Two days later, when Neji had gotten back to the village and had left the Hokage's office, he was on his way from the tool shed to the outside of the Hyuuga compound. In his left hand was a small sack. Gingerale's body lay inside.
It had been obvious to everyone who had tried to talk to him that something was very wrong. He figured that most of them had guessed, because he had not uttered a word since he had left Tsunade's office.
Lee was the only person who had tried to speak to him. "...Is Gingerale okay?" he had asked after an unsuccessful attempt at conversation. Neji had just shaken his head and walked around him, and that was it.
Now walking back home from the tool shed, he was met with a panicked Coke halfway to the house. Amber eyes wide, he circled Neji three times, looked him up and down, and then threw his head back and yowled dismally.
"Shh," Neji said quickly, picking up the kitten and trying to sooth him before he made a scene.
He looked up a minute later and saw Hiashi at the front door. The man looked around quickly, and then at Neji, visibly noting Coke's out-of-character moment.
"It was a false alarm, Uncle," Neji said, just loud enough to be heard.
Hiashi stared at him for a long moment. He seemed to be analyzing the situation, because his face grew the slightest bit solemn. He nodded, turned around, and started to walk toward the house. "If you want, you can keep the cat in your room tonight. He seems to want to be around you," he said as he disappeared.
Neji stared after him blankly, and then looked down at Coke, suddenly realizing that the kitten's claws were embedded in his shirt. As he stared down at him, Coke mewed quietly. He sounded like a lost baby, calling out for his mother. Neji stroked his head and trudged into his house. But as he reached to open the door, he stopped, suddenly realizing the empty part of him that he needed back. He went in and placed the kitten on the bed, before leaving the room again.
Hinata finished making her bed, a satisfied smile on her face. Looking around at her now fully-cleaned room, she looked toward her waiting computer, which lay asleep. As she watched there was a blink and the screen turned on. She had left her IM on with an away message up, and TenTen had just IM'd her. She started toward the computer, when she heard a knock at the door. A moment later is creaked open, revealing Neji.
His dirty, slightly bloodied clothes revealed that he had just come back from his mission, but that was not what concerned her. His head was low, and his messy hair hung carelessly over his face, hiding it from her. He looked run down in more ways than one. When she looked over his shoulder from where he stood, into his room, she saw the brown kitten sitting on his bed, peering at her. She was surprised to see how sad he looked.
Neji cleared his throat roughly, bringing her attention back to him. "Hinata..." he started, but trailed off. His voice was dry and hoarse.
When he said nothing more, she slowly said, "Y-yes, Neji-nii-san?"
There was a long pause, before he looked up. The look in his eyes made her want to break down crying. But she didn't. "Do you... do you have... my blanket?" he said hoarsly.
Surprised, she just stared at him. "What blanket?"
He rubbed the back of his neck and his gaze dropped again. "...Little Blue."
"Oh!" she gasped, surprised. Turning on her heal, she quickly went to her closet, and, reaching into the corner where the blankets were kept, she pulled out the little blue blanket. She crossed the room again and gave it to him.
He snatched it and held it to his chest in the same fashion he had when he was a child. "Uh... thanks," he mumbled, turning around and disappearing into his room. The door shut behind him, and Hinata was left staring at his closed door, baffled.
The IM window sounded again; TenTen was still waiting for her. She quickly turned to it and sat down, her hands shaking a little with adrenaline.
HYuGaLuV21: tenten, the weirdest thing just happened... but, nvm I shouldn't say...
With Little Blue in his hand, Neji lay on his bed. Coke dove out of his way as he landed, and as he settled down, the kitten curled up on his chest.
Neji's dreams did not come. He was asleep, but he could feel himself laying there, as if he were awake and just waiting to go to sleep. But he could not sense Coke, and that made him feel very alone. He started to pull his soul out of his body. But it was stuck, and it was stuck very tightly. He pried and pried with all his might... until finally, he was free. His soul flew out of his body, and he was thrown somewhere. He had no idea where or how far.
But then he found himself in a place that was nothing but white; no walls, no corners, no end. Nothing but brightness and white. He looked around, the loneliness somehow gone, now replaced with a cautious curiosity. He lost all sense of being, age, pride. "Hello...?" he called into the nothingness. His voice echoed like the ring of a bell, until it was gone. He looked around again. Nothing had changed.
"Well, well, well... Hello, Neji!" an unfamiliar voice rang back after a long pause.
He spun around, trying to find the source of the mysterious voice. He could see no one.
From the light, a figure started toward him at a seemingly slow pace. He looked toward it, stiffening, but not the least bit afraid, suddenly realizing that it was impossible to feel such a way here.
