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[Naruto Fic] The Fall of Icarus 03.b

And so there we finally have it. part two of the chapter that would not end. i'm kind of happy with but at the same time i keep thinking i missed something. *sigh*

Previously: 01 02 03.a



=========================
The Fall of Icarus
By: Ken
Word Count: 3,209
Began: 09.15.2004
Pairing: Neji x Naruto, Gai x Kakashi
Disclaimer: Naruto is a product of Kishimoto Masashi. If i owned it Gai would have been in the first three episodes. poor Maito Gai -- to be upstaged by Iruka of all characters.
Comments: with Many Thanks to my beta TJ Dragonblade.
=========================


Chapter 03.b: The End of the Line

Tsunade didn’t have long to wait before her quarry stood before her. The Hokage would almost swear that he’d been eavesdropping outside the window from how little time it took to locate him. Or, maybe Shizune had had the good sense to realize how precarious her boss’s temper was at the moment.

“You sent for me, Lady Godaime?” Neji queried as came to stand before her desk.

She studied him a moment. Hyuuga Neji was his clan’s prodigy. He was the studious, hardworking, quiet type from what she had discerned over the years. Neji was only fifteen years old, yet already a jounin. That was considerably impressive considering they lived in a time of relative peace. Shinobi didn’t usually advance so fast when there wasn’t constant war. When she’d promoted him from genin to chuunin, then chuunin to jounin she’d remarked that Neji had excellent instincts, both on the battlefield and as a leader. One could say his keen observation and analysis skills were on par with Nara Shikamaru’s.

When members of his clan reached fifteen most were arranged to begin courtship rituals.

Her headache threatened again as she put it all together.

So, The Hyuuga Elders have a hard on for this one, do they? Hyuuga Hiashi sent a messenger by this morning concerning his nephew but the Elders don’t agree with his decision. Because they can’t disobey the Hyuuga Head they found a loophole. The Elders couldn’t outright say they wanted just Neji -- their best and brightest --to produce progeny so they had to ask for the whole clan and rile the other clans into doing the same.

Tsunade swallowed her disgust.

She pulled a scroll from the pile and handed it to the jounin. Tsunade steepled her fingers before her mouth and perched her chin upon them as she regarded him. “I’ll be sending you on a reconnaissance mission. It should take no longer than a week.”

Neji nodded.

“When you return you are to report to the Hyuuga compound for a period of no less than three hours to attend to familial duties. For the foreseeable future, whenever you return from a mission you are to report for that amount of time.” Her eyes narrowed. “Before you ask, the answer is ‘no’ that interlude is not deducted from your standard time off.”

Neji took a deep breath and released it slowly. “I apologize for the inconvenience. I’m sure it will amount to nothing.”

He didn’t look surprised, nor particularly bothered either, she noticed. He appeared confident and in control despite what the Hyuuga Elders had undoubtedly devised. She didn’t know Neji very well, but she had heard about the trials he endured as a member of the less favored Branch Family.

On the day he’d been promoted to jounin she had even witnessed his reaction to a Souke member. After congratulating him she had bid him farewell for the evening. Neji had taken a barely travelled back-route out of the building -- one Tsunade used when she needed a break and didn’t want to be found and scolded by Shizune. She’d been wandering around inside the building in an attempt to refocus her mind when she happened to look out a window and see her brand new jounin hemmed up by three Hyuuga women on the empty street. One pale-skinned girl in a silk kimono with lustrous black hair piled upon her head, eyebrows plucked into a perfect arch, and lips painted bright red had been jabbing a finger into Neji’s chest. The beauty mark resting under her right eye twitched with every word she said. Tsunade had been too far away to hear, and couldn’t interfere as it was a clan matter, but she had noted the proud yet dejected slump to Neji’s shoulders as he looked at the ground. No expression touched his face but the anger that radiated from him could have been a signal flare. That had been the fury of resentment, of having power but unable to use it. It hadn’t mattered what he did or didn’t do, that girl won.

Neji was never confident when it came to his family.

Tsunade’s chin slid off her hands as realization struck. “You -- You’ve already taken care of it haven’t you?” she demanded.

Tsunade would never admit to condoning Bunke training, but as Hyuuga Neji stood straight and blank-faced before her she felt a measure of pride and satisfaction that such a powerful, well-mannered young man was a part of the village. His mannerisms did not favor her as she was sure the completely flabbergasted expression she wore was not how a Hokage should ever look.

“Lady Godaime, I am at a loss for what you could possibly mean,” he replied calmly.

