Neji just wanted to be free of the branch house. Shikamaru just wanted to study the clouds. Well, we can't all have what we want. NejiShika
Pairing: NejiShika, small SasuNaru in later chapters
Summary: Neji just wanted to be free of the branch house. Shikamaru just wanted to study the clouds. Well, we can't all have what we want. NejiShika
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or any of its affiliates.
Chapter One - Of Contracts and Deer - Day One
"Uncle, please reconsider," Neji bit out with considerable effort. He was sitting stiffly with his hands balled up in his lap, tremors traveling through his forearms. His eyes were narrowed and he had a crease of annoyance permanently etched into the middle of his forehead, driving right down the center of his Bunke curse seal. His headband lay on the ground beside where he was kneeling in front of the short table.
Earlier that morning, Hiashi Hyuuga had requested an audience with his nephew, and they had been locked in a small parlor room in the back of the Hyuuga estate for the past two hours. The messenger who was sent to retrieve Neji had also claimed that Hiashi asked that he be clothed in official Hyuuga branch attire. Despite the odd orders, Neji had wordlessly dressed in a pale blue and set out for where he was told to meet his uncle.
When he arrived at the main estate, he had seen Hinata off to the side as he removed his shoes, hiding behind a pillar, her expression worried. Then, Hinabi had sneered as she passed, brushing by him with all the arrogance of a self-assured Hyuuga. Neji would have been impressed if he weren't so insulted. When he finally reached his destination, Neji's normally calm nerves were jittering around. Hiashi had gestured for him to sit, and then positioned himself across the table.
Green tea was steaming in front of them and, while Hiashi drank sips calmly, Neji had politely declined. Then, between one sip and the next, without so much as batting an eye at how ludicrous the situation was, Hiashi had told Neji why he had been called on.
Hinata's charka signature had passed by the door dozens of times, checking to see if they were still inside, but she had not yet ventured to go inside. Neji considered that a tiny blessing; he would have hated for her to see him while he was so angry and willing to lash out at the next person he saw. Hinabi apparently did not care and Neji had not sensed her after she passed him earlier.
Neji's frown intensified when Hiashi shook his head in response to Neji's question. The elder's ice-colored eyes were showing an unusual amount of emotion, and Neji could see the guilt, anger, and shame Hiashi was working so hard to conceal. The eighteen-year-old ANBU clenched his teeth and tried with little luck to bite back an insulting reply.
"I should have known. Of course, if it came down to Hinata-sama's happiness, I would be the one sacrificed. It's funny, I thought you were different after my father died for you, but you're just as willing to throw me away as well." Neji stood, moving to the door in an attempt to leave. Hiashi sipped his tea once again.
"Neji, please sit down. I'm not finished. This is far more complex than it seems." Hiashi's voice didn't change; there was no inflection, or rather, there wasn't enough feeling for Neji to get a read on his uncle's emotional state. However, Neji did turn back around after a short moment, sitting with his legs folded underneath him.
The young Hyuuga of the Bunke's smoldering glare focused on a random spot on the wall behind Hiashi. Again, Hiashi sighed and sipped his tea, mulling over the thoughts in his head and trying to think of the best possible way to approach the next hurdle of this situation. Neji seemed to be catching on to the fact that there were more surprises in store, as his expression was gradually changing to one of disbelief mixed with utter loathing.
Neji scoffed softly. "What now, Uncle? Is it not horrid enough that you have engaged me to some misfit that was meant for Hinata?"
The younger Hyuuga knew he was being obnoxious and borderline traitorous, but Hiashi did not activate Neji's Bunke seal or demand that he halt his rude manner. Instead, his uncle shifted uncomfortably, which was most unlike him, and made Neji very nervous. Throughout their two hour discussion/argument, Hiashi had remained composed; a facet of the etiquette both Soke and Bunke had to learn, though Neji seemed to have left his self-possession outside the door with his common sense, which just happened to be screaming at him to respect his uncle.
When a few more seconds passed and there was no reply except the gentle slurpings as Hiashi sipped his tea, Neji's worry increased tenfold. Just then, he felt Hinata pass by them once more, pausing outside the door, and then walking away at a much quicker pace.
"Uncle?" Neji inquired, managing to control his voice so that it didn't shake; a feat he took particular pride in. Hiashi glanced up and he appeared to be drawn back into their conversation.
Another sigh, and Neji was beginning to be immensely irritated by that soft exhale. "The other family that is involved in this alliance is the Nara Clan."
A jolt flashed through Neji's system as he recognized the family name. He folded his hands in his lap, forcing them to stop shaking, and quietly asked, "Why?"
