.disclaimer: don't own.

.chapter seven: anbu.

Just as Tenten remembered two things distinctively about being a jounin, Neji remembered just one thing about becoming an ANBU squad captain.

There were other memories that he remembered but not with as much clarity. He could remember the hours of training for the exams, the studying for the test; so much time went into preparing to become a member of the ANBU, much less a captain. He could remember how his body ached, bones echoed with pain, muscles threatened to give out as he limped from the training grounds to the Hyuuga compound, how he couldn't even bring himself to shower before collapsing onto his bed.

Becoming a member of the ANBU was singlehandedly the hardest thing Neji ever had to do.

The test was gruesome; both mentally and physically, the exam challenged him, pushed him to an edge that he didn't think was possible—or even within the rules of the village. It was so real he almost felt he really had to choose between the success of a crucial mission or letting his teammates die. Scenarios were made for him to crack under and it was staying calm that was the ultimate objective.

Again, he had been the first of Team Gai to undergo the test and, as usual, Tenten had been the one to help him prepare.

"ANBU? Already?"

Neji gave a quiet nod as he sipped his tea, sitting next to Tenten as Gai and Lee were across the table of the small tea shop they had stopped by after a fairly easy mission. He had casually mentioned his intention to undergo the exam while Lee and Gai both had their mouths full of dango, using that as an opportunity to escape should the two have a major objection.

"But, Neji-san!" Lee protested and Neji winced to see chewed food in his mouth. "It's dangerous and…!"

"Neji," Gai interrupted softly with a solemn expression, arms crossed over his chest. "You're sure?"

Over the years, he had come to regard Neji as something resembling a son, as he did with all the members of Team Gai. He had watched them grow from being his students to his fellow equals; Team Gai was no longer composed of a teacher and three students but, rather, four full fledged shinobi. Neji, he knew, would go through with what he had his mind set on and nothing would deter him. Had he chosen to become a member of the ANBU, he would succeed, no matter how many tries it took.

Given the qualifications, the extremities of the exam, Gai was, understandably, concerned. But as he looked at Neji and Tenten by his side, the girl had a sort of amused half smile dancing upon lips stained with sesame seeds of the sweets she had been eating earlier, and instantly relaxed, even gave a small smile. Lee looked over in surprise and Gai ignored him, shook his head.

"…You'll be fine, Neji."

He felt bad, but Tenten had agreed to help him.

She woke up at five am every day, sometimes four if he so asked her to. They always met at the gates and Tenten was never more than five minutes late, three hundred seconds Neji allowed her, given the time he had requested to be conscious for. While such an early time wasn't something particularly out of place for a shinobi, every day was pushing it—especially when it was for a prolonged period of time.

But Tenten appeared every day and it was Neji that had to send her home if her cheeks were flushed and eyes glassy, clear signs of a fever that she tried to brush off as allergies.

"I'm fine, Neji! It's the pollen!"

"Tenten."

"Yeah?"

"It's winter."

But he told himself that it helped her as much as him. She had intentions to undergo the exam as well, albeit at a later time, and she reassured him that training now would be good for her. Neji watched the way her skills became more graceful, how she fixed techniques, reduced times, jumped higher, moved faster. She became a more refined ballerina in the air, navigating with no ground and performing with no stage, just as he became faster, better, stronger.

He began to fall in love with her all over again, as if every day he felt himself succumbing to the way she smiled at him, how her cheeks would turned a pink when they spoke. The feeling of reciprocation always coaxed a smile onto his lips, and 'mine' was assigned to her, just as 'yours' was assigned to him.

Neji never had to reach for her hand or kiss her; it seemed known throughout the town that Hyuuga Neji was Tenten's and the reverse was true. He wasn't jealous, he never got jealous. It was just that sometimes he needed a moving target to practice on.

Unaware moving targets.

Tenten always reprimanded him, but Neji claimed he couldn't control himself; it was reflex to always protect her from harm.

(She said the way he said that with a straight face was so unlike him that it bordered on insanity.)

After training meant relaxing, relaxing meant spending time with her without avoiding a weapon or stopping short of hitting a vital organ. Relaxing meant sitting with her somewhere, anywhere, and relaxing meant being with her. Relaxing meant sneaking a kiss when she least expected it and always knowing she'd never make a big fuss, merely give a small smile, let the apples of her cheeks turn a pink.

"Have you thought about our future together?"

She choked on the dumpling she was eating.

"Never mind."

No matter how many times she persisted, tugged on his hand, tried to whine (but stopped short and looked disgusted with herself), Neji never asked again. He always brushed her off and told her to forget it, that it was nothing important, that things would happen the way they were meant to. Clearly, Tenten wasn't satisfied with the answer, but she never pushed it; she knew Neji and knew to not push him.

What she didn't know was that if she pushed enough she would get that answer, that she actually did have Hyuuga Neji bend to her will. It was just that she was too naïve to realize that and he was beyond grateful.

