Author's Notes: Written for 50 Alternates, using the prompt "nomad." I've always wanted to do this fic, because really, how much fun is it? XD Enjoy, all.
Rated for language, sex, and drug use.
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto and am not making any profit from this fan fic.
"How does it feel to be without a home, like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone?" – Bob Dylan
June 3, 1968 – The United States of America
Indiana sped by on either side of him in a flurry of yellows, greens, and blues bright enough to hurt his eyes. Beneath him the motorcycle growled and bit, new tires leaving dark tracks every few hundred feet. Cool air stirred his entirely too-expensive clothes and ebony hair; it felt like a thirst being satisfied.
Neji Hyuuga had hardly heard of this boot-shaped state before he'd taken off. Now he was simply in it and didn't get what people back home had laughed at. No, Indiana didn't have the skyscrapers and speedball excitement he had known in the city, but – if his brochure wasn't lying – it was thanks to this Midwest land that the East Coast had the steel for those skyscrapers at all.
He was sick and tired of Eastern snobbery. New York hadn't had any of this picturesque countryside to boast about, only miles of pavement and sunshine filtered through a haze of gases. When his dad had wanted a break from the urban rush, they had gone to Jersey, but only so far that the city's lights still blocked any view of the stars.
He had been told of California from a man on Fifth Avenue. He had been highly out of place, sandals and fringe clashing with the pressed business suits, the guitar in his hand with the briefcases. The only resemblance he bore to Neji was his shoulder-length hair. And his yet-undiscovered values; in San Francisco, he was informed, people were taking care of themselves and their "brothers and sisters. Fighting the Man and finding God. Where are you going, man?" Neji sometimes wondered if the hippie's question would have had such an effect on him if he hadn't been paying such close attention to Vietnam and the Tet offensive…how many troops were being sent out, only to be killed.
Despite exposure to full-fledged hatred for the twenty years he had so far lived, Neji had never been openly racist like his dad. But neither had he done much to help in African Americans' cause (nor the cause of any other Americans). But he, like any other decent human being, had felt a twinge of feeling on the fourth day of April, when a bullet had exploded into Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's right cheek. He had witnessed the mourning five days later, and something had begun to grow, like a fire getting hotter and hotter. Neji hadn't understood it then.
When he had turned sixteen, the grant kept for him by his mother's former lawyer was passed into his own bank account. Twenty thousand dollars seemed to appear out of thin air (but not free) and it was his. That same year, he made the decision to stop getting his hair cut. The ensuing shouting match with his dad had been tempestuous, but Hiashi had not so resented him for that he did not help fund Neji when he was accepted into Columbia University. Despite the obligation he was under, Neji never felt that rising heat go away.
Then somebody threw a bottle in Louisville, Kentucky, the result being an eruption of madness, of passion, of everything Neji had been raised to fear, and the fire had exploded, burning him up. Cashing in all of his savings, he had purchased a brand-new Honda Scrambler, filled a backpack with clothes and a map. He had the argument of a lifetime with his dad, nearly coming to blows, while his sisters watched, sobbing in the doorway.
Neji had felt bad about that, despite all his efforts to stiffen his heart while he walked out. Those girls he had grown up with had known both parents and little unpleasantness besides the changing fashions. While he had been studying, they had been keeping their hair short. Beyond what seemed a years-long bitterness for their carefree lives, he had allowed Hinata to cautiously hug him just before he had thrown himself out the door and onto his bike, moving West as fast as possible.
Neji didn't know it, but after that mention of him was practically hourly among New York's higher society. Republicans had been sure Hiashi had been shaping a future presidential candidate, unaware that Neji planned to vote Democrat. His name could be found everywhere but two places: Columbia's fall roster and Hiashi Hyuuga's will.
And as he continued on his way to California, Neji was sure that being disowned was the best thing to ever happen to him.
"You don't know what we can find, why don't you come with me, little girl, on a magic carpet ride." – Steppenwolf
West Lafayette proved itself a college town, and Neji stopped at one of a dozen diners just like the ones he'd already been to on his impromptu road trip. He tipped generously and didn't linger. Fueled with gas in his motorcycle and caffeine in his system, Neji chose to drive through the night. The last inviting rays of sun were retreating into the horizon behind a flourishing cornfield when his pure-white eye was caught by a figure standing in front of the YOU ARE LEAVING INDIANA sign. Slowly, he brought the bike to a stop.
