Title: To Where It Takes Me

Author: Kenhime

Genre: Drama and Romance, with some Humor on the side

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto. The decision of who gets to be with who should better be left in the hands of the creator Kishimoto-sensei. I just write the possible pairings.

Author's Note: A Neji x Hinata pairing.  This is the first possible chapter fic for Naruto and dedicated to my Neji-obsessed friend who's also a fan of Hinata too.  ^^; Well, actually, I had this in mind for awhile.  I suppose the inspiration came from reading all those books about arranged marriages (damn summer school reading).  I wanted to explore the complex relationship between the betrothed and also the characters of Neji and Hinata.  Both of them are wonderful characters that have the ability to improve.  I hope to see them again in the future, matured and stronger.  ^_^ Again, I try to be as IC as possible, although it could be a little OC for the sake of the story.

If you feel icky about this relationship, then you can just press the back button.  I, for one, find the Naruto and Hinata pairing more plausible, but this is a thoughtful story I wanted to experiment on and write.

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Chapter One: A Destiny of Chains

                The day had not dawned yet, and there were small tints of orange and red streaking the dull blue sky.  The air was still foggy and cold, but abundant of fresh air.  In the middle of this forest, I could smell the sweet dew and the trees, along with everything that made up the aroma of nature. 

                I felt the rhythm of each move, cool chakra ebbing in and out of my body.  My forehead was lined with beads of sweat that slid down, sometimes blurring my vision, but I didn't wipe them away or else I would break the beat of my hits.  I couldn't feel the strain or the pain of overused muscles, just the flow of movement.

                With each perfect hand stroke and each well executed kick came an image that flashed in my mind like a slideshow, spurring me on to continue.  Images of my dark past, the reviving present, and the vague future.  Images of my father smiling wistfully at me, the unyielding hard face of the Hyuga leader, the determined gaze of Hinata that mirrored Naruto's and Lee's, and finally of myself staring at the skies, speaking words that set the wheels of fate in motion once again.  The sequence of flashbacks ended and I finished my long combo of taijutsu with the ending form of the Hyuga style.  The trees that had surrounded me before suddenly exploded, the pieces of bark raining down on me.  To my dissatisfaction, however, only chucks of the trees had been damaged and they remained standing.  I had set a standard to pulverize the top half of all the trees with my jutsu. 

                My body screamed for rest and for once, I paid heed to it.  As I slumped against the tree, shaking the trunk slightly with my weight, I brought my hands in front of me, staring at them with morbid fascination.  Blisters stung in the inside of my hand, crimson smearing across pale fingers.  I have never felt this sore, tired ache since the battle with Naruto, not even during the strenuous training the clan required of me when I was a toddler.  Not that I was complaining, for I had long known before of the consequences, but it was a new experience to me.  So this was what Lee went through day by day, the reason of those deep reddish black scars that ran from his arms to the very tips of his fingers.  Once, I had scoffed at those scars.  Now, ironically, I'm beginning to have them.

                I curled my fingers into my palm and looked up.  "…Father, am I changing?" I questioned softly.  "Are you watching me?"

                A bird fluttered its wings and flew above me into the misty sky, as if answering my questions.  Perhaps he was watching me all this time.  I hoped I grew stronger, though it was too early to decide.  But I definitely knew that something inside of me was changing.  I felt that time had just begun again for me, and days seemed to be just a little brighter, with eyes opening with every new possibility and lesson.

                As I walked to the light, the shadow behind me became more and more prominent and clear.  Looking at it had made me realize what kind of shadow it was—my past self, as if I had begun to realize who I was and what I wanted to change.  Before, my character was difficult to deal with, which I myself understood very well.  Most of the Hyuga clan had come to regard me with wary eyes—not that I cared much for it, so encompassed was I in bitterness.  I knew my own capabilities.  The blood that ran through my veins was the marking brilliance of my superior clan, yet I was branded as a branch member, all because of the preordained fate of one minute that separated the older brother and the younger.  In the day, my self-contained and confident persona masked the nights that had seen me sit in the dark, fingering the symbol on my forehead, the symbol of chains.

                I was surely a loser back then, a bird who desired freedom yet fitted smugly in its own cage.

