Hinata crawled through her mother's flower garden, laughing as petals caressed her face and hands. They were playing hide and seek, her kimono acting as makeshift camouflage in the sea of pink and white blooms. The chrysanthemums were her mother's pride and joy. Six days out of seven during the spring and summer she was among them, pruning and weeding. Others worked in the larger garden and maintained the grounds, but this plot of land was ruled by her mother.
She came to the edge of the plot and eyed the flowering bushes across the path. Hinata could catch glimpses of the older woman through the leaves around her, smiling bright and eyes shining as she scanned the thick growth.
The little girl made a break for it, hoping she could cut across the divide without being seen. She was almost there, hands teasing the leaves, when strong arms wrapped around her middle and hoisted her into the air.
"Got you!" Miyoko shouted, swinging her daughter back and forth. She felt someone watching and turned. Hiashi was standing on the landing, pale eyes focused on his wife and daughter, taking in the grass stains and dirt smudges on both.
Miyoko smiled, hefted her daughter under one arm and waved wildly with the other. Hinata followed suit, laughter bursting from her when her mother began turning a tight circle in the center of the path.
The Hyuuga compound was normally bustling in the early afternoon; family members and servants going about their business alone or in small groups. Today it was almost deserted, the many levels overlooking the central courtyard still and silent.
Hinata padded along a covered walkway, feet quiet on smooth cedar. She felt… clear; a girl made of fine glass, bare feet ghosting above the polished boards. It was strange, that clarity; something she'd never experienced before. Lightness swept through her, as if she could lift her arms and be carried aloft on a breeze. Her hands cradled her stomach, palms bowled, fingertips brushing against her jacket.
Loyalty in one hand, love in the other.
The door to her father's study had always been sacrosanct. More than once she'd found herself waiting outside, eyes scanning the courtyard as minutes and hours went by while she waited for him to emerge. As a girl she imagined electricity sparking against her if she tried to slide the ornately decorated shoji open, scorching her small hands. Now she didn't even pause. The door opened without a sound.
Hiashi was sitting at his desk engrossed in the pale sheets laid out before him. He even wore his glasses, something very few people knew about and even fewer admitted to knowing. He looked tired, strained, and she felt a burst of sadness. Her father had always been a rock; one she sheltered under, but always feared would one day crush her under its own weight.
Her father looked up as the door opened, face shifting into hard lines. "Where have you been?" he demanded. "I've had half of our ANBU searching for you for over an hour."
"Jin." Confusion crumbled his features, so she tried again. "Jin, Chichue," she repeated. "I've decided to marry Jin."
Hiashi stared at his daughter. She looked calm, collected, more so than he'd ever seen her before. The giddy fear that always made it impossible for her to stand still around him was missing. Her hands were splayed over her stomach. Not nervously, but protective. "The council will be glad you've decided-."
" Neji will be responsible for my child's training."
The older Hyuuga paused, more from shock than from the interruption itself. When had Hianta ever broke in while he spoke. "I'm sure the council will consider-"
"The council will not." Hinata's hands curled closer to her middle. Her voice trembled, but gained more strength as she went on. She couldn't afford to look weak. Not here, not now. "Neji will be responsible for the child's training. He will play a role in my child's life. He will decide what is best in that area, Chichue." Her shoulder slumped, as if saying the words took all her strength, but she continued. "Hanabi will remain a member of the main family. If I die, she will be responsible for the child, and he will remain heir to the Clan."
The kunochi's face softened, her eyes turned inward. "I will do what is necessary to preserve the honor of our family, Chichue." She turned to leave.
Hiashi took a deep breath. "If the council does not accede to your demands?"
She didn't turn around.
"She's agreed, then?"
Hiashi nodded. "She asked for Jin herself."
Hyuuga Himori closed his eyes briefly. "Finally, something is going right." He turned his attention back to his son. "I'll leave the announcement of the engagement to you."
If asked, the younger Hyuuga would have admitted that he'd been in the small room too many times over the past month. Too much time was spent trying to appease the people in front of him. This, he hoped, would be the last. Hinata stood behind and to the left of him, hands still folded over her abdomen, eyes on the floor. It wasn't shyness or fear that kept her from meeting the eyes of the council, of that Hiashi was certain. She was listening, and planning.
"Hinata has made demands, Chichue," Hiashi started slowly. "She wants Neji to be in charge of the child's training."
Hiashi continued as if Haru hadn't tried to interrupt. "Hinata also insists that Hanabi remain a member of the main family."
