Blindness was uncomfortable. Neji was getting used to it, sure, but that didn't mean he liked it. At all. He was a Hyuuga, after all. Sight was… sight was everything, in some ways. It obviously wasn't the be all, end all, but it was… an integral part of his life, and it felt as though he'd lost a part of his very identity with the loss of his eyes.

Of course, the loss of his eyes meant nothing next to the fact that the majority of his future comrades no longer knew him, and that he was, for all intents and purposes, a ghost in the system. No true village of origin, no birth certificate, a shinobi number not yet in use, a family that both existed and yet didn't, nothing. He was untethered and unknown. A handful of people knew who he was, and that was all. As of that moment, he was in the same room as all four of them.

(Four of five, he thought privately. If the Kyuubi didn't know what had happened, it would be a surprise.)

"Hello, Neji."

Neji inclined his head towards the voice, which he knew to be that of the Sandaime Hokage. "Hokage-sama."

"Do you know who else is in the room right now?"

The question would have been insulting had Neji's recent handicap not been so obvious. "Yes. Yamanaka Inoichi, Morino Ibiki, and… Hyuuga Hiashi."

My uncle.

"Also at least three ANBU members that serve as your guards." Neji tacked on the ending without much thought, having been aware of the ANBU that protected Tsunade for years. He couldn't sense them, but if his plans went through, he would be capable of sensing chakra well enough to do so within a year or two.

(He was rather certain that he would never be on the same level as the best of the sensors that he'd seen, but the redheaded girl on Sasuke's little team of criminals and Pein had been the exception, not the rule, when it came to sensing skill. He would, however, force himself to advance to the point that he could be trusted to walk on his own again.)

The Hokage chuckled, a simple sign that he didn't mind that Neji knew about the supposedly secret guards. To be fair, the ANBU were a bit of an open secret for most of the Chunin and up, and Neji had been a Jounin. Neji was glad that, for all the awkwardness that he felt at the moment, in front of these men, he had at least finally been given clothing that was similar to what his own had been, shortly before the war. If nothing else, it at least made him feel like he was somewhat tied down to something.

"In any case, Neji, we have been discussing your situation for nearly a week. Whilst you cannot return to the Hyuuga compound for various reasons—"

Neji could guess why.

"—you will be put up with an apartment and a stipend until you are recovered, as you are, for all intents and purposes, a Konoha shinobi injured in a battle for her safety, even if you aren't meant to exist yet. The Hyuuga clan—"

Probably just Hiashi. The other Hyuuga with any influence would have washed their hands of him the second they found out he was blind. Hiashi, though, had a pretty strong sense of nostalgia and familial responsibility, and was probably helping because of Hizashi's recent death.

"—has agreed to also pay for an extended mission to provide you with a live-in aide until you are fully capable of either returning to the shinobi lifestyle, or choose a civilian job."

Had he been five years younger, he would have seen the mission as an insult; now, however, he saw it as the mercy it was. An assistant would be helpful until he could learn how to take care of himself properly again.

Neji probably wouldn't be fit for full duty again for a long time, if ever, but there were other jobs he could take while remaining a shinobi. He could become a teacher, for one thing. If he trained up his sensing skills appropriately, he could probably even start working in a capacity similar to his old one.

(Teaching, though… it held a certain appeal for him.)

(He would definitely think on that.)

"Do you have any requests regarding the identity of the assistant?" The Hokage asked. Neji was fully aware that any answer he gave would be considered, but there was no guarantee of anything.

"I do not know much regarding the current roster of active shinobi, nor their ranks. All I ask is that the person assigned to this mission is someone that I have worked with before and have and adequate level of trust in. I believe that Inoichi-san can inform you as to who would be best suited, as he has more information on the current situation than I do."

There, that would probably help him get someone he at least somewhat liked, without seeming overly arrogant by asking for someone whose rank was too high for such a simple mission, or accidentally asking for someone in a situation like Sarutobi Asuma, who may or may not even be working for the village at this point, depending on what age he'd become one of the Twelve Guardian Shinobi for the Daimyou.

"Inoichi-san?"

"I believe," Inoichi spoke carefully, slowly, "That of the current chunin we have, the best options would be… Yuuhi Kurenai or Mitarashi Anko."

Neji winced internally, as living with a woman would be rather awkward, but nodded nonetheless. As far as trust went, both of them were more than adequate.

"Anko? So she won the village's trust back, then." The Hokage sounded pleased about this. "That's good to hear. I don't suppose that anyone here has any objections to her being assigned to this mission?"

"No, sir."

The line was spoken by all four of the people in the room, the first words spoken by either Hiashi or Ibiki, the latter of whom seemed happier than usual for some reason. Well, Neji knew that he and Anko had been close friends, though nothing more, and if the friendship had started this early… yes, it made sense for Ibiki to be happy for Anko. It helped that Ibiki, currently eighteen (Neji's guess had been close, but not quite on the mark in that respect), didn't have the experience that had led to him becoming the feared and somewhat unreadable figure he would become in just a few short years. Hiashi… couldn't be read, not by voice alone. He probably wanted to speak to Neji after this meeting.

"You will be transferred to your new apartment and re-introduced to Anko-san this afternoon." The Hokage declared. "You are all dismissed."

Just a few short seconds later, outside what was arguably the most important room in the village, Neji heard the voice of his uncle, not nearly as aged as he was used to.

"Neji. I would like to speak with you."

"Of course, Hiashi-sama."

o.o.o.o.o

A/N: Welcome back, all.

Ja ne,

Phoenix