Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto nor any quotes used.
Warnings: Language and slash
"No one is in control of your happiness but you; therefore, you have the power to change anything about yourself or your life that you want to change. "
-Barbara de Angelis
People are complicated creatures by nature. Each person has their own, completely unique personality, defined by different traits and characteristics, some ingrained from birth and some brought about by the trials and tribulations of their individual life. And oftentimes (likely more often than would be considered healthy), people come to realize they don't much like who they are; and so they attempt to change themselves. Hyuuga Neji was no exception.
Neji knew he was a lot of things, and he likewise knew that not many of those things could actually be considered 'good'. Not that everything about him was bad. He was a strong shinobi, had made jounin just before he turned sixteen. He was his clan's prodigy and had the strongest Byakuugan many had ever seen. He worked hard for what he was given, rightfully earned his position, and, as of late, rarely took anything for granted. He was also very protective of those he considered friends and would lay his life on the line to help them, always. He considered the latter his best trait.
That being said, he was well aware of all the 'bad' things about himself. He wasn't very sociable, often coming off as cold or having a stick up his ass, even when he was trying to be friendly. He had a lot of pride, more than was necessary, so people considered him haughty. He was easily offended, and even he knew that he had more mood swings than a girl during their time of the month. He could be perfectly happy one moment and turn very... well, bitchy the next. And he knew he could be a brat.
But one thing Hyuuga Neji was not, was selfish. At least not anymore. Not since... him.
Neji had made many mistakes in the past. He had been an angry child who had turned into an even angrier teenager. More often than not he had taken his anger out on those who didn't deserve it, innocent bystanders who did nothing more than try to be his friend, to help him; the most prominent victims being his teammates and cousin. They had all tried to be kind to him, and he had treated them like crap or worse. He knew it; and he was truly sorry about it.
That was why as he got a little older, as the misplaced anger rapidly faded away, he tried to repent for what he had done. With Lee and Tenten that wasn't so hard. He had stopped talking down to them, stopped acting like he was Kami's gift to mankind while they were no better than a piece of rubbish stuck to the bottom of his shoe. He had started working with them like a real team, had made it a point to help them with their training when there was something he understood and they did not, had occasionally doled out compliments about how they were coming along. When invited, he would hang out with them after training or missions, would go to lunch with them, actually talk to them. The more he did this, the more he found he really did like them. And he knew that all was forgiven.
With Hinata, things were more complicated. He had really hurt her, both physically and mentally. He had seriously set her back in her training with the physical injuries he had caused; but maybe even more damaging was the serious blow she had taken to what little confidence she had finally gained. He was proud of her when she picked herself back up once more, but it did nothing to ease his guilt; and he didn't know how to make it up to her.
He tried, of course, but nothing seemed good enough to him. Training with her, though he was happy to do it, had really been his uncle's idea. Most people were under the impression that it had been an order when really it was just a suggestion he'd decided to run with. So he started doing that religiously, along with attempting to treat her kindly. He just wasn't the most naturally friendly person, had spent too many years schooling his emotions to appear blank. That and she had been... not afraid of him really, but he made her nervous. It was all too easy to see the way her stutter worsened whenever he was around, the way her eyes would flash with something similar to but not quite fear whenever he approached her. He didn't know what to do about it, so he just continued being kind, respectful, hoping any apprehension she had about him would fade with time. It did.
Once that happened, he was surprised to find the two of them slowly becoming friends. Surprised but pleased. His cousin was a sweet girl, shy but determined, and he no longer thought of her as weak. He took on the 'protective big brother' role with enthusiasm as their relationship steadily grew, and several times when something was wrong, she came to him before anyone else, even before her teammates. They had become very close before he knew it, and she was easily one of his most treasured people.
Not much later, after his long time away, Naruto finally came home again, still sporting orange (though not as much, thank Kami), still loud and boasting, still declaring he would one day be Hokage. And Hinata still blushed, stuttered terribly, and hid whenever he was around. Neji found it amusing that even though she barely ever talked to the blond, just his very presence in the village was enough to make her glow, give her this burst of energy, of life. Not that Neji didn't feel much the same way. Because a family name and a liking for well-brewed herbal tea weren't the only things he and Hinata had in common. They also shared the same taste in men. He just hid his feelings better.
Nothing much changed until that fateful day when Pein attacked Konoha, when he fought Naruto, pinned the blond jinchuriki to the ground. That day when Hinata threw herself unthinkingly in front of the person she admired most. When she nearly died for him.
Even after that, it took a while before anything on the subject was said or done. Naruto was a busy ninja after all, and things had been particularly hectic lately with Akatsuki running around, doing all they could to collect the nine tailed beasts, and with constant sightings of... Sasuke. Neji grit his teeth at the name. The ungrateful little bastard. He and Chouji had nearly died trying to bring him back, Kiba and Akamaru had gotten the shit kicked out of them, Lee had left the hospital right after major surgery in an attempt to help, and Shikamaru had nearly had his confidence destroyed, had taken a while to fully get over the guilt of not being hurt when his friends were. All for that brat. All to bring him home.
But most of all, he had nearly killed Naruto. He had nearly extinguished Neji's light. He would never forgive the Uchiha for that.
Regardless, things eventually settled down again. Naruto was home, and barring any sudden Uchiha-sightings, he should be home for at least a bit. Neji was unsurprised to find him happily slurping away at Ichiraku's, a stack of bowls piled high beside him. He felt his lips twitch at the sight.
