A/N: There's an evil streak in me that is REALLY going to enjoy this story. On that same note, as much as I've studied Japanese language, the cultural ideas and ideals are still largely a mystery to me. If anyone has good reference sites for such things, I'd love to see them!
This, in theory, takes place after Part II will complete. HOWEVER, I'm ignoring the part where SPOILER SPOILER Kishimoto seems to have gone insane by OPing Naruto and blowing up the village END SPOILER END SPOILER. So it's sort of AU, but I don't think I'm going to directly contradict anything prior to that point.
Disclaimer: If I owned them, Part II would have been an entirely different story. Just so you know.
Summary: Hinata's sixteenth birthday is coming up, and Neji is expected to have a date for the party. Too bad finding the right girl turns out to be the least of his troubles. NejiTen with a smattering of others.
Genre: Humor/Romance. In that order.
Ratings: PG, maybe edging up to PG-13 for language, innuendo, and adult situations. But as usual, nothing all that bad.
Warnings: Lots and lots of het! Which is way different for my regular readers (sorry guys!)
View the Puppetmaster
It bothered Neji a great deal that his Uncle still held the power to unnerve him so much with such a simple phrase. "Come see me in my office after lunch." That's all the Hyuuga clan leader had to say, and seventeen-year-old Neji started jumping out of his skin at swift moving shadows. It was unpleasant and, more than that, annoying.
Hiashi-sama had treated him very well since the first Chuunin exam, training with him nearly everyday and showing him nearly as much favor as Hiashi's own two daughters.
Neji still could not forget that the older man could kill him with a thought if he chose, however unlikely that was. Particularly when other branch members gave him heated and envious looks.
If THEY wanted to spend so much time alone with someone who could kill them instantly, who they could not defend themselves from, they were welcome to it as far as Neji was concerned. He'd much rather spend his time training with his team anyway; they offered more variety.
The young man took a deep breath through his nose, attempting to calm his racing heart. He had done nothing wrong, and Tsunade wouldn't permit the random killing of one of her best young Jounin. Neji was sure of that much, at least, and so far Hiashi-sama had always seemed disinclined to go against the Hokage's orders in anyway.
Or even do something she might frown at, which was now a running whispered joke among some of his slightly older cousins. Neji failed to see the humor, and it did little to calm him now at any rate.
Kneeling down outside the delicate looking door, he knocked lightly on the frame. When the invitation to come in was extended, he slid the door open and scooted himself in. Neji hated having to shuffle along on his knees, but Hiashi-sama's private office was one of the most formal places in the compound, the last place you'd want to violate etiquette.
He could feel his uncle's eyes on him as he approached the desk, and resisted the urge to look up and defiantly make eye-contact just because he could. "You wanted to see me, Hiashi-sama?"
There was silence for a long moment, and Neji continued to focus on staring at the hands resting on his knees. He would not look up and demand an explanation for this unnerving invitation and the even more unnerving lack of speaking. He would not accuse the clan head of doing this for his own twisted amusement. He would not…
"Do you have a girlfriend, Neji?"
Now he looked up, and he was sure the surprise was written all over his face but…where on earth had that question come from? They'd discussed many things while training, but Neji's personal life was NOT one of those things. It took a few heartbeats for the teen to kick his brain in to gear enough to respond. "No, sir."
Hiashi-sama's face was unreadable as he looked his nephew up and down. Neji didn't bother looking away, certain that his uncle's rather mortifying intrusion into his personal life warranted some retaliation. For a second, Neji was certain he saw what might be the beginnings of a smile on his uncle's face, but they disappeared just as quickly when the older man spoke next. "Are there any girls you are interested in?"
Neji dropped his gaze again, this time from embarrassment because no, he could not think of one particular girl that he thought merited special attention. Not that he'd ever really looked before, because they generally seemed like a waste of time to him. TenTen wasn't but TenTen…she was just herself. The same girl that had given him a sound beating during their early Academy days for harassing Lee. The same girl that had helped him figure out Kaiten, and trained with him almost daily even now. She was his teammate, and herself, and while Neji considered her one of his three best friends, he was fairly certain that wasn't what Hiashi-sama was asking.
