Disclaimer: I don't own anything. Just the plotline. :D
Author's Notes: Slightly AU due to situations made up for the sake of the fic. Kind-of-not-really a Neji birthday fic since it was Neji's birthday on the 3rd. Ahahaha. Also kind of mushy because I have a subconscious addiction to Neji/Tenten mush. I hope it's not too boring. I got stuck near the end. xD
"You believe in fate, Neji, but does that mean you don't believe in luck?"
He stared at her from where he sat, still panting slightly from their training, and then looked up at the clear blue, cloudless sky. He closed his eyes as the caress of the cool wind sifted through his hair, missing the endearing tilt of his companion's head. He opened his moon-colored eyes to face the sky once more and gazed into the blue pensively.
"People can get lucky."
He would know.
He was once alone in a world full of danger.
He was never a lucky child; he was born into a great clan with a terrible secret, with his father sacrificed himself for the sake of the said clan, and his mother passed away when he was young due to the heartache from his father's death.
That's why he grew up the way he did; bitter and cold.
As he grew older, he began to view himself as a caged bird: confined and denied of freedom. In his view, it was the perfect metaphor of his life as a branch member. The irony of how perfect the metaphor fit was almost enough to make him laugh.
To everyone else, his fight with a loud-mouthed, blond idiot changed things in his life. But in reality, his heart had already begun to change the moment he stepped out of the Academy. This was his own secret, though, and no one would ever know, but the day he got assigned to a Genin team, was the day the barrier between fate and luck became a thin line.
At first, he thought fate had set him up with the least compatible people possible: a delicate-looking girl who idolized the sucker of Konoha and looked as though a simple punch would break her in two, a crazy fool who couldn't even execute the simplest ninjutsu and dared to call himself his rival, and an even crazier Jounin sensei who acted like a giant kid trapped in an adult's body.
To say he wasn't pleased would be an understatement.
As time passed, however, his view began to change. A year later, the tables turned, and he subconsciously grew from experience and knowledge he wasn't even aware he was gathering. The delicate girl proved him wrong on their first C-ranked mission when she took down five Chuunin-level bandits with skilled ease. The crazy fool proved him wrong by catching up with him in a speed that even he couldn't believe; their taijutsu rivaled each other in a way that secretly thrilled him. And the bizarre Jounin had more to him than what was shown and oftentimes, Neji found his insights and advice to be surprisingly profound and useful.
Fate sure had a funny way of toying with him.
And somewhere along the line, he realized that he wasn't alone anymore.
Fate had taken away his family, but somehow had luck given him a new one so that he wouldn't have to be alone anymore.
After his father died, he never had another father-figure in his life.
His mother had loved his father so much that the idea of another man was simply out of the question. In fact, his mother couldn't live without his father and died of grief shortly after. For a young boy, a father was usually his mentor and best friend. Neji had grown up without either parents and his uncle wasn't really much of an adult influence in his life, therefore he grew up without much parental influence.
Everything he learned: morals, life lessons, behavior; was all out of self-experience and observation of others.
On his first day with his new Genin team, Gai-sensei took them each aside, one-by-one, and talked to them in person, wanting to know them on a closer level. But this time, Neji had already concluded that Gai was a completely bizarre and possibly off his rocker.
When he took Neji aside, complete with a blinding smile and irritating thumbs-up, Neji noticed things that made him think twice about the Jounin.
"I know you dislike the Main Branch, Neji, but remember, you are a shinobi and because of that, you cannot let contempt get the best of you," Gai had warned him gently. "That kind of weakness will ultimately hold you down."
Neji had been surprised that Gai had done background research on him. Later he found out that Gai had done the same for Tenten and Lee. At first, the thought irked him and he felt as though the Jounin had been too nosy.
But one day he had pushed himself too hard trying to perfect the Hakke Rokujuuyon Shou, determined to master it and surpass the main branch, and collapsed for overexertion. When he awoke, he found himself lying in the hospital with Lee and Tenten sitting on the side with worried expressions painted clear across their face. Gai was there too, leaning against the window sill with a rare serious expression.
Neji had expected Gai to lecture him or be disappointed, but instead the older man simply smiled and asked him if he was alright. The concern from Gai about his health, itself, made Neji feel guilty about his actions and taught him a lesson without spoken words.
"Well, now that you're okay, how about we go out and have some dinner? My treat!"
That night they had gone out to eat sukiyaki, one of Neij's favorite dishes. He didn't recall telling anyone what he liked to eat or disliked, but somehow, he wasn't surprised that Gai knew.
Somewhere along the line, he finally learned what it felt like to have a parent. And he although he would never admit it, he was thankful that Gai was there.
Fate had taken away his birth parents, but luck gave him a makeshift father that cared for him in their place.
He had never been one for siblings.