Blue eyes blinked in surprise before a toothy grin spread across the tan face. "Hey, Neji, what's up? I was actually just about to go by your place."
Thin eyebrows rose in slow surprise. His place? "The Hyuuga compound?"
"Mmhmm." He drained the last dregs of broth from his bowl, setting it down with a firm thump. "I need to go talk with Hinata-chan. Did you know she liked me? I was... well, really surprised." He scratched absently at his whiskered cheek, eyes focused on the ceiling as he wracked his memory for what was likely the millionth time. "I mean, I never knew. She must've hidden it really well."
Neji chose to say nothing in response, internally wondering how anyone could be so utterly blind.
No, not blind, never blind. Just oblivious.
"Anyway, I should really say something to her. After she confessed and all, right?"
"Naruto..." Neji paused, not sure how to word what he wanted to convey. 'If you make Hinata cry, I'll kill you slowly, regardless of how gorgeous I think you are' didn't seem quite right. He should keep it simple. "Don't hurt her." Yes, that would do. The underlying threat was clear.
But Naruto just kept on smiling that big, goofy grin. "Aw, you definitely don't gotta worry about that, Neji. I would never hurt a pretty girl like Hinata-chan. Dattebayo!" And he slapped some money for his ramen down on the counter before running off, leaving Neji alone with two thoughts.
One, he had thought the Kyuubi-vessel had outgrown that nonsense phrase of his. And two...
Neji sighed, slowly leaving the ramen stand to wander the streets of Konoha aimlessly. That look on Naruto's face. His words...
At least Hinata would be happy. And that... that was all that mattered. He would never do a thing to jeopardize his cousin's good fortune, even if he rather wished it had been his own. He would keep his mouth shut and wish her all the best. Everything would be fine. Because Hyuuga Neji wasn't selfish. Not anymore.
"One of the hardest things in life is watching the person you love, love someone else."
They were together again. Neji felt himself frown automatically the moment he saw the pair walking towards him on the busy street. They had been together often, almost daily as of late, and they always looked very happy. Naruto was even more exuberant than usual, Hinata was always smiling. It was a good thing.
People had been talking about them more and more, as well. As far as anyone knew they weren't an official couple, but anyone with eyes could see it. How well they went together. The loud, somewhat rude orphan with the sweet, polite heiress. Opposites attract, after all. And they both had a good amount in common. Like a fierce determination. A strong loyalty. A kind heart. They really were a good match.
The girls were sighing over it like it was one of their crappy romance novels. The shy, quiet girl who pines after the man of her dreams but is never seen. Until one day her prince charming suddenly opens his eyes and takes notice to the one who has always cared for him most. He sweeps her off her feet, declaring his undying love for her, and they ride off together into the sunset.
Neji wanted to laugh. Mostly because if it hadn't been for that one unplanned moment of instinctual reaction (stupidity really) which very nearly cost her her life, Hinata would still be hiding poorly behind a fence, staring with a neon blush as Naruto gulped down ten bowls of ramen, watching like it was the most amazing thing she'd ever seen. Life wasn't a fairytale. But then again, Hinata seemed to have found her happy ending one way or another. And it really was a good thing.
It's just that every time he saw them together, it felt like a small piece of him died.
Hinata finally seemed to have noticed him standing there and now waved, weaving her way through the crowd to run up to him. Cheeks flushed a bit in the summer heat, she offered her cousin a broad smile, eyes shining. She was clearly having a good time. "Niisan, what are you doing out today?"
He wasn't doing anything really. He had gotten up at dawn that morning to train by himself, and when the heat became a bit much he had finally stopped, leaving him with nothing to do. Lee and Tenten were both on a mission, she had already gone off with Naruto, and he really didn't hang out with anyone else unless all the rookies were meeting together in a group. So he'd ended up wandering the market alone, like a loser. He found he didn't really want to tell her that.
He was spared from having to answer at all, though, by the arrival of an orange-clad blond. An orange-clad blond who had his jacket open to fight the heat. Giving Neji a wonderful view of a perfectly toned chest and stomach covered in only a form-fitting, sleeveless white undershirt; and sweat, glistening brightly against his dark skin.
Neji had to avert his eyes quickly when he felt his pants start to tighten.
"Neji, hey!" Naruto crowed happily, eyes sparkling. "Haven't seen you in days!"
Neji's lips quirked just a bit at the way he made it sound like such a travesty. Like not seeing Neji was actually a horrible thing. "I've been training quite a bit as of late."
"Niisan wants to apply to ANBU," Hinata told the blond proudly, before suddenly slapping a hand over her mouth in horror. "Oh! Neji, I'm sorry! That was supposed to be a secret!" The hand lowered slowly, as pale eyes wracked with guilt looked into his own. "Sumimasen. Please forgive me."
The smallest hint of a warm smile crossed the usually blank face, and he patted her lightly on the head. He had told her that in confidence, but it still wasn't anything to get worked up over. "Don't fret over it, Hinata-sama. Accidents happen."
Relief spread over her like a blanket. "Oh, good. I really am sorry." She smiled sweetly. "It's just when I'm with Naruto... well, I have trouble not telling him everything."
Naruto grinned broadly, slinging an arm around her shoulders and pulling her into his side. "Yep, we share all our secrets!"
