NOTE: I could not resist. I've had this idea in mind for MONTHS now…and reading just one more NejixSakura fic pushed me over the edge. So here I am, beginning this at 11:30 at night.
I command it.
(Forgive me if some of it's not as good as it should be. Over the months, I've forgotten just how…dramatic I was going to make certain scenes.)
By the way…hehe…Neji and Sakura are going to be quite OOC in this story. Thought I'd warn you. It'll mention it…but by this time, they'll be longtime friends, okay? That may make the opening sequence less…criticizeable. Carry on.
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.
Deceitful Lies; Truthful Eyes
"This isn't a brothel, I'll have you know. You missed that turn three doors back."
"I'm not interesting in buying, my good lady. I'm here to sell."
"Don't you see the sign? And I quote: "No Soliciting." I don't buy anything - gadgets, gizmos, or some hot piece of arse that comes sidling up to my doorway."
"You're saying that I've a "hot piece of arse," then?"
"Ah, but you know you want me."
An exasperated sigh. "Just get in here, Hyuuga."
"Does this mean you've reconsidered? Good. We can discuss my price inside." Sakura rolled her eyes and pulled a smirking Neji inside her apartment. She hastily shut her door and put a hand to her forehead.
"Honestly, one day, the neighbors are going to have overheard too many of these playful conversations of ours, and I'll be kicked out of the apartment complex for being a slut."
"You're not dressed quite yet," Neji noticed her bathrobe attire.
"Attentive as always to my life problems," Sakura hung her shoulders. "Yes, you caught me in my bout of indecision. However, I'm almost thankful." She took his hand and led him to her bedroom.
"I knew it."
Sakura looked back at him with a confused look on her face. "Knew what?" Neji just grinned softly and looked up at the ceiling as they passed under the threshold. Sakura understood immediately. "Alright Neji, drop it. You won that battle of the wits. But I'll beat you down one day. Now-" She led him over to the edge of her bed and dropped his hand. "Which kimono should I wear? The cherry-pink one, or the spring-green one?" She put a finger to her chin and stared intensely at the two, trying to decide. Neji almost laughed. Why did women fuss over clothing so much?
"Here." He wasted no time in picking up the green one and shoved it into her arms. "Go change quickly. We need to leave soon."
"We have plenty of time," Sakura argued, looking at the gown with a hesitant expression on her face. Neji frowned. Honestly. "You just came half an hour early! What's up with that?"
"Just go change," Neji sighed, pushing her into the adjoining bathroom. He locked the door and shut it behind her, then went back to her bed. He picked up the discarded kimono and placed it back in her closet. They had been close friends long enough to where they were both were comfortable going through the other's belongings, to an extent, of course. Once he had done that, he went to the edge of her bed, sat down, and crossed his arms as he waited for Sakura's return. He decided to meditate lightly for the time being. She would be a while.
Half an hour later, after much clanking, cursing, and splashing, the lock to the bathroom clicked. Neji opened his eyes and looked in her direction. His crystal clear orbs widened ever so slightly.
"Well?" Sakura asked, twirling around. "What do you think? I might have done better with a little more time," here she pouted slightly, "but it'll have to do." The spring kimono suited her perfectly and hugged her body in ways Neji was sure kimonos should not. The green brought out her lovely emerald eyes. It had a cherry blossom pattern sewed upon it, naturally, and it perfectly accented her pinkish locks. Her glossy, rose hair shined in the light and the front half was pulled back in a curl about the side of her head and was fastened with a fake flower beret. She wore modest make-up – a light touch of eye shadow, some sparkles, and just a bit of lip gloss. But the simplicity made her dazzling.
Neji, suddenly feeling very plain for once in his life, stood up slowly and sauntered over to her. He felt so homely next to her beautiful form this evening. His plain, neutral-colored kimono lacked the vivacity hers did. However, out of the ordinary, he had let his hair down this one evening; but his shinobi headband remained fastened to his forehead. He really couldn't take it off, even if he wanted to. The curse mark was for no one's eyes but his own. Aside from his family, he had only let two people see it closely. Naruto, during their chuunin match, and Sakura.
Just because she was Sakura.
He tenderly ran the tips of his fingers down her cheek. Her eyes stared back at him, questioningly.
