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[Naruto Fic] The Fall of Icarus 07 & 08

anyone else have the music from that damn Movado Bold commercial stuck in their head -- and on repeat in their playlist? . . . i'm the only one . . . *sighs*

Previously --> 01, 02, 03.a, 03.b, 04, 05, 06
Currently -->

The Fall of Icarus
By: Ken
Word Count: 9,501
Began: 09.15.2004
Pairing: Neji x Naruto, Gai x Kakashi, Chouji x Shikamaru, others
Disclaimer: Naruto is a product of Kishimoto Masashi. If i owned it Tokuma wouldn't have spent almost two chapters as a puppet-plaything. Poor Hyuuga Tokuma to be treated like Sasori's sex slave . . . without the sex.
Comments: with Many Thanks to my beta TJ Dragonblade.

Chapter Seven: Don't Over-think It

Shikamaru walked the streets of the Nara compound with a quarter of his attention on the way home and the rest on yet more folders the Fifth had handed him. He didn’t know whom to be the most furious at about his current ridiculously busy predicament -- himself for proving to be competent, the Fifth for having either no forces or no one of relative intelligence to do the work, or Temari of Sunagakure for piquing his interest just long enough for him to . . . to ultimately screw himself over.

His narrow black eyes became slits as he glowered at the folders -- as though they cared about his ire. Why was there no downtime in between thinking? In some ways it was more vigorous than running an S-Rank mission. In some ways it was more tiring to see paperwork day in and day out than to do physical labor. You didn’t see old man Teuchi pissed off at ramen making. Ino bitched about a lot of things but watching the family flower shop was never one of them. Kamizuki Izumo and Hagane Kotetsu weren’t twitching from monitoring front gate traffic in between Chuunin Exams.

Shikamaru frowned a little harder at the folder labeled ‘Chuunin Exam’ because as he saw it, there was no reason why those last two persons mentioned couldn’t sit with the ambassador of the Sand and puzzle out a workable exam schedule. But no, as it was, prove to be skilled in any area and there was no reward for great work. There was just more work and it was expected to be completed without complaint and at the speed of Flash Step or something. He’d just sorted out a breeding plan for four different clans. Now he was expected to do the same for the exams while making nice with Temari of the Sand, on top of -- he flipped through the folders to find one labeled ‘Recent Inter-Country Traffic’. As far as he could tell on that one he was supposed to find a common denominator for why villages in the Land of Fire were having delayed annual events; festivals and the like had been disrupted for the past month.

Why anyone would give a good damn about a bunch of carnies in the first place was beyond even Shikamaru’s immense intellect. It wasn’t as though there was a trail of dead, colorfully clad circus bodies to follow. The acts still showed up -- just later than they were supposed to and none the worse for wear. But, go figure, enough people complain about something and put up the money to have an answer and suddenly Shikamaru was employed to do something he thought could have gone to any junior member of the Intelligence Squad. This kind of thing was their job after all.

Do something physical, gain accolades of your prowess and excessive days off; think for a living and nobody pats you on the back, there are no thanks for pushing paper. Shikamaru kicked a stone, paused in his trek to get his mind right before continuing on to his home. Dealing with his mother required a certain level of peace and tranquility. He couldn’t go into his house in his current state and listen to Nara Yoshino dissect exactly how useless his father was down to his limp pinky toe. He could not watch Nara Shikaku nod and agree with whatever infraction he’d supposedly committed just so he could get laid that night. Shikamaru needed to be able to walk in, say goodnight, plead work as the excuse, and disappear into his room before the fight started.

He was a house away from his home when he heard his mother’s voice. Shikamaru could only believe his existence came before the marriage, elsewise his father would have run -- sweet moments be damned.

How troublesome. Working at his own house was off the table. He just wanted to do his job and get a decent amount of sleep without the yelling interrupting his dreams. Shikamaru had had a stressful couple of days; he couldn’t see where his request would be considered unreasonable. So he rearranged the folders as he backtracked -- because there was nothing better to do while he walked -- leaving the Nara compound and entering the Akimichi.

It was late but not so much that there weren’t a few stragglers still on the street. Shikamaru was pretty much a staple on their land so he got a few waves and invitations to dinner from various clan members -- he loved that about the Akimichi; everyone was so nice and the air always smelled delicious -- but he politely turned them down. There was only one place he wanted to be.

As Shikamaru approached Akimichi Chouza’s home he briefly considered walking around the back and slipping in through Chouji’s window because he was in that kind of mood, but he knew he’d only feel dirty in the morning whether he skipped out before breakfast or showed up for it from inside the house. The nature of Chouji and Shikamaru’s relationship wasn’t a secret, but at the same time, they’d never outright said. Thus Chouji’s parents knew, but pretended they didn’t, and oddly enough, it wasn’t awkward.

Shikamaru knocked on the door, offered a tired smile to Chouza when he opened it and waved Shikamaru inside wordlessly.

"Hungry?" Chouza asked as Shikamaru kicked off his sandals and lined them up neatly with the other shoes in the foyer.

"I’ll just grab an apple," the Nara answered, because there was always fruit in the kitchen.

Chouza nodded. "Chouji’s in his room," he said. "Goodnight." Then he turned off down a hallway, probably to his own bed, Shikamaru supposed. It didn’t matter, this was what he’d wanted, minimal parent interaction, a warm house that smelled -- Shikamaru sniffed the air and allowed his mouth to water a bit -- it smelled like they’d had honey barbecue ribs for dinner. Chouji’s mother, unlike his own, was an amazing cook.

And it was quiet.

Shikamaru released a sigh of contentment, forewent the kitchen and headed to Chouji’s room. His friend was awake, but just barely, eyes drooping as he read a scroll, bundled beneath his blanket. It wasn’t cold; Chouji just liked sleeping with covers. Shikamaru closed the door behind him and rested the work folders on the nightstand. He looked down and saw he’d managed to capture Chouji’s attention more than sleep. "Hey."

Chouji smiled. "Hey," he tried to greet back, but it was interrupted by a yawn. "Did you get everything Lady Tsunade wanted done then?"

"Nope," Shikamaru answered as he stripped off his clothes. "Finish one thing and she gives another."

Chouji lifted a corner of his blanket for Shikamaru to slide in next to him. Shikamaru was vaguely annoyed to see Chouji was wearing a singlet and boxers when Shikamaru wanted to see skin after the day he’d had. But that was okay, he would get Chouji out of it later.

"Anything I can help with?" his friend asked as Shikamaru slipped a hand beneath the shirt to caress Chouji’s stomach and rested his head on Chouji’s chest.

After a few minutes of listening to nothing but Chouji’s heartbeat and breath, feeling a large, warm hand on his back rubbing soothing circles, Shikamaru answered, "You’re helping right now." He felt at peace for the first time in days. Shikamaru would force himself to look at the chuunin candidates and traffic patterns in a few minutes, but at the moment he just needed to recharge, have some downtime. He always thought better when Chouji was around anyway.

"Neji saw us," Shikamaru mumbled as his finger doodled aimlessly around Chouji’s belly button.

"Saw us what?"

"Naked," the Nara responded. "Cloud gazing -- but I don’t think we were looking at the sky."

Chouji laughed. "I kind of feel bad for him. Hyuuga must see all kinds of things they wish they hadn’t. But with Naruto back, maybe he can keep Neji’s attention?"

Shikamaru’s finger stopped. Of course Chouji would notice when there was something wrong with any of their friends. He’d witnessed Neji carefully not moping those first few months after Naruto had gone the same as Shikamaru. The Nara sat up just enough to drop a kiss on Chouji’s lips. "You think Neji will tell him?"

