Disclaimer: I don't own anything of Naruto.
Destined to Love
By: Chigiri Sasaki
Summary: He was a prodigy, with a damaged past and no future. She was a commoner, with a hidden secret. Strung together by fate, it was only a matter of time before she changed his life forever. AU, NejiTen
The short phrase that was seethed through perfectly straight teeth was markedly resolute-sounding, yet not quite loud enough to reveal the underlying anger and irritation of the speaker. There was no tremor from an uncontrolled passion, no offering of particularly prepared flowers to soften the blow of his words—there was only the sharpness of his voice, the venomous aura he emitted, and the piercing gaze that would penetrate deep enough to make anybody shudder from fear.
In other words, if Hyuuga Hiashi had had lesser control over his reactions, even he, the leader of the venerable Hyuuga clan, would have winced. Rebellion was something he had never associated with his nephew, Hyuuga Neji.
"I refuse," Neji repeated, this time louder, his voice nearly betraying the emotionless expression that graced his pale features. He knew he was obligated to regard Hiashi with the utmost respect at all times, but at this very moment, he couldn't help but leave the harsh bitterness evident in his voice. "I refuse to marry that woman!"
This time, Hiashi winced.
Neji had always been a top-of-the-line shinobi; he was one to accept orders wordlessly and follow them through with ease and grace. At just sixteen years old, he was already known as the the clan's prodigy, blessed with the most talent, intelligence and discipline. So it was only natural that this flat refusal was taking his clan by surprise.
The sun's brilliant rays shone into the Hyuuga estate, illuminating particles of floating dust that would otherwise be virtually unnoticeable in the pristine mansion. The light that was pouring in shafts permeated the locks of Neji's dark hair, causing the tips of it to glow like auburn threads. The soft breeze was warm, but carried the crisp scent of late summer. The rush of air rustled his long, russet locks, causing the loose strands to flutter smoothly in waves with each caress.
Despite the quiescent weather, Neji stood motionlessly in the centre of attention, his eyes frosty and his aura cold. He was surrounded by important members of the clan, who had gathered a few minutes ago for a meeting and were now peering curiously at the sixteen-year-old, wondering what had possessed the naturally compliant boy.
"Neji," Hiashi countered carefully, "you will not be married to her right away. Only an engagement will be arranged, and that would only take place after you become acquainted with her. Furthermore, it's a tradition that Hyuugas choose their wife at the age of sixteen. You know that, and your birthday passed weeks ago."
"I will not be married to anyone whom I do not know. Also, by being familiar with the traditions, I know that I have to agree to the contract before it is actually legitimate. So I refuse. I reject this proposal and my decision will not change."
"B-but Neji-nii-san," Hinata stuttered softly, "she's the best option you have." She gasped when she felt the weight of everyone's attention on her. She had planned to further reason with her older cousin, but just the quick flicker of his disapproving glare was more than enough to silence her. She instantly lowered her gaze, dropping it to look back at her pale hands.
"I have two more years until I become a legal adult." The prodigy stared at the older man expectantly. "Can I not decide then?"
"No, because you have to be married by then."
"I don't see your point."
"You are supposed to be engaged right now, Neji." A look of distress had already swept across the clan head's wrinkly features. "You know you have to choose someone anyway, so why not choose now? Mikya is a great prospect who comes from a good family. She is educated, well-mannered—"
"If she's so great, save her for someone without a curse mark."
Hiashi dismissed the sardonic interruption. "There are a lot of suitors—including princes—pursuing her right now. We are lucky that she has chosen you, above everyone else."
"Opinions are subjective."
"This is not an open discussion," an Elder admonished. His eyes were grave. "Neji, we are simply informing you of the decision we have already made. You are right in that you can choose whom to marry, but the woman you choose must be approved by the rest of the clan. As such, you are to choose from the prospects we present to you. You technically have no say in our decision to introduce you to a suitable candidate."
The sixteen-year-old stared briefly at the Elder, Hideki. "There is no point in bringing someone over if I'm not going to accept her."
"These are the clan's traditions," said Hiashi tiredly. He understood how unfavourable an arranged marriage could be, but all male Hyuugas had to be engaged by the age of sixteen. And despite the negative connotation that came with the concept of an arranged marriage, most Hyuugas were happily married. The women invited to the clan had always been meticulously chosen based on compatibility, amongst many other factors, and they always proved their loyalty to the clan by serving it to the best of their abilities. Moreover, it wasn't like Hyuuga men had the time to undergo the selection process on their own; most were dedicated to becoming strong shinobi. Neji certainly was no exception, which was why no one could figure out why he had been declining all offers in the last six months, refusing to even meet any daughter being presented. It was impossible that Neji was already involved with someone, seeing how strangely cold he was around everybody.
"Neji," Hiashi tried again, "not even you are enough to change the clan's ways."
"My refusing to meet this girl is not changing anything."
"Think about it, Mikya is a lovely girl and marrying her has more than one advantage. Because her father is a powerful ruler, forming an alliance with their country will protect the clan in many ways. Please give this a little consideration. Do it for yourself—do it for the clan."
The instant Neji's eyes narrowed, Hiashi regretted the choice of words for his attempt to coax the Hyuuga prodigy. The clan as a reason, if anything, was a deterrent for someone who attributed their parents' deaths to it. The air suddenly grew heavy and suffocating. Hiashi smiled bleakly, suddenly feeling much more like a contrite uncle than an authoritative leader. "Neji—"
"You want to say that it is my duty to serve the clan," Neji cut in listlessly, his eyes blank. His voice was the only thing that was betraying his expression; although void of the pain that had once wrenched his insides, it contained the dull notes of a seemingly lifelong, acrimonious grudge. He let out a single laugh. "Is this what you told my parents?"