"I think-" he whispered. Suddenly, his hands found their way to the small of her back and the section between her shoulders. He twisted her around and dipped her. Neji held her in that steady position as he said, "-that you're the most beautiful creature my eyes have ever had the grace to see."
Sakura could not help the smile that crossed her face as she fell into the act. Lathering her voice with drama, she wrapped her arms around his neck. "Oh Neji, darling, how romantic! You really think me so…enticing?"
"You look so stunning," he whispered running his lips against her ear, "that I could make you mine right now with no regrets."
"Then kiss me, you fool." Sakura turned his head to face her and lowered her eyelids, raising her head up a fraction.
"Alas!" Neji proclaimed in an exasperated voice as he straightened the two of them up. He took one of hands and turned the other way, placing his hand over his brow. "I cannot! For you are a claimed woman – engaged to that dastardly character always one step ahead of me."
"What sayeth thee?" Sakura put a hand to her heart and put on a mask of exaggerated shock. "I am engaged? How can this be, when even I have no knowledge of it?"
"Ah, but trust me, it is true," Neji's face fell as he turned to look at her. He stared fiercely into her eyes as he spoke. Sakura was thoroughly surprised. They dramatized together constantly, but she had never seen him look so sincere in his acting, even if he was gesticulating a bit too dramatically. He continued, unaware of her thoughts. "And yet the desire to make love to you is overwhelming, fiancée or not!" He pulled her closely into his arms and sat back down on the bed, settling her onto his lap.
Sakura placed her hands on his jaw and leaned back. "Then press me upon this silken bed of mine and take me, dear heart! What care I about this man of whom you speak? My heart belongs to you, love. Show me that you love me! Kiss me!" She felt Neji push her down softly until she was lying on the edge of the bed. She pulled his face closer to hers. He ran a hand through her light hair and smiled, leaning in closer.
Neji rested his forehead against hers and whispered against her lips. "Sakura…we're going to be late."
Sakura seemed to deflate as her hands fell from Neji's mouth. "Neji, you just ruined the moment."
"I'm afraid I had no choice but to cut our theatrics short. We're running late, and it would not do for the host and his date to be late."
"I suppose you're right," Sakura sighed. "Let me grab my purse." Neji pulled her up gently. She left his warm arms and walked quickly to the kitchen. The Byakugan heir lingered on the spot for a moment more, but finally left when he heard the front door open. He walked back into her living room and stood beside the door, waiting for her to exit first. She smiled at his manners and did so. Once she was outside, Neji took the door and closed it. Her took her arm in his and began walking with her back to the Hyuuga complex.
"What you said before worries me a bit."
"Hm? What did I say?" Neji asked.
"The "date" part you tacked onto us just a few moments ago. You promised me we were just going as friends. I don't want anyone getting a false impression of us, you know? Enough people seem to think we're secretly going out," Sakura sighed. When Neji did not answer, she glanced at him sideways. "We are just going as close friends, right?"
He looked down at her and nodded curtly. "Of course. Why should I want to lie to the village about our status?" Sakura let out a breath of relief. Still, when she looked back at him, his pearly eyes sent mixed signals to her brain. Her own persona was telling her something that she was disinclined to hear.
The walk to his home would take a few more minutes. The Hyuugas lived almost as far as possible from the center of Konoha. Sakura lived at the edge of the main town. While the journey was not one she would like to make daily, it made for a lovely walk on occasion.
More than comfortable with the action, Sakura leaned against Neji's shoulder as they walked. "I like this."
"The walk?" Neji inquired. "Yes, it is rather relaxing."
"True, but that's not what I meant. I was talking about our friendship. I can openly admit to almost anything around you. Heck, I can even lean on your shoulder without it feeling awkward." She looked up at him with a small frown. "It, er…doesn't feel…awkward at all, does it?"
"Not at all," Neji answered with a small smile. "In fact, it feels quite nice."
Sakura let out a small laugh and rolled her eyes. "I'm sure. But see? We can talk about anything. What I really enjoy about our relationship is just that. I mean, look at what we were doing back at my house. How many friends can act that way without feeling in the least bit weird? I have to admit, I'm pretty sure that, say, Hinata would freak out if Kiba had just told her he wanted to have sex with her, even in a dramatization. No ordinary friendship can sustain that, I'm pretty sure."