Wide shoulders lifted briefly in a shrug. "I don’t know. Sometimes I think because of Neji’s clan it doesn’t really matter what he does or doesn’t do. Really, it’s about if Naruto likes him back isn’t it?"

When Shikamaru thought about it, he had to concede Chouji was right. For years they’d known how Neji felt -- he’d confessed in front of all of them on that last mission to bring Sasuke back -- but none of them had ever heard of Naruto reciprocating. "Well, that’s going to be troublesome," Shikamaru remarked, mostly to himself. If Hyuuga Neji went through all the trouble of finding his balls to confess again when it would really mean something and Naruto blew him off --

There was a hand fondling his ass.

Shikamaru’s thought train derailed, eyes instantly on Chouji.

"I’m just helping," the Akimichi murmured.

Indeed he was. Shikamaru was supposed to be relaxing and Chouji’s hand squeezing his left buttcheek and keeping his mind off stupid stuff that had nothing to do with him was a really good means for helping him do that. "Chouji . . ."

"Are you ready to work?"

Shikamaru kissed him again, fingers actively working toward removing the offending shirt. "In a bit."

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

Team Gai tended to begin teamwork practice in the wee hours before proper dawn when they weren’t involved with a mission. After training the morning was theirs to accomplish whatever needed to be done before meeting up again prior to noon to see if they’d been given an assignment. Neji’s team was renowned for stealth and speed, thus they had the dubious privilege of a later start time. If there was no trouble brewing on the horizon for them, and Neji or Gai hadn’t been dragooned off on a solo jounin mission, then they had a second practice session in the afternoon that focused more on individual strengths.

Gai was his jubilant self that morning and for a moment Neji’s mind wandered to Kakashi, the dots connecting that his mentor’s excessive ‘Youth’ at dawn probably coincided with Kakashi’s excessive lateness.

Oh, please kill the visual, Neji beseeched his brain. He didn’t want to conjure the two teachers together when he could be anticipating seeing Naruto again. Wondering how he’d changed. Maybe gotten taller, as Naruto had been the shortest male in their age group. Maybe a different hairstyle. Maybe he’d decided his favorite color shouldn’t be a full jumpsuit when a ninja’s job involved stealth. Neji wanted to know; he wanted to go in search of Naruto right then and blow off training. But he couldn’t. It wasn’t even four in the morning, and Naruto wouldn’t be up. And if Neji showed up on his doorstep without a valid reason people would begin to wonder after his intentions. Neji could ill-afford to draw the attention of The Elders anymore than he already did. He was free, yet he had to behave as though the Cage still bound him.

So he made an honest attempt to clear his mind and focus on the exercises that would utilize his team’s best assets against a shadow clone of Gai’s making. His group had been well planned. Neji didn’t acknowledge the Third’s wisdom very often -- usually because he was quite certain that it had been sometimes accidental -- but his placing Neji on Team Gai had likely saved Neji’s life. Training with Tenten, whose accuracy was tremendous, and Lee, whose speed was ridiculous had been the kind of experience he’d needed against a foe like Kidoumaru, who’d been an annoyingly strong combination of both.

After a couple hours, Gai dismissed them, overly cheerful as he bid them to enjoy their day until the afternoon meeting. Neji’s first thought was to look in the registry for Naruto’s address. Casually drop by. See him. Just see him and reaffirm that he wasn’t idealizing what he felt for Naruto. It had been over two years since Neji had last seen him and there was a chance, however little, that the Naruto who’d returned wouldn’t live up to the one in his memory.

He was not expecting Tenten to separate herself from Lee and Gai and fall into step beside him. She’d never done it before. Tenten had an odd sleep schedule, usually choosing to go to bed in the six hours between practices and remain awake throughout the night if there was no mission. Neji had no idea how she wasn’t exhausted all the time, but Tenten claimed her body functioned better on less sleep.

They walked in silence, Tenten with her hands clasped behind her back, shooting glances at him as she chewed her lip, him surreptitiously scanning the streets and early morning traffic for anyone who looked like they could be an older version of Naruto. He wanted to use his byakugan but knew, while it would be faster, it was overkill in a way.

"Okay," Tenten breathed after awhile. "I’m sorry."

Neji didn’t miss a beat, "One -- you said you weren’t apologizing . . ."

"I didn’t mean it."

"Two -- I should be offering an apology to you for inappropriate. . ."

"No-no. You had a valid point. I’ve seen your valid point. And you have the right to your space without worry that someone’s going to come in. Cause you really need to get laid. Obviously."

The way she harped on it had it him stopping, mouth slack as he stared at her. "For some reason I feel insulted."

Tenten turned, waved a hand negligently. "Don’t. I only meant that you’ll feel better after you’ve released some frustration with someone other than your . . ." She twiddled her fingers individually letting the sentence run out but she really didn’t need to complete it after a gesture like that.

"Oh. And you have?" he asked. Because it was the obvious rejoinder to such a slight, Neji thought. Why would anyone make fun of a person for having not been intimate with another, anyway?

"Of course, Neji, you know I don’t like not knowing things. I decided to see what the big deal was and get it over with."

So nonchalant, so matter of fact, it was nothing but the truth and like many things with his teammates, Neji had missed the obvious. Next, if he and Lee ever sat down to discuss sex, he’d probably be told his other teammate liked watching squirrel porn or something.

Neji refused to be the one to drop the subject when Tenten looked so smug and knowledgeable even if he did really want to find Naruto. "And?" he wondered.

Tenten shrugged. "It had its ups and downs," she answered deadpan.

Neji lifted an eyebrow, lips pursed in annoyance. "Lewd humor now, Tenten? You see my parts once after breaking in to my home and our relationship progressed that far?"

"Well yeah," Tenten answered with a smirk. "I mean it isn’t like you’re going to joke around with the boys about this."

"Don’t sell yourself short, I’m speaking with you aren’t I?"

"Don’t be an ass." She took the few steps that brought her within range and he forgot to defend his already mildly bruised shoulder. "My only point is that I know you have a playful side, but nobody else gets to see it because they don’t expect it of you. I mean, I’ve seen you try to participate in Gai-sensei and Lee’s challenges and they completely ignore you."

"Ah," Neji sighed and continued walking. "So you’re finally going to get back to the explanation."

Tenten shook her head, confused. "Explanation? What explanation?"

"The one you were trying to make back at the apartment on how I’m like Naruto. You never finished making your point."

She scoffed. "You begrudge me needing to duck so I wouldn’t lose an eye . . ."

"I am hardly so well endowed, Tenten," Neji interrupted, eyes wide, back straight. He was sure he looked the proper affronted gentleman. Neji was beginning to think she wasn’t making fun of his virginity, but complimenting his . . . virility.

"Aw," she crooned. "Such modesty but really tell me -- you switched to the Hyuuga garb because it’s a lot less revealing huh? I bet you strut around the boys’ bath with no towel . . ."

"No," Neji choked out, his throat tight with embarrassment. "Because I’d be shamed by Chouji, now can we please stick to the topic?"

Tenten stumbled and Neji knew his plea was lost. "Chouji?" her voice had risen an octave to match the level of her disbelief. "No!"

Shit. It wasn’t like him to divulge sensitive information about other co-workers like that, but he’d never been in a situation quite like this. In general, Hyuuga didn’t talk about the flowers and the bees -- they were given a book on it and left to figure out the mechanics on their wedding night. If he wasn’t so damn flustered the admission never would have passed his lips. Fortunately Tenten wasn’t the gossiping kind so his slip up wouldn’t come back to bite him. Neji squeezed his eyes shut and expelled a frustrated breath.

