"We should go on a date."
There was dead silence around the training grounds. I stood there, twirling a kunai as if I had just casually asked about the weather. Neji looked at me with a quirked eyebrow. But I held my ground because this was important.
In the days since the 'incident', we hadn't had much of a chance to talk. I didn't wake up until Hinata had joined Ino and me in the room. And then there were these mortifying moments where the Hyuuga elders had stood gathered around her bed, listening to Sakura talking and secretively stealing glances at me.
I didn't even know what to say. Oh, sorry for almost getting your best and brightest blown to smithereens. My bad that he followed me out there and that we decided to have a revelation a few seconds from death.
And it wasn't like Neji could come in when they were there. So our first chance had come when all four of the Sakura brigade were in the same room. I love Ino and Sakura, but when they shoved him at me and then tried to watch… I almost killed them right there.
Of course, leave it to Neji to just take all of this in stride. He closed the curtain and sat on the bed like this was a normal occurrence.
I opened my mouth to talk and he pointed to the shadows on the ground. I rolled my eyes. Really guys? I can't get a second of privacy?
They're asking my cousin to use Byakugan, he signed to me.
"Don't even think about it," I called out before signing that I was sorry.
Are you okay?
We managed to do that at the same time. And then we just stared at each other waiting for the other to answer. Right about then, Ino tried to find a way to peek and I was more concerned with how to throttle her then how to answer that question.
So Neji put his hand on mine and signed with the other that we'd talk later. I nodded once and he gave my hand the briefest of squeezes before running off.
It didn't help that Ino decided to force us all out dancing as soon as soon as we were cleared by medical. There is no way to have an intimate conversation in the middle of a dance club. Especially when half the Konoha female population is asking you the most inane questions ever.
Are you going out? Are you getting married? Was it scary? Was it romantic?
No matter what I said, they decided that not only were Neji and I the most perfect couple ever but that this was the most romantic thing that had ever happened. I was almost glad when I got dragged to the dance floor. Not so much so when I kept getting drinks shoved at me.
Let's just say I got carried home that night. It probably was nice but I don't remember any of it.
In fact, this was the first time that we were together. Alone. And so I decided to go for the direct approach. Which was clearly working so well, seeing as Neji was just staring at me with that amused smirk of his.
"I just assumed we'd get married," he replied. For a moment I thought he was joking before I realized that his tone was actually dead serious.
"No!" I cried. "We can't… that's not… That's not how it works!"
"It's not?" he asked. "How does it 'work' then?"
I frowned and started sifting through years of shoujo manga and conversations with the girls. "We date for a while and…"
"And get to know each other?"
I pouted. So… okay maybe we knew each other pretty well considering we were teammates for years. "Well… okay but… then we need to get to know each other's family…"
"Who don't you know in mine?"
I stomped my foot. "That's not the point!"
He was almost smiling at this point, the smug bastard. And it was bad enough that I knew his logic was infallible but there was no good reason he should look that cute when mocking me.
I was about to come up with another reason when I felt a familiar chakra signature barreling towards us. I sighed and sat on a nearby stump, twirling my kunai. Lee appeared a few seconds later, out of breath and clearly happy.
"Have you asked him yet?" he asked me.
I shook my head in defeat. Apparently Ino had already gotten to him. "I was trying to," I replied with a frown.
That seemed to electrify Lee. He turned to Neji, arm outstretched and pointing at him. "Hyuuga Neji! Eternal Rival! I, Rock Lee, the Green Beast of Konoha, have beaten you!"
Neji didn't seem too flustered by that. "Have you now?"
"I have," Lee said, with a sparkling smile. "I, my youthful opponent, am the first member of our team to have been asked out on a date and accepted."
… oh good Lord.
"What?" Neji asked, eyeing Lee suspiciously.
"It is true. The lovely Ino Yamanaka and I will be dining at Ginza tonight. I had been hoping that you and Tenten would join us, however…"
"You didn't win," Neji interrupted. "We were just finalizing details."
I glared at him. Oh sure, when it was a competition…
"But you had not accepted yet. And so, I win."
Really? Were they really going to fight it out over this? Neji wouldn't fall for something like this, would he?
I looked over and noticed that he no longer looked amused. In fact he looked annoyed.
"As a prize, I will be borrowing Tenten," Lee said. "I need to learn everything I can about Yamanaka-san before dinner tonight as I plan on making this first date perfect." He winked at me. Was he trying to bait Neji?
I tried to interrupt things before it came to blows. "Lee, we were kind of in the middle…"
"To the flower shop!" he said, grabbing my hand and pulling me away. I managed to shoot Neji an apologetic look before we headed back towards town.
