The Pride of the Hyūga Clan
So here's my first Naruto story, and it's set about a year into the timeskip. I hope you enjoy it, and any feedback would be greatly appreciated.
Rated for mentions of abuse.
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
Hyūga Neji was not the easiest of people to get along with. Not even Gai could argue with that. He was arrogant, condescending, and quite clearly believed everyone, including the rest of his team, to be beneath him. It was some time before Lee and Tenten learned more of their teammate's past, and while it didn't excuse his behaviour, it did at least explain it. They eventually worked out a way to compromise, and Team Gai was soon regarded as one of the strongest in the village.
Things improved after the Chūnin exams, during which Naruto succeeded where they could not in beating some sense into Neji. He could still be obnoxious, but he began to let go of his anger, and learn to actually respect, rather than tolerate his team. The pleasure in his eyes when Lee was eventually able to rejoin them was completely genuine.
Of course, things weren't perfect. There were still days when Tenten just wanted to smack him. Case in point...
Tenten glared at him. "It's still a killing blow."
"Not a clean one."
Tenten fought not to snap. Really, was it so bad that one out of sixty had been a couple of millimetres off dead centre?
"She is correct," Lee remarked. "By now they enemy would be quite dead."
Neji just grunted. "Whatever."
Tenten's eyes narrowed, but Gai was suddenly between them. "All right, that's enough of that. Lee, Tenten, why don't you go and burn off some of your youthful energy? Neji, with me."
Lee sprang to attention. "Yes, Gai-sensei! We will run one hundred times around the village, and if that does not tire us, we will do two hundred push-ups!"
Tenten winced, but Gai just beamed at them. "I would expect nothing less, but for now, just to the Hokage Monument and back will do." Neji rolled his eyes and Gai turned to him. "In the meantime, we shall spar!"
Something flickered briefly in Neji's eyes before he nodded. "Yes, sensei." He turned and stalked to the centre of the training ground. Tenten stared after him, until Lee interrupted her contemplation by tugging at her sleeve.
"Come on dearest Tenten! We must get back before they finish."
"Or what?" Tenten muttered, but she took off after him. At least it was only one circuit.
Even as she ran though, she couldn't help but let her mind drift to her teammate. Neji had been getting friendlier, but now...
"Tenten, what is it?"
Tenten considered saying nothing, but the genuine concern in Lee's eyes was enough that she couldn't help herself. "Why does he have to be like that?"
Lee frowned. "Neji?"
"Who else?" She glared at the path in front of them. "He was fine yesterday, but all he's done so far today is insult us."
Lee leapt a log without breaking stride and shrugged. "He is just being Neji, Tenten. You know how he is."
She did. Neji was always difficult, but some days he was an absolute nightmare. It didn't happen often, maybe once every few months, and he would be fine the next day, but it was still frustrating. Lee glanced at her.
"He cannot help it. He will be fine tomorrow."
"I hope so," Tenten muttered. More than a day of this, and she would end up doing something she would regret.
Lee's eyes gleamed. "Why don't we take your mind off it?"
He dashed off. Tenten rolled her eyes and picked up her pace. She knew she didn't stand a chance, but if she didn't at least try to catch up to him then she would never hear the end of it.
They completed the rest of the trip in silence, and as breathless as she was afterwards, Tenten had to admit that she felt better for it. They arrived back to find Gai and Neji still locked in combat. The numerous craters and scattered weapons bore testimony to the ferocity of the practice. Neji was breathing heavily, but even as they watched he leapt forwards, his movements so fast that Tenten could barely track them.
As fast as he was though, Gai was faster. There was a blur of green, and Neji hit the ground with a muffled grunt. Lee cheered.
"That was amazing, Gai-sensei!"
Gai tuned and struck his legendary pose. "Of course it was."
Tenten however was watching Neji. He was sitting up, but his face was twisted into something that looked very much like pain. It cleared immediately as he looked up.
