kaara requested this like a month ago and it still gets me really emotional. i love it. enjoy!

Neji, at age twenty-two, is a busy man. He made jounin at age sixteen, one of the earliest promotions in the history of Konoha. He's one of the most valuable out of his generation, and if he is not on a mission, he is training, whether with Hinata and Hanabi or not. (And he is proud to say that Hinata fully deserves her promotion to jounin. He knows she'll be a perfect leader to the unyielding clan.) When he's not sleeping, he's visiting his former teammates and mission partners. He hit jounin and by age twenty he was an ANBU.

Ino, having just turned twenty-one alongside her Nara companion, well, she's almost as busy as Neji. A jounin at seventeen, a torture and interrogation specialist at nineteen, she is her father's daughter and more. Probably one of the most successful seduction nins ever taught, as Tsunade told her when she hit jounin. (And at this point, she's already almost as good as her father when it comes to their clan jutsu. Shikamaru will still take her father's place, however. While Ino belongs in torture and interrogation, Shikamaru was born to head the intelligence division.) When she's not in t&I, she's at the hospital. When she's not in the flower shop, she's helping Chouji with his genin team. When she's not doting on Shikamaru and Chouji, she's figuring out how to get Hiashi's permission to "train" Hanabi on the side without getting gentle fisted halfway to Sand.

Without a doubt, Neji Hyuuga is wiped. His steps up to his apartment, normal for a tired man to the normal eye, are obvious indications of complete exhaustion and more than a few injuries to any shinobi worth his or her salt. His companion, already raised from too light of a sleep, stands at the threshold to their apartment.

"Neji, you glorious idiot." She says, exasperated as she steps forward into the light of the just rising sun, her golden hair shining as it flows around her.

"I'm fine," he says, much to her apparent amusement. Easily, she walks down the narrow steps, keen and perfectly balanced on her toes, and extends her hand.

"No, you're not. Come on. I'll heal you, and if you complain I won't let you shut off your pain receptors while I examine you." The steps creak under them as he lightly rests one hand on the banister and takes her hand with the other. She's gentle as she pulls him up the stairs, and for that he's grateful, though he still mumbles under his breath about how he doesn't need help and really, this is all very unnecessary, something that does not go unheard. "Me thinks the Hyuuga doth protest too much. You know I have to either way. Tsunade will dock my hospital pay if I don't make sure you're in good shape, and you know we can't afford for Hiashi to disapprove of me, which he will if I don't," She quips, tugging him inside of their apartment and closing the door quietly. Neji slumps against the cyan walls of their apartment, but not before a flurry of purples and baby blues surround him as she tosses her arms around him. "And I missed you while you were gone."

"How does that constitute needing to heal me?" He asks carefully, closing his eyes as he rests his hands on her waist. "And I missed you as well, Ino."

"You know why." She goes up on her toes to bump her head against his gently.

Quickly, he kisses her. "Fair enough." Then he takes her hand and let's her lead him into their bathroom, where Ino is quick to rid him of his clothing until he stands only in his boxers. Slowly, he pulls himself onto the cold marble of the counter and sits up straight so she can place her hands over the gashes peppering his torso and arms in order to heal them. Goosebumps pop up on his arms and he squints ever so slightly as the florescent lights flood the room. "When I finish with these, I'll do a basic examination. Just tell me where it hurts, alright?"

"Of course." He says, and a half an hour later - she takes her time patching him up, it's not everyday he let's her heal him fully without complaint - she's turned all of the cuts into either pale white scars or invisible memories, and her delicate fingers gently poke his torso and arms. He doesn't flinch and informs her that the only pain he feels is a lingering soreness in his muscles. She nods like the good nurse she is and smiles.

"Yet again, a near flawless completion. But there is one thing." Ino frowns slightly as she speaks, turning on her heel and walking into their bedroom, knowing he'll follow. "Basic cuts, especially ones as shallow as those, wouldn't be enough to leave an average jounin as tired as you are, and unless you've been without sleep for an abnormal number of days, you're perfectly fine." Her voices softens as she discards the violet robe she'd been wearing and lazily slides in-between the lavender sheets on their bed, watching as he pulls a soft shirt on and follows, sliding in beside her and easily pulling her body close to his, a not too difficult feat thanks to their slightly cramped bed. "Who did you lose?" She whispers. The arm around her waist stiffens.

