Twenty Matters of Pride to Hyuuga Neji

Author: Kraken's Ghost

Email: On profile.

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto. If I did, Part 2 wouldn't suck ass. This is non-profit fanfiction.

1.) Hyuuga Neji is not proud of his real name. His mother died shortly after his birth and the last thing she asked of her husband was that he name their child Hotaru. Hyuuga Hizashi did so without hesitation, regardless that it was a rather feminine name for a male. However, he didn't promise his wife that he wouldn't call their only child by a nickname. Once, upon his return from a mission, he discovered a surprisingly large mess his rambunctious, for a Hyuuga, three year old had left in the kitchen. Upon seeing this, Hizashi commented, "That boy must have a screw loose somewhere." This comment become the source for Hizashi's favorite term of endearment, "My little loose screw," which further evolved into the nickname, 'Neji.'

2.) Neji is proud of his nickname and preferred it even when his father was alive. After his father's death, anyone who called him Hotaru was met with an icy silence and a stare of anger that exceeded his years. Every form he's ever filled out, every school assignment he's ever turned in, every letter he's ever written have all been with the name, "Hyuuga Neji." Even his official Leaf-nin profile has Neji as his given name. Shortly after he received his Konoha ID, Neji wondered why the Third allowed him to use his nickname as opposed to using his proper, legal name. After he learned of the Hokage's involvement with the Cloud Incident that cost his father his life, he wondered no more. The only place where his real name is still recorded is in the Hyuuga clan lineage scroll and even that sacred parchment has a note beside his name that says, "Prefers and answers to Neji."

Neji isn't certain, but the handwriting is suspiciously similar to his uncle's.

3.) Neji isn't proud of the fact that it takes almost twenty-five years for him to forgive his uncle for allowing his father to die in his place.

4.) Neither is he proud of the fact that it takes an equal amount of time to realize that it's actually his father whom he's so angry at.

The fact that the man willingly agreed to the Clan Elders' schemes and thereby chose to leave his son alone in the world filled him with no small amount of anger, betrayal, and sheer naked hurt. It isn't until he's in a vicious battle in the middle of Sound Territory and Rock Lee is shoving his injury paralyzed body under a rotted log before turning to take on ten enemy ninjas with nothing more than his fists and feet that Neji realizes just what had been going through his father's brain when he sacrificed himself for his brother.

And when Neji's own brother returnes not only alive and miraculously bearing no injury save a gash on his cheek, his anger seems so petty that he can't help but forgive both men for his father's death.

5.) After that, Neji is proud of the fact that the next time he saw Hiashi's approving smile, he was able to return it with a genuine Hyuuga-style nod of acknowledgment. This occurs when he is awarded for his valor in the battle where he had his epiphany. Both his uncle's approval and the honor fills him with pride, but neither came close to the feeling of having Lee stand beside him, accepting his own medal.

6.) Neji is proud of the fact that unlike Uchiha Sasuke, he loves his father, not the idea of having a father. He loves his father, the man, and the fact that his loved one is no longer breathing is what fed the fires of his rage against the Main House for decades. He does not love the idea of being loved and he makes no secret to hide his scorn for the Uchiha prodigy whenever he sees him on the streets after Uzumaki Naruto drags the pale boy's ass home from whatever dark den Orochimaru had him hidden away in.

7.) However, Neji isn't proud of the fact that he is the one that ends the Uchiha's life, during his second and last betrayal of the Leaf for lofty promises of power.

Sasuke may have been stronger, faster, and bearing far greater chakra reserves, but it would be a cold day in Hell when he was smarter or more skilled than Hyuuga Neji. One deflection of a black Chidori via a Kaiten and one gentle touch to the temple is all it takes to make Itachi the last Uchiha.

8.) Neji is proud of the fact that his actions spared Naruto the pain of killing a brother.

9.) He's not entirely sure what he feels when Naruto looks up from reading the incident cum autopsy report and says, "Thank you," in a rough, pained voice before walking away.

He does know that Sasuke's lucky he wasn't this enraged when they fought earlier, for the rogue Uchiha's death would have been neither quick nor painless.