"Focus Tenten."

A hand flew to her mouth. "Oh wow, no wonder Shikamaru has no interest in you . . ."

Neji massaged his temple to ebb away the oncoming headache. "Dammit Tenten, how does . . ."

"I’m on the right subject this time," she pouted. "Shikamaru is your Kiba." The face he made at that statement was probably condescending because her eyes promised retaliation was to come when he least expected it. "Kiba and Naruto," she began slowly as though she were speaking to a simpleton, "have a similar sense of humor; you and Shikamaru are both really smart. On the surface you two should be hanging out more often -- but you don’t."

"I ‘hang out’ with Shikamaru plenty."

"No. You have old man sit-downs like twice a year where you two drink tea and contemplate the state of the universe I guess --"

"Definitely not, Tenten."

"I don’t care -- it looks boring, and you both appear relieved afterward."

"You’ve been spying on me?"

"Oh please, Neji, you’re not that important. Konoha is just only so big. Anyhow, I’ve noticed that smart people tend to be kind of isolated -- like, you talk to someone of comparable intelligence every so often but you don’t want to be around it all the time. And then under the smartness your personalities and motivations are completely different, and then you’ve got that thing. So, again, no wonder Shikamaru has no interest in you."


Tenten solemnly pointed at her forehead. "Shikamaru doesn’t take on problems he can’t solve."

Neji frowned, gaze darting quickly down a side street they passed. "There is an answer."

"Yeah," Tenten agreed. "There are actually two. But Shikamaru isn’t the kind of person who would do either of them."

"Been thinking about it?"

She shrugged. "You’re my friend." She looked up at the Hokage monument, refusing to meet his eyes as she quietly added, "Everyone just kind of expects you to figure it out. I hear the ‘Neji’s a genius; he’ll be fine’ speech all the time." She frowned. "But just because you see three-sixty, that doesn’t mean you don’t need someone watching your back."

Neji had no idea what he’d done to deserve such a friend. At this point he’d spent the majority of his life unhelpful, half-traumatized, and surly. He’d held himself aloof from everyone, hated the world and his place in it, and would have killed his own sister if no one had intervened. And even though Hinata was her friend, Tenten still championed him after that incident. He was humbled, his eyes unable to meet her earnest ones; he could only look at the ground as the corners of his mouth tilted upward. "Tenten . . ."

She slapped him on the shoulder and smiled at his surprised glare. "Don’t start," she warned. "If you wanted a friend who would hold your dick while you peed then you should have been more like Naruto and got yourself a Gaara after your big cathartic moment a couple years ago. Cause I’m the wrong kind of person for that."

Neji needed a moment for his brain to filter through that sentence but when it did, he felt a little flip-flop in his chest that boded ill. "Wait. Naruto and Gaara?"

"Well, yeah." Tenten was suddenly in his face, hands on his shoulders, tiptoes employed, noses almost touching, eyes wide and wobbling as she illustrated. "They’re always looking at each other all: As-long-as-I-breathe-you’ll-never-be-lonely."

Neji blinked, swallowed. Took an uncomfortable step back. "They do?"

She twirled on her toes and continued walking though she had no idea where Neji was headed. "Uh huh, but I don’t think either of them realizes it if it makes you feel better . . ." Tenten’s teeth clicked as they met.

Neji was instantly under her greige-eyed scrutiny and he didn’t like it.

"Oh shit, Neji, it does make you feel better." Her hands flew to her mouth as she did a little two-step in excitement. "Oh my -- Oh crap. Really?"

"Really what, Tenten?"

"You like Naruto."

Neji blinked again. Face carefully blank.

She was back in his space, bouncing on her heels as she studied him. "You’re so transparent." Her smile was absolutely mischievous. "I should have noticed before. It explains so much."

Neji begged to differ on all accounts. "It explains nothing, what are you talking about?"

"You got up this morning. You’re out here wandering around in plain sight when you usually disappear after training." She stabbed an accusatory finger pointedly into his chest. "You’re looking for him, because you like him, and you haven’t denied it. Not once since I said it."

Neji’s lips twitched but denial was the furthest thing from them. "It is what it is," he answered slowly. "Though maybe translucent is a more accurate adjective."

She gasped at the confession. "Does he know -- I mean did you tell him before he left?"

"In a way."

Tenten rolled her eyes. "He doesn’t speak Cryptic so whatever way you tried likely went right over his head." She scratched her ear as she looked down the road. "So. Are you going to tell him now?"

"I haven’t decided yet."

"Huh." Tenten grabbed Neji's arm and turned him ninety degrees, lifted the other hand to point to a figure in orange with bright spiky hair looking down from the rooftops. "Think fast," she suggested.

Neji’s brain shut down.

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

Chapter 08: Lasting Impression

First there was Hyuuga Neji, Genma was ashamed to think as he stood outside the restaurant patiently waiting for his date to show up. Hyuuga appeared to have that timeless, aristocratic, clean beauty, but one tended to ignore them. Neji had made that impossible. He had given Genma a lasting impression of Hyuuga behaving as though they had normal human emotions. It had floored Genma. He’d taken an interest, first in the outcome of the fight of loser versus genius, and then in Neji’s plight of slave versus freedom. After the match was over, when Konoha was rebuilding, Genma had continued to watch Neji as though he had some personal stake in Neji finding the answer. Genma didn’t. He’d just been inordinately pleased to see Neji continue his small mutiny of Hyuuga tradition in less destructive ways. Neji worked hard toward perfecting his jutsu. Neji was kind toward his teammates. Neji had quit trying to kill his cousin. And whatever else had happened when Genma hadn’t been able to watch, it had created a relatively stable Neji.

All the same, Genma acknowledged that it had been singularly inappropriate for his then thirty-year-old self to be crushing on a thirteen year old kid no matter how mature said kid seemed to be. But he just couldn’t let his curiosity over Branch Family Hyuuga go.

Then, fortunately, a couple months later, Hyuuga Tokuma had been promoted to jounin and accepted to the Reconnaissance and Infiltration squad. On the day Genma had seen him, Anko was waltzing around with her team showing off her latest acquisition. And how lucky was she, Genma had wondered, to have gained Hyuuga Tokuma? He wasn’t like others of his clan either. One had to be slightly off in personality to work with Mitarashi Anko, and in Tokuma’s appearance -- sporting a bandanna, long hair in the front, and shorn off spiky curls in the back -- one could see a rebellious streak, even if his mannerisms were above reproach. What was really a bonus for Genma, however, was the fact that Tokuma had been of age -- eighteen? Nineteen? Legal enough that Genma didn’t feel like a lecher for finding him attractive.

As Tokuma walked up to the establishment, the look on his face subtly bespoke harassment, but he looked nice. His kimono was shades of green and lavender that appeared as though he moved through a field of verbena with each step. It was odd seeing Hyuuga all dressed up. Really, depending upon hairstyle it was a guess at gender, which made sense to Genma as he wasn’t usually attracted to men. When he thought about it, he became fairly certain the robes were merely a concession to modesty when one had eyes that could see anything. If one was naked no matter what one did, then it made sense to be comfortably clad in what could be considered a bathrobe and footsies.

Still, Tokuma looked elegant as he apologized and bid that they enter the restaurant. They got seated in a private nook and ordered. "I’m not used to my daily routine being interrupted," he was explaining as they waited for their meal. Then he expelled what could only be an exasperated huff of air as his eyes drifted to their corners. "Actually I am used to having my day rearranged, just not so frequently in one afternoon." Tokuma seemed to force a smile. "But enough about me, how are you feeling?"

