Title: To Where It Takes Me

Author: Kenhime

Genre: Drama and Romance

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.  *Neji-like snort* If Neji/Hina is really a possible pairing…but ah, it's all right with me.  ^^

Author's Note: Okay, I know I said that was it, but I couldn't help writing this chapter.  All this time, you've known about what Neji's thinking, but how about Hinata's side of the story?  ^_^ Thus, I bring to you the epilogue in Hinata's POV.  BEWARE: LOTS OF FLUFF that will make you scream, "My god, but they're cousins!"  ^^;;; Believe me, I was blushing hard as I wrote it.  And NO, this is NOT a lemon!

I've written this as a thank you to all you faithful readers and to rest your minds with some more-than-usual fluff.  Perhaps it would serve as a better ending than that last part about the rings.  Plus, you will find some blatant title meaning here, OOC Hinata (hey, she's changed!), a cameo with Shino and Kiba, and better due respect to the one and only Naruto.  Hmm…he always ends up as the side character, ne?  Oh well, I did tribute one story solely to him.  Hopefully that makes up for it.  ^^;;;;;;;;;;

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Special Chapter: The Road to Where It Takes Me (^_^)

                The day was incredibly windy, with the cloth flaps of the ramen stand flying in and out.  Thankfully, we were able to protect our food from the dust that rose from the dirt road and still talk over the whistling noises that the high winds produced.

                Two years was not an insignificant amount of time—things changed rapidly in Konoha.  I would not have thought that in those two years, I would become recognized as leader of my clan, engaged to my cousin Hyuga Neji.  So did my teammates, Inuzuka Kiba and Aburame Shino, whom exploded upon the unexpected news of my upcoming marriage.  More specifically, it was Kiba who almost fell off his seat.

                "WHAT!?"  His dog echoed him with a loud bark. 

                Shino's reaction was that of a deadly and heavy silence that added greatly to my discomfort as I sat there, eating a reunion lunch with them.  I smiled shakily at my shocked friends.

                "Please, Kiba, not so loud…" I said.  He complied, but did not take the dumbfounded look off his face.

                "I can't believe it," he ejaculated, shaking his head.  "Have I been living under a rock or what?"

                "N-no, it's not that…"

                "Hinata." Shino's voice cut in suddenly, quieting the two of us.  His words, no matter how diminutive, had always demanded our attention back in our genin days to even now.  "How long have you had this engagement?"

                "Two years." My answer was not quietly received.  Kiba looked just about ready to jump again if it wasn't for the meaningful look Shino shot at him.  "I'm sorry for not telling you earlier," I apologized.  "But the engagement was to remain a secret among the clan members until the day of marriage neared."

                "No, it is ours to apologize for." For once, my taciturn teammate sounded almost regretful.  "If we had not been so busy with our work, then we could have known."

                "Yeah," Kiba agreed sadly, "Knowing you, you probably would've told us anyway.  But for the last two years, we've all but left you by yourself.  It must've been depressing to find that out for the first time.  Sorry, Hinata."

                "Yes, I am sorry as well," followed Shino.

                I had to smile.  Only they could truly understand the workings of my heart, even if there were no romantic feelings involved.  A thank you was underrated for what they had done for me.

                "So the marriage will be in three days," Kiba mused.  "Time goes by fast.  But aren't you a little too young?"

                "Traditionally, a Hyuga girl comes of age at sixteen, which is the perfect age for marriage," I replied.

                "But Hinata…don't you…" Kiba furrowed his eyebrows, and looked as if he was struggling within himself to find the words.  Shino lowered his head, reflecting the glare on his shades and darkening his expression.

                "Don't you feel trapped?" From the relieved expression on Kiba's face, Shino had asked the question that lingered in both of their minds.  With effort, I kept my face passive.

                "No."

                This time, both of them were silent.  It was awhile before we began conversing again, but it was strained and they felt just as willing as I to part.  I knew they didn't believe me, but this was my own decision.  My own choice.  They had to trust it.

