Disclaimer: Naruto and their characters belong to Kishimoto-sensei, and certainly, I am not him. So that leaves me with no right at all.
Author's Note: This is my first story in almost, what, two years? And I gladly presented it to you guys, whoever read this fic. Although I know that this fanfiction is soooo far from perfect, I myself could not be happier. For me, this story is something I pride, not only because I made it in the shortest time possible, but also because this fic have awoken a craving in me to make more of them.
Well, I guess I can say more in the bottom so please enjoy the fic right now!
Time line: This story happens somewhere before Akatsuki incidence, but Gaara has become Kazekage. Let's just say there is no antagonist organization, shall we? Oh, Neji is sixteen. I make Gaara few years older than him, so he is between nineteen – twenty years old.
A Sincere Sensitivity
Hyuuga Neji was not someone you would call as normal. At the age of four, a seal was carved onto his forehead. A seal, a curse one, shattered his childhood dreams and his future. A bird in wilderness had just been caught locked in a cage.
At the age of six, he was tremendously shocked by the fact that his father had died, due to an unavoidable Hyuuga fate. For the six-year-old boy, nothing is certain but being a Branch-member family clearly was not something he hoped in the first place.
At the age of seven, he came to an understanding to his own fate being a Branch-member and for the next six years, he strongly believed that the single thing called fate already decided everything in this world.
Until at the age of thirteen, during a Chuunin exam, someone who was a mere Gennin pointed out at him in a most inconceivable way that nothing was already fated. Everything and that means everybody can change. Although it was a distress at first, Neji preferred to call it as 'a revelation.' He silently regarded himself as one thing could change as well, since that time.
At that very same age, Hyuuga Neji had his first kill: it was a Shinobi from Sound Hidden Village. However, Neji himself almost did not survived, if it was not for the Medic Team from Konoha who immediately requested Shizune's assistance, because the wounds Neji had were too severe. For a long seven hours, Shizune and the best of Medic Team had done whatever they could to stabilize Hyuuga Neji's condition. Their effort had paid off and the operation succeeded at last.
Now, at the age of sixteen, he himself had changed. No longer he was identified as a boy who rocked back and forth by the twist of Hyuuga fate. Gone had the longing gaze he always had when he looked at the birds, yearning for their freedom. At the age of sixteen, Neji was a Jounin, one of the youngest of them in Konoha's History. It was already expected of course, because Hyuuga Neji wasn't known as a prodigy, pure genius, for nothing.
Some things remained unchanged though. For example, like the way he wore his hair down. The long, brunette hair still had their silky smooth, they glistened under the sun as the owner walked and ran. They still tied at the very bottom, and laid gracefully down his shoulder. His skin still moonlight-pale (one that Hiashi-sama had insisted to be examined by Godaime-sama herself, because that skin was not common for a Shinobi who spent most of his days outdoor.) Aside from that, everything worked out just fine. Neji started to be acknowledged by the Elders of Hyuuga family and they began to constantly ask him to attend ceremonial meetings, which the Hyuuga main family had annually.
"Hyuuga Neji-sama, Godaime-sama has requested your direct report for this last mission. She specifically asked you to come at noon in the latest," said an ANBU as he kneeled in front of Neji.
Neji glared at the said ANBU for a moment. Not only the fact that he was just arrived approximately six minutes ago at Konoha, but also because he was tired – dead tired to be exact. The mission had gone longer than he had expected. It was supposed to be a three-week mission, but somehow the target had managed to escape and it took Neji two more weeks to finally completing the mission.
Then again, if The Hokage asked for his very own presence, he had no choice to say no in that matter. Then with a final nod from Neji, the ANBU leaped to a nearest roof. Neji looked at the sun and regretfully realized he had no more than thirty minutes to make himself presentable in front of Godaime. Well, Tsunade, being the first woman who had taken the honorable seat, certainly different from the other previous Hokages. She insisted on having every Shinobi in her village looked fresh and clean if they were going to have an audience with her. Therefore, considering the fact that Neji looked no better than a stray dog, he had little choice to freshen up, not that he would mind getting off the greasy feeling on his body, though.
"Godaime-sama, I have Neji Hyuuga outside your door," said a new Jounin who just appointed to safeguarding the Hokage's office.
Tsunade nodded. "Send him in," she said. The woman just wanted to thank the said Jounin but she always forgot his name. It would be rude to say thank you and left the end hanging just because she did not know what his name was, wouldn't it? Well, Tsunade thought as Neji walked into her office, if only he was half-pretty as him, maybe I would remember his name.
