Okay peeps, you know the drill. I don't own Naruto, it's affiliated characters...and most especially not Hinata and Neji. (((hehehe))) If I did, there would most definitely be some major Hyuugacest going on. And YES it is Hyuugacest. Beware. Don't flame me. Please. It's annoying.

This story is dedicated to D&D...you know who you are.

Here we go!


"Blank"

Twenty themes on Neji and Hinata

By: erena g.t. rose.


1. Break

Blood spurted from between her lips as she staggered, her footing unsteady. Her eyes were wide and disbelieving, but she didn't look at him. Inside she could feel something shatter and as she hit the floor, her vision fading to black, she wondered if she was somehow broken.

2. Bond

Neji could remember a time when nothing came between them, curse-seal or no. They were inseparable; a child-like innocence that seemed to have faded over time. He stands in Hinata's hospital room, nursing no wounds of his own, and wonders what really were the ties that bound them?

3. Book

The nurses said she would be free to go in a few days; the hospital was dreadfully boring. Lying in that bed, Hinata drifted in and out of fitful slumber for several days. When she woke, on her release day, she was surprised to find a book on her beside table. A new copy of an old favorite. Only one boy knew she adored this book. "The Federalist" sat there, unobtrusively…and in disbelief, Hinata stared. Kindness? Why, why, why???

4. Bargain

She was back home in her own room in the Main House quarters. Two days passed and Neji saw not a glimpse of her. Perhaps it was just as well; he didn't know what he would say. The finals were in a few days. He didn't know if she regretted his action in the preliminaries…he only knew that there was a hollow feeling in the pit of his stomach. When Hiashi called him into the council room, Neji was curious. When he saw that it was just the two of them, he was unnerved. "I will now take over your training in the family style. In return, you shall make an effort to train Hinata." A deal? And right then, Neji was baffled.

5. Belief

It was not until after the chuunin finals and the battle for Konoha that Neji was able to fulfill his end of the bargain. By then, Hinata was well…perhaps better than before. But she was scarred…on the inside. Neji found this disconcerting. That was the result of his anger? And this brought forth a new way of thinking for the prodigy; he completed a half-day's training with Hiashi and sought out Hinata. When he lured her out of the garden and into the practice courts, she was shaking. When he told her that he was to train her, she stared out in shock. When he finally coaxed her into sparring, his soft-palmed attack knocked her back several feet…only then did she believe.

6. Patience

"Slowly," Neji cautioned days later, watching her work through her kata. She had nailed most of the movements, but she was picking up the pace. When she stumbled and tripped through a complex shift of stance, Neji was there to steady her before she could fall, already readjusting her placement and signs. He stood behind her and breathed slowly, bringing her into sync; he waited a moment in silence…waited for her to breathe with him. "Slowly Hinata-sama," he whispered softly, "Slow and smooth." He stayed behind her and worked through the kata with her. They missed not one step.

7. Perturbed

The dinner meal was being served and Hinata was no where to be found. When Hiashi grew angry with her absence, he sent both Hanabi and Neji out to locate her. Hanabi searched the Main House quarters and found nothing; her cousin went outside the gates. Neji could not sense his charge and used his Byakugan, hoping. When he saw, in the very distance…at the edge of his long-range vision…a faint chakra signature, he ran that way. When he found Hinata lolling her head in sleep, propped against an abused training post, Neji shook his head. He didn't know if he was more nervous or relieved. "At least she's training," he thought warily. He carried her home in his arms, trying to remain dispassionate.

8. Pretend

Hinata was gone again. A week later, Neji was sent to find his cousin for the evening meal once more. She was late…absent. Neji knew exactly where to look this time. In the forests, beyond the gate, she was there. Standing but leaning heavily against her solid training post, Hinata tried to catch her breath. When Neji appeared at the edge of the clearing, she didn't even look up. "Let's pretend, Nii-san," she said, "…pretend that I'm not too tired to continue." She sounded so much like her childhood self, so innocent and fanciful that Neji actually blinked, lost for a moment. "Perhaps it would be best to stop; you are required at the evening meal, Hinata-sama." He waited for her to fall in beside him and as they walked back toward the compound, Neji deliberately ignored the fact that he did exactly as she asked.

