Unspoken Rules

Chapter 5


Konoha Shinobi (Unspoken) Rule #5: Hyuuga + Bruised ego = Kaput.


The apartment shared by Hatake Kakashi and Umino Iruka was more lively than usual. They were having a friendly dinner with Namiashi Raidou and Shiranui Genma from across the hall, as well as Nara Shikamaru from next door. In addition, Hyuuga Neji was also present, although he rarely joined the pleasant conversations and preferred to eat in silence.

As was customary in all friendly dinners, after a full course meal filled with jokes, talks about weapons, past missions, their village and other random subjects, they stood up unceremoniously to continue their talks elsewhere. That was Shikamaru’s cue to ease the cravings that had been gnawing at him from the minute he'd finished his meal.

“Iruka-sensei, mind if I use your balcony for a while?”

“Sure, go ahead. It’s not locked,” Iruka answered offhandedly.

The young strategist casually nodded his gratitude. “If you guys will excuse me,” he said while stretching slightly, obviously contented by his full stomach, “I’m just going to step outside for a smoke.”

“I’ll keep you company,” Genma offered happily as he followed.

Kakashi went the same direction quietly and Iruka handed him three small bottles of sake before letting him go. Neji started to panic. Not that anybody noticed, mind you.

His eyes flicked towards Shikamaru, who was already outside with the other two jounin, but his decision to follow came too late. Raidou had already patted his shoulder with an offering of a glass of sake, so he couldn’t just refuse it and run off, could he? He was a Hyuuga, after all, and all Hyuugas are raised with proper decorum.

Neji didn’t know how it happened, but he ended up on the couch with Raidou while Iruka had seated himself on the adjacent chair, all three of them munching the leftover dessert. They were conversing quite nicely, and to the young jounin’s surprise, he was beginning to think that friendly dinners might not be so bad at all. Besides, even though no actual words from the three people outside were perceptible, some bursts of guffaws and muted exclamations managed to reach him, giving him the assurance that he had not been ditched by his best friend.

Neji and Raidou were chuckling slightly after hearing one of Iruka’s tales about his students when they heard Kakashi and Shikamaru burst out laughing while Genma whined loudly. Raidou shook his head in consternation and sighed. “Why do I have to be the one stuck with the idiot while you two get the geniuses?”

Neji was a bit puzzled by that question but Iruka just laughed and jibed, “It takes one to know one, or rather, love one.”

Raidou rolled his eyes. “Ha ha. Very funny, Sensei.”

Iruka laughed harder. “It can’t be that bad, Raidou. Geniuses are jackasses too sometimes. In fact, I think Neji here got it worse than you.”

Neji blinked. “Hn?”

“Actually, I’ve been meaning to ask you this for a while. How do you put up with Shikamaru's smoking?”

“And his complaining,” Raidou snorted. “That was a joke, sorry. But I do want to know how you put up with those cancer sticks.”

Not realizing why or how such question came up, Neji answered frankly, “Hn, well, it may seem like he’s chain-smoking, but he’s really not. I think it’s because he smokes in such a way that it takes more than fifteen minutes to finish one cigarette, so it looks as though the cigarette never leaves him. In reality, he only smokes every hour or two.”

“Funny, I never noticed that before. I think you’re right though,” said Raidou.

Iruka chuckled. “And I was so sure you’d answer the same way Kurenai did when we asked her about Asuma’s smoking habit all those years ago.”

“Oh yeah,” Raidou laughed.

“Hn?” Neji was beginning to feel that something was wrong with this picture, but he couldn’t make out what it is.

“She said,” Iruka chortled, “Whenever she got tired of it she’d throw all of Asuma’s cigarettes, including his secret stash, down the drain. And that’s how we came to know the reason for those instances where Asuma kept bumping into things and forgetting where he was going.”

Neji’s mind started to whirl. Why would he throw away Shikamaru’s cigarettes? That would be out of line, if not plain suicidal. Besides, the decision to slowly destroy his own lungs was rightfully Shikamaru’s to make. Who was he to say otherwise? It’s not like he was his wife, for god’s sake.

