Unspoken Rules

Chapter 15


Konoha Shinobi (Unspoken) Rule #2: Life goes on. No, really. It does.





Shikamaru finally looked up from his newspaper. “What is it?”

“It’s this vest,” Neji groused. “My hair tie keeps getting snagged at the hem.”

“Then tie your hair higher.”

Neji looked at his lover, who already went back to reading the newspaper, and a sudden inspiration struck him. He tied his long hair into a ponytail on the top of his head with a hearty, “There.”

The younger jounin looked up from his newspaper again and nearly fainted.

“No wonder you always pull your hair up,” Neji smiled. “It’s less vexing this way.”

“Uh… Neji,” Shikamaru called cautiously. “Don’t- don’t tie it like that.”

Neji stared, wondering why Shikamaru was so pale. “Why? What’s the matter?”

“It’s… creepy. Seriously. It’s freaking me out.”

“What?” Neji gave him a puzzled look. “How so?”

“Look, just tie your hair at the base of your neck. The effect is more or less the same.”

“Hn, sure. But why are you so freaked out? Was it that bad?”

“Worse,” Shikamaru griped. “You look like a dark-haired version of Ino.”


“Iruka-sensei, I was called in for a mission?”

Iruka looked up from his work and gaped. “Neji?”

“Yes. Is something wrong?”

“I… No, no. I just… This is definitely a new look for you.”

“Yes, it is. Is it really that disturbing?”

“No, not at all. In fact, I think it suites you better than your usual getup.”

“Thank you… I guess. Um, about that mission?”

“Oh, right. Sorry about that. Here. It’s A-Rank and your team members are listed there. All chuunins. They were here earlier, and I sent them to the waiting room. You can go ahead and study the mission order with them.”

“Acknowledged. Thank you, Iruka-sensei.”

“No problem. And good luck.”

The young jounin just nodded and went out of the room.

Iruka was still smiling to himself. Seriously, he mused, Neji looked so much better in that standard shinobi attire. Sure, the blue-shirt-and-pants-plus-green-flak-vest combo was nowhere near as regal as his previous all white, aristocratic outfit, but it showed off his perfect figure more. And that ponytail? The sensei could just imagine the wailings of fangirls everywhere.


“What is it?”

“A recipe. For chocolate cake. It’s Kakashi-san’s.”

“And you’re giving it to me, why, exactly?”

“I want you to make it.”

“You want me to make a chocolate cake?”


“What am I, your wife? Make it yourself.”

“You want me to burn the whole building down?”

“Why did you ask for that recipe in the first place when you know you’re that bad in the kitchen?”

“I was going to ask the cook at the compound to make it, but I never got around to it.”

“So now you’re asking me.”

“Of course. You’re the one who knows how to cook, after all.”

“I know how to cook, yes, but that doesn't mean I like to cook. It’s troublesome.”

“Well, technically, you won’t be cooking. You’ll be baking.”

“Baking is troublesome.”

Neji smiled.

“Tsk, fine. Gimme that.”


Knock knock.

The door opened.


“Ino? Shikamaru’s on a mission, but would you like to come in anyway?”

“I know he’s on a mission. I’m here to see you.”

“Oh, alright. Come in then.”

“No, you come out.”

“I’m sorry?”

“I’m here to take you shopping.”


“Well, don’t just stand there glaring. Let’s go.”

“Wait, hold on. We’re going shopping?”


“What occasion, if I may ask, are we shopping for?”

“Occasion, huh? Well, let’s just call the occasion: ‘Neji’s Lack of Wardrobe’.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Shikamaru said he’s tired of you wearing his undies and seeing nothing but your shinobi outfit in your half of the closet. He’s left me in charge of getting you a proper wardrobe. But you know what the best part is?”


“He’s also left me his gold card! Do you have any idea how much money we can spend? You could buy a house with this! A big one! Along with the furniture! And-”

The door slammed shut.

Knock knock.

“Go away!”

“Not unless you’re going with me!”