9. Prudent

When the Konoha Tower strikes midnight, Neji slips from his bed and climbs out his window, fully clothed. He makes his way out a servant's gate and out beyond the compound into the woods. When he comes upon Hinata training once more, he stands in the shadows and watches, examining her stance. She places all her strikes correctly; her stance was solid and her movement, fluid. When he is satisfied that she has indeed benefited from their weeks of daily training, he steps out of the darkness and stands before her. "It would be prudent, Hinata-sama, to continue to practice with a live opponent." When she nodded, he fell easily into his stance. They spar until dawn.

10. Progress

Several weeks later, Hiashi calls Neji into his council chamber again and once more, it is just the two of them. Hiashi motions for Neji to sit and does so himself. The prodigy takes a seat and then there is a timid knock on the chamber door. Hiashi called out and Hinata stepped in, head bowed in habitual submission. She closed the door quietly but when she rises from her salutary bow and sees Neji, she smiles only slightly. Hiashi notes that Neji does not rise to bow to her. When Hinata is seated as well, Hiashi's steely white eyes fix on Neji, "Has she improved? Has she strengthened at all?" His voice was cold but not overly so…sounding almost…curious. Hinata flinches slightly, in a manner that neither male in the room misses nor mention. But when Hinata raises her chin and looks upon her father with tempered passion, Neji finds his gaze drawn irresistibly toward her, enjoying that brief defiance of her perfunctory habits. When he answers his uncle, Neji's eyes give nothing away…it's all there in his pride-filled tone.

11. Determined

Neji continues to tutor her, training with her openly in the daytime and between his own training with Hiashi…and then secretly, in the depths of night. Hinata's chin rises a notch when she sits in council with the rest of the Head Family. Neji has been allowed to attend; special privileges, claimed Hiashi; privileges for his pupil. When Neji watches Hinata in council, he sees that she sits up, her spine is straighter…and she has a will now…a will of her own. She's pushing to achieve her goals.

12. Dull

When Hinata goes out on a mission with her team, Neji is left alone to train. At first, he thinks it's a great opportunity to fit in more training with Hiashi. But after training all morning and all afternoon and well into the evening on his first day without his charge, Neji quickly realizes that he's not quite happy. When Hinata returns three days later, he can hardly wait for her to rest up a day and unpack her stuff before he's dragging her back into the training courts and sparring tirelessly with her. Somehow, it's more fulfilling this way.

13. Danger

Akatsuki is looking for the bijuu and when Hinata learns that they're after Naruto, she flees the compound to see him, speak to him…confess her love for him. Neji follows her in silence, a secret sentinel, a witness to an event no one should have ever seen. When she stumbles into Naruto at the ramen stand he frequents, Hinata is stunned into silence and says nothing at first. Naruto blinks and then Hinata is speaking, her words rushing out in a garbled stream. "Naruto-kun, you are in danger…" and then "I wish to protect you and to say that…that…I have loved you for a very long time, Naruto-kun." Neji nearly winced, wishing his cousin didn't sound so vulnerable. Where was his determined little heiress? But when Naruto just stares at Hinata and then takes both her hands in his, ever so slowly, Neji knows that is heiress is vulnerable. When Naruto walks away and disappears in a puff of smoke, a sordid form of dismissal, Neji follows his cousin home, wishing the silent tears on her face didn't affect him so.

14. Dedicate

The Festival of Flames is celebrated for the first time since the attack on Konoha and the entirety of the Hyuuga clan, both Main and Branch families, turn out to watch. Hiashi takes Hanabi to the very front of the their seating area to watch as the many villagers, both shinobi and civilians, placed little folded scraps of paper into the torso and limbs of a straw-man erected in the center of the meadow. These were the things they wished to banish from their lives. Later, tradition states they would whisper their new goal for the year to another villager, to hold them in accountability. Neji has never participated in this festival but when the paper and pencils come around, he finds himself scribbling down a word. Four letters, the antithesis to love; should he take it up to the straw man? When he sees Hinata walking slowly toward the straw-creation, he takes three quick steps and is at her side. She smiles and they place their notes together in the straw-man's torso, right above his imaginary heart. As they walk away, the godaime steps forward and puts the straw-man to flame, sending all those requests to the heavens. And as the straw-man burns, Hinata sidles closer to Neji and whispers, "I dedicate myself to you, Nii-san. To your teaching and to your life." She gently grasps his closest hand with her own, only their fingers brushing. Neji looks down into her eyes and wonders if the old adage is true; Do soul mates really think alike?