                In that match, Naruto of all people—the jokester, the outcast, the loser—had made me realize that.  The flaming blue eyes that clashed with my colorless ones, the powerful tempest that turned the tide and the valuable words he had given me had shown me what I had thought impossible.  The metal chains were tightly wound around me, but it didn't mean I couldn't inch closer to the key that was in front of me all this time.  The fight was not won by coincidence; it was because Naruto…Naruto was truly strong.  Someday, I would be that strong, too, living and striving towards a goal to break the chains of destiny.

                No…in fact, destiny was my own creation, the paradoxical freedom of my being.

                Father, I think I understood you now.  You were right that it is truly possible to find your own destiny, were you not?  Was it not too late to decide, and not too late to learn how to fly?  I still didn't know the answers to these questions, but as I continued to walk this path, I would find out someday.  Watch me, Father, as you surround me like the wide expanse of the sky, watch as I spread my wings.  I too had a goal to reach, to fight, to live for…to be strong enough so I wouldn't lose to anyone—in both mind and body.  One day, I would catch up to Naruto, and he would not find me the loser of the battle.

                The day was dawning.  I would continue training until the end of this day and then the next.  On and on, I relentlessly kept going, striving to get stronger out of this training I had set for myself.  No one would help me train and I wouldn't let them either.  Just mastering the Byukugen, the Gentle Fist Style, the Kaiten, the Sixty-Four Hands of Hakke wasn't enough.  I needed stamina, endurance, willpower.  In comparison to Lord Hiashi's Kaiten, I have yet to build my chakra.           Today was not as hard the one before, numbed I was to my body's pain.  As the days fell into winter, the sun wasn't beating down on me as ruthlessly as it did before. 

                Soon, noon also passed into afternoon.  That was when I felt a familiar presence appear behind me, speaking incredulously to me.

                "Neji?  You're still training?  For five straight days, you've pushed yourself to the limits.  You should rest for goodness sakes." 

                I blinked, releasing the strain and chakra on my eyes and slowly easing the sensitive tense muscles around them.  I wouldn't stop training now, and cared less to hear her chide me on my stubbornness. 

                "What do you want, Tenten?"  I didn't need to use my Byukugen to know she had crossed her arms and frowned at my rudeness.  I knew she was used to it anyway. 

                "The main house has sent me to find you and give you their order to return home right now."

                What did the clan want of me this time?  A natural scowl crossed my face at the mention of the main family, but I dared not to disobey their orders.  "Fine," I turned away from the training logs to face her.  "I'll walk with you back."

                "Thanks." She smiled in relief, as though she was afraid I would be defiant.  Perhaps, I would.

                The day was nearly ending, and the brilliant blue color of the sky has grown into deep orange violet.  As the December breeze brushed past us, I heard Tenten shiver.

                "You should've brought along a jacket," I muttered.

                She glanced at me.  "What?"

                "It's nothing."

                We reached her place without another word and with an appreciative word and a goodnight, she left me.  I stared at the brightly lit windows and could almost hear her announce that she was home.  I turned away to the direction of the clan's main house.  What the main family called upon me for, I didn't care much of.  I didn't care to even stop to clean my wounds and dress appropriately for the occasion.  They wanted me immediately anyway.  The orders of the main family were inescapable and unquestioned, whatever personal intentions I had in mind.  By the time I had reached the clan assembly room, it was early evening.

                The number of people present surprised me.  They all glanced up at my arrival except my mother, who sat on one side of the room, silently staring at the floor.  My suspicions grew, and I felt my stomach tightening.  Miss Hinata's family were seated on the opposite side as well and the head of the clan, Lord Hiashi, in the middle.  What was this about?  When I reached the center of the room, I bowed respectfully.

                "Lord Hiashi and family.  Mother."

                The clan leader made an acknowledging nod and cleared his throat.  "You have seen life through fourteen and a half years, Neji.  Your abilities are outstanding, and the blood of the Hyuga runs thick through you.  After much discussion, the main family, with the consent of your mother, had come to a decision."  Before he could continue, Miss Hinata abruptly stood up from her seat.