The figure was quickly much closer, and it took on the shape of a cat. Closer and closer it came, and colors started to appear, too. Two bright, vibrant emerald-green eyes, and several ginger spots. It clicked, and as it did, Gingerale came to a stop in front of Neji, staring up at him with an unearthly blissful expression.
Shocked, he dropped to his knees, rubbing her head and caressing her cheek with his thumb. "Gingerale... you..." he stuttered, but his words wouldn't form as he stared at her perfect face, and her eyes, which were now brighter than he had ever seen them.
"Neji Hyuuga! What are you doing? You're going to scare people if you don't get back into your body, you dieing fool!" Gingerale said scornfully, cocking her head to one side.
Surprised, he jumped back, but did not move far. He stared at the cat, a question in his eyes.
Gingerale giggled. Her voice was soft and sweet, very feminine and gentle. "Surprised? I thought you would have guessed, being the genius that you are." She paused, and watch Neji's nose crinkled at her insult. Then she went on, "Well, here's a hint: I'm a LOT older than you know me as."
He thought hard, seeing at she was not joking. "You're a spirit...?" he replied stupidly, thinking little of his answer.
An amused and impatient look flashed across her face and she laughed, "No dip!" After a moment, her smile faded and was replaced with a troubled frown. "Little Coka-Cola is gonna have a heart attack, and I'm probably going to have a stern talking to, but I might as well explain, seeing as you're not in any immediate danger..." she sighed, sitting down and wrapping her tail around her front paws. "You are right, I am a spirit. But I am a very old one. I've lived and died countless times, each and every one having a moral ending.. in one form or another. I was always born for a reason, and I always died for a reason.
Her words mezmorized him and he took them in like candy. "Well then... what was your reason this time?" he asked.
Gingerale's smile returned. "Well, Neji, we can sum it up to this: You're a reckless bonehead!"
He frowned, making no effort to hide his offense and confusion.
The cat threw back her head and laughed. "Alright, fine. Let me explain..." She sighed contently, her laughter fading. "Usually when I am called to Earth, it is to be a guardian. And when I am needed for such a job, I'm a last resort. You see, dear, most people trust their guardians enough subconsciously to let them watch over without actually having them physically there. You, in all your past lived, lacked that sense, and never made it pass your 18th birthday. And after your episode with that sound nin, most of us up above were pretty convinced that you were a lost cause. But... we decided to give you one last chance, and I was born."
He stared at her in disbelief, not able to comprehend what she was saying. "You... you were just here because-"
"Because you were too blind to see me," she finished, giggling. "Isn't that ironic!"
"Uh... Gingerale... Why did I die so young in my past lives?" he asked hesitantly, not sure if he wanted to know.
She looked thoughtful. "Hmm... most of the time... you were just a curious little girl. You'd drown in a pond... or just wander into the wrong situation... However, in one life you died in a fire rescuing your friend's little sister... That was when you were 13." She giggled, continuing to look thoughtful. "It just makes me laugh at how masculine you are this time, because you were such an adorable little girl in most of your past lives!"
Somehow, Neji found that easy to understand. "Were you with me in any of my past lives?"
She nodded. "I was your best friend in one. You only lived to be five." She suddenly started to transform, her shape changing into a little girl in a white robe with bone-strait black hair that stopped a little above her shoulders. She had dark blue eyes and light skin. "My name was Tillia, but you always called me Black. You thought my hair was the coolest thing in the world!" She smiled sweetly at him, twirling one finger through her hair. "But I've been almost everything. I've been cats, dogs, wolves... even a tiger once." She transformed into a tiger cub and hopped into his lap. "Aren't I adorable?" she giggled, pushing her fluffy cheek into his hand.
Neji nodded a little and said, "So... the only reason you were born was to protect me?"
"Well... no..." she said slowly, rolling off his lap and turning back into Tillia. "I can have a life, too. And I've taught you some stuff..."
"...You've taught me how to take care of kittens," he replied hesitantly.
She made a face, and sat up and smacked him across the face lightly. "No, stupid! I've taught you a lot more than that! Think of it this way: Without me, would you ever have the dignity to go to Hinata and ask for Little Blue back?"
He stared at her blankly, and for a moment he wondered how she knew that. He shook his head.
With a triumphant smile, Tillia rolled onto her back again. "Exactly. And you've become more sensitive. Everybody notices it, though they might not show it." She waited for him to respond, but when he didn't, she went on: " Life is too short to not take the right kind of chances. You're a courageous person, Neji. And you have potential. You could change the world and make a lot of people happy if you live long enough. Don't kill yourself, okay?"