It amused her to no end that the Jounin in front of her right now was surprisingly a male. Really, it should have been a sin to have that kind of beauty on a young man, how could women compete with him, anyway?
"You requested my presence, Godaime-sama?" a voice broke Tsunade out of her musings. She still could not believe her own ears. Nobody in this world should have that kind of voice! Neji's voice was not only deep and husky, it sent tingling and pleasure sensation to anyone who heard and even Orochimaru would sigh after hearing it. Unfortunately, the longhaired Jounin was not a talkative type. He spoke only if necessary and possibly that was the reason why his voice was sold throughout Konoha as CDs, for it was considered as the rarest and sexiest voice.
In addition to that, Hyuuga Neji himself was deemed as a living legend. His bravery, discipline, talent and appearance were already well known throughout the land and awed by almost every Shinobi, even those who dwell in other Hidden Villages.
It was no wonder, really, that when this letter arrived at her desk; Tsunade fully realized why in the world would the Kazekage-sama ask a favor from her.
"Neji, I want an explanation for this latest mission of yours. It was supposed to take three weeks, yet you completed it in two weeks more," Godaime wasted no time in formal greetings for it was unnecessary and certainly would have wasted both her and Neji's time.
"I apologize, Hokage-sama, the mistake was completely on my part. The target had managed to escape at the last moment and I was careless enough to let him go. He immediately gathered as much men as he could and because of that I need eight more days before I could get my hands on the scroll," Neji explained as he put a scroll on Tsunade's desk.
"You were the one who requested this mission as a one man rather than a team," Tsunade pointed out.
Her sentence met with silence. Although Neji knew he had overestimated his abilities, but his pride would not let him admit his mistakes. Yes, it was true he overestimated his abilities.
A heavy silence came between them before Tsunade decided to let it go. Once again, her gaze fell on her desk and a letter beneath the stacks of paper she had. She took a deep breath before finally made her mind to address Neji.
"Neji, a request has come from Hidden Sand; well actually it is from Lord Kazekage. He asked one of our Shinobi to visit Suna Village and stayed there for two months. They need all available hands to make sure that they have peace treaty with other nations. Diplomatic duties, ceremonial attending, a reliable Shinobi is needed for these kind of situations. And I think you would make a perfect choice for that."
"…..I beg your pardon, Hokage-sama, but I think there are far more suitable Shinobis which are capable to do this instead of me," Neji hardly believe his own ears. First of all, he had just come back from a mission, no more than an hour ago, and here he was, already appointed by another task. Not that he would complain on that, but surely there are much better Shinobis out there who could easily come to fulfill Hidden Sand's needs.
"Well, I wouldn't deny that fact, but every capable Jounin are out on mission. Genma and Raidou currently out of town, Asuma and Kurenai are on their honeymoon; unquestionably, you wouldn't have the heart to call them right now, would you? Gai was not a choice in the first place, he is a great taijutsu-user, but you know better than anyone else does that he hardly understands diplomatic problems. And Kakashi…sigh do you really, really want Kakashi to go? Undoubtedly, he would prefer to read 'Come Come Paradise' than attending ceremonial duties. It would hardly represent our Shinobi credibility either if he comes late on every meeting." Tsunade arched one eyebrow as she gave details to Neji.
"Then, I would gladly accept this mission, Hokage-sama," said Neji after a long, painful silence. He bowed before stepped out of the room, walked past two Jounin guarding Godaime's office. Eager to get as much rest as he could get, he quickly went to Hyuuga residence.
Inside her office, Tsunade reached out the letter from Lord Kazekage. She reread it for the nth time since it had first arrived. But no matter how many times she had read it, it would never ceased to amuse her. Really, she knew that Gaara was young, only a few years older than Neji, but the demon vessel hardly used any delicacy or formal greetings in explaining what he wants.
as The Fifth Hokage of Hidden Leaf Village.
It has come to my interest that there is one living legend in your village, namely Hyuuga Neji. I won't hid the fact that I never met him these three years, I only know this Neji from a picture Kankuro brought for me, not three days ago. However, from what I have heard of him, he is perfectly suitable to be my consort and I will not delay this any longer, for the Elders of Suna Hidden Village had constantly reminded me to take a spouse.
I have sent the same letter to Hyuuga Residence before, and they are more than willing to fulfill my demand of Hyuuga Neji. Now, if you will, I would ask you a favor. Send Hyuuga Neji to Hidden Sand and he will stay here for a month, or perhaps longer than that.
However, I am not completely heartless, although more than half people in your village think of me as one. I will not have my spouse if he hardly wants to bind with me. If Hyuuga Neji desires none of my intention for him, I will let him go and I ask you to accept him as you have been before.
