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[Naruto Fic] The Fall of Icarus 06

it's still technically this week. saturday isn't quite over yet.

Previously: 01, 02, 03.a, 03.b, 04, 05

The Fall of Icarus
By: Ken
Word Count: 5,900
Began: 09.15.2004
Pairing: Neji x Naruto, Gai x Kakashi
Disclaimer: Naruto is a product of Kishimoto Masashi. If i owned it Tenten would have a last name -- all the other orphans do. Poor Tenten to be a nobody through no fault of her own.
Comments: with Many Thanks to my beta TJ Dragonblade.

Chapter Six: Setting the Stage

Tenten pulled her forehead protector down over her eyes. The target was in her mind; there was no reason to see it. She felt its center, knew its heartbeat in the same way she knew her own. There were shuriken divided between her hands; she leapt from the rock she stood upon into the air and flipped.

When Tenten was a little girl she’d heard many stories of Konoha’s Slug Princess, Tsunade, the strongest, most skilled kunoichi ever born. And as she lay in her assigned bed at the orphanage, staring up at the ceiling after lights out, she’d sworn that she too would become as legendary as Lady Tsunade.

She loosed two shuriken.

It was her dream even though she didn’t have the benefit of a bloodline limit, or even a developed chakra system that had been passed down from whoever had made her. She didn’t know who her parents were, but it was safe to assume that they had been civilians. Probably not even the kind of civilians who’d grown up in a ninja village. Maybe not even the kind of people who would approve of such a dangerous profession despite the pay.

The shuriken struck and Tenten tucked under and twisted to recalculate her position in relation to her targets. There were two behind her, one to the left, and one on the other side of the tree.

Being at such a disadvantage meant she had to work harder, train a little bit longer, run a little bit farther; but little by little, she was going to achieve her goal. And after she accomplished it, if there was still time to have children, then she wanted to pass on her two greatest strengths as a ninja.

Four shuriken flew from her hand. Two aimed at the previous targets at just the right angle that would allow them to glance off and nail the two circles behind. The remaining two required exact timing. She threw one shuriken, seemingly at random, but then the last quickly followed with more force. She listened for the ‘ping’ as metal met metal and changed the trajectory, then she whipped a kunai from her tool pouch and sent it slamming into the target at the left just in time for another ping as the shuriken that was off course ricocheted from it and twirled into the remaining completely obscured circle.

“That’s amazing, Tenten!” Lee cheered as she landed beside him, pushed her forehead protector up, and surveyed her handiwork.

Her legacy would be one of skill and accuracy.

“Thanks, Lee,” Tenten said with a smile.

She was already being scouted by ANBU, she knew. Her no frills approach, speed, and precision were exactly what they were looking for when it came to assassination. She would never be called a genius like Neji, or a hard worker like Lee, but she could be called a technician -- Tenten the Precise. Some likened her to Haruno Sakura in that they had civilian parents, and it annoyed Tenten that Sakura’s strengths were better suited to be Lady Tsunade’s apprentice. While she wanted to rail against it, Tenten acknowledged that perhaps it was best that she was making a name for herself based off of her own merits; no one would ever say she was a clone of Lady Tsunade -- she would only ever be Tenten, her own person.

In some ways it was a relief to not be associated with a clan. Neji’s clan was ancient but could be considered more a hindrance than a help, unlike the other members of Team Gai who were free to be whoever they wanted. Their dynamic was unique. When they were first teamed up it was awkward to say the least, but they’d learned, and suffered, and eventually got it right. And now their relationships were changing again. She could argue that it was for the better. Neji and Lee had come to an understanding. Lee had eased off from his constant ‘Rival’ this and ‘Hard work can beat a genius’ that. In turn, Neji had finally relaxed around them, at least as much as Neji could. When Tenten trained with Neji, they usually concentrated on improving his defense while improving her accuracy, but lately Neji was teaching her how to channel her chakra -- stingy as it was -- into her weapons, and not just her aim. It was not something he would have done before his fight with Naruto during the chuunin exam. Neji was no longer indifferent to his teammates.

Lately, however, Gai wasn’t the same either. Whatever had happened a week ago in Neji’s apartment had triggered another evolution. That Neji had issues with his family was an understatement. That Gai generally ignored or forbade mention of the Hyuuga clan went -- literally -- without saying. But Neji’s plight had finally reached Gai that day. She’d seen it in his eyes though her mentor had tried to hide it with his usual jovial personality quirks.

She wasn’t really paying much attention to her surroundings, so when Tenten looked around again, she found Lee examining the pierced center of a target dummy. “Lee, what’s going on with Gai and Neji?”

Lee’s eyes met hers then blinked owlishly. “I’m not sure what you’re talking about, Tenten.”

“You live with him,” Tenten pointed out, brow furrowing as she sensed a cover up in progress.

Lee scratched at the back of his neck. “I --”

“Look, I just have a weird feeling and it started around the time Neji ranked jounin.”

