Author's note: So… I'm back with another attempt on NejiSaku. I've been feeling very unmotivated to write lately. However, boredom got the better of me and I decided to write to pass time. And viola! The result is the story below. I originally intended for this to be a oneshot, but the more I wrote, the more ideas I had. So I really hope you guys will enjoy this story and I would appreciate any advice, encouragement and constructive criticism. Thank you
Disclaimer: I don't own anything except a very old computer.
The young Hyuuga genius turned his head to look at the pretty medic ninja sitting beside him. She was panting lightly, wiping her sweaty brow with the back of one hand. There were numerous scratches on her hands and face, and her training clothes were ripped here and there.
"Hmm?" He intoned, still trying to catch his breath and trying to ignore the growing pain in his chest.
'Damn, her punches are incredibly destructive and fast.'
"Why did Tsunade-sama really ask me to leave the hospital?"
The young man quirked an eyebrow, surprised by the kunoichi's straightforward question. An amused smile played on his lips.
'She is smart.' Neji smirked inwardly. 'She saw right through you, hokage-sama.'
Two days earlier
"Neji, I would like you to do me a favor."
Standing stock still in front of the heavy wooden desk, Neji looked over the deceptively beautiful blonde in front of him and nodded.
'A favor?' The young genius wondered what the hokage would ever need from him.
The busty woman lifted a perfectly manicured finger and made a flicking motion towards the door. Understanding immediately her master's intent, Shizune picked up a stack of papers from the table and exited the room.
Neji didn't miss the worried look on her face as she brushed by his side. Things like these never missed his eyes, the terrifying bloodline limit of Konoha's oldest clan.
"I'm a little…" Tsunade paused as if searching for the right word, gently tapping her fingers on the table, "…concerned about something lately."
The tall man stood wordlessly, waiting for the hokage to continue but she spun around on her chair to face the window instead. Neji understood her hesitation.
Tsunade's stubbornness and strong will was as famous as her legendary lack of gambling skills as well as her extraordinary strength. Everyone knew that Konoha's beloved leader was not in the habit of requesting help from her subordinates. It didn't take Neji's extraordinary observation skills to come to that conclusion. Oh, she was quite adept at delegating work all right, Izumo and Kotetsu would definitely attest to that. But asking for help on a personal matter? Tsunade would never fall to that level.
Or so she thought.
"Sakura?" Neji asked cautiously, deliberately choosing a tone of voice that was a fine balance between already knowing what Tsunade was thinking about yet still seeking her confirmation.
The last thing he wanted to do was to sound smug.
The young man was more than conscious that his manner of speech often carried a certain air of arrogance and though he often tried to temper it with humble words, it only ended up with people thinking worse of him. He wasn't one who cared much about what others thought of him but the receiving end of Tsunade's fist was one experience one could live without.
The blonde turned to face him again. And for a brief moment, Konoha's top ANBU captain since Yamato froze in irrational fear.
But those fears were unfounded.
Tsunade seemed more worried than angry and that suited Neji.
'Better for her to be worried for Sakura than mad at me.'
The woman held his gaze unwaveringly, as if pondering if what she was about to say was a wise idea. Considering that it came from a certain young man, she wasn't sure at all.
Sighing, Tsunade closed her eyes and leaned back into her chair.
'I knew it.'
And the Hyuuga genius could not help but sigh himself. After all, it had been less than two weeks since they found Uchiha Itachi's body surrounded by strange black flames. Local villagers had reported that it had been burning for many a day and they had been terrified to approach that side of the forest. Tsunade promptly dispatched ANBU teams to that area, but all they had found was his battered, broken body and clutched in his hand was a torn piece of cloth. It was charred and blood stained. But the white and red fan was unmistakable.
It was made certain later that the piece of cloth didn't come from the Akatsuki member's clothes.
Scores of ANBU had scouted the area but never found what they were looking for - the body of the other remaining Uchiha.
And the young medic nin grieved at the news.
Neji had not taken part in the search, having been in the hospital owing to injury sustained in the assassination attempt on a certain missing-nin's life. The Hyuuga prodigy had managed to defeat the snake master's right hand man and had cornered the injured enemy. But he had many tricks up his sleeve. Literally. Shooting live snakes at Neji, the Hyuuga was distracted for a split second at the sudden movement. But that was enough to turn the tides. The young man ended up on the receiving end of the infamous Kusanagi, and fell to his knees as crimson blood poured from his chest as Orochimaru escaped. Thus, he lived to fight his never-ending war against the Leafs another day.
