Hinata was vaguely aware that the lights had gone out in the basement, all her fear of the pitch black darkness disappearing…but only because she was too preoccupied with trying to get Neji to loosen his suffocating hold on her.
The need to breathe was pretty much overshadowing her fear at this point.
"Ne…ji!" She gasped, attempting to pry his arms off her. "C-Can't…breathe!"
"Save me, Hinata!" He wailed again, shaking his head back in forth as he burrowed his face deeper into the blankets. "I don't want to die!"
"Re…lax!" She choked out, attempting futilely to twist out of his death grip. "And let…me…go!"
This apparently wasn't the right thing to say, as Neji was suddenly struck with the thought of being abandoned alone in the darkness. He raised his head from the blanket, and was suddenly afflicted with the strongest case of Sudden-Urge-To-Show-Unlikely-Behaviour Syndrome in Konoha's history.
His pearl-white eyes watered with held-in tears, lower lip trembling as he looked up at Hinata, even though he couldn't see her.
"Don't leave me alone…" he whimpered, his voice so soft and pathetic that Hinata momentarily stopped struggling to look down in shock. There was an awkward moment of silence, which was broken when thunder boomed again and Neji resumed his death grip, upgrading it to Version: .
Now desperate, Hinata found herself resorting to her last option. And no, it wasn't knocking Neji out with the broken iron next to her.
Shifting, Hinata moved her hands so they settled against Neji's sides, her fingers poised and ready.
Holding her breath, Hinata unleashed her own jutsu.
Tickle no Jutsu!
Neji let out a shrill scream when Hinata's fingertips suddenly started tickling at his ribs, inducing a gut reaction that made him release his hold on her and burst into hysterical screaming and sob-like laughter.
"No! No! Stop!" Neji screamed, as if he were being tortured brutally. "I c-can't – ha ha – Stop it! Ha ha ha! No! Ha ha, no more! P-Please! Ha ha ha! NOO!"
Besides Hinata's desperation for him to let go, which he had, she suddenly had a sadistic urge to make her cousin suffer. Neji fell on his back, Hinata smirking in morbid satisfaction as she continued to tickle him as he thrashed around on the floor.
This is payback for making me hack up blood for so many months Hinata thought inwardly, as Neji batted at her hands like a baby, laughing and sobbing at the same time.
And as I said before, fate is a fickle thing, and it was quick to be another kick in the ass when there was a loud hum and a pop, and the lights flickered back on.
Hinata seemed to sway the vengeful demon who had taken hold, and she pulled back with a gasp, realizing what she had done.
Neji was lying flat on his back, arms spread out at his sides as he gasped for breath, his wide stunned eyes focused on the ceiling. There was a moment of silence in which Hinata counted the last seconds of her life, and Neji gathered his bearings, sitting up.
His face was beet red, and he stared at her in absolute shock.
"What…" he started, his voice unusually high. "…the hell was that for?"
Hinata looked absolutely horrified with herself. "S-Sorry, I don't know what came over me…b-but, I couldn't breathe, I had to!"
"Couldn't breathe?" Neji echoed faintly, suddenly remembering what had happened during his blind panic attack. Blood rushed to his cheeks when he recalled his actions, and he found himself unable to look at her.
"Oh, my God," he said faintly to himself, drowning in hot shame as he realized his actions. He was clinging to her like a baby, wailing and crying like a pathetic idiot. He'd never live this down…EVER.
"It's okay, Neji," Hinata said hastily, seeing various emotions flicker over his visage, his constantly twitching eye alarming her. "I…" she stopped, her voice dying in her throat as Neji slowly got to his feet, turning to face her.
"I didn't…did I?" he practically whimpered, drowning in denial. "I didn't…hug you, did I?"
"Um…uh," Hinata stammered, at a loss for words.
"I…Neji, the true genius of the Hyuuga clan…I didn't, I couldn't have…I must have imagined the whole thing," he whispered, mostly to himself. "No way that Neji Hyuuga would act so pathetic…right?"
He stared at her, sounding a hair away from hysteria.
"Neji," Hinata squeaked fearfully. "You're starting to scare me…"
Neji gaped at her for a few seconds, seemingly in shock, until he finally managed to find his voice and choked out his response.
