Note: Thanks to everyone who reviewed. :) Initially, this was supposed to be an oneshot, but I caved in to popular demand. Brace yourself for Sakura-torture, a dose of Shikamaru, dinner with the Hyuugas (complete with awkward questions, courtesy of one Hyuuga Hanabi), and, of course, NejiSaku goodness!
As you can see, you seem to have lost our little match of strip poker last night. Miserably, in fact.
(Sakura imagines the smirk he must have worn while writing this.)
Of course, I decided to be a gentleman, and I didn't continue the game after you had to give up your shirt. Very considerate of me, don't you think?
I have reclaimed my uniform, thankfully.
While I was in possession of your chuunin vest, I realized that I rather liked having something of yours in my room. As a result, your top is now washed, ironed, folded, and nestled comfortably among my training clothes.
If you have any desire to reclaim it, you will present yourself at the Hyuuga compound at seven forty-five this evening for dinner. Formal attire. You may also want to make plans to stay later.
I'll be waiting.
Sakura stares at the note, completely dumbfounded and hangover forgotten.
Had the Neji actually just asked her out? The infamous I'll-kill-you-with-one-poke Hyuuga Neji?
She hears her alarm clock go off in the next room, and she slides off the sofa, still a little dazed. First, she knocks on the top of Shikamaru's boxer-covered head, and he groans, and looks up. "Mmm, Sakura…" His eyes focus on her less-than-decent upper half. "Sakura."
The kunoichi blushes a little, taking the boxers off his head and tossing his shirt at him. "Put your eyes back in, Shika."
He shakes his head to clear it of the remaining vestiges of grogginess, as he pulls the shirt on. "Sakura, you know there's a note fastened to your chest, right?"
Sakura makes a face, peeling the note away from her breast bindings and offering it to him. "Read it."
Shikamaru does so, and whistles slowly as he hands it back to her. "Wow. He got you good." Upon being faced with her glare, he wilts a little. "It was a low and dirty trick," he says meekly.
She scowls, taking the note back and tossing it down on the coffee table. "It's blackmail! That's my favorite top – the one Ino got me for my birthday!" After stomping into the kitchen, she pulls out two coffee mugs and sets about making the coffee, all the while muttering under her breath. Shikamaru rubs at the pink daisy that had been drawn on his pants, looking dismayed.
"Here you go." Sakura hands him his cup of coffee, and they sip it in silence, before she slams her own half-empty mug down, uttering a roar that would have sounded more appropriate if it had been coming out of the mouth of a large, carnivorous animal. "He is so arrogant!"
"That might be so," Shikamaru says mildly. "But you're going to have to go, unless you want your precious designer Ino-approved vest to languish among his training clothes for the rest of eternity."
"I want to wear it for her party on Friday, too…" is the mournful reply. She pulls out a comb from her skirt pocket and begins combing her disarrayed hair, frowning.
Shikamaru watches her, unable to keep an amused smile from his face. "Are you telling me that the only reason you would go on a date with Neji is to get your vest back?"
"Yes," Sakura mutters defensively.
"Uh huh." He sets his coffee cup down and stretches. "Comb?"
Sakura hands it over. "Mirror's in the hallway. And I don't appreciate the sarcasm in your first comment."
"Well, you can't blame me for doubting you. And I don't need a mirror." Shikamaru drags the comb through his thick hair, wincing. "You've both known each other for a while, and you do seem to be close. Plus, he seems to care for you."
"Remember when you and Sasuke faced off in Sound? I had to physically hold him back to make sure that he wouldn't interfere with you two beating the shit out of each other."
"He was our team leader," Sakura counters. "I was the medic. I was valuable, and he probably just wanted to make sure nothing happened to me."
"Yeah, and then he carried you home after you collapsed from chakra exhaustion, even though he had a wounded arm. Leaving Naruto and I to handle Sasuke."
Sakura buries her face in her hands. "You're reading too much into this, Shika. We're friends."
"If you say so." Shikamaru stands, and stretches again. "I hate to interrupt this little session, but I need to get home and change my pants. I don't think Tsunade-sama would like it too much if I reported to work with a giant pink smiling daisy on them."
Sakura has the decency to blush. "Sorry, Shika. Bye!"
