The Chocolate Conspiracy
::A/N:: I got my motivation for this snipet from watching the latest episode of the Rock Lee anime. I had three versions written, and I hated them all. So, I think I finally got what I wanted to get across with this one. It took me long enough, so I hope it was worth the fighting.
Gotta love Valentine's Day. End of story.
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto. If I did, I would self-insert myself so I could kill Sasuke, party with Lee, ask Gai what toothpaste he uses, and play matchmaker for Neji and Tenten. But I don't...so...yeah...
The Chocolate Conspiracy
It was Neji Hyuuga's least favorite holiday of all.
Most other highly celebrated holidays fell on days when he was not forced to be around people his age. And on that off chance it was, people weren't as crazy as they were on this day. He cursed his fate for forcing him to deal with fan-girls of all ages as they scurried to get closer to him as they offered heart-shaped gifts, notes, and chocolate. Didn't they know he didn't like chocolate to begin with, let alone anything red, pink, or heart-shaped?
He endured many Valentine's Days, thanks to his academy's calendar, all of which he hated even more than the last. It always seemed to him that every year, ten or twenty new girls would bestow upon him their pitiful attempts of artwork and homemade treats. He thought that ignoring them completely would show them he was not interested, but this proved the opposite. His fan-girl club only intensified their devotion and doubled their population within a year.
But this year would be the last of it. He would graduate in the summer, and he could not wait to finally be rid of these overly obsessed maniacs of love. He had more important things to do with his life and had no time for such petty emotions.
So he endured with that thought in mind. One more year, and this will all be over.
Little did Neji know, it was only the beginning.
Neji wanted to run and seek shelter in his room the second he stepped outside on Valentine's Day the following year. The fan-girls whom he had hoped would have left him alone in pursuit of the younger prodigy, some Sasuke Uchiha, stood outside his manor in staggering numbers. Shouts of "I love you!" and "I want to be with you forever!" and even "I want to marry you now!" were thrown from nearly every girl in the crowd. Why hadn't they dissolved? Why were they still so intent on chasing after him?!
It angered him to no end. He didn't have time, nor the patience, to sit and fight his way through the group, so he retreated back to his room and left through the window, taking the longer way to the training field where his new team was probably waiting for him. His anger slowly dissipated as he walked, the shouts of screaming fan-girls dying with every step. He knew he would soon forget about the day with training; his team at least would prioritize training over some stupid "love day."
But boy was he wrong.
He entered the forest where they usually met; Lee was doing push-ups like normal. Gai and Tenten had yet to make an appearance…like normal. He found himself sitting at the base of the tree he usually sat at to mediate until the other half of their team showed up. He would have much rather suffered through Lee's counting and grunts than spend one minute dealing with the crowd he had left screaming back at his household.
"Good morning, Neji-kun! Do you know what today is?"
He shot a glance at Lee, daring the boy to say what Neji prayed he would not say. "I don't care about what today is, just so long as we are training."
In a rare maneuver, Lee sat on his knees, ending his pre-training workout way too early. "Oh, my youthful rival, how upsetting your words have made me! Today is such a joyous occasion, and one should take the time to bask in its warmth!"
Neji knew very little about Lee, and so, he really had no idea what he was trying to get at. However, he kept his thoughts to himself. He really didn't care for Lee to elaborate, seeing as he would rant and rave for hours about how Neji needed to be more open about the day itself. He would not listen to Lee tell him what he should and should not do with his life.
Thankfully, before Lee could continue on in his silence, Tenten appeared in the small clearing. Lee soon addressed the question to her as well.
"Good morning, Tenten! Do you know what today is?!"
Thankfully—and to Neji's somewhat delight—Tenten rolled her eyes and frowned at him. "Yes, I know, and no, I don't care. I thought you of all people would be more interested in training."
All hell broke loose the second Gai materialized behind Lee.
"Oh, my precious students, do you know what today is?! It is the season for all of our youthful spirits to blossom into beautiful flowers of love! Today is Valentine's Day, and because of such a momentous occasion, we shall not be training! Instead, we will be basking in our youth to prepare ourselves for the day when we turn into a youthful flower!"
