Notes: Hello, hello! Does anyone actually read these things? Ah well, for those who do, it's more fun, ne? This chapter ended up being quite angsty, even though it wasn't intended. And I'm sure that half of the world will hate me for how I end this. However the next chapter is pretty funny and I'm sure that it will more than make up for it.
First I would like to answer a question. It's been asked what everyone's age is in this. Naruto, Shikamaru, and that age group are all 16, whereas Neji, Lee, and TenTen's age group is 17. Basically just add 4 years onto all of their ages.
Also, funny thing. Jade Maxwell wants to write fanfiction for this fic. You'll understand why halfway through this chapter. Oooh.
A week had passed since the three returned from their mission at the Water Country. It was something that had long since passed, except for one simple thing. Neji was going absolutely insane. He couldn't stop thinking about how it had felt to have his arms wrapped around Naruto, the blonde male's breath playing over his skin.
He was loosing his mind.
Maybe something close to it if not that exactly, but it had to be something. There was no logical explanation for why exactly Naruto had planned himself into Neji's thoughts. Except that there was. Neji just refused to accept it.
This whole thing was unlike him. Neji wasn't used to being the one with the major emotional crisis. He always knew exactly where he stood somewhere. In situation however he couldn't even begin to understand where he stood. The thought was driving him up a wall. Even worse was that this all happened because that moronic fox-boy had made the mistake of wearing his normal clothing.
This wouldn't be happening if Naruto had just worn appropriate attire for cold weather. Neji wouldn't have to be dealing with the thoughts and feelings both of which he shouldn't even have in the first place.
Yet he did. Why exactly was completely beyond him. Neji couldn't understand it. Shikamaru seemed to grasp the subject perfectly. He always had that knowing look in his eye and quite frankly, it was irritating for Neji to see. The whole 'feelings for Naruto' thing had been much more clear to him when he had first realized it.
Now that time was over and absolutely nothing made sense anymore. Furthermore Neji couldn't seem to do anything but sit in his room and mulling over the situation over and over. He kept picking at it and picking at it, trying to make sense out of it but it made absolutely none at all.
He cared for Naruto. Naruto. Of all the people to care for he had to care for the loudmouth blonde idiot and first person to ever defeat him in a fight. It was ridiculous.
Neji stopped pacing around his room for a moment, standing on the spot. He turned his head, looking over his shoulder. Behind him with his normal lazy expression on his face stood Shikamaru leaning up against the wall of his room with his arms crossed over his chest.
"I was wondering how long it would take you to notice I was standing there," Shikamaru said, not bothering to hide that he was obviously bored out of his mind. With a few steps he moved from where he was leaning against the wall in order to place a comforting had on Neji's shoulder. "Penny for your thoughts?"
"Why bother?" Neji replied, pushing Shikamaru's hand off of his shoulder. "You already know what I'm thinking about. There's no point in pretending otherwise. Or even asking for that matter. Besides, I don't want your pity."
Shikamaru gave Neji the same knowing look he knew infuriated him. It was just like Neji to deny that he was in need of pity at the moment (although Shikamaru himself didn't believe that anyone ever needed pity). "How about advice?" he asked.
At this Neji raised arched a fine, dark eyebrow. "What advice could you possibly give me?" he answered with another question.
"Who knows," Shikamaru said with shrug, "I might be able to provide you with more help than you think."
"Then go ahead," Neji answered, still a bit unbelieving that Shikamaru could provide him with the proper advice for this situation.
"Just let me get comfortable first. Giving advice without being comfortable is such a pain," Shikamaru gave a lazy grin. He walked around Neji over to the other male's bed and quickly plopped himself down upon it. With a sigh Neji moved over to join Shikamaru on the bed, lying down with his eyes fixated on the ceiling rather than sitting.
There was a long pause, as Shikamaru got comfortable. He ended up shifting so he was half lying down on the bed, his elbows propping him up and his eyes looking at the same normal, crème colored ceiling that Neji was.
"You're putting too much thought into why you care about Naruto," Shikamaru finally started. "Liking someone isn't something you can explain and those people that can, are lying. You like someone because you like someone. Attraction is something that you can't control, no matter how hard you try to do so. You can think you're the most heterosexual being alive and suddenly find yourself suddenly head over heels with not only a guy, but also a guy who's clearly not your type. My advice to you is to stop thinking about it and trying to explain it and just accept it. You like Naruto. It's as simple as that."
There was a second pause between the two, this time as Neji thought. He took in Shikamaru's advice with his eyebrows knitted together. It made sense. Then again everything that Shikamaru said made sense. There was just something that he didn't quite understand. "Exactly how did you figure this out?" Neji asked.