"First of all, I would like to ask that you please do not put forth such disgusting imagery as my cousin being subject to what that dog would be implying. Besides having it unsettle me greatly, it provides for very nasty thoughts."
"Point taken. …Is there a "second of all?""
"Of course. Secondly, I doubt anyone would call this friendship ordinary. You hang out with me on almost a daily basis. No one, not even my old teammates, does that. Surely that makes you un-normal."
"And you are?" Sakura stood up straight and looked at him in shock.
"Of course not. Because I am far from normal, and you choose to accompany me, thus making you not normal as well, then we are most decidedly an unordinary pair."
"Ack, my brain hurts, Neji. Relax your language a little. I stopped going to school a long time ago."
"You never cease learning, Sakura," Neji hinted, with a glint in his eye. Sakura caught that look. Here they went again.
They were just inside the gates of the Hyuuga mansion; however, they still had the entire front yard to tread. The border of the long walkway was lined with blooming cherry-blossom trees, with a few Japanese maples dotting the expanse. Sakura stopped underneath the branches of one blossom tree and looked up at him expectantly. She batted her eyes in a seductive manner. "Well, my soon-to-be Lord Hyuuga, is there something you'd like to teach me this evening? I don't quite think I've learned anything new today. I wouldn't want your theory to be proved wrong."
"Actually, yes," he answered, bending down to her eye level. "There is something you should learn." He reached above him quickly, and in a flash, his arm was back at his side. Sakura blinked when she felt something land on her head. She reached up to touch it, but Neji took her hand and instead led her away from the path and into a small clearing where the front pond lay.
Sakura leaned over the edge and stared at her reflection. She gasped. "Oh, Neji, it's beautiful!"
"Hmph," he huffed. "I have to admit, I'm a little disappointed." Sakura looked up at him, astonished.
"Why? Oh, Neji, it's beautiful!" She carefully took off the wreath of cherry-blossoms and stared at it. "The weaving is extraordinary! …You made it?"
"I did," he answered. "And there's your lesson for the day. Hyuuga Neji can weave a crown of flowers. Not exactly very masculine-"
"But very appreciated," Sakura blushed as she replaced it on her head. "Oh, Neji, I don't know what to say. Thank you just seems so…plain. You didn't have to do this."
"I wanted to. But as I said, I'm disappointed with the outcome."
"Why?" Sakura frowned again. "It's perfect!"
"No, no, far from it." Neji reached over and fingered her pink locks. "It was supposed to become you, not the other way around." When he noticed that she still looked slightly confused, he added. "I thought it might add more beauty to you tonight, but I see that I was wrong. Nothing could add to your loveliness, so you instead have made it stand out a little more."
"Ah, Neji!" Sakura rolled her eyes and hit him lightly on the shoulder. "Stop kidding around! Your gift is probably the most gorgeous thing about me right now."
Neji stood behind her and wrapped his arms around her middle. Sakura jumped slightly at the contact, but relaxed as she felt his chest pressed against her back. He leaned over and spoke softly into her ear. "Did I not just get finished telling you that you were the most beautiful thing my eyes ever laid upon? Did you think I was joking then too? What if I told you otherwise? That every, ordinary day, you're the most beautiful being in the world?"
Sakura was too stunned to answer. He can't be serious.
It was true that they liked to act.
It was true that they acted out romantic or sexually-implicit scenes almost every day. Usually at least three times a day. It was habit. It was true that Neji always told her that he was only trying to prepare her for the day when he would have to let his close friend go to be in the arms of some man, and he would have to be content knowing that he had prepared her (verbally) for any such romantic situation that she might be presented with.
And it was also true that she always rebuked him with the same statement: she had no intention of ever dating or marrying some man. Not only did she know it would never happen (she doubted her attributes extremely), but she didn't desire it in the first place.
What she really wanted, she could not, and probably would never, have.
"Come along, Sakura. We're truly going to be late if you keep standing there." Sakura looked up quickly and shook her head. Neji was about ten paces ahead of her and waiting expectantly. Sakura quickly jogged over to him, embarrassed about having spaced out.
