This is my lighthearted romantic comedy. Hope you enjoy it.
Chapter 1- Friendzone
Neji was not one to advocate violence. But one could only enjoy so much meditation at a time that it becomes tedious even to an avid meditator. There is only so much breathing and exhaling one can do in a day. Only so much admiring of the sky.
It's been three years since the end of the Fourth Shinobi war and six months since missions became less than appealing. To a man of his caliber, they did not require his high level skill set and so here his sat. He could feel his muscles weakening. His stamina depleting. His very purpose altering to a life of domestication. He was not a man that stayed at home and tended to the crops. He spent his entire life training for battle, honing skills to perfection, pushing limits, and exceeding expectations. He did not do all that to sit and drink tea for the rest of his life.
A door slid shut and he turned his head only slightly as a servant stepped up behind him, bowing. They waited for him to acknowledge them. For them to interrupt his daily mediation, perhaps it would be something interesting.
Neji pushed off his knees and stood, turning in greeting. The servant held out a piece of paper. The seal was a Hokage brand and with a boast of rare excitement, Neji took it and read it quickly.
This could only mean a mission had come in.
He handed the letter back. "Have my bag packed. I do not have the specifics yet but you will be in charge of the household affairs while I'm gone."
They bowed their head, taking several steps back before turning and heading into the house.
Neji hastily walked out of the compound, heading toward the temple. The rush of adrenaline was hard to fight. It wanted him to jump to the rooftops and run. But he was twenty-one now, a man. He could not act like a teenage boy any longer. There were proper ways to conduct oneself and improper ways.
At that moment, a ninja ran by him, nearly tripping over his own feet in attempt not to hit him. He floundered, attempting to regain his feet and then tumbled and rolled before jumping back up. Neji realized the teenager as Konohamaru. Eighteen years old and a newly made jounin, the young juvenile bowed, "Neji-sama, my apologizes." Then he turned and kept on running.
Neji knit his brows at the foolish kid but otherwise gave him no other thought, continuing his reluctantly slow pace. He nodded to people as he past and they in turn moved out of his way, politely giving him ample space. They whispered and admired from afar. And though he wished to take no notice, mothers made pitiful attempts to push their embarrassed daughters out in a desperate attempt to catch his eye.
His reputation during the war had gotten him more popularity than he would have liked. And the fact that he was still single, seemed to attract unwanted attention from all kinds of women from all different villages. Under the obligation of Hiashi, he entertained the ones with more incentive, examples of these were the rich or an empress of some kind. But he had no intention of marrying any of them. He had already made a specific choice and though he had made little effort in acquiring said choice, he was still pursuing regardless.
Neji climbed the stairs to the Hokage's temple and knocked once on the door. When a sharp "Come in," replied, he stepped in with a raised head.
He was however surprised on the company. TenTen greeted with a soft smile. Konohamaru's cheeks reddened in embarrassment for knocking into him earlier. Kiba glanced back before straightening again. Neji took his spot next to his lifelong female teammate.
Naruto greeted them before his Hokage's desk. "Okay, now that you're all here. This mission is kind of beneath you...some of you." He recertified, glancing at Neji. "But I chose you four because your chakras are higher than most. We're trying out a new invention and I don't know how it works really but whatever." He leaned back in his chair. "You are escorting me and Hinata to Sand. Shikamaru and Temari are getting married in two days and we've been invited to the ceremony. I know it's dangerous." He aggravatedly rolled his eyes. "I've already been told by a bunch of people. But they're my friends and I'm going to be there." He held out a scroll and Neji reached for it the same time Konohamaru did. There was pregnant awkward pause, all eyes on Konohamaru, shocked, appalled, but mostly confused. Naruto made a nervous sound as he placed it into Neji's hand and Konohamaru stepped back, red faced and eyes forward.
Neji did a quick read through as Naruto explained, "This is what we are traveling in. It's like a carriage but it moves by chakra. The point is to get to Sand as fast as we can. The less danger there is."
Neji rolled it up with the intention of reading it fully later, "Hokage-sama, may i pose a question?"
"With your talents, couldn't you simply fly Hinata and yourself? The dangers would be nonexistent."
Naruto sighed, "Yeah. Tell that Hinata. She's in her third trimester and is terrified of heights."
Neji once again interjected, "You could do it anyway."