                Brother Neji had always protected me in any way he could, save for my genin missions.  As a keenly perceptive girl, I knew how he felt.  It didn't show on his face or in his murmuring tone, but his heart was as open to me as that day of the preliminary battles.  By the way he spoke wordless comforts to me, the way he bought little gifts for me, showed that I was the wife for him, that my tiny presence completed his soul.  I was grateful to be engaged to a man of honor, the rightful heir destined to uphold our nobility, and perhaps, even glorify it more.  I was grateful to be protected by my sensitive and yet strong cousin, and to be held in such high esteem.

                Yet should I think I desire more?

                It was a difficult decision to choose your heart over your prudence, but I had managed to do it.  A dutiful wife should never leave her husband; this was a test of my integrity.  I cannot say that I do not love him, but I also cannot say that my heart belonged to him.  Indeed, we have forged a strong connection, but that did not constitute to love.  He loved me; I would keep my fidelity to him.  Maybe I would grow to love him, but that was something that took years and decades.  The boy named Naruto would fade into a memory of my younger days, a glimmering memory that would make me smile in content with all that it was.

                I desired nothing else.

                …Right…?

                "Hey Hinata!"

                Dread formed a bitter pool in the bottom of my stomach and my hands gripped the counter tightly.  I realized that this was the Ichiraku stand, a place he frequented as a customer.  I regretted instantly for staying to finish my ramen, for lingering before I had to go.  I turned around, pushing a weak smile to my lips.

                "N-naruto-kun."  My knees felt weak as he gave me a wide grin and sat down next to me.  He had grown taller over the years and even several girls have glanced and giggled his way, appreciating his looks.

                "Didn't expect you here," he said cheerfully as he gestured to the cook for the usual beef ramen.  "So how things are going for you, Hinata?"

                "Uh…w-well…" I was at a loss for words.  Should I tell him?  How would he receive it?  I hung my head, replying softly.

                "Huh?  What's that?"  He leaned closer to hear, so close that I could smell him and feel his body heat.  I blushed at the proximity, but my heart dropped at the thought that this would be the last time I could be near him like this—that I could feel for him.

                It hurt so much, and yet I managed to speak louder.  "I…I'm going to be married to Brother Neji in three days."

                The shocked expression on his face made my guilty heart leap briefly.  Then he broke into grin once more, patting me on the shoulder.  A tiny sad smile graced my lips as I looked back at him as the heart in me broke by this hidden rejection.  All the congratulatory words he had given me were lost by the excruciating pain that blossomed in my chest.  How long have I loved this boy?  I have lost count of the years.

                But not for one moment did he look jealous, or even acknowledge my crush.

                After a few light words and an invitation to my wedding, I walked away from him, my footfalls causing the dust in the road to rise behind me in small clouds. 

                One step forward… 

                My hair whipped about my face in the violent gusts of wind.

                A second step…third step…I continued on, counting my steps silently.  How many steps would it take to stop this torture?

                Fourth step…fifth step…  I started to choke. 

                S-sixth…seventh…  The tears made pip-plat sounds as it hit the floor. 

                "Wait…Hinata!" he called after me.  I stopped in my trail and turned my head slightly over my shoulder, trying to keep my voice leveled.

                "Yes, Naruto-kun?"

                He was unusually quiet.  "Can you turn and look at me?" 

                I did, not bothering to conceal the streaks on my face.  The dust clung to the wetness of my cheeks, making it even more visible to him, but I dared not to hide them.  He had to know…for the last time.

                "What is it?"

                "Did you remember…when I said that a person like you…I really like?"

                How could I not forget?  "Yes?"

                "You know, you're the first person who told me that I was strong." He smiled and looked down, his shoe making a little circle on the ground.  "I was really happy that you believed in me, because if it wasn't for you, I would've lost meaning."  Before I knew it, I was wrapped in his tight embrace.  My eyes widened and my cheeks flamed.  "Maybe if I have had the chance, I could've asked you to go out with me," he murmured.