Her friend lifts a hand in lazy farewell, before forming several quick handseals and disappearing in a puff of smoke. Sakura watches the spot he had been in, before sighing and getting up, walking into her room to find her work clothes—while determinedly refusing to think of a certain white-eyed jounin.
Later, as she sits in her workroom and waits for the next patient to be admitted, she props her chin up in her hands, and thinks about what she's going to wear on the date that has been blackmailed out of her. Formal attire. Dinner.
Neji is evil, Inner Sakura whispers to her.
Sakura nods agreement. Yeah. But I love that vest!
It could be worse, girl. At least he's hot. Inner Sakura punches the air. Really hot!
Sakura blushes and drops her head down into her arms. Her own mind is turning traitor on her.
"I think you're supposed to be tending to patients, or something of that sort, not slumped over your desk, angsting."
Sakura jumps up, startled, and the back of her sandal gets caught under the chair's wheels. She turns the other way, confused, and then yelps as the chair spins, making her fall flat on her rump. "Oww…" she moans to herself.
Neji stares for a second, then chuckles. He crosses the room in two quick strides, and takes her by the wrist, pulling her up. "How you ever managed to pass the jounin exams is beyond me."
Sakura pulls away, still blushing as she dusts the back of her skirt off. "Hmph. You distracted me!" she exclaims, poking him in the chest, hard. "It's not wise to sneak up on a medic-nin at work. She might just throw a scalpel at you by accident."
He raises an eyebrow. "Or she could trip and fall in an extravagant display of clumsiness."
Sakura shakes her head, realizing that he's teasing her. "You're awful, your almighty Hyuuga-ness."
"Have I ever told you how much I despise being called that?"
Sakura sticks her tongue out at him. "Yeah right. I bet you want to be the next Hokage too, just so that you can have the whole village calling you Neji-sama."
The Hyuuga prodigy smirks slightly. "I don't know about the whole village. Personally, I would just be content if you called me that once in a while. Anyway…" he takes advantage of her state of openmouthed shock to lean against the wall. "Did you get my note?"
Sakura recovers at that, and folds her arms over her chest, glaring at him. "Note? It's blackmail."
"It's a very nice top," Neji replies offhandedly. "I put it on my dresser this morning and just stared at it for a little while."
"You…you are twisted."
"Aren't I?" He glances at the clock in the corner of the room. "Aah, my lunch break is almost over and I still haven't eaten anything. I trust I'll see you tonight?"
"…Yes," mutters Sakura, looking up at him.
"I'm looking forward to it," he says, with an almost-smile on his face.
As he opens the door to leave, she beats her pride into a little box. "Neji! Wait!"
He turns back and looks at her. "Hmm?"
"What…what color should I wear? I mean, you said formal attire, so…I'm not sure…" her voice peters out, and she looks at the floor, before glancing back at him.
His high cheekbones are tinted with the faintest shade of pink. "You shouldn't worry. Anything looks good on you."
Sakura's jaw drops again.
Neji flees in as dignified a manner as he can.
At last, she turns away from the door, trying to fight back a smile. "Looks like it's the pink dress, then," she says to herself.
At seven thirty-seven, Neji is standing outside the Hyuuga compound, observing the pink-clad figure walking up the path. She would be out of visual range of someone without the Byakugan, but the ANBU captain can see her clearly. A small smile touches his face as he watches her take small, tentative steps in her white high-heeled sandals.
Neji admires her from his distance, his white eyes lingering on her slight form appreciatively—he knows that out-and-out staring when they come face-to-face will be out of the question, unless he wants to be punched halfway across the bordering clearing.
Making his decision, he forms a quick succession of handseals, and disappears from his place in front of the gates in a swirl of green leaves.
Sakura jumps a little when her friend materializes about a foot away from her, inclining his head courteously. "Sakura."
"Hi, Neji," she says, feeling a little flustered as he gazes at her ensemble. Her hand goes to smooth her hair—a nervous habit, but she stops as soon as she remembers the elegant bun that Ino had arranged it into, with a few locks of hair drifting loose to frame her face. She forces her hand back down.
"You look beautiful," he tells her, and upon inspection of his face, Sakura is almost startled to notice that he is being completely sincere.