Another round of loud mirth echoed from the balcony made their subject of conversation switch again, all too abruptly for Neji to finish pinpointing what was wrong in the picture. For a ninja some would regard as a genius, Neji was extraordinarily dense that night. He personally blamed it on the heavenly chocolate cake he couldn’t stop nibbling.

“You ever wonder what they talk about when they laugh like that?” Raidou mused.

“Most likely sex,” said Iruka with a role of his eyes. “What else could it be with Genma and Kakashi there?”

Raidou groaned. “Tell me about it. I swear Kakashi knows more about my bedroom antics than I do.”

“Yeah,” Iruka snorted. Then he turned his attention to Neji. “You’re lucky Shikamaru’s very tightlipped when it comes to that.”

Neji blinked again, brain nearly short-circuiting in its effort to process that statement while denying the most obvious outcome. The conversation moved along without him.

“Tightlipped is putting it mildly,” Raidou chuckled. “The guy’s as silent about his relationship as he is about his covert ops!”

Iruka chuckled along. “Too true. Kakashi even tried some techniques he’d picked up during his time in ANBU Torture and Interrogation, only to have it backfire when Shikamaru somehow interrogated him about that time he wore rabbit ears to seduce me.”

“Aw, geez,” Raidou laughed. “I remember that. It took what, a whole month until Shikamaru and Genma finally let him live it down?”

“Like hell. Even now they still call him ‘Bunny-chan’ every once in a while.”

Raidou laughed even harder while Iruka sighed, “In any case, I don’t think we’ll be hearing about Neji’s sexual tendencies anytime soon, if not ever.”

Neji’s brain was assaulted by images of the famous Hatake Kakashi wearing bunny ears before it finally clicked. Whoa, wait, backtrack! Neji’s brain hollered. Okay, apparently these people knew that he was sleeping with Shikamaru. In fact, from what he’d been hearing in the past five minutes, they had somehow perceived that he and Shikamaru had a relationship. A relationship! What, in the name of all Hyuuga ancestors that are now dead and most likely rotting in hell, had Shikamaru told these people?!

Neji’s brain (not Neji himself, mind you; he’s currently sitting quietly eating his cake in the most dignified manner) was hyperventilating. Halt! Halt! O, ye of little faith! Shikamaru would never say anything about their, um, friendship – that’s right, friendship, not relationship -- to anyone. Iruka and Raidou said so themselves. But then- then- how? Shit, no wonder Shikamaru looked like he’d rather starve to death than having dinner with these people. They’re frigging insane!

While Iruka and Raidou went on with other idiosyncrasies regarding their respective partners, Neji’s inner monologue continued its savagery: They even had the gall to imply that he would actually do something about Shikamaru’s smoking habit, for fuck’s sake. And they compared him to Kurenai? Kurenai! Granted, she’d been an exceptional kunoichi before she finally got married to a civilian and retired two years ago, but that didn't change the fact that she’s a- a- a… she! He’s no woman, damn it! What was it, the hair? Got to be the hair. Neji’s brain swiftly scratched its initial plan of asking Iruka the recipe for the chocolate cake. Okay, it was incredibly good and… chocolaty, but hey, what the hell. He was a healthy, proud Hyuuga male. And healthy, proud Hyuuga males don’t ask for recipes. Besides, maybe he could just steal it?

And so, it was in that condition, that is, pride shaken but not overly so, that Hyuuga Neji let his brain tune back into the conversation just in time to hear Raidou sigh with finality, “Haah, the things we endure for our guys…”

Snap. Our guys. Our guys. Our guys. Our guys?! What did that make them, their girls?! Suddenly Neji saw everything in a different light, and it had nothing to do with his Byakugan. The way Kakashi, Genma and Shikamaru joked around outside while Iruka, Raidou and he talked inside. No, make that chatted inside. Like what wives usually do in social gatherings. They don’t talk, they chat. And not while standing around smoking and drinking sake like their husbands, oh no. They do it while sitting around eating sweet desserts. Like chocolate cake, for example.