Her words hit him hard. He nodded again, looking at the ground. He slowly looked up again and opened his mouth to speak, but stopped when he saw Tillia's strange look. It was a mixture of delight, surprise, and annoyance, and it gave him a feeling of excitement that was fueled by the sound in her voice when she said, "Someone wants to see you, Neji." She sat up and transformed into a woman with hair the color of his down to her mid-back and big hazel eyes. She had darker skin than Tillia, but resembled her much in the face, except older. She stood as the transformation ended, and offered Neji her hand.
He took it and was pulled to his feet. Both he and Gingerale's new form watched as a man whom he hadn't seen in a decade walked toward him from the light, his smile wide yet calm.
"Father!" Neji yelled, and, losing all sense of dignity, ran up to him and wrapped his arms around his neck in a warm embrace. He said nothing as he stood there hugging him closely, his mind taking him back to the last time he had been able to do this.
"Hello, Neji!" his father laughed wholeheartedly, hugging him close. "You've gotten so big!"
"Hizashi, what are you doing here?" Gingerale asked sternly, coming to the man's side. She was still in the form of the brown-haired woman.
Hizashi looked up apologetically at the angel, unable to hide his happiness. "I'm sorry, Sasha. Since he was here, I thought that I might as well take the opportunity to say hello."
"Oh... forget it," she said with a smile. "You probably won't get another chance to do this until he's dead anyway."
"Which better not happen for a long time!" he added, looking at Neji- who was still clutching him around the neck- and stroking his head.
Neji nodded absentmindedly, barely comprehending what was being told to him. His father pulled him away and he reluctantly let go, looking up at him with a smile and bringing himself back to the present time.
Gingerale sighed contently and said after a moment, "Alright, Neji. We have to go."
He looked up with a frown. "Father just got here. Can I stay for a little while longer?"
She shook her head, becoming serious now. "You've been here too long, and you've been told too much. You were never supposed to be here at all! You need to go."
"...She's right, Neji," Hizashi admitted reluctantly, much to Gingerale's pleasure. "You shouldn't be here. Go."
Neji stared at him disbelievingly for a long moment, willing him to tell him to go again. But his father's look finally made him look away, and his gaze turned back to Gingerale. "If I-"
"Don't make me have to chase you," Gingerale warned, transforming into a large wolf.
He frowned deeper, and then slowly turned around and started to walk away, not sure what to do next. He finally realized that he didn't know, and let his legs lead him. As he walked, he could sense Gingerale and his father walking away in the opposite direction, and he could hear them quietly talking. Then suddenly they were gone, both their voices and their presences. A moment later he was sent downward, and the light quickly faded to black. His eyes flew open, and as his vision cleared he realized that there were two pairs of eyes on him. He looked sideways first. Coke was standing next to his cheek, his eyes wide with confusion and fear. He looked forward again, and to his puzzlement Hinata was sitting on his chest, giving him the same look.
"N-Neji-nii-san!" she gasped, climbing off of him and kneeling on his bed. She looked shaken. "Y-Y-You're alive!" She was panting slightly, and her face looked tired and pale. She pushed a lock of hair out of her face. Her eyes were still wide with shock as she stood there.
As he stared at her silently, waiting for an explanation, Coke crawled onto his chest and curled up into a tight ball with an exasperated sigh. The kitten looked as shaken up and Hinata did; his fur was fluffed and he was panting slightly. His tail tip twitched with uneasiness as he lay there with his eyes half-closed, staring dazedly at the wall in front of him. Neji blinked and put his hand on Coke's back, only to realize that his hand was very pale. He picked it up and examined it carefully, before looking at Hinata again.
"Y-You... When I woke up, it was already late, and you weren't up yet," she began. "You door was closed and the kitten was scratching at the door meowing, s-so I went in... Your heart wasn't b-beating... I started to try to w-wake you up or start your heart again." She paused, and then looked around the room and frowned anxiously. "Where's Gingerale?"
Neji took in a huge breath before stating calmly, "She'd dead."
Hinata gasped, her hands coming to her mouth and her eyes becoming wet almost at once.
He took another huge breath. It seemed hard to breathe. "She saved my life." After a moment and nothing was said, he nodded confirmation, though it clearly was not needed. He picked Coke up and set him down on Little Blue- who had slid to the inside side of the bed in the middle of the night- and swung his legs over the side of the bed. He stood up slowly, realizing that his legs felt weak.
Hinata watched him, her eyes wet and her mind far away. Without a word she left the room, deep in thought.
Coke stared after her and then looked at Neji worriedly, as if trying to decide which person needed him more right now. Finally he leapt off the bed and bounded after Hinata, leaving Neji to himself.
