Author's Note: This chapter was started on…November 29. It has taken me a pathetic amount of time to finish it. -o- I feel deeply ashamed.
And this chapter introduces Hostile! Ino, otherwise known as Ino-gone-angry-because-one-of-her-friends-was-hurt-a-long-time-ago-and-she-still-remembers.
"Yamanaka." A cold voice, of course, because people never change.
"Hyuuga," she replies back a bit rudely, because creeps like him deserve it.
Pale eyes glare, and it doesn't take much to figure out that he clearly doesn't want to be there.
"Have you seen Hinata-sama?" he asks finally, looking away.
"What for?" Ino barks, because it's hard to forget that this horrible excuse of a cousin was also the reason that half of the Rookie Nine once came in here to buy Hinata "get well soon" bouquets.
"Hiashi-sama told me to escort Hinata-sama from your shop if need be. This side of Konoha has been getting dangerous lately, and he feels Hinata-sama needs protection. However, it turned out not to be necessary," Neji says, almost to himself, turning to leave.
"Ha! Even if she did need protection, it's a fat chance she'd get it from you," Ino spat.
Pearly eyes-not lavender, of course, because Hinata's are lavender, soft and flowery-glare at her again.
"You're not part of our clan," he murmurs, almost quietly.
"Darn right I'm not. I actually care about Hinata. Your clan only wants to beat her up, right?" Ino retorts angrily.
"…has Hinata-sama ever said anything about it?" he asks, almost concernedly.
"When has Hinata ever complained about anything? It's always 'No, I'm sure Neji-niisan wasn't thinking about what he was doing,' and 'being part of the clan's always been harder on Neji-niisan than on me'. I can't understand why she keeps calling you 'nii-san' when you're anything but her big brother!"
"…I wonder about that too," he says almost sadly.
"Furthermore," Ino continues, "she planted a tree for you. An almond tree."
"She knows you like almonds and went as far as to plant one for you."
Neji blinked in almost disbelief. "So that's where she got them from," he mutters softly to himself.
"What?" Ino asks.
"But…it's…hard to grow."
"Of course it is, you idiot. She had to get Shino to help her while she caught bees-"
"Bees?!" Neji repeats, almost choking. "Did she get hur-"
"Yes, she got stung, although I'm sure you don't care, and then she carried them over to the one stinking tree in Konoha and pollinated it. Not only that, but she's been taking care of that seedling for over a year now! All for some idiotic cousin who won't-"
"…I want to buy those over there," Neji interrupts calmly.
"What?" Ino asks, distracted.
And Ino looks, and is somewhat surprised to find him pointing at the herb section. Rosemary.
"For who?" she asks stiffly.
"It's not necessary for you to know that," Neji replies.
"It's also not necessary for me to sell it to you," Ino retorts.
"…Hinata," he says at last with a long blink.
"Why those? I'm pretty sure there are uglier flowers here in the shop. There's some with poison in them too, I'm sure those look pretty tempting," Ino scowls.
"I already told you who I want them for. Just sell them to me already," Neji asks almost impatiently.
"Why do you want them," Ino demands, no question in her voice.
Neji glared at her. "You're making this difficult, Yamanaka," he says icily.
"Go and buy flowers someplace else, then, Hyuuga."
And, to her amazement, arrogant, stick-up-his-butt Neji, the same Neji that had never stood for an insult and would definitely not have stayed this long if he'd been in his right mind in the first place, remains where he was.
Both of them are silent for a full minute.
"A-aren't you leaving?" she asks, a bit of curiosity creeping into her voice.
"You know perfectly well rosemary doesn't grow anywhere within a ten thousand mile radius," he answers back, a hint of determination almost in his voice.
It is that hint of determination that startles Yamanaka Ino. Two years ago, a determined Neji meant seeing one heck of an impressive jutsu be performed in the Academy's classroom. A year ago, a determined Neji meant Team Guy getting more dangerous missions than they were meant to have as C-rank genin. Less than a year ago, a determined Neji meant seeing Hinata's face covered in bruises, all to prove some point Neji felt he had to make for himself.
At this point, Ino has learned not to underestimate a determined Neji.
"Rosemary's not anything special," she says finally. "There's better medicine herbs, so if they've sent you to get some for her, it'd be better if you bought other herbs at the marke-"
"It's not for medicine," Neji cuts her off.
"Well, there's more valuable flowers. If it's a matter of rarity, you should buy f-from Suna's flower shop. Shikamaru can get it for you next time he goes with that Tem-"
"I don't care about that."
"It doesn't smell too nice either. Unless it's a blue flower you're looking for? Then saff-"
Neji's 'no's' have always been vaguely frightening. Then again, Ino isn't a Hyuuga and has no built-up resistance.
"You hurt Hinata," she finally says, because honesty was always her forte. "How can you care enough about her to put up with-"
"You should know better than anyone," Neji replies almost impatiently.
"Rosemary. What it means."
Ino's brain immediately goes into automatic flower-language action. Rosemary: an almost pretty, almost lavender herb. It stands for loyalty, constancy, and faithfulness. None of, which she thinks, has anything to do with how Hinata and Neji got along. "…huh?"
"…we used to have it in our garden when Hinata-sama was smaller. Hinata-sama used to like the smell of it, though I can't understand why. She has plenty of other flowers of course, but I suppose she might like some again," Neji says, voice a bit funny. If champion identifier-of-people's-feelings Ino took a guess, she would have said it sounded almost…hopeful.
At this point, even stubborn Ino has to give up.
"Here," Ino grumbles, getting the best specimen of the herb she could find and holding it out to the prodigy.
"Thanks," Neji mumbles back.
"Hey, Neji," Ino speaks, pausing and holding back the rosemary.
The Hyuuga glances at her curiously.
"If you hurt a single hair on her head again, I'll make sure that her other suitors will get you." Ino utters smugly.
She watches with infinite pleasure as Neji's face turns slightly green with envy and then red from embarrassment as he understands the full extent of Ino's words. Ah, payback.
Taking the rosemary, he walks stiffly out of the flower shop, disappearing as quickly as he could.
As soon as he leaves, Ino lets herself indulge in a few thoughts.
One: Hyuuga Neji with a blush on his face looks a lot like Hinata, minus fifty cute points.
Two: Hyuuga Neji had known perfectly well Hinata wasn't in the flower shop when he entered.
Three: Hyuuga Neji is horrible at making up excuses for entering a shop to buy flowers, and
Four: Maybe there were a few things that only clan members could understand about each other.
Neji and Hinata, huh? Ino thinks. It could be worse.
Because Neji genuinely seems to care about Hinata, and Hinata definitely cares about her older cousin.
"Hey Hinata," Ino asks a few days afterwards, "what's your favorite smell?"
"Rosemary," Hinata answers quickly, a vague smile on her face.
"Ever since I can remember. …um…why?" Hinata asks confusedly.
"No reason," Ino replies just as quickly.
Ever since she can remember, huh?
Ino lets herself think one more thing about Hyuuga Neji:
All things aside, he has good taste in picking flowers.
Author's Note: Yeah, if it wasn't too clear, the Neji x Hinata flower is rosemary, for all of their childhood and family memories. I couldn't actually put that flat-out or give them any "memories" because…well…Ino wouldn't know about that, would she?
And yeah. I had Ino use the word 'almost' a lot. That's just Ino not wanting to admit that Neji does care about Hinata after all, what with the Chunin Exam grudge she's holding…
Anyway. I apologize once again for taking so long to update…and I hope this chapter lives up to it, even though it probably won't.
Again, if you guys have any specific pairings, please request them since it takes me days to pick pairings for my stories.