Tenten frowned. "That was going to be my line."
Neji snorted. "Don't be ridiculous."
"Then why are you still on the floor?" She made no effort to keep her voice low. Neji glared at her, but Lee had already bounded over.
"Neji, my rival, what is it?"
"Nothing," Neji snapped. "What, I'm not allowed to catch my breath now?"
Tenten frowned. He sounded like himself, but he still hadn't even tried to get up. She studied him while Lee expounded on his lack of youthful enthusiasm. Now that she was paying attention, she could see that he did seem a little paler than usual.
"I'm fine," Neji interrupted sharply. "A slight headache, that's all."
Tenten stared at him. For Neji to admit to an injury was rare, for him to mention a discomfort was unheard of. Lee continued oblivious, but she saw Gai's eyes narrow.
"I think that's enough for today anyway," he said. "You're all dismissed.
Lee's brows drew together in confusion. "But it's early!"
"And I need you to all be in top shape for tomorrow's mission." His gaze flickered to Neji as he spoke, but he didn't draw attention to it. Tenten bowed.
"Thank you, Gai-sensei."
Neji just grunted and finally climbed to his feet. There was no mistake, he was definitely moving more carefully than usual. Tenten looked over at Gai, and saw the same concern mirrored in his eyes. Even as she opened her mouth to question it, he gave a slight shake of his head. Tenten sighed, but didn't argue; as much as she wanted to know what was going on, they both knew the chances of Neji were telling them were about as likely as Kakashi challenging Gai.
The next morning, Neji took the extra gear that Tenten had been trying to pack, and stowed it away in his own bag. Tenten accepted the tacit apology, but she did not forget. And she did not stop watching.
The next few months passed peacefully. So peacefully in fact that Tenten began to wonder if she had been imagining things. Maybe Neji had just been having a bad day. Even shinobi could get sick after all.
Then one day Neji arrived at their training ground looking like he was about to spit fire. Typically, Lee paid no attention.
"Good morning, Neji! How are you on this glorious morning?"
"Shut up," Neji growled. He strode straight past them and took a seat under a tree. Lee and Tenten exchanged a dismayed look.
"Here we go again," Tenten muttered.
Lee nodded glumly. "It appears so." His face was unusually troubled. "Excuse my impertinence, but did he look a bit..."
"Sick?" Tenten suggested. "Like he was about to collapse?"
"Who's about to collapse?"
Despite her best efforts, Tenten jerked round. "Sensei, do you have to do that?" It was annoying how silent their teacher could be when he was trying. Gai grinned at her.
"Just keeping you on your toes." His smile faded at their expressions. "What is wrong?"
Tenten bit her lip. "It's... you see..."
"Neji looks sick," Lee blurted out.
Gai frowned and looked. Neji's eyes were closed in meditation, but even from where they were they could see the shadows under his eyes, and the almost grey tinge to his skin. Tenten scowled; he might look ill, but getting him to admit it would be another matter entirely.
"Have you spoken to him?" Gai asked. All levity had gone from his voice, and Tenten and Lee found themselves straightening automatically.
"Yes, sensei," said Lee. "But he was a little abrupt."
"He told us to shut up," Tenten explained. "And that was it."
"Yes," Lee admitted. "Gai-sensei, he really did look different."
Gai was silent for a long moment. Tenten waited anxiously, but she already felt better. Gai might be odd, but he did care deeply for all of them. He would get to the bottom of this.
"First things first," he murmured. "Ask him."
Tenten stared at him. "Ask? He's more likely to bite our heads off than say anything useful."
Gai raised a finger. "Ah, but what he doesn't say may be equally important."
"Wise words, Gai-sensei," said Lee, and Tenten didn't have to look to know that he was writing them down.
"Let's go!" He headed straight for Neji, Lee bounding along behind him. Tenten suppressed a sigh and followed. This was not going to go well.
