AUTHOR'S NOTES: Written for the nejisaku LJ community challenge #1, theme: seasons. Four-parter for obvious reasons, unfortunate uber-cute sap alert. I know I really shouldn't have, but I had a reason. And that reason: I had lots and lots of sugar beforehand.
What? Never said it was a good reason, now did I?
oOoOoOoChapter 1: Winter's Beginning
There were some things that began in spring.
Some things that began in summer.
And some that began in fall.
However, there were four seasons known widely in the world, though some places felt the changes they brought more strongly than others. And there were also some things, every once in a while, when -
Winter was the start of it all.
It began with snow.
Snow was cold and fourteen-year-old Neji hated the cold. So Neji also didn't care for snow. But Neji wanted to be stronger than he was and, to do that, he needed to train. And because he needed to train, even though he hated the cold and the snow that covered the ground and the trees, he ventured out into the winter weather in order to be a step closer to his goal.
When Neji wanted to train, as with many other things, he often preferred to do it alone. While his other peers were laughing and having fun and playing with one another, taking a break from the drudgery of it all in the sameness of winter, Neji ignored all of that and them for the sake of achieving his goal. And as he walked, eyes straight ahead and focused on his goal, he could hear once again the sounds of his peers in the distance laughing and having fun and playing while he ignored them and walked on and –
Suddenly he froze.
The sounds he'd earlier heard went eerily silent as he slowly turned. Snow was cold and wet as it slid from the side of his head and over his shoulder and down until it plopped to the ground.
Other than that, there was no sound.
In that soundless quiet, Neji continued to turn. And when he finished turning, before his gaze he saw a scattered row of silent and familiar faces. And in those silent familiar faces, there was –
Horror and fear.
And then, amidst the horror and fear within the silent and staring familiar faces that were scattered in the soundless quiet of the snow –
There was a sound.
It was a tiny sound that usually might not have been heard. But because everything and everyone was so very, very quiet, that tiny sound was heard. And that tiny sound that was heard was made –
By a girl.
But not just any girl.
It was a girl that Neji knew. Or should have known. He couldn't quite put a name to the familiar face, pale and guilty and so obviously the owner of some of the fallen snow that had slipped beneath his clothes and was wetly sliding down his back. And as she trembled beneath his silent staring glare, he tried to put a name to the face he probably should have already known.
Hakura? Sakuno? No. That didn't sound quite right either. There was something that teased on the edge of his memory, something to do with pink and green. Wasn't it something that had to do with flowers and spring? Haruno?
Ah, that's right. He remembered now.
Whispers, rumors, memories trickled back to him. Uzumaki Naruto. That traitor Uchiha Sasuke. The Fifth Hokage training her successor to be one day possibly better than she. He stared at the pale and trembling form before him and thought the last certainly couldn't be true for to secede the trainer, the trainee had to be good and this possible trainee certainly didn't look good. And while Neji stared at her as he thought, the tiny sound that was heard before in the soundless quiet was heard once again.
Then she stuttered.
"S-Sorry, Neji-san! I didn't mean to. But…Lee-kun ducked!"
From his peripheral vision Neji saw his comrade in green shuffle further out of sight behind a tree. And from his peripheral vision, he also saw other figures seek further shelter behind other trees. And the only one who was not in his peripheral vision seeking shelter behind a tree…
Was staring directly back at him.
Another gulping sound was heard. "D-Do you want to join us, Neji-san?"
Several sudden scattered gasps were heard.
And silver eyes narrowed. "No."
This time, several relieved scattered sighs were heard.
And then the girl called Sakura frowned. "Why not?"
Muted moans and horrified groans followed those sighs and her words. Though Neji heard those moans and groans, his attention remained fixed on the girl who was pale and trembling but tilting her chin up in a stubborn angle as she appeared to be trying to stare him down. And, staring at that stubbornly angled chin, one word rang loud and clear in his mind.
Trouble he didn't like.
Trouble he didn't want.
Trouble he didn't need.
And because Neji didn't like, want, or need the trouble that his immediate instincts told him would come from this pale and trembling and possible trainee, he decided not to further waste his time and to refocus on his goal. So Neji turned away without another wasteful word and concentrated hard on resuming his path to his goal but –
Apparently, he had been concentrating a little too hard.