"Much better, thank you," Genma answered. Whatever it was Nadeshiko put into that tea made it as delicious as it was healing.

"You probably have a few questions?"

Genma’s tongue worried at the senbon hanging from his mouth as he thought about how to answer that. The tone of Tokuma’s voice implied he could ask anything he wanted, but the questions Genma had weren’t all about the Hyuuga Branch family. His first look at the Hyuuga clan had him thinking of prim and proper little dolls whose faces were as blank as their postures were straight. The second had been a glimpse of the rage more than half the clan held in check, usually. And now this third look was of the Branch family who had somehow managed to create their own subculture underneath their jailers’ toes. But ultimately he wanted to know about the Hyuuga in front of him.

"I like your kimono," Genma stated, though it had nothing to do with the topic.

It gave the other man pause, quite literally, as Tokuma’s head tilted slightly to the left, hands limp on the table as he regarded Genma with those very piercing Hyuuga eyes. And then he blinked. "Thank you." He removed his hands from the table to fold them in his lap. "I had a date."

Genma’s lips twitched. This edict was really starting to get on his nerves. On the one hand, Tokuma having to date said that he was available and saved Genma an awkward question, but at the same time Tokuma having to date said that the clan wanted more little Hyuuga running around and thus limited his time to make any kind of move. "So, they got you roped in on that whole Familial Duties thing?"

"Yes. I was dismissed early from my job to go sit with the," he took a sip of his drink, "charming Lady Kikue."

"Wait. The same girl who tried to kill Miss Nadeshiko?"

"Mm." It was the most ambiguous yet irritated sound Genma had ever heard in his life.

"I thought she was supposed to be getting to know Neji?"

"That isn’t how it works," Tokuma replied. "In other clans you ask for the whole edict thing for people who are more or less already exclusive, would like to establish themselves as a couple to their clan, and start a family. In my clan, this is when we meet, date, marry . . . . pollinate whoever our partner will be."

The Shiranui was frowning. "No say whatsoever?"

Tokuma shook his head. "No. We have a choice, it’s just . . . minimal. We’re given a couple candidates The Elders approve of and from there we see which of them are the most compatible."

"I don’t see how you guys live like that."

The Hyuuga smiled, leaned forward as he whispered, "That’s because we don’t. And you have seen how."

Maybe it was because he’d spent many hours slightly off-kilter that it finally came to Genma that he’d almost died. Tokuma was sitting across from him as he’d wanted, but if he thought about it, this date, to his mind, could be the Bunke way of making sure their secret remained as it had been. He hunched forward also, met Tokuma’s steady gaze and mumbled, "Yeah, well, I’ve got bad eyesight. Who knows what I’ve seen."

His dinner companion smiled in approval and sat back. Genma felt ridiculously accomplished and did the same.

The server arrived with their food.

After she had gone and Genma had eaten a few bites, he decided to satisfy more of his curiosity. "Y’know, I don’t mean to pry or anything, but, you made Chuunin by the time you were eleven -- what took you so long to make Jounin? I mean, I only ask because Neji did it in two years and it didn’t make sense for you to have flown out of the academy but not . . ."

He let the sentence dangle when he noticed Tokuma had that paralyzed look again.

But then Tokuma lifted a corner of his napkin to his lips to wipe off some crumbs. "Neji is different from most Bunke. He spites the Souke by being better than anyone they have to offer -- they really hate that. So, it works for Neji, especially considering the circumstances of his birth."

Genma would kill to investigate what those circumstances were but knew that question would go unanswered, so he encouraged Tokuma to continue. "And you?"

"I was in Itachi’s class in the beginning."

Genma frowned. "Uchiha Itachi?"

"Yes. People become uncomfortable when they hear the name, but . . . I don’t know. At the time, everyone was terrified that we were going to erupt into civil war and it would be clan against clan, and the Elders kept harping on a need for one of us to be able to oppose Itachi. Then they decided that person should be me because I was the best of our clan at that time." Tokuma took a sip of his drink, mulling over his memories, no doubt, before continuing. "But you know what? I actually liked the guy."

Genma choked a bit on his food. "Huh?" he managed to gasp out after a pound to his chest.

Tokuma shrugged, allowed curious eyes to peruse his dinner companion for any further sign of strain without addressing it any further. "We ran missions together sometimes before he got drafted to ANBU. When I was around him . . . I know Hyuuga and Uchiha are supposed to hate each other, but Itachi wasn’t like other Uchiha -- he was probably the least confrontational person I knew." He took a few more bites of his dinner, chewed slowly and swallowed before finishing his story. "Itachi once thanked me for not making everything a competition between us, and after that it didn’t matter what the Souke said -- I didn’t want to fight him and I don’t think I could have beat him anyway, so I slacked off a bit. Took the punishment for it. It wasn’t so easy to bounce back from that -- you probably understand why."

He met Genma’s eyes and for a moment Genma’s world was the wrong way as his mind recalled the feel of the Lock. Then Tokuma ate a carrot and the memory collapsed as Genma’s brain was stimulated to other things of similar shape that Tokuma could put in to his mouth.

"I get that it sounds strange because Itachi was good at his job," Tokuma continued, completely oblivious to the south turn Genma’s thoughts had taken, "but inherently, I think, he was actually very kind."

Genma dragged his attention back the conversation at that, eyebrow raised. "The guy who murdered his whole clan? Kind?"

The Hyuuga actually cracked a smile, a hand briefly brushing across his forehead protector as he murmured, "They probably provoked him."

Shiranui Genma could just bet they had. He watched Tokuma’s face closely and thought he saw something akin to envy; a silent wish that some similar fate would befall their Main House Family. They’d Locked him, Genma thought. And it was so severe that a cup of tea couldn’t fix the damage right away. It made him wonder how powerful the Branch Family would be if there were no Seal -- how powerful the Hyuuga as a whole would be. As it stood, Branch family members of the Hyuuga Clan probably found it difficult to empathize with the genocide of an entire people. They would be the last to censure Uchiha Itachi for that.

They finished eating and Tokuma paid the bill before Genma could say he’d handle it.

Outside, Tokuma touched his arm and stated, "Don’t worry. We Bunke wouldn’t do something as drastic as that to wipe out our problems." He indicated with a twitch of his head for Genma to follow him. "There are ways around many of the issues that we go through."

The plan had been dinner and then a visit to The Aviary. Genma had drunk the extra draught Nadeshiko had given him before leaving for the restaurant; he was sure the benefits were still in effect to keep the Reverse Juinjutsu Barrier from Locking him.

"And you’re one of those willing to work around them?" he asked as he fell into step beside Tokuma.

"Of course."

Well, here goes. "Aren’t you the rebel -- next thing I know you’ll be telling me you have a lover on the side too."

Tokuma shut down again, like someone had just pulled the plug mid-step. He stumbled, caught himself, flashed a look at Genma, and then concentrated on the ground as though looking for the culprit who’d tripped him. "Um."

It was unexpected, especially when one looked to the Hyuuga as that clan who were always graceful. Genma had to think he’d said something horribly wrong. "Ah. I was out of line -- forget . . ."

"It isn’t that -- I do have someone." Tokuma wouldn’t look him in the face at all. "It’s just kind of ironic that you fell in to The Aviary and I’m still awaiting permission to bring him."