Shikamaru looked over at him, mildly surprised that Neji didn't know the answer to that. "It's like this: just as a perfectly heterosexual guy can like another guy, a guy who has no interest in dating girls can easily find himself attracted to the loudest, pushiest, and most annoying girl out there."
Just like that Neji understood. "Ino," he muttered slightly with an amused smirk on his lips. "That figures."
Had Shikamaru been the type to glare he would've. "Tch. Sadly enough you're right," he replied. He wanted to deny it but he knew that it was true. One always is most annoyed with what they want most and Ino annoyed him more than anything. Man, he really did like her. How bothersome.
"So why did you decide to tell me this?" Neji asked catching Shikamaru a bit off guard.
Well, not really. He had been half expecting it anyways. He turned his head to the side, giving Neji a look of mock reproof. "All of your jumbled thoughts were giving me a headache," he explained.
Why had he actually done it? He didn't know. So he blamed it on what Naruto would, their 'freakish telepathic connection'.
"How long are you planning on hanging around here?" Neji asked suddenly.
Shikamaru simply shrugged his shoulders easily in response. "I just got comfortable, so there's no point in me leaving now," he replied. "Eager to get rid of me?"
"I don't mind so long as you don't start asking any ridiculous questions," Neji answered, knowing full well that Shikamaru wasn't the type of person to ask too many questions about any subject. His excuse was generally that it took too much effort to try and think of question and then actually listen to their answers. Of course the truth was that most of the time Shikamaru just didn't care.
That didn't stop Neji from quickly regretting what he had just said as soon as a lazy but sly sort of grin came across Shikamaru's features. He knew what sort of teasing question was going to soon follow. Before Shikamaru could even so much as open his mouth to speak, Neji reached over and easily pushed the other off of the bed. The lazy shinobi rolled off the bed, falling onto the floor with a soft thump.
Only a moment later Shikamaru sat up with a scowl on his features. "I didn't even get a chance to say anything," he said, offended.
"I know," Neji replied calmly, turning his head and smirking. "That's the point."
"Man, you're such a pain," Shikamaru scowled some more. After spending a little longer silently scowling over Neji's actions he finally picked himself up off the floor, standing in front of the bed with his hands lazily placed on his hips. "So are you planning on doing anything later?"
Neji lifted his head, looking over at Shikamaru with a fine, dark eyebrow arched. That wasn't the sort of question he would expect from the lazy shinobi. "If I didn't know any better I would think that you were asking me out on a date." His lips tweaked into something between a smirk and a grin.
The comment made Shikamaru's eyebrow twitch. Neji really needed to learn not to make such comments with a straight face. It was hard to tell whether he was joking or serious. "Nah, you're not my type. I can actually tolerate you most of the time," Shikamaru replied simply. Of course, when it came to making joking comments, he wasn't too different from Neji.
Yet Neji didn't seem to be annoyed with it, like Shikamaru was. "Good to know," he simply replied.
The two of them fell silent, no more words or teasing antics left to say for at that time. Soon enough, Shikamaru sat back on the bed a second time. By then Neji had already let his eyes slip close and was now just laying there peacefully as the silence came over the room.
That was until Neji spoke again. "So why are you wondering if I have any plans for later?" He asked, opening one of his eyes to look at the male sitting next to him.
Shikamaru gave a casual shrug. "Figured since I have nothing else to do for the rest of the day that we might as well go out and get something to eat," he replied, moving back into the position that he was in before.
The eye that Neji had opened slipped closed again. "Ah… so you are asking me out on a date," he said with only a faint hint of a teasing note inside of his voice. As soon as those words came out though, he regretted it. He knew what was going to be coming next.
"What can I say? You're just so girly and pretty I can't help myself," Shikamaru replied. Neji didn't need to open his eyes to know that there was now a lazy sort of grin on Shikamaru's lips. Over the years Neji's long hair had grown to be one of Shikamaru's favorite things to joke about even though the lazy shinobi had long hair himself. It just wasn't even close to being as long as Neji's was.
He could only wonder how one managed to be such a skilled ninja with hair going down to the middle of their back. Wouldn't it get in the way? Well, Neji seemed to do just fine with it anyways.
"It always goes back to the girl jokes," Neji finally said, letting out a loud sigh.
The reply that followed was expected, "Maybe if you didn't have such long, shiny hair I wouldn't make them as much."
Always, always the hair. They really needed something else to joke about. Letting out another sigh, Neji pushed himself up, opening both of his eyes and turning his head to look back at the still lounging Shikamaru. "Do you want me to go out with you later or not?" he asked, sounding slightly exasperated.
A second casual shrug. "It doesn't matter to me. I was just thinking that might you would want to get out. But hey, if you'd rather stay home and be plagued by thoughts of Naruto all day then that's fine with me. I could care less," Shikamaru responded. It wasn't surprising. There wasn't much that Shikamaru cared about anyways.
