The soulmate!AU NejiTen style. I'm sorry it's short but the idea just wouldn't leave me alone.

Every person who has a soulmate bears 'Soul-Marks' consisting of the first words their soulmates will say to them. The words start to appear as the child grows and only the soulmates can see it. The gold letters turn black once one meets their intended.

Neji Hyuuga is five years old when he learns the concept of soulmates.

His mother, always tired yet finds the strength to smile fondly at the bright-eyed child sitting comfortably sitting on her lap, tells him about her meeting with her father. Her fingers are long and she contently combs back the long strands very much like her own.

"What's havin' a soulmate like?" Neji asks, childish curiosity pitching his voice.

Her mother smiles once more and leaves a small kiss at the top of his head. There is a knowing far-away look in her eyes masking the pain her constant illness weighs upon her. She is silent while she searches for a way to describe the concept to a five-year-old. "It's like coming home."

Neji tilts his head to the side, scrunching his eyebrows together.

"But we already have a house."

A heartbeat of a silence and the soft, clear and genuine laughter rings out in the stiffen hospital room. Neji is stunned and confused as he watches the face in front of him come truly alive for the first time since she was admitted to the hospital.

"You will understand when you find her, dear." His mother assured gently. Way-too-pale fingers caressed his forearm. "When the words will appear and you'll hear them said, you'll understand."

"I'll find her then." Neji dutifully nods. It seems, like everything else around him, he will just have to find his soulmate.

Neji Hyuuga is ten years old when he notices the faint incomplete lines of his own very Soul-Mark beginning to shimmer into existence alongside his left forearm. He is awestruck and keeps hours gazing at the gold ink tattoos, trying to will their forming faster.

He is beyond excited and a little bit smug that he began showing before Hinata and he wants to start looking for his other half immediately. The promise he had made years ago to his mother sneaks to his mind, steeling his resolve to find his mysterious soulmate. It's like a race, Neji thinks, will he find her first or will she the one?

Every morning little Neji checks his Soul-Mark, it's almost a routine now for him and he just wants it to appear completely so he can start searching.

Neji Hyuuga is twelve when the tattoo in his forearms completes.

Confused eyes glare down at the words as if the intensity of his gaze could bring sense to them. The lines and loops look nothing like the kanji he practices at school.

His heart beat is loud in his ears and only when he sees spots dancing in his vision Neji remembers to breathe. His arm is shaking in a way that blurs the long awaited Soul-Mark, but still, Neji can't read them. All he sees is gold.

Scared of the intelligible letters, Neji runs to his father.

"Father! Father! My mark!"

The young boy dashed to the gardens and crashed into his father's back. He is a little out of breath and there is a suspicious stinging in his eyes that makes him rub them repetitively.

"What is it, Neji?" the concerned tone he hears just make him rub his eyes faster.

Panic and dread build up to the point Neji explodes, "I can't read them!"

His father is silent as he thinks over the blurted words cracked with emotion. He takes in the trembling lips and watering eyes of his son and reaches out to calm the distressed boy. Later on, Neji would deny with all his being that he cried and sniffled but the prospect of not understanding the soulmate he so eagerly expected for years terrifies him.

"Try to write them on paper," his father suggests faintly. "Your soulmate might not be Japanese."

There is no mistake in the hidden pity. After all, those with oversea soulmates finding each other were terribly low if not near-zero. Soulmates born halfway around the world from each other. The promise of finding her long-long ago in a white hospital room is just empty now.

Neji is fourteen when Hinata completes her own Soul-Mark and falls head-first into Naruto Uzumaki's lap the next day.

Her parents are alive, she is next in line for the family company, a part of the main house with an adorable little sister worshipping the ground Hinata walks. And now she has found her soulmate and Neji curses faith for being so unfair and unjust.

He's been bitter, rude and a total ass since that morning at the gardens with his father. Everyone will find their soulmates while he will be alone so he thinks it's fair to be a jerk.

Neji is sixteen. And once again woke up with his arm flung over his face and just about the first thing he sees in the morning is the non-kanji gold inked letters that are his Soul-Mark.

That particular morning, too early yet too late, he distantly watches the suns ray's dance over the gold letters. Shining and taunting him in a way that makes him frown.

"It's like coming home."

After all this time the words are still imprinted in his memory.

Should he really just give up like that? Without even trying once to reach for her?

He has a suspicion that had his mother been still alive, she would have encouraged him to at least try.

Neji remembers how Hinata is enamored with Uzumaki, how her eyes always follow his form, how she smiles when he is near, the way she tilts her body to his, the loving blushes and secretive glances.

He wants someone to look at him like Hinata does to Uzumaki.

5 years after the golden letters came alive Neji decides to look for his soulmate.

"Ciao Bella"

Okay, obviously his soulmate is Italian and according to Google, it takes 12 hours to fly to Rome. There are 60.8 million people living in Italy and one of them is Neji's soulmate.