A woman leaned against the left side of the sign, her stance wide enough for one foot to be in Indiana and the other in Illinois. The dim light post over their heads illuminated her young face. Neji saw a nasty-looking cut running vertically down her right cheek, the bright dried blood standing out against her unnaturally pale face. Her eyes were on the city he was just leaving, so dazed it seemed she was not even aware of him. His voice seemed to leap through his lips before his brain could approve its doing so.
Her gaze jumped to his, confirming his suspicion. "You kidding?" she asked, her voice ranging somewhere between high and low. Deep brown eyes glinted from behind matching bangs, overgrown and tangled. "I always wanted to live in a field in the middle of nowhere. This is my dream home, right here."
As an ex-New Yorker, Neji was immune to the snappish response and instead took in her appearance more thoroughly. She wore worn sandals and a pair of denim jeans that were frayed at the hems. A form-fitting white blouse rested under a flowing red vest, setting off her summer tan. Her coffee-colored hair hung straight to her elbows, lifted in places by the summer wind. She reminded him of the man from Fifth Avenue.
"Where are you going?" he murmured, more to himself than to her.
She answered anyway, and promptly. "California."
He inhaled, a little surprised by the turn of events, then smiled in a way that wasn't perceptible to the woman. "So am I," he said. "You…want a ride?" His Scrambler wasn't designed for two-person riding, but he was confident it was more than sturdy enough to hold them both. But he didn't know what had gotten into him. He was raised in New York City, for Christ's sake, and he knew better than to open himself to strangers. And while her tight jeans and low neckline agreed with him, he had never been compelled by such things.
The woman, however, afforded him a distrustful look. Intuition told Neji that she had not gotten that cut by accident. Her eyes alternated between the front tire of his bike, the sensible traveling clothes he wore, and his own gaze. Brown stayed on white for several moments as the stars thrust their brightness into view in the dark sky. "Yeah," she said at last, grabbing from the grass a backpack he hadn't seen and walking over.
She slid onto the rear edge of the seat behind him and did not hesitate to slip her arms around his waist. The cramped space made it so her knees were on either side of his hips. The sudden closeness along with the realization that he was hitching a woman who had said only two words to him momentarily stunned Neji.
"What's your name?" Five words now.
Neji's lips twitched again. It was somehow amusing to be asked that question. Ordinarily back in New York, no one had ever needed to. "Neji Hyuuga."
A low, throaty chuckle tickled his right ear, and he had the conflicting urged to tense and ease at once. "Sounds rich. You look rich. Are you rich?"
"It's not as nice as you'd think," he said tersely, thinking about the sixteen grand he had in his backpack and willing her not to try anything sneaky.
"Babe," she retorted (and Neji started because no one had ever called him that before), "the way this world's going, money is all that matters." He sat there, contemplating, until her voice rang out. "We gonna go or what?"
Back in focus, he started up the bike and instructed her to hold on. Neji thought he could feel her smile as the engine vibrated beneath them.
"One can have a broken heart, living in misery…two can ease the pain like a perfect remedy…one can be alone in a car, on a night like this all alone…two can make just any place seem just like being at home…it takes two, baby!" – Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston
Her name was Tenten. She told him at four in the morning when Illinois faded into Iowa. Her parents were immigrants from Canton, China, and she was from San Diego. Neji had come across her directly after a break-up.
"He was a bastard," she explained flippantly, "even though it was nice for a while. He thought he was such a big shot when he got into Purdue, and I went with him, because…well, I guess I'm stupid." Neji didn't know what to say to that, so he let her continue talking, which she seemed to prefer anyway. "Today, we got into a fight over the war. He started sticking up for the government. And I called him on it…I said one year of college should only be enough to convince the most gullible people that fighting in another country's civil war is right. Well, he didn't like that very much, and he was ready to hit me—"
"Is that how you were cut?" Neji asked, his eyes on the strip of lit road in front of him but his mind with Tenten.
