Disclaimer: Naruto does not belong to me
So this is it, guys. The last chapter. I've had a great time writing this and I wanted to send out a HUGE thank you to everyone who has read this and especially to everyone who has taken the time to leave me some feedback and comments! It's so inspiring to see so many NejiIno fans out there and I'm just super happy that you've all enjoyed this. So kudos to all of you for being such an amazing bunch and hope you enjoy!
"Why did she lie to me?"
Sakura looked up in surprise, suppressing the urge to squeak at the formidable sight of the Hyuuga prodigy glaring down at her like she had somehow offended him.
The glare simply intensified. In fact, she could practically feel the chakra gathering around his eyes. Sakura bristled, her fierce nature growling at his apparent attempt to intimidate her.
"You're going to have to be a lot more specific if you expect an answer, Neji-kun. And you should probably sit down too, since it's giving me a pain in the neck from having to stare up at you like this."
His eyes narrowed at her commanding tone but he sat down anyways, too preoccupied with his situation to put up a fight.
"Why did she say she slept with that Inuzuka when she actually didn't?"
His voice was composed but betrayed just the hint of frustration. Sakura had to stifle a nervous giggle; irritating an already agitated Hyuuga Neji probably was not the smartest thing to do.
But when are you ever going to get another chance to do it?
"Ino, you mean?"
Inner Sakura crowed gleefully at the miffed sound that escaped his lips. He was just too easy of a target.
"Yes, of course I mean Ino. Who else is there?"
Sakura snorted daintily, idly twirling a pink lock around her finger. Taking pity on the obviously confused shinobi, she sighed.
I guess genius prodigies really are as lost as regular guys when it comes to relationships.
"It's because you're too kind, Neji-kun."
His eyebrows raised in skepticism. That was something he had never heard before.
"That doesn't make sense."
"I guess it doesn't, does it? But the thing is, halfway kindness only hurts a girl."
The look on his face clearly said he had no idea what she was talking about. Sakura smiled gently, taking the time to pop the last piece of chicken into her mouth. Green eyes watched him closely, cheerfully taking note of the carefully blank expression but also the tightening of his hand on the counter edge he was gripping unconsciously.
She wondered briefly if she should tell the boy that Ino had overheard their conversation the other night. But no, something like that would only embarrass her friend.
Sakura still wanted to know something though.
"Do you remember that night in the bar a while ago? When I asked you if you liked Ino … why didn't you answer me?"
Neji's lips thinned in an expression of displeasure. He seemed to be holding an inner battle whether or not to answer her even now. His tone was abrupt and short.
"Because it's none of your business."
"Is that all? That's the only reason?"
He sighed impatiently, releasing his death hold on countertop to tap the wood impatiently.
She continued to press him though, heedless of his warning glare.
"So you actually like her? Or is she someone you just use to make yourself feel good?"
The sharp slap of a hand slamming down on the table had her suppressing a flinch.
"How dare you say that? Who do you think you are?"
She met his eyes evenly, heaving an inner sigh of relief when he finally sat back down, albeit a bit more huffily than before.
"The only person you show that to is Ino, Neji-kun. How else do you expect her to take it?"
The Hyuuga stared at the opposite wall. The two of them sat in complete silence for a long while, the girl eating and waiting patiently as he mulled that over in his mind.
"I expect her to be happy."
Her eyes flickered over to scan his profile, somewhat startled that he had actually answered her. He didn't bother to turn to face her, although the faintly heightened colour in his cheeks clearly highlighted his discomfort discussing such a matter with her.
"She is the only one I show that to because she's the only one I care to make happy."
Sakura smiled, propping her head up on her hand. Ino was a lucky girl.
"And you should let her know too."
Neji's head lowered, long dark hair gleaming in the sunlight that was filtering through the fluttering half-curtains. The corner of his lips curved up and Sakura's breath caught in her throat at the unforeseen play of emotions running unhindered across his gorgeous face.
Yes, Ino was a very lucky girl indeed.
"The two of you will be fighting all the time, you know. Ino's very strong-willed; there's no turning back if you do this."
He nodded, a wry smirk flitting across his face before it smoothed back into his usual serious expression.
"You don't mind? Constant bickering, Neji-kun. She'll be scaring away the birds inside the Hyuuga complex."
