A/N: Request fic for Kytha from my livejournal. Pairing: NejiHina, Situation: must be awkward and fluffy, take place pre-relationship, and NejiHina must kiss; no line or title given.

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   Hinata watched him through the back of her head—Byakugan was useful in situations other than spying and battle, after all, although 'battle' was well-suited for describing any encounter with Neji, even if he had been considerably less vicious to her ever since losing to Naruto—and fidgeted with a flap on her new flak jacket.


   She was—worried. The humiliation he had made her feel before their chuunin exam match two years ago even began, carefully picking apart her emotions with ease and accuracy worthy of an Anbu, still stuck with her, strong as the pride at the way she had gotten up again and again until her body finally collapsed beyond her will's power to force it back up.

   Today, she was a chuunin. Today, she was strong and drunk on that heady strength; to challenge him today and lose so absolutely would be a harsh blow.

   Her hands toyed with a strand of her short hair, winding it around her forefinger until it tugged sharply on her scalp. She checked again, nervously, to make sure he was still there—yes, he was, about fifteen degrees from directly behind her, his hair like rich black night around his pale face and paler, moon-white eyes. He was talking to TenTen. Maybe she would just wait until TenTen wasn't there; maybe that way, she could keep news of the loss between the two of them and it wouldn't sting so sharply—

   No. Her thoughts fell so easily back into the old self-defeating pattern, even now, and she had to forcibly pry them off that worn path. For one, if she truly did not believe she had even the slightest chance, she should not challenge him. A good ninja picked her battles when possible. For another, the loss would be just as bitter, because it was her nature to feel each defeat like a knife to the gut, to say I am worthless to herself and take the defeated feeling in and hug it to herself like a stuffed toy. It was nearly an automatic response, and almost every time, she had to remind herself that was not her ninja way—she loved those words, her ninja way, because they reminded her of Naruto and made her think, perhaps, she was becoming like him—and expel the useless, futile feeling.

   Really, she was just stalling, she admitted to herself. Just hunting up any stray excuse and hiding behind it.

   If only she didn't feel like she couldn't completely be sure she had earned her new rank unless she could hold her own against Neji. Not win, but make him break a sweat to defeat her. It wasn't a rivalry or need for vindication that fueled her desire; Hinata was not like that. It was simply something that she needed to prove to herself.

   Scanning behind her with another sweep of the Byakugan, she froze. He was—was leaving. Her fingers, still tangled in her hair, gave a sudden panicked yank that brought tears to her eyes. She let go her piece of hair with a flick, wiped the water from her eyelashes with an efficient brush of her thumb, straightened her jacket and rebuttoned the flap she had been fidgeting with…and, abruptly, had nothing left to occupy herself with.

   Nothing left to stall with.

   So, filling her lungs to the brim with air, she turned around on her park bench, hands held forcibly still at her side. He had disappeared down a path, vanishing from the wide open main clearing of the park into a wooded area, and she felt herself blush, wondering if he was—you know—with TenTen. After all…that was what people did in concealing wooded areas.

   Well, simple enough to find out. If he and TenTen were kissing…well, she would look quickly away and wait for another, better time. He would probably wonder why his cousin was stalking him, but it would serve her right for delaying so long.

   Chewing on her bottom lip, she activated Byakugan for the fourth time. Her vision shot through the trees, searching—she caught hold of him in her line of sight, seeing his physical husk only vaguely, it outshone by the brilliance of the chakra inside him. No, TenTen was not pressed to his chest; she was a ways off, walking away and waving—at Neji's back, apparently, as he was turned to face the clearing he'd just left.

   And his chakra thrummed inside him in the particular way it did when Byakugan was engaged, and suddenly she was aware of the intensity of his expression and the veins standing out around his eyes. From a few hundred yards away, trees and brush standing between them, her gaze locked almost involuntarily with his, caught in a stare as intimate and revealing as if mere inches separated them. Her cheeks flushed with heat, she was suddenly aware of him in a way she had never been; her eyes dropped from his, to his mouth to his jaw, and flitted back to his eyes again. Then, cringing, she looked at her feet.

   Oh no, she thought. Oh-no-oh-no-oh-no. Well, now she had to go after him and explain—

   Her mouth turned down in a grimace, and she twisted her fingers around themselves. Stuffing her hands into her jacket pockets, so their nervous movement wouldn't give her away, she steeled her shoulders and went towards him with long strides that did not falter—because to falter would be to lose her momentum would be to run in the opposite direction.