Neji grimaced at his loud proclamation and Tenten groaned in response. Lee, however, jumped off of his knees and began jumping excitedly around Gai Sensei, his hand extended in the air.
"YOSH! I cannot wait for that day to come when I become this youthful flower!"
Gai laughed and Neji and Tenten spared a look at each other.
So much for eliminating Valentine's Day.
Neji quietly peeked outside the manor doors to make sure there were no possible fan-girls waiting to pounce on him the second he opened the door. He even went as far as to activate his Byakugan. Seeing that the coast was surprisingly clear, he left the manor and proceeded to his team's usual training spot.
He was dreading it. He already knew Gai Sensei would drag them all—make that him and Tenten; Lee was walking on his own—around town and make them participate in the day's activities, but he would not do so again. He had several excuses up his sleeve that would allow him an escape route if it came down to it. He saw Gai's motivation last year and so he knew he would need one hell of an excuse to pull it off.
This year, however, he ran into Tenten before he even reached the practice field. Surprised that one: she was up this early, and two: she went out of her way to meet up with him, he tried to keep the look of confusion off of his face.
"What are you doing here?" Maybe Gai had cancelled training…again, but allowed them to take the day off?
"You know what's going to happen if we meet with Gai and Lee today, don't you?" she asked.
He closed his eyes and frowned at the memory. "I'm prepared to deal with that."
She blinked a few times, then began to laugh. "You mean to tell me you're actually going to go through with this willingly this time?"
"No," he added, seeing that she had misinterpreted his statement. "If we do not end up training, then I will excuse myself back to my residence and continue training there."
"Or, we could just train together!"
He eyed her cautiously, trying to figure out what she had meant by her invite. He didn't want to be rude and turn her down when her intention was going to benefit him greatly, probably even better than his own plan. But the thought of the other fan-girls instantly popped into his head. He knew Tenten well enough—at least he thought he did—and she didn't seem to be the type of girl interested in a love life. But still…it was a girl thing, wasn't it? What made her any different?
"Come on! I'm not that bad!"
He crossed his arms over his chest and finally he agreed to join her. He just had to hope he wasn't falling into a cleverly laid trap by his teammate.
It was late at night, and frankly, he was exhausted.
Their training had gone rather well, and he was very impressed by how well her technique had grown over the months. He struggled for a few hours trying to read her movements, since they were nothing like Lee's. He knew long distance was more her style, but he never really fought another person decently skilled in the area, so the change was nice for him. She also appeared to get just as much out of him as he got out of her.
In the end, though, her stamina level wasn't near as high as his, and she had no choice but to surrender to his strength. She laid flat on her back, struggling to catch her breath, while he sat across from her at the base of a tree in his famous meditative stance.
"Man, I wasn't expecting you to wear me out like this," she said between breaths. "You really are a tough person to beat."
He scoffed at her remark. Was she seriously thinking she could beat him? "You can't seriously say you thought you could beat me."
"Nah," she replied. "I just thought I would last a little bit longer. I mean, with all this crazy training from Gai Sensei, I was hoping to last all night." Well, she fought longer than he thought she would have, but he opted to keep that to himself.
They soon fell into silence, but Neji could feel her need to ask him something. He opened one eye to read her expression, but saw nothing that would alert him to the strange tension in the atmosphere. He disregarded it; perhaps it was his own mind, or fatigue had finally caught up to him.
"Why do you hate Valentine's Day, Neji?"
Her question caught him by so much surprise he couldn't stop his shock from escaping his lips. "What?"
She didn't seem fazed by his surprise, or had forgotten with whom she was talking to. "Why do you hate Valentine's Day?"
His first question was where did that come from? He thought that with all their training and no one around to remind them of what the day was, they would have forgotten completely. Apparently, she did not.
His second question was why? Why did she want to know? What had motivated her to even ask? Sure, they were teammates, maybe even friends, but this wasn't a question he felt comfortable answering. He would be spilling secrets no one else knew, and he fully intended to keep things to himself.