His cousins from the Main Branch constantly annoyed him and they didn't even live with him. Hinata was weak and frail, and she'd probably die in the near future. If she was his sibling, that fact alone would cause his life even more grief and trouble than there already was. Hanabi was overly-confident and he could picture her being careless and dying that way. He just didn't want that kind of pressure.
Therefore he had never once wished for a sibling.
Then Lee stepped into his life and Neji found him to be even less tolerable than his two cousins. He was Lee's determination foolish and always felt that the idiot was setting himself up for failure. When he declared Neji as his rival, Neji, at the time, looked away in distain.
They never really got along, with clashing personalities and opposing views, and on their first mission—mission: rescue the kitten stuck in the tree—they had petty argument which resulted in Tenten rescuing the kitten herself.
He had never argued with another person before, let alone on a trivial matter, so the mission had left slightly stunned and confused.
Then Lee began to excel. His speed shot up and his taijutsu improved with an astounding speed.
Of course, he, too, began to grow swifter and stronger, but something about the fact that they were both growing at an alarming rate sparked a determination he never realized he had. Neji knew how competitive the life of a ninja was but he only competed with those worthy competing with.
As time passed, not only did Lee become a worthy competitor, but he also became a worthy rival that Neji was actually close to. That day had come even before Neji, himself, realized it.
"You two are so silly," Tenten had said with a disbelieving shake of her head. "It's like when two brothers have pointless fights for dominance, when they both know they're dead equal, or like when siblings fight over the last piece of gyoza."
When he and Lee protested against her words, Tenten merely pointed out that their simultaneous denial only further proved her point.
"Besides," she added with a genuinely happy smile. "You both get so excited when the other does better, even though you don't say so. It makes you both strive to out do each other and therefore pushes you both to always be at the top of your game. It makes you two twice, or maybe three times as strong as you are when you're fighting together than when you're fighting alone."
Although he would never say so out loud, he understood what Tenten meant. Lee got better too quickly and in order to be at the top, he, too, trained harder. And whenever Lee challenged him, he found that he could never refuse out of the want to know who was better and the excitement of seeing how much better the other boy got.
Somewhere along the line, the complete idiot became his rival and brother.
Fate had given him a life destined to be without a sibling, but luck brought him one anyway.
He had always thought being in love was foolish, especially as a ninja.
His father died for the brother he loved. His mother died because she had loved his father too much to live without him. None of them had loved him, their own son, enough to live and therefore, Neji was never really big on the idea of it.
As a ninja, death could happen anytime. That why in the Academy, they taught students not to dwell on too many emotions; particularly the emotions that were likely to get you killed. The emotion of care and love were always at the top of that list.
Of course, no ninja really listened to that rule but it was on the back of every ninja's mind.
Neji knew love made people do stupid things and made sure the idea never crossed his mind. Trivial emotions like that would only be a burden and interfere with his goals. To put it short, he didn't like the idea of love. Which was why his Academy years were irritating due to the packs of girls he seemed to attract.
He knew, inevitably, that there would be a girl on his team. It was required for each team to have at least one female and one male. His teammate was an odd girl with no surname and a cheery personality that seemed to brighten the team. At first, he dismissed her as just another teammate to look after, but as things changed, Tenten became his sparring partner and more than just an average girl.
Of course, an average girl couldn't slice you in two with a flick of her wrist, but that was beside the point.
"You know," Gai had teased him and Lee as Tenten ran through the meadow, picking the wildflowers happily. "It's common for one of the boys to fall in love with the only girl in three-man cells. Perhaps one of you shall fall in love with our wonderful flower!"
Lee had grinned at the time, giving their sensei a thumbs-up in response. Neji had no idea what that had meant but Lee had never treated Tenten in a way other than brotherly, and Neji, at that time, had no intention of looking at his sparring partner that way.
Then one day, she was taken away from him, and things changed.
It was a B-ranked mission and the enemy had taken Tenten hostage, capturing the girl by outnumbering her and taking advantage of her injured state. Neji couldn't remember ever being so angry in his life.
He brought her back himself, holding her tightly in his arms. He hadn't even realized how important she was to him until the next morning, when she had woken up and sent him a grateful smile.
"I knew you'd find me."
Neji couldn't remember ever being so relieved.
Fate had given him a cold and lonely life, but luck graced his life with a simple but determined kunoichi and gave him an opportunity to love again.
"I don't understand… if a person only believes in fate, how can they believe in luck?"
He closed his eyes and pushed himself off the ground, extending a hand to help her up from where he stood. It was true; if a person believed in fate, then there was simply no way they could believe in luck, because in a fated person's mind, luck didn't exist.
"I didn't say I still believed in fate."
And with that, he slipped his fingers through hers and watched as a single white bird soared upwards into the gentle blue sky on its own.