Well, this is the prequel to "I believed you" and explains how Neji and Sakura got together in the first place. I didn't plan to write something like this but I got so many nice reviews for "I believed you" that I felt… well… inspired to write this. It will have one or two more chapters, so tell me what you think!
Oh, and in addition it's a little christmas story too, since I feel so NOT like christmas when I look out of the window and see the sun shining and blue sky and no hint of snow…
Please review and tell me what you think!
Letting go – Chapter 1
It was December 23rd, about 3 years after Sasuke had left the village. All unimportant missions had been delayed until the 26th to give the Shinobi of Konoha the chance to celebrate Christmas with their families. Sakura didn't really have a family. Her parents were not at home and probably wouldn't return before the new year. One of her two best friends, Hinata, was going to be just as lonely on Christmas eve. Her father had left with her sister Hanabi to visit a teacher in a nearby village. Hiashi had never cared much about holidays. Both girls didn't feel like being alone during the holidays, so they had decided to spend these evenings together at Hinata's place.
Frustrated, Sakura stared out of the window. "Do you think it's going to snow tomorrow? Christmas without snow will be so boring…"
"I don't know… it doesn't feel like Christmas anyway. We don't even have a Christmas tree."
Sakura sighed. Neither did she. It was depressing. Even Naruto was going to spend the holidays with someone, namely his beloved teacher Iruka, who was like an older brother to him. "I hate the holidays. Why don't we just get drunk tomorrow and spend Christmas morning with a hangover?"
Hinata giggled. And, much to Sakura's surprise, she said: "That's a great idea. It's not like anyone is going to see us anyway."
"What about your cousin? Doesn't he live in this house too?"
"Yeah. But he hates Christmas. He'll probably spend the holidays with training and we won't even get to see him."
"Well, then it's settled! We're getting drunk tomorrow and we better have a lot of fun! Ha!" She didn't sound all that convincing. A hint of sadness shone through her eyes and Hinata got up from her bed to comfort her friend.
"You still miss him, don't you?", she asked quietly, hugging her tightly.
Sakura let her forehead sink against the cool glass of the window and sighed. "Of course I do. If I knew at least that he is alright… but there has been no sign of life for over 3 years. He is somewhere out there and I don't know if he is in pain or if he's dead already, or…"
"Shhh. Don't worry, Sakura-chan. Sasuke is one of the strongest Shinobi I ever met. He can take care of himself."
A single tear slid down her face. "I make a wish on Christmas eve, every year. I always wish for him to come back. Even if he'd still ignore me or say all these mean things to me, at least I'd be sure that he is alive."
"Please, Sakura-chan, don't cry. Please.", Hinata muttered depressed. She did not want her friend to spend the holidays crying.
Slowly, Sakura nodded and wiped her face with the back of her hand. "I'm sorry. I promise you I won't cry any more." She inhaled deeply and stared into the darkness outside, still fighting back the tears. A sudden movement below her caught her eyes. "Who's that?", she wondered.
"What?" Hinata pushed her aside to take a look for herself. Now that Sakura took a closer look, she could see a person down there in the huge garden, she just wasn't sure what he was doing. "Ah, that's just Neji-niisan.", Hinata said in relief. "As I told you, he's training."
"But it's freezing cold out there!", Sakura exclaimed. Neji was wearing his usual clothes, which meant he had to be freezing his ass off down there.
Hinata sighed. "I know. I gave up telling him to go and train inside a long time ago. He won't listen to me anyway. He says it's part of the training."
"What a weird guy…", Sakura muttered. They continued to watch Neji as he spun around a few times, practicing numerous kicks and punches. After a while, he stopped that and sat down on the ground. Sakura shivered at the very thought of the cold grass he was sitting in. Thank god that there wasn't any snow yet. "What's he doing now?"
"Meditating.", Hinata sighed. "He won't move for at least half an hour."
"God, I can't watch this!", Sakura hissed and stepped away from the window, searching the room for her shoes and her coat.
"W-What are you doing?"
"I'm going to get him back into the house, that's what I'm doing!" She slipped into her coat and her shoes and turned to face Hinata. "Are you coming along or not?"
"Sakura-chan… I know you're a kind person and just want to help him, but… he'll get mad at you. He hates it when people disturb his training."
"We'll see…" Ignoring Hinatas protests, she stomped down the stairs. She left the house and surrounded the building until she found Neji, who was – just as Hinata predicted – still sitting quietly with his legs crossed and his arms placed on his knees. He had his eyes closed but she was pretty sure that he had sensed her presence already.