Lee never understood why Neji spent the rest of his day training with him and just generally being in his company, nor could he ever explain the strange way the Hyuuga stared at him when they parted ways that evening.

10.) Four years later, when he's twenty-two, Neji's dead certain that he'll never be prouder than when the Rokudaime Hokage presents him with the pristine porcelain mask of the ANBU Commander in full view of the rest of Team Gai, many of his clansmen, and most of the people from their generation.

11.) He's proven wrong a moment later when Naruto answers his unspoken question by clasping his shoulder and saying, "I need someone I trust."

12.) He's again proven wrong later when a group of council members, including an old warmonger named Danzo, approach him regarding the 'threat' the Hokage presents and that as the Commander it's his duty to 'do something' about it. The fiery, insulted pride that erupted in him at being asked to betray the personal and professional trust of the strongest Jinchuuriki in the world, not to mention the first and only container of the great Nine-Tails, left only one survivor for Ibiki's apprentices to practice on.

He hasn't been approached by a single councilman since, regarding any issue. As a result, Neji is the least stressed ANBU Commander in all of history.

Furthermore, from the snobbiest of foreign dignitaries to the most arrogant of clan elders to the richest of civilian politicians to the brattiest of young Genins to the whiniest survivors of the Kyuubi Incident, no one insults the Rokudaime Hokage in Hyuuga Neji's presence.

13.) The first emotion Neji feels when he meets Maito Gai in person is anything but pride. Shame, despair, and a foreboding sense of future agonies are the only things he can feel when the man raves about the power of youth for the first time. But time passes and the ever observant Neji begins to take notice of certain irregularities that don't quite add up with his view of the man.

14.) Neji isn't proud that it takes him five years to realize that Gai views all three of his students as his children. Not surrogate children; his children. Neji truly pities any fool that gets lucky and manages to kill a member of Team Gai, because Gai certainly won't.

Only a handful of people actually know that while Maito Gai is one of the kindest people in Konoha, he's also one of the most ruthless. His kill to capture ratio during skirmishes is almost 100 to 1, a number rivaled only the past records of the Hokages, the Sannin, and the White Fang. Gai does not suffer threats to the people he cares about, let alone individuals he considers his family.

After he realized the truth about his mentor, the smirk Neji faces his enemies with is not one of arrogance, but one of pity for their damned fates.

15.) Neji was confused for a time about the apparent bias Gai had towards his students, since parents should love their children equally, but it was with no small amount of pride that he quickly figured out his sensei's great deception. The reason why Gai treats each of his students differently is because he, rightfully so, believes that they each need different types of fathers.

Lee needs someone to admire. Someone who's older, wiser, and stronger. Someone whom Lee can imitate for the rest of his life, because while growing up his self-worth was so low that the person Lee least wants to be is himself. What only Neji realizes is that by being a larger than life man for Lee to emulate, Gai is helping his strange and often awkward student grow into himself without realizing it. Neji doesn't doubt that Gai lives for the day when Lee looks in the mirror and is proud of what he sees.

For Tenten, Gai is opposite. The lone female of their squad has the unfortunate tendency to admire people without question, so Gai acts in as unflattering and as unadmirable a manner as possible. But he's always there with advice and tips for her training or for her day to day life. One day she'll realize that appearance and reputation don't make a person's worth. That day she'll think for herself and won't ever blindly follow others again.

And it stuns Neji to the core when he realizes that Gai has been acting towards him exactly as his father used to: cool, slightly distant, but always with a small smile of pride or words of praise whenever he needs it. The genuine pride and affection in Gai's voice when he talks about his prodigy whenever he thinks the Hyuuga isn't in earshot fill Neji with a warmth he thought he'd never feel again.

16.) But it's the fact that Gai loves him for being him, not a prodigy or a Hyuuga or a pretty face or a promising shinobi, that makes Neji's chest feel tight in ways he's too proud to admit to. Gai loves him enough to do his duty as a father.