                Startled, I watched her eyes begin to tear as she stammered out, "Please, Father, excuse me."  She didn't even wait for her father's approval and ran past me out of the room.  What was it that made Miss Hinata, the pacifist of the family, suddenly interrupt her father and leave like this?  My hand became a hard fist as I awaited his next words, the gamut of possibilities going through my mind.  Were they going to send me away?  Were they going to kill my mother?  What had happened the last five days I was gone?  And my questions were answered in a way I couldn't have imagined.

                "We have betrothed you to Hinata."

                Furious chakra rushed up to my eyes and I kept my head low lest I would be punished for looking at the head of the clan with killing intent.  An arranged marriage.  The omnipotence of the Hyuga clan.  While I had never paid much attention to girls, the main family had once again succeeded in stealing another freedom away from me.  My destiny had been decided to coincide with Miss Hinata's destiny.

                "Neji?" I didn't answer my mother's inquiring voice.

                "I shall speak to him alone.  Please leave the room."  I heard the shuffling of feet at Lord Hiashi's command and then it was quiet.  There was a sound of creaking as my uncle lifted himself from his throne.  I could sense him staring at the portraits of our ancestors.  His presence felt old and weary, quite different from the strict and traditional aura he normally held.

                "For the brilliant blood of the Hyuga to be running through the veins of a child who cannot be heir…The separation of powers was as Hizashi had predicted…fallible.  Please understand this arrangement."

                Why was he trying to persuade me when he didn't have to, as though I would sacrifice my life to defy his wishes?  It was surprising that he would give me an opening to opinion.  Frankly, to accept every word he said without complaint, to accept destiny as how it was…  I looked up and snapped, "No, I don't understand."

               He looked over his shoulder and sighed.  "This marriage is to help the tense relationship between the main and branch families, Neji.  It is to pass your blood to the next line of heirs.  There is no one more fitting to be the husband of the Hyuga's heiress, not even within the main house."

                His words flared my anger to a greater height.  "Am I to be used as a breeding pet?  To take away my choices so that the main family can continue to be successful?  Bitter as I am for not being born into the main family, I am also glad to be proof that a branch family member could surpass the main family.  I'll take it as far as continuing this blood in the branch family, just to spite you, Lord Hiashi."

                "With your marriage," he fought back passively, "the main and branch families will join together.  For years, there had always been two houses, one protecting the other, but this will change.  And…I…"  He said no more for moments.

                His silence brought me to prod, "What, Lord Hiashi?"

                He slowly turned around to face me, but he didn't meet my gaze.  "I don't have a son to take my place.  All these years, I've never repaid the debt I owed to Hizashi.  I felt this was a chance to take you in as a son-in-law and guide you as your father—my brother—would have done."

                With eyes wide, I was rendered speechless.

                He hesitantly patted my head.  "I know it's late, but…I wanted you to become my successor…I truly believe your father wanted that…"

                I was quiet.  I had known the traditional clan practiced arranged marriages for the sake of the bloodlines, but for it to happen so quickly to me, it was unforeseen.  Was I willing to accept this engagement?  As successor, the wistful wish of my father, I would become stronger under my uncle's guidance.  It was a way to the answer I have sought for.  I had no interest in girls at the moment, but I knew the duties of the husband in the family.  That was enough.

                I caught his questioning gaze and asked, "When are Miss Hinata and I to be married?"

                He smiled.  "When Hinata turns sixteen, the age of adulthood."  Then, unusually, a smirk crossed his face.  "I'm sure you can wait.  You used to like little Hinata when you two were toddlers."

                I looked away, trying to keep the blood rushing to my face.  Old man.  "That was a long time ago."

                After little discussion, I was dismissed from the main house.  Soon, he told me, he would pass on the succession techniques onto me.  Walking home, I felt my blood boil with excitement at the prospect of becoming stronger.  I would become the strongest, undefeatable.  To step forward in such a path was something I had never dreamed of, even less thought of.

                I became alert when my ears picked up on sounds of rustling.  It was not unusual to suspect enemy ninjas roaming around the village at this time of night.  Then I heard a soft sob break out and I relaxed my posture.  There was no danger, just someone crying.  It didn't take intuition to know who would hide in the forests to cry.  I used to hear her on many nights, but never came to give her comfort.  I couldn't even comfort myself back then.  Nowadays, the times she ran away were less frequent—well, very rare, since the fight with me.  I supposed I should see her, knowing the cause of her weeping.