The reply was quick, though not enthused. Hiashi had obviously been expecting the question. "The Nara Clan's deer stock is profitable. It would be advantageous for the Hyuuga Clan to take advantage of it now, while the market for it is still growing."
Neji felt an odd calm fall over his mind as he heard the reasoning. He assumed it was shock, but he couldn't be sure. He had never really felt it before, as cold dread fell into the pit of his stomach.
This is real. I'm going to be married as the Soke sees fit. However I'm most. . . useful. . .
He heard a voice speak out that sounded suspiciously like his own. "At least. . .the Nara Clan has bred a genius. I was, however, unaware that Shikamaru had a sibling."
Hiashi latched onto his last comment. "You have met Nara Shikamaru?"
Neji nodded, but did not elaborate. Neji and Shikamaru never really spoke to one another. They had been in each other's company and had asked the customary polite questions, inquiring after family and friends, but they had never truly held a conversation together. Shikamaru was bored a few sentences in, and Neji didn't care enough to drag replies out of him.
Shikamaru was something of a mystery, as Neji could not understand why the boy, generally accepted as the village genius, would opt to spend hours at a time gazing up at the sky with all the fervor that Neji put into learning new techniques. It was because of his utter disregard for training and strenuous activity that Shikamaru was still a Jounin, while Neji had become an ANBU a few months after he turned eighteen.
Hiashi cleared his throat; Neji gritted his teeth. It wasn't the same annoying sighs, but the coughing was just as irritating. "The Nara Clan has only one child."
The shock - or whatever it was - had to still be in effect, because Neji's only reply was a half-hearted, ". . .huh." Maybe his brain just wasn't connecting the dots correctly. Unlikely, but worth a shot. He forced his tongue, which suddenly seemed ten times larger and harder to use. "You mean to tell me. . .that Nara Shikamaru. . .is arranged to be. . .my fiancÃ©e. . .my husband. . .?" His voice rose at the end of the sentence, and Hiashi nodded soundlessly. "Oh. . ." Another long pause screamed through the room. ". . .huh."
Hiashi again looked repentant and guilty, but firm in his resolve. His voice was quiet and reserved. "Nephew, I know this is unfair." Hiashi cringed at the clichÃ© words, but Neji only blinked once, slowly. "I wish I could. . .but I can't. And it's unfair to decide your future for you, especially as you are a young man of only eighteen years, but--"
Neji rose to his feet, impolitely interrupting Hiashi. His eyes were still slightly unfocused. "I-I'm sorry, Uncle. May I be excused?"
Hiashi nodded; this was the least that he could do. Picking up his Leaf headband, Neji bowed politely and glided out of the room in a daze. While he stopped for a moment to toe his shoes back on, Hinata snuck up on him and reached out for his kimono sleeve hesitantly. Neji spun around, about to blow the offending person away, but instead he bowed deeply. "Hinata-sama."
Hinata nodded quickly and Neji stared; this was the closest he had ever seen Hinata to being annoyed and frustrated. "N-Neji-nii-sama?"
Neji bit his lip. It had been almost a year since Hinata had stuttered on a normal basis. Now, she stuttered when she was nervous or upset. Neji curled his hands into fists, determined not to attack his cousin. His voice, however, was as icy as his eyes. "Can I help you, Hinata-sama?"
She flinched and Neji ordered himself to stop being rude. With considerable effort, he reigned in his emotions and offered a very small smile in her direction. "I'm sorry, Hinata-sama. Please forgive me. Is there anything I can help you with?"
Hinata shook her head. She was wringing her hands behind her back, Neji could tell. He calmly sighed and stepped closer to her, holding her hands in his and stopping their fidgeting. Hinata started to cry.
"I'm so sorry, Neji-nii-sama! Hinabi-san is too young for the engagement and I was the only choice." She bowed deeply in his direction. "I told Father that I would be fine being married to Nara Shikamaru, but. . .but--"
Neji shook his head. He had been given his task. He would be married in her place. There was no avoiding it; as such, there was no reason to make her feel worse than she already did. Hinata looked at him with hopeful eyes, as though silently begging to be absolved of her sins. Neji grit his teeth and smiled softly.
"It's fine, Hinata-sama. I am Bunke. I exist to take care of the Soke. This is far better than most Bunke could achieve in life." Hinata opened her mouth to protest. "No. Most Bunke would live here until old. Uncle has informed me that there is a large house on Nara land, and with the funds earned from Shikamaru being a Jounin and from being an ANBU member myself, I'm sure we'll be fine." Neji shook his head. That last phrase seemed weak even to him. He cleared his throat and repeated in a stronger voice, "We'll be fine."