Neji swallowed thickly and offered them a shaky nod. His stomach was churning uncomfortably all of a sudden.
"Hey, we were just goin' to lunch. Why don't you come with us?"
The Hyuuga boy paused, unsure of whether or not to accept. Admittedly, he was rather hungry, and he really had nothing better to do; but he didn't want to encroach upon their personal time together.
Hinata touched his arm lightly, expression imploring. "We'd really like to have you join us, niisan."
That was all it took. He nodded his assent and the next thing he knew, Naruto had one arm around him, one around his cousin, and both Hyuugas were being dragged through the midday crowd. He tried desperately not to think about how good it felt just to have Naruto touching him or how alluring the scent of the younger boy's sweat was. Naruto was not his to pine over. And besides... it seemed kind of pathetic when you were so enamored with someone even the smell of their typical bodily fluids was arousing.
Neji found himself surprised when, rather than Ichiraku's, he was led to a popular little sushi place. Apparently Hinata had convinced the blond beforehand that eating ramen every day was tiring for most normal people, so she had chosen the restaurant instead. Which was interesting because... "Hinata-sama, I didn't think you liked sushi much."
Pale skin immediately turned red. "Ano... it... it's not so bad. I-I enjoy it sometimes." She pressed her fingers together hastily, making him frown. She only did that anymore when she was particularly nervous.
"Hey, Neji, do you like sushi?" Naruto cut in happily, unaware of Hinata's sudden shyness.
Silver eyes studied his cousin a moment longer before they went to meet with blue. "It's one of my favorites."
"Oh yeah? What else do you like?"
The jounin hesitated, face carefully neutral. Naruto seemed awfully eager to... what exactly? Hear about him? Learn about him? He felt heat slowly creep to his cheeks. "Herring soba."
Naruto's smile widened. "What else?"
And they talked, while they waited for their food, while they ate, the conversation never faltered. Naruto was the one doing most of the talking, of course, but Neji's mouth got a decent work out as well. He felt himself relaxing, opening up, letting his impersonal mask gradually slip away. There weren't many people he let see him like this, only Lee, Tenten, Hinata... and apparently Naruto. He felt so comfortable around the blond ball of sunshine, didn't worry about keeping up appearances, didn't care if what he said seemed 'out of character' for him. And Naruto seemed so damn happy. He was so enraptured by the whiskered boy he completely forgot his silent, little cousin was even there until Naruto accidentally knocked over her drink. Almost immediately, the spell was broken.
"Shit, Hinata-chan, I'm sorry!" Naruto cried, grabbing some napkins to wipe up the girl's now wet lap. "I'm really clumsy. Sakura-chan always tells me to be more careful."
"N-no, it's okay, Naruto-kun. It was an accident."
"Really, it's fine."
"Haha, thanks, Hinata-chan, you're the best! Sakura-chan would definitely have hit me by now."
Neji was suddenly afraid he might be violently ill. "Sumimasen, but I have to be going. Lunch is on me."
Naruto and Hinata both looked up in surprise as he set a roll of bills, probably far more than was needed, down on the table and slid from his seat. He was having difficulty making eye contact with either of them.
"H-hey!" Naruto cried, sitting up straighter, eyes widening. "What's the big hurry? We could... I dunno, hang out or somethin'."
Neji licked his paper dry lips, willing himself to keep his mask in place. "I have a few matters to attend to. Thank you for asking me to join you today. It was enjoyable."
Naruto frowned a little, probably wondering why the Hyuuga, who had just been opening up a minute ago, was suddenly so formal once more. "If you're sure you can't stay..."
"I'm sure." Neji tried desperately to give the pair a smile and keep his tone light, friendly. "Besides, I've taken up enough of your time. I'm sure you two want to be alone."
Naruto blinked stupidly, then shared a brief look with Hinata, one Neji couldn't quite decipher. He just figured he had been right, the pair did want to have some time to themselves. Why wouldn't they? They hardly needed a third wheel hanging around.
"See you later." And he was off before anything more could be said, mentally cursing himself for nearly losing his cool. Getting swept up by emotions was not something Hyuuga Neji did.
Once he had made it safely back to his room, back at the Hyuuga compound (a trip he oddly didn't remember making), he allowed himself to just collapse and think. The problem was that he wasn't exactly thrilled by the conclusions he came to. Because no matter how he looked at it, every single angle led to his behavior at lunch being selfish. Again.
For starters, he had stolen all of Naruto's attention away from Hinata, Naruto's girlfriend, the couple he was supposed to be supporting. He had never meant for that to happen, he had only even gone to lunch with them because... well, Hinata had asked with that look on her face. How could he say no to that? But he'd certainly never meant to push her aside.
And then, when Naruto's focus was back where it should be, it had upset him. A lot. Which was absolutely ridiculous because he most certainly wasn't jealous of the pair...
No, certainly not; but when Naruto had started comparing Hinata to Sakura, the blond's long-time crush... It had left a bitter taste in his mouth, that was all. Because no matter what he did, he couldn't just make himself stop being attracted to the Kyuubi-vessel. That would take time, time that simply hadn't passed yet. He just needed to wait it out. His feelings would diminish eventually.
They had to.
A soft knock caught his attention, and there wasn't a trace of doubt in his mind about who was on the other side of his door. Only one person in the Hyuuga compound knocked like that. "N-neji-niisan?"