                Like a ninja born and bred, I chose the faster way of leaping on the thick branches of trees to get to her.  Soon enough, I found her in plain view curled up against the base of an old tree.  I raised an eyebrow at her choice of location.  This was the practice area the rookie genin ninja frequented, where three old but sturdy logs stood ground in the middle.  This wasn't the usual place she would be in.

                Now that I had found her, I changed my mind.  Maybe I should just hide to see what was going on instead of scaring her.  As I watched her sob, I felt no pity for her.  I wasn't being disdainful, but I had gained a respect for her, long after we had fought, and I realized what she was trying to do.  I remember calling her that weak little girl, who foolishly stood up against me, even though I could've killed her.  I told her to forfeit as a warning, but she wouldn't.  Instead, she had to face the fact that I was trying to kill her—knowing it was the only chance I had to free myself of the burden without being punished for it.  She was so pathetically kind that she didn't even use the curse seal to stop me.  Her strength was incredibly weak, the representative power of the main house.  Miss Hinata had lost from the very moment we were matched up in the preliminary battles.  Yet she kept on standing up, her determination wasted on the belief that she could still fight.  I couldn't understand why she was so influenced by Naruto's loud mouth.  Every word he said went straight to her heart, hardening her timid eyes with a never before seen courage.

                "There is no need to suffer anymore.  Let it go!" I didn't want to kill her.  Killing a weakling like her would shame me.

                Her voice was hoarse and barely coherent; however; the strength in her tone was startling.  "That's not true, brother Neji.  Because…I can see it…It's not me at all."  I felt the veins around my eyes tighten unconsciously.  "The person lost and suffering within the destiny of the main and branch houses is you."

                How truthful and painful her words were…that for the first time in the fight, I rushed at her, wanting to shut that mouth of hers forever.  You would never, ever understand, I screamed at her silently, what did you know?

                "You're not the only one that's special.  Hinata too…she's suffered as much as you!  A member of the main family…but not acknowledged, trying her best to change herself…Thinking that as she was coughing blood while fighting you!"

                That boy was annoyingly clueless about the differences between the main and branch families, but looking back, he was right in many ways.  She tried, even when her chakra points were closed.  She kept on moving, even when she was not fit to fight anymore.  Because of Naruto, she would become stronger until the day would arrive when she would surpass all expectations.  But it seemed that I was the only one of the clan who knew that.  Her father had not seen the fight, her true potential.  He had engaged her off to me as if she had no power whatsoever, as if she was just a pawn to get me.  Long ago, I used to see her train extensively everyday with Lord Hiashi, but for the past three or four years she had been wandering around by herself.  I didn't see her at the dojo; instead I saw her little sister Miss Hanabi, breathlessly holding that kunai as she faced her father.  My uncle ignored her as if she was not even part of the family.

                But even if she was crying right now, in the pain the cage cast upon us, it would turn out all right, since…

                I nimbly landed on the floor and walked over to her.  "Miss Hinata," I called out, "What are you doing here?"

                She glanced up at me, tears streaming down at her face.  "B-brother Neji…" she stuttered out, red with embarrassment.

                "Sitting here and crying all night would do nothing," I said.  "You should go home."

                "I'm—I'm sorry."

                There was nothing to be sorry about, I wanted to say.  Instead, I turned away from her.  "It's getting cold…If anything, I'll walk you back."  It was a duty of the fiancé.

                Wiping her tears with her arm, she stood up by herself.  "Th-thank you, brother Neji."  As we walked in silence, she fidgeted with her fingers, a habit of hers that would probably stay with her for a long while.  "Umm…brother Neji?"

                "Yes?"

                "So…you accepted the engagement?"  Her quiet voice was timid.

                 "Yeah…"  I didn't glance at her expression, but I felt her head droop down beside me.  I didn't dare to ask.

                But in the end, I didn't have to.  "I…I—brother Neji—I l-like someone."

                "Someone?"

