Neji gulped. He knew Naruto was just around the corner. He knew that this was most likely his only chance to tell Naruto, but he couldn't get himself to move from his hiding spot. His throat tightened, his muscles were straining, and he fought to calm his breathing. He put his face in his hands and took a deep breath. Now or never, Neji, now or never, he told himself.
He turned the corner and walked slowly. Neji locked gazes with Jiraiya. The sannin nodded to him. Neji nodded back. Neji looked at Naruto. Kiba and Hinata were saying good bye. Then, the one thing that could ruin Neji's resolve happened.
Hinata took a deep breath and kissed Naruto on the cheek.
It seemed a thousand thoughts ran through Neji's head. How dare she! Of course Naruto likes girls; what gave him the idea he wouldn't? This was a stupid idea. How'd Lee talk me into this? I can't do this!
The Hyuuga snapped out of his reverie. Naruto's smile fell into a concerned pout.
"Something the matter?" Naruto asked.
Neji composed his facial expression and shook his head. He walked up to the blond and held out his hand.
"Good luck. You better come back alive." Neji said.
Naruto smirked and took his hand.
"You bet. Don't bite off more than you can chew, either, okay?"
Naruto and Jiraiya walked toward the gates. Jiraiya glanced at Naruto. As soon as Neji couldn't see his expression, it changed to disappointment. Jiraiya sighed; he had noticed the Hyuuga's reaction to his cousin kissing Naruto. If Jiraiya were to abandon all comforts, he'd admit that he did notice that there was something between the brat and the Hyuuga. The sannin looked back at Neji. The boy still stood there, watching. Jiraiya wondered exactly how far those eyes could see, and if Neji would still watch them when they were far out of everyone else's eyesight.
"You wanted to tell Neji something?" Jiraiya asked.
Naruto started and looked at Jiraiya. The blond thought about the question. Turning red, he looked away.
"No. Why?" Naruto replied.
"No reason. He just looks like he wanted to tell you something."
Naruto looked back. Jiraiya caught a glimpse of Neji turning around and walking away. The sannin then remembered that the Hyuuga could see almost 360 degrees around themselves. Naruto gave a humorless laugh.
"Sure, perverted hermit. Whatever you say."
Jiraiya sighed. This was going to be a long three years.
Hizashi stood in the doorway of his son's bedroom.
"You don't have to wear those," Hizashi said.
Neji looked at himself in the mirror; Hyuuga robes hung off his frame.
"I know. But why did you stop wearing them?" Neji asked, turning around.
Hizashi wore a normal ninja uniform. Hizashi looked down at his own clothes.
"I needed a change," Hizashi admitted.
Neji nodded and looked back into the mirror.
"So do I."
He looked in the mirror a little longer, then took out his hair tie. A ghost of a smile lingered on his face. It didn't look too bad. Maybe Naruto wouldn't mind looking at it when he came back . . . . But why would he want to look at him? Neji frowned, then shook that thought away.
"Hinata, why did you kiss Naruto when he left?" Kiba asked.
Hinata jumped at the unexpected question. Shino turned his head slightly toward Kiba.
"W-why do you want to kn-know? I-it's been a m-month and a h-half," Hinata said.
Kiba leaned on the tree.
"I know. It's just that you've had a crush on him for so long that I was just wondering why you picked that moment to do something."
Hinata fidgeted a little.
"And also . . . I was wondering if you did it . . . because Neji was coming over . . . ." Kiba admitted.
Hinata's eyes widened in surprise. Shino's eyebrows knitted together.
"W-what would that h-have to d-do with anything?" Hinata asked.
Kiba looked down at the ground, thinking. He remembered the Retrieve-Sasuke mission. He remembered Neji's reaction when Lee accidentally pushed him onto Naruto. He remembered realizing that Neji had prostitute tattoos.
"I don't know. I was just wondering," he lied; Hinata wasn't like that, anyway. Why would she purposely try to mark what's hers? Besides, what did he know about Neji's personal life? Nothing, zip. It wasn't his business.
"I-I knew that N-Naruto would be g-gone for a l-long while, and I-I didn't want him t-to forget m-me," Hinata said.
Kiba let out a relieved sigh.
"Okay. Thanks, Hinata."
Jiraiya watched Naruto from the trail, holding an empty wallet. The blond seemed to have changed over the year. But there was one thing that didn't change: he still thought of Neji. Jiraiya knew this because they shared motel rooms. No one needed anymore information than that.
Naruto halted for a moment. He turned to look at him.
"Come on! Time for a break!"
The blond narrowed his eyes at him.
"You're out of money again," Naruto stated.
Jiraiya laughed guiltily. Naruto sighed and walked with him toward the town.
"I hate it when you do this," Naruto grumbled.
"Well, this time you get to spend it on what you want."
Naruto stopped and looked at the sannin. Jiraiya looked back at him. Naruto didn't say anything, but his eyes said enough.
"I thought you could use a pick-me-up," Jiraiya said. Naruto didn't move or say anything. "Because you seem to have some stuff on your mind that you don't want to talk about and this'll probably be a way to get that stuff off your mind."
Naruto shrugged. "Okay."
Naruto sighed as he heard Jiraiya flirting with some ladies. The frown on his face deepened when he noticed the tattoos the girls didn't bother to hide. Naruto turned to leave when a boy around his own age blocked him.
"They not what you're interested in?" the boy asked.
