Naruto finds something he thought he'd never get. Neji realizes something he's certain he never will. (unrequited Yaoi. This takes place in the same universe as The Risk).
Neji prepared tea quietly as Naruto put the two children down for the night. He went through the familiar motions without thinking, still vaguely dazed from the past few days. The physical tiredness from the mission was bad enough, but it was the aftermath that had him reeling still.
They'd left Konoha to help Wind Country take care of a missing-nin warlord who had been gaining power in some of the more inaccessible border towns. They'd returned successful... and with two infant children. Children that Naruto insisted he would take care of.
The water was boiling now, and Neji poured it into the teapot. The smell of the leaves as they began to steep was comforting.
Naruto had been running on pure momentum since they left Wind Country. And now it had looked like the steam had run out. They'd entered town, checking in at the gates, and Naruto had gotten looked at nearly cross-eyed by the guards, only the combined rank of his and Neji's and Shikamaru's Anbu status stemming the questions obvious in their faces.
The debrief with Tsunade had turned into a shouting match as Tsunade tried to convince Naruto that he was in no position to adopt two children. The children in question had been handed off to the ever-present Kotetsu and Izumo, which was fortunate, because Naruto's fury at the prospect of losing them had rivaled the reaction he'd had to the refugees who'd refused to take them in.
Tsunade had taken a breath, stepped back, and leaned out the door to exchange quiet words with one of her assistants. Naruto's chest heaved as he stared at the place she'd vacated. Tsunade returned to her desk, and summarily dismissed them. "This is no time to discuss this. Go home. Rest. I will see you tomorrow," she added with a sharp look.
And then the three of them were standing outside, Naruto coming down from his adrenaline high and clutching both children, along with a sheet of paper from Izumo. Naruto was still breathing hard, and he sagged back against the wall. The girl child struggled in Naruto's grip, and when he reflexively tightened his arm, her whines escalated to sobs. The boy was sucking on his fist, expression more fearful than usual as he leaned silently into Naruto's shoulder.
"What..." Naruto gasped. "What's that paper." The girl's cries were mercifully low-pitched, and Neji was thankful that she wasn't a screecher.
Shikamaru tugged the paper from Naruto's grip. "Supplies," he said, scanning the list. He was as tired as any of them, Neji knew well, but his signature grunt of annoyance was still only half-meant. "I'll get them." Shikamaru raised an eyebrow at Neji, leaning his head significantly in the direction of Neji's place, rather than Naruto's. Neji nodded. Shikamaru leaped off the ledge of the balcony.
Naruto looked like he was at the end of his rope. He was certainly out of his depth. Neji took a step away from the wall. "We all need rest, " he said. "Come on, let's go to my apartment." It was closer, and he had extra bedding.
Now Neji poured the tea into two cups as he heard the bedroom's door shut and Naruto's footsteps coming nearer. Dropping into a chair, Naruto accepted the tea, leaning over it and raking his hand through his hair.
"I'm not 'misguided,'" Naruto declared angrily, "I'm not 'overconfident.'" He quoted Tsunade's words with a derisive sound, his conviction as immutable as it had been from the start. "I don't need to hand them over to the village. I can do it." He swallowed a gulp of tea, narrowed eyes glaring over the rim of the cup..
Neji sipped his own tea, watching his teammate, his friend, fume quietly. As he had since Naruto had first declared he'd take the children, he felt like he could do nothing much but stand by him. While he recognized Tsunade's concerns, he supported Naruto's choice. Though, unlike the birth of his nephew, this whole situation had arisen so utterly unexpectedly. He wanted to speak with Hinata and Kiba about this, though the gossip would probably reach them before he did, going by the expressions on the guards' faces when the Anbu team had returned.
There was a sharp intake of breath from Naruto all of a sudden, and his posture snapped upright, his expression horrified.
"What is it?" Neji asked.
"The Old Lady. She thinks I..." Naruto was infuriated and aghast at once. "Because I won't be able to have my own children. She thinks that's why."
Neji frowned, and tried to draw a response from his tired mind.
"What if it is," Neji said. "Isn't it?" he asked.
Disbelief widened Naruto's eyes. Neji winced internally at his unwise choice of words. Naruto leaned back in his chair, still gripping his tea mug with one hand. His frown deepened and the corners of his mouth twitched with fury as he glared across the table.
"What are you saying?"
Naruto was both tired and wound up, Neji knew. He shook his head, and rephrased himself.
"Naruto," he said quietly, "I'm not implying anything, except that it wouldn't be a crime for it to be true." He met Naruto's tired, angry eyes and tried to convey his compassion. "And I never imagined for a second that that was the first thing you thought of."