Her laugh resonated in him, strangely warding against the early morning chill on his skin. "Hell no, man. I have my own way of protecting myself. Maybe I'll show you sometime."
He wasn't sure if she meant that as a friendly offer or a warning.
"But I left him, planned to hitch home, and then you came along… Babe, your hair is gorgeous." She ran the fingers of one hand through it. If Neji had been any less in control of himself, he was sure he would have wrecked the bike. "But for it being this long, you don't exactly come off as a flower child. You converting?"
Maybe he was, Neji thought. After all, he was on his way to San Francisco. Maybe he would buy a guitar and learn to play Blowin' In The Wind to a group of teenagers. "My hair was the only thing I was in control of for a long time," he replied at length. "My dad despised it."
"Good thing you weren't drafted. They'd have cut it all off."
He remembered soldiers he'd seen around the city, all starched uniforms and crew cuts. "I was going to be," he informed her. "My dad influenced the recruiters." His fingers tightened on the handlebars, thinking of Hiashi's manipulative ways and hating them.
"Sounds like a tightass," observed Tenten. "Your dad must do a lot of important work."
And he recalled that last, jarring argument again. Hiashi had been so furious that his wife had stayed out of the room, not wanting to be a witness of his horrific temper. Neji had fought back, accusing him of bigotry and machination. The yelling had driven them both to such fever that the older man had actually come at Neji with a pair of scissors, aiming for his hair or neck or both. Neji had dodged and restrained him until the scissors were dropped, and even now his head still rang with the scream of faggot Hiashi had thrown out after him.
"He's not my dad," he suddenly blurted. "Not…biologically. He's my uncle, my father's brother. I was raised by him and my aunt with my cousins. My parents are dead."
She said nothing for a long while, and Neji wasn't surprised. He had practically shocked himself into silence, not at all expecting to say such things to someone who was still, for the most part, a stranger.
"Wow," she breathed. "Interesting."
He had an unusual urge to squirm, but his current position would not allow the movement. "What is?"
Neji thought her arms might have tightened around his waist, but concluded that he had imagined it. "We have something in common, Neji Hyuuga."
They fell into companionable silence after that. It was difficult for Neji to believe that he had actually connected with someone he had known for less than a day. The few people who claimed to be his friends had needed at least two months before Neji would agree with them on any level.
But Tenten…she struck him as honest, if not by any means perfect. The society he had known was so full of liars and cheats that Neji was sure his capacity for trusting people was completely damaged, and so the sensation of talking with a person of genuine intent was both disconcerting and comforting for him.
And Neji had not even had to look her in the eye to feel that way.
"All the lonely people, where do they all come from? All the lonely people, where do they all belong?" – The Beatles
He had many more chances to look her in the eye on the day that followed. They came to an understanding; Neji would give Tenten a ride and pay for her meals along the way. In return, she had friends in San Francisco that she promised would not mind it if he stayed with them. Tenten made a point of insisting that he could not meet her friends, however, in his current display of the Man.
"You need new clothes, babe," she broke it him when they were having breakfast and guzzling down coffee to stay awake. Neji had been up for over twenty-four hours but continued to feel strangely energized. It might have been the pretty face smiling at him. "Lucky for us, I know exactly what you want."
Apparently he wanted a pair of fitting blue jeans and a flowing white shirt. Neji had resisted the headband with the leaf pattern, but Tenten's persistence that he would look fantastic in it eventually made him lean down to let her tie the fabric around his forehead. Her triumphant grin blended with appreciation in her eyes made it worth the defeat.
Iowa wasn't nearly as warm to a hippie girl and her longhaired traveling partner, so they moved into Nebraska and did not stop at a motel for some desperately-needed sleep until they reached Wyoming. Tenten didn't question his purchase of a single bedroom, though Neji's only motive behind the choice for the less expensive price. He had never had any intentions of scattering his inheritance across the country.
They wound down together, lying side by side on the overused bed as companionably as if they had known each other for the whole of their lives. There was awkwardness on Neji's part, but Tenten seemed amused by it. His pearl eyes were just beginning to feel as heavy as if someone had placed stones over them when she started to tell him about Lee.
