Hinata feels Neji move before she sees him, feels the change in gravity, the way the air shifts with his chakra. By the time she catches sight of him, her father has pushed him aside to take his place. Blood pours from his mouth and Hinata cannot move. Neji goes stiff when Hiashi speaks to him, voice the weakest it's ever been, but Hinata can't make out what he says past the rushing in her ears.
"Hinata, I'm—" Naruto scrapes out an apology, voice racked with guilt, but Hinata is only focused on making herself move, taking her father's weight from his shoulder. Neji helps to hold him steady as she lowers him carefully to the ground. He's heavier than she expected. When she tries to heal him, angry with herself for not having focused more on medical ninjutsu, he catches her trembling hands with his own and holds them close to his chest.
"You'll do me proud." He sounds certain, his eyes turn to Neji's. "Both of you. I should have—" His words are broken by a wet, heavy cough that seems to seize his whole body. Hinata has never seen her father look so frail. It's been many years since she's felt truly helpless, but the feeling is back, now, and stronger than ever.
"Father—dad, please—" She hates the desperate tear of her own voice.
"I see you now, Hinata." More painful than his late acknowledgement is the weight of all that goes unsaid between them. All that they no longer have time for. "Tell your sister—"
"I know. I know, I will." Hinata has never wanted so badly to deny something. To refuse, so that he's forced to tell Hanabi himself, but—
Hinata feels her father's chest rise and fall for the last time under her hands.
She doesn't know how much time has passed when Neji draws her back from her father's chest, where she cries and clings the way she hasn't done since before she entered the academy. For a moment, she thinks loss has broken her mind, mistaking Neji's hand on her shoulder for the phantom weight of her father's touch, but the delusion passes quickly. Letting go of her father's hands makes her knuckles ache and grief finds new depths in her chest. It makes it feel real, as though letting go of him means he's truly gone. It's a childish thought not grounded in reality, one she has no time for, and yet she can't stop her heart from collapsing in on itself.
"Hinata-sama," Neji holds her steady by the shoulders. In his eyes, she sees more focus than she knows how to handle. "I understand how it feels, but—"
"I need to be strong."
Hinata has worked hard to find her strength and knows she's no longer the feeble girl she once was, but she's never felt weaker than she does in this moment. She closes her eyes and thinks of what Hanabi and Kurenai have always seen in her, even before she saw it in herself. She thinks of her father telling her, without any trace of doubt in his voice, that she'll make him proud, and tries to find that same certainty within herself.
Catching her breath feels impossible, but somehow, her voice is steady when she speaks.
Hinata calls Kō forward and watches as he carries her father's body away from the fighting. It brings her some small peace of mind to know that if they survive this, she will at least be able to see him off to the afterlife with due care.
Then, the world slips away.
Neji has known since he was small that his dreams do not carry the same privilege of possibility as his peers'. He's always been taught that his dreams are meant to remain just that, nothing more. To give them any more credence would only lead to frustration and anger. A loss of control.
It's a truth he's long-since accepted. One woven so deep into his subconscious that no dream has ever been able to fool him, even when he wished it would. In the weeks that followed his father's death, he'd wanted nothing more than a few minutes where he could believe the weight of his father's arms around him was real and know he wasn't alone, but no matter how deep he slept, he never lost sight of his reality.
Not until now.
Hizashi lives. He is proud, unflinching as ever and unburdened by subservience. Allowed the freedom to live as the great man Neji has always known him to be in his heart. He has no way of knowing it now, but this is the thing that will hurt most when he wakes.
Hinata is there, as she always is, always has been, but she—they—are different. She belongs to him, not in the way a man belongs to his clan, a shinobi to their village, or a tool to the hand that wields it. No, she belongs to him in the way his heart has belonged to her for longer than even he's known.
Their lives stretch out before them, and neither their children nor any others who bear the name Hyūga are forced to live with their fate burned into their skin. The thought of such a thing never crosses his mind, but sometimes, Neji catches sight of his bare forehead in the mirror and feels as though he's missed a step.
Longing—for his father, for honour, for love—has shaped so much of who he is. When Neji wakes and looks back on his dream, he'll struggle to recognize himself without it.
Hinata's grief is still fresh when she wakes. In the space of seconds, her world, her parents, the boy of her dreams, all of it slips away before her eyes and she's left to mourn twice-over. She's spent years living in service of her dreams. Dreams of being stronger, of being noticed, of being loved, all of which feel foolish now as she begins to understand a truth that's evaded her until now.
Some dreams will only ever be that.
Low-key coming off the worst year of my life and finally finding the time to write this fic that's been trapped in my head for months while I warm up to get back to my Unbound series 💜 Not sure how long this will be, I've got an outline, but that doesn't actually mean much?
Honestly, this ship is totally self-indulgent for me, I love them so much. I know the fandom for them is small, but I still hope there's a few other shippers out there who will enjoy this half as much as I will ✨