However this statement caused Neji to cringe. He didn't want to have to be cooped up attempting to find something to do in order to keep his mind off of Naruto. And it wasn't as if he didn't enjoy Shikamaru's company. He was a lot more tolerable then most of the people that he knew. Plus he was the only person he had frequent contact with that didn't ramble on like an idiot half the time. "Fine, I'll go."
"Just shower before you do. All that pacing made you smell bad and I would prefer if my date didn't cause people to faint from their stench when they walk by."
There was loud thump this time, when Neji pushed Shikamaru off of the bed.
They decided—after Shikamaru was done complaining about how Neji needed to stop pushing him off the bed, which got him pushed off the bed once again—to meet up in about an hour. They were going to eat at the Ichiraku Ramen Stand. Why, Neji couldn't quite remember. Naruto was always there. It was, after all, his favorite place to be. Why wouldn't he bet there?
He vaguely recalled Shikamaru mentioning something about Naruto having something to do and that it would be unlikely for him to show up today. He also recalled Shikamaru complaining about how it was one of the only few more inexpensive places to eat around here. Typical Shikamaru. Whatever it was, Neji had eventually given in and said that he would meet Shikamaru there later.
Once he got there, however, Neji regretted every agreeing on going out with Shikamaru. Sitting there, with the very person that he was supposed to meet and chatting away happily as normal, was Naruto. Of course Naruto was going to be there. It didn't matter whether or not he had something important to do, that's how things worked. The person you don't want to see the most at a certain time is bound to show up no matter what the situation was.
So there Naruto was, sitting with Shikamaru and from the looks of it, he was only on his first serving of ramen. Knowing Naruto, he was going to be there for much longer. Neji definitely didn't want to have to sit there with him while all of these thoughts of newly discovered feelings boiled up inside of his mind.
Maybe if he was quick he could get out of there before Naruto noticed. Making up an excuse to tell Shikamaru would be easy. Although Neji doubted that he would need one. It would be obvious to Shikamaru why it was that he didn't show up. He would probably figure that Neji did what he was about to do: take one look at Naruto and turn away.
However fate is a cruel, cruel thing. Life never goes how you want it and that meant the person you don't want to see you will end up seeing you and calling out for you too. Just as Neji was about to turn away, Naruto turned towards him, squinting a bit before a large grin showed up on his face.
"Hey, Neji!" Naruto called, grinning widely and waving for the dark haired shinobi to come and join him and Shikamaru.
Neji found himself momentarily glued to the spot. He swallowed, as Naruto shot him an odd expression. Why was he just standing there? That was a question in which Naruto could never understand the answer.
At that moment, Neji could feel Naruto inside of his arms. He could see the blonde boy lying there so peacefully as the blizzard raged around them. It was like an infection, a virus. No matter how hard Neji tried to block the image and feeling out, he just couldn't.
It wouldn't go away. Why wouldn't it go away? He didn't want to have to think about it. He didn't want to have to accept that he had feelings for Naruto. Yet as he stood there, as if he were nothing more than a statue in the middle of the walkway, Neji found himself wondering what it would be like to do more than just Naruto. What it would be like to be able to hold him close again and kiss him softly. What it would be like to have Naruto's soft breath playing over his kiss moistened lips afterwards.
For the next moments Neji did nothing more than stare forward. He was panicking. He was panicking and thinking too much. Basically doing everything that Shikamaru had told him not to do earlier. This was the only thing that Neji knew how to do. He didn't know how to accept that he had feelings for Naruto and even if he did, it seemed as if it was beyond him to actually do it.
So he stood there, gazing forward stupidly as he tried to will his body to move. It wouldn't. If it had, Neji was sure that he would even be satisfied with running away. He never ran away. It wasn't in him to do so. Right then however it didn't seem to matter. He just didn't want to have to deal with this.
As calmly as he could Neji turned on his heel and walked away. There was no extra pleading glance shot towards Shikamaru, as he very much so wanted to do. There was no running or even quick paced steps. He just walked away calmly, even though he was screaming on the inside.
Naruto squinted his eyes as if to glare at Neji's departing figure. It seemed so like the Hyuga boy to depart like that but at the same time, so unlike him. He turned to Shikamaru with a scowl on his face. "What's gotten into him?" He asked, pouting a little.
That familiar knowing look—the look that said he knew everything—came over Shikamaru's features. "He's just thinking too much," he explained, poking absentmindedly at his now cold bowl of ramen with one of his chopsticks.
Of course Naruto couldn't understand what it was that Shikamaru was telling him. He scrunched his nose, looking at Shikamaru as if he were insane. "Both of you are weird," he commented. "Why do I always get stuck with the weird teammates?"