"Sakura-chan, don't…", Hinata whispered.
But Sakura was tired of seeing people risk their health. It brought back memories, of Lee-san, of Sasuke and even Naruto. At this moment, Neji reminded her so much of them, she just had to do something. She positioned herself in front of him and before she could say anything, he opened his eyes to stare at her angrily. "What do you want?"
His gaze made her feel a bit uncomfortable, but she tried not to show it. "I saw you sitting out here in the cold and I was… kinda worried. Why don't you get back inside and warm yourself up?"
He stared at her im complete disbelief. Then he frowned and hissed: "Go away! Can't you see that I am trying to concentrate?"
"Can't you concentrate in your room?"
He shook his head as if he couldn't believe his ears. "Stupid woman, just leave me alone!"
Hinata tugged at Sakuras sleeve. "Let's just go back…"
"No! What's he trying to prove? Neji-san, you'll catch your death if you stay out here, especially since your only wearing shorts and a T-shirt! Don't be so stubborn and-" She bent down to take his hand and pull him to his feet, but the very second her hand touched his cold skin, he snatched his hand away and grabbed her wrist. His skin felt like ice, and it just proved her that she was right.
He untangled his legs and stood up slowly. Suddenly she found herself face to face with him, staring directly into his silver eyes. All of a sudden she wasn't so sure of herself any more. His gaze made her uncomfortable, it was like those eyes could see into her soul. "Listen, woman. This is none of your business. I don't mind you staying at our house as long as you spend your time with Hinata-sama. But if you talk to me again, or if you dare to disturb my training, I'll make you regret it. Do you understand?"
Sakura shivered. He was scary. Just like Sasuke. But she wouldn't let him scare her. Instead, she slapped away his hand and hissed: "Well, sorry for being worried about you, bastard! It won't happen again!"
"You….!", he snarled, but she didn't give him time to insult her. She turned around and – followed by Hinata – she went back into the house.
"What an ass!", she fumed and marched back to Hinatas room. She practically threw her coat on the floor in an attempt to release her anger. He was the first guy to make her so angry since… well, since that time when Naruto, Sasuke and she had been in a team.
A shy voice reminded her: "I told you so, Sakura-chan!"
"You know what? He reminds me of Sasuke. That guy was just as stubborn, and just as cold."
Hinata smiled at her. She was taking a quick look out of the window. "But it seems that you got what you wanted."
"Huh?" She came over to the window and saw Neji getting up and walking around the edge.
"He's coming back inside.", Hinata snickered. "Seems like you've distracted him."
Sakura just snorted at that remark and sat down on the bed. "Let's just go to sleep, okay? I don't want this evening to be ruined by yet another stupid guy."
"Okay." They changed into their nightgowns and crawled under the blankets. Before Hinata turned off the lights, she said softly: "Don't be mad at him, Sakura-chan. He's just as lonely as we are."
"No…", Sakura said. "We have friends. I'm glad you invited me over, Hinata."
"Me too.", Hinata yawned. She fell asleep pretty fast, but Sakura stayed awake for a little longer. Hinatas words had somehow touched her. Neji was lonely too, right? His father was dead and Hiashi didn't care about him. How was he going to spend Christmas eve? She felt her heart beat a little faster when she thought about how lonely he must be. But it wasn't just sympathy. She wanted him to be happy. She could sense a good heart beneath all that anger. He had helped trying to bring back Sasuke 3 years ago. And he had been one of the first people to acknowledge Naruto's true strength.
An idea formed in her head and she smiled contently before she fell asleep. She was going to make sure he wouldn't feel alone this Christmas.
December 24th. Sakura had spend the entire afternoon giving out presents to her closest friends. It had made her feel much better. Especially Naruto had been overjoyed when she had given him that scarf she had knitted only for him. She was pretty sure he was going to wear it this winter, he'd been so happy and thanked her with a giant hug. Others had been a little surprised to get a gift from her, like Kakashi who was a little embarassed that he had forgotten to buy her something – again.
She smiled to herself. Things really hadn't changed. There was still the small, neatly wrapped parcel resting on a special place in her room, waiting for its owner to pick it up after 3 long years. There was a small silver necklace in it, with the Uchiha Fan imprinted on one side of the pendant, and on the other it said 'Welcome home'. She had bought it for Sasuke on the first Christmas after he left. She wasn't sure if she would ever be able to give it to him. Or if he would ever wear it even if she had the chance to give it to him.