“You don’t like Neji leading our missions when Gai-sensei can’t be there?” Lee asked. “Because sometimes Gai-sensei really should be watching Kakashi-sensei’s back, especially since Kakashi-sensei doesn’t have a team right now.”

Tenten waved him off. “Yes, yes, and they can continue their Eternal Rival thing, and all that.” She sighed. “That isn’t what I meant. I saw Hinata two days ago and she said something about having to leave or she would be late for a date.” Tenten shook her head. “Do the Hyuuga strike you as the dating kind?”

Lee fidgeted. “Well, no.”

“Exactly. And I’m willing to bet whatever is going on will affect Neji, and because Gai-sensei has taken an interest it’s going to affect him too. And that’s going to screw us all up.”

“I think you’re over thinking it, Tenten,” Lee stated, though he didn’t seem convinced by his own words.

“We’ll see,” Tenten allowed. She wandered over to a target and pulled the shuriken from it. There was something brewing and she was going to get to the bottom of it, see the bull’s eye even though she was aiming blindfolded.

But first she needed to train.

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

The sun hadn’t been up long when Uzumaki Naruto leaped atop a pillar. His bright blue eyes scanned the village before landing on the Hokage Monument. Granny Tsunade’s face looked back at him. Naruto smiled and could only think, I missed this place.

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

Neji slept in.

He slept in because it was one of many luxuries not afforded on Hyuuga land. Bunke were servants, never given a day off or a moment’s respite if it wasn’t the will of the Souke. No Head Family member did their own bidding. Nor was any self respecting, pompous Head member ever seen without an entourage befitting their status. If one was a ninja one had the benefit of leaving under guise of using the day for training. Neji had spent as much time as he possibly could far from his home compound all his life. His hospital stay two years before was the only time he had ever not been up with the sun on a day off.

He slept in because he was exhausted both mentally and physically. For the first time in recent years there had been a stranger in The Aviary. If he searched the archives of his memory it could yield an old and dusty recollection of someone with featureless eyes and a clean forehead sitting in the corner grinding moonblossoms with Nadeshiko. If he thought a little harder about it, he could see that that person had been the Lady Akahana, though he hadn’t thought it was significant at the time. But Shiranui Genma in the Branch family’s sanctuary was indeed notable.

Neji doubted the one-time chuunin referee realized how close he had come to death last night. Tokuma, Kuji, and Madoka had been prepared to drag him out and stage an accident before Neji had arrived. Instead, Neji had asked two sanity infused questions: Why was Nadeshiko Locked, and did Shiranui Genma really know anything?

The first answer required waiting on kunai and senbon for the portion of Nadeshiko’s brain in control of speech to unLock. She’d squeezed Ozora’s hand as bruised doe-shaped eyes met Neji’s and she queried, “Did you enjoy your date?”

“No,” Neji had solemnly answered.

Nadeshiko had snorted contemptuously. “Shame. I guess we’ll be doing this all over again.” She had taken a deep shuddering breath and then offered a tremulous smile. “You look good, Neji.”

“Thank you,” he had replied, expression blank though he was pleased she’d noticed even in her distress.

“Now can you please get that man upright and fetch him a cup of tea?” Nadeshiko had continued. “He saved my life.”

They had sat around a table while Genma and Nadeshiko nursed mugs of moonblossom tea and explained what had happened. Earlier that morning Nadeshiko had been collecting blossoms as usual when Lady Kikue found her. The lady had informed Nadeshiko that she was to tell Neji that bad things would happen if he didn’t express an appropriate level of interest in her; that The Elders should have no reason to consider any other candidate besides Lady Kikue. To ingrain the message into Nadeshiko’s skull and prove her point all the more, the lady had Sealed her. Nadeshiko had been too close to the water’s edge when her motor skills shut off, and she would have drowned if Shiranui Genma hadn’t decided to take a shortcut that morning.

The second question had been answered with a resounding no, Genma hadn’t seen anything. When the barrier around The Aviary had been erected it was made to act as a reverse juinjutsu to the Seal on their forehead so that anyone who happened upon it who wasn’t Bunke would suffer a fate of similar agony to being Locked. They had all apologized. Then as Nadeshiko insisted Genma drink another cup of tea she’d explained that the recipe had been created to alleviate the effects of the Lock and mend damage to affected areas in the brain. It also worked to counteract the barrier's effect.

Neji slept in.

He slept in because even after the drama at The Aviary he had returned home anticipating a shower and his bed, only to find Hatake Kakashi in the hallway leaning on the wall beside his apartment door. Kakashi’s arms were crossed as he read a book, seemingly oblivious to Neji’s presence. But when one lazy eye zeroed in on him, Neji was left floundering for a reason why the Copy Ninja, for all his coolness, was annoyed with him.