Picking himself up from the bed, he swiftly made his way to the door, cracking it open to peer out at the smaller girl, trying to hide how disconcerted he was by her presence. "Can I help you, Hinata-sama?" What was she doing here? Why wasn't she still with Naruto?
The shy girl bit her lip, fingers pressing together insistently. Her face was distinctly red, making him sure she would rather be elsewhere, but her eyes held obvious apprehension. Apprehension for him, apparently. "I-I just wanted to make sure you were okay. You seemed a bit... off when you left the restaurant. Is everything all right?"
So much for acting normal in front of them. The one time he actually needed to be difficult to read and he was as obvious as Lee. "Everything's fine. I'm just feeling a bit under the weather; nothing for you to concern yourself with." He attempted a forced smile. It failed miserably.
"Ah, a-all right. If you're sure... We were just a bit worried..."
We? Naruto had been worried as well? A distinct feeling of warmth and something he couldn't put into words spread through Neji's chest at the information. Naruto had been worried for him...
Which had then forced the blond to part with his girlfriend prematurely in order for her to come and check up on him. Guilt slowly enveloped all of the good feelings, leaving him with that awful hollow sensation he'd become distressingly accustomed to lately.
"Thank you for the gesture, cousin, but I'm really quite fine. I'd just like to rest for a bit."
He wished a few seconds too late that he had worded his request differently, seeing as how Hinata immediately got a rueful look on her face. He knew how her mind worked, that she now thought she was being an intrusive bother. That wasn't what he'd meant in the slightest, even if he had been trying to discreetly dismiss her. The older boy truly appreciated her kindness; but of course, his curt, blunt way of speaking had once again led someone to the wrong conclusion.
Stuttering out a hasty apology, Hinata scurried off before he could rectify his words. Oh well, at least she never let these things stick, though he'd have to be sure and make her feel extra welcome the next time they were together. For now, he really did just want to rest. Rest and give everything time. Because time healed all wounds, mended all hearts... Right?
"You can close your eyes to the things you do not want to see, but you cannot close your heart to the things you do not want to feel."
Silvery pale eyes watched listlessly as a familiar green-clad boy hurled himself across the training grounds towards an equally green-clad man, yelling something about youth as he did so. Just a typical morning for Team Gai. Only, the genius of their squad didn't seem especially interested in training on this particular morning. Which was probably why there was a bun-haired girl standing over him, hands on hips, conveniently blocking the sun from where he lounged against the trunk of a tree.
"So what's eating you?"
Neji thought it best to feign ignorance and fix the kunoichi with a bored look.
"You've been getting into these moods an awful lot lately, even for you. It isn't like you."
She was right, it wasn't really like him at all. He was prone to being bitchy, rather often, but even then he was never lazy like this. And he certainly didn't brood like this. Brooding was for lousy Uchiha bastards, and he was nothing like that; he bristled at the very thought. Though lately he'd been feeling oddly depressed... The kind of depression that left you with a huge, gaping hole through your middle, left you weary down to your bones and absolutely loathing physical activity, but at the same time refused to let your mind rest in proper sleep. It was a mood all right, just quite different from his usual ones. And he knew what brought it about. He just didn't like to think on it much because, quite frankly, it was both downright pathetic and very, very selfish. Then again, it had only been two weeks thus far. He just hadn't had enough time yet.
"Sumimasen, Tenten. I haven't been feeling much like myself lately."
"Well, I can see that." The irate female shifted her weight to the other foot, pulling her large scroll down to rest on the ground at her side, expression stern. "If that's the case, you'd better go find yourself quick. Because I'm sick of throwing weapons at practice dummies. If you don't come back soon, I'm going to have to start sparring with Lee. Lee, Neji."
As if on cue, Lee went flying headfirst in a nearby tree, leaving the poor defenseless plant with a large crack straight down the center, before bounding to his feet again, unfazed by the blow and yelling about youth and springtime once more. Tenten released a mock sigh of exasperation. "Why do you do these things to me?"
The raven's lips begged to twitch upwards at her behavior, an action the boy could neither condone nor tolerate. That didn't stop them from trying.
"Aha, so you are still in there." Tenten smirked triumphantly. "Had me worried for a minute. It would be a shame for that smile to disappear right after it's finally started showing itself."
Neji attempted to send her the patented Hyuuga glare. He really did. It wasn't his fault he found himself enjoying her friendship and concern. "I'm leaving before Gai and Lee realize something's off. I give you my word we'll spar tomorrow… regardless of whether or not I feel like it."
"That's more like you!"
He ignored her when she called something else after him, leaving the training grounds in the most dignified yet hasty way possible. He just couldn't handle dealing with Gai and Lee's enthusiasm, not that day. No, right then, he just wanted some time alone with his thoughts, in some nice peace and—
Years of sharing a team with Lee had honed the Hyuuga prodigy's reflexes to a fine point, so it came as second nature to side-step the bearhug thrown his way by a certain loud blond. He really hadn't even meant to, was just acting on pure instinct. He certainly hadn't meant to send the younger boy sprawling out in the dirt. "Naruto..."
"Heehee." The future hokage sat up, rubbing the back of his head with a sheepish smile. "Geez, Neji, you're s'posed to catch me!"
The blond had no idea just how much those words affected the jounin.
