Author's Note:

This is the result of a conversation I had with Rellie over a new piece of ShinoTen fanart... And as our brainstorming conversations tend to go, it exploded into something entirely different. In this case, a bit of Neji-torture.

Admittedly, I am not Neji's biggest fan. So, I take great enjoyment out of seeing him suffer a little as the result of his friend's antics. This is just an exploration of how a single harmless object, coupled with Neji's need for control, sends him on a downward spiral of agony and torment.

This is also an experiment at writing from the point-of-view of a character I'm not greatly fond of--to see if I can get into his headspace and understand him a little better.

Story: Earmuffs

Characters: Neji, Lee, Tenten, Gai, Hinata, Hanabi, Shino

Warnings: Neji-torture, crack pairings (you've been warned!)

Chapter 1: The Gift

*****

Winter was a dreadful season in his opinion. He preferred autumn—and not just for the temperatures. Autumn was accompanied by a calm, serene sort of atmosphere that the other seasons lacked. Some would argue winter shared that aspect…and perhaps it did…

"Look at the wonderful snow! Winter is such a glorious season!"

…unless you had Rock Lee for a teammate.

"Winter is the best season, well besides summer of course. And spring. And autumn. Well, I do suppose they are all wonderful! But, there are so many activities one can only participate in when accompanied by snow! Snowball fights, and building snowmen, and making snow angels, and sledding, and…"

This customary greeting would continue for a while, Neji knew. It always did on the day following the first snowfall of the winter in Konoha. It seemed this winter had snuck up on them all, however. And with the snow came the most brisk temperatures they had experienced in a while. It was taking a great deal for Neji not to snap Lee in half for finding the miserable cold so…'wonderful.'

"...and building snow forts, and snowball fights, and…Neji-kun? What is the matter?"

"Don't mind him, Lee. Neji just…doesn't like the cold, right Neji?"

"Hn." He could tell Tenten was trying to distract Lee. But when it came to Lee, very little could deter him when he found something new to enthuse himself with. Which happened quite frequently, surprisingly enough…

"Oh! Of course! But Neji-kun! I have just the thing to ward off the biting winds! Here."

Stuffing a small bag into each his and Tenten's mittened hands, he bounced eagerly on his toes. This was not a good sign. Neji knew his teammate well enough to recognize what could potentially be a very threatening gift.

Slowly, he pealed the handles of the bag apart, scared of what foul creature could assault him at first chance…

"Earmuffs? Why thank you, Lee! That was thoughtful," Tenten burst.

Earmuffs. A seemingly non-threatening item.

Except when they're…

"Pink, they'll be perfect—thanks Lee!" Tenten said, as she placed them over her ears.

"I found them for a very good deal! I do not know why there were so many of such high quality earmuffs still in stock. Especially not during this chilly weather!"

Well. If this was the only color left, it really was no wonder.

There was no way in hell, he would ever wear these. His pride would not allow it.

"What are those you are wearing, Lee?"

Great. Neji didn't need the Byakugan to see where this was going now that Gai-sensei had arrived.

"Gai-sensei! They are glorious pink earmuffs! Here—I purchased a pair for each of us!"

Neji took a subconscious step back. There was only one way this would turn out. And he would need to take advantage of it to 'lose' his gift while he had the chance.

"Oh Lee!! What a beautiful pair of earmuffs! What a considerate student you are…" he wiped a tear from his eye. "I don't deserve such a gift!" he said, as he plopped the earmuffs in place.

"But Gai-sensei! You the greatest shinobi in Konoha! It is only fair that you be rewarded—earmuffs are the least I can give to express my eternal gratitude, Gai-sensei!"

"Oh, Lee!"

"Gai-sensei!"

Perfect. With both of them wrapped in a sensei-student hug-of-doom, and Tenten watching with a bemused half-interest…they were all completely distracted. Now if he just…happened to drop them behind that tree…

"LEE!"

"GAI-SENSEI!"

"LEE!"

"GAI-SENSEI!"

"WHAT is all this racket down here?!"

Blessed savior from ninja heaven!

"I'd gotten three complaints from your ridiculous yelling…not that I needed it, I could hear you all the way in my office!" Tsunade-sama was clearly exasperated. Oh how Neji could relate.

"HOKAGE-SAMA. HOW LOVELY OF YOU TO JOIN US! AREN'T YOU COLD? YOU ARE NOT DRESSED PROPERLY…"

THWACK

"I suggest you watch your mouth, Maito Gai!"

Gai-sensei rubbed the steadily growing lump on the back of his head, confusedly studying the tightly restrained expression of the Hokage. "WHAT, HOKAGE-SAMA? COULD YOU SPEAK UP? I CANNOT HEAR YOU."

Neji couldn't help the smirk that graced his lips as he watched the Hokage lift up the right side of Gai-sensei's offending earmuffs, and yell, "IT'S NO WONDER. NO ONE CAN HEAR OVER YOUR RACKET. I doubt you have one, but INSIDE VOICES."

Lee looked a bit taken aback, "but…Hokage-sama…we are outside!"

Tsunade-sama spared Lee an annoyed glance, and snapped the earmuff back in place.

"My apologies, Hokage-sama! I didn't know I was speaking so loud—I couldn't hear over these lovely earmuffs Lee gave me!"

"Be that as it may, I hope I will not be hearing about you…or from you for that matter…for the rest of the day. I have business to attend to."

Neji couldn't help himself. "Like drinking sake?" he whispered under his breath, a remark for which he earned himself an elbow in the gut compliments of Tenten.

The Hokage hadn't taken much more than two steps when she stopped in her path, and stooped as though to pick something up. She turned to face Neji, placing whatever she had found in his hands and said, "I assume these are yours, Hyuuga-san."

He watched her back for a moment before looking down to realize…

…his plan had failed.

There, in his mittened hands, now slightly damp from melted snow, was the same puce abomination he had tried to dispose of not moments before. …Damn you Hokage-sama…

Note to self: never comment on the Hokage's drinking habits. Ever again.

"Honored rival, why have you not put your earmuffs on yet? Here! Allow me to assist you!"

"No- Lee- I don't need your help!" His attempt to keep the woolly accessory out of Lee's reach failed miserably, as Lee all but tackled him in order to 'help.'

Neji hated winter.

So much.

*****

She was so amused by the antics playing out before her, Tenten had barely noticed when Shino appeared at her side.

"What is…?"

"Oh, just your average day on Team Gai."

"I…see."

When Neji emerged, she couldn't help her subtle snort of mirth… But the image of the Hyuuga in fluffy pink earmuffs was just too much.

When she turned to comment to Shino, however, she stopped out of shear terror. He was…grinning. And rather malevolently, too.

"Shino? Are you…alright?"

"Oh yes. I am perfectly content."