Neji had invited Kakashi inside, as that seemed the proper thing to do and Kakashi had begun what could have been a casual conversation between friends. Honestly, Neji would have thought nothing of the visit as random jounin had begun speaking to him at odd hours since he’d made rank. He had even run a few missions with Kakashi, Gai, and Aburame Muta shortly after his promotion. This could easily have been chalked up to Kakashi being overly cautious of anyone considered a ‘genius’ who, at one point, had been a little less than friendly. But the line of questioning and the forced pleasantness gave Kakashi away. For a moment Neji was angry, believing he had been betrayed by his mentor; however, Kakashi had explained that Maito Gai was ill-equipped to handle the particular problem the Hyuuga presented, that Gai had had to speak or be committed to the grave with Neji’s dilemma burying him.

Neji could not read Hatake Kakashi’s expression, but the fondness in his voice and the protective stance he’d taken over Maito Gai’s continued kooky well-being had Neji’s eyes popping in disbelief as realization struck. Neji could have gone his entire life blissfully unaware of what or whom Maito Gai did in bed when he was off duty. The fact that Gai even had sex, apparently regularly, had knocked the stars out of alignment for a moment. The fact that Gai was having sex with his Eternal Rival, apparently regularly, had caused Neji to stare at Kakashi of the Sharingan as though he could see his whole face; because suddenly Neji was really, really curious about what Gai would find appealing under the mask, when he had never been tempted to know before. The fact that Lee hadn’t let it slip once in the years since he had moved in with Gai, or that Neji and Tenten hadn’t put it together was a mystery on par with the techniques of the Sage of the Six Paths. Completely uninvited thoughts had bombarded him about what Gai’s particular brand of passion could achieve when applied to a situation where passion was generally considered a good thing, and suddenly he could understand why Hatake Kakashi allowed the relationship and zealously guarded it.

Neji slept in because after knowing something like that, his brain needed rest. His mind required a few extra hours of ignorance to filter out those disturbing and unnecessary images. After their talk, the Hyuuga knew he had a friend in Hatake Kakashi, and that he should probably direct all his angst toward this inadvertent member of Team Gai if he didn’t want Kakashi’s full abilities visited upon him.

Neji had slept in but he woke gratifyingly hard and aching. Of course, he shouldn’t have been worried that he’d done the procedure correctly, but he’d spent the better part of week submerged in cold water and too busy to really make sure. Neji liked to think that he was still a virgin due to circumstance and not for any defect in features and he hadn’t planned on remaining so forever. The goal had been to end the possibility of children; he didn’t want to think he’d overcorrected -- especially now that he knew Naruto was on the way back to the village. Not that that was probable, but Neji wanted to remain cautiously hopeful until he knew for certain.

He just wanted to see him and he had no idea how old Shikamaru’s intelligence was because he’d been too giddy to ask.

It was closer to noon than he liked to think about, and it wasn’t like him to waste a day doing nothing. His apartment had no food and he was meeting his cousin and another wife candidate in a couple hours.

The Hyuuga hugged his pillow goodbye and sat up.

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

Tsunade, Godaime Hokage of Konohagakure, was clearly not amused, Genma realized. His lips firmed and his front teeth clamped down on the perpetual senbon hanging off his lip. Shizune had wisely taken a step back; Gemma wished he could do the same. The Godaime’s eyes had narrowed dangerously; her hands had crossed in front of her nose, elbows resting on the desk.

“So,” she began almost casually.

Shizune took another step backward; Genma’s teeth clenched on the senbon so hard that his jaw ached. The Fifth wasn’t a person to take lightly. She was known for her foul moods and freakish strength after all. Genma could only hope for the best; after experiencing the life of a Hyuuga Bunke member under a ‘Lock’ as they called it, he just wouldn’t be up to par if he had to defend himself.

“You’re telling me that there’s someone out there who just flashed a smile and a puppet show and managed to waltz off with the Daimyo’s daughter?”

“She’s been gone for two weeks,” Genma repeated. For some reason he felt more inclined to be on the side of the kidnappers. Whoever had taken Lady Yuina obviously paid more attention to that little girl than her own parents did. Perhaps the thieves should be rewarded instead of hunted down and killed for giving a damn.

“And not a soul noticed?” the Fifth muttered more to herself. Genma nodded anyway. “And now the Fire Lord wants her found with as minimum a fuss as possible so no one will find out what an absolute ass he is?” Tsunade’s fist slammed down on the desk rattling the poor wood and sending papers flying. “Wonderful. Do we know anything?”

“Dancing,” Genma offered as he produced a photograph of Lady Yuina from his tool pouch and rested it on the desk.

Lady Tsunade studied it minutely before spearing Genma with an inquisitive glance. "What?"

Genma shifted uncomfortably under that sharp gaze. "When I searched her room the Lady Yuina had all kinds of dancing and artistic paraphernalia. It stands to reason that if the kidnappers aren’t keeping her drugged then she is entertained and happy, or we would know more.”

The life of the Fifth’s thumb nail was cut tragically short as she nibbled on it while in thought. “So you’re saying they’re probably hiding her in plain sight and she’s a willing hostage to whatever they have planned?”

“Well, it’s not like she has much of a home life to return to,” the shinobi answered uncomfortably.