Tsunade shook her head. Such as waste, she lamented.

“And why would you need to do something like that? Just this morning your Uncle has reportedly delivered an edict to the Hyuuga Elders to leave you alone despite what they’re trying to do. I’ve seen paperwork requesting an allotment be sent to an apartment complex instead of the Hyuuga coffers for your upkeep. You’re free. So why would you need to go so far?”

Hyuuga Neji stood straight and undaunted as he addressed her. “Lady, no disrespect, but you don’t know the Souke. The only true freedom there is for a Bunke member is death. My Uncle is granting me a reprieve but it won’t last forever. As important as it is to the Hyuuga Head to improve relations with the Bunke it’s more important to keep the peace within the clan. He can’t be seen as biased.” Neji met her eyes without wavering. “As my position within the clan threatens the hierarchy, I must remove myself from the equation. If I have nothing to give then there is nothing to lose.” He took a breath, the only hint that he wasn’t as composed he would have her think. “The Elders can’t know and I respectfully request that you not tell them.”

Tsunade was sure The Hyuuga Elders couldn’t know -- a vasectomy was illegal in the Hyuuga Clan, especially for servants. Neji was making himself nothing to lose but nothing to gain either; a dangerous balance to keep when one was Hyuuga. The Godaime pursed her lips as she absorbed the predicament, looked down at her desk at the paperwork she had yet to get to. She frowned as her anger rekindled upon sight of the request the council advisors had dropped off. Tsunade had had about enough of old people meddling.

She recalled the notes the Third had taken concerning the rift between the Main House and the Branch House of the Hyuuga. The Third’s missives had stated Neji was brilliant but a fatalist with a surly attitude toward his teammates and his clan. Tsunade could not see that child in the one before her. This boy did not cower in the face of adversity. This was the boy she had found in Naruto’s hospital room years ago; in no condition to be out of bed yet willing to break himself in half to cheer her foolish grandson.

“And you’re certain you did the procedure correctly?” she asked.

Neji blinked, the only hint that he was startled by the question. “Of course.”

Precision wasn’t something one had to worry about where the Hyuuga were involved. She somehow refrained from sighing. It wasn’t the ‘Hokage-thing’ to do to let Neji go, but how could she clip his wings when he’d fought so hard to fly? She liked the Hyuuga Neji who was confident much more than the one who was bitter.

“Your assignment starts first thing tomorrow morning. Might I suggest ice until then?”

She lifted a pointed eyebrow but only succeeded in gaining another blink.

“Neji,” Tsunade began as the jounin half turned toward the door. “What did you say to my grands-- Naruto that day in the hospital? He was really depressed before you talked to him.”

The smallest of smirks touched the young Hyuuga’s lips. “I only reminded him of what he was.”

“Oh?” Intrigued, Tsunade tilted her head to the side. “And what is that?”

“A loser,” Neji answered, but there was a twinkle in his white eyes and a chuckle in his voice as he said it.

How curious, Tsunade reflected as Neji left. That was the most emotion she had seen from Neji in almost three years. If she didn’t know any better she would wager that Hyuuga Neji harbored a crush on her cute grandson.

====~- X -~====


Neji bit his tongue to stifle a groan of discomfort and gingerly shifted the ice pack. The research he had conducted was very misleading. Why had he thought that the lack of an incision would mean no pain? The endorphins from the orgasm had worn off, the euphoria of spiting the Souke, long gone. The terror of the Hokage punishing him for the very illegal act he had committed was soothed by the Lady Godaime herself. No incision, but trauma was still trauma. Neji gritted his teeth. He didn’t get to complain.

He decided to focus on his new apartment. It was nice, chosen mostly for its distance from the Hyuuga estate, but also because the landlord catered to ninja in providing fully furnished holdings. The apartment was a single room shaped in a katakana ‘ト’ (to). From the front door if one looked left one would see a kitchen and a door to the bathroom, to the right was a sitting area replete with a couch, a coffee table, and small television. In the niche was his full-sized bed, granted privacy only by the strategic placement of a colorful four-panel shoji screen depicting the four seasons at the foot of it. When he felt better he knew he would appreciate it more, but even so it was a very cozy set up. He laid on his bed on top of the blankets, a loosely wrapped fundoshi his only adornment as he cradled an ice pack, with a day off, and not a Souke to command him. If not for the pain this could have been an ideal arrangement.

A nap was in order. If he didn’t sleep he would brood on The Elders’ plot to snatch him back and ruin his Uncle’s plans. ‘Familial Duties Provision’, my ass. He was willing to bet a Hyuuga had had a hand in writing that decree when the village was first founded. He shifted again in a vain attempt at comfort, and closed his eyes.