“Fine! Stay there then!”

“Arg! What is with you?! It’s only shopping, for God’s sake!”

The door opened.

“First of all, shopping is for women. I don’t shop, I buy things. Second of all, it’s not only shopping. It’s shopping with someone else’s money. Shikamaru’s money.”

“And that’s so bad because…?”

“I don’t do that. I can hold my own just fine.”

“And here I thought you left that chunk of pride back at the Hyuuga compound. What does it matter, anyway? You can always pay him back later.”



“Fine. But I won’t wear anything purple.”


“I still can't believe you actually did it,” Kiba grumbled while petting Akamaru. “You actually got Hyuuga Neji tucked in safely in your pocket. Hell, I still can’t believe you actually landed the guy in the first place.”

“Why is that?” Shikamaru drawled lazily, eyes riveted to the sky.

“Come on, Shikamaru. Neji’s like this super-hot guy. Why would he want to have anything to do with an ugly bum like you?”

The jounin yawned. “I honestly have no idea. Maybe you should ask him.”

“Right,” Kiba rolled his eyes. “Like that’d go well. Honestly, how did you get a quiet and stoic person like him to warm up to you? I mean, you couldn’t have possibly made too much effort. That kind of stuff is too troublesome for your taste.”

Shikamaru smirked at his chuunin friend knowingly, “You got a thing for quiet and stoic guys, Kiba?”

“Wha- Don’t change the subject,” Kiba retorted. “We’re talking about you here.”

“Sure,” the strategist snorted. “You’re not asking me how you can get quiet and stoic guys to warm up to you. Guys like… oh, I don’t know… Shino, maybe?”

“Shikamaru,” the Inuzuka growled. Shikamaru snickered, and Kiba finally gave up. “Is it really that obvious?”

“Is what that obvious?” Shikamaru asked with feigned innocence. “The fact that you’ve been pinning over him all these years, or the fact that you haven’t done anything about it and sleep around with other people instead?”

“Lazy-ass jerk,” Kiba threw some dirt at Shikamaru’s face. “I’m serious! And how did you know that anyway? Damn it, it is obvious, isn’t it?”

The young Nara slapped his own face to clear up the dirt before lighting up a cigarette. “Relax, Kiba. You’re not that obvious. Chouji and I are the only ones who noticed- at least, the only ones that I know of. Don't worry.”

“That’s easy for you to say. You’re not the one having feelings for a guy who’s considered creepy even within the Aburame clan itself.”

“Okay then, start worrying more. After all, there’s nothing that Aburame Shino doesn’t know, what with being able to talk to bugs and all. Shh… Watch it. I think that ant is listening.”

“That’s not funny! And you, Akamaru! Stop snickering! Dogs don’t snicker!”



“How troublesome,” Shikamaru commented calmly from his seat. “Are you okay?”

“Sorry,” Neji grumbled, scowling at the broken plate. “I’ve never washed dishes before.”

Shikamaru had to hold back his guffaw. “You can’t be serious.”

“I’m serious,” Neji said as he started to clean up the mess. “And don’t laugh.”

“Then who washed your dishes back at the compound?”


“Your aunt?”

Neji sighed. “Clan members who aren’t born with Byakugan don’t become shinobis and are in charge of the household chores. Those with Byakugan are too busy training or always in missions, after all. One of my distant aunts was the one assigned to take care of my father's house in the compound.”

“I know about that rule, but didn’t you at least learn when you were a kid?”

“It was never a necessity for me to learn.”

“Okay,” Shikamaru processed the information in his head. “Does this mean you never do laundry either?”

“Why do you think I keep letting you do our laundry?”

“How about cleaning?”

“You mean aside from tidying up my own stuff?”

“Yeah, like sweeping, mopping, vacuuming, scrubbing, wiping-”

“No, never,” Neji mumbled uncomfortably.

“Do you at least know how?”

“Well, I know the mechanics of it. I mean, I’ve seen other people do it. I’ve seen you do it- Where are you going?”