It was Genma’s turn to collapse a little on the inside. "Oh," he choked out even as his mind reprimanded him to keep it together. He and Tokuma weren’t an item, no matter what he’d fantasized. Tokuma hadn’t even known how he felt so that was at least his saving grace. So he ordered himself to act like a grown-up when he really wanted to demand the name of whoever it was and go kick the shit out them. "That serious, huh?" he asked as though his heart wasn’t being sacrificed to the demon of irony.

Tokuma shrugged. "He bugs me." The words were completely noncommittal but his smile was one people in that stage of giddy love do when speaking of their significant other.

Genma hated him already.

"Huh. So, you think he’ll be allowed down there soon then?"

"Well. Yes. He’s on Hyuuga land all the time, and his Clan is renowned for secrecy. So." They detoured down a side street that led to the woods which would eventually lead to the river if Genma was remembering his topography correctly. "It isn’t as though non Branch Family can’t come to The Aviary, it just hasn’t happened in a really long time," Tokuma was saying.

"Then what happens when you get married -- won’t your wife be angry with your lover?"

"Why?" Tokuma appeared genuinely confused. "As long as my wife is Branch Family and we’re obviously not in love, then it stands to reason that she should have her own lover to worry about."

Genma blinked. "What?"

"It really isn’t that complicated. Yes, the Souke have a lot of rules and honestly the consequences for breaking them just aren’t worth it. But after marriage the Souke don’t pay as much attention. They think we’ve done everything we’re told, we’re docile, we’re obedient, we are perpetuating the cycle. So as long as you go to your marriage bed pure and your children come from the correct spouse, you can be with anyone you want -- they don’t know the difference."

"Then how can they tell something like purity in the first place?"

Tokuma released a disgusted sigh. "Oh, they can tell. These eyes are very annoying on old people. Uchiha eyes get worse with age and use; in contrast, Hyuuga eyes see more."

Genma rolled the senbon from one side of his mouth to the other as he thought. "So, then, for all you’ve been seeing this guy for however long, you’re still --"

"Waiting," Tokuma interrupted curtly.

"And . . ." He scratched the back of his ear as he quelled that tiny jolt of optimism the answer had given him. "He’s okay with that?" Genma hoped not.

"There are ways around everything," Tokuma repeated cheerfully enough that Genma could infer that the boyfriend was just fine with their arrangement.

Tokuma motioned Genma to follow him over to a patch of moon flowers, to which he then flashed the Seal on his forehead.

As they descended under the ground Genma puzzled through a list of clans the Hyuuga were on good enough terms with to allow access to their territory. There weren’t very many. The only pattern being consistent was that Hyuuga tended to work with clans who excelled at tracking. The clans who stood out in that category were Inuzuka -- one of whom happened to be their Lady Hinata’s teammate -- and the Aburame -- who happened to have members on both Hinata and Tokuma’s squads.

"He bugs you," Genma repeated as his brain put it together. "You meant that literally?" He was sure his shock and a minor amount of revulsion was emblazoned all over his face because Tokuma was frowning at him in a way that made Genma wish the ground hadn’t closed back over their head, hindering his retreat.

"What?" Tokuma demanded defensively. "Aburame are hot."

Genma didn’t know how to respond. It was bad enough he kept falling for people way too young for him on top of everything else he’d gone through since leaving for the Daimyo’s home and returning. Now to find out that his competition for the person he liked was from a clan almost all of Konoha agreed was weird was just the kunai in his naval to what had already been a crappy couple of days.

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

Uzumaki Naruto had been back in Konohagakure for three days and he still hadn’t found who he was looking for. He hopped from roof top to roof top as he searched, sometimes choosing to walk the mostly empty streets when he needed to get his bearings. He’d lived in Konoha his whole life, but leave for a couple years and even he got turned around. Three days, and not one person had been able to point him in the direction of Hyuuga Neji. And by ‘point him in the direction of’ Naruto meant 'casually mention Neji’s name some time during the conversation', because Naruto couldn’t outright ask for specific people after two years -- it would make him look like he was playing favorites. While he was on the subject, to be honest, he hadn’t really been able to dedicate the amount of time to the search for Neji that he’d wanted to.

The first day Jiraiya had turned him over to Kakashi. After that they’d run into Granny Tsunade and Haruno Sakura.


Naruto stopped where he was and sat down on the roof. Legs spread, he rested his elbows on his knees and expelled a tired breath. Sakura was at least one question answered. He’d seen her after two years of separation and . . .

He’d thought nothing of her.

Not a blip on the radar. Not a lingering gaze at her face, or her body. Not a dirty thought about her bust size -- though to be fair, anyone standing beside his Granny looked inferior in that department. But still, to Naruto Sakura was the same; he was the one who had changed.

After reaching that unsettling confirmation Konohamaru had found him, and that was probably the best feeling ever to see his ‘little brother’ again, interact like time had stood still but they’d gotten taller. Until that moment he hadn’t realized how much he’d missed the younger boy.

Then, when he hadn't even been back in the village for an hour yet, Kakashi was jingling those stupid bells from years ago in his and Sakura's faces. It was both a nostalgic gesture and a challenge at the same time. Granny wanted to make sure he could function on a team again after so long, and fighting against Kakashi to see if he could hold his own while coordinating attacks was the fastest way to do that. Though he and Sakura had managed to get the bells, Team 7 wasn’t reactivated as yet. Something about teammate flexibility -- Naruto had tuned out the reason cited, had nothing to do with him anyway.

So after being out all night proving he had learned something in all that time he’d spent with the Old Pervert, they had walked the market street of Konoha. It was almost therapeutic after being dragged from countryside to townscape and back for the last two years. He and Sakura were equally excited about their victory, mostly ignoring Kakashi because his nose was stuck in Jiraiya’s boring book.

"Well you have become strong," Kakashi had acknowledged at one point in the conversation. It was the kind of praise Naruto had always wanted from him but rarely got because . . . well, because there was always someone better than him around. "I’m amazed you were actually able to get the bells."

"Yeah," Naruto had agreed, head high, thumb pointing at himself with absolute confidence. His former teacher couldn’t take it back now that he’d said it. "Maybe I’ve even surpassed you Kakashi-sensei!"

The taunt barely got him a flick of attention. "Don’t get conceited," Kakashi said, and then he’d laughed good-naturedly. "Anyway, I’m still young and recently I’ve developed a brilliant new jutsu . . ."

Naruto’s stomach had growled noisily.

"I’m starving," he’d announced. "Haven’t gone home or to Ichiraku Ramen yet. This is ridiculous, I just got back."

"Yeah I'm a bit hungry after training yesterday too," Sakura had responded.

Naruto leaned closer to her and whispered conspiratorially, "Then it's Kakashi-sensei's treat."

"Yeah!" Sakura agreed. "Sensei, you can . . ."

"Sorry, with this edict going on I have to create and submit a formation of the new teams," Kakashi had interrupted, fingers poised to release his jutsu. "So it’s goodbye for now." He’d poofed out of the vicinity.

"Ugh, he ran away," Naruto had complained.

Sakura’d made an annoyed sound. "Blaming the edict." She’d tossed her head. "He’s probably just going off to finish that nasty book."

Since things seemed to be a bit more normal between them, Naruto had thought to try one more time to get his feelings straight. Jiraiya was right in that he wasn’t very good at figuring things like that out. He should gather more evidence than just his first response. He had to make this work. If he really liked her, like he’d told himself he did then this would be it. Naruto had laughed nervously, thrown a bright smile on his face as he placed both hands behind his neck. "So, if it’s just the two of us then it’s a da--"

"Ok, but it’s your treat," she’d interrupted. And she hadn’t looked happy about it. Naruto had turned his back, pulled out his frog coin purse and inspected its contents. He hadn’t known then if he was more angry with the fact that he wasn’t devastated at her rejecting him again or that she would carelessly put the bill on him when she knew he hadn’t worked in over two years.