"What happened here…" he said, hoarsely. "Never, ever…leaves this room, do you understand? We never speak of it again. In fact, it never happened, all right?"
Hinata nodded, her eyes wide as he gathered his bearings and emphasized his meaning by aiming another patented Gaara Approved Glare in her direction. There was another awkward moment of silence, in which Hinata avoided Neji's eyes as he picked up the broken shards of his dignity.
She distracted herself with the thought of Naruto replacing Neji in the basement, and she blushed when she pictured Naruto latched onto her like that. If only…
Blinking, she looked up, startled from her dreamy stupor. Neji had settled himself back on the ground next to her, narrowed eyes focused determinedly on his feet.
"Yes?" she asked hesitantly.
"I'm…sorry," he mumbled, unable to prevent the redness that spread over the bridge of his nose. "…if I made you uncomfortable in anyway."
Hinata stared in surprise, before she gave him a shy, comforting smile. "It's okay, Neji brother…it was nothing."
He nodded without looking at her, still too embarrassed to look her in the face. Glad that they had settled their differences without injury or death involved, Hinata found her gaze roaming the large basement for something to occupy herself with.
Deciding that she'd busy herself by browsing through the cupboards, she got to her feet and wandered over to the ones situated to the right of the room. Neji watched her look through the cupboards, his jaw working furiously as he waged a war within himself.
This was Hinata, his cousin.
He had attempted to kill her two months ago.
Then her father cleared up the misunderstandings.
Then Neji spent a few days feeling EXTREMELY silly.
Then he took to avoiding Hinata within the house.
And now he was with her, in the basement.
He had…(grimace)…hugged her.
Then he apologized.
Now what was he supposed to say?
I hate awkward situations like these…Neji thought to himself, brow furrowing as he looked down at the blankets in his lap. With a sigh, he made up his mind and raised his head, his tone indifferent.
"What are you looking for, Hinata?"
"Oh," Hinata bowed her head, a blush spreading over her face. "Um, sparkles…f-for a card I'm making, for…someone…"
Neji stared at her.
Hinata's eyes widened, but she kept her gaze on the floor, her voice painfully weak as she spoke.
"Everyone but the retard himself knows."
Silence…painful, awkward silence.
Neji gave a long, suffering sigh again, wishing he still had a reason to detest the main house.
"Want me to help look?"
Hinata gave him a surprised look, then let a small appreciative smile grace her face. She gave a shy nod, and returned to her browsing as Neji got to his feet and wandered over to her side. Reaching forward, he pulled open the cracked, wooden door and peered inside.
A centipede fell out of the cupboard and onto his foot.
It was all he could do to keep from letting out a shriek as he felt it crawl rapidly up his bare shin. Hinata didn't notice as he shook his leg back and forth, too immersed within her search. Stepping back, Neji did some demented form of the hokey pokey until the hideous thing fell of his leg and went crunch under his heel.
Growling inwardly in annoyance, he went back to the cupboard and started looking through it.
There were only a few old scrolls and unopened packets of incense, so he moved on to the next one. They searched in silence, sifting through the dust-caked clutter. Hinata pulled out a thick book, blowing the dust off the cover.
Her eyes widened when she saw that it wasn't a book, but a photo album. Neji looked up when he heard her gasp, and saw that she was gawking at some page in a book she was holding.
Her lower lip trembled, and Neji blinked when she let out giggle.
Curious, he walked towards her and peered over her shoulder.
His eyes nearly rolled out of his head.
Hinata looked at him, smiling. "I've never seen these baby pictures of you before."
There were pictures of 1-2 year old Neji in the album, and Hinata couldn't resist the natural girlish urge to giggle at each one.
There was one of him on a swing in a park, one of him in a high chair with baby food smeared all over his face, one of him sleeping on the sofa, and one…
Hinata burst into a fit of hysterical giggles.
There was one of him sitting in a slightly foamy bathtub with a rubber ducky, stark naked.
"!" Neji blanched as his eyes fell upon the embarrassing picture. "Hinata, give me that!"
He yanked the album from her hands as Hinata vainly attempted to muffle her giggles with her palm. Horribly embarrassed, Neji turned a few shades of red as he looked at the album, wincing at the bathtub picture.
Who in their right mind would take a picture of someone taking a bath!?