"Neji!" Gai boomed as they approached. "Why are you so glum on such a fine day?"
Slowly, Neji opened his eyes. "I'm not."
Gai was undeterred by the ice in his voice. "Come, it is time to demonstrate your youthful prowess."
Tenten was sure she was not the only one to see the frown, faint as it was, that flickered across Neji's face. "Of course." He rose to his feet, but to their astonishment his face paled even further and he staggered slightly. Lee gave a startled exclamation and caught him by the arm.
"Neji! What's wrong?"
"I'm fine," Neji snapped. He tried to free his arm, but Lee held on, his dark eyes filled with concern.
"I've never seen you stumble when you weren't half dead!"
"Neji, please," Tenten put in. "What is the matter?"
Tenten's patience was wearing thin. "Don't be stupid," she snapped. "This is not nothing."
Neji's face twisted into a snarl. "Let go of me." He jabbed at Lee, who yelped as his arm went numb.
Neji ignored him in favour of wrenching himself free. "I suggest you concentrate on your training rather than imagining things."
Before any of them could protest, he took off along one of their regular running tracks. Lee started after him, his face pinched with anger, but Gai laid a hand on his shoulder.
"I said wait, Lee."
Lee fell silent, but Tenten hadn't even started. "Gai-sensei, why didn't you say anything? You could have ordered him to tell us what was wrong."
Gai shook his head grimly. "No, Tenten. If nothing else, Neji certainly has the stubbornness of youth. But we have ascertained one thing."
"Yes, please share your wisdom, Gai-sensei."
For once, Gai did not smile at his enthusiasm. "There is definitely something wrong with our young genius."
"We know!" Tenten cried. "But what can we do about it?"
Gai laid a hand on her shoulder. "We will deal with it."
Tenten looked up, hope surging through her. "What?"
"We can hardly leave him, can we? What sort of teammates would we be then?"
Tenten took a deep breath. "What do we do?"
Gai smiled. "How well do you know Hyūga Hinata?"
Tenten blinked. "We've trained together a few times. I think we get on well enough."
"Good. Find her and bring her here." Tenten opened her mouth but Gai had already turned to Lee. "Lee, I need you to keep an eye on Neji. Don't challenge him," he said quickly, as Lee puffed himself up. "Nothing more strenuous than laps, understand?"
Lee looked bemused, but he nodded. "You can count on me, Gai-sensei!"
"Do you think he's ill then?" asked Tenten.
Gai hesitated. "In a manner of speaking."
Tenten's eyes narrowed. "You know what's going on, don't you?"
"I have an idea," said Gai quietly. "I need to make a few inquiries."
Lee looked at him. "How serious is it, Gai-sensei?"
Gai sighed. "I do not know yet. But if I am right..." He trailed off, but the expression on his face more than betrayed his emotions. Tenten shivered; Gai might be kind and gentle, but he was utterly without mercy when it came to his enemies. If Neji was in trouble, there was no one Tenten trusted more to get him out of it.
After a minute, Gai shook his head. "But I may be mistaken. I will meet you back here shortly."
Lee snapped to attention. "We won't let you down, Gai-sensei!"
"You can count on us," Tenten promised.
Gai's forbidding expression softened ever so slightly. "I know I can." Then there was a rush of wind, and he was gone.
Tenten nodded to Lee and took off too. She had no idea why they needed Hinata, but if it helped Neji then she wasn't about to complain. Tenten's grip tightened around one of her kunai. If Neji was in trouble, then Gai was not the only one who would deal with it. Say what you would about them, Team Gai looked after their own.
It wasn't long before Tenten arrived at Team 8's usual training ground; she had been there several times, both to help Hinata, and to work on her own taijutsu with the younger kunoichi, although Neji was usually with her when she did. Tenten just hoped that Hinata would be willing to help now; the Chūnin exams had changed things, but relations between the cousins were still uneasy. Tenten snorted at the thought; Hinata was probably the last person alive who would refuse another help.
