For once, training to the point of exhaustion didn't help getting him rid of his... frustrations. It was quite annoying. Distracting also.
Learning hunt still?
No, done now, Neji replied with a sigh. He ignored the derision in the way his bird ruffled its feathers, and went to pick up his towel to wipe up the sweat on his face. Neji had tried to explain many times, but the bird just didn't get the point of taijutsu practice to help with muscle memory. But then, the feather-brain worked on instinct most of the time, anyway; it found the fact that Neji was still at a level that chicks needed maybe a month or two to pass exceedingly strange.
You chick? The bird echoed curiously, and tilted its head to the side. Neji had visions of huge nests and curled wings.
"I'm not a chick, stupid," he grumbled. "Come on, we're going home."
Maybe a cold shower would help.
Neji shouldered his bag and left the clearing, confident that the bird would lift the meaning from his head and follow. Eventually. It wasn't like they could misplace each other.
The giant falcon landed on his shoulder without warning, startling him. Neji gave it a dubious sidelong look. Lazy.
The bird caught a lock of his hair in its beak and tugged.
"Ow. Stop that, or you can fly back."
It didn't seem all that impressed; but it didn't feel annoyed either, so Neji didn't chase it off when it did it again. He was a little curious why the stupid featherball had decided that it was a good time to preen him. He wasn't that disheveled, was he? Though the bird had strange ideas on what made a good crest.
It didn't help much when the bird declared itself satisfied with a contented chirrup and made itself comfortable on him, butt on his bag and a wing draped over his head like a particularly ridiculous hat.
I'm not a chick, Neji retorted with faint annoyance. And you're not my parent. If any, I'm yours. I raised you.
Prr. Chick, the bird repeated firmly, and that was that.
The cold shower didn't help. Neji prided himself on his control over his body, but this time he reluctantly admitted his loss to a warmer shower and a bottle of lotion. Which helped.
Until the morning after, which started almost like usual and ended with staring at Uchiha Sasuke's nape and imagining himself nuzzling it.
What the hell. It was his turn to chaperone the Uchiha, or he wouldn't seek his company; and his only reason to be civil to the newly returned traitor was that Naruto would be hurt if he wasn't. Oh, and if Neji were to consider an affair with a man, he may as well look for one who was actually manly. Not one who was prettier than most girls he knew.
No, Uchiha Sasuke really didn't have anything at all that Neji would consider attractive. Maybe he hadn't slept enough.
From the rooftops, the bird gave him a long, heavy-lidded look.
What is it, now?
Neji was used to the total lack of privacy by now; he still twitched, and growled. No way.
The bird of prey ruffled its feathers grumpily. ...But -- crest.
Neji blinked. "... Crest?"
Sasuke paused in his workout and gave him a 'what the hell' look. Neji glared back -- but the effect was almost wasted when he caught sight of Sasuke's bristling tufts of hair.
See? Nice crest.
Not laughing in Sasuke's face was the hardest thing he'd done in a year or two. But then, he really didn't want to explain that his bird found Sasuke's 'crest' sexy.
Neji's impromptu ...spar... with Sasuke had run late; and then they'd had to take a detour by the hospital before returning the ex-missing-nin home. He was beyond late at this point, and it was all the bird's fault. He never used to be this impulsive before it came.
He wasn't supposed to attend the marriage ceremony itself anyway -- the groom and the bride were from opposite sides of the voluminous Hyuuga family tree and Neji was as close to the middle as you could get without being Main House -- but he was expected for the celebration afterwards.
It would start in ten minutes and he was still struggling into his fancy kimono. The inner layers wouldn't settle properly, either sticking out of his sleeves or bunching up inside; as for his hair, the bird approved, which was the best testimonial as to its horrific state.
Neji twitched and kept his back firmly to the door. "I'll be ready in a minute, Hinata-sama."
Hinata didn't leave. "Um. Perhaps... May I help you?" She didn't need to add that she doubted his claim; he doubted it too. He was tempted to say no, but he could hear people gathering outside; the new couple and their parents would leave the temple pretty soon. He pulled his under-kimono closed tightly before nodding faintly in assent.
Hinata's hands were quick and light; a little tug here, a quick smoothing motion there, and he looked presentable again. He reached for the belt draped on his chair with his left hand, the right holding all the layers closed.
He was tempted to chalk up the light tug on his hair to the bird again, but the feathered pest was perched on a shelf in front of him and he was pretty sure that apart from Hinata and him, the room was empty.
"That's -- um. I thought... It would be faster," she said apologetically; she didn't stop brushing his hair, though. "Do you mind very much?"
People outside were getting noisier; a quick, ill-mannered glance through the walls of the temple with the Byakugan showed him the priest finishing up the ceremony. "... Go ahead."
He draped his sleeves around his forearms to get them out of the way and tied his belt; she pulled his hair back into a tight ponytail at the base of his neck.
When he turned around to let his cousin judge the results, she batted her hands in appreciation; and the bird, with a little chirp of surprise, flapped its wings in echo.