He turned the page, eyes roaming the other pictures there. He stopped, gaping at the photograph that stood out among the rest. Hinata saw his shocked expression and craned her neck to look at it.
They both stared in silence, feeling another wave of awkwardness settling upon them.
It was a picture of four-year-old Neji and three-year-old Hinata, sitting in a small red wagon and eating ice cream. Neji was attempting to take a bite out of her chocolate fudgesicle, holding his own high above his head.
They were both laughing.
Neji closed the album with a snap, startling her. Hinata stole a quick glance at his face and winced when she saw various degrees of agony clouding his features. Silently, Hinata took the album from his hands and placed it back in the cupboard, closing the door for his comfort.
Feeling extremely agitated, Neji silently went to the other side of the room, not wanting to face his cousin.
Why…he thought bitterly. Why ME?
Does fate have any more awkwardness planned in my future? Any other ways to humiliate me in front of my cousin? God, could this day get any worse…?
Ha ha, let's just say…Fate is one stone-cold bitch.
Neji opened the cupboard door and reached inside; letting out a yelp when something snapped shut on his fingers. Swearing in pain, he yanked his hand out and gawked at the mousetrap that had clamped over his fingers.
The real pain came a fraction of a second later, and he stumbled back, arms flailing and knocking things off the top of the cupboard.
Seeing the obvious distress her cousin was in, Hinata didn't know whether to try to help him and risk getting knocked unconscious, or watch in dismay.
She chose the first option, rushing forward to grab a hold of his wrist. She took a hold of the evil contraption and yanked it off in one quick pull, as Neji pulled in the opposite direction.
"Oof!" Hinata went flying into a pile of boxes with the mousetrap in hand, and Neji slammed back into a cabinet, the momentum of the impact making the door fly open.
Cursing, Neji stumbled away from it, his hand and back throbbing with pain. Hinata slowly lifted herself off her bruised bottom, and she turned her head at the sound of a crash. Some dishes had fallen out of the cabinet, and a black vase was wobbling dangerously.
Hinata and Neji stared at it in dumb silence for a few seconds, the numbing realization coming a little too late.
Neji rushed forward, only to skid to a stop when the black vase fell and shattered against the ground. There was a moment of deafening silence, then…
"Neji…" Hinata whispered in mortification. "That was…"
"I know," he said hoarsely.
"Oh dear…" Hinata whimpered.
"Oh crap," Neji said in a flat voice.
Slowly, the two walked up to the fallen piece of pottery and stared in dismay at its contents spread all over the floor.
Hinata let out a small sob.
"Neji…you broke grandpa!"
The vase, apparently, wasn't a vase at all.
The urn that contained their dead grandpa's ashes lay smashed on the ground, the ashes scattered in heaps among the broken shards.
Neji's tongue felt like a lead weight in his mouth. "It…was an accident. I didn't mean to…"
"Oh Neji," Hinata sobbed. "You killed grandpa…what do we do?"
Neji looked at her indignantly, spluttering. "He's already dead! Those are just…" he swallowed hard. "Those are just his…remains."
"Poor grandpa," Hinata whimpered, staring at the ashes with tear-filled eyes. "We have to do something..."
Neji backed away from the broken urn, activating his Byakugan as he scoured the basement. He found what he was looking for propped up next to the laundry machine. Hinata looked up when she saw Neji approach with a dustpan held solemnly in his hands.
Letting out another quiet sob, Hinata knelt next to her cousin as he came to his knees and picked out all the broken shards of the urn, his fingers trembling. Neji grimaced as he dropped the last shard into the dustpan, his fingers coated in the ashes.
He went to dispose of the urn's remains, then knelt before the ashes.
He solemnly started sweeping, as Hinata bowed her head in reverence and closed her eyes. They got to their feet, Neji holding the dustpan gingerly in his hands. Hinata found the only thing suitable to hold the ashes for now, and offered Neji an old thermos.
They poured the ashes into the thermos then screwed on the lid, exchanging glances before Neji went to return the thermos to its resting place. Stepping back from it, Neji bowed to the thermos and silently closed the door.
Slowly, he turned away from it and made his way to the sink near the laundry machine. He quickly washed his hands of the ashes, unable to fight off the shudder of relief as it washed down the drain. Wiping his hands on his pants, Neji turned to see Hinata standing off to the side, holding something in her hands.
