Disclaimer: I don't own Neji, but I can certainly have him do whatever the hell I want in this fan fiction!
It was about a week after Sasuke's self-imposed house arrest that Sakura could be found wandering down the main road of Konoha. She had just bought some new Ninja equipment and was about to head off to the hospital when she heard someone call her name.
"Huh?" The kunoichi turned to see Neji standing a few feet behind her. "Neji-kun!" A smile graced her lips as he approached. "How are you? Oh! I never asked Naruto: how did that one mission go?" For some reason her normal excitable self was showing through. Neji, however, kept a straight, somewhat blank face, much like another dark-haired boy she knew.
"It was over soon after you left. We found one last sound-nin and interrogated him. He did give us some information, but Naruto and Lee became a little too enthusiastic…" His eyebrow was twitching slightly.
"That sounds like them," Sakura giggled.
"Yes. That aside, I wasted to ask if you would train with me. I want to be rid of this ridiculous blind spot. Next to…TenTen…you have the best aim."
Sakura noted that his voice lowered when the Hyuuga mentioned his former teammate's name.
In response to his question the kunoichi bit her lip and reached down to the newly restocked kunai pouch. Neji's clear eyes were watching her expectantly, and she sighed, giving in under his gaze.
"Fine. Where are we going?"
Neji gave her the smallest hint of a smile before turning wordlessly and leading her out into his normal training grounds.
The day was clear and clean, perfect weather for some training and then a cold drink. The Hyuuga prodigy and the cherry blossom stood in the middle of a small clearing not too deep in the forest, letting their hair move with the breeze. Neji made no move to attack, and Sakura had no weapons in her hand. Something told the kunoichi that Neji didn't really want to train. He took a few steps to close the distance between the two of them, now turning his eyes from her and unto the large trees that kept Konoha village a secret.
"TenTen and I used to train all the time here," Neji started. "It was here where I learned the Kaiten and thought I could beat Naruto at the chuunin exam tournament. It was her that helped me widen my field of vision and become even more skilled then my bloodline did," the Hyuuga trailed off, letting the wind take her name away.
"We were all saddened by her death…it was horrible…" Sakura looked down at the grass, memorizing its appearance.
"It wasn't fair for her to die that way." Neji's voice remained calm. "She was a fine kunoichi…much like you are." His cloudy eyes watched the pink-haired girl until her eyes met his. Her emeralds gazed silently, nervousness showing behind them. "If she was still alive today, I'd probably be asking her this. I did care about TenTen a lot…as a teammate, as a person…
"You know my family is prestigious and famed for our bloodline ability. Hyuuga is a powerful name to wield around the country, but also dangerous. My father is pressuring me to choose a wife, someone who I know would be a good strong mother…To me, it seems much too young; I should be concentrating on becoming a shinobi worthy of the ANBU ranking. But my father says that it would be better to start now…" Neji turned away again as the breeze blew his hair into his face. Sakura was clutching her hands to her chest, scared of what was coming out of Neji's mouth. He needed to find a woman who would be a good mother? Why was he telling this to her….she was too young, just as he said! Her heart started beating rapidly inside her chest, a loud thumping that matched Inner Sakura's yelling in the background. The kunoichi was horribly confused.
"Sakura, do not get me wrong; I wouldn't ask a girl for something like this if she didn't mean anything to me. And I do care about you. You're someone I want to protect and take care of. The last months we've spent together, you've proven how strong and how good of a person you are. I've watched you as you matured during Sasuke's absence. I know you better then he does, I won't hurt you like he has." When Neji turned back around, Sakura saw his face was almost all business. This frightened her even more … he was… asking her to just give up what she had…?
"Sakura, I want to ask for your eventual hand in marriage."
The words stung her like poison needles. She gasped and stared straight down at the grass she had memorized, tears welling up in her eyes. This was just too sudden, too … how could Neji do this? Yes, she cared about him too, but did she care enough to love him? Would she be willing to give up her life and become a Hyuuga? She still loved Sasuke…
"I don't think Sasuke is the one for you, Sakura. You can hold onto any love you have for him, but he won't return it. He's too cold to care and protect you like I could."