The Lady Godaime said something unflattering under her breath that Genma didn’t catch before she continued. “We don’t know enough and I can’t even send out a proper reconnaissance team because the more effective ones have Elders with shit for brains.”

Genma merely nodded again. He wasn’t giving the proper amount of attention to the conversation. While he knew that was dangerous considering the Fifth’s mood, he couldn’t seem to keep his bruised mind from wandering to a memory of one of those primary members of the recon team she had just mentioned. That young man had held Genma in his slender yet strong arms and forced a sweet liquid with a tart aftertaste down his throat scant hours ago to ease his pain. Hyuuga Tokuma, exotically tilted eyes roaming his face for changes to his disposition, had been a very pleasant surprise indeed. If the Bunke members had been trying to apologize for their unwitting devastation to his senses they had succeeded beyond their wildest hopes. He shoved a hand into his pocket to feel the tea packet Hyuuga Nadeshiko had given him along with an invitation to return whenever he wanted. Tokuma had even offered to lead the way and because they were all being so generous on account of his good deed, Genma had shamelessly taken advantage and asked if Tokuma would have dinner with him and explain what the big deal was.

“I swear if it isn’t one thing it’s another,” Tsunade’s outburst brought Genma’s attention back to the matter at hand. “I have parents angry that the legal age to purchase adult books has been lowered, an emissary from Sunagakure will be here to discuss the next Chuunin Exam, and our Daimyo chooses now to prove what a moron he is.” Tsunade was massaging her temple, likely to ward off a headache. “Genma, you’re dismissed. Did you happen to see Nara Shikamaru on your way in.”

“Yes, he’s waiting his turn outside,” Genma answered.

The Fifth seemed to perk up at that. “Oh, good. Send him in on your way out.”

Gratefully, Shiranui Genma nodded his compliance and left the room to do as bid.

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

Neji still didn’t feel very well put together as he ambled the familiar path that would lead to the academy. After implementing his usual morning regimen earlier, he’d disposed of the week-old take out in the refrigerator. He would have to remember to never allow leftovers to grace his fridge again. He had then gone out to purchase groceries.

It was a novel experience. For the first time yesterday he had seen his pay. Not that he hadn’t been getting paid before; it was just that living on the compound meant automatic allotments were deducted from his mission fees. The Hyuuga were given a stipend for housing him, feeding him, and allowing him to accept missions in the first place. Neji had frowned at the amount. He wasn’t quite certain if the word applied here, but he wanted to accuse the Hyuuga Souke of being pimps. Hyuuga Hiashi was losing a nice chunk of change in letting Neji leave.

He’d returned to his apartment to put away his goods in just enough time to head back out the door and be there when the Academy let out. As he approached his destination, he could see Umino Iruka handing a forehead protector to one of his now-former students. Neji’s Uncle had chosen a good day to send him. He’d forgotten the academy’s graduation was today. There were newly-promoted genin milling about before heading home; his eyes danced over a kid needing to wipe his nose, a rosy-cheeked redhead, and a boy whose scarf was as big as the grin on his face as he held the forehead protector up. He saw Hanabi next, leaning against the school wall, expression petulant as she viewed the scene. She was only ten and a couple years away from graduation herself. Then another Hyuuga walked up to her, fingers busy as she tied proof of her graduation around her neck.

Honestly, after yesterday’s events in The Aviary, Neji had been prepared to see Lady Kikue exclusively, but Nadeshiko had been very adamant about his not doing so. “That bitch doesn’t get to be rewarded for terrible behavior,” she had railed. “If she hurts me then she hurts me, but she doesn’t get to have you.” It was Nadeshiko’s wish, and his own preference, so he worked his way around the crowd toward his cousin, and the girl he would assume was Lady Emiko.

“Brother,” Hanabi greeted, scowl temporarily displaced as her eyes widened with curiosity at his presence. He found that odd as he’d thought for certain that his Uncle would have told her of his plans. But then, he didn’t know where Hanabi’s loyalty lay in regards to him, and apparently Hiashi did.

“Hanabi,” Neji returned. For all Hanabi’s forehead was free of blemish, and though she was a candidate for head of the Clan, she was still not a named heir, and Neji was not required to address her as one. To be frank, he preferred not to give her any delusions. He had every confidence that Hinata would succeed in proving her worthiness someday, and it wouldn’t do for Hanabi to keep that elitist attitude she seemed to be cultivating.

His cousin seemed nonplussed for a moment as his lack of deference, but she said nothing to him and instead turned her attention to the girl beside her. “Stop fussing with that thing, Emiko, it isn’t going anywhere.” The look she gave Emiko was not flattering, Neji noted.