"Maybe because you're weird," Shikamaru answered.
"Maybe," Naruto replied. A moment later he paused, face growing red with anger, "Hey!"
Eighteen. Nineteen. Twenty. Twenty-one. Twenty-two. Twenty-three. Twenty-four…
He couldn't stand it anymore. Neji closed his eyes in frustration. He had tried to keep Naruto off of his mind. He had tried training, cooking, talking to his regular teammates (which basically meant TenTen), counting everything that he could find, hell, even at one point he had let TenTen take him shopping.
Spending too much time alone with the hyper active female was traumatizing on its own but nothing could compare to shopping with her. That was what Neji had been counting one when he had agreed to go with her. If anything could get Naruto off of his mind it would be having to carry around dozens upon dozens of bags and wait for hours on end while TenTen tried on clothing, right?
Wrong. If anything it made him think of Naruto all the more. How? He had more time to think about him. TenTen's voice, though high and squeak-like, was something that Neji had groan used to. Basically, he blocked he rants about clothing and how it made her look out without even having to think about it.
It had now been eight days since the team returned from their mission at the Water Country. That made it two days since he had walked (although he was running inside of his mind) away from Naruto and Shikamaru at Ichiraku Ramen Stand. He was still going crazy. It was constantly gnawing at him, no matter what he did.
Still, Neji couldn't do anything but try. He turned his attention back the tile walls of his bathroom. Where had he been? Twenty-four? He started counting again.
Twenty-five. Twenty-six. Twenty-seven. Twenty-eight. Twenty-nine.
He hated this. Why was it so hard not to think of Naruto?
Thirty. Thirty-one. Thirty-two. Thirty-three.
He never had a problem with not thinking about Naruto before.
Thirty-four. Thirty-five. Thirty-six.
What had changed?
Neji dropped his gaze from the wall. A few steps backwards. That was all it took for him to find himself pressed up against his door. His head fell upon it with a soft thump.
Everything had changed. Everything had changed and yet nothing had changed.
He was still himself, Naruto was still Naruto, Shikamaru was still Shikamaru, and they were still shinobi of the hidden leaf village. They only thing was that nothing made sense any more.
A loud sigh escaped Neji. More than anything he wanted to clear his head. These thoughts were eating away at him. They just wouldn't go away. His eyes scanned the room briefly before resting upon the shower. That sounded nice.
Someone had once said that a shower was enough to clear anyone's head. He furrowed his brows slightly at that thought. Or maybe they hadn't and it just seemed like something someone had said. No matter. A shower still sounded nice right about then.
He took clam steps forward, approaching the shower on the other side of the room. He quickly turned on the tap, adjusting the temperature until it seemed appropriate.
Neji let his head fall against the shower's tiled walls. The warm droplets of water sprayed against the side of his face, his shoulder, and his back. It was oddly calming to shower and Neji figured so long as he concentrated more on the warm water droplets than on thoughts of Naruto he would get through this just fine.
So he let his eyes slide close, just taking in the feel of each pelting draw hitting his skin. Of course, the worse thing one could do whenever they couldn't get something off of their mind—or more correctly, someone—is to close their eyes. That's when the imagination likes to rear its ugly head.
It wasn't too long before the images started to flood into Neji's mind. He envisioned Naruto before him without even realizing that he had done so. Naruto with his oddly appealing lopsided grin, messy mop of blonde hair, and bright blue eyes. He could imagine what it would be like to kiss those plush lips. They probably tasted like ramen considering how much Naruto actually ate, a thought that Neji surprisingly didn't find weird or disturbing.
When that kiss was done, he could see Naruto taking off his forehead protector and kissing the bird-in-the-cage marking upon his forehead. Then the kisses and touches would go from there, items of clothing lost along the way. Neji could practically feel his hands gliding over Naruto's pale, smooth skin. He could almost feel the warmth radiating from the other's body, the heated breaths that fell from the other's mouth onto his own skin.
That was when the image of Naruto sleeping once again came into Neji's mind. He still couldn't understand why he was acting this way. Well, he knew why. It was more of a sense of wanting to know that reasoning behind it was the problem. Maybe he shouldn't be thinking about why and just let it happen. Just as Shikamaru said he should.
Unconsciously, as the images flooded through his mind, Neji's hand found his chest, sliding down with a hesitant slowness. It really wasn't a big deal, right? His hand slid lower, now sliding over the taut muscles of his torso.
"Naruto," the name fell so easily from his lips. Maybe even too easily. That was what finally caused Neji's eyes to snap open and his hand to stop in its track. He quickly turned the knob controlling the heat all the way to cold, biting down on his lower lip as the temperature turned from being a gentle warm spray to harsh, icy droplets.
Apparently showers only seemed to make it worse.