Disclaimer: Naruto does not belong to me
Ahhh...Ino x Neji! I've always been fascinated with the loud girl + stoic guy pairing and this one is so rarely written that I just wanted to try it out. I've also always believed that Neji is much more complex than merely a bitter, powerful Main Family hater with cousin issues and a superiority complex.
I want to dedicate this re-edited version to Kaara, who is not only a lovely and supportive reviewer, but also a brilliant writer as well. Thank you so much for your comments - I can totally relate to falling in love with a character because of a fan fic (cough, cough...Ikkaku, anyone?) and I'm just so flattered that you would say something like that!
"Why don't you just tell me what you want, Neji? I'm tired of guessing!"
She was yelling and she knew it. Hysteria had begun to creep into her voice but at this point, she neither cared nor could have stopped it even if she did.
He didn't answer her, merely watching as she hurled everything within reach against the wall. A rather large fan struck him squarely in the chest but if it hurt, he didn't show it. When there was nothing left to throw, the girl turned back to him. Glaring into those unfathomable white orbs, she blinked rapidly, furiously trying to hold back the hot rush of tears that threatened to fall.
"Stop staring at me! Why can't you say something?"
For some reason, she was not surprised when there was no response. Dimly, she wondered which fool it was who had said opposites attract. Why would they? Opposites have nothing in common. They don't like the same foods, the same activities or have the same backgrounds.
In fact, the only thing opposites probably had in common was the shared understanding that they had nothing in common.
"Fine then. I give up."
Her voice, which had previously been pitched at shrieking level, came out as a hoarse whisper. She turned away quickly, determined to hide the tell-tale signs of her weakness streaking their way down her flushed cheeks.
"You win, Neji."
And because her vision was blurring, because she was trying to get out of the room and away from him as fast as possible, Ino did not see him bend down to pick up the fan she had thrown at him and stare at it.
The adults had praised him. Hyuuga Neji was the perfect shinobi, the genius of the Hyuuga clan. He was calm, collected and ruthless. He showed no mercy, no compassion and was the epitome of a killing machine, Konoha's soldier of death.
The girls had whispered about him. Hyuuga Neji was beautiful, flawless in appearance and graceful in bearing. He was stoic, strong and mysterious. He rivaled Uchiha Sasuke in terms of angst and was everything a man should be.
But Ino had always suspected that there was something beneath that mirror-smooth exterior. In fact, she had witnessed it first-hand.
During the Chuunin exam against Hinata, he had blown up so fast that it was screamingly obvious that, unlike popular belief, his emotions both perilously close to the surface and held painfully close to his heart. His temper had flared too quickly for it to be merely triggered by Hinata's few words and his voice had betrayed too much of…something…for him to be simply reacting to another battle.
During the third exam against Naruto, he had sneered and posed as sarcastically as he always did. Throwing out terms like 'dead last' and 'useless' as cold and unfeelingly as everyone expected from him. But even from her vantage point high above the battleground, Ino had seen the pain in those opaque eyes, had taken note of the extra tension gripping his body as he slowly removed his hiatai. And she had almost wept from it.
Even after the Sasuke mission, he had seemed no different from before. He had continued to train just as diligently as ever, albeit with the Hyuuga head training him. He was still expressionless and unruffled but Ino, along with Hinata, had noticed the changes he tried to make in his attitude towards those around him. He was no longer as dismissive of his teammates' attempts to improve, no longer sneering at his cousin's weaknesses. The improvements were not obvious but they were there nonetheless.
No indeed, Ino suspected that Hyuuga Neji was far more complex than the picture of perfection he displayed to the world. She suspected that he had a temper as volatile as her own and that he valued those who were important to him as fiercely as she did. The only difference between them was that he hid it better.
So Ino had decided to get to know him. Not the Hyuuga Neji that everyone placed on a pedestal. The real him. She had wanted to peel away the gloss and see if she was right. And when Yamanaka Ino sets her mind to something, more often than not, she gets what she wanted.
It had all started out with her watching him. Nothing serious, just allowing herself to indulge in her blossoming admiration for the way he looked, the way he moved. For at least that part was true. He was beautiful. His dark hair carelessly shiny, his face aristocratic, his body taut with lean muscles. Her brilliant blue eyes would trail his body as he trained relentlessly for hours on end, her own training forgotten until Asuma would yell at her for not paying attention. And then she would hurry back to her team, always aware of the unwavering pale gaze that followed after her the minute she turned away.
It then escalated into her trying to talk to him. When this had started, Chouji had munched worriedly and Shikamaru had lazily drawled that she was just asking for trouble by pissing the poor guy off. After delivering them their usual whacks on the head, Ino had stomped over to the older shinobi as they finished up their daily training regime. Lee and Tenten had watched in horrified bewilderment as she started chatting about random things, moving right into the Hyuuga's personal space and refusing to be intimidated by his pointed glare.
At first he had just stared at her before walking away in the middle of her sentence as if she had not been talking to him at all. But Ino had not given up. She kept at it day after day, ignoring Lee's increasingly frantic warning gestures when her non-stop chattering began to trigger a twitch in the Hyuuga's left eye.
He had grabbed her by the arm all of a sudden one day, jerking her back almost roughly before demanding to know what she thought she was doing. Ino had replied calmly that she wanted to be friends with him. He had not answered, merely staring at her like she was crazy. And maybe she was, because before she knew it, she had followed up her previous remark with a soft whisper that she had not intended to say.
In fact, Ino had not even realized she wanted to say it.
"Because I want you."
His response had been immediate although imperceptible. But Ino had watched him long enough, had been standing close enough, to recognize the changes in his expression. His famed eyes had narrowed scornfully, but she had seen the gamut of emotions that had flitted through them before he had shuttered his thoughts again. His expression had remained as impassive as always, but she had heard his quick indrawn breath and made note of the slight clenching of his jaw.
