Notes: This was a very strange idea that came to me in bed one night. Apparently, all I think of anymore is Naruto and sex, usually a combination thereof. Go figure ; ). I'm pretty well decided on where I'm going with this fic, but if you have any ideas, suggestions, creative criticism, let me know- I'd love to hear from you. Thanks for reading!
"You called for me, uncle," Neji said, presenting himself in Hiashi's private study. Gazing about the dimly-lit room with its towering bookshelves and faded chakra charts, a strange sense of foreboding descended upon him.
"It's good to see you again, Neji," Hiashi said, looking up from his scroll. "I'd like to congratulate you on passing the Chuunin exam. You've become a fine young man, worthy of the Hyuuga name."
"Yes. Thank you," Neji replied, face expressionless. Despite the fact that he'd been getting along with his uncle since his first attempt at the exams, something didn't feel quite right about this meeting.
Hiashi frowned. "Well, I'm sure you're busy, so I won't prolong the conversation. You're well aware that bearing the Hyuuga name entails certain responsibilities."
"Of course. What is required of me?" Neji asked.
"You are now, for all practical purposes, a man," his uncle stated. "You are fifteen years old and a mid-ranked ninja, capable of carrying out any duty which would be required of an adult from the Bunke branch."
"And I willingly take on any responsibility assigned to me," Neji responded, his stiffness betraying his emotions. Making reference to the subservient Bunke branch set Neji aside as inferior, and any duties assigned to him under this pretense were bound to be unpleasant, if not humiliating. Though he seemed to be bridging the gap between the two houses, Neji never forgot the hand fate had dealt him.
"As a member of the branch family, your main objective is the protection of the Hyuuga. This means that the main house's safety and comfort come before your own, a fact which you know well."
Neji nodded curtly, seeing no point in response.
"However, as a child," Hiashi continued, "you were not expected to fulfill, or even be informed of, all of the duties of a branch house member. There are certain obligations reserved for those who have come of age."
"That is understandable," Neji replied coldly when Hiashi paused. He was sure that the man could sense his growing resentment, but his calm, deliberate demeanor remained unshaken.
"In order to prepare you, a certain amount of training is required. I have already spoken with the Hokage about the situation, and she has agreed to postpone any missions until you've finished."
Neji was taken aback. "What are you saying? I've only just become a Chuunin, and now I'm forced to stand down from my duties!"
"And I apologize for that," Hiashi said with a dismissing wave of his hand, "but given that the heir is now fourteen years old, this cannot be postponed any longer."
"Why was I never before informed of these 'responsibilities'?" Neji fumed. He no longer hated his cousin for her inherited superiority, but he wasn't sure he could ever forgive Hinata for it either. "No mention of this has ever been made, and as soon as I begin to-"
"Your father," Hiashi interrupted, "was the last one to be trained for this duty. Other than I, few but the elders are even aware of its existence."
Neji sobered, his anger receding. "So it isn't the responsibility of an adult... but the responsibility of my father's son."
"You could say that, yes," his uncle nodded, "but in any case, the task falls upon you, Neji, and its nature is to be addressed only in absolute confidence. You may continue to work with your old team until you've completed the training."
"And how long will this take?" Neji asked, beginning to feel vaguely intrigued. After all, an essential duty entrusted only to him might just be something worth having.
"It depends on how quickly you pick it up. At your age, I'd say two weeks should be sufficient."
"I'll complete it in one," Neji asserted, determined both to prove himself and to begin his work as a Chuunin.
"We'll see." Hiashi's lips curved in a smile that didn't quite reach his eyes as he handed Neji a slip of paper. "Be at this address tomorrow at one p.m. You'll meet your instructor there."
Neji frowned. "You won't be training me?"
Hiashi shook his head. "I never went through the training myself and would be ill prepared to train someone else. But don't doubt my ability to judge the results."
"I will exceed your expectations."
"I certainly hope so," Hiashi said, smiling that unfamiliar smile once more. "Have a good night."
As Neji left the study, the strangely ominous feeling he'd felt upon entering returned. Shaking his head, he brushed it away as the inevitable tide of fate creeping once more about his ankles. Enough to throw him off balance, but not to drag him under.
Only time would tell how wrong he was.