During his first Chuunin exam, of the four Jounin that stopped him from killing his cousin, only three of them did it to save Hinata. Kakashi stopped Neji from killing her because he doesn't like the helpless being cut down. Kurenai didn't want the closest thing she has to a kid sister being murdered in cold blood. Hayate just didn't like it and his duty as exam proctor provided a handy excuse.

But Gai… Gai stopped Neji because he knew that if he murdered his cousin, someday he would regret it. Someday when he grew up and could see beyond his own pain, he would regret killing the only family aside from his father that ever smiled at him.

Neji mentally thanks Gai every time he sees Hinata's gentle face for being brave enough to turn on his own son.

17.) Neji is too proud to admit it, but Lee being obnoxious is only a small part of the reason why he hated the weird boy for so long.

The real reason is that Lee could hug his father anytime he pleased.

18.) When Neji is 17 and the Hidden Cloud starts making demands of the Godaime and the Hyuuga Elders begin to think that another 'brave sacrifice' of a Branch Member might be needed and they begin to say, "Why not Hizashi's boy?" and "How brave you are! But you still have a lot to live up to," and "Aren't you grateful and proud to be a Hyuuga, little Neji?" and "You're not afraid to do your duty, right? Of course not. You'll make us all proud when the time comes," he isn't too proud to admit that he's never been more terrified in his life and as soon as he can, he makes his way to the closest thing to a father he's had in 13 years. He admits it all to Gai, all his fears and all the pain he's been keeping inside of himself for over a decade and the pressure the clan elders are putting on him.

And Maito Gai gently places his huge hands on his shoulders and says, "Stay here. I'll handle this."

Neji is so shocked by his words that he's motionless for almost a quarter of an hour. He's stunned by the sensation most children take for granted: the security in knowing with all your being that your parent can take care of anything. That all you have to do is tell your father what's wrong and he'll deal it.

But then he remembers his proud father's face, cold and slack in death, in the brief moment they allowed him to view the body before it was shipped off to Lightning Country, and he just knows what Gai is going to do and he's running through the streets because it's (Hizashi) Gai against all the Hyuuga elders and he's in the Hyuuga compound and he's running past his startled relatives and he's dashing to the clan meeting hall and...

Neji stops and stares at the sight of his sensei emerging from the doors completely unscathed except for a small cut in the middle of his forehead and a couple rips in his jacket. Steam is pouring off him; an aftereffect of opening the Gates. It swirls gently as he slowly walks up to Neji and says simply, "I told them to find another way."

And Neji isn't too proud to hug the man that did what his father couldn't. The man that walked into that room of cold stares and polite death and walked away the victor over Fate. Gai's monstrous frame feels different from Hizashi's wiry form and his gorilla sized arms squeeze a bit tighter, but for the first time in thirteen years Neji feels right.

19.) When Neji's chest is carved open by Hoshigaki Kisame's Samehada during one of the last battles with Akatsuki, he sees Hizashi. He doesn't know if it's actually his father or a hallucination brought on by the blood loss and drugs from the medics, but he doesn't really care.

His father gently reaches down, places his hand on his son's chest and says, "My little neji… I don't want to see you here again for a very long time."

And then he pushes him away and Neji's vision clears and Tenten is almost breaking his ribs in an effort to get his heart beating again while a medic deals with stopping his blood loss. Gai and Lee are at the edges of his hazy vision and he knows they're protecting them from the enemy and knows in his heart that not a soul will make it past their fury.

And when the enemy is driven off for a time and all of his teammates are crowding around him and yelling at him to keep breathing, he manages to hiss out, "Don't die. We don't…We don't die."

He's not too proud to cry for the second time in his life when they agree.

20.) It's a matter of utmost pride to Neji that Team Gai is the only ninja team since the First Great Shinobi War to have all its members, including the teacher, die of old age. When Neji made them promise, every last one of them took the oath as Kami's law.

Gai would live for another thirty some years, proving himself to be as great a grandparent as he is a parent. He stood as Tenten's father at her wedding and stood next to both Neji and Lee at theirs. His lifespan was shortened by the stresses of his Taijutsu arts and by his repeated opening of the Gates, but he still died peacefully in his bed in his late sixties, surrounded by his adopted children and their children. His grin was brighter than they had ever seen as he closed his eyes for the last time. His funeral was the third and last time Neji would ever cry in his life.