I thank you for your understanding and attention.
Sabaku no Gaara,
as The Fifth Kazekage of Hidden Sand Village.
Oops, it seemed that there were some…trivial things she forgot to tell Neji, but a few deliberate mistakes would do no harm now, would they? Tsunade smiled mischievously.
Hyuuga Neji had not expected this. Having Gai as his sensei and Rock Lee as his teammate, he had seen almost everything strange in this world .He had gone to various missions, from the most common to the most bizarre. The simplest to the most dangerous one, he prided himself as nothing could surprise him no more. Even the fact that Lee dated Sakura now could not give the slightest hint of surprise in Neji's eyes. He had braced himself when he came into the border of Suna Hidden Village, already prepared with everything he could help on diplomatic matters. He even expected a Shinobi or two would welcome him, but certainly not this.
In front of him stood Kankuro with Temari, the two siblings of Kazekage himself, with dozens of other Suna Shinobis, all had bowed and kneeled to him when Neji came to the clearing of Suna borders. Before his mind could even register what on earth was happening, Temari, as the oldest sibling from the three, stood.
"Greetings, Hyuuga Neji-sama. I am here with the rest of my fellow Shinobis to greet you, with direct orders from Kazekage-sama. We will escort you into the town and to the main tower. Follow me, if you please." Without any further ado, Temari had leaped on the nearest tree, leaving Neji with little choice but to follow her.
A little part of his mind wondered if this is something like trap or perhaps it is a tradition in Suna Village to greet any foreign Shinobi with the best welcome they could offer. He decided to go on the latest. Hidden Sand Village was more than willing to gain alliance with other countries, and certainly this kind of greeting was considered necessary, for perhaps they wanted to make the best impression.
He was more confidence at this thought as they come to the Gate of Suna Village. The sentinel guards had opened the gateway as wide as possible and had even bowed to Neji as he passed them. Inside the gate, it was more than he had guessed earlier of what Hidden Sand Village would look like. Huge buildings built solitary from rocks and sand covered the carter where the village was constructed. He could easily become conscious of the real size of this village. It was nearly four times wider than Konoha, how could a carter this huge could be created in the first place was beyond Neji's understanding.
However, what amazed him most that the scenery around him was full with energetic shinobis and lively villagers. No one wasted a time by simply stood and doing nothing. Everyone he met was obviously hard worker, even the children. They were practicing jutsus or helping their parents, apparently they were more than eager to do their job. At Konoha, children slacked off from school and even few shinobis – like Shikamaru for example- who dozed off and took a nap in a broad daylight was a common sight.
Maybe this extreme environment has made them live their life to the fullest. They appreciate life more than we do at Konoha, Neji thought as he continued leaping from roof to roof. As they reached downtown, the busiest part of the whole town, he was even more surprised. Really, the people of Hidden Sand Village were certainly the best in matter of making other people feel appreciated. Everyone below him had bowed or at least stopped from their activities to nod at him. He could even hear some whispering like "Look! Neji-sama has already arrived!" or "Wow, he is more good looking than I imagine before!" or "He will be a perfect match for Kazekage-sama!!"
Hmm, come to think of it, Neji was not sure at the latest part he heard, but perhaps it was just his ears playing with him.
"The highest building over there is Kazekage-sama's main tower. That is where he usually works, at the top floor of course, and you can see a second tower at the right, it is where he lives," explained Kankuro.
Why they would bother telling me where Kazekage himself lives Neji could not help but wonder at this.
At last, they reached the main tower. Neji had assumed that he would have to wait first until Lord Kazekage would have an audience with him; therefore, he was completely unprepared for being face to face directly with the said Lord as soon as he stepped into the Main Tower.
There he was, in all his glory, Sabaku no Gaara, Gaara of The Dessert.
With a brown cloak wrapped around him, he stood, dark rimmed eyes stared unblinking at the foreigner from Hidden Leaf .Those emerald orbs concealed all expression he may felt that moment. His crimson hair was exposed however, for the hood was not draped over his head. Bangs covered his forehead in a messy and sexy way, only parted slightly at his left, Kanji character of ai, 'love' proudly graced the young face of The Fifth Kazekage. The lightly tanned skin only added the final touch, making him to be a work of perfection.
Neji barely realized it when Temari and the others kneeled at Lord Kazekage. He himself needed a few seconds more before kneeling as well, for he was too captivated by the sight in front of him. Quickly he brought himself to his knees, ashamed at being caught staring. Soon enough, a charismatic voice broke the silence.