Naruto's stiff posture relaxed and he slouched forward again, pained and exhausted. "I know. I know. Sorry. And... I guess it's true. But I didn't think of it first, I just... they..." he cast a look in the direction of the bedroom, and the last vestiges of anger vanished from his expression.
Neji was reasonably certain he understood what Naruto was trying to put into words. Naruto had first taken responsibility for the children out of outrage against those who wouldn't care for them, determined to see that they didn't suffer the same childhood he had. The mixture of delighted confusion he'd had in dealing with them on the return journey had soon overshadowed the righteous indignation he'd begun with.
Naruto's automatic goodwill towards others had quickly deepened into love for the two infants the way home. This despite hours of fussing and wailing on the trip back. The boy was disturbingly fearful and made little sound, except when he cried, which was often. The girl was constantly cranky and whiny. It wasn't as though Naruto had picked out two clean, pleasant babies that he could play father to like a couple of dolls. He'd taken on the care of two high-strung, traumatized children that another community had rejected.
That those children would fill the gaping void his future had held was almost certainly part of the reason for that-but it didn't make it less sincere. Neji recognized the way Naruto interacted with the children. It was what he'd seen between Kiba and Hizashi, or Lee and Haru. Even Shikamaru with Keiko, now that he'd come to terms with her Triple-21 syndrome.
He wondered if Tsunade honestly had doubts about Naruto's fitness as a parent. It was true that unlike most he didn't have an extended family to take over care if he was on a mission or injured. But Neji would stake his life on the certainty that there were many others who would stand in. Iruka. Hinata and Kiba. Shikamaru and Karin. Lee and Sakura. Neji himself.
"Let it go for now. Go shower." Neji said. Neither of them was up to discussing this properly yet. He reached over to take the now-empty mug. Everything would be clearer in the morning.
Naruto vanished into the bathroom, and Neji heard the water begin to run. He cleared away the kitchen, and just as he was done, there was a familiar presence nearby, and then a light tap on the door.
Shikamaru leaned tiredly against the doorjamb, and held out a plastic bag. "It's all here."
"It looks like it." Neji agreed, taking it. The bag was positively overstuffed. "What was open at this hour?"
"My house." Shikamaru said with an almost-smile. "Karin has more for them tomorrow. We have all sort of things."
"Thanks." Neji nodded in the direction of Shikamaru's home. "Go to bed."
"Yeah. Bye." Shikamaru waved absentmindedly, and was gone.
Neji pulled out the top bundle, marked 'Immediate Necessities' in Karin's neat hand. He left the bag on the floor and opened the package, laying the contents out on the table for when they'd be needed.
Neji found the little outfits Karin had packed rather cute, but was mostly grateful for the ample supply of diapers and a detailed note recommending what to feed a couple of approximately one-year-old children, along with some actual fresh food, which was particularly welcome, since Neji's own supply was all canned and boxed, or gone bad during his time away.
He stored the fresh items, and headed to the bedroom, mindful of the sleeping children on the spare futon that was set up beside the bed, large couch pillows set at either end to stop them rolling to far. He pulled off his armor, shirt, and sleeves in the half-dark. He set them aside, and undid his forehead protector, folding it and laying it on his chest of drawers. The bed was very inviting, and he sat on the edge, waiting for Naruto to finish in the shower, and looked at the children.
They both had dark brown hair. When they were awake, the girl watched the world around her with alert black eyes, and the boy's were brown, usually wide and scared. The girl could speak a little, words here and there among constant babble, her most popular was "no." The boy watched and listened, but stayed quiet, until spooked or removed from the arms of someone he liked. Right now both of them were fast asleep, round faces relaxed, no signs of their past hardships visible.
They were healthy as could be expected for children left in an empty house with their mothers' dead bodies. The residents of the border village had evacuated without looking back, and it had been the Anbu team's last sweep days later that had found them, weak cries almost missed, in the middle of the ransacked house, by the rotting corpses of their mothers.
When they brought the children to the packed building where the refugees were staying in Suna, the subsequent swell of raging red chakra turned the head of every ninja within a couple of hundred meters as Naruto was faced with the group's hostile indifference to the children's fate. The dead women, it seemed, had been kept by the invading bandit army, murdered by the villagers themselves after the joint force of Shikamaru's Anbu team and Suna patrols had swept the army out on their first pass through there.
I don't know what your fates are, Neji thought to the oblivious children. But Naruto will do everything for it to be a good one.