"Hey, Shikamaru, Temari, look who it is!" Sakura had sounded kind of desperate, as though she’d been looking for a way out of the agreement she had just made. Naruto couldn’t help but think they’d both dodged a kunai in that regard and at the same time he’d been so excited to see his friend again that his mouth had run away with him when he’d spotted Shikamaru beside Temari of Sand and automatically assumed that they were courting.

Shikamaru had looked grumpy as hell that morning but he’d been calm about dismissing Naruto’s assumption. "Nah, that’s not it."

Temari had appeared both amused and offended. "You’re joking," she’d stated. "Why would I go out with such a . . . Oh forget it. There’s a Chuunin exam coming up and I’m the liaison between the Sand and Leaf."

"And it’s troublesome, but I’ve become an examiner now and we have to work together," Shikamaru had added, his look of long-suffering not something he would feign.

"A Chuunin exam -- wow. That takes me back," Naruto had replied. The day just seemed hellbent on nostalgia.

Shikamaru had scratched at the back of his neck. "Yeah. About that -- what are you going to do?"

"About what?"

The Nara had given him a look that said he was exercising patience. "It’s a Chuunin Exam; do I need to add you to the list? Because right now the only one from our class who hasn’t advanced is you."

Naruto had been a little devastated to hear that, eyes seeking out his teammate for confirmation. "Sakura?"

She’d held up a gloating victory sign as she smiled. "Yep!"

Dumbfounded, Naruto’d then wondered how they’d been reacquainted almost twenty-four hours and in that time she’d asked him about her looks and berated him for his childishness, but never mentioned her promotion in the ninja world.

"Plus," Shikamaru’d added, "Neji from the class above us, Kankurou of Sand, and Temari here are already jounin."

That had been the first time anyone had voluntarily mentioned Neji. He wanted to pursue that line of questioning, but at the same time Shikamaru was standing beside Temari and they hadn’t updated him about one person at all. "Then . . . Gaara. What about Gaara?"

Naruto came back to himself with a deep frown on his face. He glanced down at the street without really seeing it as something that felt briefly like jealousy, but more like joy and pride at the thought of Gaara becoming Kazekage fluttered in his chest. Gaara was lucky in that he hadn’t been targeted by Akatsuki and forced to flee his home. Instead, he’d gotten to stay in Sand and become its primary defender.

He stood, cast about to pick a direction, eyes floating over an alley before eagerly swinging back to it. For a second he’d thought he’d spied his quarry. Hyuuga had a very distinct look to them and this one was standing beside a green covered trashbag that Naruto had come to associate with Shino’s new look. He’d reunited with Team Kurenai yesterday after leaving Sakura, Shikamaru and Temari, and after not recognizing Shino right away Naruto dared not approach in case Shino was still cultivating that grudge. He refocused on the alley, eyes cataloguing the unnamed Hyuuga from the distance. Ultimately, he decided the hair was too radically different -- bandanna, long bangs in the front tied off into two, cut off in the back. That produced another emotion in his chest that was a bit like betrayal and shock because damn but Naruto hoped Neji hadn’t cut his hair. That day in the hospital was one of Naruto’s most persistent memories.

He sighed, looked back to the street to see which way he should head.

And there he was.

Naruto’s memory made flesh.

Hyuuga Neji.

For a long moment Naruto couldn’t breathe; he could hear his heart beating in his ears, feel sweat pooling in his armpits, feel a queasy bubbling in his stomach, but it wasn’t bad. It was just . . . Neji.

He was dressed in white, a stain or two on the hem to suggest recent training, but he still looked regal, like an emperor surveying his kingdom while he stood in the street talking to Tenten. Neji was taller and his face was more defined, having lost its childlike roundness. His hair was longer -- much longer than Naruto had expected. His expression . . . well, Naruto couldn’t say what emotion Neji was feeling because in everyday situations it never showed on his face.

Then Tenten spied him on the roof and enthusiastically waved. Naruto forced himself to draw air into his lungs, put a smile onto his face and leap down.

"Hey!" he greeted.

"Welcome back," Tenten replied. "Saw you a couple days ago but you seemed busy."

"Really?" Naruto seethed a little on the inside -- this whole search could have been avoided. He injected cheer into his voice. "You should have said something anyway -- I haven’t seen you guys in like forever."

Tenten shrugged. "Well, I was busy too. Duty and all, right Neji?" She thumped the Hyuuga on the shoulder causing his eyes to widen briefly, mouth flexing before he nodded agreement.

"It’s . . . good to see you again, Naruto." Neji’s head was tilted at an angle that hinted that he was watching Naruto but at the same time looking at the road. Naruto thought it was weird for a second, but then recalled Neji doing the same gesture in the hospital, and again the day Neji had treated him to Ichiraku right before he’d left, and even that Hyuuga in the alley hadn’t really been looking Shino in the face. For a second he wondered if some Hyuuga were trained to do that -- show deference even when they didn’t need to.

"Yeah, you too."

"It’s really early, Naruto, are you up to something or have you been assigned a mission already?" Tenten asked.

"Oh, no I was just, y’know," Naruto scratched at the back of his neck, "uh, getting used to the place again."

"Uh-huh," Tenten chirped. "Like what you see?"

He couldn’t stop his eyes from swinging back to Neji at that question. A hand was rubbing the arm Tenten had offended; Neji’s attention was on his shoulder, leaving Naruto to think maybe Tenten too had developed freakish strength.

He was supposed to answer. He smiled widely at Tenten. "Yeah!"

"Uh-huh." Tenten smirked. "Well, if you need a recap of the place, Neji has a couple hours off, I’m sure he would gladly show you around. Right Neji?" She elbowed him in the gut.

Neji blinked, hand moving from his shoulder to his side, but he looked Naruto square in the eye and answered, " . . . Sure."

"Uh-huh." Tenten was practically beaming. "Then it’s settled. Naruto -- in case you forgot, if you walk a mile down this street and then make a left you’ll be at Ichiraku’s -- you do still like eating there don’t you?"

"Of course."

"Uh-huh. Great." She clapped her hands in front of her face. "As long as you guys walk slowly, Mr. Teuchi should be opening his shop by the time you get there. Neji just got paid -- he can treat you."

Neji and Naruto both stared at Tenten, then glanced at each other before Neji bowed his head toward the ground again. But he didn’t dispute paying for Naruto, and the Uzumaki began to wonder if maybe Neji didn’t realize that the way Tenten had offered his services made it sound like a . . . date.

"Wait!" Naruto called out upon realization that Tenten was walking away. "You’re not coming?"

Tenten turned back around to wave a hand dismissively at them. "Oh no, I’ve got to get some sleep. I can only imagine what kind of crazy crap Gai-sensei will have planned for us this afternoon. See you guys later."

And so Naruto stood in the street beside an impossibly still Neji with his mouth hanging open. Anticipation was coursing from his head to his toes. That queasiness was back in his stomach. This shouldn’t have felt awkward, being with Neji again. But it did. It was . . . the way he should have been feeling when he’d been with Sakura -- terrifyingly awesome. Hopeful.

"If you have something better to do then you don’t have to --" Neji began, ever the gracious one.