When they entered the main hall, a servant immediately fell into the routine of asking for coats and offering to lead them to the main room. Upon seeing Neji, the servant hesitated. Neji dismissed him back to his spot and led Sakura through the halls to the area reserved for the celebration. The sliding doors were opened already in welcome. Neji and Sakura walked through them, heading straight for the center of the room where the most imposing figures in the house spoke.
Lord Hiashi stopped as he saw his nephew walk in, and the woman he was speaking with looked up as well. Sakura smiled to her sensei, the great Fifth Hokage, Tsunade. Currently, the blonde woman was eyeing the pair with interest. Sakura glanced around the room and saw the very few of the guests had arrived. She glanced at an ancient clock situated against the wall. She grimaced. They were already ten minutes late, all thanks to her. But why was no one here?
As they approached the two figures, Neji and Sakura bowed simultaneously. Neji was bowing to both his uncle and the Hokage, while Sakura turned more towards the Hyuuga patriarch. Her sensei had stopped requiring her to bow down on a regular basis long ago.
"And here she is now," Hiashi smiled, nodding to Sakura. "My dear, it is a pleasure to finally meet you face-to-face."
"Oh," Sakura exclaimed, surprised. "I-It is an honor to make your acquaintance as well, Lord Hyuuga." She bowed again.
"Please," he held up his hand in answer.
Immediately, Sakura felt the need to voice her guilt. "I apologize that we are late, sir. Neji did come to pick me up, but it was my fault, as usual."
Hiashi's brows furrowed, but he looked amused. "What are you talking about, Sakura-san? You are, in fact, five minutes early." He turned to regard his nephew. "Neji, when did you tell her that the celebration was to begin?"
Neji smirked, despite himself. "I told her 6:30, uncle. Knowing her as well as I do, I knew that I would have to tell her an earlier time in order to get her to actually be here at the correct time."
"You sneaking p-" Sakura stopped herself before she let an insult fly. Was she really always late? Had the time spent on Kakashi-sensei's team affected her so? Or was Neji just being an overly prim and proper Hyuuga?
She assumed it was the latter.
"Neji, there was no need to lie to her," Hiashi frowned in disapproval. "How is she going to trust you for the rest of your life if you lie to her?"
"I prefer to think of it as an exaggeration, Hiashi-sama. But I understand your meaning." He stared blankly past his uncle and did not regard Sakura in any way.
"It's really quite alright, sir," Sakura responded. "I don't mind."
"What a lovely girl," Hiashi smiled at Tsunade, who beamed proudly. "Neji, you chose an excellent woman to court. I'm only disappointed that you failed to tell me for so long."
She turned to look quickly at Neji, who still ignored her. He merely answered, "I'm glad you approve, uncle." At that moment, a burst of noise filled the room as a group of guests filtered inside.
"Excuse me, if you will," Hiashi stated. "I must greet our guests. You too, Neji. Come along."
"Yes, uncle," Neji answered, walking with him to the door. Sakura stared after him, shock clearly written on her face.
"Alright girl," Tsunade suddenly hissed and dragged her pupil towards an isolated corner. She turned the cherry-haired ninja to face her and stared long and hard into her emerald eyes. "Now why didn't you tell me you were dating Neji Hyuuga?!" Sakura blinked in surprise at her teacher's outburst. "Haven't I been almost like a mother to you for all these years…and you withheld this crucial information from me? Sakura, I'm hurt!"
"Tsunade-sensei, please calm down. Do you really want to know why I didn't tell you?"
"I would very much like to know!"
Sakura frowned and crossed her arms, looking her teacher directly in the eye. "Because I myself found out just thirty seconds ago."
Dinner began shortly thereafter, and Sakura was not able to find head or toe of Neji until then. As was her place, she took a spot next to the man, her host and escort, and proceeded to stare him down. Neji made sure he was looking the other way.
When Sakura realized that her silent protests were getting no where, she coughed slightly to get his attention. Again, failure.
"Neji," she stated quietly. He did not acknowledge her.
"Neji," she tried again. Still no answer.
"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen," Hyuuga Hiashi stood up at the end of the table. The crowd died down immediately and listened intently to their host's words.
