By Paris Lee
This is a Neji-Sakura Fiction along with Naru-Ino and Sasu-Hina pairings. Though I have yet to finish my Shika-Saku Fic 'Love by Definition', I just had to write this. The story just kept invading my dreams and daydreams.
Here are a few information regarding the story: 1.) This takes place ten years after, so Naruto and the gang are around 20/21 years old, 2.)Within those ten years, Sasuke finally came back (free from his hunger of revenge), and 3.) Orochimaru is long gone together with the Akatsuki and Itachi.
This actually made six pages in Microsoft Word. Yes, it's a bit long but my first instalments usually are. So please, read and review. Thanks! Oh, and NO FLAMES please!
I do not own Naruto.
"Shut up, stupid." Uchiha Sasuke muttered.
"No, you shut up!"Uzumaki Naruto retorted and, arms crossed over his chest, looked away. "And don't call me stupid."
It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon in their usual spot in the forest and Haruno Sakura could only smile at her closest friends as they continued their senseless argument about who was better than whom and at what. A decade had already passed since they first became a team and she was glad that everything was still the same.
'Well, not really.' Sakura thought pensively. 'A lot has changed over ten years but I'm glad that our friendship did not.'
There had been a lot of changes, indeed.
Like how Sasuke, more handsome than ever and a bit more relaxed than before, was only like a brother to her now or how Naruto, besides being taller than her now and having grown into his looks, was currently seeing Ymanaka Ino after things between her best friend and Nara Shikamaru fell out.
Sakura smiled fondly at the two grown men arguing animatedly in front of her before giving them a killer group hug. "I'm so glad both of you are back safe."
"So are we, Sakura-chan!" Naruto was able to gasp out as he felt the wind knocked out of him.
"Yeah, us too." Sasuke muttered gruffly while struggling in the pink-haired kunoichi's death hug. "Now get off me, Sakura!"
A few more seconds and she finally released them but not before she saw the small smile on Sasuke's lips.
The three of them talked for another hour before somebody puffed in behind them.
"Yo!" Hatake Kakashi greeted happily, if the smile in his voice was any indication at all. "I see nothing's changed!"
"Yeah!" Naruto agreed. "Ten years and you're still late!"
"Ah, but you see, Naruto…" The masked jounin started. "…that's what happens when you take the road of life."
Naruto looked at him with confusion in his eyes while Sasuke huffed and Sakura sighed.
"Honestly, Kakashi-sensei, you're excuses are so…" Sakura expressed in frustration while searching her head for the correct word to describe her former instructor's excuses.
"I'm no longer your 'sensei', Sakura." He pointed out while he moved slowly towards his former pink-haired student until their faces were only inches apart. "They're so what, Sakura? So cute? Like you?"
Sakura rolled her eyes in exasperation at the casual compliment despite the blush that was slowly forming across her cheeks.
Since she had turned eighteen years old several years before, his former sensei had been flirting with her and teasing her incessantly. She knew he wasn't serious, of course, but that did not stop her from blushing, anyway.
Kakashi, after all, despite his mysterious mask and mild pervertedness, was still one good-looking ninja.
She was just about to give a witty comeback when Sharingan Kakashi suddenly pulled his face away because Naruto had abruptly positioned himself between them.
"Sasuke, see!" Naruto cried loudly while pointing and glaring at the older man. "He's doing it again! He's flirting with her again!"
"Ehehe…" The silver-haired jounin managed to pretend to look abashed while scratching the back of his head. If looks could kill, Naruto's glare would have pinned him to the tree and Sasuke's would have finished the job.
He smiled at their protectiveness before clearing her throat and turning serious. "Let's go."
It never crossed their minds that this was the place Kakashi would be bringing them to. He had been so adamant at his refusal to tell them anything other than, 'This is a very important mission. Many lives depend on it. This is very dangerous and must be kept secret at all costs. Even at the cost of your lives.'
That certainly had them thinking. What could this mission possibly entail?
And why were they going to be briefed here?
Team Seven was, in the middle of the night, standing in front of the Hyuuga Estate.
"Shouldn't we knock or something? I really –" But Naruto was cut short when the copy ninja signalled him to be quiet.
With an eerie sound, the gate slowly opened and before them stood the head of the clan himself, Hyuuga Hiashi.
"Please enter. They are already assembled at the main house."
In one of the beautiful large rooms of the Hyuuga Mansion was a small assemblage of chuunins and jounins sitting around a long low-levelled traditional table.
It was like a reunion.