Tsunade could only curse her ever-bad luck.
Searching his secret hideout, Konoha's forces brought back several prisoners and more than a few were more than willing to divulge information under Morino Ibiki's watch. Information such as Uchiha Sasuke abandoning the Sound a year before Konoha's daring attempt to have Orochimaru's head.
Konoha was consoled by the fact that while the fallen Sannin had slipped past through their fingers again; at least he did not come to possess Sasuke's body. Scores of shinobi partied, drowning their worries in drink and merriment.
Naruto and Sakura wondered what cause of celebration there was.
Shortly after, the tall blonde man was sent on a reconnaissance mission with the Sand on Orochimaru's whereabouts. And the petite rosette woman was sent back to the hospital.
And there she had put her expertise to treating Neji and the others who had returned in less than perfect states. Kiba and Akamaru suffered severe chakra depletion while Lee had torn major tendons in his legs. Kakashi fared no better, having taken a chakra laced attack to his chest just before Neji stepped in to finish Kabuto off.
Though she despised his part in Konoha's destruction years before, the bespectacled man's death did nothing to console her.
Tsunade spoke again.
"I'll get straight to the point. Sakura's performance at the hospital has dropped of late. In other cases, I might let things slide."
Shaking her head slightly, the hokage took a deep breath.
"However, I cannot allow this to continue as I cannot risk the lives of my patients. A medic without focus is…" And the woman paused again, as if unwilling to speak any further.
Neji said what she could not.
Tsunade made a disgusted face. Dangerous should be the last word to describe a medic.
"I know what is it that you intend for Sakura." Neji continued, not wanting to allow the hokage to dwell on his previous words for long.
He knew that Tsunade had no choice to take Sakura off the hospital roster until she could overcome her emotions that were scraped raw by Sasuke's reemergence and subsequent suspected death. But she didn't want her apprentice to feel slighted lest her master's supposed distrust in her abilities becomes the proverbial straw that breaks the camel's back. Thus, Sakura had to be occupied. Preferably doing something that was still beneficial to the village and that would occupy her troubled thoughts. The best way to accomplish this would be to have someone close to her to help her through these difficult times.
Thus, Neji's question.
"But why me?"
And the busty woman couldn't help but smile. Despite his intelligence and those all-knowing, all-seeing eyes, there were still some things that eluded Hyuuga Neji.
"Because Naruto said so."
Silver eyes widened.
'Of all the reasons of the world, the best she can give me is "because Naruto said so"?'
Neji didn't know whether to laugh at the hilarity of the situation or to berate (politely, of course) Tsunade for being absurd.
The hokage felt the same way. Only she was inclined more towards berating herself.
"Don't be quick to doubt Naruto, Neji." She still had that smile on her face. Someone was clearly amused at the longhaired man's response.
The smile didn't stay for long.
"Naruto and I had a serious talk before he left concerning this. And he felt you would be most suitable."
"Simple." The blonde woman stated matter-of-factly, as though anyone could well see into reasoning behind her decision. "Naruto and Kakashi is the closest thing to a family Sakura has ever had. But after the whole Sasuke incident, being with them would only remind her of the old days. Besides, Naruto will be gone for quite a while."
That was easy to understand. But still the question remained.
"The only other person that Sakura has a close relationship would be Ino. However, Naruto feels that Ino will also remind Sakura of Sasuke and is afraid that her relationship with Shikamaru will complicate things."
Neji raised an eyebrow discreetly.
Never in a million years, would he think that the mischievous young man would be so sensitive to matters such as a woman's heart.
He was actually worried that Sakura might be jealous of Ino and Shikamaru?
"Naruto feels that in order to get Sakura on her feet and off her ass, she needs someone who is least likely to remind her of Sasuke. And while many fit that list, I'm afraid the responsibility falls on you."
Tsunade looked into Neji's silver eyes sincerely, hoping that the young man would not refuse her request. By now, she knew that he would be able to put two and two together and figure out why Naruto had decided on him. However, she also knew that the young man in front of her was haughty and quite likely did not think he would have time to entertain a troubled young female.
Quite surprisingly, the young man merely smiled and nodded.
He did understand.
"Tenten, Hinata and Lee are with Naruto. Kiba would be witless as how to talk to a woman and talking to Shino is akin to talking to a dead wall. Shizune is needed here desperately and everyone else has something important to do." He said.