The kunoichi felt like his voice held no emotion. He didn't seem upset about this whole thing at all. Marriage wasn't a big deal? Sakura always wanted an actual love, something that just came naturally. But it was a question if she wanted to spend her whole life waiting for a thing like that, something she knew was now null and void in this world of rankings and bloodlines.
And then, the more the medic-nin thought about it, the more she realized that Neji wouldn't actually be a horrible parent. He was strong, dependable, and he understood how the world worked, and his only anger was with the family rankings. If she did decide to marry Neji, she would also become a relative of Hinata, even if it meant she had to bow to her. All in all, she probably would learn to love Neji. He was probably a lot softer when he was alone with someone. It was just that the ice had to be broken off his heart before someone could get into it.
These thoughts were becoming dangerous. She loved Sasuke!
"YOU LOVE SASUKE YOU IDIOT!" screamed Inner Sakura. Tears started to stream down her face, her heart in utter confusion. Neji had been there while Sasuke had not, and yet, her whole existence seemed to be powered by the fluctuations in Sasuke's life, no matter how unhealthy that might be.
Neji walked closer to her, his arms almost like they were about to hug her, spread wide with the long white sleeves flapping freely. She saw it all the clearly, the arms wrap around her shuddering body and spin her so that she was hidden by his body. It was all in slow motion … and then there was a small grunt of pain from the Hyuuga. Sakura gasped as she pushed him away and saw a man with a sound-nin headband holding a deck of cards right behind Neji.
He had only protected her from this man's attack…
"Who are you?" Neji demanded, spinning around with the Byakugan activated. The sound-nin simply smirked and drew a card from his deck, whispered some words, and threw the card at the Hyuuga. Neji jumped back, still shielding Sakura, watching what the card would do. A puff of smoke exploded from the card, and in its place now stood a life sized queen, created from the picture on the card. Two more playing cards landed right in front of the couple, and the Queen figure was joined by a Jack and a King. These human-looking creations all reached into the robes they were wearing and drew out diamond shaped weapons. Sakura leapt back further, still emotionally distressed over Neji's proposal, and fell to her knees.
"Do not worry, Sakura," said the Byakugan user, before he assumed the hand of the Juken (Gentle Fist) stance, one hand out, one to the side. Neji then charged the three figures silently, easily blocking each attack they made with their diamond shaped weapons. They had him surrounded at one point, wherein they held up the three weapons, connecting them with a line, and several blasts shot out from the connecting lines, which Neji easily countered with one of his chakra spins, and this blasted the figures back off their feet, and into their original card shapes. The sound-nin in the forest cursed, realizing what he was up against, and did a quick jump up into a tree. He sat up there now, throwing his razor sharp cards at Neji, and when he swiftly dodged each one, the number of symbols on each card became more weapons, now chasing him from behind. The Hyuuga ran into the trees, weaving around them and forcing the weapons chasing him to stick into the trunks and instantly dissolve. He then concentrated chakra into his feet and ran straight up a tree, reaching the top only to back flip off, where the rest of the symbols stuck and disappeared. Another card came flying towards his face, and Neji reached out and grabbed it between two fingers. It was the two of hearts. His guard dropped for one second, and the sound-nin threw more cards. But they were all easily avoided again, and Neji had a plan this time. He drew a kunai from his large white sleeve and hid it against his wrist in case he needed it while running from the object chasing him. This time he headed straight for the tree the enemy was in, clacking his way up the tree and leaping from one branch to another, chasing the sound-nin. Symbols crashed into the bark around them with 'thunk'-ing noises, and Neji closed in on his target.