"I am pleased to invite you tonight in honor of my nephew, Neji." He gestured to the silent man, who looked down the table and bowed his head as the rest clapped politely. "Now, the formalities will begin after dinner. I propose we simply sit back, relax, and enjoy the meal." With those words, he sat back down and immediately, a host of servants came out bearing platter upon platter of food.
Sakura was too in awe at the moment to remember why she was angry at Neji. Was she really angry at him at all? Nah...not while the food was here. That sushi looked delicious...
She was just about to pick up a piece of the fish when another hand reached for it at the same time. Sakura pulled back and looked at the hand's owner. "I'm sorry, go-" she stopped, seeing Neji stare back at her. Something in her hunger-concentrated mind told her that she refused to talk to him, but she just could not place the memory. Was it really so petty?
So she dismissed the thought and just beamed at him, letting him pick up the first piece. He watched her, slightly surprised, but proceeded anyway. Afterwards, Sakura daintily took up her sushi.
"My, what a sophisticated young lady," Hiashi remarked to Tsunade, but loud enough so that Sakura could hear her own compliment. "She must be well near perfect. Her manners are impeccable, she's intelligent, talented, was your prized pupil – yes, she is very near perfect."
"Perfect enough for your Neji?" Tsunade inquired.
Sakura froze, mid-bite. She remembered now. A.D.D. much?
But just as her thoughts had regained her, Neji swiftly leaned over and whispered, "Please, just play along for now. I promise I'll explain later."
Sakura put down her chopsticks and turned to face her friend. She put on a sickly sweet smile and took his hand. "Why yes. Whatever you say, darling." She gave his hand an extra-tight squeeze, making sure some knuckles cracked, along with certain other bones that did not regularly do so.
Neji just watched her impassively, as if decided that this was just punishment for his lie. They turned back to eating.
"I must admit," Hiashi continued, "that I was somewhat shocked when Neji first came to me, saying that he had been covertly courting young Miss Haruno for some time. But now I see that there was nothing to worry about."
Sakura turned her head towards him sharply once more, as if to inquire, Just how long have you been feeding your uncle these lies?
Neji, for his part, refused to look at her.
Sakura gave him no chance to escape after dinner. Once the guests were dismissed, she took his arm and announced that they were going for a short walk for some "alone time."
Once they had left the dining hall, she pulled him swiftly through a few more doors, randomly shut one, and turned around quickly. "Neji, what did you do? Why did you tell your uncle we've been dating? I thought you told me that no one thought that! Why did you lie to me?"
"Sakura, I have my reasons-"
"Selfish, I'm sure! Always were, always will be!" she snapped, turning around and pacing the room. "I can't believe this. You lied to me. Now look at what type of mess we're in! How are you going to explain to your uncle what is really going on? Why did you tell him this in the first place?"
"If you'll give me a chance to explain-"
"Fine then! Explain away. Let's see what cockamamie reasons you can come up with," Sakura scowled, stopping right in front of him with her arms crossed tightly.
Neji sighed and looked at her regretfully. "I had no choice. Not if I wanted to stay with you."
"What do you mean?"
Neji ran a hand through his loose hair. "Sakura, you know that today marks the day where I am appointed as heir of the Hyuuga compound. I suppose you could relate it to a coming-of-age type of deal. Now that I'm about to be a large part of the family, Uncle also believes that it's time for other important events in my life to start rolling."
"Can you not guess?"
Sakura looked away, not really wanting to voice aloud her thoughts, for fear of being embarrassed. "…Matrimony?"
"Exactly. As far as he was concerned, I showed no interest in any woman in the village. So it was his plan to set me up with someone else. Some other heiress was going to be my date tonight. She was going to be the one I was "courting." But I didn't want that. I wanted none of it. I felt like he still controlled the strings in my life, and I refused to let him. I also didn't want to marry…well, a stranger. Do you understand?"
"I do," she stated slowly. "I suppose I can follow your reasoning. But still…." She paused and bit her lip. She let out her breath after a moment and looked up at him. "Why me then?"
Neji smiled. "Isn't that obvious as well? You're the closest person to me, outside my family. I figured it would be relatively easy to…fudge a relationship with you."
"Well, you fudged it pretty well, it looks like. Your uncle really seems into this," Sakura hissed, looking away again. "Almost too into it. Next thing you know, he'll want us to get married." She failed to see Neji wince. She turned back to him. "So what do you plan to do about this? Are you going to tell him the truth?"