Unsurprisingly, it was Kiba who first noticed her.
"Hey, it's Tenten-chan!"
Akamaru barked a welcome, and Kurenai turned, her face betraying open curiosity. Shino didn't react at all, but Hinata went pale. After all, there was only one reason why a member of Team Gai would interrupt their training like this.
"T-Tenten-chan? Is N-Neji-nii-san all right?"
Tenten spared a brief nod, but first bowed to Kurenai. "Forgive me, Kurenai-san, but may I speak to Hinata-chan?"
Kurenai studied her for a moment, then nodded. "Of course. Kiba, Shino, with me." She squeezed Hinata's shoulder briefly before heading in the direction of the forest. Kiba and Shino both paused to speak to their teammate, before following Kurenai.
Barely had they gone when Hinata turned to Tenten.
"What is it? H-has something happened?"
Tenten shook her head. "No, it's nothing like that." She bit her lip. "Well, sort of."
"Tenten, is it Neji?"
Tenten took a deep breath and nodded. "Something's wrong with him. We can all see it, but he's refusing to tell us what's going on."
"H-he can be stubborn," Hinata agreed. "D-do you think that I can help?"
"I don't know," said Tenten honestly. "Gai-sensei seems to have an idea, but he just asked me to find you and went to talk to someone else."
Hinata frowned. "Did he say anything else?"
"Just that he had to make other inquiries." She thought back. "He did tell Lee to stop Neji from doing anything too strenuous."
Hinata's eyes widened. "Tenten, what exactly was wrong with him?"
Tenten blinked, taken aback by her sudden urgency. "Er, he was pale, and I don't think he'd been sleeping well. He looked like he was in pain, but it's difficult to tell. Last time he said he had a headache."
"Yeah, this has happened quite a few times. Not as bad as this, but still..." She trailed off at the look on her friend's face. "Hinata?"
Hinata's face drained of what little colour it had left. "Quite a few times..."
"Usually every few months. Hinata's what's going on?"
Hinata drew in a deep breath. "I need to see him."
"Tenten, please. If this is what I think it is, then we must hurry."
Tenten stared at her. Gone was the shy unassuming girl she knew. This was their heir of the Hyūga clan, noble clan of Konoha. Tenten nodded.
"Come with me."
Neither of them spoke as they made their way back to Team Gai's training field. Tenten was still struggling to come to terms with the change in her friend's demeanour; there was not a hint of hesitancy in Hinata's manner now. Indeed, there was a gleam in her pale eyes that was remarkably reminiscent of her cousin.
"Do you know what's going on?" Tenten asked quietly.
Hinata was silent for a moment. "I think so. But I hope I am wrong." Tenten frowned and she shook her head. "I need to see him to be sure."
Tenten's frown deepened, but she didn't argue. Instead she increased her pace. Hinata kept up easily, and even began to draw ahead. Tenten smiled; why had she ever been afraid that Hinata would refuse to help?
Thanks to their pace, a few more minutes' travel found them back at the training ground. Gai was nowhere to be seen, but Neji and Lee stood in the centre glaring daggers at each other. Tenten sighed as the sounds of their argument drifted across.
"Because Gai-sensei said so."
"And why did he say that?"
"Neji, why don't we just do more push-ups? I challenge-"
"We've done push-ups! And sit-ups, and laps!"
"Gai-sensei told Lee not to do any sparring," Tenten explained to Hinata.
"Good," Hinata murmured. Veins in her forehead bulged as she activated the Byakugan. "He really doesn't look good."
Tenten nodded, but Lee caught sight of them then. "Tenten!"
Neji turned and his eyes widened. "Hinata-sama? What are you doing here?"
"T-Tenten-chan came to find me."
Tenten winced as Neji's glare was directed at her. "Did she now?"
"She was just worried-"
"There is nothing to be worried about!"
"I am fine!"