“Next door,” Shikamaru said as he walked out of the kitchen. “I’m telling Iruka we’re taking a couple of days off.”

Neji didn’t like where this was going. “What for?”

“Training. We’re going to share those troublesome chores whether you like it or not.”

“Shikamaru, you’re being ridiculous. I mastered the Hyuuga main family’s secret technique just by watching. I sure as hell don’t need any training to master some pitiful chores.”

Shikamaru snickered. “Yeah? Tell that to the pitiful plate you just smashed.”


Neji sipped his sake calmly, refusing to acknowledge the two laughing senior jounins in front of him. It had been more than two weeks, and they still hadn’t let him live it down.

“Damn,” Genma snickered. “I wish I was the one living next door to Pineapple-Head.”

“I know,” Kakashi chuckled gleefully. “I’m glad Iruka woke me up, or I would’ve missed it.”

“Sorry, Neji,” Iruka patted the younger jounin’s back sympathetically.

“Genma,” Raidou warned quietly. “Don’t you think this is getting a bit old?”

“Nope, not at all. How did it go again, Kakashi?”

“Ahem,” Kakashi cleared his throat -- as he always did before he started, Neji noted -- and began the routine. “Faster- faster- ah, yes! Deeper- yes! Harder- harder- harder, damn it! Harder! Yes! More- more- ah- more- ah- ah- ah- ah-” Genma joined in and they chorused together, “FUCK!”

“How long did you say it was again, before Shikamaru and Genma-san stopped calling Kakashi-san ‘Bunny-chan’?” Neji discreetly asked the bodyguard beside him as Genma and Kakashi guffawed for the umpteenth time that night.

Raidou sighed. He truly felt sorry for the man. “Oh… a month or two… give or take.”

Neji finished his whole bottle of sake in one swig.


“Hey, you’re back already,” Shikamaru greeted as he entered the apartment.

“I completed the mission earlier than scheduled,” Neji said without moving from the couch. “How did yours go?”

“As expected,” answered the younger jounin while taking off his sandals. “I prevented a war between two neighboring villages, which made Naruto gripe about boring missions all the way back, which made Sakura gripe about Naruto all the way back…”

Neji chuckled and Shikamaru came to him. “I met Hinata at the mission room.”

“You did?” Milky-white eyes lit up. “How is she? Did you ask about Hanabi-sama? Or Ojiisama?”

“She’s fine,” Shikamaru sighed as he plopped down on the couch next to Neji. “And Hanabi’s fine, too. I forgot to ask about your uncle though.”

“It’s okay,” Neji smiled sadly. “It’s Hanabi-sama I’m most worried about. She’s very smart, but not too many people can understand how her mind works. I wonder which one of my cousins is training her now that I’m gone.”

“Yeah? I’ll check it out then.”

“Hell, no,” Neji laughed. “You’re not messing with the Hyuuga clan more than you already have.”

“Okay, suit yourself,” Shikamaru said while producing a box from somewhere on his person. “Hinata asked me to give you this.”

Neji took it and tore open the brown wrapper. It was a worn, wooden box. Neji froze.

“Neji? You okay?”

The older shinobi snapped out of his daze. “I’m fine. I just… I thought I had lost this.”

“What is it?”

“It’s a box my aunt gave me when I was little. I put stuff in it.”


“Little stuff… Like my mother’s necklace and the letter my father left me before he died.”


“Yeah,” Neji got lost in himself again for a minute before finally asking, “Listen, if you meet Hinata-sama again could you…?”

“No problem.”


It was late at night when soft noises from the living room window woke Neji up. It couldn't have been a burglar since nobody was stupid enough to be one in a ninja village. This must be an assassin. Shikamaru was a key figure, after all. His death would be a great lost to both Konoha and Fire Country. Even more so to me, Neji thought angrily. Good thing Shikamaru was on a mission, he pondered as he climbed out of the bed without even a rustle. He would make this assassin suffer.