"Lee, I can't believe you did that!" I said, as soon as we were clear. "What were you thinking?"
"I was thinking that Neji-kun would likely try to bypass all the fun parts of a relationship," Lee replied. "Besides, right now, he is thinking of how to defeat me by making his date with you better then mine."
I giggled and hugged Lee. "You're the best," I said.
"I am. But I will not be losing to him so… I am sorry you will not have as good a date as Yamanaka-san."
I decided not to argue that point with him. I was too amused pondering exactly how Neji would go about making sure this was a perfect date for me. He was a genius after all, I'm sure he could figure something out.
"So I will need to discover the following things about Yamanaka-san," Lee said. "Her favorite color, food dish, animal, and music."
I laughed. "Oh, is that all?"
"It is a start," Lee continued, pulling out a scroll. I glanced at the long, long, long list of items that needed to be filled out. And then I got a good look at the title of the scroll.
Gai-Sensei's Patented Dating Checklist for the Most Super Awesome First Date EVER.
"Lee," I said, trying to ignore the shudder in my spine. "You know that the Yamanakas own the flower shop you're heading towards, right? Are you just going to ask Ino these questions? Because then you really don't need me."
"She is not there," Lee replied. "She is currently training with her teammates. However her parents will be minding the shop and I need to ask permission from them."
I blinked. That was... that was actually very surprising. Most people didn't seek parental permission before going out these days. It was old fashioned and actually kind of sweet. Well, Neji got a pass on that considering that my family didn't live in Konoha, but I had to wonder if he would have done the same if he had the chance.
"So why do you need me?" I asked.
"Two things. In case Yamanaka returns early, you will need to distract her. And... her father is apparently very protective. So I may require backup."
Ah, now that made sense. Yamanaka Inoichi did work in torture and interrogation, that was scary enough. But it was also rumored he was incredibly overprotective of his daughter. I followed Lee into the shop and the woman behind the counter greeted us warmly. There was no doubt that this was Ino's mother who, in contrast to her husband, seemed reserved and quiet.
"Good afternoon," Lee said, bowing deeply, "my name is Rock Lee and I am here to ask permission to escort your daughter, Ino, to dinner tonight."
The woman blinked in surprise. And then cringed. I wondered what would cause that reaction for about a millisecond before I heard Inoichi's charge. He entered the shop in a rage and glared at Lee. To his credit, Lee didn't budge. Just remained bowed.
"WHO? WHAT? YOU?" Inoichi said pointing at Lee. Staring into the fury that was Ino's father, I could only come to the conclusion that Lee was about to die. Painfully.
"Good afternoon, sir," Lee said. "I am humbly requesting your permission to escort your daughter to dinner."
"Tonight at six PM, sir."
"Sir," he said, standing up straight and looking Inoichi in the eye, "I am honored to have the chance to spend time with such a glorious and beautiful young lady, a true flower of Konoha. I can only hope that my humble attempts to entertain her will give her a reason to smile. I only hope to gain your permission for a few hours of her time. I will return her promptly at 9pm and we will at all times be accompanied by my teammates, including the young lady beside me." He smiled and his teeth twinkled.
I looked at Inoichi and gave a pathetic wave to indicate that that was me.
Inoichi was raring for another verbal assault when his wife put her hand on his arm. "Lee-san, that is an absolutely lovely request. I'm sure Ino will have a wonderful time."
"But... but..." Inoichi sputtered, turning to his wife. Ino's mother locked eyes with him and I saw, for the briefest moment an exponentially larger amount of rage and anger than Inoichi had produced earlier.
"If you continue to stop all chances of me having grandchildren," she said, her tone as commanding as the Hokage herself, "you will spend the rest of your life sleeping on that tiny couch in the living room."
Inoichi deflated. And glared at Lee but said nothing else.
"Thank you ma'am," Lee replied with a bow. "I would also like to purchase some flowers, enough for two bouquets please. One should contains hibicus, yellow jasmine and violets. The other bluebells, day lillies and pink lilacs."
Ino's mother kicked Inoichi in the shin so he would start moving. "What a lovely assortment. Do you know the meaning of those flowers?"
"Of course," Lee replied. "The first is to celebrate your daughter's pure beauty." Her mother smiled as she took the flowers from her husband and wrapped the first bouquet in paper with a bow.
"And the second?"
"Well, the second is to celebrate another woman, whose beauty and wisdom should be recognized."
Ino's mother smiled, finishing the second bouquet and accepting money for them. "I'm sure both bouquets will be well received."