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   She approached him, feet moving briskly underneath her and eyes fixed on the ground, like he had thought she might if she didn't dash off in humiliation.

   And he waited for her, like he might wait for—well, like he would wait for Gai because Gai was his teacher, or TenTen and Lee because they were…well, his friends, if you took the word 'friend', stood it on end and squinted at it. His teammates, he changed his phrasing after a moment, because it fit best, even if it did not quite cover either in different ways.

   Or like he might wait for the head of Hyuuga. That immediately turned his thoughts sour and dispelled any vague sense of goodwill he might have mustered toward her. Somewhere between there and here, he had gotten a good deal of the infection scraped out of the old bitter anger, but there was still the wound, and that had yet to close over.

   Without blinking, he watched her and knew she felt his gaze on her. Her shoulders hunched and her hands fisted inside her pockets but she kept walking toward him, bowed and intimidated but not broken. That, he supposed, was her only real asset. Hinata just did not break, whether at a harsh look or word or under a dozen blows; he felt a grudging distant cousin of admiration for that, and reluctantly acknowledged that she was like Naruto in that way, and if she were Uzumaki Naruto and not Hyuuga, main house, Hinata he would openly respect it.

   She was…an ordinary looking girl, when everything was said and done; perhaps someday she'd be pretty, but now she was too shy and unremarkable for anything greater than 'plain.' All in all, he should not like to look at her; should not like her ordinary tousle of hair, her ordinary mouth and its rare careful smile. The only thing that excused it was the way he liked her not-ordinary Hyuuga eyes, so like his own except not—they still failed to meet others' eyes occasionally, after all—because when he got to her eyes, then he could write it all off as a warped sort of jealousy, this strange…fascination, he supposed, was the word.

   "What do you want?" he demanded, and saw her tense even more.

   He saw her pockets moving, as if she were fidgeting.

   "I—I—"

   "Well?"

   Her back straightened. "I was just wondering," she began. "—wondering if you would be able to f-f-fight me, w—"

   "Of course I am able." He looked her over again, noting her vest. He'd attained the rank of chuunin a year before; that, he knew, put them on a level in terms of years spent as a genin: three for him, three for her. "If you really want me to," he added, scoffing.

   Her eyes went narrow for a moment, and if she were anyone else, he would have said she was glaring. "—without…being bitter. If you are able to f-fight me like that, now." She gave a little, defiant jerk of her jaw, her hair stirring with the motion.

   The condition made him pause; brought up a mix of emotion he didn't even try to dissect but that preoccupied him for a moment.

   "I don't think it's very good for you," she added, one corner of her mouth turning upward tentatively.

   He recognized it as a smile, and therefore a subtle, hesitant extension of friendship. He opened his mouth to say something harsh about it—and then promptly shut it. "Or for you," he said mildly instead.

   She looked as surprised as he felt, and then the smile—still cautious and faint—took over her bone white eyes and put something vibrant there. "Well…yes," she said. "But I am better now, you know—it wouldn't be so bad a loss this time." She met his eyes for the first time since the shared moment when everything had locked down to the two of them despite the trees and distance strung out between them, and he saw a flash of pride in her face.

   He nodded and just watched her for what felt like a long time but was probably less than a minute. She wavered under his eyes, gnawing her bottom lip and her hands working nervously in her pockets. "Come back when you'll win," he said finally, trying to manage a bit of dislike for her but failing.

   "W-what?" she looked taken aback.

   "You said the loss wouldn't be so bad. Well, come back when you'll win. And I'll be able to—not be bitter, as you put it."

   Realization dawned, and she said, dismay in her voice, "Oh. But I didn't mean to say it like that…I mean…"

   So he was bitter? Well, she was still unsure and self-doubting. In a sudden flash of insight, he was aware that the two of them were what clan Hyuuga had made them, bent broken, but they were both fixing themselves, fitting the pieces of self together into something more or less whole. Some of the pieces were missing, and always would be, but they were both, yes even she, strong enough to deal with that. He felt, for the first time, kinship for his cousin.

   "I know," he said. Against his will and yet with it—his will being a bit divided and indecisive at the moment—he reached out and skimmed the edge of her chin with his first two fingers, and she froze but did not cringe.

   He wondered if it was better to come up short a few pieces alone, or to lack the same amount per capita together. He decided the first, but kissed her anyway. Her lips were chapped, and she kept them motionless and firmly shut; he started to pull away, body coiled with anger that should not be directed at her because it wasn't her fault he had made a fool of himself. But then she pressed back, her mouth to his, her lips soft and closemouthed and yet somehow harsh and fervent.