Naruto emerged around the corner into the bedroom still mostly wet, with one towel low around his hips and another over his head as he rubbed his hair dry. He'd probably left his clothing all other the bathroom floor, Neji thought wryly, but the annoyance was an old comfortable one. Water glistened cleanly on Naruto's skin, and when he lowered the towel, his hair stuck up spikier than usual.
Naruto's eyes were still hooded in thought, and his movements were slow with his weariness. As he patted his chest dry he looked at Neji, blinking sleepily. "All done." He squinted at himself in the darkened mirror, dragging the towel over his damp hair, then lowered his arms, the towel swinging by two fingers.
Neji didn't respond for a second, taking in Naruto's nearly-naked body. He saw it often enough, but it was really something enjoyable to look at, if one appreciated that sort of thing, which Neji did. It was a fine body. Shorter and a bit stockier than Neji's, but muscled and powerful with a hint of something wild in its movements.
Neji unfixed his gaze as Naruto turned towards him and yawned, lying down on his back beside where Neji was perched on the mattress. He sighed comfortably. He looked over Neji and chuckled through a yawn, poking Neji on the dust-coated arm. "Shower time for you now."
Neji grimaced slightly. "Yes, I think so." He sat for a moment, though, looking over his shoulder at Naruto lying spread-eagled on the bed, face still slightly flushed from the heat of the shower, just like after battle. But he was here, and quite safe, looking eminently relaxed.
Tamping down his inner mind's attraction to the exhausted comrade spread out on the bed at his side, Neji stood up with a silent sigh of fatigue, rummaging in his dresser for nightclothes.
"Here." He laid a set by Naruto, who murmured acknowledgement, and then he headed for the shower, hoping the gnawing sexual frustration would wash away along with the grime. Ridiculous, Neji told himself. Of all the times for that to come up.
When he re-entered the bedroom some time later, squeezing his hair dry through a towel, the lights were off completely, and Naruto was fast asleep on the left side of the bed, closest to children. One wasn't picky about where one slept when many nights were spent jammed side by side in trees or holes in the ground. A bed was luxury in comparison, and Neji was happy to settle back on, pulling the covers gently from Naruto's grip to reacquire enough with which to cover himself.
Sleep overcame him almost immediately.
He jerked awake as Naruto did with the first sound of distress. Both of them were well-used to the signals by now, and Naruto was off the bed and kneeling on the futon within the second it took for the first wails to escalate to ear piercing shrieks.
Naruto scooped up the girl. "Shhhh, chibi, shhh," he murmured, nodding when Neji knelt by him and started to reach for the boy. A brief rundown of possibilities revealed nothing particularly amiss. Neither needed changing. The boy took a few sips of juice from his cup before letting it drop and leaning into Neji's shoulder. Neji rubbed his back lightly, no longer feeling as awkward as he had the first time, but still marveling at how large his hand looked against the warm little body. He hummed quietly in his throat, seeing Naruto in the corner of his eye rock the girl, murmuring all the while.
"Think they're not used to sleepin' alone," Naruto said, and Neji nodded, thinking the tight little fists in his nightclothes said the same thing. On the way back, the children had always slept in someone's arms, whether that someone was asleep themselves or not. "I know I gotta wean'em off it, but," he yawned hugely, "not tonight." He eyed the futon, blinking slowly.
Before he could ask for his pillow, Neji rose from his knees, holding the boy to his chest, and returned to the bed. "There's room," he said, to Naruto's relieved look. Neji wasn't going to make him squeeze onto the futon with, and besides, he'd had one or the other of the two children sleeping on him every other night on the way home. He was almost used to it.
They settled back down, the children between them and safe from rolling off.
"Akemi and Makoto," Naruto murmured into the dark, once the children had fallen asleep again. Neji glanced over at him. A silent agreement had fallen on their team as they'd returned. The children were "the girl," "the boy," or "chibi," No one among the refugees had known their names, and Naruto had made no move to name them, and so neither Shikamaru nor Neji had suggested anything. But now they were home. It was real. And Neji knew Tsunade would not be able to argue them away from Naruto.
"Uzumaki," Neji replied, and Naruto looked at him and smiled. Uzumaki Akemi, Uzumaki Makoto.
He woke the next morning, slowly, as he did when he was home, letting himself enjoy the feel of his own bed, crowded as it was, before rising. There was no other sound in the house aside from the breathing of the ones sleeping next to him.
He sat slowly, reluctant to jostle anyone. The boy was curled in the fetal position, face hidden under the blanket. The girl was flat on her back, arms over her belly in relaxed sleep, hair mussed with static. Beyond her, Naruto was on his side, facing the children.
