I am so, so sorry for disappearing on you like that. University almost killed me, and this will be my excuse for not replying to PMs and reviews the way I normally do. That said, please do enjoy! This is the last chapter to this story.
It was a good thing, Tenten thought as she watched her cousin massage her right foot, that Kirika didn't fall down and embarrass herself while she was walking down the aisle. No, it was more than a good thing. It was almost a miracle.
The shoes that lay on the carpeted floor next to Kirika's chair were white, silver-lined with stiletto heels at least five inches high. They also happened to be about half a size too small. Just before the ceremony, Yuuma's mother had slipped into the dressing room and handed Kirika these 'beauties', proclaiming that she simply couldn't wait to give her new daughter-in-law a wedding gift.
"They don't really fit, do they?"
Kirika shook her head and held out her palm. "Band-aid, please."
Tenten shuffled in the suitcase she brought and fished out a pack of band-aids. Now that the ceremony was over, the only part left was the reception, meaning that Kirika still had quite a bit of walking around to do. "You know, your wedding dress is long enough to hide your feet."
"Not gonna work. She's the in-law from hell," Kirika made a face. "She'll demand to lift up my dress under the pretense of complimenting my 'shapely feet'. Her words, not mine. She already said it twice today and we're not even close to being done." She looked longingly at her original choice: the comfortable white pumps sitting right next to the suitcase. "Shapely, my ass. At the rate this is going, my feet won't look like feet for long."
Kirika was right. In fact, right now her feet looked more like hit-and-run victims of a very irresponsible driver. Not only had she plastered a band-aid on every one of her toes, there were also band-aids on the back of her heels. Band-aids, as in multiple.
"Maybe you can sit down," Tenten suggested.
"And have her think I'm rude and thus halfway to committing matricide instead? I'd rather murder my feet."
"There should be another scenario that doesn't involve murder of any kind."
"I'll survive," Kirika sighed, wincing as she put on the heels once more. "Just keep passing me champagne. It'll dull the pain."
"I'll see what I can do."
The brunette stared at the band-aids on her lap. "Do you think I can slip them into my corset?" she asked, tentatively fingering the cleavage of her dress. Her expression was serious. "I'm about this close to—"
"Kiri?" Yuuma appeared on the doorway. "Are you ready?"
And this, Tenten thought, was the real miracle: the look on Kirika's face when she saw her new husband, and the way he, in turn, looked at her. Yuuma had spruced up a little bit after the ceremony; his clothes traded for a smarter-looking suit and his hair styled neatly. What caught her attention the most, however, was the grin playing on his lips ever since he and Kirika exchanged their vows.
"You look handsome," Kirika giggled as she took his offered hand, gracefully rising. It was as if the moment he stepped in, she'd forgotten that her feet was, quite literally, bleeding. "Very dashing."
Bad at compliments as always, Yuuma faltered. "Your… your dress is very beautiful, too."
"Only the dress?"
"No! I mean you, too, of course."
For several seconds both Kirika and Yuuma just stared at each other, smiling so widely that Tenten couldn't help but to chuckle. She tapped her cousin on the shoulder, making her jump.
"I personally don't mind leaving you kids alone to recite the lines of crappy, cheap romance movies," she said wryly, "but you two have about three hundred people waiting out there."
"Three hundred people," Kirika moaned. "We should have just eloped."
Quite morosely, Yuuma agreed, "We should have."
"Too late for that now," Tenten grinned, shoving a bouquet of flowers into Kirika's hands, "Now off you go—make your grand entrance. Remember to look to the front, not at each other, okay?"
A little later, Tenten found herself trying out the finger food one by one, inwardly complimenting herself on her choice of caterer. Everything they served was delicious; not just edible-and-enough-to-sustain-yourself delicious, but actually mouth-watering, finger-licking delicious. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves, too—all in all a huge success.
"You should be handed a medallion," remarked Neji, suddenly reappearing next to her. He had gone to fetch a glass of water for her and returned with it plus a plate of daintily decorated bite-sized cakes. "Or maybe given a title, but here's hoping this will suffice."
Her heart fluttered at his thoughtfulness, and she grinned, taking the plate from him. "Thank you. This suffices perfectly."
His lips curving into a small smile, Neji suddenly reached up to brush away her hair, his fingers touching her ear. Immediately she blushed, knowing what he was looking at. Her mother had sat her down to give her the earrings earlier this morning, little silver pearls of full moons that glowed prettily on her ears. They were more simplistic in shape but when she put them on, they shone with a gentle kind of intensity the previous ones did not.
