Chapter 1: The Red One

Pairings: GaaraXNeji, NarutoXSasuke, slight TemariXShikamaru, one-sided SakuraXSasuke

Rating: M, for sexual content and language

Note: I do not own Naruto, but I do write original stories.


"God, you two are hopeless!"

Sakura sighed, throwing her hands up in the air and nearly knocking over the metal cup full her ever present coffee.

"All you do is talk about your jet Neji, and don't even get me started on the way you talk about your cat Sasuke. It's weird. Why can't you be normal men, talk about girls and getting drunk or something?"

"What's wrong with my cat! I love him, is that so hard to grasp?"

Sasuke asked, switching a few dials on his water bottle to produce milk instead of the orange juice he'd been drinking. Naruto didn't like drinking from the bottle because it added a sort of metallic taste to everything and Sasuke didn't think it was good for his health either, so he had taken to fixing that by pouring it into a plastic container for him ahead of time. Sasuke was in love with the way his little yellow cat would lick his fingers as his way of thanking the raven. Sasuke admittedly thought it was adorable. Naruto had the cutest little pink tongue.

"It is, when all you do is play with him in your lab and never get out. Come on, I mean, wouldn't you prefer a real person. Someone like me?"

"No."

Sasuke was a very blunt and honest person. He usually took to telling Sakura the way things really worked, which normally meant he'd crush her flirting attempts and completely ignore her.

"Look at her face Sasuke! I think you broke something again."

"Shut up Neji! This has nothing to do with you!"

Neji held back a laugh, shoving his fork firmly in his mouth to keep himself from making things worse. Sakura always got so upset over nothing. At least to Neji it was nothing. Sasuke was his best friend and if he wanted, he should be able to spend time with his cat. The cat that had once actually been his boyfriend, until he'd let the former blonde drink something sitting around in his lab without a label. Neji would never forget that. It was one of those screw ups you reminded your friends about for the rest of their lives. It just couldn't be helped.

"So, speaking of Naruto, have you found anything to turn him back yet?"

"What? Oh, no. Not yet."

Neji watched Sasuke's usually cool manner fall into what the Uchiha would never admit, was a pout, bordering on brooding depression.

"They've got me working on some new machine that's supposed to be able to regenerate a body from something as small as a hair. It's taking up all my free time and it doesn't even work right. The last test brought back a bloody arm with little bits of skin still stuck to it in random places."

Neji shuddered, trying not to picture the raven's all too descriptive explanation.

"But, it's been a year Sasuke. What if he gets stuck like that and never changes back?"

Sasuke looked as though he'd never thought about that. And probably never would have.

"Oh god! Can that happen?"

The horrified look on his face was priceless. Neji just couldn't help torturing the other man. Like he knew anything about science and medicine. That was Sasuke's job, he was just a pilot.

"I think I might be sick!"

Neji and Sakura watched the scatter brained raven jump up from the cafeteria table and dash out of the room like the world was about to end and aliens were invading trying to help it along, nearly losing a few of the papers hanging out of his bag. Neji couldn't help smiling to himself as he got up much more slowly, and tossed his fork into a bin next to the dematerializing trash can marked 'perishables'. Everything else he forgot about, leaving it to sit on top of the can as he walked out the double glass doors of the cafeteria that lead out into the main hall.

Neji walked slowly down the hall watching a thermometer click by as he passed the pressurized glass windows along the wall. The stars had always looked so beautiful when he was a little boy, staring up at them from his parent's apartment in downtown Tokyo. But he'd been fooled. There was so much more to them when you actually lived among them.

He and Sakura were part of a large group of pilots that flew fighter jets for the Aerilen Space Station. Their team was made up of Neji himself, Sakura and their Captain Shikamaru, who was in charge of the other thirty-four three man cells as well. Each team had different jobs when there wasn't some inter-galactic battle going on. Neji was good, he had known that much when they'd placed him with the other two best flyers in the entire fleet, but he hadn't known what that entailed. When any of the other stations decided to pick fights, they were meant to be right up in front, giving them hell right back. It also meant that they did escorts, paperwork, strategic planning, anything else that Neji was asked to do, had to be done. It'd been that way since he'd turned ten and graduated from the space station's flight training academy. Always busy.

Sasuke had been there from the beginning too and for much the same reason Neji was. Only he wasn't a fighter. Each station had so many different jobs that Neji had wondered just how they'd managed to find enough orphans to fill all the spaces. If you hadn't been an orphan when you were taken to one of the stations, then you'd been born there, and your parents were the orphans. That's just the way it seemed to be. It was like no one needed them anymore so here they were, secretly working to protect those same people who knew nothing about them and probably couldn't give a flying fuck.

There was so much going on every second of every day. Nothing stopped working and for some reason everything seemed to be on a 24 hour time schedule. Yet, he always managed to find more free time then he could handle. He wasn't sure he liked it that way. Moving was good for him, it gave him something to do.

Which was why it was so easy for Neji to accept that you ate when you were told, or you'd go hungry for the next six hours. Things like, sleeping when your watch told you to, or you'd go the next twelve hours without being able to. The rest of the time was spent running scans to make sure the earth still spun. Or so Neji thought. Really, all he knew was that he was to do his job and not ask questions about anything else that didn't relate. He rarely ever saw any other part of the ship, other than the jet hanger, the living quarters, and Sasuke's lab. The last one had been a pure accident too. He'd wandered in one day when he'd been looking for the showers.

