If There's A Thing Called Hope
"How do we act… when we're together in public? Like friends, student and sensei, lovers? You can barely keep your hands off of me." Neji tried to keep his breathing even as Genma's touch reduced him to pants.
"And you willingly indulge me. We act as we see fit. We're smart enough to use discretion, but I have no reason to hide what we've become. Do you?"
"Iie, not yet anyway."
"Is there someone you wanted to tell?" Genma asked, pressing his chin into Neji's shoulder blade.
"Just Tenten." Neji responded.
Hyuuga Neji was happy to be assigned a mission with his genin team again. It had been a simple mission, it really didn't require his presence, but he took the assignment gladly and executed his duty to Konoha quickly and efficiently. Their mission had taken them two days travel from Konoha. They could have continued through the nights and not taken a break, but Tenten was tired and half her favorite scroll was empty and it bothered her to no end when she didn't have a sufficient amount of weapons at her disposal.
When they had first become a genin squad, they had foolishly only thought to bring a single tent for their travels; at least Hyuuga Neji had called it foolish. While Tenten didn't mind sharing a tent with her male counterparts, Neji would have none of it: Gai, Lee and Neji had slept outside for those first few missions. Eventually Lee thought to bring a second tent large enough for the males to share, but Neji found that he slept better far away from Gai and Lee. He himself had a problem with snoring, but what Lee and Gai had was ridiculous. As a result, Neji usually slept outside the tents near the fire. However, it wasn't uncommon for Tenten to rouse him awake and force him into her tent while she took watch because his snoring was distracting. It also wasn't uncommon for Neji to wake up to find Tenten asleep in the same tent in her sleeping bag. He gave up complaining and arguing about her integrity after the forth or such incident and simply took to sharing a tent with her.
So that night, by habit, Hyuuga Neji entered Tenten's tent and unrolled his sleeping bag. It was the first time in a long time that Neji was sharing a tent with anyone than his lover. Neji smoothed out the bed roll, smiling to himself at his ridiculous smile that he couldn't control when he thought about Genma. He and Genma had been lovers for just under seven months. Their relationship progressed as Neji himself grew into a person he had faith in. He was no longer the genius who gave into fate. He was a part of the Hokage's Second Set of Shuriken, a Jounin with talent and burning with the will of fire. Rumor was spreading that he'd soon be invited to take the ANBU test. All of Konoha recognized that this Hyuuga Neji was a shinobi to believe in.
There was one of course, that had believed in Neji all along.
Tenten was actually curious about that expression on Neji's face. She really was, but she had known Neji from their time in the academy so she knew that she'd only know what Neji wanted to tell her. She entered the tent and laid out her grand scroll and a set of smaller scrolls with replacement weapons. Tenten watched Neji over tobidougu as Neji moved with purposeful motions to prepare his body for a meditation state. She wanted to smile; there was something different about her friend and companion. That something was good, she could tell.
Neji's skin looked a little flushed, the pink standing out against his moon pale skin. Tenten regarded the pair, herself and Hyuuga Neji, as reciprocal best friends. She had known him since the first day at the academy. During the aptitude test she, Hyuuga Neji and only one other girl had scored one hundred in their shuriken precision and accuracy tests. They had gotten each other's attention and while Neji simply thought there was something behind Tenten's talent, Tenten knew there was something more behind Neji's eyes.
"Neji, how are you?" Tenten asked when Neji sat down fully in the lotus position.
"I am well, Tenten."
"I suppose being a Jounin takes a lot of your time."
"Amongst other things." Neji responded. Neji moved his fingers from seal to seal. Nezumi, tora, hebi, ryu, uma, tori, o-hitsuji, o-ushi, usagi, saru, ousu-buta, inu.
"You're being cheeky." Tenten replied. She completed another seal sequence and suppressed weapons into her scroll.
"As much as you're capable of. You're smiling and blushing, the former you only used to do when you were plotting; the latter is new. Should I be concerned?"
Neji smiled and shook his head in the negative. "Concerned, no."
"Are you saying that honestly?"
"We both know that you can read me better than most Tenten. As my best friend, I would like to believe that you can trust my word."
"What is your word, Neji?"
"I'm happy." Neji responded simply.
"Hap-py?" Tenten asked, pressing another dozen fuma-shuriken into her scroll. "That's going to take a little adjusting to."
Neji opened his left eye to look at her, the motion was unnecessary; he could see her with his eyes closed. "You are curious?"
"Within an inch of my life!" Tenten shouted. By natural instinct she almost threw the senbon no sanfuta she was preparing at the glowing Jounin. She trapped the three needles between her fingers before laying them solidly in her seal sequence. "Neji! Tell me! What are you grinning about?"
"I believe my nindo." Neji responded. "He smiled at me."
"Nani? Neji, I don't understand."
"Since the first Chuunin exam, I have been working intently for something. A change in myself… for the moment to come when I could believe in myself."
"This is about Uzumaki Naruto?" Tenten asked.
Neji shook his head in the negative. "Iie. This is about me and Shirunai Genma."
"Shirunai… Genma?..." Realization hit Tenten like a thunderbolt. "Oh! You! You and Genma-san? Are you?"