"Oh well, no harm done." The perpetual ball of sunshine bounced back to his feet once more, wiping dust from his ridiculous orange clothing, grinning all the while. Neji's hand twitched at his side when he got the sudden, outrageous urge to brush the dirt off himself. Like that wouldn't be positively mortifying. He should get the hell out of there before he did something to irreversibly embarrass himself.
"Hey hey, Neji, I was just goin' to Ichiraku's. Why don't you come with me?"
The Hyuuga felt his throat turn suddenly dry, making it difficult to swallow. Or breathe. "Actually, Naruto, I have a prior engagement that I must—"
"Ah, c'mon! Stop with all the fancy talk and come eat with me!" Blue eyes began to look dejected and pleading. "I barely ever see you anymore."
Neji didn't want to say that that was because he had been avoiding both his loudmouth crush and his stuttering cousin. It just made sense, until enough time had passed to take these feelings with it, he would limit his contact with the source of his frustration. It was downright logical. But now Naruto was looking up at him with that adorable hurt face, reminding the older boy ever so much of an abandoned puppy... Had the blond really missed his company? At their last meeting he had acquiesced to that as well, but Neji had thought he was just being his usual, overreacting, Naruto self. Now he seemed irrefutably serious. Like he really did enjoy spending time with Neji.
The brunette's chest was warm enough to start a fire.
"... All right. It's nearly lunch anyhow."
He had half a moment to ponder whether or not he would regret his decision when, "All right!" and he was being bodily dragged through the streets towards the ramen stand. A bowl of miso ramen was practically shoved down his throat while Naruto prattled on endlessly about everything between heaven and earth and Neji listened in contemplative silence, only occasionally throwing in a word or two of his own. It was pleasant. Being around Naruto always gave Neji the same kind of feeling as... as taking a long nap under the sun; all of your worries put on hold, nothing but the warm rays, a cool breeze, and some peaceful relaxation. But then... then the topic changed to what the older boy had dubbed as dangerous territory.
"So then Hinata-chan told me I should—"
Hinata. That horrible, gut-wrenching sickness was beginning to take over the Hyuuga's stomach once more. He should excuse himself quickly... No, that was both rude and selfish, he was eating lunch with Naruto because the blond had all but begged him to with his eyes. Running out on him now would be cowardly and pathetic. He should take this chance to atone for his past mistakes and show his friend how much he supported the relationship he was currently sharing with the Hyuuga heiress.
"And then we went—"
"You two are really getting on then."
The younger boy paused his tirade of chatter, blinking a bit in surprise at Neji's abrupt observation. "Me and Hinata-chan? Yeah, you bet! She's a really great girl!"
A bland hum of agreement through pursed lips. Why was he feeling worse? "I'm glad you didn't decide to ignore it."
The blond slurped up a noodle, not seeming to notice when it thwacked him wetly on the nose before disappearing between pink lips. "Ig...nore?" He looked appropriately confused for several moments, a look Neji personally found downright cute. Not that he'd ever admit to finding anything cute; ever. "Oh, you mean I didn't ignore her confession!"
One sharp, curt nod. Perhaps he should have been more clear on what he was referring to, but no harm done. The topic was successfully breached now.
"Ah, yeah well, when I found out she had the hots for me... I had to go and talk to her about it, y'know? Things've been really great since then!"
Nausea. Absolute pain in his chest cavity. Nearly impossible to draw air into his lungs. But his face remained blank as ever. "I'm glad. You two make a nice couple."
Naruto choked, rather interestingly enough, on his namesake. "I... what?"
The jounin felt a frown tug at his mouth, eyes narrowing just a bit in perplexity. What had he said wrong? He was bad in social situations, either too blunt or too vaguely polite when he was attempting to not be blunt, but he wasn't a complete social retard (he left that up to Sai). What he said was neither inappropriate nor indelicate. It was common for friends to discuss their relationships with each other, and weren't he and Naruto friends? Besides, Hinata was his baby cousin, he would discuss her all he damn well pleased.
"I—" Naruto took a few deep breaths, obviously attempting to calm himself from... something. "I heard you." For some reason he appeared to be on the verge of laughing. Instantly, Neji felt his pride bristle, never liking to be mocked. Especially when he'd done nothing to be mocked for. In fact, being made fun of and looking stupid was one of the few things the Hyuuga prodigy absolutely could not tolerate. Not from anybody. Even his light.
"Look, Neji, Hinata-chan and I—"
"I apologize for whatever it is I said that caused you discomfort." His icy tone immediately stopped anymore words from leaving the blond's lips. "I will be sure not to make the same mistake again."
By the look on Naruto's face, Neji knew his mask had slipped. "Hey, Nej, I didn't mean— Look, you don't understa—"
"I'm afraid I must take my leave now. Have a good day, Naruto."
"I— Hey, Neji! Wait!"
He didn't, of course. Neji couldn't have 'waited' right then if his life depended on it. He was just so. Damn. Irritated. About everything. And if he stayed around the hyper blond one second longer he knew he would explode. He wanted to, needed to be alone. He needed time. Just... just a little more time.
"Love makes you do crazy things, insane things, things in a million years you wouldn't see yourself doing, but there you are doing them."
"Hu-oof!" Air rushed out of the Hyuuga prodigy's lungs far too fast, refusing for that next horrible, sickening moment to allow it back in. Opal eyes slowly blinked at the sky above them, as the jounin regulated his breathing, his heart rate, as he got his bearings back. Had... that really just happened?