"Thanks…you look nice, too." Inner Sakura snorts. Nice? He looks like a god in those Hyuuga robes…
Sakura quashes her inner self into submission, willing herself not to blush as she gazes at him. To her surprise, he offers her his arm silently. She stares at it for a moment, before linking arms with him and continuing down the path.
By this time, her inner self is in a clamor again, and even the sane half of her brain is in a state of confusion. This is her friend Neji. The Neji that she and Shikamaru had broken into the Hokage's mission records for, in an attempt to stop him from overstressing himself with work. The Neji that she regularly has to patch up after missions. The Neji who had actually fought against—and beat—her in the final combat round of the jounin exams, causing her to be resentful and generally surly until a laughing Tenten told her that he had spent an hour after the match coughing up blood.
Somebody who has become much more than an acquaintance in the past two years.
Sakura shakes her head at herself. This is a date that has been blackmailed out of me, nothing more. I'm going to see him tomorrow and he's going to act the same as always—without sincere comments about my appearance and his emotionally-weird kind of flirting.
The Hyuuga compound can more accurately be called a sprawling mansion. Sakura is a little awed at how big it is, and Neji chuckles a little at the look on her face as he leads her into the elaborate hall. "Impressed?"
"Well, it's very impressive," Sakura says defensively. She looks down at the floor, and is almost blinded by how very white it is.
Neji rolls his eyes. "Have you ever met my uncle?"
"A couple of times," Sakura replies. "He's even more almighty and Hyuuga-like than you!"
"I think it's the cane," Neji mutters wryly. "If you hadn't insisted on healing my leg after that last mission, I would have gotten to carry one, too. I think canes enhance an outsider's perception of one's authority."
Sakura shakes her head, amused. "You're really something, you know."
Neji looks down at her, and the corners of his mouth quirk up in a smile. "I believe the modern term is genius."
Sakura flaps her hand dismissively. "Yeah—that, too."
Neji arches a perfectly sculpted eyebrow, and refuses to let himself laugh. Instead, a rather undignified snort escapes him, and Sakura begins to giggle as he claps his hand over his mouth.
"I am glad to find you both enjoying yourselves," a dry voice remarks, from the top of the stairs. Hyuuga Hiashi descends carefully, as his nephew and the kunoichi both bow. Sakura notes that, despite his limp, he still manages to convey a sense of grace and power—like Neji.
She finds, not surprisingly, that she is nervous. She watches Hiashi turn away from them and make his way slowly through the main hallway. Sakura shoots Neji a questioning look.
"Dining room's that way," he murmurs, taking Sakura's arm again. "Hinata-sama and Hanabi should be there already."
As they follow Hiashi, Sakura looks around the elaborately furnished compound, a little in awe of how beautiful it is. The dining room is impressive, as well—the table and chairs are made out of some kind of foreign wood, dark and polished.
Sakura seats herself beside Neji, and Hiashi at the head at the table. Hinata and Hanabi are already seated, and Hinata offers Sakura a shy smile in greeting, as Hanabi eyes her curiously.
Servants begin to set the food on the table, and Sakura is unsurprised to discover that she is extremely thirsty. She realizes that she is nervous, and not unreasonably so. Neji's foot nudges her under the table, and when she looks over at him, he smiles slightly, and she returns it a little shakily as they all begin to eat.
"So, Sakura-san," chirps Hanabi at last, breaking the silence. "How long have you and Neji nii-san been dating?"
It is by a sheer miracle that Sakura manages to not choke on her fish and die from the sheer suddenness of the question. Well, Hanabi, your nii-san and I aren't really dating, per say, he kind of blackmailed me to come here, after I lost a match of strip poker to him and he stole my favorite top…of course, that was after Nara Shikamaru and I took advantage of his low alcohol tolerance to get him drunk and then stripped him of his uniform—
"Around three months," Sakura replies.
"Five months next week," Neji says, at the exact same time.
"Um—" Sakura begins.
"—I mean, that is…" Neji tries to elaborate, and fails.
The medic-nin racks her brain. "Well, Neji sent me anonymous love notes for around two months," she says offhandedly. "So I never really knew it was him. However, we only started officially seeing each other when he came out and told me it was him, which was three months ago."
"How sweet!" Hanabi squeals.