To the young jounin’s surprise, the assassin didn’t even sneak. Although he didn’t activate his Byakugan -- as he didn’t know what level the assassin was and if that person could detect chakra or not -- Neji could tell by the sound of that person’s steps. It was heading towards the kitchen.

Neji carefully came out of the bedroom, using all his infiltration skills to blend with the darkness of the apartment. He was surprised again when the assassin turned on the lights in the kitchen. Now what kind of an assassin would do that? The long-haired nin closed in on the kitchen door and peered inside.

“You really shouldn’t sneak around like that,” the supposed assassin suddenly said without turning around to face him. “I could’ve mistaken you for an assassin and killed you. It could’ve started a clan war and then what do I do?”

“Nara-san?” Neji asked, befuddled, while stepping in to the kitchen. “I’m sorry. I thought you were the assassin. Um, no pun intended, of course.”

“It’s okay, kid,” Shikaku chuckled as he put the kettle on the stove. “Coffee?”

Neji had to pinch his arm to make sure he was awake first. The result was yes, he was awake and his boyfriend’s father was standing in front of him, offering him some coffee, after mysteriously appearing in the middle of the night. He needed to sit down.

“Anou… Nara-san,” he began tentatively. “I don’t mean to be rude, but why are you here?”

“My son lives here,” the much older man answered casually. “Why are you here?”

“I live here,” Neji said without thinking. Maybe he could use that coffee after all.

Shikaku raised an eyebrow. Neji slapped himself mentally.

“Okay, kid. I’m going to give you a complete and honest answer so you give me that too. Deal?”

Neji nodded in reflex. What is it with parental figures and their way of making you agree to things without realizing it?

“I was drinking with my usual buddies and realized that it was too late to go home without having to face the wrath of my nagging wife. I came here so tomorrow I can tell her, ‘I decided to check up on our son on a whim and spend the night at his place,’ without lying. Your turn.”

“Um… I live here?”

The retired jounin smirked. “Hyuugas don’t live outside their compound. I know you’re all buddy-buddy with my son, maybe even with benefits but that’s none of my business, but since the brat isn’t here you can't be just staying over. Sorry, kid. You have to do better than that.”

“I… Uh… I’m not a Hyuuga anymore, and I live here now?”

“Seriously?” Shikaku’s eyes widened. “How did that happen?”

“It’s, um, it’s a long story.”

“Okay then, just answer me this: Do you live here together, or do you live here together?”

Something was definitely wrong in this picture, Neji mused. Doesn’t this kind of scene usually go with him coming to the parents’ house and politely introducing himself as their child’s significant other? What should he say now? ‘Yes, sir, I’m sleeping with your son. Now I’d like my coffee with plenty of sugar, if you don’t mind. Oh, and you’re spending the night on the couch, sorry.’?

“Well?” Shikaku’s voice brought Neji out of his errant musings.

“We’re, uh, we’re together,” he said before adding as an afterthought, “sir.”

Shikaku smirked. “Well, that’s a surprise. Is this why you’re not a Hyuuga anymore?”

“Yes… Among other things.”

“Interesting,” the old Nara mulled over for a moment. “So, who’s top?”


Shikaku guffawed. “I can’t believe you actually answered that!”

Neji slapped himself mentally again. He couldn't believe he actually answered that.

“Ah, hell,” Shikaku finally sighed as he sobered up. “You’re okay, kid. If Shikamaru likes you then I like you. I don’t know about my wife though. I take it you two are permanent seeing as you live together and all, so you do realize I have to tell her about this, right? I still want to live, thank you.”

“Uh... sure. It’s alright. We’ve been meaning to talk to both of you anyway.”

“Good,” the older man smiled. “Now, knowing Yoshino, she would most likely demand the two of you to come over for dinner at our house one of these days. You game?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Okay, then. I have to warn you though. She won’t take ‘It’s a long story,’ as an answer. You’re going to have to tell her everything. I can’t help you there.”

“It’s alright. I don’t mind.”

The kettle whistled and Shikaku smiled at him again. “Now, how about that coffee?”


