disclaimer: i own nothing. just words upon words of what-could-have-beens.
notes: sort of xmen!au. mutants! nejiino! yay! this was written in one go, combining something like 'jealous!neji' and 'concepts' and stuff. i know it could have been better but it started off as a drabble. and then it ran off on its own. i kid you not. it also supposed to be funny but in the end, it's unfunny and kinda sappy. which is bizarre. for the lovely ~grotesqueries and ~nukumi, who are awesome when it comes to stanning ino over at tumblr. don't ever stop, guys, don't ever.


my words shall lead you home


1.

The seventy-ninth time Neji was injured, he was sent to the infirmary with the strict order to 'see Yamanaka and goddamnit Hyuuga, you better get treatment for that before jumping into active duty again or I'll report your insubordinate ass to Tsunade'. They were in the middle of a war; Neji didn't think that he should be too concerned about minor wounds. Nevertheless, he knew the captain would not hesitate to follow the threat through and it was with a considerable amount of displeasure that he headed towards the infirmary.

Yamanaka turned out to be Yamanaka Ino, a year below Neji when school was still in session and before everything had gone to hell in the proposed human-mutants peace treaty. He only remembered her given name because she was one of Hinata's friends and Neji had caught himself looking when he picked his cousin up from her late classes. He liked how Ino carried herself, endless sharp lines and confident smiles, and the unapologetic way she bullied Hinata into conversations. Their interaction, however, was limited to the occasional polite nods. Neji wondered if Ino even remembered him.

She looked up from a spread of charts on her table when he stepped into the infirmary. "Yes?"

He stiffly held out his hand. "I need you to fix this."

Ino stared at the wound; a jagged tear across his forearm, courtesy of a mutant with the ability to use his own bones as deadly projectiles. The attack came from his only blind spot and he managed to deflect what had been meant for his heart. She gestured him towards one of the empty beds, hands gentle when she repositioned his arm. She looked at him with an odd flash in her eyes and said, "Breathe. Relax."

When Ino leaned forward and looked like she was about to kiss him, Neji thought it was entirely justifiable that he jerked back. "What are you doing?"

"My power of healing only works through kisses," she huffed, her lips curled into a dry smile. Neji inevitably found himself staring at said lips. "Sorry. Thought you knew."

"I don't-" he clenched and unclenched his fists, felt throbs of pain singing through his body. He was needed out there. "Okay. Fine."

Ino gave him a sidelong glance, something incomprehensible in the way her eyes softened and she smiled at him. Her palms were a warm weight on his shoulders. "Ready?"

Neji forced his body to relax and rested his uninjured hand over her waist. "Yes."

When she kissed him, it was unexpectedly chaste. Neji caught the beginning of a green glow settling over his wound, felt the slight discomfort of sinews and muscles re-knitting but he was soon distracted by the fact that she was kissing him. It was his first kiss, never thought much about girls in his spare time and-

-and this was her power. She kissed people to heal them. There was nothing romantic here. Neji surprised himself with the surge of envy at the thought. How many people have she kissed before me?

It must have been minutes, hours but Ino finally pulled away, eyelashes fluttering as she opened her eyes. They stared at each other, before she ducked her head to check his arm. It was fully healed, without even a scar to indicate that he had been damaged. She instructed him through several small movements, precise and clinical as if she had not just kissed him and Neji had to convince himself to feel relief to be declared fit for active duty again.

"See you again, Neji-san."

Neji walked out of the infirmary without another word and it was later, back in the solitude of his room, that he remembered how he never offered her his name.


2.

The next time he was injured, Neji stopped his captain mid-rant and went to the infirmary without being told.

Ino was still there.

She didn't say anything as she looked at the hole punched through his shoulder. He didn't tell her about the mutant who made bombs out of clay and when she kissed him, he thought about all the times he had wanted to talk to her. Tell her how good of an influence she was to Hinata. Ask her why she always smelled like spring. Tell her that he thought she looked nice when she had her hair down.

Neji pulled Ino close and even as he felt the hole in his shoulder filling out, he wanted to ask her if she could also fix the hole in his heart he didn't even know he had. Until he met her.


3.

He went to the infirmary. Like clockwork.

Severed tendon. Rib fracture. Electric burns.

Day after day after day.

Bruised heart.

After day.

(Ino stared and smiled and kissed them away.)


4.

He was reckless. He shouldn't have went alone.

The door creaked under his weight and Ino uttered a cry of dismay when he staggered inside, kept standing even though he was pretty sure that she wouldn't appreciate the small puddle of blood in the middle of her pristine haven.

Her kiss was rushed and terrified and desperate. Neji breathed her in like she was oxygen.

He wondered why her lips tasted like saltwater.


5.

"You lost too much. I accelerated your blood production but you still need rest."

He woke up and she was sitting at his bedside, eyes smudged with shadows behind a pair of thick-rimmed spectacles. She looked exhausted. "What time is it?"

"A little after midnight."

Neji pushed himself up, shaking off the brief spell of vertigo that followed. He found his boots under the bed and his coat folded neatly on a chair, bloodstains crusting over the dark leather. She stood in the doorway when he tried to escape.