15. Demand/Direct

Two weeks after the Festival, Neji is tortured and at the end of his wits. He banished hate that night, in the straw-man's fire…but in its place, desire had sprung up. Not just sexual desire but desires of all kinds. To see Hinata, laugh with her…just to be in her presence. He loved watching her move, her actions smooth and graceful. He loved listening to her speak, her voice confident where it once faltered. She was beautiful to him in ways he couldn't explain. What was this desire that plagued him so? When Hiashi called for a private council, excluding Neji and Hinata herself, the prodigy sought out his charge…his cousin…his fantasy. "What the hell?" He was worsening. He found Hinata in a secluded practice court, beyond the gardens; when he stormed up to her and cornered her beside the compound wall and a large oak, his eyes flashing silvery-pearl, he leaned close and whispered to her, "What is this desire I feel? What is happening to me?" He was uncharacteristically agitated, not understanding why he was reacting in such a way. When Hinata shook her head and sighed, placing a hand over her own heart and leaning back against the wall in defeat, she whispered, "That, Neji-nii-san, would be love."

16. Well-Deserved

When the Chuunin exams roll around once more, Hiashi enters Hinata without even worrying if her teammates were also going to participate. When Kurenai announces that Shino and Kiba will take the exam as well, Hinata is relieved. When she passes both the first and second exams with relatively little problem, she is excited. She wishes her father would acknowledge this growth in strength, but she has yet to pass the third step and that is what will most interest her father. When she is called into the center of the room, she fights another Leaf genin, one she has never met. She wins hands down and as she helped her opponent up from the floor and bid the girl to never give up hope, Hinata quietly thanks the kami and Neji for her new strength. When she passes the finals as well, she is promoted to Chuunin; she comes home to find her father in private council again, but Neji meets her at the door and smiles at her…a real smile. "It is well-deserved, Hinata-sama." She only smiles and bows respectfully, "I will be a jounin one day, Neji-nii-san…or…," She trailed off and blinked, "…is it senpai now, Neji-san?" She frowned, uncertain as to how to address him. Neji smiled at her innocent response to such a simple thing and shrugged, "Neji alone will do fine, Hinata-sama." When she smiles and then narrows her eyes, Neji gives a smothered cough, "Neji and Hinata…no, honoraries." Hinata smiled then and tilted her chin upward just a little to look him more fully in the eye, "Neji and Hinata…I like that much better." Her lips quirked oddly and she walked passed him and into the depths of the compound. Neji smiles and deliberately chooses not to thing of the familiarity they have allowed between them.

17. Wish

Yuletide came around and Konoha was blanketed in snow; within the Hyuuga compound, fireplaces roared in each Head Family chamber. Hinata huddled on the tatami mat before her fireplace, her large blanket wrapped around her. Hiashi had finally acknowledged her achievements as a Chuunin with a gruff, "As expected" and she wondered why his praise felt better to her than the actual completion of the act itself. Seated there before the fire, Hinata dreamily thought that the only thing that would make this day better was company. And no sooner had she thought it than a knock at her door announced Neji's presence and she called out an affirmative. He entered and slid the shoji door shut as he did so, closing them in together. She noticed that he was wearing his training clothes and that his skin was whiter than the snow outside her window. Blinking, Hinata spoke, "Neji?" One word and then he was shedding an outer layer of clothes: his jacket, his shinobi shoes and all his bandages. He was left in just a loose fitting shirt and his shorts; he removed his hitai-ate and then his own band, bearing the curse-seal to her gaze. He seemed not to notice as he collapsed down beside her on the mat in a shocking show of familiarity. Only then did Hinata notice he was shaking. He looked her over, taking in the fireplace, large blanket and the slightly pink hue of her cheeks. He smiled slightly, shivering and spoke. "It is rather cold outside and my room has no fireplace. I thought training would warm me up…I was incorrect." Shivering, Neji just sat there, his eyes pleading with her. Hinata didn't know if the sight was more amusing or heartbreaking. Slowly, she opened her arms wide, spreading the blanket around her like a cape and allowing her cousin to scoot in with her. When his chilled body was pressed against her warm one, Hinata handed off a corner of the blanket to him and he closed it around them. Hinata shivered as Neji smiled at her…shivered for a reason that had nothing to do with the her cousin's body temperature. She wished, for a moment, that everyday could be like this one.