"Why are you asking me this?" he asked instead. He was partially curious to find out himself why she had asked.
She sighed and sat up, her arms falling behind her for support. "You just don't seem happy." In his defense, he never really was happy any other day either. But she continued on. "And I thought that maybe if there was a reason you hated the day, maybe I could help you make it better."
He was at a loss for words. He could only stare at her. A part of him was angry at her. How dare she try and meddle in his business? They weren't close, they barely said a word to each other outside of training and missions, so what gave her the right to intrude in his life?
But another part of him was touched at her concern. He really didn't have anyone to talk to about anything, and it was quite possible she knew that as well. He knew she was just trying to help, to be a good friend for him.
However, he had no idea what to do, or even what to say to her remark. So, he remained silent. When he heard her stand up, he hoped the silence had not offended her, or made her uncomfortable around him. He just…really didn't know what to say.
She took a few steps toward him and stuck her hand out, which Neji soon discovered was holding a small red box. He eyed it curiously, then looked up to meet her eyes.
He slowly took the box she had given him, then she turned her back and began picking up her weapons from the previous spar. But he was more interested in the box he now held in his hand. He swallowed a lump in his throat. This was why he hated Valentine's Day. The gifts of material things, a pledge of a feeling that wasn't going to last. It was all fake, and he hated it.
"What's inside this?" he asked, trying to still the boiling in his blood.
She looked over her shoulder at him to respond. "You'll have to open up and see."
But he didn't. Instead, he stood up and walked over to where she stood. "I don't want it." Before she could protest, he pushed the box into her hand and turned his back.
But when he began to walk away, he heard her call out to him.
"Happy Valentine's Day, Neji."
Neji no longer had to hide from the world on Valentine's Day.
However, he was slightly afraid his best friend would ruin that.
For the past two years, Tenten had given him a small box of the brown sweets he hated. Even though he gave them back to her before he walked away, a part of him would never forget it. It was a small gesture from her, which he highly doubted she knew agitated him as much as it did, and now he was worried she would follow a similar suit again this year…and he wouldn't get off so lucky this time.
It became routine for them to meet somewhere besides the training grounds when they knew Gai Sensei was going to lecture them on topics of "youthfulness blossoming" (Valentine's Day), the color green (Saint Patrick's Day), their "environment in need of youthful saving" (Earth Day), the days "when we reflect on our youthful selves" (mother's day and father's day), and the list just kept going. It almost seemed Gai could make any holiday one where Neji and Tenten would rather not be present and avoid him all together. Double that need to stay away when you added in Lee…
Meaning, it was no surprise this year when Tenten met him outside of his home. It unnerved him a little, as she stood where the crowd of fan-girls had waited years before. He prayed that she was not hiding some childish crush on him and it was why she secretly wanted to spend the day with him, and give him the same presents he despised.
"Good morning!" she greeted cheerfully, causing that feelings of worry to creep up into his stomach. He would not be rude about it, more so because he could have been reading way too into her behavior and could have been completely wrong.
"Hn," he replied, as usual, but she knew what he meant. He began walking down the street toward the center of town, like they usually did, but she stopped him by jumping out in front of him.
"Happy Valentine's Day, Neji!" She extended her hand and once again, she was offering him another small box, similar in shape and color as she had done the previous years.
He could not contain his disgust. "Why are you giving me another present? I don't want it."
She retracted her hands, and he felt slightly guilty when she frowned. "Oh, well, I thought I would get you something to help cheer you up today."
He sighed. She meant well; that much he could see. But he did not need to be given presents on the basis of a fake holiday. It meant nothing to him.
He decided then that she needed to know that. "Valentine's Day is nothing but a fabled holiday created by people, for people, who want to escape reality and bury themselves in a fairy tale. That's not the kind of world we live in. That infatuation, that desire to be with the one they love, is as fake as the holiday. A true lasting love cannot be celebrated in one day by giving material gifts. It should be more than that and last eternity."