So when he had pushed her away and stalked off without another word, Ino had not been disappointed. In fact, she had been thrilled.
Her attentions had doubled after that. She made a point of it to talk to him everyday, to smile brightly in his direction whenever their eyes met. And even though he continued to ignore her at first, Ino stubbornly persisted in her attempts to burrow her way so deeply into his life that he would not be able to kick her out even if he wanted to.
His surrender had been grudgingly slow.
He had stopped walking away from her, either out of the realization that she would just follow after him or out of a stubborn refusal to retreat from a challenge. He had begun answering her questions, the monosyllabic retorts gradually progressing into normal conversation. His fierce glares subsided into familiar acceptance, the fighting intent that instinctively flared at her deliberate physical closeness slowly shifting into a different sort of intensity.
Once when Ino was late from a particularly grueling training, she had found him standing alone under the tree where she usually waited for him to finish. He had ignored her surprised query about waiting for her, choosing instead to frown at a couple of her nastier bruises. His terse offer to train with her had been made with averted eyes but Ino knew that he had caught her excited acceptance and pleased thanks. Whenever she latched herself on to his arm as they walked down the streets, he no longer shook her off disdainfully; instead, he simply stiffened before relaxing again, his head turned away slightly to mask the flush on his pale cheeks. After his missions, he came to see her first, allowing her to fuss over any injuries before she ordered at him to go home and rest.
Of course, Neji was a Hyuuga and they were notorious for resisting change. He would not go down without a fight. No matter, Ino had not expected him to. On the days when he was being particularly difficult, she simply resorted to flirting outrageously with some of the other shinobi. Right in front of him as if he was not even there. Childish and risky perhaps, but she was a kunoichi after all; calculated risks were all part of her daily life.
And it never failed to do the trick either.
Ino could practically feel that pale gaze burning into her as she giggled and leaned just a little closer to some nameless, good-looking Chuunin. The minute the other male made any sort of movement to touch her, the Hyuuga would appear by her side, glaring threateningly until the other got the hint and backed down. He would then turn to her, eyes narrowed and flashing on an otherwise inscrutable face as she smirked innocently up at him. Neji was possessive, as she had expected. After all, he had never had anything of his own before, nothing that had not been sanctioned by the Main Family or simply taken away without warning. Being on the receiving end was heady, even addicting.
When Ino did not show up after training one evening, he had made his way over to her house, insisting on knowing where she was. She had teased him about missing her, to which he replied with a haughtily arched eyebrow but made no attempt to dispute. His mini-pout at her burst of laughter had been so adorable that Ino found herself kissing it lightly before jerking back in shock and embarrassment. They had stared at each other for a second, both faces heating up until his hand had reached up to caress her cheek, the calloused fingers barely touching her skin. And when he had finally smiled down at her, his other arm wrapping firmly around her waist to pull her against him, Ino had smiled back.
And that had been that.
At nights, Ino would run her fingers lightly over that star-shaped scar on his pale skin. When he shivered and clutched her tighter, she had pressed her lips against it wistfully, almost adoringly. Because Ino recognized it for what it was. It was not some heroic grand gesture of sacrifice for the good of Konoha. No, it was something much simpler, much smaller and at the same time, much more important than that. It was a reminder, a physical manifestation of his determination to protect those close to him. Neji might not have respected Sasuke, might not have liked or even known him. But he had voluntarily accepted the mission and had given it his all, because he valued the value others placed in Sasuke.
And that was why Ino loved him.
"I thought you wanted to know what I want."
Ino paused, her eyes focused on the ground.
She had been staring out over the river all afternoon, her mind wandering aimlessly as she stood motionless on the bridge. They had been together for a long time now and she was as familiar with his body as she was with her own. She knew that he was leaning on the wooden rails behind her, arms folded carelessly across a broad chest while long black hair danced in the breeze. But no matter how familiar she was with him, Ino still had no idea what was going on in his mind. He had never told her how he felt, who she was to him and that was the problem.
"You don't know what you want."
The low rumble of his voice spread between them, touching her with its vibrations until she felt as though her whole body was shaking. She shook her head, well aware of the fact that he was watching her closely. He did not need the Byukugan to read her; he had always been able to.
"You want this to continue. This thing we have where it's okay when you run hot and cold because you never once acknowledged that it was anything different. But I can't do it anymore, Neji. It's not okay for me when you turn away and shut me out. You can't just come back a week later and act like nothing happened."
It was strange how all that frustration she had been harbouring whenever the Hyuuga went into one of his angsty moods was coming out so calmly. Even Ino had expected herself to yell at him but somehow, she simply did not have the energy anymore.
"I did not mean to hurt you."
Her smile was soft, the sunlight sparkling off the water below. That was as close to an apology as she knew he could make.
She could feel the heat emanating off of him as he moved to stand next to her. Long fingers lifted her chin to face him, gently tracing the curve of her lower lip as pale eyes studied her face. Eyes that seemed so cold but in reality, held as many emotions as white held as many colours.
"I will not leave you again."
Ino blinked, barely registering the feeling of warm lips before he had pulled back again to stare seriously down at her.
"You're wrong. I do know what I want."
It had always been impossible not to smile back whenever he graced her with that rare, genuine lift of his lips. This girl had turned his life upside-down. This girl who was as light as he was dark and who understood and accepted him for who he was, not who he portrayed himself to be. His next words were murmured against her mouth, his arms molding her body to his confidently.
"I want you."
A/N: This is the re-edited version so hopefully I managed to improve upon the rather disjointed one before. Still tossing around some ideas for one-shots in my head plus working on my other multi-chapter stories. Thanks for reading!