After a long shower and a change of clothes, Neji went into the main part of town for breakfast.
As he walked through the streets he saw Sakura walking in his direction. Sprite was trotting behind her carrying a little sack, most likely full of herbs. When the kitten saw him, her eyes widened. She ran between Sakura's legs, dropped the sack, meowed, and ran to meet him.
He knelt to meet her and as the kitten jumped into his arms he stood back up to face Sakura. "Hello," he said calmly as Sprite pressed herself into his cheek.
Sakura smiled, watching Sprite crawl all over him. "It's nice to see you and Gingerale back from your mission," she said. At that moment she did a double take, suddenly realizing that Gingerale was not with him. She looked confused. Sprite meowed quizzically, looking around, too.
"She's not here," he finally replied after a long pause. "She was killed on my mission."
Sakura gasped, her eyes widening. "Neji... I'm sorry..."
Neji shook his head. "There was a purpose..." he mumbled almost inaudibly.
She looked mystified.
He paused, and then said, "She saved my life. She took a dagger to the heart to block an attack."
"...Wow," she murmured. Sprite gurgled contentedly and Neji handed her back to Sakura.
"I've got to go," he said, changing the awkward subject quickly.
"Bye, Neji..." Sakura murmured as he walked around her. Sprite climbed to her shoulder and meowed goodbye.
The wind blew gently as Neji sat against a training post, looking out into the empty training field that lay before him. That was where he had gone right after breakfast, and when he had found no one there he had simply sat down to take advantage of the perfect weather.
The wind suddenly picked up speed, blowing into his face, and picking up his hair and making it dance through the wind lightly. He sighed as it stopped, his dream coming back to mind. It all seemed vague and fuzzy now, but he could still remember the range of emotions that accompanied it, and as he tried to remember, they played back through his system like a cycle that he could not stop.
The wind blew again, carrying a familiar sound: a cat's meow. He looked to his right to see Cream Soda galloping toward him. She jumped into hair lap, her expression somewhere between thrilled and quizzical. It made him abandon his thoughts at once and focus on her, and a moment later she asked excitedly, "Meow meow mew mew meow?"
"Cream! Cream Soda!" another familiar voice called. Neji looked up to see TenTen running toward them, looking very tired. As she came up to him, she fell to her knees panting hard. "Cream... why... did you..." She slowly looked up, and when she saw Neji she blinked. "Oh... hey..."
"Did she give you a run all the way from your house?"
She looked at him, a little confused. "Yeah... she did." She crawled to Neji's side. Leaning against the poll with a tired sigh, she said, "I heard about Gingerale..."
"...Who told you?"
There was a long pause.The wind blew again.
"I'm so sorry, Neji," TenTen murmured, looking at him solemnly. The wind blew. His long bangs covered his face from her, hiding the tiny smile that had formed there. When he said nothing she looked at the ground. "I mean... She meant a lot to you. Everybody knew that. I know if an-"
She didn't get a chance to say anymore, because Neji pushed his lips into hers, silencing her. Then he pulled away slowly, an uncharacteristically warm smile on his face.
TenTen blinked, her cheeks red. "Why...?"
"Life is too short not to take the right kind of chances," he said, stroking Cream's head gently. "I learned that..." He trailed off, deciding it would be better not to tell her. Not yet, anyway.
She watched him silently, still half in shock. "What do you mean?"
His smile widened a little. "Nothing," he said, still looking at Cream. The kitten looked back at him, her eyes happy and knowing with a new glitter in them. He did a double take, and with another subtle serge of delight he realized what Cream was. The two exchanged a silent message, and then Cream climbed into Tenten's lap.
Neji lay his head back on the pole and closed his eyes, the smile still there. He could feel Tenten's eyes on him, which made him smile even more.
And after a short moment she spoke: "What's with you, Neji? Gingerale was just killed, and you're fine with that? You seem... happy..." Her voice was curious, not accusing, but as she said this her gaze got suspicious, but then that suspicion faded away.
"Everything happens for a reason, TenTen," he replied calmly, not turning to look at her.
The wind blew gently, ruffling Neji's hair. The sound of the wind stuck with him for a moment, soft and sweet...
The purr of the wind was just like Gingerale's.
Well, this is it. This is the last chapter. Hope y'all injoyed :) I certainly enjoyed writing it...
If you're not happy with the ending... well, I don't have much to tell you. This is what I came up with. Like I said before (I think) this story didn't have a plot when I started writing it. It developed one as I went on. So... yeah.
Leave all your questions in a review. If there are enough, I'll make another chapter answering ALL of them :)