18. Watch

Hyuuga Hiashi wasn't a stupid man; his many years as clan leader had made him sharp witted and sharp tongued, but he wasn't unfeeling either. He was well aware of what went on in his own household. His nephew, neglected early on in his life, had grown into an embittered young man…Hiashi's own daughter was a too-shy, wallflower with little to no combat experience. When she failed her first chuunin exam, this defeat brought about by Neji himself, Hiashi contrived to right both of these things, which he considered…flaws…injustices. Over time, Hinata had progressed from a girl-child haphazardly wielding a kunai, to a kunoichi of skill and grace. Hiashi was much pleased by this, though his own nature did not allow him to express it as any other parent might. He watched instead…watched Neji's countenance gradually open up and become more welcoming. Indeed, it seemed his plan had worked. Too well. They were inseparable now, Neji and Hinata. The council had been called several times to discuss their increasing familiarity and whether it was seemly for an heiress and her protector to be on such friendly terms. Fondness was not taken into account and by the end of the first convening, the elders were more than ready to sentence Neji to servitude, demoting him from warrior to servant in the Branch House hierarchy…a travesty if Hiashi had every heard of it. The elders also deemed it especially prudent to marry Hinata off quickly, to avoid her growing attachment to any other male.

Now Hiashi, unexpressive though he might have been, was still Hinata's father…and he knew he was not always the ideal figure of paternal leadership she may have needed. He was rough with her, perhaps too much so. He had considered her weak, a failure of his bloodline. He neglected her…and alas! His own brother's legacy must have been passed to her. To neglect a Hyuuga was to make them stronger. Neji flourished in such conditions and it seems Hinata took this lead from her cousin as well. She was beautiful now, a kunoichi of ever-increasing skill; Hiashi privately found her to be the newest, most surprising joy of his day to day routine.

And now, it seemed, Hinata was most happy. She went about her chores diligently, appeared on time to every meal…and trained daily, more than once or twice and for long hours. She was truly a success…and it seemed she had found a kindred soul in Neji. Hiashi had at first been a little disconcerted about this…but now. It seemed her could do no other than make his daughter happy. It was the least he owed her for the years of heedless neglect.

So Hiashi called council after council, slowly persuading the elders of the merit of his plan; the validity of his point. Neji was a prodigy, Hinata was a success. They were both strong and of the original Main House blood. The only marring factor was the curse-seal. Easily taken care of, of course…but it would be ground breaking. An arrangement never before permitted under the laws of the Hyuuga clan. Hiashi merely pushed, with all his manipulative energies; cunning and craft had never failed him. And in the end, he would see his own private goals achieved. Reunite the clan…so that never again, would a sacrifice such as his brother's have to be made.

And when the council finally bowed to his will, Hiashi said nothing to his daughter and nephew, only watching. He watched them through Yule, at the Yuletide supper…smiling at each other. He watched them as winter faded away, training diligently in the melting slush. But over all, Hiashi just watched, seeing the future of his clan being born in each and every tiny gesture.