The thing that just snapped in Neji’s inner self started to crackle. He flicked a sideway glance to the balcony where Shikamaru stood against the railing comfortably with his legs crossed, a small bottle of sake in one hand and a quarter length of cigarette in the other. He was laughing, it appeared, as Kakashi smacked Genma upside the head with Icha Icha. Oh, would you look at that, Neji’s brain said sarcastically. Look at them joking and bantering in their oh-so-manly way. And look at that bastard Shikamaru, acting all macho with his cigarette and sake.

In point of fact, there was this teeny, tiny voice inside his brain saying how sexy Shikamaru looked leaning against the railing in that relaxed manner of his, with that distinct half smile and languid inhale and exhale of smoke. But, of course, being a Hyuuga, that little voice had no chance against the roar of his gargantuan ego. The roar that was getting louder and louder, it seemed, as Raidou bemoaned the pain of scrubbing dry blood from Genma’s ANBU body armor, plates and mask.

“Hm?” Neji responded to Raidou’s question in utterly fake calmness. “Oh no, Raidou-san. I’ve never even touched Shikamaru’s ANBU uniform, much less cleaned it.”

An excerpt from the gargantuan ego mentioned above: Of course I never clean Shikamaru’s ANBU stuff, or any of his stuff for that matter. What am I, his wife?!

Raidou’s eyes widened for a second before he seemed to realize something. “Ah, you’re still at that stage, huh? Well, that’s understandable. It took a considerable amount of time for Genma to let me touch his ANBU uniform, and even now he still won’t let me touch the sword. Not that I enjoy cleaning them, but I just can’t stand the way he does it. He looks all… detached and… emotionless. Dead. It’s alarming.”

“Why is that?” Iruka chimed in. “Why he didn’t let you touch them, I mean.”

“I don’t really know,” Raidou considered. “I think it’s because he wanted, still wants, to keep it, the things he does when wearing them I mean, separated from what we have together. It’s like he’s afraid it would taint it somehow. I just take it as one of his quirks.”

“Hm,” Iruka pondered. “Well, from what Neji told us, apparently it’s an ANBU Reserve quirk. Not that I would know. Kakashi had already quit when we got together, and he was a regular ANBU.”

Oh please, Neji’s ego sneered. Now they’re starting to get melodramatic. The assassin that killed -- or did whatever depraved things he had to do -- for his country, was losing his humanity. Thankfully, help came in the form of a lovely, innocent woman who -- after many tribulations and the assassin’s unwillingness to taint her innocence with the blood on his hands -- was willing to love him unconditionally, therefore giving him the chance to be human again whenever they’re together. Curse all of the seven hells, it’s like Icha Icha gone wrong! And it’s most definitely wrong, because he’s not lovely or innocent, damn it! He’s a ninja, for heaven’s sake! And he’s most undeniably not a woman!

Beneath the gargantuan ego’s ranting about Icha Icha, unheard by Neji’s raging mind, the little voice was wondering: So all this time Shikamaru might also be dehumanizing himself like that, alone in his bathroom, scrubbing dry blood from his ANBU uniform and sword. I never thought of that before. Hm, what to do, what to do? Oh, poo. I can’t think with that loud ranting, all about the lovely, innocent woman thing, and none of the other things. I wonder why that is though. Hrm? Uhm…? Hm? How confusing.

Suddenly Neji realized the conversation had switched to an altogether different subject and there were six people in the room instead of three. It appeared that the three men had returned from their male bonding outside. That was it. The young Hyuuga was more than livid, he was enraged. Not that anyone noticed, by the way.

“I’m sorry, Iruka-sensei, Kakashi-san, but it’s getting rather late and I have an early day tomorrow. So if you all will excuse me,” Neji stood up gracefully. “I need to run along. Oh, and the dinner was great, thank you.”

“Ah, don’t mention it. It was the least we could do after… you know,” Iruka said sheepishly, also standing up. Their exchange became a cue for everyone that the night was over.

“Yeah, we should go too. Early mission tomorrow,” Genma said while stretching. “Come on, Raidou.”

“Aa. Thanks for dinner, guys.” Raidou walked towards the door.