Hinata frowned. She was obviously not convinced. "But--"
"So, Hinata-sama, when did Kiba propose?" he interrupted. Her engagement to the Inuzuka was one of the reasons that Hiashi wanted out of the arrangement; Hinata was happy with Kiba, while Neji had not been involved with anyone in over three years. Neji, however, had not known of the proposal until Hiashi told him hours earlier.
Hinata's cheeks turned a light pink. "O-Only a few weeks ago, Neji-nii-sama. I meant to tell you, but every time I tried to find you, you were on a mission, or unable to be located. I'm sorry."
Neji ignored the apology. "That's wonderful, Hinata-sama." Yes, because of that, my life is over. Thanks ever so much. "I have a prior commitment, however, and I must leave now in order to be punctual. Please excuse me." Without waiting for a reply, he stepped outside and closed the door behind him.
I think. . . -- Neji took a deep breath, walking off at a brisk gait. -- I need to find my. . . -- A flash of anger and betrayal flashed through him. -- . . .fiance.
Nara Shikamaru was laying on one of the bright green pasture hills on the Eastern side of the village. He wasn't wearing his Jounin vest, but a dark green shirt with fishnet underneath. His baggy cargo khakis had a kunai pack strapped to his right thigh. When Neji found him, his breathing was soft and deep, but only for the moment before his ebony eyes snapped open and he stared at Neji.
He had tensed for a second, his arm twitching in the direction of his kunai, but when he saw who his unexpected guest was, he visibly relaxed. He waited for Neji to speak for as long as his attention span allowed - about five seconds - before turning away and yawning. His jaw popped, but Shikamaru didn't appear concerned, so it had to be a usual occurrence.
The younger of the two ninja had a scornful expression on his face, but Neji could read people well enough to know that the feeling was not genuine; it was just the easiest expression to make and Nara had obviously gotten used to it. Shikamaru lazily raised an arm to act as a pillow behind his head and closed his eyes again. Neji frowned.
"So," started the Jounin without opening his eyes, "You've been informed of the engagement?"
Neji didn't reply. He focused on Shikamaru's mouth, appearing as though it took an alarming amount of concentration to understand what was being said to him, and he needed the additional help of lip-reading in order to full comprehend the words. He lightly shook his head, as if to clear it, and nodded.
"Yes, I have," he intoned needlessly. At Shikamaru's lack of a reaction, Neji frowned. "Does it not bother you? Not only are you engaged to someone, you're engaged to a man." Neji allowed another pause, waiting for Shikamaru to reply. He didn't. Neji continued. "It doesn't bother you at all? You aren't going to even try and fight this. . .this invasion of your life?"
"Well." Shikamaru turned on his side and stared up at Neji with inky black eyes. His lethargic expression was calm, neutral. "Mom and Dad seem pretty adamant about it." He paused for a second and rolled onto his back again. "And it isn't exactly like I had my heart set on someone."
Neji frowned. "And the fact that I'm a man has no bearing on any of this? It doesn't matter to you in the least?"
At that, Shikamaru looked like he would have shaken his head emphatically if it didn't require as much effort as it did. Instead, he laid there said, "I prefer men. Women are troublesome."
Shikamaru looked as though he were about to fall asleep again, so Neji nudged him with his toe. The younger boy managed to get up enough energy to glare at Neji, but only for a few seconds before his expression melted into its normal, blasÃ© appearance. He raised an eyebrow, clearly demanding that Neji give him a reason for disturbing his rest, or leave.
"So, I'm overreacting," stated Neji. Shikamaru assumed he was continuing the conversation about the engagement, but he didn't comment. Clear eyes rested on Shikamaru thoughtfully, who scooted over an inch. It was a clear invitation for Neji to keep Shikamaru company.
Neji cursed at himself silently; he had to be leaking his emotions onto his face, because Shikamaru's actions - answering questions he normally wouldn't, waking up when Neji tried to stop him from going back to sleep, and moving over to give him space to sit, despite the fact that the meadow was huge and there was plenty of room - were that of a concerned teenager who didn't know how to help.
Neji, who normally would have rather been doing something - anything - other than stare at the clouds, plopped down without his usual grace, directly next to Shikamaru's chest. He crossed his ankles and hugged his knees to his chest. After a moment, he tilted his head back and stared unseeingly up at the blue sky. When Shikamaru turned towards him once more, Neji's face was taunt with carefully controlled emotions.
It was widely acknowledged that Shikamaru was the laziest ninja in the village. However, even he would not simply sit there when someone he cared about was hurting. He and Neji may not have been the best of friends in the world, but if Shikamaru had to label their relationship, it would be more "friends" than "enemies."