19. Wisdom

Only several months later did Hinata take the Jounin exam; a quick follow-up when compared to the long intervals between her genin and chunnin examinations. She passed with flying colors, though when asked she often smiled and thought of the panel of ANBU judges who had considered her. The last of the five was a tall, lean figure, clad in ANBU uniform and bearing bandaged limbs. Hair that fell into a haphazard ponytail and a painted mask, made to resemble a bird. The bird was the final vote on her ballot, though all five, she was later told, voted to pass her. It was a great achievement and when Hinata reached her home, she threw herself through the doorway and right into her father…accidentally. Suddenly fearful of his disapproval, Hinata pulled away and scrambled back a step, bowing her head. "Father, I have passed my Jounin examination. I have achieved the rank." She said this with as much neutrality as she could manage, hoping her father would offer something…anything…that might pass as congratulatory words. There was a moment of silence and then Hinata was being pulled into a rough, unwieldy embrace. Pressed into her father, his arms wrapped around her, Hinata blinked and then coughed delicately, hoping to stop the welling of tears in her eyes. Finally. Acceptance. She hugged him back and they stood that way for a while, until Hiashi pulled back and looked down into her eyes, seemingly searching for something. "Hinata, my child, I have not always been the best father I could be, but perhaps you might take some words of mine to heart, if not as a father then as a clan leader." Hinata started to object to his self degradation but then stopped and nodded slowly, accepting. Hiashi continued on; "Life is complex, my daughter, full of unexpected drops and rises; even the best plans go awry." He sighed, "I had thought to marry you away sometime ago, to banish you from my sight…mark you as a failure." Hinata swallowed thickly but her father continued on, still gazing down on her intently, "But you have proven me wrong, child. You have surpassed my expectations and risen above and for that, you are a great shinobi."

"Father?" She did not understand and wished to tell him so, but Hiashi overruled her and continued to speak. "Hinata, you have become a skilled kunoichi…and that makes you a good servant of Konoha; an instrument of protection and service." He blinked and nodded, "But now, you must be a good daughter and make your father happy. I want you to marry Hinata…marry for love…and companionship. Marry for your heart and not for the clan. Take this moment and seize it…live it for yourself and take what you desire…I will not stand in your way…and neither will the clan."

Hinata stared up at him, starting to comprehend…but…the image she was getting…the understanding of his words. She gasped quietly and made to speak but her father swooped down and kissed her forehead quite suddenly, silencing her. "You have made me proud in these last years Hinata. Now, go to him…and make yourself happy." With that he was turning away and Hinata was left to stand there in the hall…alone.

And speaking of alone…she turned and headed down a corridor…"Where IS Neji?"

20. Waiting

Nearly a full hour later, Neji returned to the compound; it took him that long to finalize his report of Hinata's exam and file it with the Hokage's assistant. He stripped his external armor off and slung it over one shoulder, his mask held in his other hand. He came in through a secluded corridor, knowing he would run into no one there; he could not be seen without his mask…it broke ANBU protocol. Sighing with exhaustion, Neji slid open the door to his chambers and stepped insides, closing the door behind him. But immediately, he knew he was not alone. Not moving, not turning away from the shoji door, he spoke into the absolute darkness of his room, "Hinata, may I be of assistance with something?" He tried to keep his tone flat and level, but the truth was his heartbeat picked up and he could hear the blood pumping in his veins.

Hinata gave a small chuckle, "And how did you know I was here?" She snapped her fingers, "I must make so much noise…I will make a very bad jounin." She sounded sure of it.

Neji shook his head, knowing she would not be able to see him. "No, Hinata, it was your scent. You always smell of gardenia." He smiled, turning around to face in her direction, though he could not see her, "I would know your scent anywhere."

There was silence and then suddenly he caught just a hint of the gardenia, floating toward him in the darkness. He chuckled and opened his arms. Hinata fell into his embrace and he held her for a moment, just a simple hug in the darkness. He breathed in deeply, taking in her scent and energy…wishing he could have her with him always…and then he sighed, "Congratulations, Hinata. You made it." He chuckled, "You told me once that you would be a jounin…and so you are."

Hinata laughed softly, "You rigged the votes, I'm sure of it." She snuggled into his chest and Neji couldn't help but stifle a small groan of frustration. It was hell to hold her, to see her…and know he could never have her. The curse mark stood between them…and of course, their blood. A council full of elders would ensure he would never have her. She would go to some undeserving fool who would coddle her and forbid her to work as a kunoichi. She would be some clan's broodmare and the very thought made Neji feel ill. He tightened his arms around her.