"Tamahiro." He finally says blankly.

"How?" Ino's a little shocked, a little upset. Kyo Tamahiro was one of the more well tempered men in Neji's ANBU unit, and while not exceptionally talented, he was quick to learn and quicker to fight.

"We were ambushed. I issued a warning and we made quick work of the majority, but more than a few men were dampened by sleep deprivation. A number of chakra-infused kunai made it past. I was too far from him and already engaged in combat with the majority of the remaining ambushers. When the medics reached him he was already dead. Direct hit to the heart and stomach." His voice is impassive but she can tell he's more than a little torn up, at least for an ANBU. He grips the soft material of her sleeping shirt almost without realizing, and Ino is quick to turn over and kiss him.

"It wasn't your fault." She says firmly, resting her head on his chest to hear his heartbeat. "Tsunade will know that."

"She does. We gave our report first thing and she does not blame us."


"... Ino?"

"Yes, Neji?" She responds drowsily, turning over and threading her fingers through his.

"Why didn't you just look inside my head to see who we lost?"

"You were too tired, I didn't think you'd like me curling up in your head." She drawls. In response, Neji folds his fingers between hers, his silent thanks for respecting his privacy, if just for a night.

After a few moments, they drift off to sleep.

On the other side of Konoha, two ANBU sit, cigarettes in hand, outside in the midst of the rising sun, waiting for Ichiraku to open.

"Did you see Hyuuga go? With all he's been through, he should've just gone to the hospital and slept it off. Man is beat. I'm surprised he could even make it to the rooftops. I don't think he slept for more than an hour each night all week."

"Probably." The other man takes a puff on his cigarette and crosses his legs. "But the hospital would've have helped. Knowing Hyuuga, he would have refused treatment. Either way, word is his girlfriend is the Yamanaka girl. He'll be alright."

"The Yamanaka girl? You mean- Inoichi's daughter? Ino? No." He says, his amazement a likely product of sleep deprivation and the high from his cigarette.

"Oh yeah."

"That sly dog, I bet they're playing doctor already. Ino's a seduction nin."

"Doubt it. Hyuuga's too tired. Maybe tomorrow. I pity their neighbors." He takes a drag on his cigarette. "And that said, I need food." He states, stubbing his cigarette out and standing. His companion smiles.

Neji wakes up to the sound of Ino's voice resonating around his head, though she is not beside him, instead standing in the kitchen, his clothing from last night in hand. (He assumes, he can't quite muster the strength to get up just to see where his enigmatic girlfriend is, so he senses out her chakra signature and leaves it at that.)

"God, Neji, could you get your uniform any dirtier?! I don't even know how to get animal blood out of inseams! Why do you have animal blood on your clothes anyway? The human blood I get, but really?"

He sighs, weakly telling her to shush and that he'll explain later.

(Admittedly, he doesn't expect her to stop complaining.)

"No, I won't shush, you're not the one cleaning blood out of white fabric!"

"If I make you your favorite for when you get back tonight, will you quiet down?"

"Maybe." She grumbles, the sound of her thoughts muting, though he still catches bits and pieces of her complaining through the filter she puts up. An amused chuckle leaves him as he slowly pulls himself from their bed and stands, only a tiny bit unsteady. With a yawn as he stretches his arms, he gracefully - for someone who's still a little woozy from getting up too quickly - he makes his way through their midnight blue hallway, stopping to look at the photos Ino must have put up during the week he was gone. There's one of Neji, Tenten, Lee and Gai, of course, Lee and Gai looking chipper as always while Tenten smiles prettily and Neji merely sips his tea. It's a recent enough photo, probably from Tenten's birthday, judging by the way she sits almost in the middle of everyone. Beside it, one of Ino, Shikamaru and Chouji, her arms around her two friends. A small smile curls onto his face.

Sure enough, Ino is standing at the sink, a bar of soap in hand, her back to him, gently working at the bloodstains.

"I can't believe I'm doing this," she says as he walks in, not bothering to look per her shoulder at him. He walks forward to stand next to her, looking out of the window above the sink.

"I didn't ask you to," he replies softly, prompting Ino to shake her head with a scoff.

"If I didn't, Hinata would've, and she's got enough blood to deal with already."