And his smile widened.
Tsunade looked remotely happy.
"Exactly. You are still recovering from your injuries and you are far from being in tiptop shape. Thus, you are the perfect excuse for Sakura to leave the hospital." She stated.
But the lie didn't seem too convincing to Neji.
"Even so, my injuries aren't that serious to require constant medical care. Sakura would know of your intentions."
"That's true." And the smirk returned on Tsunade's cherry red lips. A smirk that Neji knew too well and had come to dislike. "That's where you come in."
The busty blonde stood up and wagged her finger.
"I'm counting on you to make her believe that her leave from hospital is absolutely necessary. Understood?"
Neji breathed a long sigh and nodded.
'The things I get saddled with.'
Walking from behind her table, the hokage moved to leave the room.
"Now, if you will excuse me. I think I deserve a little sake as a break from all the work I've done."
The young man held back a snort of laughter and knew better than to argue. Bowing slightly, he held the door open for the beautiful woman to pass.
"Oh, and one more thing Neji. I know things may be awkward between you and Sakura at first since both of you are of the opposite sex. However, you are to treat her as a teammate who requires your encouragement and support, nothing more."
Neji bristled at that statement.
He was rather insulted that Tsunade-sama would think him as such a man, opportunistic and taking advantage of a woman who was mourning a man she loved half her life. The Hyuuga was brought up in a respected clan, a distinguished family who placed honor before their own lives. Besides, romantic relationships for a Hyuuga would be placed low on their priorities.
Just as Neji was about to protest, Tsunade waved him off with a look that defied description. Her eyes were filled with sadness, longing, knowing and other emotions that seem to clash together in a flurry that the young man could not quite pinpoint.
"Nothing more. The last thing I want is for her to see you as a substitute."
With that, she breezed out of the hokage's office and Neji was left standing in her doorway, wondering what the hell he had gotten himself into as her footsteps echoed into the distance.
That meeting had led him to her house yesterday evening with the invitation to train. She refused at first, remembering Tsunade's orders to ensure that Hyuuga Neji, ANBU captain would be nursed to full health in time for an espionage mission in two months. But he persisted, saying that exercise was absolutely necessary for his recovery. Furthermore, he couldn't possibly allow his skills to rust. And she relented.
That meeting, in turn, led them to the clearing today to pit their skills against each other. The rosette woman had been hesitant from the beginning, not being in the mood to exert herself and because she did not want to be responsible for the death for one of Konoha's most promising shinobi. But after Neji had kaiten-ed her into a tree, her temper surfaced full force. And though the young man had insisted that it had been an accident, her pride refused to let her listen to him.
A clearing double its original size.
More than a few times, Neji barely missed the contact of Sakura's gloved fist and the subsequent perfect discharge of chakra that could have taken his head off.
He enjoyed it at first.
Fifteen days of inactivity frustrated him immensely and now, he was back doing what he enjoyed most. But that feeling of adrenaline and elation did not last for long. The young man felt sluggish and soon every breath became labored.
Neji mentally cursed his stubbornness. Tsunade had been right; his body was far from being fully healed. The wound had healed externally, but it was a different matter internally. Shizune had warned that exerting himself too much would result in tissue tears and internal bleeding. While it could be healed easily, in a profession such as theirs, nothing short of perfect health and form would suffice.
Luckily for the jounin and his ego, Sakura gave up before she could break in his handsome face.
"I give up." She exclaimed breathlessly, her face a mixture of disappointment and amazement. "You're too fast."
And Neji had to smirk.
"You're pretty fast too. Looks like Naruto is good for something after all." He replied, knowing that she had forced her former teammate to train her after he had been promoted to jounin.
Sakura laughed heartily at his words.
"Well, when you're up against his shunshin, you have no choice but to develop fast reflexes."
The young woman had to shake her head as she thought of all the times she lost to him because of that technique. Damn him.
"I would suppose. Perhaps when he returns I should challenge him to a match." Neji declared.
The medic couldn't help but chuckle at the Hyuuga.
"You barely beat me and you want to take on Naruto? I doubt you are up to it, Neji." And she laughed again, this time louder.
"You underestimate me, Sakura. I think I did well under the circumstances I'm currently facing." The young man put his hands on his waist, mocking a face that was offended and insulted.
Sakura's emerald eyes widened.
'Was Hyuuga Neji pretending to pout?'