"I don't know if I can."
"What do you mean?" Sakura asked, aghast. "You don't plan on keeping up this lie forever, do you?"
There was a sudden knock at the door. "Come in," Neji stated. The door opened, and Lord Hyuuga himself stepped inside.
"Ah, I thought I sensed you in here. Sakura-san, may I speak to my nephew for a moment? It's rather urgent."
"Of course," she replied, bowing slightly. She threw one last irritated look in Neji's direction and left the room, heading back for the main hall, where all the other guests mingled. She turned the corner and headed back.
From the other direction, Tsunade slipped into the hall that her student had just vacated. She walked down the corridor, intent on finding Hiashi, and stopped when she heard his voice, along with Neji's.
"When do you plan on asking her tonight?" Hiashi inquired.
"Uncle, I'm not sure this is such a good idea. At least not tonight. I don't think she…we're ready."
Tsunade's ears perked up, and she leaned in against the wall to hear better.
"Nonsense. For how many months have you been coming to me, telling me that you ardently love this woman? I don't think you could be readier. As for Sakura, she seems to match your love. You must ask her tonight."
"But Uncle, I can't. She's going to…. I…I just can't do it!"
"You're beginning to pick up Hinata's stuttering habits. I suggest you watch your mouth. You will ask her tonight, and that is final." Neji did not answer. Tsunade leaned in closer. Hiashi's tone changed suddenly. "Neji, trust me. I can see how much you really care for her. It's so very evident in your words and in your actions. I know you never wished to be this way, but you wear your heart on your sleeve when you're around her. I'm not the only one who has noticed it, for I have only observed you tonight. Other guests have told me how they see you two walking around town. Neji, I know you're ready. And I'm positive that she is as well."
"Uncle, you don't under-"
"That's enough. Find her and ask her now. I am beginning your introduction in just a few moments."
Tsunade recognized the end of a discussion. She quickly retreated to the end of the hallway and rounded the corner. Once she had done so, she heard the door open. She sighed in relief and began walking back down the hall at a normal pace.
She had to find Sakura. Fast.
The young medic turned around and jumped, coming almost face to face with her previous instructor. "Tsunade-sama?"
"Sakura, come with me," the blonde woman commanded, pulling her through the crowd. She brought her to a nearby room and turned to face her.
"Are you positive that you didn't lie to me earlier?"
"About what?" Sakura asked, flabbergasted.
"About courting Neji Hyuuga!"
"Of course! I would know, wouldn't I?"
"Obviously, you wouldn't," Tsunade frowned, folding her arms. "Tell me, Sakura. Are you really that repulsed at the idea?"
"Yes! He lied to me-"
"That's not the point. Do you really hate the idea of dating Neji?"
Sakura stopped, caught off guard. She blinked. "Yes. Well…no. I don't know! I mean, I guess it wouldn't be terrible – but he still shouldn't have lied to me! I don't care if he doesn't want to get married to some strange heiress, and that I happen to be his closest female friend. He still should have just told me!"
"Would you have agreed to the charade if he had?"
Sakura's words froze once again. "Of course. …Yes! Of course I would have!" Tsunade looked pointedly at her. Sakura's expression fell. "Well…probably not. I detest lies."
"And that's why he didn't tell you. He knew you would never go along with it until it was too late to turn back."
"Yes, but why me? Why not Tenten, or Ino, or someone besides me? Maybe I'm closest to him, but I'm sure one of the others would have been more than happy to act the part."
"Sakura, isn't it obvious?" her teacher placed her hand on the young girl's shoulders.
"I've been asked that already tonight."
"Sakura…he loves you. Can't you see that?"
Sakura opened her mouth, ready to retort. But none came. She tore away from her teacher. "That's impossible! We're just friends! Just friends, you hear? It could never happen!" For some inexplicable reason, tears came to her eyes. She turned around quickly, not wanting her maternal figure to see them.
"Oh, Sakura," Tsunade breathed, putting her arms around her daughter figure. "Sakura, darling, are you in love with him too?"
"What's this 'too' business? He doesn't love me! He doesn't! It's impossible!"
"Sakura, I just overheard him talking with his uncle. He's told him that he's loved you for months. I don't think he could have fabricated the lie that long ago."