"That was very romantic of you, Neji nii-san," Hinata chips in, smiling shyly.
"Yes, it was," Sakura gives him her best innocent look. "I really didn't know you were such a romantic."
"…Indeed." Neji is taking his temper out on the potato salad, flattening it into submission with his fork.
"Sakura-san," Hiashi begins, setting his glass of water down. He adjusts himself slightly in his seat, and her sharp eyes catch the barely-hidden wince of pain, although he goes on to ask her a few questions about some advanced medical jutsus she had been studying last time they had met; Sakura is pleasantly surprised by the older man's understanding of medical terms and studies, and she answers his questions to the best of her capability.
At least, Hiashi sits back in his chair, and gives her a satisfied smile. "You are a very capable medic indeed, Sakura-san. It is little wonder that my nephew has requested for only you to treat him whenever he is injured."
Sakura shoots Neji a gleeful look. "Has he?"
Neji clears his throat and tries to keep himself from shrinking in his chair. "…Yes, he has."
Inner Sakura screeches in triumph. Hell yes! We've got him! He's head over heels in love!
Sakura mentally shakes her head at her inner self, and goes on to answer Hanabi's eager questions about the chuunin exams.
Later, when they leave the dining room, Hiashi, Hinata, and Hanabi all head out to the gardens. When Hinata asks them if they would like to join them under the stars, Sakura looks to Neji for confirmation, but to her surprise, he shakes his head slightly. "In a minute, Hinata-sama."
So they walk in the opposite direction of the rest of the family, but Sakura can feel three gazes trained on their backs. "They rather like us," Neji replies, sounding amused, a few moments later. "Hanabi seems to be admiring your hair. Don't be surprised if she asks you for your recommendations on hair care products when we return."
Sakura smiles to herself. "I like them, too."
They continue walking, their footsteps soft against the damp grass. "Have fun?" Neji asks at last, when they come to a stop under a maple tree.
Sakura looks up at him, and her inner self melts into a gooey puddle as she squeals about how handsome he is, and that voice—"Yes," she says, unable to keep herself from smiling. "Sorry about the anonymous love note thing, too."
"Hn. It's all right. But Sakura…" he pauses, his white eyes seeking hers. "I'm surprised at you. You, of all people, should know that when a Hyuuga is interested, he makes that interest known."
"Oh," Sakura squeaks.
Neji leans a little bit closer, and his soft breath ruffles her hair slightly. He places his fingers below her chin, lightly tipping her face up to his. Sakura's eyes are wide, and she wonders if he knows how close she is to passing out.
Gently, Neji reaches out, and takes a silver pin from her hair, making one lock flop down into her face. He brushes it away lightly, settling it behind her ear, and leans down, pressing his lips to her forehead.
(Inner Sakura has just died, and Sakura is pretty close to that state, herself.)
Neji pulls away from the shell-shocked Sakura, and gives her a slight smile. He takes the silver pin and, regarding it thoughtfully, clips it onto the collar of his robes.
"Neji, that's mine…" Sakura says, still a little stunned, reaching up toward him.
Neji reaches out and takes her hand in his, as takes one step back. He smiles a little mischievously. "I'll bring the top by your office tomorrow at lunch. But I adore this pretty little clip…"
Sakura is torn between collapsing in a fit of lovesick giggles and sighing. "What do I have to do to get my clip back?" she asks flirtatiously. "Will I have to kiss you for it?"
Neji turns and begins to walk away, his loose chestnut-colored hair rippling behind him. He turns and holds his hand out again, waiting for Sakura to place her smaller one in his, and they begin to walk back toward the other three, on the other side of the gardens. "I was actually thinking you could stay a little while longer, and that maybe we could go out for coffee tomorrow. But…"
"But?" Sakura prompts, smiling.
Neji turns to her, with a slight smirk on his face. "But I wouldn't be averse to that kiss, either."
Sakura stands on the tips of her toes, matching his smirk with one of her own. "We're on, Hyuuga."
On the other side of the gardens, Hinata turns away from the couple, a small smile spreading across her moonlit features. "Aren't they a cute couple, father?" she asks quietly.
Hiashi leans back, looking up at the sky, and a ghost of a smile flickers across his face. "Indeed they are."
-sigh- What can I say? The boy's got game.