"YOSH! I have finally done it! The power of my youth has allowed me to defeat my eternal rival in glorious battle!"
Yes, yes it had. Lee had won a spar... against him. Neji allowed his eyes to fall shut, willing the sky to fall and end his misery.
A month. It had been a month since his lunch with Naruto at Ichiraku's. The last proper conversation he had shared with the blond, which had ended with him storming off lest he say something he would forever regret. During that time he had attempted to come to terms with the relationship of his crush and cousin whilst simultaneously avoiding the both of them to help himself cope properly.
It hadn't worked; both the coping and the avoiding. No matter where he went, they were there. Together. They were holding hands, they were batting eyes, they were cuddling, they were in love. It was like his own personal version of hell come to greet him. The only small comfort he got from all this was his success in not speaking with either of them because if he did... A shudder ran down his spine at the very thought of what might leave his mouth. He couldn't talk with them until he was calm and... over it all. Surely it would just take a bit more time.
But now... A deep, rattling breath. He had known this whole mess was limiting his ability to accurately concentrate, that it refused to allow his mind to think properly, but had it really come down to this? Lee had beaten him. Soundly. And he'd barely put up anything that could respectfully be called a fight.
"Neji?" He heard the movement of feet rustling through the grass near his head. "Neji, you all right?"
All right? Was he all right?
Eyes flashing with dangerous fury flew open, forcing the bun-haired girl to unconsciously take a step back in surprise. All right? "No, Tenten. As a matter of fact, I am not all right." He sat up, trying to ignore the green figure jumping up and down in his peripheral. "I am not all right. I can't do this. I just can't."
"I've tried, I really have. But then... it's like they were goading me, always flaunting it, and my patience is not endless. I just can't do it anymore."
"I need to speak with them." And as the words left his lips, the solution to his problems became clear as day. He did need to speak with them. He just needed to get everything out in the open, clear the air. What he had to say was so incredibly selfish, but... he really just couldn't do this anymore. As much as he hated himself for it.
Turning abruptly on his heel to do what he should have just done from the beginning, he ignored Tenten's sigh and mutters about male PMS, sprinting away from the training grounds and then taking to the roofs, making his way back to the Hyuuga compound at record speed. Unless one or both was currently on a mission, he knew they would be there, the same as they always were when he returned from training.
Sure enough, they were there indeed, together, sitting on a bench in the Hyuuga gardens. At least this time there was a respectable amount of distance between the two of them, not how it usually was. There were times he'd come home to find them smashed so close together you couldn't fit a sheet of paper between them. Sneaking up behind the unsuspecting pair with the stealth of a true shinobi, he cleared his throat harshly, having at least the small satisfaction of seeing them jump.
"N-n-n-niisan! You're home early."
"Hey, Neji, what's up?" Naruto asked congenially, blue eyes scanning his rumpled form with obvious mirth. "You look a little... unHyuuga-like."
Silver flashed from where they'd been studying opal to fix on the blond instead. "I was sparring with Lee." He paused a moment, before admitting tonelessly, "I lost."
All that followed his statement was shocked silence and rounded eyes. Well, today was just the day for surprises, wasn't it? "I need to speak with both of you. There is something I should have told you quite some time ago, but I refrained. It has become clear after training this afternoon that that is no longer an option."
Naruto tilted his head a fraction to the right. "...Kay..."
Despite knowing their brains were still stuck on his unexpected and inexplicable defeat at the hands of his youthful teammate, Neji pressed on, determined. He would get this all off his chest like the selfish prick he was and be done with it. He needed to just tell Naruto how he felt, just let the blond know.
He had finally realized that time would just take too long to heal this one.
So he bravely locked his ivory eyes with azure, took a deep breath, chickened out like a little girl, and fixed his gaze somewhere a few inches above the blond's left shoulder. "Naruto, I like you. I won't say love, because quite frankly, I'm not exactly sure I've maintained the ability to love anyone other than myself, but I care for you deeply. I have for years, probably ever since you beat me during our first Chuunin Exams and showed me that not everything was left up to fate. I like nearly everything about you, even your annoying habit of making up your own slang and your hideous choice in attire, because without them, you just wouldn't be you. I like the way you always pick yourself back up no matter how many times you fall. I like your amazing determination and your unyielding loyalty towards people who don't deserve it. I like your ability to speak the truth and lay everything bare, to make people see the light no matter… no matter how lost they are." He cleared his throat harshly. "There are so pathetically many things I like about you, I couldn't possibly begin to name them all standing here; but what I like most is the way you always make everyone around you smile. I've never met anyone more selfless and kind-hearted than you."
Neji really wasn't surprised when the pair in front of him appeared at a loss for words, but that didn't make it all any less uncomfortable. Coughing slightly into his hand, he kept his eyes skillfully averted before adding almost hastily, "I don't expect you to break it off with each other. I think you're good for one another and make a smart match. I just…" His voice trailed off rather weakly as he realized for the first time he had no idea just what exactly he was doing, confronting them like this. He had needed to let everything out, and it had all made perfect sense in his head, but… shit, what had he just done? He had likely ruined his relationship with both his blond friend and his cousin, all because of his stupid, selfish—
"Wow, that took a lot longer than we thought, dattebayo!"
Neji blinked. What?