He smiled, "You're not married, are you?"
Neji's brows knit. "I don't see the relevance."
"You will. A angry wife is one thing. A pregnant angry wife is a shinobi war."
TenTen threw a blade on the desk, "What was that, Hokage-sama?"
He chuckle sheepishly, "A joke. A simple joke."
"Hn." TenTen snorted, "I wonder if Hinata-chan will find it funny."
Naruto snapped to his feet, waving his hands, "Come on, I was joking, TenTen. I'm still healing from the last time she nearly killed me. And it's not fair either, I can't fight back. She's eight months, she's the size of a freaking house. It's that pregnancy strength. She broke my arm, I swear, look." He held it up and it fell over, "See?"
TenTen folded her arms and turned her back. Kiba stifled a chuckle.
Neji clenched the scroll. Naruto was right, this mission was far beneath him. But it was a mission. And anything was better than staying home and sitting around watching the clouds roll by. "When do we leave?"
"At twelve. It takes twenty-four hours to get there if we do not stop, which I don't want too. I want to keep moving. There will be two carriages, one for us and then a separate one to hold you and our luggage."
"Just wait, Neji. You'd be surprised what a pregnant woman needs."
The four of them exited the room and stood in the hallway left with the awkward last message. None of them had been around pregnant women before and that all left them staring at TenTen. She however was contemplating the very same sentence until she felt their eyes on her, "What? Do I look pregnant to you? I don't know what he's talking about." She scoffed, "He's just being an ass. She can't be that bad."
Neji unrolled the scroll and the three of them surrounded him. "I wonder how it works." Konohamaru voiced.
TenTen pointed, "It looks like you put your hand here."
Kiba stood back, "So what, this thing is going to feed off us? Doesn't that sound like a disadvantage?"
"ANBU will be with us more than likely."
"How long till it drains us? We have no specs on this."
"At least it's a mission." TenTen decreed and Neji nodded in agreement. "I really got into video games." She whispered embarrassed.
"Which game?" Konohamaru wondered.
"Path! Me too!" He beamed, holding up his hand. She awkwardly high-fived him. "Who's your favorite character?"
"I knew you were going to say that."
"What? He's the worst."
"Everybody says that but that's because no one understands him. He's like me. Secretive, shy, but powerful."
She snorted, smiling.
Neji knit his brows. What was happening? He analyzed TenTen, noticing her body language, and realizing suddenly, she was feeding into this bullshit. He glanced to Konohamaru, who kept talking about this dumbass video game and he was completely making eye contact with her every chance he got and making her laugh.
He needed to stop this but subtly was not one of his best characteristics.
Konohamaru kept going on, "And then when he lifts up the chest of gold, you see-"
"We will meet at the gates at 1130. I should have more details about this carriage by then."
Kiba scratched his face, hiding his laugh.
Konohamaru bowed, "Yes, Neji-sama. Forgive me. I shouldn't have-"
Neji turned on his foot and walked away.
TenTen rushed up behind him, "Neji. What are you being rude for?"
"We are here to talk about the mission."
"Tsk. Relax, it's not even a real mission. He's young, give him a chance."
"He is young." Neji replied as they walked down the stairs.
"Not too young though." She murmured. "He's kind of cute."
Neji could feel her eyes on him as she prodded for some kind of response but he refused to give her any. She bumped into him, "I'm joking. Come on. Have you lost your sense of humor in the last few months? I'm not around and you go back to your stubborn, morose ways. Well, for the next few days I'm here. I'm going to make you laugh at least once."
"What a boorish quest."
"And yet, I'm doing it for your sanity." She ran off, "See you at 12."
"1130!" He shouted back only for her to turn and smile.
Neji stalled in his footsteps watching until she was out of sight.
How ridiculous does it sound that Hyuuga Neji fantasizes over a girl? He never thought he would have such feeling and yet every day it grows stronger. Every time he sees her, he feels it in his gut. And what makes it worse, is knowing that she feels nothing for him. That years of friendship had developed no further than what it is now, a platonic partnership.