Lady Emiko was not a Lady Kikue by any stretch of the imagination. He’d heard about her, of course, but seeing her in person was altogether different. She’d inherited the deep lines under her eyes courtesy of her father, no doubt. Her hair was light, a shade of brown that was more blond and generally frowned on as an imperfection in the genes amongst Hyuuga. But her worst offense yet, as a Souke member of their clan --

She didn’t respond to Hanabi, fiddled with her forehead protector once more just for spite, he was sure, but her eyes were on him. “Hello, Hyuuga Neji, my name ith Hyuuga Emiko.” She nodded her head in an abbreviated bow. “Iths a pleathsure to meet with you like thiths.”

-- The lisp.

“It’s a pleasure to meet with you too, Lady Emiko,” Neji replied with a slight bow, but she was shaking her head in an embarrassed, negative fashion.

“No-no. Justh Emiko,” she corrected. There was an inquisitive tilt to her head and a hesitant smile on her face as she looked at him. For some reason Neji thought she resembled a puppy who’d been kicked too often, uncertain of its welcome, but hopeful all the same. Perhaps he’d been overly harsh when he’d refuted Hiashi’s claim barely more than a week ago. Maybe his Uncle really did try to ensure Bunke members he match-made were compatible and could be happy with each other even though their joining wasn’t a choice.

“Well, Emiko, you were just promoted, so we should celebrate. Do you like ice cream?” Neji wondered.

The kicked puppy smile was back. “Yesth.”

“Then let’s go.” He placed a hand to her shoulder to guide her in the right direction. Almost as an afterthought, Neji glanced behind him. “Are you coming?” he asked his cousin, whose annoyance was becoming more palpable by the second.

Hanabi nodded curtly, and took up the spot on Neji’s free side. They walked in relative silence -- Hanabi, a pit of petulance to his right, and Emiko, the puppy who stole glances at his face as though she couldn’t quite believe he existed, to his left.

It wasn’t until the ice cream stand was in view that Emiko stated, “If we get married, I hope our kidths don’t look anything like me. They should look like you -- you’re really pretthy.”

Neji blinked, at a complete loss on how to respond to that.

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

His best dreams always contained Naruto.

Smiling recklessly at him.

Gasping breathlessly under him.

Always Naruto . . .

“Neji, you’ve been neglecting training.”

Naruto never said that in the dreams. Neglecting touching maybe. Neglecting tonguing definitely. But never --

“I know you heard me. Now let’s go.”

Neji shook his head, bleary eyes opening, attempting to focus on the clock at his bedside table. “Tenten, I don’t get up for another hour and a half.” He squirmed, rearranged his blankets in a way he hoped hid anything indecent.

The thump to his shoulder was unexpected. “Details.” She clicked on the lamp. For a moment he feared Tenten was staring at his bare forehead, but her eyes were riveted to the scar on his left pectoral; a wound that had been much too close to his heart for anyone’s comfort. “Are you going to get up?”

“I sleep nude,” Neji stated.

Tenten rolled her eyes dismissively. “Oh, please, I’ve seen it before.”

“No you haven’t.” His tone was harsher than he’d intended, but only because it was Tenten. Sometimes it was awkward having a girl on the team. When a mission called for overnight out in the woods, it was long established that Tenten only woke up Gai when it was time to change watch; she probably didn’t understand why even to this day -- was merely grateful that she always had either first watch, or last watch, and as such got the most sleep out of the four of them.

Concerned brown eyes met his after a moment of deep scrutiny scrawled across her face and suddenly Neji was aware that this was not about training.

“Neji. Are you going to tell me what’s going on with you?”

No, not really, Neji thought. If he had to pick a best friend it would definitely be Tenten. Of anyone in Konoha, except for Nadeshiko, she was the most perceptive when it came to Neji’s well being. She was always on his side even when he hadn’t been kind. She respected him, challenged him, and completely ignored his wishes in a way only a true friend would.

“Gai-sensei was right. You really shouldn’t be in a man’s bedroom.”

Another thump made him flinch at the stinging pain. “Where’s a man?” Tenten demanded.

“I am a candidate for marriage, and you’re in here impugning my honor.”

Tenten made an unflattering sound deep in her throat. “Please. What boy goes to his marriage bed a virgin?”

“Apparently, Hyuuga boys do. Now could you --”

But she was shaking her head in blatant disbelief. “No way, Neji.”

The Hyuuga blinked in confusion. “’No way’ what?”

She was frowning. “You’re not a complete troll --I don’t accept that you haven’t had sex yet.”

Neji was completely baffled for a moment. Even if the sources were questionable at best, this was the second girl in as many days who had told him he wasn’t ugly. It was almost flattering. “Not a complete troll?” he parroted back. “This from the girl who thinks Kakashi of the No Face is attractive?” He pulled his blanket up briefly to demonstrate the point. The flick to his shoulder afterward wasn’t a shock.

“It isn’t his face so much as his stance.” Tenten’s mouth was pursed in annoyance. “I don’t expect you to get it.”

Well that was nothing new. Apparently there was a lot he didn’t get where Hatake Kakashi was concerned. “Fine,” he agreed, because an argument meant that Tenten would linger and likely notice things that would be embarrassing for the both of them.

A tsk of aggravation escaped her. “Stop trying to change the subject.”