Tenten had had enough. "No, you're not! Do you think that just because we don't have the Byakugan we're blind?" Neji's mouth opened, but she didn't give him a chance to interrupt. "You turn up looking awful, act like you're in pain, make our lives a misery, and then don't give a single word of explanation! Well, I am sick of it. Do you think we like seeing you like this? Stop being so bloody proud, and let us help!"
"I couldn't have put it better myself."
Tenten spun around so fast she almost tripped over her own feet. "H-Hokage-sama!"
Tsunade smirked. "The one and only." She was standing just behind them. Gai stood beside her, looking far too pleased with himself. The shinobi all bowed, and Tenten felt a surge of relief. Not even Neji would refuse an order from the Hokage. Lee and Hinata bore similar expressions, but Neji's eyes had narrowed.
"What the hell is going on?"
Tsunade studied him for a long moment. "I see what you mean," she murmured to Gai.
Neji stared at the two of them. "What?" His expression darkened. "Gai-sensei, I said I was fine."
Gai's face was unusually grave. "Forgive me, Neji, but I still don't believe you."
Neji opened his mouth, probably to protest, but Hinata sighed. "Tell them the truth, Neji."
Neji glared at her. "Is that a request, or an order?" he demanded. "But I suppose there isn't much difference, is there?"
Hinata took a step towards him, and Tenten was startled to see Neji flinch. Hinata caught and held his gaze.
"Do you really think I would resort to that?" she asked softly. Tenten glanced at Lee, but he seemed as perplexed as she felt. Neji looked away.
"No," he said quietly. "But others are not like you."
Hinata drew in a long breath. "Nii-san..."
Lee's head swivelled from her to his teammate. "I do not understand. What has happened?"
For Tenten however, things were beginning to make a horrifying amount of sense. Why Neji would fear Hinata of all people, why he was refusing to speak, why Gai would see fit to send for the Hokage...
"No," she whispered.
Neji spared her a brief glance. "You figured it out then."
"I hope not."
"Why?" Lee demanded. "What's going on?" He sounded close to tears and Gai directed a very pointed 'if you don't tell him I will' look at Neji. Neji's expression darkened, but after a moment, his shoulders slumped.
"Fine." He closed his eyes for a moment, and when he opened again, all emotion had disappeared. He turned to Lee. "What do you know about the Hyūga curse seal?"
Lee frowned. "It seals away the Byakugan of the Branch house after death, and can be used..." he broke off abruptly, eyes widening in horror.
"To punish recalcitrant Branch members," Neji finished flatly.
Tenten felt sick. She had known of the seal since the Chūnin exams, but had somehow never connected it to her friend like that. Lee was string open-mouthed at Neji, and Hinata looked close to tears. Neji's face, however, remained eerily blank as he looked at Gai.
"How did you know?"
"I have seen the effects before," said Gai quietly. "Forgive me; I should have connected it to your episodes sooner."
Neji shook his head. "I was trying to hide it."
Gai nodded, but he still did not look happy. "I did not know for sure until I saw Hinata-chan's reaction."
"I suspected from what Tenten-chan told me," said Hinata, before Neji could ask. "And your chakra network confirmed it."
"My chakra network?"
"It looks different, less controlled," she explained.
Neji nodded slowly. "That explains a great deal," he murmured.
Tenten couldn't hold back any longer. "Are you telling us that all those times you gave us a hard time it was because someone's been activating your seal?"
"Why didn't you tell us?"
Neji continued to stare at the floor, but before she could press him, she was interrupted.
"Who was it?"
Tenten's eyes widened. Lee's hands were clenched into fists, and he was shaking with barely suppressed rage. Neji sighed.
"Does it matter?"
Tenten nearly shouted the answer, but she was not the only one to do so. Lee, Gai and Hinata had been equally vehement, and even Tsunade was staring at Neji like he had grown a second head. Neji looked taken aback by the response, but Lee had already stalked up to him.