And just like that, after Shikamaru also said his thanks for dinner and his goodbyes, they were out the door. Genma and Raidou crossed the hall and disappeared in to their apartment, but to Neji’s utter annoyance, Shikamaru was still walking with him even after they had passed Shikamaru’s door.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Neji asked with gritted teeth.

Shikamaru’s brain picked up something off, but didn’t process it as it was too troublesome. “Walking you downstairs?”

“Why? It’s not like I can’t find my own way down the stairs, and I don’t need the courtesy that one would usually bestow on a woman.”

Oh-kay, Shikamaru’s brain caught on. First of all, he always walked Neji downstairs when it was late because the entrance to the building would already be locked and he was the one with the key. Second of all, Neji only used that noble language of his when he was angry. Conclusion: Neji was angry at something, most probably him, for a reason yet to be revealed. Recommended action: Proceed with caution, use only logical responses and ask only the right questions in effort to gather information.

“Because the entrance would be locked this time of night and only tenants have the key?”

“Hn,” Neji grunted before going quiet altogether. Logical responses seemed to work, Shikamaru’s brain said, now to get to the bottom of this.

“Neji,” he started slowly. “Is something wrong?”

“Hm?” the older jounin replied with indifference that, to Shikamaru’s abnormally observant mind, looked more like the calm before the storm. “Nothing’s wrong. Why? Did I say something’s wrong? Did I do anything that would indicate something's wrong?”

Shit, landmine! “Whoa, Neji, hold on. It was only a question.”

“And mine was only an answer.”

What? “What?”

Neji glared. “What ‘what’?”

Shikamaru sighed. “Look, Neji, you’re definitely upset about something. Did something happen back there? Did you get offended or something? Just tell me, I’m-”

“What? You’ll what? You’re going to kick their asses for offending me? Like I’m some sort of girl who can't even do anything on her own? Well, you can forget about it, because no, they did not offend me, and even if they did, do you think I couldn’t have handled it on my own?”

Sirens blared in Shikamaru’s brain with red lights blinking: Red Alert! Damage Control Is Imminent! “No,” he said with the most placating tone a Nara could muster -- which was, actually, not much. “What I was about to say is: I’m sure it was only a misunderstanding because those guys are just crazy sometimes.”

“Don’t you dare placate me, Nara.” Neji warned coldly, fury oozing out like wildfire. “I’m not some- some woman whose boyfriend usually placates whenever she mopes. I don’t mope, and I sure as hell am not your girlfriend.”

That retort, apparently, wasn’t included in Shikamaru’s many predictions. He decided to just throw it all out the window and play it by the ear. Sometimes he got lucky that way -- like that time he defeated two Akatsuki immortals. “Neji, what are you saying? Of course you’re not my girlfriend. Hell, you’re not even my boyfriend. I don’t understand what you’re talking about. You’re not making any sense.”

“No, I made perfect sense. Maybe you’re the one who’s too dimwitted to understand. I'm a shinobi. I don’t talk nonsense. Women talk nonsense. I don’t.”

Shikamaru had to snort on that one. He’d already decided to scrap all logic anyway. Hell, maybe a round of friendly banter was exactly what they needed. It was worth a try, at least. So, without thinking, the tactical genius casually said, “Well, from the way you’ve been answering me, you sure sound like one.”

Even tactical geniuses make the wrong tactical decision sometimes. This, as it turned out, was one of those times. The well-meaning joke became the straw that broke the camel’s back and Neji… snapped.

When Hyuuga Neji got blinded by rage, his chakra flared. It didn’t flare like when he focused it before sparring or even actual battle; it flared with nothing but murderous intent that would most likely kill whoever was facing him before he even moved. Along with his chakra, his body also moved with deadly precision.

When Nara Shikamaru got engulfed in a shadow of aura filled with murderous intent, his body reacted before his mind could.