“But you were so dutifully led,” Neji mourned. His closed his eyes and sighed only to have it turn into a yelp as Tenten’s fingernail met his shoulder again. “Mind?” He rubbed the area on his arm as he glared at her. “You hit the exact same spot -- that hurts after a while.”

“I know, that’s why I do it,” Tenten pointed out. “Now answer the question.”

“What question?”

“Besides this whole thing I heard the Hyuuga and some other clans were doing, why aren’t you, y’know, seeing people?”

“Why aren’t you?” Neji rejoined and guarded his shoulder from retaliation when it looked like Tenten would thump him again.

“We’re not talking about me right now.”

Tenten was not known for letting anything go until she’d been knocked out and rendered unable to continue. Neji sighed again, squirmed restlessly, and aimed disgusted thoughts at his aching cock in hopes it would take offense and retreat.

“When, Tenten?”

She blinked, no doubt shocked that he was cooperating. “When what, Neji?”

“When could I have seen anyone? Having these eyes means the Hyuuga frown on casual sex, so if I had displayed an interest that could lead to a bastard I’d be in trouble.”

“But there are always --“

Neji held up a hand to halt her words. If she wanted an answer she would have to let him finish. After Tenten was silent and fuming at being cut off, he continued. “If one completely disregards my family’s position on unsanctioned relations, there’s still training the long hours that we do and then there are the missions.”

“Can I speak?”

“No.” He fluffed the pillow behind his head. “And even when I’m not on missions, and have finally gotten my own place, a teammate still breaks in and gets me up at two-thirty in the morning.” Featureless white eyes met brown, briefly, as Tenten had the grace to look away in light of his censure. “What if I’d had someone here?”

“It was closer to three,” she mumbled as though it would save the situation. Tenten bit her lip as she mulled it over. “I’m not apologizing. If you weren’t so damn weird I wouldn’t have to do things like this to get you to talk.”

“We’re on a team with Lee and I’m the weird one?”

“Yes,” Tenten answered succinctly. She sat down on the bed and pried one of Neji’s reluctant hands from the blanket to hold between her own. “Neji, you don’t fit in.” Her eyes were soft as she regarded him. The tone of her voice, so matter of fact, shoved the confrontation out of him. “It isn’t a horrible thing. It just makes you . . .” She seemed to struggle with the words, her lips pursed, brow drawn, deep in thought. “I don’t know, it makes you a bit more like Naruto than the rest of us, I guess.”

Neji tilted his head as he stared at his teammate. “How does that make me like Naruto?”

Tenten shrugged. “It’s just, Naruto has tried his entire life to blend in and become one with the village, and even though he’s accepted now, he’s not really part of it.”

“How can you say--”

Tenten held up a hand. “Uh-uh. You had your say,” she stated.

Neji inhaled deeply, but held his tongue.

“Naruto isn’t really part of the village; he’s kind of separate but equal, equal yet elite. Like, he can joke around with Kiba, but Kiba doesn’t get anything about him.”

Which was true, Neji acknowledged. Kiba was always part of a pack, be it dog, human, team, or clan; he was never left out.

“And he can goof off with Lee and Gai-sensei and it feels like they’ve always been a team, but I don’t think anyone really belongs with Lee and Gai-sensei, y’know?”

Well, actually, Neji knew differently, but couldn’t say. He was beginning to understand how difficult Lee’s life had been these last two years when it came to correcting that particular misconception.

“Shino thinks the world of him, but . . .” She squeezed his hand as her shoulders lifted higher in an eloquent shrug.

“Aburame,” they both stated in unison, because that was an answer all by itself.

“And then there’s the girls -- you can’t count Ino and Sakura, they never really pay him any attention unless they want something. And Hinata admires him so much but says nothing.” Tenten sighed. “She’s such a nice girl, but it’s no wonder Naruto thinks she’s a freak.”

Neji had long since resolved to leave any thought concerning Hinata and Naruto where it grew, walk away, neglect it and let it wilt. If his cousin had chosen to hold her peace after all this time -- and he’d given her plenty of opportunity before Naruto had left to stake her claim -- then he could only assume she didn’t love Naruto as much as Neji did.

“I mean, in some ways, I think Chouji and Shikamaru are Naruto’s only real friends.” Tenten was saying, as she absently stroked his hand. “When I saw them talking yesterday, I thought, they’ve always looked real natural together, like proper outcasts who aren’t really out--”

Neji snatched his hand back as what she’d said registered. “Wait. Yesterday?”

Tenten looked down at her empty palms a moment before meeting his eyes. “Well, yeah. Naruto returned to the village yesterday morning. Where have you been?”

Neji had slept in.

The thought compressed all air from his lungs even as Neji was moving, flipping off the covers and running for the bathroom.

He had to see Naruto for himself.

As he applied toothpaste to his toothbrush Tenten’s voice reached his ears. “You were right, Neji. I-I really haven’t seen it.”