Right when the Hyuuga narrowed the distance too much, the ninja turned around, releasing a volley of shuriken. Neji was heavily reminded of TenTen, and this angered him even further. With one easy swipe across his face, Neji created a trail of chakra that acted as a shield and blocked the weapons from hitting his body. The sound-nin now gave up on running away, and stopped to engage in hand to hand combat, a fatal mistake. Neji easily targeted all of the man's tenketsu, and once he had him cornered, unleashed the Hakke Rokujuyon Sho. Every strike hit the man's body, whether it was trying to dodge or just took the hits limply, and by the end, the enemy ninja was left barely alive and powerless in the bushes of the forest. The Byakugan user gracefully jumped down through the branches and picked up the dead weight that was his enemy, walking out of the forest and up to Sakura.
"I will always protect you," he said, before disappearing in a cloud of smoke. Sakura's face fell into her hands and she wept openly, thoroughly confused by the feelings inside of her. It took ten minutes before she could regain enough composure to run back into the village, where she easily found her best friend, Ino, in her family's flower shop.
"Ino…" Sakura wandered into the sweet smelling building, still trying to rub her eyes of the redness, which wasn't help in the slightest.
"What is it, forehead-girl?" Ino stuck her tongue out at her pink-haired best friend, not seeing what sort of state the girl was in.
"Ino…" the cherry blossom repeated, walking closer. Ino's electric blue eyes suddenly widened once she saw something was wrong, and pointed Sakura over to their usual tea table in the back of the shop.
Over the years, Ino had certainly developed into a beautiful woman. She had everything most men desired, and a powerful punch to boot. She was still one of the strongest of her age, and no man ever got her down. Ino remained Sakura's best friend through it all as well. She currently had a thing for Shikamaru, and they seemed to fit together perfectly in Sakura's eyes. It was funny watching them bicker though. Wasn't that an example of love at work?
"I talked to Neji today…" Sakura started. But the words were hard to say. Ino had a pot of hot water and offered tea, which Sakura refused until she could say what she needed to.
"Neji….he….asked me to marry him!" the confused girl finally blurt out. Ino promptly dropped the cup she had in her hand and jumped out of her chair.
"What!" she shrieked. It wasn't that the blonde had any sort of a fondness for Neji or even Sasuke now, but this was unbelievable! Neji was asking Sakura to marry him?
As soon as Ino cleaned up the broken glass and sat back down, Sakura began telling the entire story. By the end of it, the other girl was stunned. That explained Neji's odd behavior.
"Wow…" said Ino, drawing her fingertips to her brow. "That's just crazy, forehead-chan…" Sakura looked up and frowned at the name calling, even if it did make her feel a bit more at ease. Now that she had told someone, her shoulders felt lighter.
"I just don't know what to do, Ino-pig. I do care about Neji, but my heart lies with Sasuke. It always has. Am I just being stubborn?"
"You've always been stubborn Sakura. And I don't know. But this just blows me away. In fact, I'm fairly jealous. You're the one who boys are fighting over, not me." She was still conceited. "All I can say is give yourself time to think. I mean, sure, Neji would be a great choice for a husband, but are you ready for that commitment yet? And I mean…he's so…like Sasuke." Her nimble fingers waved through the air in a wild gesture.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Sakura snapped.
"It means he's cold and has a dark past. But hey, if you're attracted to that type…" Ino shrugged. "I'm just glad I have Shikamaru, that lazy bastard." She grinned at this. "But seriously, Sakura, just take your time. If Neji cares about you, that's great; he's a strong ninja who can take care of a family. If I were you, I'd probably end up picking him."
A tinkling bell echoed through the shop, and Ino left, swishing her long blonde hair, her voice changing to the happy perky store clerk type to try and sell flowers. Sakura decided Ino wouldn't care if she stayed in back for a while and drank some tea to calm her nerves. She had a lot of sorting to do in her head.
Sasuke was really beginning to hate Konoha again. All the people starring really pissed him off. It was almost like his old days here, the fan girls chasing him down and trying to shove their feelings on him. Only this time, it was the entire village trying to force their hatred at his betrayal.