"You received them?"
"Yes," Tenten answered, wondering if, like she was, he was recalling their very first date and if he remembered the significance of these earrings.
My parents had them custom-made, she could hear herself saying to him, all those months back when they were just strangers having dinner together. So far I have half-moons and these crescent-shaped ones. They're going to give me the full-moons when they think I'm ready.
"They remind me of you," she admitted. "Of your eyes."
Her words seemed to take him by surprise, because the next thing she knew, Neji looked utterly lost, his silver gaze holding hers with some kind of odd wonder she could not decipher. And then, voice soft, he said, "They're beautiful." His lips parted and subconsciously she leaned forward expectantly, wanting very much to hear what it was that he wanted to say—before he finally shook his head, murmuring to himself: "No, no. This shall wait for later." To her, he asked, "What time do you think you'll be done?"
"Not until really late."
She considered his question. There would still be a lot of things that needed to be done even after the reception, she knew; things like making sure no one had stolen anything from the hall, tipping the caterer and the band and everyone else, and sending the drunk ones home. While Yuuma's cousins were actually the ones in charge of these tasks, she didn't think she could live with herself if she didn't see this wedding through until the end.
"Maybe three or four in the morning," she answered finally.
"You really don't have to," Tenten began to say, and then she stopped, blinking. "Oh, if you're asking to make sure I can get home alright, don't mind it. One of Yuuma's cousins has offered to take me home. He's driving everyone else home, too."
Stubbornness clicked on his jaw. "I'll wait," he echoed, although his face had softened. "There's… there's something I want to show you."
The reception ended almost six hours later, just a little after the clock struck three. Tenten spent an hour or so supervising the cleaning up afterwards, most of which consisted of trying to very subtly imply to the lingering guests that it was time to go home. If there was something to be said about tipsy relatives, however, it was that they did not take hints well. By the time the hall was empty, she had almost lost her voice and her hair had fallen from its chignon over her shoulders in a haphazard manner. She couldn't really see it but she was sure that there was a wine stain on the back of her navy blue dress, too.
"I think I'll just take you home," Neji murmured when he pulled up his car into the lobby. "You should be exhausted."
"No," she shook her head. Maybe it was the adrenaline rush from both watching her closest cousin wed and telling all those drunk people off, but going home was the least of what she wanted to do right now. Not missing the concern in his eyes and the refusal that threatened to spill from his mouth, she curled her lips into a bright smile and reassured him, "It's strange, but I don't really feel tired. Whatever you want to show me, I want to see it."
"It's kind of… far away," he said. "It's probably going to take at least an hour to get there."
"Actually, you can sleep on the way. Move to the back and I'll try to drive as smoothly—"
"Neji," Tenten cut him off, her smile widening. "That's fine. Seriously."
Still unconvinced, his gaze lingered on her for a few additional seconds. "Okay," he said, "But just for the record…"
"Oh, no, you're trying to make me sleep, aren't you?" she grumbled as he tucked his coat around her shoulders, making sure that it covered her almost completely. "I won't fall asleep, just so you know. I'm about as awake as a bat right now. Just—" she groaned. The coat was so warm and so soft and it smelled so much like him that she couldn't resist. "Just promise me you won't take me home?"
Amusement tugged on the corners of his lips. "I promise."
"Thank you. Now drive."
Smile still intact, Neji did. Five minutes later she had fallen asleep, clinging to his coat like it was a blanket. When she almost toppled over, he stopped to readjust her position, but never once did he turn back to the direction of her house.
When Tenten woke up the next moment, they had stopped and Neji was leaning back on the driver's seat, sipping coffee out of a paper cup. Dawn was breaking outside the dewed car windows, the sky turning a pretty, lighter shade of blue, and it was warm in the car. Carefully she brushed her hair out of her face. "What time is it?"
"Twenty minutes past five," he replied. "Sleep well?"
She stretched her upper body slightly, yawning. "Surprisingly, not bad."
"That's good," he said, gesturing towards the paper cup sitting in the drink holder. "I bought you coffee and there are croissants at the back."
"Thanks." Tenten rubbed her eyes sleepily. "We're not in Tokyo anymore, are we?"
Neji shook his head. "No."
She nodded at him, helping herself to an almond croissant, occasionally sipping her coffee. The silence was comfortable as she stared out the window, although all she could figure out was that they were at a park outside of Tokyo.
It turned out that they were taking a walk.