Neji is still sixteen and doesn't have a passport to travel and even if he did go to Italy he didn't know the language. So, he starts with Italian classes.

He learns that bella is the feminine form of beautiful and he does get mistaken for a girl with his long hair and aristocratic features. Neji is kinda happy that the first thing his soulmate will do it's greet him with a compliment and his it's much much better than what most people get. (Hinata's reads 'where did my sandwich go?' while Hanabi's 'suck my math homework, loser' makes no sense whatsoever)

Neji Hyuuga is twenty-six and an accomplished writer with best-selling books to his name. He is fluent in Italian and picked up enough Spanish to get by. He studied hard to enter an Italian college and stayed there after graduating.

He'd been living in this beautiful country since then traveling from city to city and never staying more than six months. Neji walked the historical roads of Rome, passed through the canals of Venice, hiked the Alps, enjoyed the liveliness of Sicily, eaten the best pizzas in Napoli, relaxed in the beaches of Sardinia, fell in love with Milan…

But he never heard the words he ached to hear.

Neji is beginning to think that the gods are trying to tell him something that sounds a lot like give up.

Neji Hyuuga is thirty-one and back to Tokyo for Hanabi's wedding.

He came back a few months ago to help with the preparations and pass time with the Uzumaki-Hyuuga twins. Neji certainly missed his family even if they tried to hide their pitying looks from him; he knows what they were thinking about his situation.

Dropping the over-excited brats he has the misfortune to call nephews, Neji takes a stroll through the busy roads of Tokyo. For all their differences, Neji did miss the countryside of Italy and especially the cuisine.

Passing in front of a small restaurant, Neji halts. He can smell the ripe tomatoes, fresh basil and a hint of garlic. His mouth waters with the promise of good quality oil olive and a warm slice of pizza quattro stagioni.

The place is small, warm and vintage with peach colored walls, sturdy tables and chairs. He is the only customer in the restaurant but he doesn't mind. The scent of well-cooked food reminds why Neji has stepped inside for a snack so he sits on one of the tables with the red-and-white- tablecloth. Just from the corner of his eye, he can make out a stone pizza oven.

The moment he glances up, the waitress smiles as she sees him and hurries towards his table. She is petite with dark eyes and even darker hair pulled back in double buns. Her red blouse is clean and the white apron tied over her black skirt is wrinkle-free. With practiced ease, she fishes a little notebook from her back pocket and smiles warmly at him.

Neji's heart skips a beat at her shining smile but he keeps his polite mask on, absently he scratches his forearm. He nods to the girl who unashamedly sweeps her eyes over his form. She likes what she sees, evidently, and her smile takes a flirty edge.

Neji clears his throat and wills his blood away from hiswarm feeling ears. Smoothly he orders, "A slice of Quattro Stagioni," he claps his back when his voice doesn't waver, and adds, "Prego." Because it's polite to say please.

The girl nods in affirmative but the pen poised to write stops. Without another word, her cheeks burn a bright pink and her face shines in a way that hurts Neji's eyes. Before he could say anything, the waitress leans over the desk bringing her face closer to his, she purrs with the most butchered 'Ciao Bella' he's ever heard in his entire life.

The pull – the forming bond – is instantaneous. His forearm is burning and Neji doesn't have to look to see the golden letters turn black and settle on his skin. In that small moment, Neji understands what his mother had tried to explain.

"It's like coming home."

All the puzzle pieces click together into place. It's finding something essential that he ever realized missing, to begin with. It's coming up for air after spending minutes. It's the cold kiss of water under the scorching sun and heat.

He feels complete.

And he also feels extremely frustrated.

His soulmate isn't Italian, and by the sounds of it doesn't even know anything remote to correct Italian. The person he searched for the last 20 years has been just six blocks down his home and not halfway across the globe.

So Neji laughs. He laughs and laughs and laughs until he is crying and banging his head ın the table. The girl –his soulmate! – takes a step back, unsure and confuse from the turn of events. He can easily see the black inked letters etched onto forearm.

Inhaling deeply, Neji tries to control himself and says dryly, "It's 'Bello' not 'Bella'. I'm not a female." And for the benefit he adds, "The name is Neji Hyuuga, charmed."

The girl snorts, eyeing his long hair she comments, "Could have fooled me, mister. I'm Tenten by the way."

"Ah, Tenten, you know my life would have been much easier if you hadn't tried to impress me with your non-existent linguistic skills." Okay, so, one lifetime of ass-jerkness doesn't vanish in the next minutes he had met his soulmate.

"Oh dear, you haven't seen my full capabilities yet." She challenges him, not taking offense from his harshness. Neji likes her even more; she isn't fragile or insecure and definitely not so weak to bow to his snappiness. Yes, Neji likes her a lot.

"I fear for the future then."

Tenten –his soulmate! – twirls her pen expertly between her long fingers. The smile is still upon her lips and her other hand rest on her cocked hip.

"I'll try not to traumatize you much," Tenten teases lightly. "Well, not before you buy me a drink first."