"I hope so," he said. He took both bouquets and quickly held out the second for Ino's mother to take. "Please accept this bouquet with my humble thanks."
Ino's mother blinked in surprise and then took the second batch of flowers with a blush on her cheeks. "Well... my... thank you. It's been ages since I received flowers." The last statement was obviously leveled at the blond-haired man who was trying to hide in the corner.
We left the shop and I had to say I was impressed. And a bit worried. Lee was a master at this whole dating thing.
"Lee, how did you... where did you learn..." I trailed off in confusion.
"Gai-sensei has been passing his knowledge of dating and women on to me," he said. "I can only hope I am doing him proud."
I tried to reconcile the fact that Gai-sensei, MY Gai-sensei, was the source of such wisdom and failed. It just didn't seem to fit him at all. But then... I can't say I knew what he did in his free time. Was Gai-sensei the secret casanova of Konoha? No. He couldn't be. Right?
Lee continued to quiz me on everything I knew about Ino before he decided to move on to someone else. I felt drained by the whole experience. It was only three in the afternoon so I collapsed on park bench to try to relax. I tilted my head and enjoyed the sunlight on my face. It was a beautiful day, peaceful and quiet. I knew how rare these days could be in my line of work, so I just wanted to enjoy it while I could.
I don't remember dozing off but when I woke up, I was't alone. I looked over and saw Neji sitting next to me, scroll in his hand. I laughed.
"You talked to Gai-sensei," I said. And then I felt a bit bad about laughing. Aside from his uncle, who was still somewhat of a stranger to him, Neji didn't have many potential father figures in his life aside from our sensei. It must have taken a lot of him to not only ask for help, but to ask from Gai-sensei...
"Did the lecture just end?" I asked, sitting up properly on the bench.
"That man is... incredibly long winded," Neji said. "And incredibly smart." He looked about as comfortable with the idea of our sensei being a ladies' man as I did.
Neji opened up the scroll and eyed the list of items. "What... is your favorite color?"
I quirked an eyebrow at him. "Really?"
He snapped the scroll shut. "It's infuriating. I assumed we knew each other well enough to be past this, but then I realized I don't know your favorite color. Or food. Or animal."
"If it's any consolation, I don't know either," I replied. "Your favorites, that is. It's not something that comes up in mission briefings."
"It doesn't matter," he replied. "It should be something I know. It's a simple thing and I don't understand how I never took the time to think about it."
"It's white," I said, softly. "And chocolate, any form. And a panda. And the rest of the items on that list... okay, we'll go through it and learn them. It might take time but that's the point of a..." I trailed off. I couldn't just say relationship. I mean, that was assuming a lot.
"Do we have time?" he asked, looking at my arm that had only recently been bandaged. I put my hand on the wound and dipped my head a bit.
I couldn't promise what I couldn't deliver. I couldn't make an oath to never use that jutsu again. I couldn't say that I would be here tomorrow or the next day and neither could he. It was just the nature of our lives.
"We have as much time as we are given," I replied. "So... we should make the best use of it, right? Favorite color?" I asked him.
He looked at me, almost as if he was going to try to argue the point. But my logic could be just as infallible as his. "Gray," he replied.
We only got to cover a few more items before I had to go. I had a date to get ready for, after all! As I searched my closet, wrapped in a towel and dripping on the floor, I pulled out the silver dress I had gotten a year ago. I never had a chance to wear it before but tonight seemed like a good occasion for it. I had matching shoes, some garnet jewelery my mom sent for my birthday and a cute purse too. Ino would be proud. I dried my hair and looked at myself in the mirror. I started to pull my hair up before I stopped and decided to wear it down.
At exactly 5:45pm, there was a knock on my door. I stared in the mirror for a few seconds more, straightening the dress and feeling generally foolish. This was just a date. Okay, it was a date with Neji but... it was Neji! Come on, you can do this.
I opened the door and was greeted with an interesting sight. Hyuuga Neji, not in training clothes but in a rather nice evening ensemble. White shirt, black pants and hair brushed straight. He held a bouquet of flowers and I had to smile when I saw that they were hibicus, yellow jasmine and violets, just like Lee's.
"So are those for me?" I asked when he didn't say anything. He was... staring. It was kind of unnerving, even more so than being thoroughly examined by Byakugan. "Neji?" I asked.
He blinked and regained his compsure. "Yes. They are. You look... very nice."