She shook off the thought and checked the bag she was carrying. There were Hinatas presents, one from Sakura herself and one Naruto had given her for Hinata… Sakura was sure that whatever Narutos present was, Hinata would be overjoyed. She had this huge crush on Naruto and he still had no clue. But at least he considered her a close friend, close enough to buy her a present anyway. But there was something else in the bag. And Sakura couldn't help but wonder how he was going to react. He was probably going to throw it back in her face with an insult, but she had to try anyway.
She shivered when she approached the Hyuga estate. Something cold touched her hand and she realized it was a snowflake. She smiled brightly. So she was granted at least that wish. It was going to snow on Christmas eve. It was like a sign that something good was going to happen. She drew her coat tighter around herself and surrounded the main house.
As she had expected, there he was, sitting in the darkness just like yesterday. His eyes were closed and this time he looked completely relaxed. Maybe he hadn't noticed her. As quiet as possible she pulled out the dark-blue blanket from her bag. "Neji-san.", she said so he would not mistake her for an enemy and attack her. Then she knelt down next to him and placed the blanket around his shoulders.
His eyes opened slowly and he seemed confused for a moment. He fingers brushed over his bare arm. His skin was so cold. His silver eyes found hers and he asked: "What are you doing?" She was surprised at the softness of his voice. Maybe she had caught him off-guard.
"Merry Christmas, Neji-san.", she said. He stared at her with a blank expression. She laughed softly and explained: "It's a christmas gift, Neji-san. So you won't get too cold out here."
She attempted to stand up and go back to the front door, when he once again reached out and grabbed her wrist. "Didn't I tell you not to disturb my training?" Strangely enough, there was no malice in his voice.
Sakura shrugged. "Well, I can be really stubborn sometimes. Don't worry, I'll leave you alone with your meditation or whatever you're doing. Just wanted to make sure you don't freeze to death out here."
He frowned at her as if he was looking for something mean to say, but he didn't. He kept silent. That gave her courage. "If you… get too cold or feel lonely, you could join Hinata and me. We'll be drinking Christmas punch." She smiled at him and he let go of her wrist.
She picked up her bag and left him there. She was really glad that he hadn't refused to take her gift. Okay, maybe he had just been too surprised. But maybe he did really like it.
Two hours later, Sakura and Hinata were having a lot of fun. Hinata had finally gotten over the initial shock of receiving a Christmas gift from her all-time-crush Naruto and had an uncharacteristically huge grin on her face. Sakura enjoyed the taste of warm punch and the peace of not having to think of Sasuke for a while.
"Hinata, your punch is the best thing I ever tasted… it's so good on a winter's day. And it's snowing, now it almost feels like real Christmas."
Hinata smiled brightly. "But I think there's a little too much alcohol in it. If we drink that huge bowl all by ourselves we will have a hangover tomorrow. After all we're not used to drinking."
"Y-Yeah…", Sakura muttered. Actually, that was not entirely true. It was one of the few things she couldn't even tell her best friends. Sometimes, when she got too lonely and her worries over Sasuke seemed to be too much for her, she would drink all by herself until none of that mattered any more. She was pretty sure that some warm punch wouldn't really get to her, because it wasn't much compared to the amounts of alcohol she consumed from time to time to forget Sasuke. To change the topic, she asked quietly: "What's the time? Is it officially Christmas already?"
"No… not yet.", Hinata said with a glance at her wristwatch. "We still have 35 minutes till midnight."
Sakura ginned. "Time for another song! How bout… Jingle bells?"
Her friend sighed. "You know I can't sing, Sakura-chan. Don't make me do this again!"
"Just one more song!", she begged until Hinata gave in. The two girls joined their voices for the most disturbing version of Jingle Bells in history.
Right in the middle of their song, there was a knock on the door. They fell silent immediately and when Hinata muttered a shy "Yes?" the door opened. It was Neji. Both girls stared at him in surprise. Hinatas expression became serious immediately. "Neji-niisan! Is something wrong?" Obviously she was not used to have her cousin visit her in her room.
He glanced at the two girls and said darkly: "I heard some strange sounds and was wondering if people got killed in here so I went to check."
Both of them stared at him blankly, before Sakura finally got it. She giggled and then laughed out loud. Hinata still seemed to be too shocked that someone had heard their singing. But Sakura was delighted. When she finally regained her breath, she said cheerfully: "I cannot believe it! Hyuga Neji is joking! Hell must be freezing over!"