Neji blinks, casting his glance towards her. Whatever she's talking about is probably something he's missed, and he'd hate to hear that Hiashi or Hinata weren't telling him something on purpose. "You didn't hear?" Ino asks, cautious as she turns to face him. He watches as she drops his clothes into the soapy water before he shakes his head slowly, one and two and. "Oh," she says, reaching out to place a gentle hand on his chest. "Hanabi got hurt, her team was sent on a mission and they were ambushed when their sensei went to refill their canteens at a lake a few minutes away-" Her eyes flash with a breath of panic as fury beings to blaze behind the Hyuuga's eyes, the hand that rests on the judge of the counter tightening. "Neji, stop!" she snaps, giving him a light shove. "She wasn't very badly wounded at all, just a few cuts and a scrape to her head. Head wounds of any kind bleed heavily."

"Her sensei is still incompetent," he growls, looking down at Ino furiously. "He should have been put on probation immediately." but his grip loosens ever-so-slightly still.

"Neji, will you listen to me? Her sensei was scolded profusely and-" she takes a deep breath, sliding her hand down his arm to rest her hand on his, the cold feel of the tile soaking through her skin. "I'm currently trying to convince your uncle to let me train her." The sharp intake of breath Neji takes doesn't pass unnoticed and she gives him a humourous smile. "I know you're working with Hinata to train her, but Hinata is getting busier with main branch affairs, and well, to be blunt, Hinata never quite excelled in what Hanabi will need to be taught." Ino says smartly with a nonchalant shrug of her shoulders.

"Pardon me?" He asks, raising an eyebrow and meeting her eyes.

"Let's face it, Neji, Hanabi is a very pretty girl and she knows it. Even if she's still in the academy, I have no doubt once she hits chuunin she'll be sent on more than a few mission of a less... orthodox sort. When the time comes, I want her to be prepared." She bats her eyelashes then, smiling mischievously and taking a step forward. Even if her hands are freezing and getting a little wrinkled from washing, and even if her hair is probably falling from its messy updo upon her head, he still think she looks serene as always, but he's learnt the hard way that a dangerous streak hides under the serene demeanor of his longtime girlfriend. He almost takes a step back as she goes up onto her tip toes to whisper into his ear, but luckily he fights the urge, instead focusing on the curve of her neck and the way a few strands of her golden hair that she missed lie fallen, a bundle of wisps floating around her back. "And we both know that I'm experienced in that field, don't we, Neji?"

He has to stop himself from unbalancing her and pinning her against the counter with a hiss of "Goddamnit, Ino, I told you not to tease me," but he doesn't - though he's unfortunate enough to think it, she'll deal with that soon enough - and instead he only takes a deep breath and watches her as she rocks back on the balls of her feet with a lick of her lips, tucking a stray strand of his deep brown hair back as she goes.

"Oh, but you never seem to mind all that terribly at night," she thinks with a giggle, her fingers curling as they drop to her sides. "So what do you think?" She asks, grinning like a nymph.

"Hiashi will never allow it if you put it that way," he only says, resisting the urge still to distance himself. He's never been good in situations like these, with pure emotional clarity and the like. Whereas Ino is so quick to open herself up, Neji is just as quick to close himself up (though not before she gets a hand inside to stall the rapidly closing barrier.)

"Of course he won't. He's lovely for letting little old me steal little old you, but he's a terribly traditional man. Quite stuffy, actually. But you can convince him, won't you?" She bats her eyelashes again - wicked girl - and Neji is quick to cross his arms.

"I'll think about it."

"I won't tease you if you do."

"Prove it," he silently challenges, knowing all too soon that doing so is probably a bad idea because knowing her, it won't matter whether she follow through or not because he'll do it anyway.

The things he does.

They ease back into their usual pattern soon enough. After she finishes cleaning his uniform, she goes off to work her hospital shift as always, right in the middle of the day and ending just as the sun has peaked and past. Unsurprisingly, she rushes home at the end of her shift to tell him that she's been summoned to torture and interrogation, so she won't be able to make dinner, and he says that it's fine, he'll see if he can make something, because they both know that Ino's forte is not cooking. Not. At. All.

She comes home late that night and Neji, bless his thawing heart, already has dinner prepared, still hot as if it just came from the stove. It's nothing fancy, just some rice to start and beef mixed in with vegetables - he even made sure to keep her plate more on the vegetable side.