Everything he did day to day was distinctly habit. Just like everyone else. He didn't see himself as anything different or unusual, but Sakura made sure to remind him on a daily basis that he was.

"Why, when you have an entire 45 minute lunch break, do you always eat at light speed and then spend the rest of your time in your jet? Don't you spend enough time there already?"

"If you feel the need to complain, than why do you keep following me back every day."

"I just think you need a little social interaction is all."

"I talk, just not with you, and I have friends."

"Yes, friends who are as deranged as you are, and you talk to your plane."

"Gaara is more than my plane."

"Oh? Is he your lover now?"

"Shut up! That's not something you should joke about."

"Bet you wish he was! But let's face it, he's a computer and why would he be interested in YOU anyway? Why you are the only one to actually have an Artificial Intelligence as your plane's computer though, is beyond me. Maybe her Supreme Leader, Lady Tsunade thinks you need a babysitter. Not that I'd blame her…"

This was where Neji's ears turned off mechanically. He couldn't remember a time he'd actually heard Sakura NOT talking for more than a minute.

Neji's brow furrowed in worry as he wandered into the jet hanger, the sliding silver doors sealing the room closed behind him, closing off Sakura's babbling as they closed on her face. The repair guy, his friend Kiba, was supposed to be coming in today to make sure his jet hadn't gotten dented. Earlier that morning, his team had been out tracking down stray temperature tracers. They'd found them, naturally, but for some reason they exploded on contact due to some sort of disturbance glitch. Needless to say one of them had exploded over his jet. Gaara had given him an earful about being careless. Which, he sort of had been. Having a cute redhead leaning against the corner of his window monitor was not as easy for Neji to deal with as people thought it was.

The long haired brunette took the stairs two at a time and made his way down to the end of one of the suspended metal bridges that spider webbed throughout the hanger. His jet was at the end of the row on the second landing. The rest of the jets had been painted various shades of greens and blues, some were silver, and Shikamaru was really the only other one that came close to being different with a jet black, but Neji's was different.

His was the red one.

It stuck out among all the others which was something Neji liked about it. It was different, beautiful, built off of an older model so it was reliable, and it was home to him. He walked up and noticed the top of Kiba's head as the other man climbed out of the hatch over the main frame on the top of the plane.

"Was he hurt? Was he dented? Did I scratch the paint?"

Neji's mouth immediately started spewing words at 90 miles an hour. He was worried, but this was actually a record for him, considering how much more annoying he'd been the last time he'd had to talk to Kiba. It wasn't that he didn't like talking to the boy, just whenever he did, it was usually about fixing something he'd broken while being stupid.

"Don't worry Nej. He's fine, no dents or scratches. The force was enough to shake the two of you, but not enough to damage anything. Everything's fine, Gaara's pretty good about making sure you don't wreck anything too badly."

"Yeah well, he does act like my mother."

Neji leaned up against the side of the jet, relaxing, and immediately felt a shock run up his spine, making him jump.

"Ow! What the hell?"

Kiba just laughed, patting Neji on the shoulder and wandering off to look at another jet. Gaara's temper toward Neji was known throughout the hanger and Kiba really didn't want to get in the way, especially when Neji was about to get in trouble. That's what made it all the more fun.

Neji lingered outside the open hatch until Kiba was gone, wondering how long he could make the redhead wait before he had to go in.

"Good luck Romeo, better not keep Juliet waiting! He might make you sleep on the couch tonight."

Neji looked over his shoulder at the jet next to his and pulled out his heat gun, zapping the door handle of Sakura's plane so she'd have to wait for it to cool down before she could open it without burning her precious hands.

"Asshole."

"Love you too, Cherry!"

Neji grinned, climbing through the hatch and leaving it open to find a smirking redhead waiting for him on his window monitor.

"Juliet."

"Romeo."

Neji smiled, hearing the cute, yet slightly rough tenor voice coming from the computer.

"Does this mean I'm forgiven?"

"Perhaps, I quite enjoyed watching you piss off the princess."

"All for you."

Neji said deeply, winking.

"So noble of you, I think I'd have a heart attack. Well, if it were possible."

"I wish you wouldn't. It'd scare the hell out of me and you know it. So no jokes."

"I do know this, I just like getting that winner's high from hearing you say you care."

"You know I do. You little shit."

Neji smiled and ran his hand over the part of the monitor that showed Gaara's cheek, before passing the screen completely and collapsing into his high backed computer chair bolted to the middle of the floor. Turning just in time to see the small blush gracing his AI's face, but pretending he hadn't.

Truth was, no matter how much his friends joked, they didn't really understand why he spent every moment he could in his plane. They could joke all they wanted about him and Gaara, or about his social issues. In reality, Neji cared far more for Gaara than he was willing to admit. Even when he made crude remarks and tested the boy's patients by calling him names. Neither of them really cared about all that.

Computer or not, Neji would jump off a bridge, or more likely the ship, for that boy.

He couldn't admit it just yet, but Neji was starting to think he cared a little more than any normal man should about his plane.

But every thought he had had in the past 5 years, had been about Gaara. Since the day Lady Tsunade had said they'd be flying together and had introduced them when he was 14.

At first things had been normal between them, he'd tease Gaara just to get him mad. But eventually it became more than just the teasing and sharp conversations. Neji couldn't say when, but if asked, both would probably have admitted that there was, indeed a significant difference.

Neji just didn't understand what it was yet.

He was smart and clever, but certainly not that perceptive.


Thank you to everyone who's reading this.... It's one of my new fics... so let me know if it catches your interest and I'll continue it... Thanks again!