“Hello again, Nara-san.”


The two set up their shougi board in silence. Their matches had become routine now. After Neji’s banishment, Hiashi developed a new habit of visiting the less exclusive shougi parlor in the middle of the village. The reason for the Hyuuga clan leader’s sudden change of taste in shougi parlors was unknown but by a certain young Nara.

“How is Neji doing? Fine, I hope?”

“He suffered from minor injuries while completing an A-Rank mission the other day. Other than that, he’s fine.”

“Ah, that is good.”

“Hn,” Shikamaru grunted his response as he perused the board. “You’re not using your usual opening.”

“I never managed to beat you with my usual opening.”

“You’re not going to beat me with this one either.”


Konoha was engulfed in festivities and crowded by shinobis from other countries. Yes, it was another Chuunin Exam, and Shikamaru was standing begrudgingly near the gate to welcome the contingent from Sunagakure, including the Kazekage himself. Not that he had anything against Suna nins, in fact, the Kazegake and his siblings are actually his personal friends. No, the War Leader just found the whole ceremonial thing troublesome.

“Gaara, Kankurou. It’s been a while,” he greeted when the Sunagakure party arrived.

“Hey, Shikamaru. Good to see you,” Kankurou greeted back while Gaara merely nodded.

Shikamaru shifted his attention to Temari and smirked. “Troublesome Woman.”

Temari smirked right back. “Crybaby.”

Many gaped at the non-procession, but the strategist just ushered them in without further ado, walking side by side with the Kazekage while conversing casually.

“So, Gaara, how was the trip? Everything went okay?”

“It was fine,” Gaara answered tonelessly.

“Hey, Crybaby,” Temari nudged him with an elbow. “How are things with your boyfriend?”

Shikamaru shifted a bit closer to Gaara because of that nudge. The redhead twitched an eye. Being the abnormally observant shinobi that he was, Shikamaru noticed the reaction. He opted to answer Temari first though. “We’re doing okay. Thanks for traumatizing him, by the way.”

The kunoichi cackled evilly. “Sorry about that. He’s just so much fun to tease. I can’t help it.”

“Hn,” the young Nara grunted to end the conversation. Then he turned to Gaara who was walking with his head bowed. “Are you okay, Gaara?”

“Hm?” responded the Kazekage without looking up. “Yes.”

“Why are you looking at the ground?”

“Because I want to.”

Oh-kay, Shikamaru thought. That was creepy, but he decided not to care. He didn’t miss Kankurou snickering though. “What’s so funny?”


Shikamaru couldn’t help but feel that something was off with the siblings today. Temari wasn’t being as troublesome as usual, Gaara was walking like he had lost a quarter and was searching for it, Kankurou was snickering at nothing. Granted, that particular family wasn't what people would consider normal, but this was too much.

They kept walking as Shikamaru tried to dissect the situation. But suddenly, as they took a left turn, Gaara jumped back.

“What is it, Gaara?” Shikamaru asked worriedly. “I didn’t sense anything.”

Gaara just looked at him with wide eyes. Temari slapped a hand to her eyes and groaned while Kankurou snickered again. The rest of the contingent that was walking behind them, mostly jounins and their genin teams, looked on in puzzlement.

“Nothing,” the young Kazekage finally answered. “I just… I think I’d rather walk here, thank you.”

The strategist raised an eyebrow as Gaara scooted sideways carefully, most likely to position himself at Kankurou’s left side. Shikamaru thought the Kazekage looked like a crab, but he banished the mental image and focused on what the man was avoiding. It was obviously on the ground, whatever it was, and it obviously made its move when they just turned left. Shikamaru looked down and followed Gaara's awkward sideways footsteps, and realized that the leader of Sunagakure was avoiding a shadow. His shadow. Of course! When they turned left, the sun shone from the right so their shadows lengthen sideways to the left, and Gaara was walking at his left side… just what the hell was going on?

“Gaara, why are you avoiding my shadow? Did something happen that made you believe I would attack you?”