"Parties take months to plan – of course he could have!"
"I only got the paperwork requesting permission for this dinner two months ago, doll. What with foreigners involved, I must give my consent. But Hiashi spoke of it as if this had been going on for far longer."
"I don't believe you. You probably misheard, or misunderstood."
"My heart may be broken, but my eardrums sure aren't," Tsunade replied. She turned Sakura around, who was still trying not to cry. "Sakura, trust me," she bent down to her level. "He does love you."
"Hokage-sama?" Tsunade straightened up slowly.
"May I speak to Sakura for a moment?"
"Of course." Tsunade gave Sakura's hand a tight squeeze and headed for the doorway.
"You may wish to head to the main hall. My uncle will be giving a speech momentarily. Tsunade nodded in reply. Neji then turned to Sakura and held out his hand, waiting for her to accept it. Sakura refused to look at him.
"Sakura, will you please come with me?" She still did not move. "Quickly?" Finally, she stepped over to him, but brushed right past him and out into the hallway. He led her speedily down the hall and to the room right behind the main foyer. Through the paper walls, they could hear Hiashi beginning to address the crowd.
"Look, Sakura," he took her hands in his. "I know what I did was wrong, and I apologize. I should never have lied to you. I should have told you upfront what was going on as borne your refusal to accompany me as just punishment. But the past cannot be undone. However…it can be remedied."
Sakura just stared into his white eyes, uncomprehendingly. "You mean…?"
"You're right. I need to make the truth known." He sighed. "When I go out there…I'm going to tell everyone what is really going on between us. None of this courting crap. Just pure…friendship. I promise. You have my word." He suddenly kissed her forehead and left, heading for the shoji door that separated this room from the hall in front of them.
He entered right on cue, if the applause was any indication. Sakura saw his shadow pass towards the center of the upraised stage at the end of the room. She saw Hiashi's figure retreat to the corner. Beside him stood Tsunade's shadow.
Sakura walked quickly through the dark room. Neji had failed to close the door all the way. She opened it just a bit more and peered out through it.
"Greetings, guests from all the great nations. I thank you in the utmost for your attendance this evening. This day is in fact, very important to me." Sakura noticed Hiashi smile in the corner. She frowned. Normally, such trivial news would not excite the man. Was there something else behind Neji's words? Something she did not know?
"But before I begin, I have an announcement to make, concerning Miss Sakura Haruno and myself." Had Hiashi's smile grown a fraction more?
Sakura turned her attention back to her friend. And for the first time, she noticed his hands fidgeting with something behind his back. It was something small and black.
And it suddenly all made sense to Sakura. Hiashi's smile, Tsunade's report, and Neji's reluctance to talk.
Neji paused in his speech, contemplating what to say next. Just how could he word this? How could he break it to the crowd? To his uncle?
With a frenetic heart, he began speaking once again. "I have-"
"Just asked me to marry him; and I have accepted."
Neji turned his head quickly, suddenly seeing Sakura standing right next to him, showing off the diamond ring to the crowd. Neji unclenched his hands behind his back and felt the box missing. Sakura took his hand and slipped the box back inside as she leaned against his arm.
Cheers and a momentous applause rose up from the small audience. Neji smiled softly and held Sakura closer to him. He looked behind him at his uncle, who was beaming and clapping softly as well. Tsunade looked ready to burst into tears…or shout out to the room. Either mood fit her at the moment.
Sakura stood out in the gardens later that night, fingering the ring in her hands. She stood on a small bridge which crossed the pond that lay inside the Hyuugas' gardens. She looked down at her reflection forlornly.
She had acted on impulse. And now, they were in an even bigger jam.
"A bit unconventional, but uncle was rather pleased with the presentation." Sakura jumped as Neji slid in next to her, looking into the still pond as well.
"Yes, but now I've just made even more of a mess of things." She sighed, depressed, and held the ring in a tightly closed fist. "I'm sorry Neji. I just couldn't let you go through with humiliating yourself in front of everyone. I thought…maybe…I don't know, that it would be better to break the news to your uncle in private."
"And then how do we break it to the village, who, by morning, will have all heard about our engagement?"
Sakura hung her head. "I don't know. I didn't think that far."