She stared at him for a long minute before she dropped her gaze to the ground. "You're right. I'm sorry. I won't bother you with it again."
It was then he felt a slight pain in his chest, but it was small enough that he thought nothing of it. He walked past her, but after a few steps, he realized she wasn't following him. Had his words really bothered her that much?
Hearing her name, she turned around quickly, a small—although he knew it was forced—smile etched her features. "Yeah, I'm coming!"
And all day, Neji couldn't shake the feeling that he had made a serious mistake.
It was the first Valentine's Day Neji actually felt lonely.
Tenten and Lee had embarked on a mission without him a week prior to and had not yet returned. Gai had informed him a few days ago that they could have been back any day now. He walked out of the manor and, for old time's sake, he did a quick sweep of the area, just to make sure she wasn't waiting for him, like she usually was.
But she wasn't.
He never really thought about it, but now he understood exactly how much he depended on her to be there for him. He never had to go out of his way to find her; she usually found him. He never had to spend a day alone; he either went on missions with someone, trained, had meetings with his family, and in his free time he would spend with her, if she was open. But it had been a little over a week now since he was forced to manage without her. And he couldn't do it any longer.
His feet began walking on their own, as if she was really at his side like she had been for the past few years. He walked into the center of town, stopped at a few shops he knew she would want to stop at, picked up a small bento lunchbox for the mid-day break in training, and continued on. He ran into a few familiar faces; Naruto and Kiba, Shikamaru and Chouji, Sakura and Ino. And each one of them had asked the same question, "Where's your valentine, Neji?"
On a mission. He didn't say it out loud, but the thought alone scared him. He could not believe he had indirectly assumed Tenten was his valentine. He didn't even care about the holiday to begin with! So why all of the sudden did he want her to be his valentine for the day?
A part of him already knew the answer: She already was; he just didn't want to admit it.
He avoided the majority of the people he ran into just in case they asked him a similar question. Even one of the shopkeepers, Tenten's favorite, had to ask: "Where is that fine young lady you are always with?" He couldn't take it anymore, so he bolted to the training field, where he was sure he would find some peace of mind.
It was quiet, and he soon realized, too quiet. How had he taken Lee and Tenten for granted like he had? He didn't know how much he missed either's presence until he wasn't around them. Sure Lee drove him insane, but he was a very close friend. That and sadly, he had become so used to Lee's crazy antics that he couldn't envision his day without it. But here was, at the same exact training ground that had served their team for years, alone.
How ironic. Of all days he had to feel so small and insecure, it had to be Valentine's Day.
He meditated half the morning away, and proceeded to train in the shadows of the trees until the afternoon. Before he could manage to sit himself down to have a quiet meal, an extremely loud voice broke through the forest.
His heart dropped into his stomach. He could recognize that voice anywhere. It was Lee, but he sounded…anxious? Desperate?
Neji followed the sounds of Lee's cries until he came face to face with the teen. Tears were streaming down his face and his clothes were stained with blood and mud. Neji felt his blood turn cold.
"W-What happened?" he asked, trying to keep his voice calm and steady. Tenten was not with him, and he feared for the worst.
Lee dropped to his knees in front of him, still sobbing. "Oh, Neji, I have let you down! Our youthful flower is in the hospital! I failed to protect her!"
Neji didn't even wait for Lee to explain the details as he took off in the direction of the hospital. His heart hammered in his chest. Was she okay? Was she dying? Lee didn't seem to be in the best of shape, but he didn't seem to be seriously injured. He also had a habit of over exaggerating. He just hoped he was doing the same now.
He stormed through the hospital doors, surprising a few nurses and other staff members. He didn't care. He ran up to the desk and placed his hands down on the structure as calmly as he could manage.
"Tenten. Where is Tenten at?"
The frightened nurse stared at him for a second, then realized what he was asking. She flipped through the top layers of paperwork and pulled out one file.
"She's currently in surgery right now. It seems that she suffered a serious wound and Tsunade herself is involved. She might not be out for a while."
