Chapter 1: Naruto and Hinata
The day of the ceremony had arrived, and it turned out to be as beautiful as anyone could have ever hoped. Hinata had requested for Neji to stand with Hanabi and Hiashi during the ceremony as he was surely an integral part of her family. And although Neji accurately presumed he wouldn't allow the emotion of it all to overcome him, something about the way Naruto and Hinata looked at each other throughout the ceremony affected him in a way he hadn't expected.
As Neji looked out into the crowd, he was amazed by everyone who came to witness the highly anticipated union—it was a true testament of every bond Naruto had formed throughout the years and all the people who wished nothing more than to see him happy.
While scanning over the guests, his eyes stopped when he noticed a mildly embarrassed and annoyed Tenten. The reason for her embarrassment was soon discovered as he glanced over next to her at Lee and Guy Sensei, who were trying to get Neji's attention with a grandiose wave and blinding smile. It wasn't long before Tenten shrugged and joined in by giving a gentle wave at Neji, as well. And though any shinobi would have ogled at Tenten for how stunning she looked in her pale yellow dress, Neji found himself unable to look away from her bright eyes and beaming smile.
As the ceremony had ended, those closer to the newly-wedded couple transitioned over to the wedding reception for the real celebration. For the event, Neji and Hanabi sat together at the table designated for the family of the bride. While he was happy to be there supporting Hinata, he couldn't seem to suppress a sense of longing for his second family. While talking to Hanabi, his eyes kept glancing over at the table where Tenten sat with Lee and Guy Sensei.
"Neji, you seem distracted. Oh, I know! Let's go dance!" Hanabi begged, though her tone made it sound more like a command. She hated the thought of sitting all night at one of the table of honors. Neji hesitated, but given the occasion, he decided to make an exception for his younger cousin.
"Oh, alright th—" Before Neji could finish his sentence, Hanabi was already dragging him onto the dance floor hoping her moves could impress a certain shinobi around her age.
For someone who rarely found the time or need to dance, Neji was impressing many with the way of his graceful movements. There was no one who could perform rotations, or in this case a twirl, better than a Hyuga. Along with their fast movements, they enjoyed the music together as if brother and sister. And while that certainly kept Neji focused for a bit, it wasn't long before he found himself looking at the table where his team sat. By following Neji's gaze and taking clear note of who he was really glancing at, Hanabi spoke up just as Neji was beginning to twirl her, "Well? Are you going to ask her to dance, or what?"
"Tsch." Neji closed his eyes with a sigh as if meditating to maintain his sense of calm.
As intrusive as the question was, Neji tried to ignore his younger cousin and keep dancing for the time being. He was convincing himself that although he couldn't deny that he was eyeing the kunoichi in question, it was to make sure she was doing all right in her mission to ensure Lee didn't consume any alcohol and cause a scene. Although he had entrusted Tenten before the wedding day with the task, he hated the idea of making her babysit Lee and Guy all by herself. It was a simply a matter of wanting to make sure she enjoyed the celebration as well; though, it wasn't as though his younger cousin was entitled to the luxury of such an explanation from him.
"Come on! I see you looking at her. Don't even try to deny it! You don't need the Byakugan to see the obvious, Nii-san. Besides, Hinata's younger than you and already married!" Hanabi complained with what seemed to Neji to be faulty logic.
So this is what she had meant, Neji thought as he recalled the words Hinata had once mentioned to him. The conversation concerned how insistent Hanabi had been to Hinata to confess her love for Naruto by giving him the scarf she had knitted. As much as Neji grew to care for Hanabi for being family, at the moment he couldn't help but think about how her smug face seemed to perfectly fit one of a young teenager in the Main Branch.
In order to make it seem as if her words were not pestering him, Neji decided to entertain his younger cousin, "And what do you suppose asking her to dance would do for that? You believe one dance is what it takes to fall in love and get married?"
"Well, I mean, you guys are already in love, aren't you?" Hanabi asked, her voice coated with a feigned innocence as she continued to sway around on the dance floor.
Neji halted mid quick-step and immediately regretted his decision to entertain his younger cousin. How could he have calculated the degree of her meddling so horridly?
As he opened his mouth, he froze trying to find the right words. Yes, he certainly cared deeply for Tenten. But love? Suddenly, Naruto's words from the day before were ringing in his ear. What nuances marked the separation between the feeling for a lifelong teammate and a potential lifelong partner? It was a philosophical question Neji would have to meditate on.
"I don't hear a nooo!" Hanabi sang, grabbing and shaking his shoulder as she became exponentially more excited.
"I think I'm done with this conversation," Neji resigned, moving away from the dance floor. He had no intention of spending the whole night on the receiving end of Hanabi's daydreams. Despite excusing himself, he heard her call out to him over the loud music—something about how they can never seem to leave each other's side for long.