Before anyone could protest or even utter another word, Neji left the room, his long hair snapping behind him. He had walked away ineffably quickly, no trace of impact left to suggest he had actually been there in the first place, refusing to marry a woman.
"That certainly went well," Hiashi muttered. "That boy is impossible to deal with."
"More like you are far too lenient," an Elder nearby said. "The fact that he is your nephew hinders your ability to be authoritative."
"He wouldn't be this bitter if you told him the truth," another one commented. "He still thinks Hizashi died for the clan's purposes."
"That is not the solution," another member of the council argued. "Neji is naturally spiteful about everything. I doubt anything would change his attitude."
"Not telling him was a wise idea," Hideki added. "Look how strong he has become. If he hadn't been so traumatised he wouldn't have put so much energy into training. Keep him in the dark. His grudge is a productive one."
As the Elders continued to discuss and murmur, Hiashi started to rub his temples. Despite what he had said about Neji, the Hyuuga leader couldn't blame the boy for being difficult on an occasion like this. His tragic past had caused him to be this way; at the age of four, he had witnessed both the death of his father and the disappearance of his mother. Had anyone expected him to be a normal child after that?
The fact that Neji, like his parents, was bound to the duties of the branch family didn't help either. There were traditions to which he had to adhere; like all the other members of the branch family, he only served to protect the clan's main household members. It was unfortunate that someone as strong as him would ultimately be a sacrifice if it ever came down to it, but what could be done? In more ways than one, this was Neji's fate.
The clan leader couldn't help but sigh again, feeling much older than his actual age. His enigmatic ivory eyes were now dull and filled with despair. His gaze shifted to the sky, which was coloured a silky blue, enveloping the earth with its gentle embrace. While the fleecy clouds seemed to chase one another, carefree and unfettered, he was imprisoned by the many responsibilities tied to his position as the Hyuuga clan leader. The search for a girl suitable for Neji felt hopeless. Who could possibly tolerate Neji, let alone be happy married to him?
While Neji was a strong ninja in every noble sense of the word, he didn't seem quite human most of the time. The sixteen-year-old had a face that was constantly cold and commanding. He had lines under his eyes and a burden on his shoulders far too heavy for someone his age. He lacked the desire to appreciate anything beyond the training grounds, to smell the roses, to live life passionately, to hope for a brighter future.
Hiashi didn't know how anyone from the clan could help.
The clan head was in the middle of cursing under his breath when an advertisement flew in through the window. His tumultuous predicament made him want to rip it to shreds, but he stopped short of doing so when he saw a picture of a girl.
Said photograph had a lithe girl in it; she was standing tall in front of a beautiful cherry blossom tree. The pink loosened petals from the tree drifted around her, some finding an attachment to her hair, some to her clothes, yet she didn't seem to mind any of it. Silky chestnut hair was wrapped into two charming buns atop of her head, adding a touch of childishness to her personality. She wore a Chinese-styled top, the collar encircling her long, porcelain neck. She was a ninja, without a doubt, the large weapon scroll she was holding being evidence. Her dark red pants ended just after her knees, revealing the creamy white skin that had remained soft despite years of training. The corners of her lips were curved into a smile, her head tilted to the side, and her large brown eyes stared back at Hiashi, all in a way that seemed to ease the knots in his stomach.
It was just a photo, above a caption claiming she was a ninja willing to complete missions for money, but Hiashi himself was taken back. Maybe it was the temerity in her eyes, or the way she looked like she could complement Neji perfectly, but it felt like the Fates were working something out for the first time. Hiashi, for the first time in months, relaxed. Yes, he concluded, she could be the one. His lips forming a smile, he murmured, "Perfect."
"Perfect." A tall girl with two buns tied neatly atop of her head smiled proudly when she examined her target board: a tree on which she used a blade to mark multiple targets. As usual, her aim was flawless, even at varying distances, angles and launching speeds. She sighed in satisfaction as she looked around her training area; the entire lot was littered with sharp weapons. Her weapon-summoning skills were improving and it was getting easier for her to control the heavy ones. She was pretty good, especially for someone who had not been officially trained.
The sixteen-year-old instantly swivelled in the speaker's direction, her right hand already at the knife strapped to her thigh. She was about to launch her weapon when she realised that the speaker was the leader of one of Konoha's most powerful clans. She blinked twice before bowing humbly. "Hyuuga-sama."
"Please, call me Hiashi." The tall man smiled. "Tenten, right?"
"Yes, that's me."
"Sorry for intruding. I did not anticipate that you would be training after sundown."
"I like training in the dark," she explained, both embarrassed and animated at once. "It helps one rely less on sight."
"Ah," Hiashi mused with a smile, "that is something my nephew would say."
The brunette could only nod. She was still slightly flabbergasted and confused as to why such an important figure would be conversing with her.
"I must say, Tenten, it is quite clever of you to reside so far away from the village. There is so much more space to train here."
"It is quite nice here," she agreed, gesturing towards the open area. "Quiet, too."
Hiashi smiled again, as if she had just proven her compatibility with his nephew. He fished a piece of paper out of his pocket. "You handed out these advertisements I presume?"
Tenten nodded emphatically, finally realising the reason for his presence. "Is there anything that I can do for you?"
"This is perhaps not the mission you've been hoping for, but would you like to become acquainted with my nephew?"
A/N: First chapter to my first multi-chaptered story! I feel so proud of myself, even if I did only write one chapter haha. Lots more to come, and lots of characters as well. Quick note: Neji is cold and in the dark about everything in this story. So pretend that Neji beat Naruto during the Chuunin exams and still doesn't know the truth behind his father's death.
I'd love to hear from you! :)
Posted May 2007, edited July 2013.