There had been a time he remembered when she did feel something. Where her heart beat faster every time she saw him. Her cheeks would redden. Her eyes glazed with a desire. He could hear her breath quicken the moment he stepped within her personal boundaries. But somewhere over the years, it stopped. Her feelings faded just as his began to grow. He had been too late he realized. And now he knew it was foolish to even attempt. She felt comfortable in his presence. Hugged him and sat next to him with no difficulty. She told him personal stories and filled him in on intimate details of her life that he didn't think he would otherwise hear if she still felt for him. He didn't want to jeopardize it. He didn't want to push her away. So instead, he was stuck in the friend zone no longer sure if he was ever going to escape it.
With his bag over his shoulder, Neji made it to the gate on time. His teammates were already there, more expressive in their excitement then he allowed himself to be. Konohamaru was currently doing jumping jacks to help aid his anxiety and Kiba was playing with Akamaru, laughing as the dog jumped over him. TenTen sat quietly against the carriage as several servants went about packing up the luggage.
Naruto and Hinata were walking toward them as Neji arrived. He bowed at his waist in greeting. Hinata was nearly eight months pregnant and had gained weight in the process but she was still looked small in comparison to anyone around her. She wore a Kimono dress but the obi stretched above her belly, making the outfit somewhat awkward.
She turned to Naruto suddenly, "Did we shut off-"
"Yes." He turned to her holding out a hand to assist her into the carriage.
"Could you check?"
A clone popped up and ran off.
"Oh and can you grab my blanket off the couch?"
"We packed three blankets."
"But I might get cold here." She pretended then to shiver.
"Okay." Naruto glanced back to Neji with a soft smile.
"Oh and I'm thirsty."
"There's a cooler to the right." He pointed as he climbed in himself.
Neji drifted over to his team. "We will do shifts eight hours long. Rest in between and eat plenty. Food is provided in the carriage in the back. If you feel yourself too drained, speak up. We have chakra pills just in case. TenTen and I will go first."
"Neji-sama." Konohamaru bowed.
Neji stopped in his movement, glaring ahead. TenTen murmured, "Be nice." As she moved to the carriage.
He turned, "Yes."
"What shall Kiba-san and I do in the meantime?"
Neji glanced at Kiba but his diamond eyes shifted away. "Isn't it obvious?"
He fumbled in a response.
"Escort. Have you escorted before?"
"Then what is the question?"
"I.I. Forgive me. I wasn't thinking."
Neji climbed up into the carriage and glanced behind him to the Hokage and his wife. There was a small hole to communicate and he could see them both snuggle together. Naruto whispered something into her ear that had her giggling and she slapped his knee, before resting her hands over her bulbous belly covered in a thick blanket. He leaned around the cabin to meet TenTen's gaze. His eyes narrowed however noticing Konohamaru leaning against the base of the coach, talking to her. She nodded and smiled down at him. Upon feeling his gaze however she popped her head up and told him to get ready. Konohamaru glanced and noticed him and he immediately straightened his back, heading away to find his spot.
Kiba hopped on his dog beside Neji, "He's a strong kid, Neji-san. He's smart too. He's usually the leader of the group. He's just intimidated by you."
"He reminds me of Naruto."
"That might be a good thing."
"Hn." Neji nodded, "Alright. I will give him a chance."
Kiba grimace as he noticed Konohamaru now. "Maybe a couple." He sat against a tree and was currently wrapping tape over his rotted and torn shoe.
Neji shook his head as Kiba chuckled nudging Akamaru over to talk to the young shinobi. An ANBU popped next to the carriage and whispered to Neji, "My name is Zero, I am the leader of the ANBU. We are ready for your command, Neji-sama."
He didn't need to tell them how to do their job. They knew the proper procedures for an escort and so Neji simply nodded. He placed his hand on the round flat screen in front of him and concentrated his chakra forward through his palm. Kanji symbols began to light up and soon the wheels began to roll forward. There was a wheel for his other hand to direct the carriage but as long as they went straight he didn't need to touch it. By pushing more chakra into it, the faster it went. But the most it could go was twenty miles an hour. Faster than walking but slower then jumping in the trees. Twenty-four hours was an appropriate guess. Longer than usual but not terrible.
It was difficult to rely on ANBU to be there lookout. He was usually the one in the group to maintain visuals of the surrounding areas and rightly so. His Byakugan allowed him to see 360 degrees over a hundred miles. But he couldn't do both unfortunately. Driving this carriage would eventually drain him of nearly half of his chakra. And though this is perhaps unimportant when it comes to protecting his Hokage and wife, it was his current mission. It was better than being home and that he kept having to remind himself over the numerous hours.