The boy stood.
"It's lonely without her voice."
Smiling broadly, Sakura shook her head. She turned back to her meal.
"You know Ino."
"… Yes, I do."
And with that, he was gone. The money lying on the table next to her plate was proof of his thanks.
Motioning for the bill, Sakura cheerfully handed the money over to the round-faced owner. It was nice to know that her nosiness could pay off, even if it was only a free meal once in a while.
Hey, Ino. You really should name your first-born child after me.
"Let's call it a day, Ino."
Panting slightly as she flexed her hands, Ino nodded. Chouji had already finished his training, choosing instead to watch Shikamaru spar with Ino while he lounged around making his way through a bag of apples.
"Yeah, thanks, Shika. I'm beat anyways."
"Maa, I told you not to…"
A familiar chakra signature had her whirling around. A tall figure stood leaning against a towering oak on the edge of the forest, his pale eyes fixed steadily on her as the setting sun threw his face into shadows.
"I need to talk to you."
Ino sighed wearily, twirling a kunai between her fingers before tossing it abruptly at the dummy set up in front of them. It landed squarely in the throat, the sharpened metal piercing the wood with a dull plunk.
"There's nothing to talk about."
Neji detached himself from the tree, crossing smoothly over to the wood and pulling the weapon out. Stopping several feet away from her, he flicked it towards her, which she easily caught.
The blonde kunoichi pocketed the kunai, carefully keeping her eyes emotionless. She bit her lip, searching that beautiful face for something. She nodded slowly.
Her teammates hovered next to her, plainly uneasy about leaving her there alone. Shikamaru in particular eyed the Hyuuga lazily, his dark eyes sharper than usual.
"You want us to hang around for a while? We were planning on going to supper anyways; Chouji wants to try out that new hotpot place next to the corner fruit stall."
"It's okay. You guys go ahead; I'll be fine."
Ino smiled up at him, fondly brushing away a smudge of dirt from his vest. It was rare, and yet not unexpected, to see Shikamaru openly display his concern for her. She gave him a playful shove when he exchanged another look with Chouji, who had even stopped chewing to stare apprehensively at Neji.
"Come on! I'm a big girl; I can take care of myself. I'll see you guys tomorrow at training, okay?"
Shikamaru nodded, taking the time to shoot the Hyuuga what was clearly a warning glance before turning and walking back towards the village with Chouji by his side.
Silence fell as their footsteps faded, the cooling air broken only the occasional cricket chirping. Ino busied herself with re-wrapping the ripped bandages on her forearms, struggling a bit as she tried to do it with one hand. Shikamaru was usually around to do it for her.
Large hands took the roll of fabric from her. She looked up to see him step closer, one hand gently holding her arm steady as the other wrapped the bandages with practiced ease. His head was lowered as he focused on the task, the loose ties of his hiatae dangling freely.
To think that that's how this all started.
Ino blinked. His hold on her arm tightened minutely when she instinctively tried to pull away in confusion. Pale eyes lifted to meet hers briefly before dropping again to finish tying the bandages in place. He handed the fabric roll back but did not release her.
"I shouldn't have said those things to you."
He was watching her again, his gaze speculative and carefully shuttered. Despite herself, Ino smiled slightly.
"No, you shouldn't have."
Neji nodded, inclining his head in acceptance of her soft reprimand. His hand shifted to graze over the soft flesh of her inner wrist. Her indrawn breath sounded sharply between them.
"What are you doing?"
"You should apologize too."
"Why should I?"
"For lying about Inuzuka Kiba."
His tone hardened but his hold on her remained gentle. Ino flushed, resisting the urge to shake him off. So he knew. They would have to deal with this sooner or later.
"I never actually lied, Neji. I said I spent the night with him; I never said that it was in that way."
He gave her arm a small shake, clearly unwilling to let her off so easily.
"No. You knew what I was thinking and you let me think that."
"I could say the same thing about you, Hyuuga Neji!"
He nodded again, his eyes softening like they had before. Ino swallowed, unsure what to say. She had not expected him to agree, wondering hazily if he really knew what she was talking about.
It was merely a whisper but he caught it anyways. He made no answer, his hand slipping further instead until it was clasping her own. Ino stiffened, glaring at him now.
"What are you doing?"
"Holding your hand."