Unable to think of anything else to say, all he could do was continue to stare at the ground and respond with a quiet, "no, sir."
Whether this was the answer the Hyuuga head was hoping for or not, he gave no indication. This whole thing was making Neji feel like a scolded child, and it was really starting to annoy. He hadn't done anything wrong by showing no preference for any of Konoha's female population. There was no rule that said that he, as a branch family member, HAD to marry anyway. There was no reason for this humiliating interrogation.
"You are aware that Hinata's sixteenth birthday is in two weeks times, are you not?"
…Or maybe there was. Tradition held that Hyuuga women were presented to the world as eligible for marrying at that age, even if typically it did not happen for a few more years. This was the time when proposals for his cousin's hand would start coming in, both inside and outside the clan, and the party was always a large and formal affair. The idea of it all made the seventeen-year-old inwardly cringe. "I was not aware it was coming so soon, Hiashi-sama."
This did seem to be an acceptable answer, as the older man nodded his head. "This will be the first party since you yourself reached sixteen, Neji, and as such you may not be aware of the rules required."
"Rules?" Neji echoed as he suppressed a groan. He was proud of his heritage, in his own way, but he did not enjoy the rigidity required at every single organized event. Some of the older men there made Neji himself look as loose and free-spirited as Lee. The last thing he wanted was a whole new set of rules to follow.
His uncle nodded solemnly, though it didn't look quite right for a reason Neji could not name. "Being over age yourself, you are required to bring a date to all formal parties."
"WHAT?" It was uncharacteristic for him to yell so, and Neji mentally chalked it up as the result of the day's stress leading up to the meeting, but he honestly couldn't help it. They were going to force him to bring a girl to one of those things? To associate with a girl, period?
He tried to picture himself with the kunoichi he associated with, and the image of Ino hanging off his arm all night, wistfully monologue at him about how dark and dreamy and mysterious he was forced Neji to groan aloud this time. He desperately wanted to this to be a joke, but experience told him that Hiashi-sama never did such an undignified thing as joke.
The older man must have taken pity on him, as his face softened slightly. "It is expected that you have a young lady to accompany you, Neji, to show the rest of the clan that you are competent."
Competent at what, Neji almost asked, but changed his mind. Maybe he was better off not knowing.
"You do not have to like her, just be able to tolerate her for a few hours." The faint twitching of one corner of his mouth was as close as Neji had ever seen his uncle come to smiling. "Surely you can think of one such girl, can't you?"
Well, yes, there was one but TenTen was not the sort of girl his family generally approved of. He tried to picture his loud, free-spirited teammate in one of the ornate kimonos required for such activities, accepting with grace the inevitable critique of kunoichi fighting like men. His brain broke a little, unable to even imagine it.
His uncle continued, seemingly unaware of his nephew's mental distress. "I would naturally offer to have you accompany Hinata, but it would be inappropriate for her to be seen as dating before her birthday is finished. But you must bring someone, Neji. It is important you make a good impression on the clan elders."
Neji wanted to demand why he, of all people, had to make a good impression, but his usually acute brain was still trying to recover from the vision of the damage TenTen would inevitably cause when one of the aforementioned clan elders insinuated she belonged in infiltration and not on the battlefield beside her male counterparts. He'd seen once before what her twin dragon technique could do to fragile sliding doors and he did NOT want to repeat it.
Even if the image of some of the elders as pincushions was rather appealing.
And Hiashi-sama was still talking! "As you are to make a good impression, naturally you will bring which ever girl you choose here for my approval. We will have a rehearsal dinner for her a week before the party. Not with everyone, of course, but with myself and some of the more prominent families…"
At this point, if he'd been a lesser man, Neji was sure he would have cried. He'd have a week to try and drill into TenTen that killing old traditionalist was bad? It couldn't be done. It would not be possible to raise, or lower, depending on your view, TenTen to his family's standards in such a short amount of time, but TenTen was the only girl he could even remotely tolerate for extended periods.
No, he didn't cry, but he did decide to screw etiquette and let his head fall against his Uncle's desk with a nice loud crack. It didn't knock him out as he'd hoped.