And it did drag. Hinata had to use the restroom nearly every hour or so which had not been calculated into the arrival of their destination. That would push them back at least two more hours. Everytime they stopped it put them in more danger. He took it upon himself to check the surrounding areas during these breaks only to learn that one of the ANBU with them was a Hyuuga. That eased his worry some.
There were a few bandits on their trail but they kept a good distance. Whenever they got too close ANBU sent explosives to send them back. They had no idea who it was that they were transporting. The only thing the bandits were interested were money and a person that traveled in a carriage with enough security about him had something to hide.
Neji passed a note to Kiba to take to TenTen, letting her know they would stop the next time Hinata had to use the restroom. It was forty-five minutes past their original stop time but he had to factor in that it would take longer than twenty-four hours. He had checked in on her chakra reserves at the last stop and she was a bit more half depleted. She would be fine to wait a few more minutes.
And sure enough, Naruto called for him to stop and he jumped out, helping Hinata crawl out of the cabin and watched her dart off to the woods. He scratched the back of his head as Neji climbed down.
He paid no attention to the apology as he journeyed to the second carriage, holding his hand out to TenTen as she climbed down. She latched ahold of it and jumped, smiling. "I'm exhausted." She stretched her back. "I can't believe how much it tired me out."
Konohamaru and Kiba approached. "Is it hard?" The young shinobi questioned.
"Not really. You just have to pay attention."
"Let us rest, TenTen." She waved goodbye to the others and he opened the door for her.
The cabin was wide and spacious. There were two sides with enough space to stretch out and lay down. Behind the seat, there was a cooler built into the cabin and from there TenTen dug out two bento boxes and bottles of waters. She sat down beside him, handing him a pair of chopsticks. "I'm starving. That was really a lot of work for doing nothing."
"You haven't been training." The wheels to the cabin began to move, shaking them from side to side. Their knees hit occasionally and Neji noticed she didn't move her leg. He doubted she would take note so he didn't move his either.
She shrugged, opening her box and taking a bite of her rice. "Not really. I got a job."
He side glanced at her but took a bite, contemplating. He swallowed before replying, "A job?"
She suppressed her smile, "Yes. Us commoners must have a job to support ourselves."
"I was not implying anything. What kind of job?"
"The weapons' shop on East Main. I help maintain the place for an old man. He lost his son and daughter in the war and has no other family. Saw an ad one day and I've been there ever since. He's really quiet and crazy stubborn." He feels her side-glance. "He's easy to get along with."
"What have you been doing to keep busy?"
He chewed slow. Life had been boring since they stopped training. He could even recall the day she cancelled two months ago. He had been waiting on the training fields like he had waited everyday for the past nine years of his life and instead of her rushing from the east with an apologetic brow, a servant rushed from the Hyuuga compound with a note in his hands. A simple message stating she couldn't make practice. And from there on, she did not return. He had been angry for the first week. Disappointed for the second. Annoyed for the third.
Now his day did not begin with her. His day began with meditation.
"Hanabi has been a suitable replacement." He responded, perhaps to inflict a bit of the upset he felt upon her dismissal.
She continued eating, "I'd knew you'd find someone." She said indifferent.
Hanabi was not a suitable replacement at all. They had the same fighting style. The only thing she was good for ways to annoy him. He had developed no new techniques. He returned to the compound each day full of energy and no battle wounds. She did not push him. She did not threaten his pride or mock his strength. She provoked nothing but animosity for simply being a copy. If he wanted to fight himself he would simply train alone with a wooden post.
They finished eating in silence. She took his empty bento and found the trash. She made sure he drank his entire bottle of water, forcing it up to his mouth when he attempted to stop. "You need your strength." She demanded and he complied begrudgingly.
Neji propped himself in the corner of the cabin, crossing his arms and closing his eyes. It would be difficult finding sleep while the wagon wobbled from side to side but sleep was necessary to rebuild their lost chakra. He closed his eyes, hoping meditation would aid in his success. He was surprised however when TenTen rested her head on his lap. He looked down at her, her legs curled up into the seat, her cheek pressed against his thigh. He unfolded his hands and rested one on her shoulder, a natural reaction.
"Good night, Neji."
He stared out ahead of him. Fuck the friend zone.