The widely grinning bundle of sunshine (just why the hell was he smiling like that?), nudged the blushing girl next to him, eyebrows waggling playfully. "See, Hinata-chan, I told you he would cave eventually."
The Hyuuga genius was quite sure he was missing something of great importance. "Excuse me?"
Naruto giggled and scratched the side of his nose, beaming happily all the while. "We were wondering how long it would take before you finally broke down and confessed to me. Though I gotta admit, I wasn't planning on getting a whole speech like that. Didn't know you were so romantic, Neji."
It felt rather like the entire world had begun to crumble around him. "You were…" He felt actual bile begin to rise in his throat. "You knew I liked you?"
Another laugh, far too cheerful for the situation. "Of course."
Neji saw red. Naruto, and obviously Hinata as well, knew he had feelings for the blond. They had been waiting (?) for him to confess those feelings the entire time. They had been purposely goading him into it. They… they had been fucking playing with him.
Anger disappeared as fast as it had come, replaced swiftly by… hurt. No better word to describe how it felt, just that it hurt, like they had literally taken a knife and stabbed him repeatedly in the heart. The very thought, something far more appropriate for a hormonal, teenage girl, was nearly enough to make him explode in hysterical laughter. How could they do this to him? Did they really find his feelings that entertaining? Was he that easy to laugh at?
He let his eyes slide shut, not caring how pathetic he must look at the moment, not even trying to keep his face blank or get his perpetual sneer back in place, just continued wishing desperately that the earth would open up and swallow him whole. He needed to get away from there.
Turning on his heel without another word, he was about to literally take off running, regardless of how cowardly the action was, when strong arms caught him from behind, pinning his own to his sides. Every muscle in his body tensed, frayed nerves screaming to be released. "Let go, Naruto."
He didn't. Since when did Naruto ever listen to anyone? Instead the Kyuubi-container persisted in babbling on and on about something, something Neji didn't really hear over the dull ringing that had started in his ears. "You don't… decided to… Hinata-chan… swings both ways—"
"So what?" the raven finally snapped, not understanding in the least what his cousin's sexual preferences had to do with anything and fed up with the blond's senseless chatter. "Most shinobi swing both ways!"
"But I don't!"
Neji went cold. So that's what this was about. Was that what had brought this all to pass in the first place? Naruto was… repulsed by Neji's feelings? Because he was male? "I apologize for making you uncomfortable," he spat, not feeling particularly apologetic in the least. "I didn't mean to upset you or complicate things between you and Hinata—"
"Dammit, Neji, don't you get it?" Naruto roared right into his ear, making him involuntarily flinch. "I don't swing Hinata's way!"
Neji blinked once more. "Oh." He briefly considered scanning the sky for signs of flying pigs. "Then… how are you dating her?"
Naruto let out a long-suffering sigh, and mumbled something along the lines of, "Didn't think you could be so thick." Neji twisted insistently in his grasp until it was loosened, enough so that he could turn around and face his captor. He didn't understand what was going on.
"Look, Nej, the only way I could be attracted to Hinata is if she had a cock to occasionally shove up my ass."
Ah. Well that image was… incredibly disturbing. But then, "You're not dating, Hinata."
"No, I'm not."
Neji nodded once, as if his entire view of the world wasn't currently undergoing major reconstruction. "I see. And you pretended you were why?"
Blue eyes flashed deviously. "To see how long it took for you to snap."
Neji decided he was going to kill Naruto.
"Hey hey, don't start lookin' all scary like that!" the blond cried, quickly hopping back and out of the angry Hyuuga's immediate range. "I tried to tell you I wasn't dating her. You got all offended about something and left before I could!"
When on earth had…? Oh, shit, that day at the ramen stand. So that's what Naruto had been laughing at, not him, just the assumption that he and Hinata were a couple; and Neji had again let his temper get the better of him, stomping off before giving the jinchuriki a chance to properly explain. But that still didn't… "Why in hell did you then pretend you were dating her?"
Naruto looked suddenly very sheepish as he grinned weakly and rubbed the back of his neck in awkward fashion. "Yeah, about that... well, y'see—"
"That was my idea."
The timid voice from behind them startled the jounin who had, in fact, forgotten entirely that his little cousin was still there. "Your idea? Why?" A number of different scenarios immediately assaulted the older brunette's mind, all more amusing and yet far-fetched than the last. As much as part of him would enjoy it, he highly doubted Hinata would ever ask Naruto to pretend to date her just so she could make the other girls (Sakura and Ino) feel bad about themselves because she had managed to land her longtime crush and theirs was a psychopathic nuke-nin.
The girl almost instantly flushed red under her cousin's scrutiny. Fingers unsurprisingly began pressing and twisting together as she apparently found the ground very interesting to look at. "W-well, when Naruto-kun first told me that he was gay and so he could never return my feelings, I... well, I was upset, but I understood. We, we got to talking and found out we really did have a lot in common... it wasn't long before we were very close friends. Only a few days really."
Neji nodded his understanding, suddenly seeing things in a new light. Hinata and Naruto had been together so often lately because of a newfound friendship rather than a romantic relationship. And looking back on things now, Neji could see how the two could easily be confused. Especially since he was still convinced the pair would make a good couple were Hinata more to Naruto's anatomical liking; but up until the more recent farce of their dating, the two had never behaved or made physical contact beyond that of close friends. Everyone, including him, had just jumped to their own conclusions.