                I blinked, startled.  "I…I…Naruto-kun…"

                He let me go and gently wiped my tears away.  "The man who's going to marry you is lucky…very lucky.  But Neji's a good man."  He smirked.  "A little stupid and arrogant, but good, like Sasuke."  In the background, the chef called him, for his ramen was ready.  As he turned away, he said to me something that I would remember for a long time.

                "Don't change, Hinata.  When your heart turns green to gold like the forests, I hope it will always stay gold—timeless—for him.  And I'll like it a lot if you can keep on calling me Naruto-kun." 

                What a quirk of fate for him to tell me this…  But my heart was lifted from its heavy weight.  I watched him talk with the chef in cheerful banter, his blond head bobbing as he ate, imagining those eyes as buoyant as the clear noon sky.  It was not the end of the world, I realized.  I could always see him and his colorful eyes, even if he was never mine.

                Thank you, Naruto.  In the end, I took back my heart from you.  I could let you go now, because you have given me the one thing I had tried to deny myself from wanting.  I walked away, feeling better.

                I came back home in time to see Brother Neji standing there by my door.  It was time for our courtship, and I bowed my head slightly to greet him.  He nodded at me.  We went out and parted in the same fashion day by day, and there was no ripple in the tranquil waters of our lives since the inheritance.

                There were many times he and I don't talk at all.  We would simply walk, side by side, down the streets in complete silence, our eyes gazing forward and never to each other.  Words had long lost its use since the time we had began to understand each other, and the quiet was comfortably mutual.  Like right now.  As I walked beside him, feeling the noisy atmosphere ebb around me, I was completely lost in my own thoughts.

                After the incident of opening the staff (and a rather embarrassing one at that), I discovered that opening the staff grants the title of successor, not the giving of it, and was accepted as successor accordingly to the rules set down by the old fathers.  My father gave no sign of being pleased or angry as he told me this, or even when my knees trembled under the astonishment. 

                The following two years was a grueling period of intense and strenuous training that Brother Neji and I endured under my father.   Nowadays, I could not distinctly remember what had happened then, as I saw through eyes blurred of blood and sweat.  But I never cried, nor did I ever give up.  Naruto taught me long ago of how to believe even in the bleakest of moments, and I would not let him down by cowering this time.  Especially not when Brother Neji was beside me.  The days and nights flew by quickly until the pass-down of the techniques was finished.  There was a small sense of relief and joy in me when it ended, but the mature side of me knew that the hard work was just the beginning.  So I had to know, before I could enter the world with the absolute certainty befitting of the Hyuga.

                "Father," I called to him hesitantly, after the ceremony of succession was finished.  He turned around without a reply.  Ever since I could remember, I had always feared him and the same severe look that he fixated me with, but this time I felt none of that fear.  In fact, I felt oddly defiant.

                "I…" I looked down at my folded hands, which had lost its habit of twitching.  "I want to know, Father, if I am of right."  And inwardly, I added, if I was the perfect daughter he always wanted, if I fulfilled my duty like he always expected of me. 

                "Hinata," he said, "you have opened the heirloom that only accepts the true blood inheritors of the Hyuga.  The ancestors made their consent of making you the heir, along with Neji.  Do not doubt their wise decision."

                My hands gripped each other.  "I understand, Father.  But I ask you, not the ancient ones.  Do you doubt it?"

                He was silent by these words.  I hung my head, waiting for his final judgment.  So many years and I never knew what my father thought of me.  So many years and I never had a father—just a superior.  What would he say?

                His voice was unusually soft when he finally replied.  "I never did."

                Tears threatened to spill as I looked up at him, but I feared his disapproval and kept them in.  Then I saw his usually thin mouth curve into a smile as he placed his hands on my shoulders, shaking me a little, and repeated, stronger than before.  "I never did."