His voice was mildly amused. Ino, however, was not.
Yanking her hand away, she turned to leave.
"Yeah, well, stop it! I don't like it."
"But I do."
Halting at the low murmur, the girl clenched her fists, willing herself to not turn back around.
A light brush on the crook of her elbow sent a heated tingle running down her spine. Ino pulled her arm away, only to feel his heat radiating against her back as Neji stepped closer. He drew in a breath, obviously composing himself as he bent to speak quietly into her ear.
"I said I would break the rules for you once. That hasn't changed. I'd break every rule if I had to. Turns out you are a bad influence on me."
His words were consciously even but tinged with an unfamiliar nervousness.
"Need you, Yamanaka Ino."
Ino let out the breath she had been holding in. A small smile crept on to her face and she bit her lip, feeling the heat flush her cheeks. The loss of warmth signaled his step back from her, his inbred emotional shields snapping up in preparation for possible rejection.
She grinned as the poorly disguised anxiety in his voice increased. It was tempting to let him suffer a bit. Too tempting.
Give the guy a break! Admit it - you're impressed that a Hyuuga can even talk as much about his feelings like he just did.
Shaking her head ruefully at her own weakness, Ino spun around to fix her brilliant blue eyes on his. If the sparkle in them was just the slightest bit watery, neither of them commented on it.
"That was so corny, Neji! I'd never have expected something like that from you…from Lee-san, maybe. Sure you're not going to end up in one of those spandex bodysuits? I won't have you if you do."
Her teasing pout elicited a corresponding smirk on his face, his relief evident in the way the tensed muscles in his shoulders relaxed immediately. Neji reached out for her, tracing calloused fingers hesitatingly down her smooth cheek before curling around the nape of her neck to pull her tightly against him. His other hand stroked her back in long, sweeping caresses, melding her body into his own.
She rested her head on his shoulder, nuzzling her nose into his neck. Ino smiled against his skin at the way he shuddered. His lips brushed lightly across the sensitive patch of skin behind her ear as he buried his face in her hair.
"Good. You're just lucky I happen to like corny."
They stood enfolded in each other's arms wordlessly, content to relish the start of something that had begun long ago. The first stars twinkled shyly in the darkened sky, winking as a cool breeze lifted loose leaves in a dancing swirl around their feet.
"You didn't have to beat up Kiba like that, you know."
Ino could feel him stiffening momentarily and she ran her fingers down his arm in reassurance.
"Next time, leave him in the road or get one of his teammates. You shouldn't bring other guys into your house."
"Are you ordering me, Hyuuga Neji?"
His arms tightened possessively. Ino accepted the soft kiss pressed lingeringly against her temple as the apology it was meant to be, her heart speeding up at the unexpected display of affection.
She could practically hear him sulking, or at least as much as the Hyuuga would show.
The self-satisfied tone in his voice made her pause.
"Oh? What else do you call it, then?"
"Told you. I felt like it."
"So you weren't the tiniest bit angry when you thought I'd slept with Kiba?"
"It doesn't matter anymore. You didn't. And you won't be doing that with anyone other than me."
The last words were murmured huskily into her ear. Ignoring the pleasing shiver prickling her skin, Ino huffed indignantly, pulling back to glare up at him.
"How would you know that? A bit egotistic, aren't we?"
Neji smirked down at her, leaning down close enough so that all she could see was white.
"Your eyes see only me."
Her retort was swallowed by his mouth as he hungrily swept his tongue over her lower lip. She willingly opened to him, nipping just hard enough to let him know that he shouldn't expect her to back down like that every time.
Breaking off the kiss, Ino giggled against his lips, beaming mischievously in response to his questioning sound.
"I wonder what Gai-sensei and Lee-san will say when I tell them about your inspiring confession? Feel like you're bursting with your passion of youth yet, Neji-kun?"
His openly horrified expression was accompanied by her burst of laughter.
A/N: Yeps, I'm going to get started on my ShikaIno fic but I'll definitely keep the door open for more NejiIno in the future. He's just too cute to not scurry back to in adoration. And, like I've told some reviewers, I've recently become very fond of Kiba (blame it on the latest episode of Naruto) so there might be some Kiba one-shots coming up as well.
Hope you'll all still come back to check out my work and thanks again for all your support!