.
"He's with Noriko. Training, I think."
Neji was reminded of himself and his lover, at a far younger age.
"Neji, I want to talk with you about us."
Neji's eyebrows raised slightly.
"Alright," he released, unsure of what she would want to speak with him about.
Cho seemed to hesitate before she met Neji's eyes, undefended and tired.
Neji was silently taken aback.
"Do you love me, Neji?"
Her question was simple, unforced and perhaps, even effortless.
Neji didn't understand what she was getting at. Or if she had a motive at all.
Neji considered her expression again, continuously stunned.
She did not look like herself.
Neji blinked and glanced at the floor.
"You know I've always loved TenTen," he murmured quietly.
Cho nodded, as if she hadn't needed to be told.
A few minutes later, she inquired again, her voice soft.
"There's no saving our marriage, is there?"
Neji did not answer this inquiry, his silence serving enough of a reply.
Cho nodded and unclenched the hands in her lap. She smoothed out her kimono.
"Come with me, then," she said, rising from her chair.
Neji was confused.
"Where are we going?" he inquired.
Cho did not look at him as she maneuvered out of their front door.
"To see Hiashi-sama and the Elders."
It was raining when Neji returned to TenTen's house.
She was lying in bed, awake, wrapped up in her covers.
She did not greet him when he appeared at her bedroom door, but she easily shifted to give him some room.
Neji smiled and kicked off his shoes, lying down across from her.
Neji slid his hands around TenTen's frame; she was warm.
When he started kissing her face, she laughed in his ear.
"What are you doing? Where'd you go today? You left before I woke up."
Neji ignored her a few seconds before finally meeting her eyes.
"Cho is divorcing me."
TenTen's brow furrowed deeply in confusion.
"What do you mean?"
"When I went back to the house today, Cho and I talked for a little while. And then we went to Hiashi and announced—she announced she wanted a divorce from me."
TenTen gaped at him.
"And Hiashi said, 'Sure, no problem!'?"
Neji cleared his throat.
"Not exactly, but along those lines, yes."
TenTen bit her lip, obviously unsure of how she should feel about this.
"Well. . . congratulations, then."
The corners of Neji's mouth twitched with a smile.
He eyed her seriously.
"Are you going to make me say it?"
TenTen narrowed her eyes.
"What are you talking about?"
Neji frowned, considering her.
"Are you going to marry me, TenTen?"
TenTen's mouth opened, and Neji knew she hadn't been expecting this at all.
"But. . . but you're getting divorced . . . and Kohaku!" she stammered.
Neji stared at her.
"I've been wanting to ask you this question for thirteen years . . . and you're offering me excuses?"
TenTen appeared shamed.
"You're right. I'm sorry."
She kissed him in apology.
"And your answer?" Neji prompted.
"Oh! Of course. Yes, I'll marry you; you didn't even have to ask!"
Neji released a short laugh, and then TenTen was kissing him without inhibition and Neji forgot all about what he was going to say next.
Kohaku was wary when he found his mother waiting for him at home.
Her face was impassive, like usual, but something in her eyes made Kohaku obediently enter and sit in front of her.
Cho took a long time to speak, but Kohaku dared not to interject and say so.
Finally, she began.
"I've requested a divorce from your father with the Elders and Hiashi-sama, Kohaku. They've granted it. Your father will be moving out, and he'll probably move in with TenTen. It wouldn't surprise me if they got married, either."
Cho paused, seeming to run it over through her head to make sure she'd covered everything.
Kohaku chose to say something.
"Are you . . . sad?" he found himself asking.
Cho's eyes met her son's, considering his words.
"Surprisingly, I'm not. I guess—I guess it was always inevitable, wasn't it? Your father couldn't divorce me. . ."
At Kohaku's confused expression, Cho recalled he hadn't been informed of that.
"That's right. You don't know."
"I know that Dad said he had to have a child with Hyuga eyes."
"Basically, your father was blackmailed into marrying me. He had to, or—or they would activate his Curse Mark."
Kohaku adopted a face in-between outrage and horror.
"Kohaku, you have no idea," Cho shook her head, fingers brushing her forehead in exhaustion. "Our clan has so many secrets, I'm sure not even the Elders know all of them. Blackmail is not above us, even though we're the most prestigious clan in Konohagakure. People shelter secrets, Kohaku. Hopefully this will be a lesson for you to never trust merely someone's words."
Cho pursed her lips.
"Anyway, Neji was forced to marry me under that complicated threat. I knew he didn't love me; he and TenTen had been together for at least a year then, and I got pushed into the picture. . . TenTen hated me. She probably still does.
"In the back of my mind, I still wanted Neji to be faithful to me. I was stupid and young and naive. I knew he and TenTen were going around my back all of these years, but that didn't cushion the hurt any less. I wanted your father to love me, which in the back of my mind, I knew would never happen. He loved TenTen too much."
Cho chewed absently on her bottom lip, her eyes faraway in the past.
"I do love your father, at least, to some extent. He gave me a son that I love very dearly, if nothing else. I have to be grateful to him. If anything, I've been selfish all of these years. I could've refused the marriage. I could've divorced him earlier on in. Anything. But as I said, I was naive and young and thought I could change his mind, which is damn near impossible to accomplish; he's so stubborn."
She exhaled, and for the second time in less than a week, Kohaku felt pity again.
It was so ironic, Kohaku couldn't help thinking.
For all of these years, he'd been convinced that his parents hated each other, but in truth, they had just been dealt consequences and constraints that made neither happy. And that had overflowed to Kohaku and TenTen. Kohaku hadn't considered himself a victim of the situation.
Kohaku didn't realize he was crying until he felt his mother's arms around him, hugging him in a tight grip he hadn't known she was capable of.
Kohaku tried to hug his mother tighter. She was in need of comfort more than him anyway.
When she pulled away, her cheeks were slick with tears.
Kohaku did his best to wipe them away with his fingers.
"Well. . . What happens now?" Kohaku asked, voice empty.
Cho sighed, shaking her head at her son, her expression clear.
"Kohaku, I have no idea."
Kohaku smiled lopsidedly.
Cho laughed, an expression Kohaku hadn't heard in what seemed like forever.
He liked the sound of it.
Bittersweet, I think is a good word for it.
Anyway, next chapter is the last. :)
But yeah, it's true. The next chapter you read will be the final one, the Epilogue.
I'm very excited for it. :)