Neji scrubbed his teeth and made a mental note to apologize later for flashing her.

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

~ Aburame Shino's Bug on the Wall Corner ~

I resent that "Aburame" comment.


Because . . .

Ken: *holds up a picture* you sure you want to complain?

Shino: . . . Nevermind. I'll rephrase. There seems to be some question over the timeline of this story.


Because it could be considered AU -- and to a certain extent it is. This story is pre-Shippuuden and falls under the assumption that Naruto returned with time to spare before the Gaara Retrieval Arc.


It would give him time for the proper reunion with his peers that he never fully achieved in canon.



( 24 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 19th, 2011 06:17 am (UTC)
I like the wit of this chapter and the humor behind it regardless of the underhand things that were going on in the background. I like how Neji in his head is like I gave you how long Hinata and you didn't jump on it so therefore Naruto is all mine.

The revelation about Kakashi and Gai was just a- mazing and then you had ten-ten's succint (i am not sure I spelled that right) analysis of Naruto and Neji. I loved it, and Shino's well Aburame. I mean really that had me cracking up.

Also poor Genma getting clobbered but he survived. There was so much to adore with this chapter it was sort of hard to chose so I love the whole thing and I will leave it at that and wait for the next installationg.
Jun. 23rd, 2011 06:16 pm (UTC)
am pleased that you like, truly. i honestly didn't realize how funny it was until after putting it all together, so that was a pleasant surprise for me as well.

i was in debate on how Neji would handle Hinata for a while but then i thought about that last chapter of Naruto before he left and how Neji was pretty much offering Naruto to her, but she declined.

more trauma to come for Genma and Neji, Tenten has more wisdom to impart and Shino's well, Aburame but he'll be around too. Thank you so much for your comments!
Jun. 19th, 2011 04:01 pm (UTC)
I love it!I love it!I love it!I love it!I love it!I love it!I love it!I love it!I love it!I love it! lol how many times do you think I can say that before you want to hurt me? lol I totally want to see Neji and Naruto reunion. Neji is so awesome and so funny in the last scene. :)
Jun. 23rd, 2011 06:22 pm (UTC)
hurt you? . . . me? nah! one can't be annoyed by such awesome praise. Neji and Naruto will have their moment soon. finally, right? i'm so far behind -_-;
(Deleted comment)
Jun. 23rd, 2011 06:25 pm (UTC)
so glad you enjoyed reading. happy reunion with the husband and all.
Jun. 20th, 2011 08:03 pm (UTC)
I think this chapter, in the end, is well worth the blood and sweat you put into it.  It flows well together and builds to that final revelation-to-Neji that Naruto's back.  That last section is really impressive, and highly entertaining.  ^_^
Poor Tenten, to have no family name.  T_T  But scouted by ANBU - something about this just pleases me to no end.  The idea of ANBU Tenten is appealing, I think, and you're very right that her skillset is well-suited to assassination.
Other random comments:
And now the Fire Lord wants her found
XD  This give me totally inappropriate cross-fandom imagery involving Zuko's dad being a simpering absent-minded moron failing to notice Azula's absence.  Forgive my brain for the things it does.  ^_^;
That young man had held Genma in his slender yet strong arms and forced a sweet liquid with a tart aftertaste down his throat scant hours ago to ease his pain
The day I did this section, I was thinking it over while driving home and then the song I was listening to comes out with the line 'Hold my head and ease my pain/In a world that's gone insane' and I couldn't help a grin, since it struck me as very apt to poor Genma's adventures in the Aviary.
Ken: *holds up a picture* you sure you want to complain?
XD  I'm fairly certain I know the picture in question (or the basic theme of the picture if not the exact one) and I applaud your creative means of bribery keeping poor Shino happy and cooperative.  ^_^
Jun. 23rd, 2011 06:33 pm (UTC)
thank you TJ. that's definitely reassuring as you know how i dragged ass producing it. T_T

Tenten's awesome is so sadly overlooked. i can definitely see her in the ANBU uniform tracking down rogues or plotting political assassinations for the Daimyo's benefit. i mean she's on Team Gai she's definitely not a wimp.

Forgive my brain for the things it does. ^_^

-_- i've no room to talk. and hilarious correlation between shows btw.

keeping poor Shino happy and cooperative

yeah. but now i owe him some more and have to see what the Angst Demon will let me get away with in being nice to him. *sigh* such a tangled web.
Jul. 6th, 2011 01:40 am (UTC)
yeah. but now i owe him some more and have to see what the Angst Demon will let me get away with in being nice to him. *sigh*

Heh. Well. Is there anyone left to bargain with, to sacrifice to the Angst Demon on his behalf if it comes to that?

Randomly, relatedly:

HS AU, Shino drives a beat-up old VW Beetle that was probably glacier-blue once upon a time but is about the color of that coat he wears by now, license plate UBUGME or IBUGU - which suits him better, do you think?