"He's my best friend," relayed Tenten quietly. "And we used to talk about doing everything together. We were going to the same college, we were gonna share a flat and get a few friends to split rent. But a few weeks after he turned eighteen, Lee got drafted. No goddamn surprise," she added bitterly.
Neji thought of her free spirit, thought of the determination any of her friends must certainly have had. "And he just…went?"
She chuckled, and he realized that was a stupid question. "Yeah, he just went. Got his hair cut and got on the bus. He used to write me, when he was in training. Last I heard, he was going to Vietnam and putting on his faith in some general named Gai. Made him sound like Jesus come back." She turned on her side, facing away from Neji. "Sometimes I just know he's still alive. Other times I tell myself he's dead."
He realized just in time that he was reaching out to her and hurriedly withdrew his hand. "What if he is?"
This time her voice sound distant, only seconds from sleep. "Then he's still got at least one friend."
Neji thought, before drifting off himself, that she hadn't specified the what-if as living or dead. And when he woke the next morning to the smell of something sweet and unfamiliar, he found Tenten curled up in the corner, sobbing. He wished she had never decided to talk to him about Lee, and he went out of the room until her eyes were no longer red and she had thrown away the brown roll. Bringing back breakfast, he fielded her apologies.
"That was really rude," she stated in direct dismissal of herself. "I got this from my ex, I usually don't…it was his thing. I mean, I've done drugs, but if you're not okay with it being around you—"
"I don't really know much about them," he told her honestly with an indifferent shrug. "I guess it's fine."
Her resulting smile made him both wary and interested. And when she offered to roll him a sample, he couldn't really think of any reason to say no.
"Congratulations," Tenten giggled at him, her head on his shoulder while she watched him inhale, "you're stoned!" When the pleasant fog rolled into his mind and Neji started to slowly laugh along with her, he didn't even recognize it as the first time he had laughed since he was sixteen.
"Time to hesitate is through, no time to wallow in the mire….Try now we can only lose, and our love becomes a funeral pyre…come on, baby, light my fire!" – The Doors
They arrived in San Francisco at exactly eleven-thirty on the fourth of June, and in the half-hour and some minutes it took Neji to find Tenten's friends' house, she made plans to show him the most exciting parts of the city.
She was about to burst with energy when she flew through the door at what was to be their new home. "Hey, all! Come over here, there's someone I want you all to…meet…"
Neji caught up with her, stepping over garbage left in the hallway and a slew of piled-up blankets, upon which people had apparently been sleeping only minutes ago. He stood at Tenten's side in the doorway of a large living room, in which two men and two women sat watching the television in frozen silence. Disturbed by the lack of noise when Neji had been expecting nothing short of a party scene, he found his voice to ask what was going on.
"Watch the fucking news, idiot!" growled a fierce-looking man with brown hair and a red, triangular tattoo on each cheek.
A bit affronted, Neji listened.
"…is Joseph Benti, with CBS News. It has been confirmed that, only minutes ago, presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy was shot at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles…" On screen, reactions to the shooting could be seen. Screams were heard. "We are getting confirmation now that five or six others are also injured…"
"Bobby Kennedy," murmured a tall blonde, her vibrant purple dress hitched up around her thighs as she tucked her knees under her chin. "Goddamn…"
"So is he dead?" asked another woman sitting in the lap of a lethargic-looking man with black hair, who responded: "No one's said yet, Temari,"
"That's your Senator, babe." Tenten managed to sound disdainful and sympathetic at the same time. "What do you think?"
Despite his exposure to East Coast politics, Neji had never really considered Bobby Kennedy much beyond the fact that he had been Attorney General when JFK had been president. "I think it's crazy that both Kennedy brothers were targeted within five years," he offered after thinking.
"Yeah, man," nodded the tattooed man. "Total conspiracy. No shit." His disjointed speech proved he was just coming down from a recent high. He moved to sit beside the blond girl. "You okay, Ino?"
"Yeah," Ino answered briskly, but her hands were shaking.