He was mid-transition from doze to deep sleep when there was a loud banging at his door.

“Neji!”

A white eye cracked open. That very distinct yodel sounded like his teacher.

“Neji, are you home?”

Slightly more polite but no less vocal, that was definitely Rock Lee. Neji groaned.

“Are you even sure this is the right place?”

Tenten at least had the decency to sound vaguely annoyed.

A sigh escaped him. This was unfortunate. He deliberately hadn’t given his teammates his new address when he’d seen them earlier that morning before Shizune had found him. It wasn’t as though the information wasn’t readily available, but he’d been hoping in his neglecting to give them directions they would realize he didn’t want company. That was asking for too much, Neji supposed. Not that it mattered; he wasn’t getting up. They could come back later.

His doorknob jiggled. There was a click.

Were they serious?

“Ooh, this is very lovely inside isn’t it?” Lee crooned. Neji could hear his footsteps as he pranced around admiring the apartment.

“Of course it is -- Neji has awesome taste,” Tenten stated, but Neji could see her shadow following Lee’s around through the shoji screen.

The place wasn’t that big; it was only a matter of time before they converged on the niche. Neji thought to move, hide under the covers for an ounce of dignity in the situation but wasn’t able to do more than twitch a leg. Fortunately, it was a plastic bag full of takeout held by Gai's large hand that was first to greet him, followed by his mentor peeking around to the left of the shoji screen and near-blinding Neji when the late morning sun bounced off his smile. To the right, Lee mirrored the pose with another carry-out bag that smelled like herring soba.

“Neji, to celebrate your Youthful Flight From The Nest, we bring you--” Gai broke off into an indignant squeal as he took in Neji’s state of undress and absolutely venomous expression.

Whatever Lee was going to add curdled in his throat as his eyes comically rounded and his mouth dropped. It was barely a second before his sense of propriety kicked in; he schooled his features and ordered his eyes to study the wall, but the damage had already been done.

There was a disgruntled sigh. “That wasn’t how you two practiced it.” Tenten ducked under Gai’s extended arm and had just made eye contact with Neji before his team leader twirled her around and blocked her path.

“Tenten.” Gai stood with hands akimbo, curry takeout dangling in distraction. “A woman shouldn’t wander freely in a man’s bedroom.”

“What?” Tenten scoffed. “It’s a one room apartment.” She placed a hand on her hip and radiated exasperation.

Lee appeared at Gai’s elbow to take the food. He fumbled a bit as he handed a bag to Tenten, who just barely managed to save the meal from the floor. “Let’s set this up in the kitchen, Tenten!” Lee suggested with a smile. As he cast a furtive glance in Neji’s direction, his cheeks pinked with embarrassment. “Ah, you do have dishes, right Neji?”

Neji growled something unintelligible.

Lee had been trying not to stare. Neji’s mental scowl threatened to give him a headache. Lee had never seen his bare forehead and Neji found he had preferred it that way.

How was it he had less privacy now than on Hyuuga land?

“Do you mind?” Neji grumbled, meeting his teacher’s dumbfounded expression with a mutinous one of his own.

Maito Gai dragged a hand down his face. And almost immediately, as though he could wipe away his Youth, Neji’s mentor became the man Neji could talk to without the urges to strangle him. Gai knelt down on the floor and took up Neji’s closest hand to sandwich in between his large warm ones.

“Neji,” Gai frowned, his face uncomfortably close to the younger boy’s. “What happened?”

Knowing that this was likely the only improvement to Gai’s disposition that he was going to get did not help matters. “Would you believe a training accident?” Neji asked, because he didn’t want to lie to his teacher.

Big manly tears welled in Gai’s eyes as he shook his head in distraught denial. “Do you think so little of me that you Can’t Confide in your Loving Mentor?”

Shit. Neji blinked. Was he not the one mostly naked in his own home being intruded upon? His team shouldn’t even be here. He pulled his hand from Gai’s grasp, attempted to sit up and cover himself but only succeeded in jarring his injured parts and half turning his back to Gai so the other man wouldn’t see him wincing in pain. He reached for the ice pack to find it had melted. Just my luck.

“Lee, bring some ice,” Gai ordered before Neji could properly mourn its loss.

He could hear rummaging in the kitchen -- quite possibly for a glass -- before the freezer door opened. “None here, Gai-sensei.”

“There’s a machine at the end of the hall,” Neji gritted out.