Things progressed in a fraction of a second. The Byakugan caught a flash of movement and the famous Hyuuga ultimate defenses were in place, but they were futile. Neji felt pain in his throat so severe it pierced the inside of his head. He didn’t know what had actually happened, just that he couldn’t breathe and Shikamaru was ordering him to stop moving, lower his heart rate, and stop trying to breathe, damn it! Neji did so, and finally realized he was half lying on the floor while Shikamaru ran to the door across his and banged fiercely, shouting for someone named Tenzou and asking if Ino was there.

Neji’s disoriented mind managed to process ‘who’s Tenzou? Isn’t that Yamato-san’s place and Yamato-san’s the one dating Ino?’ before it stopped altogether because the shock to his system wore off and the pain returned. Milky white eyes shut tightly and fists clenched, but there was no scream. How could there be when the man in pain couldn’t even breathe?

The young Hyuuga didn’t know how long he was in that condition. The pain was so unbearably excruciating that he’d lost track of time or whatever else was happening to and around him. All he knew was that he finally realized he was breathing. His throat ached terribly whenever he did so, but at least he was able to breathe. That, and he felt the familiar prickling of a medical jutsu being applied. His body was somewhat relaxed, also because of medical jutsu, he noted, and he could hear Ino’s voice trying to soothe him.

“Easy, easy. Don’t try to talk yet,” Ino said as her impromptu patient opened his questioning eyes. “That’s it. Breathe very slowly.”

Several things became noticeable to Neji then. He was lying on the floor, still in the hallway. Ino had one hand on his throat and the other on his head, probably trying to fix whatever damage that was done while simultaneously calming his nerves. Yamato crouched behind her, a worried look on his face. Kakashi crouched at his other side, Sharingan exposed and spinning unhurriedly, probably following the healing process inside his body. Behind Kakashi was Iruka, standing still while glancing back and forth between him and Shikamaru’s door.

Shikamaru’s door.


Recollections of their last encounter came to him as he finally noticed that Shikamaru was nowhere in sight. Neji realized, then, that he had probably created a huge mess. He tried to get a look at Shikamaru’s door, but all he could see was Raidou. The tall bodyguard was standing in front of it. It was slightly opened so he could hear bits and pieces of… Genma’s voice. The tone was… pleading?

“…be okay …heard Ino...”

“…happened …not your fault…”

“…do this. …lock yourself…”

“…buddy …to me…”

The one thing that Neji picked up was that Shikamaru wasn’t answering. What happened? He managed to catch Raidou’s eyes and gave him a questioning look. Raidou looked at him and tried to peek inside, which happened to be a wrong move since it turned out Shikamaru noticed and was out the door in a second.

“Well?” he asked concisely, face unreadable. He wasn’t even looking at Neji.

“His windpipe wasn’t shattered as I’d initially diagnosed,” answered Ino with a tone she usually used in the hospital or on the field. “It was only slightly ruptured. Just a few more minutes and it’ll be safe to move him.”

“Acknowledged,” he replied before turning his attention to Neji, and that was the moment the incapacitated Hyuuga understood why Raidou hated seeing Genma clean his ANBU uniform. There was no expression on Shikamaru’s face. Not even his usual bored one. His whole bearing wasn’t only detached. It was… dead. Void. There was no other word for it. Neji found himself ready to do whatever it would take to get rid of that non-aura. Seeing Shikamaru like that… hurt.

It hurt worse than trying to breathe with a ruptured windpipe.

“Hyuuga Neji,” Shikamaru began, voice clear and devoid of any tone. “I apologize for the inconvenience my loss of control has caused you. Should you decide to issue a formal complaint, please do so. I will abide by whatever you or the Hokage decides.”

The young strategist vanished, leaving a small cloud of white smoke, before anybody had the chance to stop or question him.

Neji had to close his eyes again. Seeing Shikamaru like that was painful, but hearing Shikamaru talk like that, and, above all, while talking to him, was devastating. The pain in his throat lay forgotten as he let himself wallow in darkness, finally realizing that he had not only successfully lied to himself about his actual feelings towards his best friend all this time, but also, just as successfully, lost said best friend.


Chapter 4 ~~~~~~~~ Back to Shikamaru/Neji ~~~~~~~~ Chapter 6



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