The three couples watched for another few minutes in silence. Then the black-haired man spoke again. "If he dies, there'll be an announcement. I feel for all the people he was helping out, but damn – it's still the government. You can't trust those guys."
"Guess so, Shikamaru," agreed Tenten. "Hey, Kiba, do you have room here for me and my friend?"
"Yeah, yeah," Kiba replied easily. "Just put your stuff anywhere." His grin came easily now. "Find a bed and do what you want with it, girl."
The room seemed to fall into a semblance general ease again, with the exception of Neji. He followed Tenten to the kitchen, where she started removing the contents of her backpack: a couple plastic bags of cannabis, a few changes of clothes, and – startling Neji – about twenty-eight pocket knives, all different models and makes. He spotted at least three Swiss Army knives.
"Why do you have all those?" he couldn't resist asking as he watched her stow everything into some empty drawer under the cabinets.
"I got curious when I found a broken Swiss on the street when I was kid. I started buying my own when I was twelve, and it became a collection. Then I actually learned how to use them." Tenten ran a finger over the mostly-healed cut on her cheek. "I got this when I was making sure that ex of mine stayed the hell away from me."
Neji didn't know whether to feel impressed or concerned. An odd blend of both soon made him smile. "You're full of surprises," he observed.
"Glad you think so." And she promptly rose on her toes to press her lips firmly to his, winding her arms about his neck as she did so. This, Neji thought, wasn't exactly a surprise because he had felt it coming ever since she had told him about Lee. Gripping her hips, he pulled her hungrily against him and kissed back. He felt on fire, a little like he had prior to leaving Hiashi's house, but this was different in that he could tolerate this heat, even reveled in it, when Tenten guided him into a darkened bedroom.
Muffled by his mouth, Neji felt her giggle in the way she had during her high, but he knew they were both completely clean, and it only heightened the excitement. Being wanted, not simply needed, but actually wanted was a brand new experience. When she literally fell onto the unmade bed with him, he let the torch inside him flare until he thought they would both simply burn to the ground.
That night, she called him Neji, not babe.
"Our love was flying, our love was soaring, our love was shining like a summer morning." – The Who
A week after his arrival in San Francisco, Neji felt as though he had never lived without knowing Kiba, Ino, Shikamaru, and Temari. He didn't particularly identify with any of them, nor they with each other, except on the thought that nobody should be fighting meaninglessly. Tenten agreed with Neji when he pointed the thought out to her.
"I think that's why it's so easy to love each other here," she said, taking his hand. "Isn't it?"
He showed his agreement with a kiss and then some.
"So you got away," she told him one day when they sat on the stoop out in the sun. She was tying flowers into her hair while he played with the ends of the rich strands. "Now what, babe? You gonna go be free somewhere else?"
Inside, Ino was playing Janis Joplin while Shikamaru and Temari got into an argument that Neji knew would end in lovemaking. Kiba was out doing something no one knew about. He had left early that morning on what he would only call a "mystery mission."
Her question did nothing but put a hint of a smile on his face. He turned her face toward his so he could speak within an inch of her lips. "There's nowhere to go," he told her seriously, "when all my freedom's right here."
She had a look in her eye that signaled she was about to kiss him and maybe haul him back inside for some privacy when there was a loud shout from across the street.
Both of them looked up to see Kiba standing on the opposite sidewalk with a man whose eyebrows were remarkably thick and who hair was cut into a perfect bowl shape. The army uniform he wore was decorated with a handful of metals.
Tenten rocketed to her feet. "Lee?!"
Kiba and Lee crossed to her. Only Neji noticed that Tenten's old friend walked with a slight limp, though his gait was no less energetic for it. It seemed strange to him that someone who had been to Vietnam and back could smile so broadly and have eyes so wide.
But he found a respect, if not an instant like, for Lee within minutes. And as he watched his lover usher her old friend into the house, he hung back to recognize that he was gone from his beginnings.
Tenten raced back out to stare at him. "What are you doing, babe? You have to finish what you started!"
He ran up the steps to kiss her deeply, her fingers in his hair. And he hoped he could stay here with her, where it seemed his future could only ever be.