But Naruto was already cutting him off. "Ah, nah, nothing like that." He threw his hands behind his head and pointed himself in the direction Tenten had indicated. Tossing a smile Neji’s way he said, "It’ll be just like old times."

Neji blinked, inclined his head in acknowledgment. "I guess it would be." He fell into step beside Naruto.

And it was silent.

Not because Naruto didn’t want to talk -- quite the opposite; he just really didn’t know what to say to Neji now that Naruto knew for certain that he really liked the Hyuuga. He was sure already that there was no way Neji was thinking that walking him around Konoha on a supposed ‘refresher’ of the topography was anything more than just two friends getting reacquainted. And if Naruto slipped up and said something like, ‘Hey, here’s a crazy idea but -- I like you, like, like you like you and you should like me like me back’ then it could probably go badly.

"I take it your training was a success?" Neji calmly asked while Naruto’s thoughts were a mile a millisecond.

Naruto jumped on it. Ninja stuff was an excellent topic. He was fairly certain he was rambling most of the stories he’d accumulated, but Neji only asked polite, pointed questions to keep him on track every now and then; by the time they arrived at Ichiraku’s and took a seat, Naruto was finishing up the tale of a fumbled summoning -- he was always screwing those up he’d imparted dramatically -- that had Gamakichi ending up in the girls’ portion of the hotspring, and they’d all run out naked much to the Perverted Hermit’s joy.

Neji laughed at that story. It was unexpected. It was nice. Watching his lips curl upward, the detail of his cheekbones visible, the evenness of his teeth. Naruto hadn’t thought teeth could be attractive on anyone but Sensei-Huge Brows until that moment. He ordered his usual from Teuchi; Neji only requested a drink.

"You’re not eating?" Naruto queried.

Neji shook his head. "Ah, no. I can’t eat so soon after training."

"You sure you’re not broke or something? Cause if so you don’t have to do what Tenten said --"

"No, I’ve got it," Neji interrupted.

Teuchi placed his food before him and Naruto heartily thanked him before digging in. His mouth was full when he remembered what Shikamaru had said about Neji -- the reason why he'd probably have extra money. "Oh, yeah!" Noodle was still hanging from his mouth when he reached over to pat Neji on the back. "Congratulations on making jounin."

If Neji had anything to say about the deplorable table manners it didn’t pass his lips because he was smiling again. His white eyes were on Naruto’s blue ones, his head slightly tilted in a way that could be deferential or embarrassed as he pushed long brown strands behind his ear.

And just like that, it was two years ago in the hospital, and Neji was making Naruto feel like he was the most amazing person in the world.

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

~ Aburame Shino's Bug on the Wall Corner ~

ah. there we go. 3x as long to cover the three months i've been gone.

Shino: *frowns* but you haven't been gone three months. why? because you've been gone five--

ken: Shino! uh-uh. i'm drawing 'The Ways Around Everything' ShinTokuma porn right now. i can quit. what the Angst Demon giveth he can taketh away. *drags thumb across throat in an ominous manner*

Shino: . . .

Hyuuga Tokuma is not an original character.


ken: *mutters* that a boy.

Because Kishimoto did indeed use him as a sacrificial Hyuuga during the war -- though, he did fare better than Aburame Muta. Only because he was alive the last time we saw him in the manga. His page can be found here.


In case you missed it, here are the links to the other art pieces found throughout the story:

Art 01: Lasting Impression

Art 02: Ramen Remembrance

Art 03: More Than Just A Passing Glance

Ken won't comment but i will point out that those are listed in the order they were colored. At coloring, you can actually see him getting better.



( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 18th, 2011 09:10 am (UTC)
Loved the chapter. Thank you for sharing. Can't wait for more NaruxNeji moments,they are so cute together! :D
Dec. 18th, 2011 07:05 pm (UTC)
thank you! shall see what can be done about those moments ^_^.
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 18th, 2011 11:54 pm (UTC)
*squints* That's low, man. Real low.

*gasp* so not my intention. Shino was just telling me that a ridiculous amount of people were reading but i wouldn't get very many comments because i was bashing a popular pairing. and i was like *gasp* no. am not bashing, am not trying to sway, am merely disproving based on the evidence given. if i didn't do it in this fic then i would have gone off on another ChouShika porn binge and then there would be no telling when i'd get back to finish Fall.

I'll be holding my breath til the next update

which apparently is a good thing that i did cause you would have died from waiting. just avoided a homicide *wipes sweat from brow*.

I can't wait to see some action going on between Naruto and Neji.

*nods* mission accepted. got to knock out these drabbles and then its on to chapter 8!

p.s. no worries. i know. ^_~ d (<-- Gai's Thumbs Up Good Guy Pose). i just explain anyway because i talk too much sometimes.

oh. And thank you for reading and commenting!

Edited at 2011-12-18 11:59 pm (UTC)
Dec. 20th, 2011 09:11 am (UTC)
Of course Chouji would notice when there was something wrong with any of their friends. He’d witnessed Neji carefully not moping those first few months after Naruto had gone the same as Shikamaru.

Aww, Chouji! I don't ship Chouji/Shika, but I thought that scene was adorable, especially the way Shikamaru refers to it as being quiet, and I really get that quiet feeling from the Akimichi's. I also really liked all the touching, which may be a weird thing to like...

"No. You have old man sit-downs like twice a year where you two drink tea and contemplate the state of the universe I guess --"

"But just because you see three-sixty, that doesn’t mean you don’t need someone watching your back."

I adore your TenTen! ^_^ I love the comment about watching his back, too, because...I don't know, it really touches me that even though she knows he's a genius, she also knows that he's not invulnerable. (And it's nice to see that it's not just the love interest supporting another character. Sometimes it's easy to forget as writers get caught up in the story that more than just one person is needed to have a good support system. =) )

"They’re always looking at each other all: As-long-as-I-breathe-you’ll-never-be-lonely."

My ship! <3 ^_^ I love that you mentioned it, and that while it is there, that doesn't mean other ships aren't possible (they just have to be quick about it. xD ) I love how you described their relationship, too...because I think that completely encompasses it.

And the NejiNaru moments: Awww. They're so conscious of each other...it's adorable! And Neji smiling? >///< =D I'm so glad they finally met up! (It only took 7 chapters. =D Hahaha, but there was a lot of premise going on, and this story isn't just about their relationship, although it's a huge factor in the story.)

Thank you for such a great chapter!
P.S. s-sorry for such a long comment...oTL I just have this need to comment on everything, and I even left out some of the other things I liked...which reminds me, I really love that you added images to your story! And your coloring skills are awesome! Especially the hair. *3*
Dec. 21st, 2011 01:02 am (UTC)
I don't ship Chouji/Shika

*shrugs* most people don't. T_T i always ship in the minority

I really get that quiet feeling from the Akimichi's

me too! they're kind of quiet, observant, find-inner-peace-because-the-world-is-outer-ugly, contemplative types.

I also really liked all the touching, which may be a weird thing to like...

not weird at all ^_^

I adore your TenTen!

thanks! i like her too. Kishimoto said he didn't want her to be like the other Konoha girls but he doesn't really give her any page time (am starting to think he's terrified of screwing her up). but anyway, this is as much not like Sakura/Ino/Hinata as i could think of so i'm glad its working for you.

And it's nice to see that it's not just the love interest supporting another character.

y'know, you say that and i think i really need to add on to the synopsis because this fic is about way more than the love interest >_<. i think Branch Hyuuga, in general, need a good support system to keep them from flying off the handle.

My ship! <3

*smiles* trust me. i ship Gaara and Naruto big time too.