Hinata was still for a moment and then she stretched up on her toes in the darkness and found in lips with her own, kissing them softly…a kiss that was purely Hinata. Neji hummed and opened his mouth to hers, taking control swiftly and returning the kiss with equal passion. They stood there for long moments, kissing, embracing…loving…and then Hinata pulled away. "Neji, Marry me."

Neji blinked, "Ano?" And then, "Repeat that?"

Hinata smiled, "Marry Me, Neji…I want to be yours…forever." And then she bowed her head and when she spoke again, she sounded so unsure that Neji's heart sputtered to a stop within his chest. "Unless…unless…you do not feel the same?" She was fighting back a wave of emotion and Neji knew it.

Catching her body and pulling her closer, Neji bowed his head and brushed a swift kiss across her forehead, "Hinata…I ….Hinata, I would gladly marry you." He sighed, "But there are forces here that we cannot control. The Elders; the seal. I will not be allowed this privilege."

Hinata smiled suddenly and through the darkness, Neji could have sworn he felt the impact of that smile. "Oh Neji-kun!" She threw her arms around his waist and for no apparent reason, laughed. "The Elders and Father have already agreed. They have allowed it. They will remove the seal…you and I can marry!" She snuggled deeper into his chest. "Oh Neji-kun…" she repeated.

Neji blinked and chuckled quite suddenly, a little off. "Since when did you become so forthright? Asking your father and the council for permission to marry me? When did you become so direct?" Unconsciously, he was hugging her closer, reveling in her embrace.

Hinata laughed, "I didn't do it. Father asked the council…and they agreed!" Then she smacked his chest with an open hand, "And if I'm direct, you silly creature, it is because you made me so." She sniffed the air with all the dignity of an heiress, "Your warrior ways and attitude have corrupted my fragile, diplomatic spirit."

Trying to smother a bout of laughter and failing miserably, Neji clutched her to him, "Me? Corrupt you? I see." And then he stopped laughing and pulled her with him across the room toward his bedside table. Releasing her for a moment, Neji made some quick handsigns and conjured flame to the group of candles huddled together on the table top. Hinata smiled at him, grateful for the light…grateful just to look upon him…and Neji turned to look at her for a moment before he slowly, gracefully, went down on one knee. Hinata smiled shyly as he asked that hallowed question, "Hinata, will you marry me?"

Hinata chuckled, "I asked you first, Neji-kun." When he made a small growling noise she laughed softly and then nodded, "Yes, Neji-kun, I shall marry you." Then she rolled her eyes, "Kami knows, I've wanted to say that for a long time, Neji."

The "prodigy" smiled as he stood and drew her to him once more, "Yes, I'm well aware. I was just waiting for the right moment."

Hinata tilted her head back to look at him, "You were waiting for me to ambush you in the dark and kiss you senseless?"

Neji kissed her soundly, "Oh hush."


(((BONUS THEME)))

21. Wedding

Six months later the day arrived and the residents of the Hyuuga compound had never experienced such chaos. The Main Branch was already seated in the hall, their rumps placed upon silk cushions as they ordered around the servants and Branch family members. The hall, decorated in whites, silvers and blues sparkled with sunshine as the many crystal and glass ornaments caught the natural light from the open shoji doors and bounced it back many times, casting miniature dancing lights around the room.

Hinata was in her room preparing, Ino and Sakura right there beside her. The blonde was running around, flustered; her family had supplied the floral arrangements for the entire wedding. For now, though, Ino busied herself picking out ornamental pieces to arrange in Hinata's hair, which was swept up into a cascading bun, leaving her bangs free to frame her face prettily. Sakura had helped the girl into her kimono, a beautiful thing of pale lavender silk bearing foreground designs of falling crescents and flowers growing beside a flowing river. Her obi was a brilliant, flawless white…a sash of heavenly silk that was tied in a box knot at her lower back. Hinata had to admit, she'd never felt more beautiful.

Ino stepped up behind her, humming the wedding march, as Sakura moved around to the front, humming a completely different tune, clashing with Ino's. For a moment, the long-time rivals glared at each other but when Hinata shifted nervously the tension broken and Sakura went back to applying the silvery-lavender eyeshadow to Hinata's eye-lids and the pale lavender lipgloss that would only serve to highlight the other colors. It was simple, plain, and not over-done. Just Sakura's style.