"You may stand," Gaara said. So this is the infamous Hyuuga Neji? he thought, not bad, not bad at all. Far more beautiful than what I saw in that picture.
Neji could feel those emerald eyes probed on him as he rose. His own pale eyes, however, stared at the ground. It was considered impolite of course, if he meet the eye of someone higher on rank than he, in their first meeting. No sooner than that, he was addressed.
"Hyuuga Neji. Walked with me."
A month has passed since he first arrived at Hidden Sand Village, but Neji barely understood what the purpose of him being there was. At one side, Godaime-sama had instructed loud and clear about what kind of diplomatic issues he would faced. But for the whole the last month, Neji was hardly introduced to political problems, in fact, he had done nothing but take a walk throughout the Sand Village with the very same Kazekage-sama himself.
One day Kazekage-sama had asked Neji to travel with him, which leaves Neji no right to refused. After crossing some hideous desserts, they finally arrived at a beautiful three miles square oasis. What perplexed Neji most was a fact that the said oasis was full with birds. Catching confuse in the Hyuuga's eyes, Gaara had taken upon himself to explain.
"I bought this oasis and created it to be a bird paradise. A tricky work but I spare no expense. It took nearly fifth of my savings from the last three years," he said.
"…but is this necessary? I mean, why would do this in the first place? And why you show it to me?" the longhaired Jounin could not help but ask.
"Because I heard you like birds."
And there was another day when the two of them walked through main town, for Gaara said he needed some checking for his kunai and shuriken. Neji did not mind of course, because he himself felt the need to check on his weapons as well. So there they were, walking side by side in silence (which Neji found extremely satisfactory). On their way there, he certainly was surprised because suddenly Gaara handed him a handful of red roses.
"What…?" Neji found himself stuttering and staring at flowers in his hand rather than speaking.
"That old lady from Suna Flower Shop asked me to take some flowers for you, for free if I might add, so there," Kazekage explained as he gestured to an old lady who was waving cheerfully to them.
But why red roses? Neji wanted to inquire, unfortunately, those words seemed died on his tongue, so he could only nodded his thanks. Not two hundred meters later, a middle-aged man selling fruits offered Neji to take a paper bag, while saying with a smile, "Allow me to indulge you with the best korma Hidden Sand Village could offer, Hyuuga Neji-sama."
"Err, thanks," said Neji awkwardly as he accepted the paper bag.
Another man offered him a box full of apples (a rare commodity for those who dwell in Hidden Sand Village) and before he could refuse, a flask had made itself a way to Neji's hands.
"The best coconut oil in town for you, Hyuuga Neji-sama," explained a young woman as she saw confusion across Neji's pale eyes.
At the time Gaara and Neji arrived at the weapon shop, the longhaired Jounin hands were completely full with gifts from town people, korma, apples, roses, coconut oil, even some rare stones and other things as well.
Gaara stared as Neji struggled to maintain his balance beneath that mountain of gifts. Feeling a small smile tugged on his lips, The Kazekage quickly called a few Shinobis who just returned from patrolling and asked them to deliver those gifts to Neji's room, which located just two doors from his own.
As if things could not be more perplexing, not two days ago The Byakugan user was introduced to the Top Elders of Hidden Sand Village. Although he understand it was necessary to know them, but certainly something like 'have a private dinner with us' had nothing to do with diplomatic missions. Well, maybe it had, to some extent, but Neji hardly done anything for that matter.
The dinner turned out to be more than bizarre. Sure, Konoha had been an opening conversation topic, but almost for entire dinnertime, The Elders asked Neji with things he considered as…private.
They had asked him to explain about Hyuuga Family, twist fate they endure between Branch and Main Family, about missions Neji had done since he was a mere Gennin, about his reputation as a living legend and even about how many…lovers he had in the past.
Of course this had made Neji almost spit the tea he had been drinking, but he answered them nonetheless. He told them regarding Tenten, whom he had been dating for two months some three years ago and how they were just friends right now.
They seemed satisfied with him by the time dinner ended and Gaara chose that moment to step into the dining hall. He could tell by the approval in The Elder's eyes that Neji had more than just pleased them. The Kazekage fought the urge to smile as he meet their eyes. Well then, if The Elder already approved, he saw no more reason to delay his proposal any longer.
A knock woke Neji from his sleep. As he opened his eyes, he saw the sun was already quite high. Embarrassed at being overslept, he quickly asked, "Who is it?"
"Hyuuga-sama, The Kazekage requested your presence in his office immediately."