                I suddenly noticed the graying streaks in his dark hair and the worn lines in his proud face. He was nearly fifty, but he had always carried an aura of timeless majesty until now.  My father looked so drained of energy, as if the vigor of his reign was passed down to us in the ceremony and he was, truly and once again, back to the father I had known when I was only a baby.

                "Father…" my tone trembled slightly.

                "You and Neji will create a dynasty that this clan has never seen before, for there were never two people who took the succession until now.  Perhaps that was what the old fathers had wanted of you." His eyes were ardent as he looked at me.  "Hold your head high, daughter of the Hyuga, my successor and my child!"

                My chin was lifted and my face was glowing, tears freely slipping down my cheeks.  Perhaps I was too quiet and perhaps I was too lenient, always giving into what others decided.  But I knew then that I was a Hyuga, and that was all I needed to know.

                "Thank you, Father."

                "Miss Hinata," he broke into my reverie, gesturing at my door.  "We're back now."

                As was customary, I meekly glanced down, asking, "Would you stay for dinner, Brother Neji?"

                "I would rather not, but thank you."  He bowed courteously and I returned it.  I watched as his figure grew smaller and smaller in the distance, but there was a tugging feeling inside of me, as if I was losing him.  Biting my lip, I turned away from the door and ran out to catch him.

                "Brother Neji… Please wait for me!"  He turned around at the sound of my desperate voice, his eyes startled.  Panting a little, I caught up to him.

                "What is it, Miss Hinata?"

                There was something missing.

                I smiled shyly, before stealing his hand and taking him along.  His eyebrow rose in askance.  "Where are we going, Miss Hinata?"

                He was still uncertain as ever about me, and I knew exactly why.  I had been uneasy myself, especially with the wedding day inching closer.  But everything right now seemed so perfectly clear, even when the winds thrashed about us turbulently.  There were many hardships that we were going to face, but the thought did not let down my joyful mood.  This once—just this once—let this be a nice day.

                We ran down the road together, hand in hand.  I could feel his irritation, but I wasn't scared.  I had stopped being scared since the time we've trained together.  He roughly pulled his wrist from my grip, and caught the look of hurt that flew across my features.  But he snorted and instead covered his hand over my own.

                Turning a little pink, I muttered, "You male chauvinist."

                He raised a single eyebrow, as if taunting me.

                To confuse my cousin, I dragged him into a maze of different streets and directions.  The afternoon was waning as we toured the whole town quickly in our run, and Brother Neji still had no idea of where we were going.

                He was utterly disgruntled this time and snapped at me, "I ask again, Miss Hinata, where—!"

                "To where it takes me," I interrupted him, smiling widely at him.  "And to where it takes you, Neji.  We're going to where it takes us…"

                And a light fell upon his pure white eyes.  He snorted again and looked away.

                "Should've told me sooner…"

                "Didn't think you would be that dense, Brother Neji."

                He glared at my comeback.

                We were pulled into the gravity of the forests.  It was our fourth time there together, but we knew when to jump over protruding tree roots or duck under the low branches.  The place had been in deeply embedded into our hearts, and we just had to feel to know where we were going.  For two people raised to be reserved and soft-spoken, it was an exhilarating feeling to run wildly in the forests, against the wind and the blinding sunrays, our hair flying out behind us.  The two of us burst out in the small open area, panting and sweat beading down our foreheads.

                We made it in time.

                The dark green forests were touched with a red-orange glow of the setting sun, and the winds seemed to quiet down to watch.  My breath was caught in my throat as I gazed at the horizon.  A tiny bout of laughter escaped my lips for no reason other than to release the overwhelming feeling of content.  I walked to the edge of the cliff, folding my hands at the small of my back.  A few more minutes and then the sky would darken, beginning the reign of the moon.

                I whirled around. "What do you—AH!"

                His face was so close to mine that I let out a startled yelp and tripped backwards…only to realize that there was no ground behind me.  My mouth gaped open in surprise as I felt myself tipping over the edge.  His own eyes were wide with panic.