The air was cold but fresh, the wind gently whispering against her cheeks and flushing them red. Trees swayed in the distance. Still in her dress, Tenten followed Neji up the uneven stone path that divided the park, glad that he had made her trade her heels for his tennis shoes earlier on. While they were too big for her and she had to be careful with her steps, they were definitely a lot more comfortable.
Occasionally Neji would make an abrupt stop, scrutinizing a tree or two in their way before he moved forward. Tenten knew he was looking for something though she had no idea what, and he seemed so determined, she understood it was better to just follow rather than question him. At least he would always look back to make sure she was still behind him.
They did not walk for long, stopping in front of a large tree whose half-surfaced roots was almost completely covered in moss. The rustle of its green leaves was almost like a bird song in the silence of the morning, and Tenten watched curiously as Neji used his hand to brush them away from the bark of the tree that was on his eye-level. A little later he took a step back, smirking in satisfaction as he whirled around to look at her.
He offered her his hand. "Careful with your steps," he said, grabbing her by the waist when she almost tripped over a particularly hidden root. "Here."
She was half-standing on his feet, his arms strong around her body to support her weight. Leaning forward as he motioned her to, she squinted at the part of the tree he was pointing to. "What am I supposed to see?"
"This," he said. "This is what I wanted to show you."
And then she saw it, of course: the names carved into the bark of the tree so deeply that the skin had turned darker than usual. Rain had dulled their sharpness, but the outline of the shapes still remained. Her breath hitched in her throat as the characters for 'Hyuuga Hizashi' and 'Mizota Amaya' floated in her head.
"My parents met each other here," Neji murmured. "This park used to be a lot busier than it is now, and my father had never come here except for one day, not then in his life. That day he felt like it—just felt like it—and he sat here, right here where we're standing now, when my mother tripped over his leg. That's how they met." He pulled her closer to him. "Can you imagine?" he asked softly. "What if he hadn't 'felt like it' that day? What if he hadn't come?"
"I believe in fate, Tenten," he murmured, his voice still low. "I believe that you were meant to sit next to me that day on the plane. I believe that you were meant to come into my hotel out of all the other hotels in Tokyo that night. I believe that I was meant to run into you at the bicycle shop that third time."
At his statement, something in Tenten's heart constricted, a familiar burning in the corners of her eyes. Almost jokingly, she asked, "Fate certainly wanted us to meet, didn't it?"
"I believe it did," Neji replied, "And I believe that now… it wants us together."
With that, he pulled out the chain hanging around his neck. Dangling from it were a ring, small diamonds forming delicate, dainty wings around the band. It glittered with timeless silver under the sunlight filtering through the canopy of the tree.
"I rather fear that this is too soon," he admitted, though the baritone of his voice was husky, sending ripples of electricity dancing from the tips of her toes right to the top of her head. "So I shall leave it up to you to reply whenever you like."
His silver gaze slid over her face, so intense that she felt something in herself flicker and come to live. Just being so close to him made her skin hum and quake, and she knew—just knew, more than anything else in the world—that no other man would ever make her feel like this.
No other man could.
"I…" she sucked in her breath, brown eyes glistening with barely contained tears. "I love you, too, Neji. I know I didn't say it the first time, but I love you, too. So what it is that you wish to ask, what it is that you're about to ask, I'm going to say—"
"Will you marry me?"
"—yes," she finished. "Yes, of course I will marry you, Hyuuga Neji."
He took this opportunity to hold her even closer, as closely as physically possible, and cup her face in his hands. His gaze caught hers for a few seconds, winter rainstorms against earthly fire. He kissed her, then, his curved lips tantalizingly slow on hers before he grew bolder, more passionate. It was the kind of kiss that both made her heart flutter madly and her knees weak, the kind of kiss that stole her breath, the kind of kiss that promised not nonsense but something else:
Something, she understood, that would fight for forever.
When they pulled apart, he freed the ring and slid it onto her finger. It was still warm with their hearts.
1) I made up Neji's mother's name just because. As always, it has a special meaning, too. 'Hizashi' means 'rays of the sun', while 'Amaya' means 'night rain'. Take it however you want it.
2) (Perhaps) sadly, as of right now, I have no plans on writing anything for the Naruto fandom. I'm not going to lie, though, I have been… charmed, shall we say, by people better left unnamed, to write things I have no plans for before—so this might just be for now. :p
3) This is the last chapter of this story, and because of that, I would really, really appreciate honest feedback instead of just silent favorites or alerts. Pretty please with lots of cherries on top? (:
4) Thank you so, so very much for those of you who have stuck from the beginning until the end, especially those who have indulged me by leaving me very kind reviews and then answering to my replies of those reviews. You have no idea how much your support means to me!