Lee would go next. Like Gai, the repeated Gate erosions on his body took their toll. Fourteen years after his dearest mentor died, Lee would follow. His death came on sudden, as a quick failure of the cardiovascular system. He simply collapsed in the street one day while walking with Tenten. Neji barely made it to the hospital in time to grab his brother's hand one last time before he passed on. Neji didn't cry for Lee though. Instead he simple basked in the last embers of Lee's burning pride, for the strange man was almost exactly a year older than their sensei had been when he'd died.

Tenten died almost twenty years later. Hers was quiet. She said her goodbyes to her children, grandchildren, and friends, then sent them all away except for Neji. Her husband had been killed in action years prior, so no one was around to complain when Neji gently sat on the bed next to her and held his arm around her. She gently played with his long, gray and silver hair and said, "I think you're even more beautiful now than the day I met you." Sometime during the night, she passed on. He held her till her children checked in on them, well after noon the next day.

Neji himself would live for some time after that. Whether he had seen his real father or not that day, he made a promise to the man and if there was one thing he learned from the Rokudaime, it's that promises are meant to be kept. When he finally passed on, he was a hundred and seven years old. He would be the oldest Hyuuga to ever live, the oldest non-Jinchuuriki to come for three hundred years, and would hold the title of ANBU Commander longer than anyone else in history. He was the second strongest man to ever grace Konohagakure as well as the second oldest, beaten out for both those titles only by their quasi-immortal Rokudaime. And he would find it fitting, somehow, that Naruto would sit beside him, as Hyuuga Neji went into the next world with a small smile on his face that belied the unyielding pride inside him.

Neji would not be too proud to say it was a good life.

Author's Notes:

I have no idea where this came from. Still, I think it turned out well. I've been meaning to try out the 20 Truths style for awhile now. Seemed as good a time as any. Strange, and I do mean strange, for me to pick Neji of all people to write about. I definitely like his character better after writing this.

Edit: 12/05/06

I finally got around to editting this fic again. It now exactly matches the version I posted on my LJ blog, which is far more up to date as it's twenty times easier to edit fics on LJ than on FanFiction(dot)net. Most grammar and spelling errors should be fixed now. The past/present tenses weren't perfect in the last version, but they should be mostly correct now. I also calibrated Lee's age versus Gai's for stanza 20.

Also, I'm posting the following to clarfiy some things that might be unclear and to answer some questions posted in the reviews.

Neji means 'screw' in Japanese. Kaiten, as a stationary but rotating jutsu, was probably developed as a bit of a pun on his name, much like Rasengan (Spiral Shot/Bullet) and Naruto (Maelstrom).

In Stanza 9, Naruto was thanking Neji for making Sasuke's death quick and painless.

Nobody caught it, but in Stanza 18, the cut on Gai's forehead is a reference to the seal on Hizashi's forehead. I deliberately made as many parallels between the two as possible.

In Stanza 20, Naruto's ageless state is a reference to the theory that the Kyuubi's presence makes him immortal to aging, if not immortal to harm. Neji's near unnaturally long life is due only to the sheer force of his willpower and pride.

Oddly, no one has made note of Hotaru being Neji's birth name. I have no idea where that idea came from. I woke up one day and a quarter of this story was already in my head. Hotaru as Neji's actual name was one part of it. Unlike many dream to fic transitions, this one made it without being a totally mess. I'm actually rather proud of how this fic turned out.

Thank you reviewers. The thirty-two reviews given to this story so far have had a hell of lot more thought and effort put into them than the last four hundred of Foxhound. It means a lot, so I sincerely thank you all for it. I'm quite glad this fic was positively received unanimously.

Edit: 8/18/07

I was rereading this awhile back and realized there are still some rougher areas. I had this almost completely done by the time I headed out West for a long trip, but didn't post it in time with all the hecticness of packing and such. So here it is. You won't notice too huge a difference, but like my Foxhound re-edits, I'm hoping it'll read more naturally. Let me know what you think.