He frowned at her, but before he could leave the room she jumped up and dragged him into the room. "Sorry, Neji-kun. I promise there will be no more singing.", she giggled. He was completely silent when she sat him down on Hinatas bed, probably because she was acting so naturally around him or maybe because she had just called him Neji-kun. Anyway, Sakura prepared a cup of punch and handed it over to a stunned Neji. "Here you go! It'll warm you up!"
His silver eyes surveyed her.
She was glad he had joined them, although she was still not sure if he had come just to complain about their singing or if he had really wanted to drink a cup of punch which she had invited him to. Hinata, who was sitting next to him, had fallen completely silent. The expression on her face was priceless. It was like she couldn't believe her cousin was in her room drinking punch with her and her best friend.
"What's wrong with you guys?", she asked. "It's Christmas eve. Smile!"
Nejis brows furrowed. "You're drunk."
"No.", she replied, although she knew that he was right. Well, she was not exactly drunk, but tipsy, and that was enough to loosen her tongue. "I'm just trying to celebrate with friends without having to think of that ass Sasuke."
Hinata still seemed unsure of what to do now. Maybe she was afraid that Neji was going to tell her father she was drunk. "Ano… excuse me for a second…", she muttered and rushed out of the room before Sakura could stop her.
Which left her alone with Neji, who seemed a little uncomfortable now. He got up and said quickly: "Well, thanks for the… punch… and…" He stood right in front of her and inhaled sharply. "And thanks for your gift."
She wanted to say something but she just couldn't bring herself to. Something was wrong. Her heart was beating so fast and she could feel her cheeks heaten up. His silver eyes were making her so nervous. Sakura swallowed hard. He was waiting for an answer and she desperately wanted to say something. But she couldn't. She desperately reached out and grabbed his shirt, so he wouldn't just leave like that. It felt damp, probably from the snow.
He didn't shove her hand away. He just stared at her, searching for an explanation for her weird behaviour in her eyes. She felt so exposed when his silver eyes looked at her like that. She forced herself to take a step forward and close the distance between them until her chest almost touched his. Her hand was still holding his shirt, like a child that was clinging to its father to make sure he wouldn't leave. She felt stupid. Why wasn't he mocking her? Why was he still here?
And then he leaned in and placed his lips against hers for a shy kiss. She felt her knees go weak and tightened her grip on his shirt so she wouldn't just break down. Her heart was beating so hard against her chest that she was afraid he was going to hear it.
When the unexpected kiss was over, she felt… disappointed. And confused. For over three years Sasuke had been the only man on her mind. And now the most unexpectant of all people, Hyuga Neji, made her knees go weak and her head feel dizzy. This had to be a weird dream. But if it was, she didn't want to wake up.
She could tell that he was just as confused as she was. He probably didn't even know why he just did that. She licked her lips. His had tasted like punch. So good…
He took a step back and her hand lost its hold on his shirt. Whatever trance she had been in, it was gone now. Things were back to normal. He turned away from her and left the room, brushing past his cousin who had just returned from wherever she had fled to.
The door closed and Sakura tried to regain her composure. Hinata said something but she wasn't able to listen. She pressed two fingers against her lips and felt Hinata take the cup from her hands. "You're so pale. Are you okay, Sakura-chan?", she heard her friend say.
Then her knees finally gave in and she sank to the ground. Hinata knelt down beside her. "Sakura-chan?! What's wrong?"
"He kissed me…", she muttered.
"What? Who?" Hinata emitted a stifled sound of surprise when she realized who Sakura was referring to. "Neji?! Neji-niisan kissed you?!"
"Hinata, I… I don't..." Sakura stammered helplessly. She felt guilty. As if she had just betrayed Sasuke. Her eyes filled with tears and she let herself be pulled into a tight hug. She let the tears flow freely. Where did this pain in her chest come from?
"Do you like my cousin?", Hinata asked carefully. Sakura sniffed but couldn't bring herself to answer. She didn't know the answer herself. But when Hinata said "Maybe it's time that you give up on Sasuke. It's time to let go, Sakura-chan." she understood the pain she felt. It hurt because she had to let go.
She wasn't sure if she was ready yet. But Neji had managed to get to her, to touch something within her she thought she had kept only for Sasuke. Maybe she was crying over her love for Sasuke.