                "Yes…someone…" She said nothing more and I let her be.  That explained why she was crying, but what could I have done to comfort her?  No matter how much both of us would fight against it, the Hyuga family would stand obstinately to their decision.  Marriage was a destiny that cannot be chosen for the Hyuga.  Her silence told me she knew that as well.

                We reached back to her place and for the second time, I saw the girl go through the door to home.  To be blunt, I may be an arrogant and condescending man, but I wasn't so much a bastard as to leave girls walking by themselves in the night.  Besides, since that incident with the Cloud, I didn't want another kidnapping and another life stolen.

                The house was silent and the lights slightly dim when I came home.  I found her sitting neatly on the couch, waiting for me.  My mother used to be the subservient sort of a woman, typical of the Hyuga branch house.  But as the years had gone by without the support of a husband, she had grown to be strong to support both of us.  She never questioned the times I missed dinner or even when I wasn't home.  All she would give me was an encouraging smile and told me to live up to the Hyuga name.  In a small way, I was glad to help the financial situation with the salary I earned as a genin.

                But at that moment, I wasn't feeling quite as appreciative.  Especially when she was smiling at me like that—no, she must have been positively grinning.  Something told me that she wasn't thinking about how proud she was of the sudden raise in the Hyuga ladder, since she never had that sort of ambition, nor was she really thinking about Father.  I didn't want to find out the truth, but it was out of due respect that I greeted her.

                "Hello, Mother."

                She gestured for me to sit next to her.  "I'm proud of you, Neji.  If your father was to see you like this…I'm sure he's smiling down at us right now." This was the typical sort of words I heard day by day, but I dreaded for what she would say next. 

                "Getting married to little Miss when she turns sixteen!  These next three years, I expect you to make a man out of yourself!  Both your father and I would rest easy, knowing that we had raised our boy right.  I had waited for this moment for so long, ever since I heard from your father that you said Miss Hinata was cute." She giggled.  "That look on your face when you saw your cousin for the first time was unforgettable…!" She then sighed.  "I knew this day would come."

                The sudden change of personality from just minutes ago when she was still in the conference room was not atypical, but I had never associated my mother to a schoolgirl until now.  I couldn't stop turning red, feeling the veins around my eyes rise.  I had mastered the Byukugen up the point that it would naturally appear in times of extreme emotion—mostly anger.  However, this time, it was a new feeling of extreme embarrassment.  "M-Mother…"

                She raised an eyebrow at the reaction on my face, not at all afraid, and twisted the knife a little more.  "What, you don't remember?  I remember you used to play with her all the time, and always looked for her.  She was a shy little thing, such an adorable child.  She's the perfect daughter-in-law!" Her tone was overwhelmingly dulcet.

                It was one of those few times when my young age suddenly hit me in the face.  If I had been older and more experienced, I wouldn't have been in a predicament like this.  And thus, it was also one of those rare times when I wanted to bolt.  I had enough of girls giggling over me, but my mother too?  It made me wonder why Ibiki, the torture and interrogation captain, never thought of this effective form of torture.

                "That was long ago, Mother…things change," I tried to defend my dignity.

                "Ah, yes, and that one time when Miss Hinata…"

                Oh, it was hopeless.

                Too exhausted to fight back, or even listen, I lifted myself out of the seat and trudged to the stairs, waving a tired hand over my shoulder along the way. "I'm going to take a shower.  Goodnight, Mother…"

                I perceived the disproving frown she sent at my back.  "Neji!"

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Again, this was just an experimental writing, which means, I am wholly uncertain as to how to end it or even continue it.  Please tell me what you think and leave a review.  ^_^

On another thing, I would like to address the writers of Naruto fanfiction.  Recently, I've been seeing a lot of the yaoi writers making responses to the flames…more specifically one.  It seems like one person is sending the same flame to everyone.  To put in my say for that, it's not right to flame a person for writing yaoi.  I am a hetero pairing writer, but I believe this community should be maintained peacefully between the yaoi, the non-yaoi, and the people in the middle.  I don't want to see another battle ensuing (like the Gundam Wing fandom *shudders*).  So, please, readers, help keep the peace and just read what you choose—don't play with the flame.  =)