"We're exclusive, yes."
"All this time, all your searching and training, since we were genin… you were looking for a lover?"
"I was looking for a love. I needed to believe in someone and trust someone to begin to see in myself something worth believing in. It was more than about talent and a physical relationship, it is about clarity."
"But Neji," Tenten turned her light brown eyes to meet Neji's pale ones. She waited until he opened both his eyes and met her gaze before she continued. "I always believed in you." Tenten finished.
"I know, Tenten… but not the way… I needed to have someone believe in me as something other than a genius."
"But, Neji! I…" Tenten trailed off turning her face back towards her scroll. Her finger nails dug into her pant legs and she tried to keep herself from doing something pitiful like crying.
Neji stood up and moved to sit across from Tenten. He placed a hand gently under her chin and raised her gaze. He kissed her cheek gently. "You always supported me, Tenten, for that I am thankful. Do not ever doubt the importance of our relationship. But what I sought and found with Genma is something different. My ninja way was to become a person who was truly strong and in my heart I knew that to be someone truly strong, Genma would smile on me and I would be someone to believe in. When he smiled at me that first time the day I became a Jounin, I understood… everything I think."
"You're worse than Lee… but I'm happy for you Neji, I really am."
"I knew you would be. You're the person I trust most in the world and I wanted to become strong just as much for myself as for you… to show you your faith in me wasn't miss placed."
Tenten shook her head and sighed, putting her finger tips against his smooth cheek. "You couldn't fail me if your life depended on it… have you told anyone else?" Tenten asked then went back to completing her scroll.
Neji observed her for a second before helping her organize her grand weapons' scroll. He shook his head in the negative as he summoned a stack of exploding tags from one scroll to seal into the large scroll. "Iie… I don't actually plan on telling anyone else and I'd like you not to tell Lee or sensei."
"This is a secret?" Tenten asked.
"No, I just don't want to deal with the over reactions. Not any time soon."
Tenten lifted a special kunai for observation, closing one eye as she checked for his aerodynamic quality. She ran a thumb over the blade. "What about your uncle?" She asked as if an afterthought.
Neji rubbed his cheek gently, it was the closet Tenten would ever come to seeing Hyuuga Neji nervous. "In honesty, Tenten, I don't know. If he gains word of this, I will not run nor hide from the truth of this. But for now it is uncomplicated and for now I am happy."
"And all this because Shirunai Genma smiled?"
"If there's truly a thing called Hope, the opposite of that cruel thing which is Fate, I found it in Genma's smile."
"And now what is left for you, Neji?" Tenten asked.
"I have figured out a means to open my cage… now I must open it. I realize now that I have always failed to see one bird… that one is me. I'm going to train more… I'm going to become… that last bird of Hope."
"Neji," Tenten said as she and the Hyuuga prodigy rolled up her scroll. "What do you think of Hatake Kakashi?"
"I think he is an excellent shinobi with many talents and…. Oh!" Neji's eyes widened when he realized the mood in Tenten's statement. "He's too old for you!" Neji responded.
Tenten laughed. "He's younger than Genma and I'm older than you!"
"He is unavailable! I have heard rumors that he is interested in Shizune-san."
"Rumors?" Tenten raised her sleek eyebrow.
"Jounin are gossipy. There are no secrets at that rank." Neji responded.
"Hmph! Well it wouldn't work! Iruka-sensei likes Shizune-san and he's better for her than Kakashi-sensei!"
"Why would you think that?" Neji asked.
"Chuunin are gossipy. We know even more than we let the Jounin think we know!"
Neji and Tenten smiled at each other in friendly confidence.
Usually Tenten tried to be asleep before Neji. She could fall asleep through his snoring, but found it easier on herself if she didn't have to try. Tenten wasn't trying to sleep. She had stayed awake longer than Neji on purpose. She did her best thinking when Neji couldn't take her attention.
Tenten had never anticipated soaring as high as Neji did with his goals, talent and future, but she was glad, desperately glad that Shirunai Genma flew beside Neji, flew with him to keep Neji in flight, in the sky above them all where he belonged. She loved Neji, she truly did, and as much as she wanted to be that air beneath him, that companion beside him, she was so happy that Neji could find the love he didn't even know he needed, but Tenten knew he needed all along.
You're not so far away any more, Neji. For that I'm glad. The love of Genma-san must be great… I hope it is also forever… I haven't seen anything as beautiful as Neji's true smile…
If there is a thing called Hope… let Genma and Neji be under all circumstances… Let this love be…
AN: I wrote this chapter a couple of times and I'm still not totally happy about it. I may rewrite it again. I'm really caught up in some other fiction that I'm writing, including a rewrite of Naruto where Team Gai encounters Haku and Zabuza and a rewrite of the Uchiha Defection chapter with team Gai stopping Sasuke, and a rewrite of Naruto where Hinata is on Team Kakashi rather than Sakura. I'm also working on a series about Neji's mother, Sasuke's mother, Ino's mother, Hinata's mother, Orochimaru's mother (complete), and Sakura's mother.
So many projects… so little time…