In an effort to clear his mind, he decided to make his rounds greeting people and thanking them for joining in on the celebration. If time allowed, he reasoned, he would relieve Tenten of her duty protecting Lee from alcohol all by herself.
Even though Tenten was stuck protecting everyone from the wrath of a potentially drunk Lee, she had to admit that she was truly enjoying herself. It felt like all of Konoha was in a state of pure rejoice. And as she scanned the room, all the happy aura was starting to overflow within her. She noticed a blushing Ino asking if Sai would consider maybe dancing with her. Sakura was having fun taking photos with some other medic nins she had met while working at the hospital. As for the guys, Choji was unsurprisingly at the buffet area; however, Tenten's interest was piqued as she noticed he was talking to a girl from the Hidden Cloud whose dark skin and red hair seemed familiar. She was also interested to see Shikamaru, standing next to Temari, putting in effort in trying to sound confident when talking to Gaara and Kankuro. And last, but certainly not least, Tenten noticed Kurenai, Kiba and Shino were taking their turn congratulating the officially married couple. It truly felt like something out of a dream.
Focusing back on where she was sitting with Lee, and Gai Sensei, she felt happy for the family they had built throughout the years. Before Tenten could fully process a nagging feeling that something (or someone) was missing, she smiled at Neji who finally found the chance to make his way over.
"Neji! You should be proud of me. Operation: No Drunk Lee has been a success so far. Not going to lie, we almost had an incident when I stopped for some cake, but hey, I said you can count on me, didn't I?" Tenten flashed a grin that would have made their Sensei proud.
"I'm sorry I had to put you up to this. I would have asked Guy Sensei as well… it's just…" Neji trailed off but his expression told Tenten everything she needed to know: Guy Sensei would get distracted the second he saw any opportunity to dance challenge Kakashi, even in a wheelchair.
"No worries, I know how much you wanted everything to go perfectly for Hinata! I'm glad I could help, really. Why don't you sit with us though for a bit, Neji?" Tenten invited as she tugged his sleeve towards the empty seat next to her. It was only natural that she couldn't contain her excitement; earlier, it had felt weird celebrating and not sharing it with him.
Neji barely had the chance to sit down and greet the others at the table before Lee gave one of his emotional outbursts.
"Oh Neji! You were great out there during the ceremony! The way you stood there and supported the beautiful union of your cousin Hinata and our dear friend Naruto at such a youthful moment in their lives… Beautiful!" Lee declared with tears streaming down his face.
Neji shared a look with Tenten that was an equal mix of hopelessness and acceptance. Again, they communicated with just their eyes: We'll let them have their moment this time. Neji gave Lee a gentle smile; it was too joyous of a day to get worked up over the usual antics.
"Speaking of beauty, doesn't our Tenten look more radiant than ever today? Go on, tell her Neji!" Gai boomed with his signature wink and thumbs up.
A little bit of panic instantly stirred up within Tenten. The last thing she needed was for Guy Sensei to meddle with her and Neji—or so she thought. Before Tenten could even give Neji a chance to respond, she immediately interjected, "Haha thanks Guy Sensei, but honesty, I really just can't wait to get out of these shoes. You and Lee should go to the dance floor one more time though before the night ends!"
As their sensei gave his usual boisterous laugh and continue to go on about youth, Lee started to wheel Guy Sensei over and swerve him to the beat of the music. Tenten noticed Neji visibly relax. They both seemed to realize that everything always seemed so much easier and simpler when it was just the two of them.
Before either of their thoughts ventured too far, at the front of the room Hanabi began to make an announcement—all the unmarried ladies had to gather round for the chance to catch Hinata's bouquet! Without daring to look at Neji, although she couldn't process why, Tenten made her way over so as to humor herself in the tradition.
Hinata was beaming at everyone before she turned around and prepared for the toss.
"One!" Giggles were erupting everywhere.
"Two!" Tenten's heart skipped a beat. Was it always this hard to breathe?
"Three!" As Tenten outstretched her hands, the bouquet only grazed her fingers. The trajectory seemed to go way past the section of ladies who were participating, only to hit an unsuspecting Temari—who had scoffed at the idea of even taking part—directly on the head. Stunned, Temari stood there frozen, blushing madly.
Everyone was silent as they focused their attention to Temari. The wedding guests then proceeded to shift their eyes over to a smiling Gaara and a mildly annoyed, protective Kankuro who seemed to be glaring at a certain Hidden Leaf shinobi.
"Looks like you're up next, Shikamaru!" Naruto hollered as he slapped his friend on the back.
As Shikamaru's mouth gaped open, the crowd around him erupted in a supportive uproar. Neji smirked as he echoed Shikamaru's words from the day before- Checkmate, my friend.
Author's Note: Hope you enjoyed this chapter as much as I enjoyed writing it! Can you guess who the next chapter will be about? I'm thinking it'll be up in about two weeks. Leave a review :)