"It's past our dinner time…" she said hesitantly. "A-Are you hungry, Neji?"
Despite having lost most his appetite when the urn shattered, he couldn't suppress the gnawing feeling in his empty stomach.
"What does it matter? It's not like we have anything to eat down here," he said scornfully, crossing his arms. "All we have is the water from the sink."
"N-No…" Hinata said shyly, presenting the item in her hands. "I had this in my pocket."
Neji blinked as she thrust an apple into his face, lowering her gaze to the floor. "You can have it if you want…I'm sorry it's not much."
He gave her a questioning look as she bit her lip, averting her eyes. "It's okay, I'm not hungry anyway…"
Silently, he took the apple from her hands, giving her the opportunity to scurry back to the other side of the room again. Hinata smiled slightly to herself as she returned to the last cupboard she'd been searching, trying to ignore her biting hunger.
Maybe Neji brother will like me a little bit after that…Hinata thought hopefully.
"Huh?" She glanced up at the sound of his voice, gasping when something flew at her. She caught it, eyes widening in surprise when she saw that it was half the apple she had given him.
Hinata gawked at Neji in surprise when he shoved his half between his teeth, turning away from her as he wiped his kunai clean.
"T-Thank you," she stammered in surprise.
Neji shrugged. "No point in letting you starve, is there?" Hinata just smiled, and quietly ate her portion of the apple.
Both halves of the apple were polished off in seconds, and despite the utter convenience of having one, it did little to appease their adolescent appetites. Ninjas eat a lot, man. Don't you see how much they exercise?!
They spent a few more minutes standing in silence, fiddling with something or other, until both their stomachs growled simultaneously. Neji scowled, feeling grumpy. A hungry Neji was never a happy Neji.
"Maybe there are some crackers down here," Hinata said randomly, peering up at some shelves. "Those would be okay to eat, because they're dry foods."
"…what?" Neji asked, confused by her choice of words.
"Um, I meant, it would be safer than some preserved fruits or something…you wouldn't want to get sick…" she mumbled, as she tossed a bag of birdseed behind her.
"You worry too much," Neji declared in his haughty way. "Who the hell cares if it's wet or dry, as long as it's something to eat?"
Hinata merely bowed her head, not wanting to argue with her cousin. "I guess you're right."
Neji gave her an annoyed look, miffed at how easily she agreed, even if she didn't believe it.
"You succumb to anything anyone says, Hinata. That's what makes you weak," he said harshly. "You let people walk all over you. That's not how a Hyuuga should present themselves."
"But…I…" she said weakly. "I don't want to make anyone mad. I don't like to argue…"
Neji snorted. "You think disagreeing with me about food poisoning is going to make me angry? Do you know how ridiculous that sounds?"
Hinata said nothing, and Neji turned away from her in exasperation. His stomach growled again, and he glanced up at the shelves in search of food. The glint of a glass jar caught his eye, and he craned his neck back to see a jar containing something or other perched at the top of the shelves.
Using his awesome Ninja know-how, Neji too a running leap at the wall, jumped off it and ricocheted into the air. Hinata turned to see him land gracefully back on the ground, a jar clutched in his arms.
Her lips parted to warn him, when she realized that they were preserved peaches, but her voice refused to surface as Neji unscrewed the lid.
"I take it that you don't want any?" Neji said dryly as she grimaced at the sight of it.
"What if it's r-really old?" She questioned meekly.
Neji said nothing, and took a tentative sniff instead. "It smells fine. I'm not going to ask you again, Hinata. Do you want any?"
Hinata bit her lip, mustering her courage as she recalled his words.
"Neji," she said, as confidently as she could. "Don't eat that. You'll get Bacillus cereus food poisoning."
"…" Neji stared at her.
"It's a b-bacterium in spiced foods," Hinata explained.
"Oh," Neji said blankly, lifting the jar to his lips. "…I'm eating it anyway."
Hinata watched in dismay as he gulped down the contents of the jar, not stopping until the last drop of peach juice disappeared down his throat. He let out a hiccup of satisfaction as he set down the empty jar, since Neji was too dignified to actually burp.
"Oh Neji," Hinata whispered to herself in anxiety. "You're too stubborn for your own good…"
Neji noticed Hinata staring at him with a look of disheartenment on her face, and he gave her a look of annoyance.