Ino placed two delicate crystal pieces in Hinata's hair; a silver and amethyst-dotted lotus blossom in the highest fold of he bun and a crystal crescent moon juxtaposed on the other side, sweeping with the curve of her bangs. The blonde kunoichi hummed continually and Hinata couldn't help but smile.

Sakura suddenly clapped her hands, startling the Hyuuga girl who jumped slightly. The rosette haired kunoichi smiled, "You look beautiful Hinata-chan. Neji-san will fall into a dead faint." She giggled slightly.

Ino, moving around to stand in front of Hinata with Sakura, smiled as well and nodded. "I don't foresee those clothes and hair pins lasting long though. Neji will want her out of them so fast, she won't know what hit her." This seemed to be generally addressed to Sakura but Hinata heard and blushed so furiously that the other two shinobi laughed.

Elsewhere in the compound, Neji was in his room, straightening the sleeves of his traditional robes, glaring at his "attendants". The four shinobi males sent to stay and "assist" him in preparation had done nothing at all…except get on his nerves.

Naruto was sitting on the bed, bouncing up and done obnoxiously, humming wedding tunes. Neji wasn't even sure why that hyperactive blonde was invited.

Shikamaru was seated beneath the window, eyes closed, legs folded. He was the most peaceful of the bunch, so far. Indeed though, Shikamaru could be annoying in his own right; Neji just simply hoped it wasn't today.

Across the room, glaring at the bouncing Naruto, was Uchiha Sasuke, newly returned to the village…newly made jounin by the Hokage herself. He occasionally tossed out a chastising reprimand about Naruto's behavior but for the most part, leaned against the wall and glared, tossing and catching a kunai with one hand, almost threateningly.

And last, but not least…the bane of Neji's current existence shuffled in close to him and threw an arm around his shoulder, skewing his sleeves once more. "AH, Neji-san! You have finally deciding to indulge in the Springtime of YOUTH!" Clenching and unclenching his fist convulsively, Neji was sure Lee would go into spasms any moment now. The taijutsu master had, at the very least, changed out of his green spandex; instead, he wore a respectful, more toned-down pair of black spandex. It was a small adjustment that spared Neji's sensitive eyes. Thank kami.

Pushing Lee's arm off his shoulder, Neji resumed fixing his sleeves. "Yes, Lee, you might say that…but do so in a lower voice, please." A moment more and Neji was sure his sleeves were perfect, so he turned and glowered at his "attendants". Sure that at any moment he would start growling, Neji pointed at the door, "You may leave…now."

Sasuke huffed, "Finally." Walking away, he grabbed Naruto by his loose collar and dragged him across the room to the door. It seemed he would walk out immediately but then he paused and cast a look over his shoulder, "Neji…Congratulations." He nodded absently, "Hinata is a nice…girl…er…kunoichi." Turning on the awkward note, Sasuke left, taking a still idiotic Naruto with him.

Next came Shikamaru, rising slowly and lazily from the floor, blinking several times. He walked straight to the door way but like Sasuke, he paused and looked back at the groom. "Ugh, this is troublesome but…," he scratched at the back of his neck absently, "…Congratulations and the like…Hinata is a kind kunoichi…and perhaps, brilliant beyond what you have yet to see."

Neji cocked an eyebrow for it was unusual for Shikamaru to say so much to him, but the ponytailed shinobi was already gone.

"Now if only…"…If only Neji could get rid of Lee. Growling quite literally, Neji spun and glared at a prancing Lee, ignoring the completely disturbing way that the latex of his suit clung in some very inappropriate places. "Lee, you may go as well."

Lee stood and clenched his fist again, "No, Neji-san, I must preach to you the gospel of the YOUTH!" He pranced some more, "There is much important information for me to impart to you." He leaned close and whispered quietly, "Such as the actual, ultimate ACT of YOUTHFUL BLISS!" This last part, defying the purpose of whispering, was shouted, making Neji's ears ring. The buzzing sound was annoying…as was the disturbing image forming in Neji's mind.