The longhaired Jounin sighed before he replied, "I'll be there soon."
Certain that the messenger had gone, Neji got up from his comfortable queen-sized bed nd went to bathroom. He washed his face and took his outfit for today. Nothing special, just his usual Jounin attire; a kimono and life-vest with a pair of trousers. Before he tied his headband, Neji combed his hair. After make sure everything was set, he put on his sandals and made his way to The Kazekage's office.
He couldn't help but wonder what kind of urgent business that Kazekage-sama needed him for. His mind wandered at the said Lord. Gaara was a kind of… nature phenomenon for Neji. He was strong (that came without question), good-looking (more like cute, actually), warm and a bit distant at the same time, kind (this showed by how many townspeople loved him already), and charismatic (this was what made all Shinobi in Suna willing to die for him).
Neji had been doing some thinking last night about Gaara and found himself could not sleep until dawn. This longhaired Jounin was no fool; he knew he felt something more than just respect about Kazekage, although he was not sure what it was. It could be admiration, it could be attraction or it could be…love. Actually, his feeling was a kind of mix from those three emotions.
He made sure he knocked before entering the room. Inside the Jounin found Gaara stood near his window with his back to Neji.
"You asked for me, Kazekage-sama?"
"Yes," Alright, you can do this, Gaara, he mentally braced himself.
He turned and found himself face to face with the living legend. The Kazekage soon covered the distance between them and he kneeled in front of the very perplexed Hyuuga Neji. Before Neji could process what in the world was going on, Gaara spoke confidently.
"Hyuuga Neji, I will not lie to myself anymore. Yes, I admit I have taken an interest in you since Kankuro brought me a picture of you. Yes, I have heard of you and it is true that I desire you to be my consort. But I was completely unprepared to what I feel right now. You have bewitched me, Hyuuga Neji, more than anyone had ever done. Will you accept my hand in form of marriage?"
"??????!!!!!!!!!!!" (AN: this is Neji, by the way)
Gaara forced himself to remain calm, but inside he was more than desperate to look into Neji's eyes.
"…excuse me, Kazekage-sama, but-"
"Gaara, please call me Gaara."
"Alright then, Gaara. But I thought Hokage-sama asked me to solve some diplomatic issues," Neji fidgeted nervously. He began to understand the completely strange, bizarre incident he experienced here in Hidden Sand. Apparently, the whole town knew that Gaara had taken an interest in him. That explained those red roses, mountain of gifts, and that bird-full-oasis.
"I will not deny that fact. As you know already, Suna is more than willing to deeper the alliance with other countries. Among the rest four, Hidden Leaf is the strongest of all. It would do both villages no harm if this peace extended until the hand of matrimony," Gaara's voice was surprisingly calm.
Still no answer came from The Leaf Shinobi.
"I know this completely surprised you, we have known each other for long time but we barely interact at all, except this last month. But I am more than sure to tell you this," Gaara lifted his head and meet Neji in the eye, "Hyuuga Neji, I love you."
Their eyes remained contact for few moments before Neji reached out Gaara's hand and helped him onto his feet. Their hands remained entangled and the Jounin raised it to his lips. Placing a kiss, he smiled, "Well then. I think a ceremony is ought to be prepared."
The Kazekage untangled their hands and placing both his palm as he cupped on Neji's cheek. He drew his face closer and their lips met for the first time. No movement, just two lips remained locked. The Jounin pulled apart after a moment and whispered, "My family has to know about this."
Gaara frowned before answering, "Didn't the Hokage tell you? Your family has agreed."
"Wait, what has Tsunade-hime told you before you came here?"
"Only about some diplomatic issues that need to be solve and I am the only capable and available Jounin for doing so."
The Kazekage seemed perplexed for a moment before he burst out in laugh. This time it was Neji's turn to frowned.
"That Tsunade, I'll get her for this," Gaara said between chuckles.
"Ssh," Gaara put two fingers on Neji's lips before continued, "We can talk about her later. Right now, we have some…urgent things to do." He could feel Neji's lips turned to be a smile before meet Gaara's lips for a second time.
Author's Note: Well, that's all for this story, I guess. I had considered on making a sequel, but on a second thought, I would prefer it to end this way. While making this story, I have taken an unhealthy dose of liking Gaara. That guy is just too angsty for his own good!! If you have any comment or anything, please review. Flames are welcome, but if you really must make one, I would prefer if you do it in positive and constructive words. Oh yeah, if you notice any changes in my fic's time line which are different from manga or anime, I do them deliberately, so please pay them no mind. Once again, I'd like you to be kind and push the review button below.