He waited a few minutes for the nurse's words to sink in. How could this have happened? Why didn't Lee protect her like he would have?! Why was she sent on this mission without him to begin with?!
He shook his head, not wanting to believe the situation he now found himself in. What if she didn't make it? He couldn't help but recall the last Valentine's Day he had with her, in which he had basically told her she was a hopeless fool for believing in such nonsense. What if…what if he never got to tell her how wrong he was?
His head was spinning and he was forced to sit down on a nearby bench. He placed his head into his hands and tried to steady his erratic pulse. She was stronger than this; she would pull through. He just had to believe in her and everything would be fine.
Minutes turned into hours, and before he knew it, the sky had darkened outside. He didn't budge, not even when Lee and Gai and their tear-lined faces tried to convince him to step out for some fresh air. He couldn't leave. He would remain as close as he could possibly be to her so that when she woke up, he would be the first person she would see.
After what felt like months to him, which in reality was only a few hours, Tsunade rounded the corner. He stood up instantly, Gai and Lee doing the same, and approached their Hokage.
Gai spoke first. "Oh, Tsunade-sama, please tell us that our youthful flower is alright! Please!"
"Please Tsunade-sama!" Lee added, as if Gai's plea was not enough.
Neji just held his breath and braced himself for the worst.
But when the older lady smiled and placed a hand on Gai's shoulder, he felt a tremendous weight lifted off his chest and could finally breathe again.
"She'll be fine, Gai," she said, retracting her hand as Gai and Lee threw their arms around each other and literally melted onto the floor, nearly drowning in their own tears.
Tsunade then made eye contact with him. "She might not be awake right now, but she told me she had something for you. But if she's asleep, do not wake her. She's had a rough day."
He did not need to be told twice as he followed Tsunade's instructions to Tenten's room. He quietly pushed the door open and poked his head inside. She seemed to be asleep, so he carefully made his way to sit at her bedside. He pulled a single chair from the corner and sat down before he reached for her hand lying at her side.
It was a first time ordeal for him. He never had a desire to hold her hand, but now, he couldn't imagine himself doing anything else. He gently squeezed her hand in his, a reassuring gesture to let her know that he was there. He was always there. He would always be there.
A few minutes passed before her eyes slowly fluttered open. He wanted to pull his hand back, afraid that she would scold him or she would become uncomfortable. He was slightly surprised when she tightened her hold around his hand instead.
"Hi, Neji," she said weakly, and something inside of him broke. He wanted so badly to throw his arms around her, to prove to her how much of a fool he had been, to prove how much he needed her in his life. But he knew that would only cause her more harm, so he settled for another reassuring squeeze of her hand.
"You had something for me?" he asked, not knowing what else to say.
She smiled at him and took her other hand out from underneath the sheets. Neji felt a tug on his heartstrings as he recognized the same red box she had attempted to give to him over the last few years.
"Happy Valentine's Day, Neji."
It was the first time Neji actually welcomed Valentine's Day.
Nothing really significant had changed. Everyone still carried on their business like they had all the years before. Even he did. He found himself falling victim to the same routine. Tenten met him outside his manor. They would walk through the center of town like usual, then proceed to the training grounds.
But there was something different, regardless of what anyone actually thought. Yes, Tenten had met him like she usually did, but there was a different atmosphere about them. They usually walked in comfortable silence, which they still did, but he found himself walking slightly closer to her than before. He was tempted to step another inch closer to her so he could easily grab her hand, but he was afraid she wouldn't want villagers to see them holding hands.
They walked through the center of town like they usually did, but her energetic attitude towards the items—mainly weapons—brought a smile to his face every time. He did note that Tenten's favorite shopkeeper, the same one who asked about her whereabouts a year before, eyed him curiously as Tenten investigated the products on sale.
"So, are you two official valentines yet?"she asked, and they both froze for a few seconds. He grew worried when Tenten laughed at the older lady, but when she looped an arm around his, he couldn't help the slight discoloration to his face.
"Neji doesn't believe in valentines," Tenten replied. "It's all just a fairy tale world of hearts and chocolate to him."