                "Hinata!"  Too late, I had gone over the cliff.

                But that idiot, he tried to save me by seizing my hand, only to be pulled down by my falling weight instead.

                He grabbed me as we were both falling down, and I felt an enormous déjà vu.  When we hit the floor, I found myself on top of him.  He had shielded me from the fall…again.  However, this time, he wasn't a fragile little boy anymore.  He took the short fall as a seventeen-year-old man would, with only a wince, not a faint.  I was so close to his face that I could feel the heat of his heavy breaths.  I was struck with fascination as I peered into his eyes.  They reflected my own…how white it was, a color of purity and simplicity.  He was a paradox, a man of tangled emotions and of a virtuous heart.

                "You…were never this heavy…Hinata," he panted.  I felt myself lifted up and down by the rising of his chest.

                I smiled.  "I…like it."

                "Like what?"

                "When you call my name without the 'miss.'"

                "Tft."

                "From now on, just call me Hinata.  It would be awful for you to call your wife 'miss.'"  I gently pushed his head guard off his head, revealing the curse seal etched across his forehead.  My fingers brushed against it absently.  He caught my hand in his and placed my palm firmly on the mark.  It was hot and sticky to the touch.

                "Then don't call me a brother," he answered.

                 I could feel the toned muscles lining his chest, his perspiring skin touching mine.  I turned so red that at the moment I must have looked like a tomato with two white dots.  He was my cousin, a boy I had grown up with, yet…  It was then that I realized he had not told me to get off yet.  I blushed for the both of us.

                "You know…I've always wondered…" he said as he ran his fingers along a strand of my hair.  "…why you grew your hair long…"

                I looked sheepish, but managed to shoot him a meaningful look.  "It would be…embarrassing to have short hair on your wedding day when the groom had his long."

                "But I like my hair long."

                "If we were to switch places, you the bride and me the groom, I don't think anyone would notice," I replied dryly.

                "Are you saying I look like a girl?"

                "Yes, I am."  Why I was acting so devious, I did not know.  I was a little surprised myself.

                "My male pride is permanently damaged," he deadpanned.

                I laughed.  He did not question my sudden happiness; instead he watched me, his eyes twinkling in an amused manner.  He did not have to say or ask anything of me.  He just knew now that I had found my own place to go to.

                "You know, I wouldn't be surprised if some drunken men at the reception hit on you," I said, grinning.

                "Men too?  That's troubling to know…" he murmured.  "But I am and will always be a man."

                "And…what does that make me?" I asked softly.  The night fell upon us and the trees rustled in the breeze.  On their leaves were the last tinges of the sun, an ember that soon died away to greet the moonlight.

                Suddenly, I saw him lift his head and brush his lips against mine for a brief and sweet moment.  Rendered speechless, I blinked before my cheeks flushed deeply.  He sure knew how to stop my teasing.  In the dark, I watched his lips curl into the usual smirk.

                "My bride."

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Oh, come on, it was only a tiny kiss!  ^^;;;;; Hope I didn't make you cringe or anything because of this…  I mean, they are going to be married…

I did some revisions on the previous chapters as I wrote this one, but it isn't too big.  Just a little fix on the flow of the story, that's all.

I've noticed that I haven't really paired up Naruto with anyone in any of my stories, unless you count the really faint NaruHina in my Back as We Were story...  T.T Poor guy, I'm so mean.  Oh well, to make up for it, he belongs to Temari *more advertising: psst…read Betrothal by Lackey H!  It rocks!!!*  ^__^ 

I'm really proud to say that this story was the first Neji/Hina pairing story published in FFnet in the English category…  (Yes, I did look before publishing it ^^).  I'm very glad to see some Neji/Hina stories popping up now, and I encourage them greatly. 

Well, please review if you liked it!  ^_^

By the way, Neji was incredibly hot on the chapter 187 cover.  Thank you, Kishimoto-sensei, for giving us fan girls this godly and sexy man known as Hyuga Neji. XP