"Neji?" he asked softly. It was usually easy to offer support to his friends; for example, Chouji would cheer up at the prospect of free food and Ino simply had to be reminded of Sasuke or Sakura before she was full of energy and back on her feet again. With Neji, he was completely unsure how to proceed.
It took a minute for the Hyuuga of the Bunke to respond. His hands were trembling. "I just wanted something to be my own. I thought that. . .the Soke couldn't possibly choose who I was to be married to--" A short, broken laugh rang through the air. "Obviously, I was wrong. Again. They can, and they have."
Shikamaru rose onto his elbows. He didn't reach out to comfort the Hyuuga, because Naruto had remarked once in passing that Neji didn't like to be touched. Weighing the pluses and minuses of the source, and the situation he was in at the time - Naruto's sixteenth birthday and he was somehow very, very intoxicated - Shikamaru was unsure whether Naruto had been serious or not, but the lazy ninja was not going to test it now.
He finally sat up, folding one leg underneath him and raising one knee until it rest against his chest. His mind was racing, searching through all its archives that contained any interactions with the Hyuuga. There weren't as many as Shikamaru expected; they hadn't run into each other often, and usually stuck to the basics when they did talk. Shikamaru frowned; he could have sworn they talked at least a little bit more than he could remember.
He studied Neji's face, searching for a sign of what to do. He found none. Neji's pale eyes were slightly narrowed, blinking often. At that, Shikamaru knew that Neji was holding back tears. The Nara pursed his lips and his eyebrows pinched in the middle of his forehead.
Oh, to hell with it. If he doesn't like it, he can punch me. . . .That might cheer him up, actually. . .
Reaching out to touch Neji's shoulder, he was pleasantly surprised when a fist did not aim in the direction of his face; instead, Neji leaned into the touch. Shikamaru's frown deepened. Now, what could he possibly say or do to help. . .?
He cleared his throat after Neji's eyes settled on him and Shikamaru scratched his nose. "It can't be that bad. I mean. . .I'm not that bad?" His voice showed that his statement was more of a question, but Neji didn't seem to appreciate Shikamaru's lousy attempt at humor. He stood up with short, jerky movements, his expressions closed off again - the upset, scared, angry boy was no longer there.
"I did not come here to be teased. If you'll excu--"
Shikamaru grabbed Neji's sleeve gently. He inwardly cringed; obviously, he wasn't one of the people that liked to make light of their situation. So, Shikamaru would try a different tactic. Honesty.
"Please. I'm just as upset as you are, but I just can't really see this as being any worse than anything that I could have done on my own." Neji's eyes weren't nearly as cold as they had been, but they were still cautiously calm. "Please stay. I didn't mean to insult you." Neji didn't move. "Please."
The blue kimono crumpled as Neji sat with his knees folded under him. Shikamaru said quietly, "We have a year before we're married." Neji lifted his eyes from where they had been focused on a particularly interesting piece of grass. "They want the parties in arranged marriages to get to know each other before their have our wedding night."
At that, Neji did something that Shikamaru doubted he would ever see. His pale cheeks lit up with a light rosy color and he avoided Shikamaru's eyes. Shikamaru almost smiled; at least Neji didn't seem to have a problem with sleeping with men, in light of how concerned he was about Shikamaru's sexuality.
The clouds passed overhead slowly. Shikamaru turned back to them, but didn't lie down. When Neji opened his mouth, however, Shikamaru's attention was back on him in an instant. Neji didn't have a smile exactly, but his frown wasn't quite so pronounced.
"There's no way out of this, huh?" he asked. Shikamaru didn't know how to respond, but honestly replying to Neji's questions and comments worked last time, so. . .
"No. None at all."
--Reviews are always welcome! Along with chats or emails, so see my profile if you want to annoy me outside of a review (be warned, though, because I have a nasty habit of rambling about story ideas).
--Bunke is the branch house and Soke is the main house of the Hyuuga.
--Neji's birthday is July 3, Shikamaru's is September 22, though this has no real bearing in this chapter. It may come up later.
--The Nara Clan is known for two things: Shadow techniques and raising the deer that live in forest on their land. I didn't know that.
--I don't know much Japanese, and I don't particularly like strange words thrown into fanfiction in other languages unless there's a reason it's in another language, so I'll try to keep it all English, but there are some things that I just don't think translate well (bunke, soke, teme, dobe, etc.). I'll try to keep it to a minimum, because I know how annoying it can be sometimes, but if you're ever confused, feel free to yell at me for not being clear enough.