"Oh," she says quietly with a little smile, leaning against the doorway, keys still loosely in hand, to disguise her exhaustion. "Neji, you didn't have to-"

He smiles demurely. "I wanted to." and then he extends a hand, beckoning her forward to the table. "Are you tired? I can wrap the vegetables and beef up and you can just have rice, if you'd like."

She yawns, eyes sparkling still, and slowly walks towards the table, dropping her keys on the counter as she goes to sit across from him. "Yes, but that's no reason to pass up on a delicious meal. I'll eat what I can."

Wordlessly, Neji passes her her bowl and plate and watches as she slowly digs in, starting with her rice, dousing it in soy sauce before eating it, and when she makes a dent in it she switches to eating her beef and vegetables. She's always had weird little food habits - her rice needs to be evenly covered, she always eats meats before produce and her food is always pushed to the center, she doesn't like it to be spread out over the plate. After a moment, he sets to his own food, and when he looks up, he finds that Ino has fallen asleep in her chair, her head limp. He stifles a weathered sigh as he stands, the floorboards creaking quietly, and walks to her. It's not all that difficult to slides his arm under her knees, his other behind her shoulders, so he can pick her up and carry her into their bedroom.

To be honest, he's grown used to this. Torture and Interrogation drains her, even if her body rests for hours at a time, her mind is constantly going, prodding and searching with no end - once, when he requested she try to explain it to him, she referred to it as navigating a city run by spiders without a map, the sort of thing where you really need to listen and follow the sounds through the web until you find the spider itself, except the spider is a chameleon, and that is when you really need your eyes, she said - until finally the shell cracks and the secrets go rushing around her like sand in a storm. Neji is a strong man, but he knows that even he could never do something like that for a living. Working in a hospital sounds bad enough, tending to the sick and dying and bleeding day in and day out. Kunoichi's spread themselves too thin, in Neji's opinion, thin enough, at least, that it has become normal for Ino to nod off in the middle of dinner. He smiles good-naturedly as he sets her down on the bed and refocuses on undressing and redressing her. She'd fuss if she woke up in her clothing, and Neji'd never let her go to sleep without making sure that she's perfect. (It's just a pride issue, really.) He let's her hair down from its customary ponytail after he's undressed and redressed her in her usual pyjamas, and brushes it through a few times before he pulls the covers over her and drops a kiss to her forehead. (He tells himself as he walks back to the kitchen that he'll finish his food before he joins her, even if he knows he's not doing that.) Quietly, with a small smile still on his face, he clears the dishes and stores her food away, making sure that his footsteps are gentle on the wood floor so as to not creak and cause Ino to wake. (Years of espionage and reconnaissance have taught her that the difference between being a heavy sleeper and a light sleeper is life and death. If Neji didn't know any better, he'd say that she's paranoid, but a year of waking up to find her struck still with fear brought on from a nightmare has taught him better.)

When Neji thinks back on it, he's not quite sure exactly what possessed him to seriously consider proposing to Ino. Sure, she's great. She's beautiful, smart, witty and always so incredibly helpful so damn the gods if he don't love her with all of his frozen heart, but she's the opposite of what everyone expects the ideal wife of Neji Hyuuga to be like. The elders expect a quiet girl, refined, reserved and quietly beautiful, and while Ino can be refined when necessary, she is not reserved (not in the way they want) and her beauty is far from quiet. It's difficult, to say the least.

In fact, Hiashi almost popped a vessel when Neji, over their weekly dinner - luckily held, this time, when Hinata is on a mission and Hanabi is enjoying a rare night out with her friends - told him that he was considering proposing to the Yamanaka, and as such, could he perhaps have the ring his father gave to his mother? His birthright, after all. Hiashi legitimately nearly spit his tea all over his food. (Naturally he gave Neji the ring, of course he did, he'd be a bastard if he didn't, Hizashi had said anyway that the ring was to be Neji's soon, but it didn't stop him from giving his nephew a good long talk about whether or not it's a good decision. But, well, Hyuuga's are known for their stubbornness and Neji didn't bend so easily.)

So with Hiashi's promise to organize a meeting with the elders to settle the issue of marriage between two clans, he took his mother's ring, hid it in their apartment and prayed to Kami the elders and their council saw reason. Or at least his crippling urge to marry the Yamanaka heiress.