"Of course it matters!" he yelled. "You're our teammate! We wouldn't stand by and let you be tortured on a mission; what makes you think we'd allow it here?"
"Well said," Gai growled. There was a glint in his eyes that was usually reserved for life and death battles. "The seal may be tolerated, but abuse of it certainly won't be."
"No," Hinata agreed. "It's only supposed to be activated if killing intent is detected, and even then as a last resort."
No wonder she looked so outraged, Tenten reflected. Tsunade studied Neji.
"Was there a reason for your seal's activation?"
Neji nodded. "Yes, Hokage-sama."
Tsunade's lips twitched ever so slightly. "A valid reason?"
"What happened?" asked Tenten.
Neji grimaced. "I defeated one of the Main house members."
"What?" her voice slipped up an octave, and Neji didn't quite manage to suppress a wince. Hinata was equally furious.
"That's outrageous," she cried.
Neji gave a weary half-smile. "But not especially unusual." He sighed and rubbed his temples. Tsunade's eyes narrowed.
"Sit down," she said without preamble. Neji recognised her tone, and didn't even try to argue, but no one missed the relief that flickered across his face. Tsunade knelt in front of him and laid a hand on his forehead. A moment later, she muttered a curse.
"What is it, Hokage-sama?" Gai demanded. He was hovering protectively over his student, and Lee wasn't much better. "Can't you help?" Tenten and Hinata exchanged dismayed looks, but Tsunade grimaced.
"I can ease the residual pain."
"Thank you, Hokage-sama," Neji murmured, but Tsunade was still frowning.
"When did this happen?" There was silence and her eyes narrowed. "Do I have to make that an order?"
"No, Hokage-sama." He sighed. "Last night."
The frown deepened. "How long was it activated?"
He dropped his gaze. "I'm not sure."
"...Two minutes. Maybe more."
Hinata gasped. "T-two minutes? Nii-san..."
Gai's face was thunderous. "Are they completely insane? When I find out who did this..."
Lee stared between them. "I don't understand."
Seeing both Hinata and Gai were preoccupied, Tsunade explained, "The seal is not supposed to be activated for prolonged periods." At the blank looks on his and Tenten's faces, she elaborated. "The seal works by disrupting chakra networks in the brain. Extended use can lead to permanent damage."
Lee's face drained of colour and he turned to Neji, who was once again staring at the floor. "Are you all right?"
"Right." He turned back to Tsunade. "Is he all right, Tsunade-sama?"
She ignored Neji's disgruntled mutters and nodded. "I can reverse the damage, but it was a close thing." She fixed Neji with a sharp look. "And it certainly wasn't helped by the earlier damage."
Tenten flinched at the reminder. They had been teammates for over two years; how had something like this been overlooked for so long? The same thought seemed to have struck Gai and Lee, for there wasn't a trace of their usual enthusiasm about them now. Hinata took a deep breath.
"Neji, who has been doing this?"
Neji's face returned to a blank mask. "It is not important."
"Yes, it is!" Neji's eyes widened slightly, but she didn't give him a chance to interrupt. "I can take this to my father, and we can deal with it, but we cannot do anything if we do not know who is responsible."
Neji stared at her. "What?"
"I can help-"
Hinata just looked at him. "You are my cousin. How could I not?"
"But in the past-"
"I thought we put that behind us." She sighed. "And I do understand all your reasons for it."
Neji did not seem to know how to respond to that. "Thank you, Hinata-sama," he whispered. "But I doubt your father will take the same view."
Hinata shook her head. "You know he values you."
Neji snorted. "He values my abilities," he muttered.
"Yes," said Hinata. "But he also values his brother's son."
Neji was silent for a long minute, but, just when Tenten thought he would speak, he shook his head. "Even if he does, what can he do? I doubt the other elders will take my word over that of one of their own."