I gave him a strange look before taking the flowers from him and bringing them inside. "I'll just put them in water," I said, finding a vase and arranging them in it. I put the vase on the coffee table so it would greet me when I came in the front door. I made sure to lock the sturdy wooden door and we started to walk to Ginza. In silence. Not the normal, comfortable silence I was used to but with a bit of awkwardness mixed in. I was almost happy to see Lee and Ino waiting for us. Lee was wearing a dark purple shirt and black pants. He looked... well, he was exceptionally handsome this night.
Ino was wearing a green dress and blushing madly. She looked like she was actually enjoying herself. We got a nice seat in the back, right on the water. Lee and Ino were having an animated discussion on the meaning of flowers, leaving Neji and I to just watch them. I caught him looking at me but every time I tried to catch his eye, he looked away. After awhile, I decided to go for the more direct approach.
They sure talk a lot, I signed under the table, making sure he saw the movement of my hands but that it was hidden from the others.
He smirked. She could give sensei a run for his money.
I laughed and pretended it was at something that Lee had said. He looked at me and smirked... no, he smiled. Just a bit, but it was there.
Favorite book, he signed.
We eventually had to leave, only because Lee insisted on getting Ino home on time. As they waved goodbye, I shot Ino a thankful look. She winked at me before taking Lee's arm and heading home.
I looked up at the night sky, watching the stars for a bit as we walked. "That was nice," I said.
"It was. Though next time... perhaps we should do something alone."
I laughed, not just at the fact that he was making a joke but that he said 'next time'. Because it was ludicrious, impossible to believe that not too long ago I had been dying in a forest and now I was here. On a date. With Hyuuga Neji. Planning for a second one.
We got to my house too quickly. I reached for my keys, ready to say goodnight, when he took a step closer. And then he wrapped his arm around my waist and pulled me a step closer. My heart started to beat wildly. My skin became flushed. And for a moment the world seemed to slow down.
I realized the danger a second before it hit us. Neji managed to pull us back so the huge ax missed us and impacted in my door. The blade took up the entire length of it, splintering it on impact. I stared at it, stared at the intricate engravings on the steel. The complex carving on the handle...
Neji was reaching for a kunai and activating Byakugan and I needed to warn him. I needed to think of how to relay to him the danger as quickly as possible.
"Neji," I said, trying to keep my voice steady but the words came out so softly.
"Flank right, I'll determine their position and then..."
"NEJI!" I interrupted, finding my voice. He looked at me.
"That's my father's ax."
I didn't think Hyuuga could get any paler then they normally were. But Neji was pulling it off somehow.
"Oh," he managed, Byakugan receding. "I... should..."
"Just run," I advised.
Neji disappeared in a plume of smoke. A moment later, all four feet, seven inches of my father came into the focus. He was charging, face red in sharp contrast to his graying hair. His weathered hands reached out and pulled the ax free of what was left of my door.
"Hi, Dad," I said, with a smile.
"Don't dad me!" he yelled, hefting the ax on his shoulder like it was a feather duster. "Where is he? I'm going to skin him alive and make armor from his bones!"
I cringed. Some things never changed. "Dad, calm down please..."
"Who the hell does he think he is? Just groping you in public..."
I turned bright red. "That wasn't groping!"
"And what is wrong with you, girl? You should have dodged my ax earlier than that imbecile did. ...ARE YOU PREGNANT?"
There was a momumental headache forming at the moment. Thankfully, my mother arrived just in time. In contrast to my father, she was about my height and far more delicate then either of us in build. Her hair was pooled into two identical buns on her head and she put a hand on my dad's shoulder.
"Now now, dear, you know your daughter is far more responsible than that. She was just caught up in the moment with that nice young man."
"NICE? He was... he was..."
My mother leaned down and planted a kiss on my father's forehead. "I know, dear, but why don't we go inside and have some nice tea to calm down."
Even though he didn't completely return to calm, my father did reduce his yelling to muttering and stomped inside the house. I turned to my mother with panic in my eyes.
"Why are you here?" I asked
"Nice to see you too," she replied. "And you should know it's time to renegotiate the arms deal with Konoha."
"Yes, but you usually send someone else."
"Well, we heard about the injury you received and I thought it would be nice to come down ourselves."
"Why didn't you call ahead?"
There was only so long I could get away with the attitude I had. Instantly, my mother looked hurt. "I just wanted to surprise you. It's not like you visit us with any regularity."
Guilt. The most evil weapon in a mother's arsenal. I folded like a deck of cards. "I'm sorry, I am really glad to see you..."
"It's alright. And we won't be here for too long. Just a week or so to settle the contract..."
"Oh no," my father said reappearing at the door. "We are staying as long as it takes to straighten this mess out," he said pointing to me.
I sighed. Well... then. This was going to make life interesting, to say the least.