Neji wakes up next to her the morning after, not at all surprised to find her instinctively curled into him, her back to his chest and his arm curled around her, the blankets thrown off and the sheet only serving to cover them. He shivers a little, but only a little as her warmth serves to warm him as his does to her. Absent-mindedly, he drops a kiss to the nape of her neck. Her voice blooms in his head.

"Good morning, Neji."

He inhales sharply before relaxing, almost possessively tightening his arm around her. "I hadn't realized you were awake."

She giggles, the sound reverberating comfortably around his head. "Of course you didn't." She rolls over at that, a wide smile on her face as she reaches both hands up to cup his face and place a childish kiss on the peak of his nose. "Do you have anything coming up?"

"A clan meeting." he rolls to his back, a hand moving up behind his head.

"Oh." she shifts, placing her head on his chest. "When?"

"Later today." He changes his weight, reaching his other hand up to rest on her head.

"Mmm," she says in response. In her head, she starts to list the things she needs to do today, all of the t&i paperwork she has due and whenever her hospital shift starts - wait, no, she's off until the day after next, silly her - not to mention getting food because they're running low and oh, man, if one more person asks why there isn't a ring on her finger yet- Oh.

"Neji?" she starts, a little wary. "Is this clan meeting- Is it about me? I mean, about us?"

Neji is silent for a long moment, his hand softly stroking her hair. "Yes." he finally says. "The council has chosen to review the issues our relationship brings up today."

"Oh!" Ino's voice is a little watery, then, brimming with hesitant joy. "Does that mean-"

"Yes. They've come to their conclusion. With any luck, we will have our solution to this frustrating issues of clans by tonight."

Ino gives a rare gasp of joy, looking up at Neji with a grin the size of her face. "Oh, Neji!" He smiles in response, pushing himself up so as to kiss her.

"I know," he says calmly, holding back a laugh as she tosses her arms around him gleefully. "I know."

Grocery shopping is not Ino's forte. She's great at telling which fruits are perfectly ripe - hell, she grows half of the produce they eat - but other things are another story. Never knowing what Neji will make and yet still being the main person to do the shopping - weirdly, she's still not sure how she has time to, you know, sleep, what with all of the things she does, Neji should really be the one doing the grocery shopping, except he's always having meetings and training when he's not home with her or off on a mission into the bowels of hell - doesn't make a good mixture.

She's good at making sure the apartment is clean, though. Being a medic helps, same with being a florist. (Ino just doesn't like getting things dirty in general. Dirt leads to infection, grime, longer showers, the whole shebang. Neji hasn't quite grasped that theory, yet, much to her dismay. Most of the laundry is just his dirty clothing. He does things like it's his last day living.) She always was good at making sure the store was clean, after all.

"Do we need rice?" she mutters as she scans the rows of grains in front of her, a hand on her hip and the other resting a basket against her side. "Wait, no. Eggs, that was it." She gives a little chuckle as she flits off to find the eggs, her sandals sliding comfortably across the floor. Eggs. Neji eats eggs like they're blessed food from the gods, except only raw. Protein, apparently. He used to eat them raw before Ino put her foot down and outright refused to buy organic eggs if he was going to eat them raw like that. She chuckles at the memory as she carefully grabs two containers of eggs.

"Ino?" Ino whips around and a smile breaks across her face as she realizes who has uttered her name.

"Hinata, hi! How've you been?"

"Well." Hinata says politely. "How have you been?"

"Decent, for someone who's been cleaning up after your cousin for the past few months," she says with a laugh. "Speaking of Neji, don'tt have to be at that clan meeting too?"

"I do not have to be there until a little later." She says quietly, fidgeting. "Father is just briefing the elders. I am only supposed to be there to observe the process so I know what to do when I am to become head of the clan." She says it with a hint of regret, as if she's not sure if she'll even make it to being head of the clan. Ino gives her a humoured smile.

"I'm sure you'll be a great clan head regardless of what your father has you do, don't worry."

"Thank you, Ino." Hinata waves her goodbyes and she's almost disappeared out of the store before she stops. "Oh, and the meeting should be over by dinnertime."

"Thank you, Hinata!" She calls as the girl hastily evacuates. Ino smiles briefly. So if it'll be done by dinnertime, she should cook. No big issue with that, she thinks, though hopefully Neji won't be hungry for anything too extravagant. (But then again, being someone who has lived off of mission rations for half of his life, he doesn't expect much.)