The scene was heartwarming, and Neji had the sudden discomfiting sense of being outside and looking in, despite this being his own home.
It's not theirs, he reminded himself, They're not staying here.
That thought sent a stab of sad longing straight to Neji's core. Shaken by the suddenness and intensity of the emotion, he slid from the bed and stood.
He wanted to stay there, bask a little in the moment, but it would be fake. He couldn't go pretending to be part of that family, he didn't belong there. He frowned, feeling his brow knit under the cloth wrapped around his forehead, and painful envy tore sank deep claws into him. There was no way he could begrudge Naruto this new hope, never, but the childless future Naruto had expected until recently was one that Neji had long seen for himself as well. Hinata's gentleness-shrouded stoicism was something he lacked, and every time he saw her little son he wondered how she could bear the knowledge that he'd be sealed one day.
In the pale dawn light, he turned to look into the mirror, meeting his own tight expression and narrowed white eyes. Those eyes bred true, and it would be many years before anyone would be in any position to change the Hyuuga, many years before his uncle passed away to even leave the possibility open.
A change in breathing made him turn, and he watched the boy-Makoto. He watched Makoto emerge from the covers, push himself to hands and knees, and look around, his normal wide-eyed uncertainty settling over him. It wasn't bad today, though, even in this strange new place. The familiar presences around him were enough to let him survey the room with only moderate wariness.
"Na," he said quietly, and Neji stared, wondering if he'd imagined the soft, high voice. "Na... na..." Makoto murmured, and Neji felt the smile rising before it spread unstoppably across his face. Just needed some time, is that it? he thought.
"Na?" Makoto asked him, looking quizzical. Behind him, Naruto had woken and was frozen, staring. Neji met his eyes a moment, and the stare broke into a blazing grin before they both turned their attention back to Makoto, who finally twisted to look at Naruto.
"Na." Makoto said with quiet certainty, waving one arm at him, then he faced forward again. He moved on hands and knees to the side of the bed. Neji crouched as he approached, ready to catch him if he didn't stop at the edge.
"Neh," Makoto said solemnly, and patted Neji's head, and Neji was glad he was crouching then because a tidal wave of choking emotion thundered through him, envy and pain and thrilled joy and loneliness and love, and he felt his eyes sting a little, and he was glad Makoto was blocking Naruto's view of him just then.
Makoto was still patting his hair, closing fat little fingers and yanking as well. "Neh, Neh."
"Good morning," he managed at last, nodding to the serious-faced child.
"I'll say," Naruto answered, elated awe in his voice. "We've been waiting to hear your voice, chibi." He reached over the girl-Akemi, Neji thought firmly-and ruffled Makoto's hair. "You'll catch right up, too, I know it."
Makoto turned into the touch and trundled back across the covers to Naruto.
Neji stood. "I'll see about breakfast," he said quickly, and left the room, Naruto's distracted thank you following him out.
It was almost physical, the discomfort he was in, like nothing he'd felt before. His feelings for Naruto were deep, that he'd always known. Their friendship had started with respect, and strengthened over years fighting next to one another. It was the same between them both and Shikamaru as well.
But Neji didn't feel quite the same way about Shikamaru, did he? He hadn't had this envy and this loneliness when Shikamaru met and dated and finally married Karin, and had his little girl.
He hadn't felt the selfish envy, or the longing. He'd been glad for Shikamaru, not sorry for himself.
That difference had never ever been laid out so clearly until now. Neji loved Shikamaru as his friend, his comrade. Naruto was friend, comrade, and something else.
Naruto was the one whose presence he sought, whose attention he enjoyed, whose body Neji wanted to know, not just touch.
Naruto was the one who knew what he wanted and fought tooth and nail for it. Neji was not one of those things. So Neji knew what he felt was not something he would see reflected back. And now that he knew the real nature of his attachment, he could conceal the truth of it. Naruto wouldn't catch on, and it wouldn't strain their friendship. That he couldn't dare, not now, with this incredible new beginning for all three of the people back in his bedroom.
"Oh, shit, oh no, take him," Naruto appeared through the bedroom door with one child in each arm and handed Makoto off to Neji. "Changing time for Akemi-chan," he made a face, swooped over to grab the bag Neji pointed to and vanished into the bathroom.
Makoto stared up at him with huge eyes as Neji adjusted his grip, then stuck one fist in his mouth and lay against Neji's shoulder.
Neji leaned back against the counter and slowly stroked the boy's back, automatically tugging down the little tee-shirt where it had rucked up.
No, he didn't want to lose this.