A/N: It would help if you guys read my NejiTen ficcie, "Mine For the Night" first :D
He could have heard the wind. Or he could have just heard an echo of a ghost that haunted the silence of the Hyuuga mansion.
But his feet led him to the steps of the house, where even from his unperceived distance, he could already see who it was. She was the wind and the ghost he heard, and she was crying.
Perhaps, too heartbroken to even sense his presence, he waited for some moments before she looked up, eyes swollen, her cheeks still showing the path her tears took.
He waited for her to get up as she would usually do, look away, and, after mumbling a small inaudible excuse, would scurry away.
A mouse. Yes, Hyuuga Hinata-sama reminded him of a mouse. It would have indeed been an outrage for a woman of this powerlessness to head the oldest clan of the village.
But for the first time since their encounter in the Chuunin exams five years ago, she didn't do anything. Her hands folded like a cradle on top of her tucked knees trembled slightly, but that was the only indication that she was affected by his presence.
He silently activated his Byakugan, regarding the girl with his scrutinizing sallow eyes. She seemed to have been hunched up in that place for some hours already, and her breathing pattern had told him that she had been crying there too for the same number of hours.
His gaze fell on her face, and based on the weariness of her facial lines, she could not care less for his presence. Her mind was occupied by something else. And her eyes…
It all came in a flash, but he was sure he saw it.
Yes, his perpetually pacific cousin actually harboring an emotion such as that. And he knew that this sentiment was geared towards him.
It was something new, the demeanor of his cousin, and despite himself, his curiosity grew. It was not everyday that one can see the Hyuuga Hinata-sama angry.
"Father was looking for you last night," she said, her voice subdued. It was not enough to fool him though.
So crossing his arms, he leaned on the doorway and shrugged calmly. "I was with Tenten last night." The words though, didn't come as nonchalantly as he planned, especially when he remembered how overwhelmingly warm and sweet she was to hold close.
"And your father is not looking for you too?" He thought the question sounded stupid, but he had no better idea on how to ask why she was here without looking too interested.
"No. He won't look for something he couldn't see." Once more, he sensed it. Hyuuga Hinata-sama's anger. Ah, she was furious at him AND her father. He already had a small idea on the cause of her behavior.
"Has Hyuuga-sama told you about it?" he decided to ask, carefully watching her face for reactions.
It was as easy as it was back in the one-on-one match. She was worse than an open book—her leaves were scattered, each easy to pick on and tear apart. It didn't take him a Herculean effort to crush her psychologically, and if not for that Kyuubi loudmouth, he knew that his words would have been enough, and he wouldn't have to hurt her.
Her eyes crinkled in resentment. "The wedding."
He knew it. Of course, Hyuuga Hinata-sama was not a doll, even though she could be very obedient to her father's will. But Hyuuga Hiashi didn't know that, as he carried the belief that he alone knew the best for his daughters.
"Father did not ask me what I think of it," she said, her voice slightly above a hiss.
"He doesn't care," he pointed out. "He is still the leader of our clan."
"I will take his place. Does that not even matter?"
"By titular means." He eyed her gravely. "With the meager combat abilities you have, do you really think he would seriously give you his role?"
"He can give it to anyone else in the clan. I shall not interfere." A tear glistened in her eye. "But why did he have to use me as his pawn? I shall willingly give up my rank if he would let me live my life…or at least choose who I will spend my tomorrows with."
It dawned on him. "Uzumaki Naruto." His eyes landed on the white rose beside her. "He came, after all."
"I want to tell him…I want to tell him how he makes me so happy…" Her fists clenched in frustration. "When I was young, my shyness wouldn't let me. Years later, his affection for Sakura-san stopped me. And now…now that he's free and I'm ready… now it's Father's turn to stand in the way!" Her grip on her kimono tightened. "Why couldn't he leave me alone?"
"Because he is not your father alone, Hinata-sama," he explained wearily. "He is the father of the whole clan."
She gasped audibly.
"He realizes the difference between us. I could have been chosen, but a Branch child that I am, the clan wouldn't trust me and my abilities." His eyes scanned the skies. "And you as the Main Family child…have the right to run the machinery of affairs of the clan. Hyuuga-sama knows this, and so to avoid further arguments, he chose me to marry you."
Her gasps turned into sobs. "I cannot… I cannot love…"
"I know," he said wanly. "I know, Hinata-sama."
It would have been easy to blame fate, as he would usually do. But he didn't.
He had every choice to refuse Hiashi, and he knew that the clan head wouldn't force his wishes.
But the clan his father willingly died for… he wouldn't leave it to other people's hands. And even if it meant he had to let go of many things in his life, including the only woman he loved with his whole being, he stood his ground.
He was, after all, a Hyuuga. The blood coursing within him carried the name of his father, and his father's forebears.
His eyes fell on the crying young woman. "I know, Hinata-sama," he said once more. "But it's alright." He noticed the pieces of paper that served as her calligraphy lessons practice papers, and before his cousin could speak, he got up and took it.
Her amazed eyes watched as he, learned in the art of origami thanks to his father, was able create a paper folding of a rose in quick, nimble moves of his fingers.
"Take it," he instructed.
He planted the folded flower firmly on her hand. "It's not as real and beautiful as the flower that Uzumaki Naruto gave you, I know. His is a gift from the Divine Providence, and ours is manipulated by something less solemn and holy." He watched her take the origami flower from him. "But I promise you that I won't leave you."
In his mind ran his father's last wish. That he would take care of the clan princess for as long as he lives. A small smile formed on his face. "You may walk away anytime, Hinata-sama, but I give you my word that I will not permit myself the same privilege." He gazed at the paper bloom. "I will stay with you until that flower dies."
"N-Neji' nii-san…" He watched her eyes soften, and the bravely wipe her tears with the sleeves of her kimono. "A-Arigatou…"
When he watched her clasp the paper flower to her chest, he couldn't help but feeling a bit more settled. They would both live with something they didn't want, and the least they could do was to face it with knowledge that they accepted this willingly.
And for a fleeting moment, he thought he saw his father's smile again.
Originally created for Jingure's fanfic challenge / edited for Shinaka Kasuki's NejiHina friendship request