Ino is surprised, though, when she runs into Tenten while browsing the area housing the utensils. She knew the girl liked objects of the sharp and dangerous variety, but she didn't think kitchen knives were on her list of priorities. But nonetheless, Ino cracks a smile and raises a hand.

"Funny seeing you here, Tenten." Her voice is laced with an unshakeable feeling of humour and she hopes Tenten doesn't feel mocked.

"So you mean adding a butchers knife to my collection won't give me an edge in battle? Bummer." She laughs, turning to cast her gaze from the gleaming knives to the blonde beside her. "I'm just here because Lee is in the hospital again, I thought I'd make him some food. No offense, but that hospital food is deadly."

"No offense taken. That stuff sickens me." They share a laugh at that, voices a little uncomfortable despite themselves. "I'm pretty sure I can cook better than that, and I'm sure Neji's mentioned that cooking isn't my best skill."

"It may have come up, but then again, he's terrible at cleaning when he wants to be, so I think you're evenly matched." She deadpans. Ino grins.

"You could say so. I should get back, I have to start making dinner, but I'll tell Sakura you're making Lee food. With any luck she'll be able to get it through to him without the other staff making a fuss over it." Tenten smiles back, raising her hand in a wave.

"Thanks, Ino. One last thing, though - take care of Neji for me, okay? I know you do already, but that guy is scarily devoted to his work. Just make sure he doesn't have a stress-induced stroke or something, okay?" Ino nods her agreement - leaving out the bit about how she's more than capable of, ah, helping him relieve his stress, and departs to pay without another glance.

If there's ever a time he's glad to have banned Ino from his mind - no matter how painful it is to her, when she reaches out and meets only a barrier that she knows better than to cross - is when he's in clan meetings and Hiashi's brow crinkles in that ominous way.

"We come across a few issues."

Of course you have, he thinks dryly. He twines his fingers together and nods for Hiashi to go on.

"Firstly, she's set to become the head of her clan. Normally it wouldn't be an issue, what with you being of the branch house, but it still presents complications. She cannot join our clan and you joining the Yamanaka would be... ill-advised."

"Why not simply have us stay in our own clans and simply live together?"

"That would be fine if it were not for the possibility of grandchildren. What name will they take?" An elder croaks, her hands folded over her cane.

"Whichever characteristic they take on. If it is the Byakugan, they take the Hyuuga name. The Yamanaka kekkei genkai, the Yamanaka. Is this settled?"

"We will take some time to review. Use this time to stretch your limbs while we talk this over," Hiashi supplies. Neji can't get out fast enough. He shuffles his papers together and leaves them in a neat stack before he rises and disappears onto the grounds of the Hyuuga compound. They'll call him back in a few moments, but any type of escape an be relaxing if used properly. A sigh escapes his lips as he seats himself, looking out at the almost empty training grounds. He sees Hinata walk up behind him and he eyes her in lieu of a greeting before casting his eyes back to the training grounds, and his petite cousin.

"We haven't trained with her in a few weeks," he notes, turning his head slightly to glance at Hinata. Beside him, she shifts as she takes a seat.

"Y-yes, I know." She casts her eyes down, crossing her legs at the ankles. Neji frowns.

"Is it true Ino is trying to obtain permission to train her?"

"Yes." she says quietly. "But father doesn't like the idea of her being trained by someone outside of the clan, even if they are to marry someone of the clan. He doesn't approve of the type of training, either."

"She is young," Neji agrees. "Perhaps in a year or two when she gets promoted." And when Ino and I are married goes unspoken. Hinata knows well enough that her cousin waits too anxiously to wed the Yamanaka heiress. "I'll talk to uncle." he says as an afterthought. Yards from them, Hanabi trains viciously, her hands flying to send the training dummy flying backwards as she lands a flawless somersault.

"I should talk to him too." She says softly. "He hasn't been feeling well."

Neji hums, though whether in interest or grim recognition Hinata is not quite sure. "He wants to see you married," she says after, so quiet Neji would have to strain to hear her were he not a shinobi.