Who'd think that the stick-up-his-ass Hyuuga would be so congenial and… and… He had a sense of humor?
He spoke again.
"Besides, you are the hokage's apprentice. And your skills are nothing to laugh at either."
Turning to face her, he gave a small smile that seemed to be so full of warmth. Silver bore into green and she could have sworn that she saw some emotion in those mysterious orbs. Was this the man who tried to kill his kindred in a test all those years ago? Was this the man whose soul was so filled with hatred that he sought only to despise rather than love?
What happened over the years?
'Looks like there's more to him that meets the eye after all.'
She returned the smile.
"Come." He beckoned towards a shady tree, motioning for her to sit and she obliged.
Collapsing against the smooth trunk, they sought to catch their breaths as sweat continued to pour down their flushed faces. Sakura's cheeks were as pink as her hair.
They sat in silence for what seemed like a long while, neither having the energy to talk.
Finally, it was Sakura who spoke again.
"Why did Tsunade-sama really ask me to leave the hospital?"
Neji closed his eyes. Leaning his head against the warm bark of the tree, he smiled.
'She's smart. Very smart. How to go about this, I wonder.'
And the young Hyuuga answered her exactly the way the hokage told him to.
"As much as I hate to admit it, Sakura. My body isn't quite what I'm satisfied with."
"But I didn't have to leave, did I? You don't need a babysitter. You seem to doing fine."
But she was smart.
Perhaps a little misdirection might work.
"How would I know what goes through her mind?" He snorted, feigning annoyance. "She's probably afraid that I might faint and spoil that little mission she's been planning."
The medic raised one eyebrow in disbelief and for a moment Neji thought she wouldn't buy the crap he had been feeding her. But then she breathed a sigh and shrugged her shoulders.
"I would suppose so." The medic said uncertainly. The misdirection had worked but it seemed that it would take more to convince her.
Neji decided that it was time to move into the plan of action that he had thought of just in case Tsunade's way didn't work.
"Hm." The tall man replied. "In any case, we should leave soon. It's getting dark. I wouldn't want to set tongues a wagging."
Sakura blushed in spite of herself.
Leaping deftly to his feet, the young man was about to offer his companion a hand when he suddenly doubled over in pain, clutching at his midsection.
Sakura screamed and instantly stood, grabbing his shoulders and leaning his weight against her body in order to help him stand. Lifting his chin, she saw a trickle of blood escape the corner of his mouth to roll down his chin.
"Are you alright?"
Neji struggled to gain a hold over the pain clawing at his belly and gritted his teeth in an effort to do so.
"I think," He gasped. "I pushed myself too hard."
"Tsunade-sama was right. You are far from healed." She exclaimed worriedly.
Bingo. The young man couldn't resist but smirk in spite of the pain. She didn't see the smirk of course, being too busy checking the still raw wound on his chest.
"I'm taking you home so I can take a better look at your wounds. I shouldn't have agreed to this training. Look what I did to you!"
"Don't flatter yourself, Sakura. You couldn't even lay a hand on me." Somehow, Neji managed another smirk.
"Why you…!" Sakura spluttered, her face now red with indignation and anger. "Oh, come on!"
If only she didn't have an obligation to treat all her patients, the brunette would be a red smear on the landscape.
The petite woman began dragging him in the direction of the Hyuuga mansion, still muttering under her breath how she could take him any day without a problem and how he shouldn't underestimate her.
As they made their way towards the path in the forest that led to the village center, Neji couldn't help but berate himself for his own stupidity. His plan should have been flawless; except for the part he knocked her into the tree on purpose to incite the fighting spirit that he knew resided deep within her soul.
'Well, no need in pretending that I'm injured now.'
And he shook his head, laughing silently at the situation he had gotten himself into.
'What else do I have to get myself into for her, Tsunade-sama?'
Endnote: Well, how's that for a starting chapter? Please, please tell me what you guys think of this story. I really need feedback to improve my work. As stated before, all advice, encouragement and criticism are greatly welcomed. And also, I hope you guys aren't confused by the last part of the chapter. I wanted to make it subtle but I was afraid that it would too subtle till it escaped the readers. I'm sorry if I confused anyone… :P
More NejiSaku interaction in the next chapter, I promise.
Please review, pretty please? It helps me write better.
P.S. My story doesn't show up on the database, and as a result, it doesn't get many hits. Does anyone know how to rectify this?