Jounins Sarutobi Asuma, Yuuhi Kurenai, and Maito Gai were seated at the front end of the wooden table. Asuma was unsurprisingly smoking while chuckling at Gai who was pestering Kurenai who was silently sipping her tea wondering just where the hell Kakashi was.
Chuunins TenTen, Ino, Hyuuga Hinata, Inuzuka Kiba, and Aburame Shino were seated not too far from them. TenTen and Ino were talking enthusiastically about their love-life while the Hyuuga Princess and her faithful friends discussed in a more conservative manner. Except for Kiba, of course, who was like a milder version of Naruto.
Chuunins Rock Lee and Akimichi Chouji sat across from them. Well, at least Chouji was. He was busying himself with a bag of chips which he was sharing with Akamaru – Kiba's large dog-friend – while Lee, feeling that he had nothing else better to do at the moment, was on his seventieth five-finger-tipped push-ups.
These were what Team Seven walked into.
Though quite surprised to see most of their friends at the same place, they managed to get their wits about and followed Kakashi's lead, already talking with Asuma, and mingled.
Naruto immediately found his way to Ino's side while Sasuke and Sakura sat themselves beside the food-enthusiast. Sakura made small talk with their friends and caught up with the happenings of their lives but she knew they all had one question in mind: What was their mission?
The pink-haired kunoichi took a while to realize but saw that Hinata was no longer talking to anyone. Kiba was having a heated discussion with Naruto while Shino opted to stay in the sidelines. She knew that her beautiful soft-spoken friend had a crush on Naruto when they were younger and she wondered if she still has.
It's been a long time since they've all been together like this. It was the price you pay as you get one level higher. You get more difficult and longer missions, which means lesser time for family and friends. She figured it was more difficult for Hinata and her because they were the 'family and friends'.
"Hey, Hinata, how have you been?"
"Oh…" Hinata, slightly startled, looked up from her lap and gave Sakura a shy smile while lightly blushing. "I'm doing fine, Sakura. Thank you for asking. How about you?"
Sakura smiled at this. Hinata was so polite and caring. She was really glad when, through the years, she started coming out of her shell a bit and slowly lost her stutter. "I'm also doing fine. Oh, I'm sorry…" She said with an apologetic look as she started standing up. Ino was motioning for her to come over. She was holding Naruto by the ear. "Just for a moment."
Hinata gave her an understanding smile before looking at her lap again. That went on for about a minute before she heard a forced cough. The kind you use when you want to get someone's attention without really wanting to make it obvious even if it is.
"Oh…" Looking up from her lap once more, she saw quite surprised to see that it was the Uchiha heir who was trying to get her attention. Blushing across her cheeks, she decided to say something. "Uh, h-how are you doing, Uchiha-san?"
"Fine." He replied with a bit of unintentional bite in his tone. He could see the Hyuuga heiress flinch visibly. He didn't know why but he hated it. Trying to make up for his curtness, he added in a much sotto voice, "And it's Sasuke. No –san or –kun. Just Sasuke."
It was then that Sakura decided to come back. And just when she had seated, the skilfully designed paper door, slid open admitting in Jounin Hyuuga Neji. It was too fast to catch but Sakura could swear she saw him smile when his eyes fell on his younger cousin.
'No wonder he rarely smiled.' She mused as a mild blush made its way to her cheeks. She was about to continue more with her musings when Neji, finally seated beside Hinata, suddenly cast her an unexplainable look. As though he was trying to figure her out or something.
And then, the paper door slid open once again, this time, to admit the Godaime Hokage Tsunade, followed by Hyuuga Clan Leader Hyuuga Hiashi and Jounin Nara Shikamaru.
After everyone was properly seated, the meeting promptly began.
"I do not want any interruptions during my explanation, understand?" Tsunade asked the group in general and saw the bobbing of heads and heard the murmurs of 'yes'. Except for one. "I mean it, Naruto."
The fox-like chuunin, after a few seconds, finally bobbed his head up and down but petulantly raised his nose in the air and crossed his arms over his chest.
"This morning, our ANBU's caught a spy lurking in the village. There's no insignia on his forehead protector so his true affiliation is yet unknown. Through effective persuasion techniques, we were able to gather vital information and that is why you are here. He said he was from the mountains past the borders of Cloud. He was sent here to spy on the Hyuuga Clan. Specifically, its prodigy – Hyuuga Neji. Starting next month, after six months of espionage, they are planning to send in reinforcements and take him. I know you know why but I will explain it anyway. The Hyuuga Advanced Bloodline is the oldest Advanced Bloodline in Konoha. It is one of the foundations of our country. Neji mastered it with perfection. If they get hold of him – though I highly doubt they will –, he will be treated like an expendable laboratory specimen. He will die and so will our country."