Again, no idea if this will even have cause to be mentioned when I get to the writing, but. The thought keeps flitting around in my brain and demands an answer. ^_^;;
Jul. 9th, 2011 06:52 pm (UTC)
Well. Is there anyone left to bargain with, to sacrifice to the Angst Demon

*fidgets* well. . . . yeah. *sighs* Angst Demon just cackled so i guess it's on now.

license plate UBUGME or IBUGU

*laughs* definitely IBUGU

Again, no idea if this will even have cause to be mentioned when I get to the writing,

i look forward to whatever whenever it manifests--if it manifests ^_^
Jun. 21st, 2011 01:04 am (UTC)
Come on, now, no Shino-bashing.^_^
Jun. 23rd, 2011 06:40 pm (UTC)
bashing? oh no, i love the Aburame clan. my artwork is ignored in general so i don't usually bother posting it publicly, but i swear the pic in question is definitely in Shino's favor. ^_^ thanks for the comment!
Jun. 21st, 2011 12:04 pm (UTC)
Just commenting to say that I'm a huge fan of this fic and eagerly await every new chapter.

Thank you so much for writing this!
Jun. 23rd, 2011 06:43 pm (UTC)
*big eyes* holy crap your icon of Gai smothering the children in Manly Affection is too cute.

i shall try not to disappoint in the writing of ever new chapter and i thank you for leaving a comment because it means a lot. ^_^
Jun. 24th, 2011 08:57 am (UTC)
So! I'm pretty braindead right now, but I just wanted to let you know that it's currently two a.m. where I'm at--I found this fic over at ff.net earlier this evening, saw that you no longer update there, followed you here, and have caught myself up.

I love NaruSasu and NaruSai and KakaNaru, but...... you have inspired a new love for Gai/Kakashi and Neji/Naruto. I'm pretty much head over heels for these pairings now, and Neji and Naruto haven't even "hooked up" yet. The flashback scene between Neji and Naruto at the hospital? My heart melted a bit, I will openly admit.

Friending so that I can know when you update next. ♥
Jun. 24th, 2011 09:24 pm (UTC)
found this fic over at ff.net earlier this evening, saw that you no longer update there, followed you here

yeah. sorry about that. ff.net is . . . not my favorite place and after years of fighting with it i had to quit. even so, i am too too flattered that you liked this fic enough to track it down. so thank you for that. i am glad to have inspired an interest in my favorite pairings as they tend to be overlooked and ignored.

next chapter should rectify that whole 'haven't hooked up' thing. and i really liked writing the hospital scene so i'm happy to know it resonated in someone else ^_^.

will try not to take too long with the next chapter. again, thank you for the comment.

Edited at 2011-06-24 09:25 pm (UTC)
Sep. 20th, 2011 07:10 pm (UTC)
the inner Conoha and inner clan politics continue to fascinate me in this story. u took a rather 'vague' world strusture and detail-painted it into a realistic, full fledged political and familial system that is almost a 'character' on its own in this fic. Wonderfully crafted.
also, i can't wait for a Naruto-Neji meeting :D
ps i'm enjoying the subtle shifts of relations within team Gai and Kakashi deciding to get involved in it to save Gai the confusion and headache is cute :)
Sep. 30th, 2011 03:26 am (UTC)
thanks! i like filling in plot-holes and Kishimoto just leaves so many it is a wonder i can follow what he's gunning for in the long run sometimes.

p.s. noticed during the Gaara Retrieval Arc that there was a shift in how Team Gai worked together -- Neji was more . . . protective, big-brotherly instead of disdainful and distant. and Kakashi was awfully familiar with how Neji operated so, of course the brain kicked in to 'fill that discrepancy' mode. ^_^

*sighs* am soo late with the next chapter but thank you so much for still reading.
Oct. 10th, 2011 05:34 pm (UTC)
i love it !!!!!!!!!!! lol i dont mean to pry but when will chapter 7 be put on ?
Oct. 13th, 2011 07:20 pm (UTC)
thanks! am currently in the process of moving 3,000 miles across the US. the goal is to have ch 7 out sometime next week but it really depends on how settled i'll be and/or spare time i'll have. umm ^_^; let's just say 'soon' and hope real hard it will be for now.
Oct. 19th, 2011 04:52 pm (UTC)
i have to say you suckered me into this fandom... now take responsibility and update!!! XD its a good fic thanks for writing it!
Oct. 20th, 2011 05:33 am (UTC)
take responsibility? i would love to actually, but RL keeps getting in the way for right now. thanks for the encouragement. i am both delighted by your praise and horrified that its been so long since i've been able to post anything. please to forgive the delay.
Oct. 22nd, 2011 03:09 pm (UTC)
Yea that was scary. I cant wait till you post more thou Your story is awesome
Nov. 28th, 2011 01:22 am (UTC)
I just wanted to hop in and say that I liked reading this months ago, and it's still fun to re-read.
Nov. 28th, 2011 10:23 pm (UTC)
^_^ thank you for that. i know it's been a while, but there should be new chapters out in a couple weeks.
( 24 comments — Leave a comment )