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The Choices Between Friends

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Neji liked the grungy little music shop. None of the other people he knew came to this part of town. He could just rummage through the old albums and newer CDs without having to be polite or worry who was watching him. People still watched him, but it wasn't to see if he might make a mistake. 'Perfect Hyuuga', they called him that and then watched and waited to see if he would prove them wrong.

He let out the sigh he'd been holding all day, the moment he entered the noisy cluttered little space. The blond behind the counter looked up from a magazine and nodded in acknowledgment. Neji nodded back. It was their standard greeting. Neji was in here a few times a week, whenever he could get away from school activities and the estate. Oh how he hated the estate. He pushed those thoughts away and forced himself to relax.

He started in the rock section and meandered around, ending up looking at the new pics on the wall. Someone always put up new pictures of music groups or just other interesting pictures. They were part of the reason he liked the place. Maybe it was the blond who was always looking at magazines...

Neji didn't care. He just liked to look. He got lost in some of those pics. There were times when he had to take his notebook out and write, the pictures got to him that much. He didn't feel like writing today, he was drained. He pulled out the small sketch book he always kept in his satchel, found a less cluttered space on the old couch, pushed some of the papers to the side, sat down, and just started to draw.

"Hey Airhead!" Kiba's usual greeting rang out loud over the music as he strode into the store.

Naruto looked up and grinned. "Hey Dogface."

Kiba stopped in his tracks. "Damn! Hot, smart, and artistic?!?" He was staring at the long haired brunette half laying on the couch with his sketch pad on the arm of it. The charcoal in his hand moved furiously across the page.

Naruto looked over at the other man and acted nonchalant. He was always aware of what the brunette was doing when he was here, even if it seemed like he was completely uninterested, he really was enraptured by every move the man made. "Yeah, and rich too I suppose."

Kiba raised a questioning eyebrow. Naruto motioned with a tilt of his head and left the counter for the back of the shop. Kiba followed. They passed the subject of their musing and he looked up at the sound of their footsteps. The irises of his eyes were such a pale lavender that his eyes almost appeared pupil-less. Kiba shivered when their eyes met. No one, man or woman should ever be that pretty.

He didn't know it, but Naruto was seconding that thought a moment later when the pale eyes met his. Naruto nodded to the man. It was the only communication they had had, beyond when Naruto would ring up a purchase or two for him.

Genma was in the back as usual. "Taking your break now, eh?" He grinned evilly at Kiba. "Well, don't make too big a mess. Oh, and don't get too loud either."

Naruto rolled his eyes and Kiba glared. Genma was always implying that they were a couple. Naruto secretly believed that it was because Genma found them both attractive and the thought of them together even more attractive. The older brunette stuck the little stir stick from his coffee into his mouth and headed towards the front of the shop.

"Your boss is a perv, Nar."

Naruto nodded. "Yeah, I know."

Kiba waited for Naruto to get his dinner, ramen heated up and they sat down at the little table. They had a clear view of the couch from here and the back of the pale eyed man's head as he continued to draw. Naruto nodded towards him briefly after his first slurp of the hot noodles. "That bag he carries, it's got a crest on it." He took another bite as Kiba tried to remember what the bag looked like. "It looks like one of those private college crests, ya' know?"

Kiba nodded. The guy was always in black pants and an untucked long sleeve button up shirt. "So that's a school uniform, without the jacket or tie?" Naruto nodded. "So what? Is he slummin' or something?"

"I don't know. Maybe he just wants to get away from the richies and see what the rest of us are like." Naruto finished his ramen noisily. "He writes and draws almost every time he comes here. Maybe it's for inspiration or something."

Kiba snorted. He was starting to get an idea, one Naruto wouldn't like, but could probably be drawn into if he did it right. That of course would take brains, something Kiba didn't much credit himself with. "Maybe we should show him what 'we' are like down here? Maybe we could inspire him more." Kiba used his only slightly sly voice. He would just get the thought into the blond's head and then get Shikamaru to help him plan the rest when he met the only college student he knew later that night.

"What do you mean?" Naruto asked warily. Not certain he wanted to know, but with Kiba, too much information was better than not enough. Naruto enjoyed the artist's visits to the shop, even if they never spoke and he didn't want to do anything that might jeopardize that. He looked forward to the afternoons and Saturday mornings when he could steal glances at that beautiful face.

"Well, he obviously likes our kinda music, right?" Kiba was baiting the hook. The other nodded a little. "Doubt if his uppity friends are into grunge and alternative, right?" Naruto was nodding his blond head a little more now.

Kiba held back the smile. "Well, we've got that big, underground rock bash comin' up......might be something he'd really like ta' go to," Naruto looked a little shocked, but was processing and swallowing Kiba's logic. "Maybe we could figure out a way to invite 'im to it." He left it at that. Naruto's overactive imagination would provide the rest. He knew his friend well.

The blue eyes were a little misted as the blond walked past Neji. It caught Neji's attention. He was in full artist mode at the moment, caught up in the feeling of creating, of capturing his current mood on paper. He turned and his eyes followed the blond as he stepped up the little step and around the counter. The spiky headed brunette left the shop, even as the older brunette went back to the back, with only a sideways glance at Neji.

The man always made Neji feel like the last cookie on a plate in front of a hungry dog. He shook off that feeling and stared at the blond, wanting to hold onto the feeling he'd gotten when he'd looked up into those big blue, thoughtful eyes. The other man was leaning on the counter, lost in thought as Neji took out his colored chalk and began to draw him.

It was late when he finished his last portrait. He'd done six good ones and two that were crap. He tore out the bad ones and put them in the back of the book; he'd look at them later and try to decide what was wrong with them. He got up and had to stretch to relieve the tension in his back and shoulders from sitting in such an odd position for so long. It was late, it was dark outside, and the blond man seemed to be getting ready to close up. Neji yawned and put his things in his satchel.

He hadn't bought anything today. He always felt a little guilty for enjoying the place and not doing anything to support it. They seemed to do a decent amount of business, but still, small businesses were hard to keep open. Unfortunately for Neji, his uncle had insisted that he major in business, so he knew the stats. He cast about briefly for something, anything to purchase quickly, so he wouldn't hold them up. He saw a black T-shirt that had picture of a lone tree and a headstone on it. It was dark, but he liked dark, and even if he never wore it, he liked it. He picked one up in his size quickly and made his way to the counter.

The blond stopped sweeping. He propped the broom against a cd rack and got back into his normal place. He rang Neji up without talking, like he always did. Neji had always liked that about him. He never intruded into Neji's thoughts with empty small talk. He'd heard the man chat away with other patrons, but with him it was different. This time though, Neji wanted something more. More of an interaction. He put the money on the counter as he flipped his satchel open, reached in, and withdrew his second favorite portrait of the man in front of him. He laid it on the counter without another word, but he did smile, just before he turned and left with his new T-shirt in hand.

He hadn't watched the man tonight, hadn't even stolen an occasional glance, because he'd felt the man looking at him all night. He was afraid of an uncomfortable moment if their eyes had met. Naruto heard him rise from the couch and looked up from his sweeping, just in time to watch as the pale-eyed god stretched. He saw the way the muscles of his forearms corded just below the rolled up sleeves. He wished the shirt had been shorter, he could imagine the hard toned abs beneath it.

You could have knocked Naruto over with a feather when this gorgeous man laid a picture of him on the counter and then smiled... SMILED, at Naruto. It was like having the moon shine just for you, just on you. Naruto's heart stopped. He couldn't speak, he just stared dumbly at the spot where the man had been standing, for several minutes after he'd left.