"They will not have a choice in the matter," said Gai grimly. "I'll involve the Yamanaka if I have to, but you are not going back there until this has been resolved."
Neji shook his head. "They will not do anything," he repeated. "Not for a Branch member."
Tenten looked at him. "You aren't going to tell us?" Neji shook his head, but his expression slipped at her next words. "Then we'll just have to work it out."
Lee's eyes lit up. "An excellent idea, Tenten! So, what do we know?"
Neji opened his mouth to protest, but was stopped by Tsunade beginning to pour healing chakra into his body. He immediately relaxed, and gave a low sigh of relief. The Hokage winked at Tenten, who gave her a grateful smile.
"Well, it's been going on ever since we became a team, so at least two years."
"Probably longer," Gai pointed out.
"And probably an elder, judging from his earlier words," said Hinata.
Lee nodded. "And it only happens every few months."
Tsunade's head whipped round. "Did you say every three months?"
At the same time, Hinata drew in a sharp breath. "It can't be."
"What is it?" Gai demanded. "What do you know?"
Hinata looked dazed, but she pulled herself together. "Elder Hiroto returned the day before yesterday," she breathed. "And supervised a sparring session."
Neji flinched, but Tsunade's eyes had already narrowed. "Indeed, and as part of Jiraiya's network, Hiroto frequently takes extended trips outside the village. Trips which usually take around three months."
Every eye turned to Neji, who sat still as a statue in the centre of the group.
"Well, Neji?" Lee prompted. "Is it him?"
There was still no reply. Tsunade and Gai exchanged an exasperated look, but Hinata leaned forwards to look her cousin in the eye.
"We will deal with this," she said softly. "You will never have to see him again." The faintest flicker of a smile touched her lips. "That's a promise."
Neji looked up at that. For a long moment, white eyes stared into white. Then, very slowly, Neji nodded. "Yeah. It's him."
A genuine smile spread across Hinata's face. "Thank you." She straightened up and turned to Gai. "I apologise for interrupting your training, Gai-sensei," she said formally, "but would you mind accompanying me to address my father?"
Gai's smirk turned rather predatory. "Not at all, Hinata-chan."
Lee sprang to his feet. "Permission to join you, Gai-sensei?"
"And me," Tenten chimed in. She was very glad she'd sharpened all her kunai.
Gai smiled at them. "The offer is appreciated, but I think you may be a little too full of the fires of youth at the moment."
"Agreed," Tsunade groaned. Tenten frowned, but Tsunade continued. "However, I do hope you will remind Hiashi-san that I am due to meet with him this afternoon, and warn him that I am not in the best of moods after having to heal one of my strongest jōnin."
Hinata bowed. "Yes, Tsunade-sama." She looked to Neji, who still seemed to be struggling to process what was going on. "I truly am sorry for this, Neji," she said quietly. "I will do everything I can to make sure that it never happens again."
Neji stared at her for a moment, then inclined his head. "Thank you, Hinata-sama." For once, there was no mocking edge to the honorific. Gai rested a hand on his shoulder.
"You've done well, Neji," he said. "I am very proud of you."
Neji did not answer, but the gratitude in his eyes was clear enough. Gai smiled, and then there was a flurry of leaves, and he and Hinata were gone.
Tsunade gave a grunt of approval and returned her attention to her work. "About time," she murmured. "Why nothing was done sooner... But then we can't really blame them for that, can we?" She looked pointedly at Neji, who had the grace to drop his gaze.
"Hokage-sama, what will happen to Hiroto?" asked Tenten. She didn't bother with an honorific; after what he had done, he didn't deserve one.
"That will be up to Hiashi-san," said Tsunade, "but I wouldn't be surprised if his trips weren't suddenly extended by several months."
"He deserves more than that," said Lee hotly.
Tsunade gave a grim smile. "Oh, don't worry. I'm sure your sensei and Hinata-chan will see to that." Lee brightened at the thought, and Tenten didn't even try to hold back a surge of satisfaction either. Even Neji managed a brief smile. Tsunade released a final pulse of chakra and nodded.