“Take Tenten,” Gai added.

“But I want to know what’s going on,” Tenten protested, but obediently followed Lee out the door.

“Neji,” Gai began in the most serious tone the Hyuuga had ever heard from him. “What have you done to yourself?”

“What I had to,” Neji answered. He didn’t turn around to face his teacher. Gai didn’t understand and he never would.

Lee would always be Gai’s favorite. Even if Neji beat Lee one thousand times out of one thousand challenges, to Gai, the fact that Lee had tried so hard would always make Lee one thousand times better than Neji. According to his teacher’s ‘Rules’ one really could win for losing. Being on Team Gai was almost a near constant reminder of who he was to the Hyuuga Clan -- a genius who did not exist. But Neji would never say his teacher was inadequate in any way; Gai was merely the person a student required him to be. And if Neji couldn’t bring himself to divulge that he needed to be acknowledged, that he was tired of being punished for being such a daedal shinobi, then that was hardly Gai’s fault for not noticing.

His existence was an obstacle that someone always felt they had to overcome. Only one person had ever stopped to look back at what he’d stepped on to progress. Neji exhaled noisily. It was a bad day when daydreams of Naruto did little to soothe him.

“I had to serve them last night.” The young Hyuuga laughed mirthlessly. “You should have heard them -- scheduling a breeding plan in between missions for me as though I were a prized peacock--” Neji bit his lip momentarily, saw his teacher’s solemn expression out of the corner of his eye. “Sorry. You made me promise not to talk about anything concerning the Souke. I broke it again. I apologize.”

Neji had believed that would be the end of it. The Souke didn’t rule Gai’s life, so he was capable of ignoring them. Gai had never understood that Neji didn’t have that luxury. In Gai’s presence Neji was only allowed to shut up and deal. Knowing how his mentor felt, Neji was unprepared for Maito Gai to leap upon his bed and gently pull Neji into his arms.

The embrace was loose but the younger man was shocked into rigidity. Until that moment he had thought it was well established that he did not like to be touched. Normally, people tended to respect that. But Gai was not normal by any means. He wasn’t forceful. He was just what Neji needed him to be in that moment. It had been a long time since anyone had held him. Neji rested his cursed forehead on Gai’s flak jacket, closed his eyes, and relaxed. It had been a very stressful couple of days.

He didn’t startle when his teammates returned, merely eased out the embrace and cast about for something to cover the Seal.

“Gai-sensei, we’ve got ice!” Lee announced.

“Good.” Gai reached for the ice pack only to have Neji’s hand ward Gai’s away with a piercing look for Gai’s trouble.

His teacher’s black eyes were as guileless as ever and Neji’s mortification quickly dissipated. For once he wasn’t being reprimanded, he had the rest of the day off, and the aroma of herring soba drifting into his nostrils. His teammates were trying to take care of him. Even though he seemed to have no choice in the matter, he could think of worse things than what he was presented.

“I’ll get that.”





Aburame Shino's 'Bug on the Wall' Corner:

Shino:
Upon talking to Ken he has willingly admitted that his chapter took forever.

Why?

Because he had to completely rewrite Tsunade's portions. Twice. The original scene contained parts like this:

====~- X -~====


One simply did not bare oneself to the Hokage. He hesitated for a moment; shock paralyzing his fingers, breath caught in his throat. Though he was prepared for this event he hadn’t actually expected her to accede so quickly. The Lady Godaime was essentially crippling her fighting force in doing as he asked. It was on the tip of his tongue to ask why, but the tips of his fingers were faster at slipping into the waistband of his pants and tugging them down [...]

“Neji,” Tsunade began as she settled between his knees holding a pair of small pointed forceps. “What did you say to my grands-- Naruto before he left? He was really depressed before you talked to him.”

Neji couldn’t be sure this was the appropriate time to be having a conversation. He had lost sensation but he knew the Hokage held his balls in her hands.

====~- X -~====


So.

Though both scenes are valid in their own way, this was changed to what you now see because Ken's Suspension of Disbelief had a meltdown. He wasn't even going to allow me to show this snippet, but his best friend talked him in to it with a well placed look that said, 'No sense keeping it hidden.'

End.

Comments

tj_dragonblade
Apr. 19th, 2011 04:47 am (UTC)
worse comes to worst (like that i got it right this time, huh?)

^__^

From a reader's perspective, it doesn't feel like it's missing anything. All the same, I know what you mean about that niggling sense of 'what did I forget?'.

^_^ Chibi-photo of young Team Gai was too cute to pass up.