He didn't understand what she had meant by it, but he didn't have time to think on the issue before she began dragging him away from the stall. Once they were out of the heart of town and on their usual route to the training grounds, he stopped her.
"What did you mean by that?"
She looked at him curiously before she replied. "I thought you were the one who believed that valentines were just fairy tales and they were fake?"
He had said that when he was a foolish child who had yet to open his eyes. He knew that the world, and possibly even her, did not know the extent at which she had changed his life. That much should have been made clear when he thought she was dying last year. It was made clear to him where she stood in his life, and where he would be without her.
But before he could respond to her, she once again handed him a similar red box as she had done before. He softly laughed to himself. This would never get old now.
"You're really trying again?"
She nodded her head. "Do you know why I like Valentine's Day, Neji?" There was a seriousness in her tone that caused him to direct full attention to her. When she knew he was waiting for her answer, she continued on. "I think you may have already known this, but I've always thought very fondly of you. You were unique, and strong, and maybe a tad cute. But just a little."
She held her pointer finger and her thumb a centimeter apart for emphasis. Neji smiled as his heart began to beat faster in his chest.
"I wasn't a real fan of Valentine's Day either. I agreed with what you said before, that it was a stupid excuse for someone to say they were in love. And that infatuation never lasted more than a year. The first year I gave you the box of chocolate was because we were on the same team, so I thought it would help break the ice. The second year, I wanted to see if I could make you happy."
She paused and Neji stood still, his breath hitching in his throat. "But over time, I began to realize that it was more than just handing you chocolate. I soon realized that I really liked you, and it soon became a cover-up to hide my feelings. But you never accepted. A part of me was upset, but how could I blame you? You were right when you said 'a true lasting love cannot be celebrated in one day by giving material gifts. It should be more than that.' But if you never accepted the chocolate, I knew you would never accept my feelings."
He wanted so badly to stop her, to recant everything he had said to her. He knew now that he had been misleading her. He could see why she was hiding behind this chocolate façade, but if only she had come clean about her feelings, he would have accepted them! Why did she hide for so long?
"So," she added before she could speak, shoving the box into his face. "I did something a little different this year. Open it up."
He took the red box out of her hand, the same style of box he had rejected in the past, the same box that held something as simple as sugary delights, but meant so much more. He carefully removed the top box to reveal a simple kunai she had apparently forged herself. The blade was similar to any weapon he could find at a shop, but on the handle was a hand carved dragon. And on its back was a small bird. Their symbols.
He stared at the weapon in his hand before he glanced up at her. "You wanted something that would last, so I made that. It took me a while to find the materials for it, but that blade should not break for as long as you live. As long as you carry that with you, I'll always be there. And when you hold that handle in your hand, you can know that you are always with me."
He had never been so touched in his life, and he couldn't even formulate words to express how much this token had meant to him. She went out of her way to make something that would last, all because of something he had said years ago.
She took a step toward him and placed a hand on his heart. "And that feeling, hopefully that you're feeling now…that's not material, Neji. And I hope that stays with you forever."
He stared at her for what felt like eternity before he broke out of his haze and wrapped his arms around her tightly. He could feel the burning sensation at the back of his eyes, but he knew better than to shed tears now, not when he was feeling happier than he had felt in his entire life.
"Thank you, Tenten," was all he said, because anything more would have ruined the moment. She returned the embrace with just as much care and emotion as he had.
"Happy Valentine's Day, Neji."
It was Valentine's Day once again, but Neji's heart was pounding nervously.
It was time for a change, and after almost nine years of a similar routine, it needed to end. At least for today.
He woke up earlier than he ever thought possible just so he could stand outside Tenten's apartment instead of the other way around. He made sure he pocketed two items, the kunai she made for him, and a small red box he would give to her, before he took off into the morning.
The cold air felt nice against his skin, but it did little for his nerves. He had never given her a present before, and it scared him to no end. Had this been how she had felt the first time she truly gave him one of those damn boxes?