"All right, that should do it. How do you feel?"
Neji stretched carefully. "Much better, thank you."
"Good. I want you to take it easy for the rest of the day. No training, no sparring, and no hundred lap races around the village, understood?"
"Yes, Tsunade-sama," said Tenten quickly. "We'll make sure of it.
Neji nodded. "Thank you, Tsunade-sama. I apologise for wasting your time; I know you must have more important things to deal with."
Tsunade frowned at him. "Kid, I'm Hokage. That means there's nothing more important than the welfare of my people." Her eyes twinkled. "Besides, it got me out of paperwork."
Neji bowed as best he could. "Thank you anyway."
"Don't mention it." She looked round at them and then back to him. "Next time though, tell someone before it gets this bad."
Neji inclined his head. "I will try."
Tsunade shook her head fondly and disappeared, leaving the three of them alone.
For several minutes, there was silence. Lee's brow was furrowed in thought as he reflected on the morning's events, and Neji seemed quite content to bask in the sunshine, but Tenten was still burning with questions.
"Why didn't you say anything?"
Neji cracked one eye open. "Can't you guess?"
She could, and she didn't like it. "You're an idiot."
Neji threw her a reproachful look, but Lee nodded. "I agree."
Neji shrugged. "It doesn't matter now anyway."
"Doesn't matter?" The boys exchanged wary looks at the danger in her voice, but Tenten kept talking. "You were tortured by a member of your own family for years without saying a word, and now you saw it doesn't matter?"
"Well, it doesn't," said Neji calmly. "Gai-sensei and Hinata-sama are dealing with it, and there's nothing you can do to change the past."
"Tenten's right though," said Lee. "You should have told us."
Neji frowned and glanced at the pair of them. "Am I missing something?"
Tenten couldn't decide whether to laugh or cry. "Uh huh."
"Tenten..." Neji shot a helpless look at Lee, who was still staring at the floor. "What is wrong?"
Tenten's throat seemed to have locked up. How could they ever make up for this? Lee took a deep breath and looked up.
"What? What for?"
Lee sniffed. "We are terrible teammates."
That was putting it mildly, but comprehension was dawning in Neji's eyes. "I didn't want anyone to know-"
"So?" Tenten cried. "We're shinobi! We're supposed to be more observant than that, and we didn't notice a thing!"
"We failed," said Lee softly. "I do not know if any amount of training will make up for that."
Neji's eyes hardened. "Stop it."
"No. It's not your fault. If I was good enough to hide it from my family, what makes you think you could tell?"
"We should," Lee began, but Neji interrupted.
"You couldn't have known. If I'd had my way, you would never have known."
Tenten stared at him. "Seriously? You'd rather be in pain than admit you need help?"
Neji sighed. "The point is that if I'd been even a little less tired, I wouldn't have slipped enough for you to realise. You couldn't have known that anything was wrong, and so you have no reason to continue to blame yourselves."
Tenten opened her mouth, then closed it again. "You're still an idiot."
His lips twitched almost imperceptibly. "Maybe."
Lee snorted. "There is no maybe." His grin faded. "You will tell us if anything like this happens again, won't you?" His tone made it perfectly clear that there was only one right answer.
"I will try," said Neji after a moment. Lee and Tenten exchanged a look, but Tenten couldn't help smiling. That was more than she had expected. Neji's gaze softened as he looked at them.
"And thank you."
Tenten smiled. "No problem. No problem at all."
None of them ever found out what happened in the Hyūga compound that day. All they knew was that Hiashi began to train personally with his nephew, even as Neji began meeting regularly with Hinata. There was a new respect in his eyes as he looked at her, and she began to increase in skill and confidence under her cousin's tutelage. And Neji was never left alone with any of the Hyūga elders again.
Please let me know what you thought.