They stood in silence for a moment.
Neji then asked quietly, "Must we really break off the engagement?"
Sakura's head snapped up. "What?"
He turned to look at her. Sakura almost gasped. Now she could finally see the unveiled emotion laced in his eyes. So blank compared to others, yet so full of love, and all for her.
How had she never noticed it before? Had her pessimism and denial been so strong?
"Perhaps I really did mean to ask you tonight. Maybe because…I love you. Just a hunch."
Sakura blinked, trying to hold back the tears. She quickly tore her gaze away from him.
"You love me, huh? Prove it."
"Are you that dense?" Sakura looked up at him immediately, tears crawling down her cheeks. "How can you say you love me when, for all these years, I've played along, and you never got the hint?"
"I don't understand, Sakura."
She turned to him and stared him straight in the eye. "Three times a day, at least. Everyday. Everyday, I begged you to kiss me. Every stinkin' day. Oh sure, it all seemed like an act, but God, Neji, I've been in love all this time, and never once did you respond! Why do you think I tried to kiss you so many times? Why? I couldn't express my love any other way – I'm too shy like that! I was too afraid! I thought that, in the context of drama, I could really show you how I felt. But you denied me every time! You always had some excuse to never kiss me. Why do you think I have a hard time believing that you love me?"
"Oh, Sakura," Neji breathed, suddenly wrapping her in his arms. "Sakura, I'm so sorry. But you must understand…I felt the same way."
Sakura was crying freely now, but trying to wipe away the tears before they messed up her make-up. "You did?"
"Every act, I swear, was one played from the heart. I meant every word, even if it didn't seem like it." A small smile crept onto his face. "Even the perverse ones." He heard her giggle slightly.
Sakura suddenly remembered something. "And tonight. Tonight you said I was engaged…." She pulled back and looked up at him, shocked. "You had it planned all along?"
"It was my uncle's doing. He would not let me refuse to do it. So yes. Even that was the truth. You were pretty much engaged to a "dastardly character" – me. Dastardly me, having lied to you this whole night."
Sakura covered her mouth whispering, "Oh, Neji…."
He turned away from her and stared out over the bridge again. Sakura remained where she was, piecing together her thoughts.
Finally, she spoke.
"Unconventional, your uncle said. Well, yes, I must agree." Neji looked back at her, somewhat confused. Sakura held out the hand with the ring in it.
"I'll want a proper proposal. Down on one knee, taking the lady by surprise, and all the usual. Come now, the night's growing older by the second."
In a daze, Neji slowly accepted the ring. He looked down at it, and glanced back at her. Suddenly, his old smirk was back. "I really have to get down on one knee?"
"You're not going to be surprised though."
"I'll make up for that."
"Don't fake anything, or the experience won't mean as much." Sakura huffed and then turned back to the railing of the bridge. She stared out over the water, not watching the man next to her. She waited patiently, her heart beating faster and faster.
A couple moments passed in silence. Sakura bit her lip. What is he doing?
She suddenly turned around and stopped.
He had gone.
"Neji?" she called out, spinning around, looking for him. She turned to face the other way and stopped, covering her mouth to keep from yelping.
Neji stood before her, looking solemn as ever. He suddenly took her hand and knelt down.
"Sakura, my beautiful goddess, will you accept this ring and be my wife?"
Although Sakura had seen it coming, the thrill of the moment still descended upon her. She could actually make the decision now. It was all in her power.
But she knew how to answer.
Putting in a sarcastic tone, she replied, "Neji Hyuuga, the day I marry you is-"
Neji tensed, not having expected this set-back.
"-Going to be the happiest day of my life."
Neji suddenly smiled wide and slipped the ring back onto her finger. He took her in his arms and whispered against her lips, "Is this what you have been waiting for?"
And thus he kissed her.
All emotion was expose. There were no secrets hidden behind dramatizations. There were no lies masking the truths in their eyes.
And no love was more unrequited.
Completed: 11:02 PM Sunday, June 24, 2007
Well, that was fun! I finally got it done, after having thought about it since February and starting it in early spring. Geez, I'm terribly. So, hopefully you all had fun reading it. I hope you enjoyed it and that it wasn't too confusing or muddled or unrealistic! PLEASE REVIEW!