"A-anyway," she continued softly, "since we became so close, N-naruto-kun revealed to me who it was he liked. Since I thought there was a chance for something, I decided to help... set him up with that person."
Here she paused, lifting her eyes to stare straight into Neji's own, making him acutely uncomfortable. What in the world was she trying to imply? Had he inadvertently gotten in the way of her matchmaking? He certainly didn't see how if that were the case.
"I thought it was goin' real well," Naruto cut in out of nowhere, waving his arms a bit for emphasis. "Up until that day you got all mad at me, at least."
Had Neji been a lesser person, he may have allowed how purely shocked he was to show on his face. "Me? It was me you liked?" Though now that he thought about it, everything again made sense. He now saw the real reason Hinata had brought Naruto up every time they had talked (because she wanted to be sure the blond was on Neji's mind, not because of her own infatuation), the reason they would constantly bump into him on the street (because they were seeking him out, not because of mere coincidence), the reason why Hinata had chosen a sushi restaurant (one of his favorites, but certainly not one of hers) the day the pair had dragged him to lunch. Even Naruto's own behavior made better sense as well, particularly the way he seemed to crave Neji's presence and did just about everything in his power to acquire it. It was much the way the Hyuuga himself would behave had he less control over his emotions and was more prone to act on impulse.
Hinata just continued on with her story, apparently taking this as a rhetorical question. "That day, when Naruto came to me so upset... I figured perhaps we should choose a different approach. The more... normal methods didn't seem to be working with you."
Had she just called him abnormal?
"And when I really thought about it... well, I thought maybe it would be best if you were the one who approached him rather than the other way around... The problem was that, even though we were both pretty sure you returned his feelings, you seemed... reluctant to do so. So... we decided to give you a small... nudge in the right direction."
Neji's eyes narrowed dangerously. "You mean you attempted to make me jealous by encouraging my misinterpretation of the nature of your relationship and flaunting said relationship at every possible opportunity."
"Well..." The girl was red as a cherry. "It worked."
"There were other options we thought about first," she explained in a rush. "It's just... We were just worried other ways might insult you again..."
"I'm not that easily insulted." He might be.
"We didn't think it would take you so long to say something," Naruto mumbled softly, somewhere along the way having slipped an arm back around the older boy's shoulders. "We were actually just thinkin' about giving up. Thought maybe... we were wrong, y'know? Maybe you didn't really like me after all. Or maybe the reason you'd acted so weird was 'cuz you liked Hinata or somethin' and were jealous of me."
Neji snorted lightly at the thought. Not likely. While Hinata and Naruto did share many similar attributes, the girl was too... fragile for his tastes. He'd be constantly afraid he might break her like the bastard he was.
Like the bastard he was... "I... didn't wish to ruin what I thought you had. That's why I never said anything." He felt a flush creep, uninvited, up the back of his neck, grateful it was hidden from view. "I just didn't want to be selfish again." There, he had said it.
He wasn't expecting Naruto to laugh in response. "That's ridiculous!"
Well of course it was. Why wouldn't one of his best attempts at being a sincere, considerate person be considered some type of paltry comic relief?
"Neji!" Naruto shook his head, overwhelmed with mirth and trying to keep his chuckles under control. "You are selfish!"
Oh, right. How could he have forgotten? He was such a despicable creature, even the man who claimed to have feelings for him didn't think very highly of him. He didn't know how else to feel other than coldly numb. Not the comfortable kind either.
As if sensing his words had brought about a bad reaction, Naruto's arms closed around him from behind, pulling him snugly back into a hard chest. "You are a selfish, arrogant, high-bred brat," he reiterated, warm breath ghosting the pale shell of an ear. "As much as I know you've changed, you always will be. It's part of who you are." His voice lowered seductively. "And I like exactly who you are."
Neji would forever deny the small shiver that wracked his body at those words. And he most definitely was not blushing.
"You already admitted you accept my faults, Nej. Why were you so sure I wouldn't accept yours?"
Neji swallowed hard.
"Besides," the blond continued in a lighter tone, "I've kinda always had this thing for moody ravens."
The Hyuuga inhaled deeply and offered a vague nod, unable, for reasons he couldn't even begin to explain, to get upset; despite the sneaking suspicion he had just once again been compared to Uchiha.
At least he had better hair. "So, just what, pray tell, do you propose we do now?"
"Mmm." Calloused fingers scratched absently at a whiskered cheek, tanned face scrunched from the exertion of serious contemplation. "Dunno. I am pretty hungry, though. Wanna get some ramen?"
And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the man I fell in love with. "Actually, I'd prefer dango if we're to go out."
The disappointment on the blond's face was downright comical. Neji almost found himself laughing of all things. Instead, he sighed in a very put-out type of way. "Though I suppose we could go to Ichiraku's if that's what you really want."
At the jounin's declaration, Naruto managed to look both elated and surprised at the same time, forcing a small chuckle from his new... boyfriend(?). "What? You don't really think I'm selfish all of the time, do you?"
Besides, he smirked, the blond would undoubtedly make it up to him later. He'd show him just how selfish he could really be.
"We come to love not by finding a perfect person, but by learning to see an imperfect person perfectly."
So there you go. Just a really random oneshot that kept rattling around my head and wouldn't leave me alone. Hope you all enjoyed. If you're not too busy, leave me a review and let me know what you thought. Your feedback is my anti-drug.