It Falls to Words

-

AN: Random thing. Scene popped into my head and refused to go away without being written. Not my best work, unfortunately, and no amount of going over it has resulted in its getting any better! Hmph. Evil, stubborn story…

-

He always knows where to find her, when she's at home, safe and protected by the power of the Hyuuga house, because she spends the majority of her time in the gardens. She has an affinity for the flowers, tending them and caring for them with intentions more delicate than the softest of petals. It's…a tolerable pastime, though it's not anything that he would call productive.

But he understands why she does it. Because even though she's not bound to live a shameful life of subservience, she is as inseparable from her role as he is from his. Her chains are lighter, more musically made, but the end result is the same. Neji will never know freedom, and Hinata will never know freedom, and the two of them together such a pretty picture paint, woven and interlaced through destines and bloodlines and bitterness and hatred dulled by truth to an almost-affection.

So he finds her in the garden, and even though her back is to him, he knows she knows he's there. It's in the way her back stiffens, and her movements become graceless and jerky, because now she's being judged, and there's no room to falter, save that she falters most under scrutiny because her confidence is not her own.

"Hello, Hinata-sama," he greets her with due cordiality, and she flinches, stands, turns to face him and smiles a smile that's so flimsy it's almost pathetic.

"Neji-oniisan…h—hello." She dusts her hands off, because it wouldn't do at all for a member of the main house to greet a pawn with unclean hands (but since when has that stopped them before…? Generations of blood are not so easy to wash off, after all.), and then, seeing as how she doesn't know what to do with them, she clasps them in front of her. She's not just afraid of him; she's afraid of everything, up to and including the confines of her own shadow.

His condescension, built up over the years, isn't quite diminished, but he batters it down even further, and gives a half-bow. "Hinata-sama, I have a request to ask of you." The formal tone to his voice gives him away, he knows. He's asking seriously, for something offered but not earned.

"Me?" she squeaks, "I…I...have no power, Neji-oniisan, you k-know that…" He holds up a hand, she stutters to a halt and her eyes, the white-lilac translucency of newly fallen snow, look anywhere but him.

"A personal request," he corrects himself firmly, and she lifts her arms up, steps a little away from him and tries to appear smaller. It's a defensive mechanism at times more impenetrable than his Kaitan, if only because no honorable man would try to attack something so obviously helpless.

And then he reminds himself that in the not-so-distant past, he'd demonstrated his honor's lack in perfect color, crimsons and creams, blood against a backdrop of skin. His actions make him briefly shameful, but in an analytical sort of sense. He knows he erred, knows just how badly he's misstepped, but it's over, it's done, and though he might be able to change his destiny, he cannot change the legacy of his past.

"Oh…" she manages. "A-all…right, then…"

He waits for the moment to be right. Neji isn't above a little drama, sometimes, especially if it gets him what he wants. It is perhaps a selfish remnant of childhood, but he's always been stubborn and doesn't let go of things so easily. So he waits for the wind to blow just right, and the blossoms to swirl around in a tiny maelstrom all their own, and for the birds to flutter in their trees (I can see the last one, now…) and then he takes a breath and speaks.

"Forgive me."

She blinks, once, and then again, takes another step back like he's cornered her with an ugly, snarling scheme, and then, very softly she says, 'Oh…'

He waits, because he is patient. He knows she won't ask 'for what?' because while Hyuuga Hinata lacks in many things, intelligence is not one of them. She lets out a breath he knew she'd been holding, and seems to think this over. Her hand moves to where his last, nearly-fatal punch had impacted, and then clenches into a fist, resolve or defiance, he isn't sure.

"Neji-oniisan…" she says quietly. "I already forgave you for that."

He nods. "I know."

"T-then…why?"

"It had to be asked." Because some things did, and some things were better left unsaid, but Neji, like Hinata, isn't stupid. His eyes can't penetrate the veil that hides the future, but all things are relative, and if he's willing to alter and mend the now, it might not be so unbearable.

The moment passes, and this time he decides he doesn't need one. Without preamble, or even much conscious consideration, he takes several steps forwards and drops to his knees, never mind that the garden's soil will stain his clothes, and why is he thinking about clothing at a time like this? He clears his throat and bows his head and feels more humbled than he ever has before and likely will again. He isn't the humble sort. "Hinata-sama." It nearly startles him how much sincerity his voice carries. "All my life, I've served your house. Since this mark was carved on my forehead, I've never been able to escape it, and I, in my weakness, fooled myself into believing that it was inescapable." He pauses, wants to look up and doesn't, uses Byakugan instead, notes that Hinata is looking more and more afraid of what he has to say. Or maybe it's the fact that he's kneeling. Almost hastily, he continues, because he doesn't want her to do something foolish, like telling him to stand.

"However, where there is desire, there is always a choice, and I have made one. Please accept my oath of loyalty, given freely and only to you."

She squeaks, startled out of her living reverie, and says rather predictably, "Neji-oniisan!

please, please s-stand up!"

He doesn't move. She comes closer to him, kneels and reaches out to take his hands in hers. Her fingers are small and slender and calloused and there's dirt under her fingernails, and this is an absurdly poignant detail, because she's a main house member and yet she's still so imperfect.

"As long as I draw breath, from this moment until that day," he continues as if she hadn't spoken, in fact disobeying a direct order from his superior, not that she'd ever chastise him for it. "I live only to protect you."

There're tears in her eyes, and he finds this almost as strange as the dirt under her fingernails. Hastily, she rubs her face against one shoulder, and then, free of the reserve that schools her, she flings herself forwards, wraps her arms around him and buries her face in the crook of his neck.

"I…" she begins hesitantly, and he can only just catch her voice, as she's speaking very softly indeed. "I…I'm going to c-change this, Neji-oniisan."

He knows she'll have to change herself before it happens, knows also that she's aware of that. But then her dirty, calloused little fingers grip his shirt a little tighter and she whispers in utter fierceness, "I promise!"

Neji has learned all too well how she doesn't go back on her ninja way, so he smiles, and contemplates the growth rate of flowers.