Everyone in Konoha knew who he was. When he first entered the tavern/bar at the end of a street that Shikamaru had invited him to, the bartender had warned him that there was to be absolutely no fighting on his property. Sasuke decided to reply with his usual "Hn," rather then make a scene. The Uchiha spotted his "friends" in the far corner, shot glasses in their hands along with an already red faced Kiba. Akamaru sat to the side of him, now a huge dog, and looked a little woozy as well. Chouji and Shino were there as well. Only Shikamaru did not eye Sasuke warily, and simply took another drink of his sake.
"Afternoon, Sasuke," the bored ninja said in a monotone, watching the last Uchiha take a seat next to him. Obviously, he could feel some of the tension too. The others weren't scared of Sasuke, as much as they were angry with him for almost costing them their lives. The next few minutes were silent except for Kiba and Akamaru's odd off-key singing, which wasn't funny to anyone at the time. Finally, Kiba blurted out,
"Yo, bastard, you almost killed us way back when you were in that stupid crate of yours." Akamaru barked in agreement. All eyes went to Sasuke at that point, and he chose to take a drink of the sake he ordered. As the little cup came down from his face, the men were all watching him expectantly.
"You also chased me?" He asked. He only remembered that fight with Naruto…
"Yeah," replied Shikamaru. He threw his thumb towards Shino, "Except him. He had a different mission." Shino had unbuttoned the top of his jacket in order to take his drinks, and was able to keep the bugs that lived inside his body hidden for this one time. Chouji was stuffing his face with different foods her ordered each time the waitress passed.
"We all fought to get you back," the large ninja added between bites. Sasuke grasped the sake bottle a little harder, as if threatening to strange it.
"It was me, Kiba, Shikamaru, Naruto and Neji that were called to chase after you," Chouji continued. Kiba shouted a random huzzah, and Sasuke smacked his fist down on the table. The others jumped slightly, afraid he was about to start something. The curse seal was now tingling slightly.
"Tell me what happened," Sasuke said coolly. Shikamaru frowned at the raven-haired man for a second, trying to judge how troublesome it would be, when Kiba decided to jump in and do as asked.
"Well," the canine-like man said, both loudly and after a burp, "you decided to do that whole run away thing, right? So we all were like 'bastard!' and Shikamaru was like gathering us all up to go after you and stuff, you bastard,"
Shikamaru sighed, and Shino reached over to give the drunk a little bit of a smack on the head.
"Here…I'll just tell the story, even though it'll be troublesome," Shikamaru said slowly, placing the sake shot back down on the table.
"Right after you disappeared…"
'So that was it,' thought Sasuke. 'They risked their lives to keep me away from Orochimaru.'
After he had heard the story, Sasuke pushed his mostly full bottle of sake towards Chouji. He had quietly stood up and thrown money down on the table, before burying his hands deep into his pockets and walking out into the cold Konoha night. He wandered aimlessly, just thinking over the sacrifices that had nearly been made for his return. Was he really that important, or were they just that afraid of Orochimaru, he wondered.
Sasuke's head tilted back, looking up into the clear sky with its thousands of stars. He easily blended in with the darkness…
His chin fell a bit when he saw a name he recognized. Yamanaka. Yamanaka…Ino?
And as he scanned his memory for who that was, something ran smack into him, almost knocking him over. He instinctively whipped out a kunai, looking down to see who was attacking.
And there sat Sakura, her emerald eyes widening at the sight of him.
A/N: Please read before you destroy me with reviews!
Dude, I updated this story. It took a friggin' year, but I did it. After writing some one shots, I looked at this story again, because I liked the number of reviews it had. And just….thanks guys. I realized how good of writing this story was for me, and I just picked up the plot again.
For those of you who were anxious about that contest thing, I've pretty much forgot how I had planned out TenTen's death and its addition to the story. So….yeah….I had to make that up again real quick for this chapter.
Anyways…Wow…Well…let's hope it doesn't take another year to get another chapter out, eh?
Hope you liked this, and please don't kill me with your reviews.
Neji might not be my character, but this is my story, and I can have him be as OOC as I want.
I bet some of you are really angry about this chapter. But I did what I thought was best for Neji's character in that sort of situation. I know I'm going to be eaten alive by you rabid fans!