Neji can feel a part of him crack at those words, and as a branch member turns the corner and beckons for the two Hyuugas to return with a curve of her fingers, Neji almost leaps to his feet. Hinata slowly cracks a shy smile, rising to her feet gracefully and brushing her lap off before seeing off after Neji. Hiashi seems to be waiting for them, his legs folded beneath him, his tired eyes still calculating. Neji stops at the doorway, a hand on the frame. She blinks.

"Hinata, you may leave if you wish. It is only necessary for Neji to be here." She nods, giving her cousin a hesitant glance before bowing her head and leaving. Neji clenches his fists, eyes determined. "Relax, nephew. Come, sit." He waits patiently, his eyes never leaving him, as Neji takes a seat across from him. As Hiashi clears his throat, Neji gathers his formerly forgotten papers.

"We've reached our decision," Hiashi says, his tone a mite hesitant for someone so normally self-assured. "Or rather, I have." Neji nods for him to go on, his eyes meeting those of his uncle.

"And that decision is?"

Hiashi, or so he appears, takes his time with the answer. He hums and takes a breath and makes Neji curse the day he was born, before he gives Neji his long awaited answer.

"You may marry the Yamanaka girl."

It takes all of Neji's willpower not to spring up and embrace his uncle. (And it is that same willpower that makes the barrier between their minds come crashing down.) Tears build up in the corners of his eyes and in their apartment halfway across Konoha, he swears he can feel Ino crying.

"Thank you," he finally manages to say, before springing to his feet, nodding respectfully and disappearing into a blur as he rushes back to his apartment.

He can see Ino standing in the kitchen through the windows as he rushes up the stairs, though her outline is faint through the steam-covered glass. He stops, his hand on the door, and takes a deep breath before rushing inside. She sighs from her vantage point in the kitchen as the door opens, only tearing her attention away from the letter in her hands long enough to give him a glance as he drops his papers on the table. He notices that her eyes are watery, and as he circles his arms around her and drops a kiss to the curve of her neck, she gives a shuddery breath before spinning around, having dropped the letter to the counter, and throwing her arms around him with a sob. He raises hand to rest on her back between her shoulder blades.

"Ino." Her response is yet another joyful wail that she projects into his chest. "Ino, we're doing to get married. You're going to be my wife." he whispers, resting his head on top of hers and willing himself not to cry. She takes a shaky breath, her arms tightening around his shoulders, and looks up at him with tear-filled eyes. "Don't cry." he says softly, leaning down to gently kiss her. She whimpers for a moment, eagerly kissing him back before breaking away.

"I have to go get dressed," she says breathily.

"What you're wearing is fine," he says, a little confused. She laughs and leans up to kiss his cheek.

"We're going out tonight! We've got to celebrate, don't we? Plus I already made reservations. So, lucky you for coming home wearing a suit!" He nods, not really bothering to point out that he's required to dress formally when attending clan meetings unless otherwise stated, and without another word, she darts from the kitchen into their bedroom. Neji stifles a smile, wordlessly fetching his mother's ring from the pocket of one of his coats. He places the ring next to the letter she had been reading - postmarked from Suna and bearing the signature scribble of Shikamaru. He's not surprised - before shrugging off his coat and toeing his shoes off. He takes his time then, picking the ring box up and carefully putting it into his pocket before he walks slowly into the hallway and dow to their bedroom. He catches a glimpse of her (almost) bare back, curved and slightly scarred, as she leans up to fetch a dress from their closet. He indulges in a wry smile as he stops in the doorway, leaning against the frame.

"Which dress?" she asks, turning around and presenting the two options - a strapless blue dress almost identical in color to her eyes, and a soft lavender one that he knows she bought because it reminded her of his eyes. He averts his eyes from the sight of her in only her bra and panties as he looks over the two.

"Lavender." She grins, turning and placing the blue one back in their closet before pulling the lavender off of its hanger and stepping into it.

"Zip me up?"

He complies, stepping forward and carefully pulling the zipper so as not to snag the fabric. "Were you planning to wear your hair down?"

She nods, stepping forward and sifting through the jewelry on top of her dresser. "You should wear yours down too!"

He chuckles to hide the irrationally nervousness flaring up in his eyes. "I suppose I should." he takes a moment then to pull the tie from his hair. "There is one thing you need before we go, though." He takes a breath before stepping forward and pulling the box out of his pocket. She turns, with a whisper of his name still on her lips, just in time to see him kneel and open the box, his hair now framing his face.