"Lee, I assure you, I know what I'm- - -" …Neji was cut off.

"Now, Gai-sensei tells me that when one is preparing the marital bed, there should be candles, romance and above all, youthful MOTIONS that one must learn." He smiled and took a few steps back, "Gai-sensei recommended this one." And suddenly, to Neji's complete horror, Lee lifted his left leg up into the air and held it aloft, nearly parallel with his body. Then, rocking his hips, Lee closed his eyes and made humming sounds that made Neji feel ill. Turning abruptly, Neji pointed to the doorway, screaming, "GO! NOW!" But when there was no immediate response and Lee hips continued to gyrate in disturbing ways, Neji felt compelled to play his trump card. Pointing down the corridor, Neji gestured. "Oh my, is that Sakura-chan? She looks very pretty today!"

Immediately, the hip thrusting stopped and a black blur shot passed Neji, yelling, "Sakura-chan!" Sighing with relief, Neji slammed the shoji door shut and contemplated placing a locking jutsu upon it.

But just then there came a knocking on the door itself and Neji opened it carefully, just a crack, praying it wasn't Gai-sensei or Lee.

Indeed, it was Kakashi, standing there, dressed in all black and reading an Icha Icha novel. "Yo, Neji, Gai sent me to fetch you. The ceremony is starting." Turning without waiting for a response, Kakashi strode away.

Neji took a deep breath, counted to ten and then walked out into the corridor, looking both ways for the "Green Beasts" of Konoha. Seeing neither, Neji turned and followed the length of the passage to the Great Hall…to the doors and down the aisle, to the pulpit where the godaime Hokage stood, ready to begin the tying together of Hinata and Neji.

The Best Man, Asuma, stood at the Hokage's side, his constant cigarette respectfully replaced with a toothpick. Neji didn't actually choose Asuma to be Best Man, but the Maid of Honor did and that was how it happened. Better Asuma then Gai.

The Groomsmen were already there, standing beside Asuma. Lee, unfortunately, and Naruto as well. Then there were Shino and Kiba…a favor to his new bride; Neji didn't mind inviting Shino but he always had an itch to throw a stick at Kiba and tell him to go fetch.

Neji was looking around. He could see the Head Family, at the very far right of the hall, seated on raised platforms and glaring across the room at the Branch Family, seated on normal, ground level stands. In between, chairs were lined up facing the altar, creating an aisle between them. Here were the shinobi…the friends of the bride and groom.

Kakashi was there, reading his book…Jiraiya right there beside him, oogling Tsunade. Shizune was seated in the front, arms wrapped around her little pig…and beside her was Genma, flicking the senbon held between his lips, up and down. Scattered throughout were various Jounin, chuunins and even some ANBU both he and Hinata worked with.

Naruto and Sasuke were there in the crowd, as were Shikamaru and his teammate Chouji. Also there were Tenten and Gai; Neji shivered as Gai gave him the "good-guy" pose and continued to observe.

Over all, anyone and everyone they knew were here. All they were missing was…

"The Bride…""Oh, she looks so beautiful…"…."Oh my, is that really Hinata?"

Neji looked up and caught sight of Hinata as she came down the isle, proceeded by Kurenai and her father, Hiashi. Behind her trailed Sakura and Ino, but Neji had eyes only for Hinata.

She was beautiful, absolutely stunning in lavender and silver. Her hair was swept up gracefully and her eyes seemed to be shining out at him, glowing silvery white in the oval of her face. She looked like a beautiful china-doll, a masterpiece of art…too perfect too be his.

And then Kurenai stepped out of the way and to the side, and Hiashi kissed Hinata's hands, one at a time, and placed them into Neji's. Sakura and Ino fell in place beside Kurenai and finally Neji smiled at Hinata, face to face with the woman he loved.

And many seemingly eternal minutes later, Tsunade clapped her hands together as Hinata and Neji sipped from the same vessel and then leaned together; "I know pronounce you husband and wife."

And finally…finally… Neji got to kiss his bride.

And there was nothing better. The world went blank for a moment and there was naught but the two of them.

The End.