Naruto's eyes immediately went to his right arm. Same tattoo. The blond looked up at the boy's face. The boy's skin was pale, his eyes were light, hair dark. A lot like Neji.
"Why are you a prostitute?" Naruto asked.
The boy looked surprised. Naruto didn't receive an answer. Sighing, Naruto gave him half of his wallet and left.
Neji sat in Ichiraku for the first time since he moved out of Naruto's apartment. The old shopkeeper showed his glee at the Hyuuga's return. Neji ordered the seafood ramen. Ayame and Ichiraku both talked to him for a little while. Both asked if he had heard from Naruto. He said he had, but the letters were a few and long periods of time separated them. Ayame confided in him that the only other person who got letters from Naruto was Umino Iruka, Naruto's Academy sensei. Neji almost dropped his chopsticks.
Ichiraku set the bowl in front of him. Neji took a deep breath, absorbing the smell. It reminded him so strongly of Naruto. He took his time eating it, wanting the memories to stay for as long as possible. The beautiful smile, the loving eyes, the handsome face, the sun-kissed hair, Neji even wanted to be reminded of the ugly orange jumpsuit.
When Neji finished, he started to pay, but Ichiraku said that he'd give him half-off the original price. They argued about it, Neji saying everyone from the Hyuuga clan can afford a bowl of ramen. Ichiraku said that he knew that, but just the same since Neji enjoyed it more than his other customers. Neji didn't know how he knew that, and he didn't want to think how much the shop owner knew, so he gave in and left.
"Come again!" Ayame called after him.
Neji walked down the street toward the apartment. Unexpectedly, he felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned around. Had he been carrying anything, he would've dropped it. Naruto stood in front of him, a small smile lingering on his face.
"Naruto!" Neji gasped.
"Hey Neji. How are you?" Naruto asked.
Neji quickly put himself together.
Naruto looked Neji up and down.
"You look beautiful," Naruto said, then realized what he said and turned red. Neji blushed too.
Neji looked at Naruto's outfit; he wasn't sure what he expected Naruto to be wearing, but it wasn't black. But of course, there was still some remains of orange.
"You too," Neji managed, turning a darker red. Naruto grinned.
Jiraiya hid behind a building, watching Naruto and Neji catching up at Ichiraku. If Naruto didn't do what he said he would, then he'd wring the brat's neck. It was too painstakingly obvious to back out!
The Hyuuga was talking about something, but Jiraiya wasn't sure Naruto was paying attention. What Jiraiya knew was that Naruto wouldn't stop staring at the Hyuuga's hair. Something about it was entrancing.
Jiraiya paid more attention when Naruto interrupted Neji. The sannin tensed slightly. He could feel the Hyuuga's aura from here! That wasn't especially good. Neji said something, and Naruto repeated. The Hyuuga stared at the blond for a moment, then said something else. Jiraiya relaxed when he saw Naruto grin. The Hyuuga smiled slightly, too. Feeling that his job was done, Jiraiya left.
"What are you so happy about, Neji?" Lee asked after training.
Neji smiled, but a blush floated across his face.
"You're not going to believe this."
"Spit it out, then."
"Naruto asked me out!" Neji whispered; Gai was nearby, after all.
"No way! Seriously!"
Lee knew by Neji's grin that he was. Lee gave Neji a one-armed hug.
"Congratulations then! And I swear, from now on, I'll never interfere for fear that I'll ruin everything."
"You don't ruin everything."
"Well, it seems like I do."
Gai frowned at the ceiling. He should be happy for Neji. He should. Then why did he feel like his student was doing something wrong? It wasn't his job to judge. Even if he was, what would he do about it? Neji was happy for once. That was a good thing. No one else could make him smile like that. Naruto was good for him. Then why did he feel so awkward?
Kakashi knew what he was thinking. Kakashi knew him better than anything else. Gai heard Kakashi sigh.
"No one's perfect, Gai. None of you have anything to be ashamed of. Just don't tell them how you feel, okay?" Kakashi said.
"You're right, Kakashi. You're right."
Hiashi grabbed Hizashi's arm. Hizashi hit him square in the chest. Hiashi back-peddled but still held onto Hizashi's arm.
"You can't do this, Hizashi! The boy is HAPPY!"
"What would you know about Neji's happiness? That monster is brainwashing my son!"
"Neji is not taken advantage of easily. You know I should know this better than anyone. He wouldn't let anyone else hurt him. He's happy, and you should let him be happy."
"You're the reason he was hurt in the first place!"
"Which is why I'm not trying to kill the Fox! My daughter likes the Fox as well, but you don't see me hunting him down! Our children have minds of their own. We have no control over them. And the Fox isn't like those who went to the brothels. The Fox actually looks as though he genuinely cares for Neji. Can't you see that? You'll only be hurting Neji more if you do this!"
Hizashi and Hiashi stared into each other's eyes. Hizashi pulled his arm out of Hiashi's grip and stormed out of the room.
"Do you love him?" Hizashi asked Neji.
"Does he love you?"
Neji nodded again.
"Is he kind to you?"
"Can I trust him?"
"I trust him with my body and soul. You decide."
Hizashi nodded. He wouldn't stop them. But if the Fox harmed his son in any way, the demon would pay dearly.
Red Roses2: Yep, this is the last chapter. Hope you liked it! Please review and tell me what you thought!