Several sudden scattered gasps were heard once again across the snow. But, this time, they were nearly drowned out by what was becoming an unfortunately all too familiar voice that had lost its trembling in favor of saccharine sweetness.
"Neji-san! I'm sorry. I was so sure you would have avoided that one. I guess maybe you need to brush up a little more on your ninja skills after all."
Muted moans and horrified groans followed those words. Though a disbelieving Neji heard those moans and groans, his attention remained fixed on the girl who he saw was no longer pale and trembling once he fully turned back to her while snow once more dropped from his hair to the ground in little broken plops. That girl's frown had turned into a scowl and her stare into a glare, challenging and combative as she reached down and scooped up yet more snow.
Silver eyes narrowed suspiciously as more moans and groans sounded in the background. But Neji was ready, mentally preparing himself as he watched the hands of the girl rolling the snow in her hands until she had formed it into a ball. His body tensed and prepared to avoid as she cocked back her arm and then let the snowball fly –
Right into the trunk of a distant tree –
That shuddered and groaned alarmingly and almost collapsed under the force of the throw but sent all the snow heavily coating its branches sliding and falling and crashing to the ground.
Surprised, Neji glanced from the newly fallen rather large pile of snow back to the girl who had thrown. And the girl, he saw, had a new ball of snow clutched in one hand while her other was fisted on a cocked hip as she met his gaze with a challenging glare and spoke in saccharine sweetness.
"What? You didn't think we were just playing, did you?"
Neji just stared.
"We're ninja, after all. Anything can be a weapon in the right hands. And I've been getting really good with my chakra control." She smirked. "Before was just a warm-up exercise. I think we're ready for the real stuff now. And you're welcome to join us…if you're not too scared."
Too focused, silver eyes glinting, Neji didn't even hear the moans and groans this time. "Child's play."
The words made her angry. He could tell by the way her skin flushed with emotion, her green eyes glittered before they narrowed, her hands moved, and then –
Immediately on alert, he told himself to be on guard as he swept his gaze around but –
He was too late.
Disbelieving once again, he had to turn all the way around before he saw her directly behind him. Baffled at how a possible trainee that hadn't seemed possible could maneuver around him invisibly, his gaze searched her features for the answer while snow sluiced off of him to the ground.
Knowingly or not, she answered his unspoken question.
"You're not the only one who is training to become stronger, Neji-san. We all are. And you can train alone as much as you want, but moving targets and opponents will get you there a lot faster than stationary ones. Besides, since missions are done in teams, it's only natural that training should be done in them too." Her expression turned smug. "You should see what else I can do with my chakra."
Curiosity was dangerous. He told himself to avoid it.
"And the others don't mind if you join either. Do you?"
A chorus of agreements, some sounding more resigned than others.
More people would probably just get in his way. He told himself to avoid it.
"See? No problem. Strong ninjas as an opponent help make more strong ninjas. And it's what we all want. Shared goal."
Idealism was hazardous as well. He told himself to avoid it.
"We should help each other. Use the strength of other's to strengthen our own. But…well, if you're too afraid that you won't be able to measure up against the rest of us anymore…I guess you probably won't be of much help anyway." Her smirk widened. "Then again, maybe even a little extra help is better than none."
Pride was a weakness, a horrible parasite that had been the downfall of many a ninja before him. And he –
Unfortunately had never done well in avoiding it.
"So what do you say, Neji-san? Want to train with us?"
He scooped up some snow.
And the girl called Sakura smiled and the other ninja came out from behind their trees, some smiling, some not. Those other ninja, some more familiar to him than others, began their own snow preparations in anticipation of the play-training to come. And Neji stood waiting and contemplating, unmelted snow still in his hair and on his clothes with more in hand as he cautiously studied a particular someone forming another ball of snow in her hands.
Thinking back, Neji couldn't remember the last time anyone had hit him with snow. Maybe no one ever had. But this girl in pink and red, this girl whose name he had barely remembered…
This girl named Sakura had hit him with snow.
And the snow began to melt.