The date of the exam drew near and Neji had made a promise with Hanabi, the sneaky Hyuuga that claimed she was a future matchmaker. Neji almost slipped a profanity at that; if titles were up to him, she would have 'life ruiner' labeled over her head for all of eternity.

"Hey, Neji-niisan. You made me a promise, remember?"

The day of the exam, Hanabi was the one to send Neji off. She lingered by the threshold to enter the Hyuuga compound as she watched Neji off, an optimistic smile for a reason other than wishing him luck. Tenten was waiting for him a few yards away and Neji had glanced at her before turning to Hanabi and glaring.

"I know."

Hyuuga Neji had come close to dying, but he thought the ANBU exam would be the reason for his funeral.

It was exhausting; the training he had done was for his physical strength, and even that seemed hardly enough. His mind was pushed to a brink that he wasn't sure he would be able to come back from, had it not been for the image of his team that he kept on the surface. The enemies were almost too numerous; quantity over quality, it seemed they were testing, endurance over precision.

But Neji refused to fall and give up; he had been through so much, he thought, he wasn't ready to give up; failure wasn't an option, and he would only fail this exam if he came to the very edge of his life.

And miraculously, he passed.

The results came a few days later, after scores were cumulated and proctors discussed the performance of everyone. Neji had seen several faces that he had seen once, but none were acquaintances; it seemed he was the first of the Konoha 12, again, to attempt to proceed to the next level. He had spent those days of waiting recovering, absolutely refusing to leave his bed.

Hanabi would always come in and bounce on his bed, ask him how he thought it was, what about the promise? Hinata came and went, a knowing smile on her lips—surely Hanabi told her something and he was only grateful that she wouldn't tell anyone else—and when Tenten came, Neji found the energy to get up and lock his door.

"How was it?"

"Difficult."

"You think I'll pass?"

He smirked at her.

"I'll make sure you do."

Her laughter was his medicine, her smile his bandage and Neji found himself pulling her down and kissing her in the privacy of his room, blinds drawn and doors closed, hand cupping her pretty face and lips molding to hers.

I'm so very much in love with you.

When the results came out, Neji had to double check and ask Hinata to read the letter. Not for bragging purposes—he would never try to do that in such an obvious manner—but because the Byakugan wielder truly doubted his eyes, wondered if he had to relearn how to read.

But Hinata looked at him with a smile, cheeks flushed pink with pleasure.

"Neji-niisan, your eyes aren't deceiving you. You're an ANBU squad captain."

The moment Hanabi heard, she seemed to jump out of nowhere and pull on Neji's arm until he thought it would fall off.

"Neji-niisan! You promised! You promised!"

Just as Tenten remembered two things distinctively about being a jounin, Neji remembered just one thing about becoming an ANBU squad captain.

It was raining that day but he never equated the rain with sadness. Without an umbrella, Neji had gone to Tenten's apartment and uncharacteristically banged on her door until she answered, rapping his knuckles, hitting his fist to the door. She had opened, looking irritated, until she saw it was him. Brown eyes lost their annoyance as they looked at him in surprised, lips mouthing 'Neji…?'

He made a promise with Hanabi at her pestering. Or maybe he just needed a reason.

"All right, Neji-niisan. If you pass the exam, you'll…"

He was in love with the girl he had run through the rain for, the girl that gave up months of sleeping in to help him, the girl that he grew up with, the girl that he wanted to be his first and last for everything. She was endlessly patient with him and he could never repay that and wanted to give her the world but could hardly grasp the village.

But it seemed she didn't mind; he could offer her a stick and she would smile and thank him and it was that simplicity of her that he loved. She was simple but he wanted to give her the world; she wanted nothing but he wanted to give her everything.

There was only one thing that he could give her, he knew, just one thing that could be his everything and he dropped down to one knee and took her hand in his, offered a smile at her wide eyes and the way a hand was brought to her face.

He made a promise with Hanabi, and Hyuuga Neji would admit that was just an excuse for the courage he so clearly and desperately lacked.

"Tenten."

"N-Neji…?"

He was on his knee in front of the girl he grew up with and fell in love with, the one girl that never left him, the sole reason he retained his sanity in the company of Gai and Lee. Tenten was always smiling and he loved her optimism. Tenten was always determined and he loved her persistence. Tenten was always herself and he loved her for that, could kiss her endlessly yet didn't because scarcity made things precious.

He smiled at her and he could see tears beading in her eyes, the 'yes' falling from her lips before he even asked.

"Marry me?"

author's notes: I… I finished… so… so you can't… hate me… um… I'm sorry it took me so long to finish this, hahaha… but I finished! thank you for reading and I'm very sorry this took me so long (I need to be more motivated. agh.) final critiques or comments will always be appreciated forever and, once again, I thank you for your patience with this story!