"What do you want?" he asked. His throat ached, sandpaper dry.

She pressed her fingers over the lapels of his coat and he wanted to ask her if she was trying to carve out his heart. "You need to be more careful."

"I am careful." Even as the words left his mouth, Neji knew he was lying. He had used the injuries as an excuse. She must have known. She must. "Ino, I-"

"Every time you get hurt, you hurt me too." He swallowed the protest. Her face was a map in anguish, blue blue eyes glistening like a long-forgotten memory of an abandoned beach. "I can't do it any more, Neji. I can't."

"Ino-"

"What if one day, you come here with something I can't fix? What then?"

Neji didn't have an answer. He watched as Ino curled into herself, stepped out of his way and turned her back to him.


6.

The team came back from a month-long stint in the Czech Republic, tracking underground mutant movements and Neji just wanted a warm bath, maybe twenty hours of uninterrupted sleep. They lost two comrades in one of the ensuing battles, good men Neji had called friends. He sent in his report to the home office, checked the updates on Hinata's squad and was headed for his room when he ran into Kiba.

"Heard about your work with Yamato," Kiba began. "Good job, man."

Neji nodded and he's tired. He felt older than eighteen, his bones weighed down from fighting a war as endless as it was pointless. "You too. Sakon and Ukon must not have been easy to deal with."

Kiba unzipped his jacket enough to reveal bandages sticky with blood, black blue red bruises running along his ribcage. "Lucky enough to get away with everything intact, y'know. Bastards cut me up pretty good so I'm heading over to Ino."

Neji stiffened. He had been avoiding the infirmary, tried to be more careful during missions just so he wouldn't have to see her again. Because she had asked him to stay away. I can't do it any more, Neji. I can't. Still, the thought of her lips on someone else was almost too much to bear. "Make her kiss it better then," he snapped, sharp and bitter.

"Kiss it better?" Kiba started to laugh and then winced, probably realised that he couldn't afford laughing in his current state. He flashed Neji a lopsided grin instead. "Yeah right. She'll kill me if I try that line. Girl has a mean right hook."

There was a second of silence as Neji scowled at Kiba. "How would she heal you if she doesn't kiss you?"

Kiba gave him an odd look. "Her hands, duh. She's got magic hands."

Neji stared at Kiba, mind furiously processing what he had just heard. Which didn't make sense because she told him- oh. Oh. He started for the infirmary, managed a few steps before he remembered that Kiba was also heading that way. "You might want to see Sakura instead. Ino…will be busy."

"Wha-"

Neji narrowed his eyes. "Go see Sakura."

Kiba raised his hands in defence and took a step back. "Sheesh. Okay. Keep your laser for the hostiles, man."

"Thank you."


7.

Ino's skin looked sickly-yellow under the fluorescent light. Her hair was free from its customary ponytail, a spill of white gold over pale face and too-thin shoulders. She looked like she hadn't slept in years, like she had ran herself haggard to match his self-imposed exile. He watched her for a few minutes, as she scrawled comments on the chart before her and regrets flared deep and bright in his heart.

"Ino," he breathed out. She flinched. "You lied to me."

She took off the spectacles, rubbed the bridge of her nose with a weary sigh and he was struck by how easy it was to recall the exact shade of blue her eyes were. "I'm sorry."

He stepped inside and closed the door behind him. Locked it. Just in case. "Why?"

"You honestly don't know?"

"I can guess," Neji said. "But I'd prefer if you'd tell me."

Ino allowed the silence to stretch, thin and brittle, for so long that he thought she would be content to leave him with his guesses. Her voice was quiet when she asked, "Do you remember the summer you stayed in that bird sanctuary? Next to a flower shop?"

Neji remembered. It was privately-owned by an eccentric millionaire, who just happened to be a great-great uncle. Neji was ten, spent hours sketching and enjoying the lull of birdsongs because it was a rare opportunity to be away from the Hyuuga compound. He had loved the bird sanctuary. And the flower shop. Tidy little place. Beautifully-crafted arrangements, one for every occasion. He made friends with the owner's daughter, bestowed upon her some of his best sketches. A favour she returned with small bouquets and hand-made paper mandolins stuffed with sugared plums. Primroses. Chrysanthemums. Carnations. Tulips.

Neji realised with a start that he had seen her before Hinata. Had always known her. "You were that little girl."

"Yes." Ino looked away. "Not so little any more though."

"I don't understand. Why didn't you tell me?"

"You forgot about me."

"I didn't."

Ino's smile threatened to wilt around its corners. "I've loved you for years, Neji."

He rounded the table, pulled her to her feet and revelled in her surprise, the way she leaned into his touch. She was thinner in his absence, wrists as fragile as those flowers she had loved so much and Neji eased his bruising grip. Tilted her face so he could press his lips against hers.

"Don't stop now," he murmured. He felt her fingers tighten and her breath hitch but she didn't push him away. "Please."

I would love you for the years to come. If you'd let me.

Neji kissed her damp eyelashes, smiled even if her voice was tear-stained when she said, "I won't even know how to stop."


end