"Stop staring at me like that," he commanded. "You're acting as if I'm about to drop dead any second."
Hinata just sighed, and decided to sit back down among her neglected bundle of blankets. The chill in the room just kept increasing, despite the slight warmth the lights provided. Shivering, Hinata arranged her blankets so that she could curl up in them and use an extra one as a pillow against the cupboard.
Fortunately for her, she was wearing her usual tan coat, so she wasn't as affected by the cold as Neji was. The Hyuuga genius was wearing a pair of black track pants and a thin, indigo, long-sleeved shirt. And as much as Neji hated to admit it, the option of sitting with his cousin outweighed the option of sitting by himself and catching hypothermia.
Hinata saw the stressed look on his face, and wondered if he needed to use the washroom.
"Um, Neji…if you need to, um, go…there's a washroom over there," Hinata said, pointing to an ancient, closed door beside the laundry machine.
"I'm fine," he snapped irritably, aggravated that she had seen his discomfort. Muttering under his breath, he slowly made his way to the other side of the room to retrieve his blankets. The rain hadn't stopped, and he shivered involuntarily when thunder boomed and the lights flickered again.
Snatching his blankets, he somewhat ran/walked to where Hinata was curled up. Mumbling some incoherent words, he settled down next to her and draped the blankets over his lap. Crossing his arms, he turned his head in the opposite direction so she couldn't see his aggravated pout.
Sniffle. "I'm really sorry I got you stuck down here…"
…dear God, is she crying? Neji glanced at her in alarm.
Whimper. "I-I can understand why…y-you don't like me…"
"…" Neji's mind raced, a vein twitching near his temple as he wondered what he'd do if she started to cry all-out.
Sob. "I d-don't deserve to be a Hyuuga…"
"Hinata," Neji's voice was unnaturally loud. "Stop crying."
Silence. Whimper. Sniffle. "S-Sorry…"
"And stop apologizing!" Neji demanded, annoyed. "Maybe I would show you some respect if you didn't burst into tears at every little thing."
"G-Getting you locked down here, is a l-little thing?"
"…" Neji turned his head away again, trying to hide his grimace. Best to just end it here…
"Hinata, just…go to sleep," he said between gritted teeth, praying that she would shut up.
"A-Are you going to sleep, too?" she questioned, her sniffling slowly ceasing.
"Yes!" he said, exasperated. "Now be quiet."
Hinata finally fell silent, and Neji scowled in the other direction as her breathing started to slow. But he scowled only because he could feel his eyelids growing heavier, when it should be known that Neji sleeps only after washing and exfoliating his skin.
He attempted to keep himself awake with random thoughts, and one was of the story about the sandman. Damn sandman…he thought groggily. If he was real, I'd kick his ass…going around making people go to sleep…
If there was a sandman, Neji immediately conjured up an image of Gaara, running around people's houses in his pajamas and night cap, flinging sand in their eyes and laughing maniacally.
That was the last thing he remembered before he fell asleep, as the rain continued to pour outside.
"Nnn…stop it. Don't…naah, quit it. Hinata…stop…tickling…me…" Neji mumbled, his brow furrowing in his sleep as something scuttled over his ribs.
"Neji? Neji, wake up."
"I don't like it…heh heh…stop…!" Neji had a weak, droopy looking smile on his face now, despite his annoyed look.
"Wake up, Neji! You're having an…odd dream."
"Eh…? Wha?" The Hyuuga genius finally cracked open his eyes, squinting at the light of the basement. He blinked, then immediately sat up.
"Hinata, stop that!" He turned to glare at his cousin, but stared in surprise when he saw both her hands raised above her head.
"It isn't m-me," she stammered.
Neji paled, and slowly pulled back his blankets, feeling the continuous tickle on his front.
"EEEEEEEKK!" Hinata shrieked, when a mouse darted out from between Neji's covers, and leapt into her bundle of blankets. Neji leapt to his feet, shuddering in disgust as Hinata continued to scream and flung her pile of blankets away from her.
The poor mouse scurried away between the cabinets, and Hinata slumped to her behind, gasping.
"That thing," she squeaked. "It was sleeping with you?"