She paused for a moment to let it sink in.
The room was extremely quiet except for the sniffling of Hinata who was now overcome with concern for his cousin who was like a brother to her.
Neji put his hands on her shoulders and whispered a few things that calmed her down.
Tsunade continued. "We need to know who we're up against and just how strong and intelligent they are. We need to know where our allies' loyalty truly lies. We need to now why they are doing this. So, I have deliberated every possible option we have with Shikamaru and have decided on the best and most beneficial plan of action. We feign ignorance to there plan and let them continue. And…"
Pausing to catch her breath, she looked at the Hyuuga Prodigy and continued. "Neji marries."
"WHAT!" Naruto asked incredulously, after a whole minute of pregnant silence, as he unconsciously rose from his seat but, suddenly remembering the Hokage's earlier instruction about not being interrupted, immediately clamped his mouth shut and sat down.
"He is of no use to them if he gets married and that is the only reason you'll get." Tsunade simply stated. "No more will be said from this topic in respect to the Hyuuga Clan. Shikamaru?"
"Right." He said as he sighed. He hated explaining but did it anyway. "We need to divert their attention from Neji but, at the same time, keep them interested enough to go through with their plan. Though he will mean nothing to them when he gets married, he will still become an indirect target and they will still spy on him and his family because of their main target – his child – because a Hyuuga, if married to someone with perfect chakra control and natural curative aptitude, sires a skilful and exceptional offspring or two."
Total silence hung in the air until understanding dawned on them. One by one, they started to look at the only woman in the room that passed the inferred qualification.
"You want us to what?" Sakura asked, disbelievingly, in dead calmness. She understood, too. She understood all to well. She looked at the reactions of everyone else in the room.
The four jounin instructors slightly hid their look of surprise except for Gai who was cheering loudly at the beauty of the passion of burning youthfulness.
Tsunade, Hiashi, Shino, and Neji's faces were expressionless while that of Hinata's held a soft smile.
Ino looked worried as she tried to calm down a mutely livid Naruto who was across a scowling Uchiha.
The rest simply looked stunned.
Shikamaru, looking like he wanted to get this over as soon as possible, merely nodded and took advantage of the pink-haired medic-nin's apparent speechlessness. "Those present in this room are the only people who know of this mission and it will remain that way. We have barely seven months to make this all work to our advantage. Our enemy are very perceptive. Everything must appear genuine. From the moment you appear to take interest in each other up to the moment you appear to be in love with each other. Even the people in our village must believe the ruse."
The strategic genius took a moment to pause but immediately continued when he saw Sakura in the verge of saying something. "I will be in charge of this mission. Aside from Sakura and Neji who will be playing a major role in this ruse, the others will remain as back-up. The mission starts tomorrow and the wedding in four months."
"Congratulations Neji, Sakura." Tsunade can't help but banter. "Be sure to invite us all."
'This is SO stupid!' Sakura thought angrily while giving the innocent tree in front of her a wild and violent kick.
It was early Monday morning and she was alone in a secluded part of the forest she discovered three years back and was dealing serious damage to the surrounding and to herself. She had been there since four in the morning, when it was still dark, and had not stopped training since then.
Her whole body was aching in pain but she did not care. Her hands were extremely bruised from over-use and her left ankle was starting to swell from the miscalculated landing she performed awhile ago but she did not stop training or, in this case, letting off steam.
She landed a brutal punch on the heavily damaged tree, which caused another major dent, as Shikamaru's words rang in her mind once again.
'Both of you must observe the courting ritual. Be sure the whole village knows of it. Make sure the progression of your relationship is realistic. The marriage will be bogus but be sure to act like it's not. Don't worry about the skilful and exceptional offspring you're supposed to have. The Hokage has taken care of it. Good luck.'
She dealt the helpless tree another blow when she remembered Neji's apathy to the entire situation. It irked her. It irked her because she had no idea what the damn jounin was thinking. Or feeling. He was too impassive. He was even worse than Sasuke. How the hell was she supposed to work with someone like that? How was she supposed to be 'married'to someone like that?
She sighed in resignation as she fell to the ground in exhaustion. Breathing hard, she looked at the sky and the clouds that were aimlessly floating in it.
'Damn you, Shikamaru.' She thought furiously. 'The number one strategist of Tsunade-sensei and you could only come up with THIS?'
It was the last coherent thought that ran through her mind before she drifted off to sleep.