"Please marry me," he whispers. If he weren't so serious, so fearful for no reason, he'd smirk at the dumbstruck look on her face. He should have realized he wouldn't have expected it so soon. She probably wasn't even sure if he had the ring yet.

"Oh my- Kami-sama, Nejiā€¦" her awestruck nod is enough for him. He stands, gently taking the ring from the box and sliding it onto her finger with deadly focus, as if fearful of dropping it. Neji Hyuuga's hands do not shake, but if they did, they would right now.

"This ring is the same ring my father gave to my mother."

"It's beautiful." Ino says softly, raising it towards the light. Then, without even a seconds delay, she practically tosses herself into his arms and damn, he's lucky he's got catlike reflexes because even if Ino weighs like, nothing, she damn near almost knocks him down. He spins her around instinctively as she wraps her arms around him. She giggles as he slides his hands from her sides to under her legs as she wraps her legs around his hips.

"I love you, Neji Hyuuga." she murmurs against his lips, hands tangling in his dark brown hair.

He kisses her passionately, taking his time enjoying the feel of her against him and fighting the urge to miss their reservation in favor of pursuing other interests. He takes a heated breath as they pull away, faces still inches from each others. And then finally, with a voice heavy with uncontrollable emotion, he raises a hand to her cheek.

"And I love you, Ino Yamanaka."


optional epilouge:

They are married during the upcoming sping. Their ceremony, officiated and watched over by Tsunade herself, takes place in the Hyuuga gardens. The flowers are all just blooming and Ino is sure to wear a cosmos tucked behind one ear. Shikamaru is Neji's man of honour - being the leader of the Sasuke Retrival team sure means something, plus he knows Ino will throw a fit if her best friend isn't somehow symbolically important - and Sakura is Ino's. Neji wears a tux, black with pale lavender accents, with his hair down as per Hyuuga tradition - and Ino's adamant request. Across from him, she shifts her wait, balancing easily on the heels she wears. Ino's dress was her mother's before her, and naturally it's nothing like a traditional wedding dress, or it would be if traditional wedding dresses were off-white (in the light she swears it's a pale lavender) and ended at the knee.

Tsunade reads off the usual ninja vows with a voice characteristic of utter apathy. "Do you, Neji Hyuuga of the Hyuuga branch house, vow to take Ino Yamanaka of the Yamanaka clan to be your wife, for better or for worse, respecting all that is expected of her, until death do you part?"

"I do." His eyes swim with uncertainty - public ceremonies are not his forte, he much prefers to do with quietly, but Ino is nothing is not born to live in the spotlight.

"And do you, Ino Yamanaka, heiress of the Yamanaka clan, vow to take Neji Hyuuga of the Hyuuga branch house to be your husband, for better or for worse, respecting all that is expected of him, until death do you part?"

"I do!" Her eyes glow with warmth, the sight of her smile enough to make Neji mimic her.

"Then I pronounce you husband and wife. You may now kiss the bride" she deadpans, turning on her heel and beckoning for Shizune with a grunt of 'sake. now.' The crowd watches with wide eyes as Neji swallows, his eyes flashing with a brief moment of anxiety, before he lifts Ino's chin up with his finger and, with agonizing slowness, brings his lips to hers.

They're not particularly listening to the sound of their guests, but Ino swears she can hear Shikamaru grumble about how troublesome his tux is as Sakura cheers vivaciously a few feet from her. They ignore Lee and Guy, though. Not mentions or recollections of youth, nope, not at their wedding. Neji had specifically banned their being anything less than the perfect guests - well, Lee is a groomsman, right next to Kiba and Choui. He's pretty sure Ino did something similar with heir bridesmaids, but seeing as Hinata, Sakura and Tenten are generally well-behaved women, he's not super worried.

(Not a whole lot to be worried about anyway, when she's kissing him like she's been desperate to all this time, and it sinks in then that they're married. From now until their last days.

And he's got to admit, he's a little bit in love with that idea.)

"For better or worse, huh?"

"Until death do us part." He agrees. She laughs a twinkling laugh.

"You've got a lot on your plate now, Neji Hyuuga."

"And I wouldn't have it any other way." He says firmly, his hands going to her waist.

"I love you, Neji Hyuuga."

"And I love you, Ino Yamanaka."

guilty pleasure fic? what makes you think that.

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