She looked up when she heard no answer, and blinked in surprise when she saw the colour of Neji's face. It seemed to have acquired a pasty, greenish tinge, and his body was trembling slightly.
"Are you okay?" Hinata cried in alarm, as Neji's hand suddenly slapped over his mouth and he fell to his knees.
"I'm…" he choked out, his voice muffled against his palm. "…going to be…sick!"
"Ah!" Hinata cried, jumping to her feet. "I knew it! I told you not to eat those peaches, Neji! You have food poisoning!"
Neji's face just turned even greener, and he collapsed on his side, slapping his other hand to his mouth as well.
"You have to get up, Neji," Hinata said in concern, putting her hand against his shoulder. "You're going to have to, um, vomit, to get the bacteria out of your system…"
Upon hearing those words, he shook his head violently, letting out a muffled "No!"
"I understand, nobody likes to throw up. But you have to," Hinata pleaded with him. "Or you'll get worse. A-And we don't even know how long it'll be till someone finds us!"
He seemed to consider her words, and appeared to have reached a decision. Crawling to his hands and knees, he suddenly took off crawling as fast as he could away from the ancient washroom.
"Neji!" Hinata called after him, looking panic-stricken as she looked between him and the washroom desperately. She clenched her fists uncertainly, recalling Neji's words from before. Yes…she had to be more assertive…she had to show him what was right…
Even if she…
Hinata held her head up high, shining with a new determination.
Even if she had to drag him to the toilet kicking and screaming!
Neji was crawling away at a snail's pace, his body weakening dramatically as cold sweat dripped down his face. He'd find some corner to curl up and die in, but he wouldn't throw up. No, leave the dramatics to Hinata.
Let her throw up, let Naruto throw up, and even let that prissy Uchiha throw up, but Neji Hyuuga would NOT throw up.
"You're going to throw up, Neji!" Hinata suddenly seized her cousin around the middle. "Even if I have to m-make you!"
"$#&!" Neji's eyes nearly rolled out of his head when Hinata grabbed him and started to drag him backwards toward the washroom. He thrashed in her grip, his yells of protest muffled by his own hands as his feet dragged over the floor.
Neji wanted to cry, because a) he felt like he had the strength of a baby, and b) what could be more humiliating than this?
Hinata kicked the door open with her foot and pushed Neji in front of the toilet, forcing him to bend over it as she pulled on the light switch. But Neji was being a stubborn ass, and refused to remove his hands from his mouth.
He gasped in surprise when Hinata took a hold of his wrists and pulled his hands behind his back, forcing him to kneel forward. All at once, the pungent smell of the washroom, the nausea in his gut, and the forgot-to-be-flushed present is the toilet bowl all attacked his willpower at once.
Hinata released his hands as soon as she saw the tremor that ran through his body, and sighed when he grabbed a hold of the porcelain bowl and let loose the bacteria-infested peaches.
"It's okay, let it all out…" Hinata said soothingly, rubbing his back as he retched. "You'll feel better once it's all out."
Three minutes later, Neji had vomited all he could and just sat there in shock, trembling violently as he gasped for breath. Hinata offered him a paper towel to wipe his mouth with, and draped a blanket over his shaking shoulders.
"See what Bacillus cereus can do?" Hinata reprimanded gently. "It can lead to vomiting, nausea, tremors—"
"Hinata," Neji rasped, looking totally out of it. "Why are you speaking Italian…?"
Hinata sighed. "And temporary delusions…"
"I'm cold," Neji mumbled, shivering.
"I know you are," Hinata said comfortingly, helping him to his feet and bringing him back outside the washroom. She eased him onto the floor, and piled and wrapped him with blankets until all you could see of him was his face.
"Go to sleep," she said gently, and Neji immediately passed out in his cocoon, slumping onto his side. Hinata sighed in relief, smiling slightly as she saw the colour slowly returning to her cousin's pasty face.
Leaning her head back against the wall, Hinata felt herself grow drowsy again. It was probably nearing her bedtime anyway...it wouldn't hurt to go to sleep, just as long as that mouse didn't come near her.
But before that...
Hinata double-checked to see that Neji was asleep, and then stealthily tip-toed to where she had left the photo album. She slipped it into her coat, and sat back down against the wall, smirking a very Un-Hinata-like smirk before she fell asleep.