“Hn?” the Kazekage looked up at him. “No. You’re Shikamaru. I trust you.”

“Then why?”

“I just… I don’t want to touch it. Please don’t be offended.”

“Don’t worry. It takes a lot to offend me. If you can’t tell me, maybe Temari can stop covering her face or Kankurou can stop rolling on the ground laughing and do it for you.”

“Ahahahah- I’m sorry, man. Haha- It’s just freaking hilarious! Hahaha!”

Temari finally came to him with a red face. Shikamaru raised an eyebrow. “Well?”

“Okay, come here for a minute,” she sighed. “Kankurou, you too!”

The three of them separated and let Gaara handled the rest of the group while they hunkered down in the middle of the road like children plotting a prank.

“See, Gaara read your message the other day,” the kunoichi started. “So he asked why we’re even, he wanted to know what I owed you. I told him I owed you a favor, and he asked me why. I told him because I lost a bet, then he asked me about the bet. He was relentless!”

“And you told him?! Are you trying to get me killed?! Stop snickering, Kankurou.”


“Look, I just told him that the bet was sexual in nature. But then, well, you know how… naïve he is when it comes to that stuff. He wanted to know how someone could bet on something sexual.”

Shikamaru started to get a headache. “And?”

“I told him what the bet was, you know, the condition for winning it and all, and that’s it. He was satisfied. But then, this blockhead here,” she smacked Kankurou upside the head, “kept pestering me about how you won.”

“So you told them,” the genius drawled sarcastically. “How very informative of you.”

“I was whispering it to Kankurou, but then Gaara looked at us. I caved.”

“Oh, come on!” Shikamaru groaned.

“No, you don’t understand. He looked at us. Not with the I’m-going-to-kill-you look, but with the I’m-a-lost-puppy look. Have you ever seen Gaara with a puppy look? It’s even creepier than that plant guy from Akatsuki!”

“Yeah, man,” Kankurou chimed in. “You’re lucky you’ve never seen it. I think I’m scarred for life.”

Shikamaru rubbed his eyes. “Somehow I think he’s the one scarred for life now. How detailed was your explanation anyway?”

Temari huffed. “I was only going to tell them the basics, but then Kankurou, again, kept asking for details. So… yeah, it was very detailed.”

Kankurou snickered again. “I got to hand it to you though, you’re the man! Such creativity and endurance… I worship you, Nara Shikamaru, the Pervert Awesomeness.”

The genius War Leader of Konoha covered his face in frustration. This was really, really troublesome.


“You are surprisingly good at this, Hanabi,” Hiashi praised as he perused the shougi board. “Your strategies are quite advanced.”

“Thank you, Otousama. I was taught to always think of as many steps and possibilities ahead as I can, not only when playing shougi but also in real battle.”

“That is a very good advice, Hanabi. Who taught you that? Was it your jounin-in-charge?”

“No, it was Shikamaru-niisan.”

Hiashi stared at her daughter. “Shikamaru-niisan?”

“Yes,” she answered calmly while moving a pawn. “He is teaching me shougi and battle tactics.”

The Hyuuga clan leader promptly decided to play seriously.


Dinner, to put it simply, was chaotic. Neji didn’t know how Shikamaru could be so calm in the middle of it all. Maybe the genius had mastered the jutsu where he tricked his own consciousness and convinced it that he wasn't even there.

“Shikaku, don’t drink too much! Shikamaru, mind your manners! Neji, would you like some more chicken?”

“No, thank you, ma’am.”

“Oh, please. Don’t be shy. You have to eat more so you won't grow old skinny and ugly like my husband here.”

“No, really, thank you. I’m full already. Everything is very delicious.”

Father and son snorted at the same time. Yoshino squealed. “Oh, my God! You’re such a good mannered young man! And very handsome, too. Shikamaru, you must treat Neji right, do you hear me? Now, Neji, I know that Shikamaru is very lazy and selfish, but please bear with him. Whenever he does something wrong, you just come here and tell me, okay? I’ll teach him a lesson.”