What's the matter with you? No!
... But grooming.
Not mate. Nestmate. You're getting annoying.
The bird had never had nestmates; or if it had, it didn't remember them. So when Hinata smiled and hurried off to take her place outside, her long sleeves fluttering behind her, it just huffed and sent; and so what? Surely Neji could do worse than to find himself a mate who actually had wings, even useless ones.
"Hey, Neji, have you figured out why your little monster hates my guts already?"
Neji refrained from sighing as his bird plunged on Naruto once again. The stupid thing had been fine as long as they'd been on a mission -- hunting together, as it were -- but now that they were done with Grass Country and going back home, it was back to the usual.
"It just does," he finally replied, when Naruto managed a harried "Well?" before being forced to drop off his tree to dodge the hawk's claws.
"Why don't you ask it?" Sakura replied as she bounced closer, looking at him curiously. "I thought you had this whole telepathic thing going on with it... at least that's what Lee-san told me."
"It's more empathic than telepathic," Neji replied soberly, and whistled sharply to call the bird back before it could unleash the chakra at the tip of its wings. It pretended not to hear him as it soared over the top of the trees. Damn the stupid feathered beast. At least it wasn't harassing Naruto anymore. "It isn't smart enough to share much in the way of actual thoughts," he muttered, rubbing at his temples.
At least he wasn't receiving random visions of his current partners as sexy birds of prey anymore, which was a welcome relief. It had been hard enough to have to smother dirty thoughts at every glimpse of Sasuke, Shikamaru and Sakura's shortish, bristly hair and Anko's long, floating coat. At least the bird seemed to think that Naruto wasn't nesting material at all, ever ever ever, but, for some reason, an egg-robber or something of the sort. Perhaps it still vaguely remembered being stolen away from its mother and her human partner as a tiny chick.
Neji had to admit that sometimes, Naruto came across as sort of... predatory.
Which wasn't a bad thing in a partner, because he was a predator himself and dangerous mates would better protect -- argh. Now he thought like the bird even when it wasn't there.
... Where was it anyway? He tried to reach for it, but the only things he got were 'around' and 'busy'. Oh well, he didn't need it right now, anyway; from its sense of intent, it was hunting again, and that meant one less rabbit out of his pay.
When they arrived back home, he wouldn't stop with a cold shower; he would ask the Hyuuga compound's cooks if they minded him helping in the meatlocker. And perhaps ask a medic-nin to prescribe something for hormonal disorders.
At least the stupid fluff-for-brains hadn't tried to hook him up with his own teammates yet.
Oh hell, no. Stupid, stupid, stupid. He glared at the bird as it considered the matter with all due seriousness.
...Bad crest. Baaad. Floppy. But good hunt. So... Maybe.
You're talking about Tenten, right? Tell me you're talking about Tenten.
The girl -- the female. Not Lee. Please not Lee. ... And if the bird said Gai, tonight Neji would eat poultry.
Oh, great. His bird couldn't tell male from female.
... male, then female, then male?
What the hell. Now his bird thought humans changed genders at random?
The bird fluffed itself up, offended. Change plumage color at random!
Neji flopped back on his bed, threw an arm across his eyes, and started laughing. The situation was just too absurd to do anything else.
Neji was awakened in the middle of the night by an insistent tugging on his comforter. Grumbling, he blinked at the bird. Usually when it wanted him awake, it landed on his head.
It chirped at him with harried annoyance, dragged the comforter on the floor, and proceeded to slash it open with wide flaps of chakra-hardened feathers.
Neji twitched, and glared death at the animal. Does it look like there's a mouse inside?
There was no mouse inside his comforter. There was nothing at all inside his comforter. Because the contents of said comforter were now all over his floor and his futon, and floating lazily in fluffy little bits all over the damn place.
The bird was briskly gathering geese down, its tiny mind entirely concentrated on one thing only.
And when Neji caught that thought, he swore again, and wondered why he hadn't guessed sooner. And then he left his bed and helped it fill the wastebasket the bird had somehow pulled up to its shelf, because there wasn't much else he could do.
In the morning, he sent his apologies to his teammates and asked them to please continue their training without him; he would join them soon. Of course, a whole half-hour later all three of them were peering through his bedroom door worriedly.
The bird glared at them and spread its wings threateningly, daring the trio to come closer from its nest on the highest shelf. Neji stared at his teammates and teacher blearily, and ushered them all outside the room, following in cautious steps.
"Neji? What's wrong?" Tenten asked. "It looks like there was a war in there, and you move like an old woman -- what happened?"
Lee looked horrified. "I cannot believe that your dear companion would ever attack you! Please tell us that Mister Downybutt isn't responsible for this!"
Neji muttered, "No, it's just sympathy pains."
The trio stared at him in total incomprehension. Neji groaned, not so inwardly. He really, really didn't want to explain why he moved like a cowboy this morning.
"What? Mister Downybutt is a GIRL?!"
In the bedroom, the bird fluffed up its wings, glared at the door, and settled back down on its egg, arranging the geese down just so.