Neji woke first, sitting bolt upright as his blankets fell off. He stared in confusion at his surroundings for a moment, and then remembered where he was. He leaned back against the wall, feeling hungry but fine.
Last night's memories were slightly foggy, and whatever he could remember of it, he wanted to forget.
Looking over at his cousin, his eyebrows rose in surprise to see that she was still sleeping. He had no idea what time it was, but was sure that it was the next day. And if his damn uncle still couldn't tell that his daughter and genius nephew were missing, then…
Neji was distracted from his thoughts when he noticed a brightly coloured object sticking out of Hinata's coat pocket. Without bothering to wonder if she would mind him looking at it, he plucked it out and raised it before his narrowed eyes.
"Happy Birthday Naruto," he muttered, reading the message written in hundreds of carefully glued ramen noodles. Opening the card, he blinked, impressed at the amount of detail and care Hinata had put into the card.
There was a message written inside, but even Neji wasn't socially retarded enough to read a girl's thoughts to another boy. But he did read what she wrote at the bottom of the card.
I hope you have a wonderful birthday, Naruto.
A smirk appeared on his face as he shook his head in dismay. She was still too scared to let the idiot know how she felt about him…
Well, Neji thought with a smirk. She's a Hyuuga, and Hyuugas are assertive and confident. This will just have to…
Of all the useless things the cupboards contained in the basement, one of them at least contained what he was looking for.
"How long have you two been down here!?"
"All night I presume, Uncle."
"How did this happen?"
"Never mind. First, wake Hinata and bring her upstairs to eat. Then you two will explain what happened."
"I understand, Uncle."
Hinata cracked her eyes open as she saw her father's feet ascend the top stairs and disappear into the hallway. The flood of morning light spilled from the basement's open door into the basement, and Hinata sat up, stretching.
"Awake, I see."
Hinata turned at the sound of her cousin's haughty tone, and smiled when she saw that his health had obviously returned.
"Neji, you're all right!" she said happily, getting to her feet and stepping closer to scrutinize his face. "Are you still feeling nauseous?"
"I'm fine!" He insisted, flustered at the sudden attention. "Your father finally decided to drop by. We can finally get out of this hellhole."
She nodded, wrapping her arms around herself as she took a few steps towards the stairs, trying to conceal the album beneath her coat. "A-Are you coming, Neji?" she called back to him.
"No, I enjoy sleeping with the mice," he said sarcastically as he walked up next to her. "Hurry up, I want to get out of here as soon as possible."
Smiling, she quickly ran up the stairs as Neji slowly followed, smirking as he surreptitiously slipped the pencil into his back pocket.
So on the day of Naruto's birthday, it came as quite a surprise to the fox-boy when he received the most beautiful, hand-made card he ever got in his life, not to mention the first. And upon opening it, his eyes quickly skimmed the heartfelt message, and he eagerly checked to see who it was from.
Beneath, the delicate cursive writing, was a name written in bold pencil strokes.
I hope you have a wonderful birthday, Naruto.
Love, HINATA HYUUGA.
And back at the Hyuuga Mansion, where there were once two cousins who did everything they could to avoid each other, were now two cousins living in quiet harmony. Neji seemed to project an aura of caring behind his haughtiness, and Hinata managed to keep the stuttering to a minimum.
Neji now even dared to show his branch-house branded tush in the main house.
And the young Hyuuga genius first showed this caring one day, in late November, when Uncle Kazumi emerged from the basement holding a certain old thermos.
Uncle Kazumi was happily mixing what he thought was prime, grounded coffee with some boiling water when Neji walked in and stopped short.
His lips parted in horror when his uncle raised the cup to his lips.
At that moment, Hinata also walked in, and was about to greet her cousin when she saw the thermos on the counter without its lid, and her uncle about to drink its contents.
"AA-!" Neji slapped his hand over Hinata's mouth before she could really scream, and dragged her out of the kitchen and as far away from it as possible.
They both decided to keep their mouths shut and never speak of the incidence again. Thus, Neji made sure that Hinata maintained her composure when her father started going around asking people where grandpa's ashes had disappeared to.
They unknowingly formed a close-knit bond, and stayed as far away from the basement as freaking possible.
And as for the ignorant Uncle Kazumi…
Cheers, old man, cheers.