Shikaku snickered and Shikamaru glared at him from across the table.

“Ah… Thank you, ma’am. I will. Though I don’t think that will happen. Shikamaru has been… very good to me.”

“He has? Yeah, right,” she snorted. “You don’t have to cover for him. I know how lazy he is. I know how lazy all Nara males are, gyahaha!”

Neji laughed awkwardly along. Shikamaru just drank his sake quietly. Finally, Shikaku stretched and got up. “Come on then, let’s move our conversation somewhere more comfortable.”

“Yes,” Shikamaru answered quickly. “Let’s go to the porch. It’s hot in here.”

Yoshino scoffed. “You’re just craving for those cancer sticks of yours. I swear you’re just like your father.”

“Isn’t that supposed to be a good thing?”

“Not when he’s your father, no.”

“Do you prefer I grew up like somebody else’s father? Won’t that be scandalous?”

“Oh, just shut up and help me clear the table.”

Neji watched the banter as he followed Shikaku out. Nara Yoshino was loud and domineering, but Neji could tell she was a good woman, a good wife, and an excellent mother. Shikamaru wouldn’t have grown up to be half the man he was now otherwise.

“Hn, now I get it.”

Neji turned to Shikaku. “What is it, Shikaku-san?”

Shikaku lit up a cigarette. “You smile when you look at him, and you look good when you smile. Not that you don’t look good either way.”

Oh-kay, that was embarrassing. Neji decided to feigned innocence. “I beg your pardon?”

“The way you smile at him. Shikamaru is a loving person, don’t get me wrong. That’s why he has so many friends, after all. But he’s actually very particular when it comes to romance. He never cares about looks or everything else, and no one knows what he’s looking for in a companion. He’s an extremely closed and private man when it comes to that. So I was kind of wondering what finally managed to conquer all those defenses of his, and now I know.”

“Oh,” Neji muttered weakly. “I see.”

“Tell me, kid. How many times have you made him grovel at your feet with your smile?”

Ah, what the hell. “Er… Well… Not so much.”

“Really?” The old Nara smirked. “Your loss then.”

Neji couldn’t hold back his chuckle. “I can’t believe you practically just told me to make your son my lapdog.”

“Hey, when you got it, flaunt it.”

This time, the young jounin couldn’t help but guffaw. Shikaku smiled. “There, see? That wasn’t so bad, was it?”

“What?” Neji asked after getting his laughter under control.

“Loosening up. You were so tense I thought you were going to snap back there, kid.”

Neji just realized that, for the last couple of minutes, he was chatting with Shikaku like they were old buddies. How the hell did that happen?

“Being relaxed isn’t a bad thing,” Shikaku added. “Especially when you're with family."

The younger man looked at Shikaku abruptly. Family? Was that what they were? They met, they had dinner, just like that and they were a family? It couldn’t be that easy.

The retired jounin just smirked and blew a trail of smoke towards the lawn. “Did I say something wrong? You’re a shinobi. When else can you relax if not when with family?”

Somehow Neji knew that the older man knew what he was thinking, that the last comment was just another way of saying, ‘Yes, it is that easy, kid.’

The young shinobi started to reassess his current situation. He got another seal, but it couldn’t be used to torture him like the old one, which was null now that he was out of his clan. He couldn’t have children, but he never wanted them in the first place and he was in love with a man anyway. He was disowned by his family but, apparently, he had gotten a new one.

Yes, Neji decided, his life was definitely better now. Much better.

“No, Shikaku-san, you didn’t say anything wrong. I was just wondering, that’s all.”

“Hn? What about?”

Neji smirked at the older man. “I don’t have to change my name to Nara, do I? Because, seriously, Nara Neji sounds really weird.”

Shikaku laughed so hard so abruptly, his cigarette catapulted from his lips.


Chapter 14 ~~~~~~~~ Back to Shikamaru/Neji ~~~~~~~~                  



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