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The number of people who wish Naruto could give up on Sasuke grows exponentially every day; Neji tells Naruto one day over an evening training exercise, noting the way that the scent of cigarettes - a new bad habit, he supposes - manages to make Naruto's presence even more difficult to miss than before.

Naruto grins ruefully - Neji's eyes have only ever missed two things, and it’d have been completely impossible for either of them to be the dark circles creeping up around the other ninja's eyes - and says,

"I don't want him to be the one person I couldn't save."

It's only years shut up in the Branch House, surrounded by eyes watching through walls and from impossible distances, that allows him to inhale and exhale normally and look straight ahead, away from Naruto, away from Konohagakure, up through the sky, chasing a bluebird. It's hardly as though this is the deed that defines you, he wants to protest. It was you who brought me out of the darkness, taught me how weak my eyes could be, had become, and where the light was; without you, Hinata-sama would have remained a quivering wreck, useless to everyone, most of all herself. Even though the Hyuuga prodigy doesn't say anything, Naruto puts his hand on a shoulder, rests it there for three breaths. Neji goes completely still, tries not to breathe; Naruto feels him stiffen and with a laugh claps him on the shoulder twice, saying,

"Or, okay, it's just I don't want the only person I couldn't save to be the one who mattered the most."

Neji knows it's melodramatic to feel like all of the wind has been kicked out of his lungs, knows even Hinata-sama would be able to accept that kind of declaration for what it is - the truth, as Naruto sees it. Still, he can't help thinking to himself how terribly painful it can be to be one of Naruto's successes; that the truth of the matter is that something that fundamentally altered the course of your entire life was to the person who changed you not even a genuine choice, just something that happened because there was nothing else but to do it.

Number one ninja at taking the piss out of people, Neji would say if he was inclined to make jokes, but he isn't and never has been. Instead he continues to sit unmoving beside Naruto, staring blankly over the remains of Konoha. Over in the Hyuuga family compound someone is cooking – wisps of smoke rise up into the air, dissipate like a pointless argument. Naruto's thought process is easy to read because his eyes move to match it; to the faces of the hokages that came before him, to where the Uchiha clan used to live, out beyond the borders toward Sasuke. Neji doesn't have time for traitors or myths, only heroes, and he allows his eyes to unfocus briefly, sitting still and placid in the twilight until all he can see is an outline of orange and yellow.