I'm so glad they finally met up! (It only took 7 chapters. =D Hahaha

*facepalm* yeah. story got away from me. he was supposed to be back in chapter 3 T_T</i>

Thank you for such a great chapter!
P.S. s-sorry for such a long comment

Thank you for reading! don't worry i like long comments, lets me know what i need to work on ^_^ so thank you for that too.

I really love that you added images to your story!

you do!?

And your coloring skills are awesome!

they are!?

Especially the hair. *3*

really!? ^___^ you've just made every single individually drawn strand worth it! thank you.
Dec. 25th, 2011 10:35 pm (UTC)
I've read your fic from the beginning today. Fangirling quite a bit now! Just gotten into Naruto fan fiction although I've been a fan of Naruto for a while, and I'm so glad I found yours. I was craving some good stories, esp. Neji because he's an interesting character - your portrayal meshes well with the manga, imo, but he's more realistic with your own spin on it. Your fic makes me wish I had more confidence to write Naruto characters.

Major points for Shikamaru and Tenten characterizations and the pairings, and all the details on the Hyuuga family. I really enjoyed your fic and will be keeping an eye out for updates in the future! :D

Edited at 2011-12-25 10:37 pm (UTC)
Dec. 26th, 2011 07:07 pm (UTC)
Neji [sic] your portrayal meshes well with the manga, imo, but he's more realistic with your own spin on it.

Thank you! *^_^* characterization points are super high praise to me! Kishimoto kind of um, skimps on character development so first impressions tend to stick instead of the why, i've found. i find Neji fascinating too. i get most people looked at him and thought: 'prude, jerk, cold, genius without a cause' so that's how he comes across in a lot fics out there; but i looked at him and thought: rebellious teenager with a legitimate grievance that is never properly addressed. so that's how i try to write him -- as a human being with a lot of bottled up emotions that could get him killed if he ever expresses them.

Your fic makes me wish I had more confidence to write Naruto characters.

y'know, i wrote chapter 1 of this fic 7 years ago. didn't write another word of it until march of this year. and now i'm glad i waited because i probably would have screwed it up. hopefully it won't take you as long as it took me to find your confidence.

thank you so much again! next chapter shouldn't take too long we hope..
Dec. 26th, 2011 10:03 pm (UTC)
Are the characters you've written in the fic the ones that interest you the most? Given the expanse of the characters in Naruto, I'm sure you have more. The large cast doesn't allow for so much characterization, I guess, but probably due to the genre. I'm also looking for some good Sai or Shino fics - perhaps I'll have to make my own. Did you find that there was so much information to wade through/adhere to in order to write? Just curious.

I don't blame you for waiting, because I'm imagining it's nervewracking attempting to write popular characters. But now I want to jump into the deep end, so to speak.

Good luck writing the next chapter! Hope you'll have a good New Year, too! :D
Dec. 27th, 2011 12:17 am (UTC)
characters that hold the most interest; yes some are in this fic but, as you mention, the cast is so large you kind of have to divide them up.
konoha mains: Naruto, Team Gai (all), Shino, Hinata, Kakashi, Chouji, Shikamaru, Tsunade, Sai, Konohamaru
super sides: Genma, Kotetsu, Izumo, Aburame Clan (all. especially Shibi), Tokuma
sand characters: Sand Sibs. all three. but mostly Gaara
akatsuki: Sasori, Itachi
Team Taka: Suigetsu <-- seriously. i love this kid. doesn't bode well for him >_<
Cloud nin: Omoi, Karui, Darui
Randomly: Haku
but that's pretty much it -- not really that many considering. it just annoys me that i can't find a use or a workable pairing for more than half of them.

[...] doesn't allow for so much characterization, I guess, but probably due to the genre.

hmm. no, imho, Kishimoto is just a bad storyteller. because (i always give reason for my opinions) Rurouni Kenshin, Yuu Yuu Hakusho, Dragonball, Z, GT, (and there's not much to expand on there in the way of characterization but it still manages), Shaman King, Bleach, Gamaran, plenty others, have ginormous casts in the same genre but still properly grow their characters -- even the ones that come in late. Kishimoto doesn't. and he claims he always knew what direction Naruto was going in, and if that were the case, then he should have introduced a few of these characters back in part one instead of us fans having to endure Filler Arc Hell (not that i watched). the sole exception to this is Team Taka whom, Kishimoto admits, his publisher made him add in a history for each character.

good Sai fics can be found with tj_dragonblade. haven't seen any with Shino. but then i don't read a lot of Naruto fic >_<. sorry.

[...] so much information to wade through/adhere to in order to write?

if you're talking about writing in general, i actually majored in English, concentration in technical and creative writing, so i know the rules... am just not very good at following them so i have a Beta to thwap me upside the head when i'm not making sense. if you're talking about Naruto information and trying to keep it straight for writing, then i go by the manga/databooks and use Narutopedia for the things i can't remember off the top of my head.

I'm imagining it's nervewracking attempting to write popular characters.

not really. not to sound snotty but, i write what i want to read that's in keeping with the world and character that the original author created. i'm a logic writer with a bitter Suspension of Disbelief Demon (kind of OCD that way). if it doesn't make sense i can't write it. it is fun for me to get characters 'right' or do pairings that resonate -- this is not the case for everyone. most i can say is just write like you and not like somebody else.

thanks for the luck. Happy New Year to you, too.
Jan. 7th, 2012 05:43 am (UTC)
I am remiss on commenting here.  Apologies.  But it all pulled together very nicely, and is definitely a worthy 'comeback' after the break since chapter 6.  The pics are a really nice addition, too.  Your coloring looks good to my eyes.  I mean, I know you're coloring digitally, but it still has that by-hand 'organic' feel about it that kinda lets the viewer 'see' all the effort that went into it.  If that makes sense.
And now that Naruto and Neji have finally met back up again, I look forward to seeing them packed off together on their mission and watching them figure each other out.  ♥
Jan. 8th, 2012 01:31 am (UTC)
definitely a worthy 'comeback' after the break since chapter 6.

thanks. you really think so. lately i'm thinking it may have been too long; both since posting the last chapter and the length of this one.

you're coloring digitally, but it still has that by-hand 'organic' feel about it that kinda lets the viewer 'see' all the effort that went into it. If that makes sense.

makes perfect sense because i do that on purpose. *^_^* i like imperfection in artwork. i like differing styles. the thing i don't like that digitizing art did was set a standard as the norm that anyone could do. its like fill/click paint by number. and it looks too . . . impersonal, i think is what i want to say. so. thanks. this is high praise to me.

together on their mission and watching them figure each other out. ♥

we'll get there ^_~ d. hopefully sooner rather than too many chapters to count in between.
Jan. 11th, 2012 04:09 am (UTC)
Re: humble
lately i'm thinking it may have been too long; both since posting the last chapter and the length of this one.

Well, there's not much you can do about the time between chapters, life being what it is. And I suppose you could have broken this into two/three chapters if you'd wanted to, but that's pretty much a personal preference thing. And sort of a moot point now. I personally don't mind the length of it - can't vouch for anyone else. ^_^; I maintain that the length is a good 'apology' for the summer/autumn 'lapse', in any case. ^_^

Your art just makes me happy. ^_^ So keep up the good work. ^_~ d
Mar. 25th, 2012 02:03 pm (UTC)
Man, neji/naruto is such a hard find, but when you find fics like these, the troublesome search is so worth it.
Mar. 31st, 2012 05:12 pm (UTC)
that is such high praise and i thank you for it. glad you're enjoying the fic.
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