He arrived at her doorstep in minutes and he leaned against the wall to wait. She usually did the same to him; she never knocked on the door and demanded him to hurry up; she never did anything but wait silently for him to come out. But he grew impatient after a few minutes of waiting. Yes, he was early, but she must have been up by now. Maybe she wasn't going to follow the routine this year?
He decided to wait a few more minutes, but when he didn't hear any movement or indication she was even awake, he stepped in front of the door. He wanted it to be a surprise, but he couldn't wait any longer.
But he never got the chance to knock on the door before it opened. "Neji? What are you doing here?"
He thanked the gods, and perhaps his father, for allowing his plan to see itself through before his impatience killed it. "I thought we would change things up this year."
Tenten stared at him in shock for a second or two before she shook her head and replaced it with a smile. "I feel special," she said with a laugh.
He extended his hand to her when she stepped out of the building and shut the door behind her. "You should. I don't do this for everyone."
Her smile widened as she slowly took his hand. "I would hope not."
He laced his fingers with hers, pulling her closer to him as they began following the same routine they had for years. However, she must have sensed his nervousness through his skin…or she was that good at reading him.
"Are you alright? You're awfully…quiet today."
He usually was quiet, but he knew what she meant. He was a "preoccupied" quiet instead of a "relaxed" quiet. He forced himself to calm down. He would not ruin this day because he was afraid.
"You're imagining things."
She rolled her eyes, and he knew he was safe for the time being. They reached the center of town and she made her way—and drug him with her—to the same stalls they visited every year.
When they finally reached the one Neji wanted to stop at, his nerves kicked in high gear once again. Thankfully, Tenten was too preoccupied with the merchandise and didn't notice his change in behavior.
The old lady smiled at them, like she always did when they stopped by. "So, are you valentines this year, or are you going to keep this old lady waiting even on her death bed?"
Before Tenten could reply, Neji quickly pulled out the red box from his pocket and held it up so Tenten could see it.
"That would depend on her answer."
It was the moment he had been waiting for for almost a year and a half. The old lady gaped at the small box in his hand, her eyes then darting to Tenten.
Tenten's eyes widened at the box, similar to that which she had given Neji every year on this date, then turned to him. "You didn't have to get me anything, Neji."
"Open it, and give me an answer," he replied before he lost his nerve. He needed her to take the box from his hand before she noticed how nervous he actually was.
She eyed him cautiously for a minute before she finally took the box out of his hand. A small blush formed on her cheeks, which Neji took slight comfort in. The old lady continued to watch as she removed the top box to find another smaller one inside.
Tenten smiled at him. "You got me a box?"
He returned the smile. "Open it."
She did what he asked and flipped open the lid to the second box. He held his breath as her eyes lit up and her jaw dropped.
He instantly grabbed her hand and very slowly—he was extremely nervous now—dropped to one knee.
"I remember this day, two years ago, when you placed your hand on my heart and told me what I was feeling was not material, and it never went away. Not even after the day was over. I still feel that feeling as strongly now as I did then. That is true lasting love, and I want to share that feeling with you today, tomorrow, and for the rest of your life."
The old lady clapped her hands over her mouth. Bystanders stared in awe and delight. The world had literally stopped for the scene taking place in heart of the village.
Tenten seemed to struggle for ages—at least to Neji—before she finally found her voice. "I-I can't believe this…"
As the tears made their way down her cheeks, his grip on his hand tightened. "I don't want to be your valentine because that will never last. I want to be your husband, now and forever."
When a genuine smile formed on her face, his heart flipped in his chest. She dropped down to her knees and threw her arms around him, burying her tear-streaked face into the crook of his neck.
"I love you, Neji."
He held her as close as he possibly could as he finally let one single tear slide down his face.
"Happy Valentine's Day, Tenten."
My original intention was to write a segment for every year, but I soon realized that it would get redundant, so I skipped a few. I got Neji's hatred for Valentine's Day from my own personal belief, so I'm hoping it wasn't too out of character for him.
Now if you will excuse me, I need to ride on my cloud of fluff to bed.
Happy Valentine's Day!