Kaiya chuckled. "Anything else she demands, Hiashi? Perhaps that we exchange Neji for Jin on her wedding night?" A small chuckle went through the council at that.
"That won't be necessary, Kaiya-sama," Hinata's small voice cut through the laughter like a blade, severing it instantly. Nine pairs of eyes turned to her, each one surprised and searching.
It was Himori who spoke first. "Neji's role in the life of our heir-"
"Is not up for discussion."
Himori stopped, eyes nearly bulging with disbelief at being interrupted. "You do not make demands-"
"I do now." Hinata stepped around her father. "I am heir to the Hyuuga Clan by virtue of my birth and my ability. My child will be my heir, and I will decide what is right for it."
Hiashi swore he saw amusement flickering in Ai, Rumiko, and Kaiya's eyes as they watched the exchange. "Hinata is willing to listen to suggestions of the council concerning the raising of her child, but final decisions are to be hers alone." And Neji's, he was sure.
Fujita worked his mouth before asking, "And if we do not meet these… demands… of yours, Hinata-chan?"
The breath she took was slow, steady. "Then you will have no heir, and you can do with me what you will."
That declaration stopped everyone in the room. For the first time Hiashi sifted through the strands of his daughter's chakra. He'd felt the swirling when she first approached him, but dismissed it. Now he could feel it; jagged, destructive energy poised against her child. "Hinata."
"You-" her voice broke, and she tried again. "You will give me what I want, or I will take what you desire most from you." Desperation glittered in her eyes.
It was that desperation that caught the attention of the council. Kaiya spoke first. "There is no need to be hasty, Hinata-chan," the woman soothed. "I'm sure we can reach an agreement that suits everyone."
"An oath on your honor," the words were rushed. "On the honor of this family, that my demands will be met, or you can decide how best to explain to the Hokage what drove me to this." The unspoken threat, that she would tell the Hokage everything, was there.
Hiashi met his father's eyes. There were instructions there; that he stop his daughter from following through on her threat, that he get her under control, but he ignored them. They needed to learn what she was capable of, and she needed to learn her own power.
"Agreed." Rumiko kept her eyes trained on her grand-niece.
"Agreed," Fujita echoed.
Six other voices joined in, until Himori was left alone, still staring at his son and granddaughter. His mind worked furiously, trying to find a way out of the situation, until finally his lips pursed. "Agreed."
It was at times like this that Neji remembered why he hated the hospital.
The nurses had to have been ninja, he reasoned. He was only halfway into his clothes when one of the nurses caught him, manhandled him back into bed, and hung his clothes in the closet. He was to remain in their care until the Hokage said otherwise, Nurse Midori reminded him, and they took their charge seriously. He'd barely closed his eyes since then, but someone had managed to sneak into his room and take his clothes all together, leaving him staring at a single hospital robe where his tunic and trousers should have been.
He'd waited, and she still didn't appear.
He had other visitors. Both Gai and Lee came, their usual annoying behavior cut down to a bare minimum, no doubt at the nurses order. Shino appeared shortly after they left, concerned about Neji's health, and what it might mean for Hinata. He thought he saw Kakashi once, hanging around outside the window before disappearing in a puff of smoke.
The official reason he was in the hospital was pneumonia. It was written quite clearly on his charts, though the nurses still changed the bandages on his curse seal every few hours. It wasn't the first time a ninja's 'illness' and treatment were two separate things. He'd never have imagined that he would experience it firsthand.
"I have a visitor for you, Neji," Midori poked her head through the door. "She can only stay for an hour, though."
Hinata slid into the room.
He would never have admitted to it, but relief flooded through him at the sight of her. For hours he'd considered that the council had forbidden her to visit him, that they would be forcibly kept apart. "Hinata-sama."
She lowered her eyes at his formality and settled into the chair next to his bed. "I'm getting married, Neji."
The ninja nodded once. So, she'd talked the council into marrying Shino after all. "Aburame will make-"
"To Jin," the words were whispered, her eyes focused on his hands. "Chichue will announce the marriage tomorrow." Her eyes lifted to his and she reached out, her hand resting lightly on his. "I would be happy if you would see to the training of our child, Neji. More than happy."
Bright, sharp hope flared at her words, followed swiftly by bitterness. "The council would never allow it."
A humorless smile creased her face and vanished just as quickly. "The council has already decided their heir was more important than denying me what I wanted."
Did you ask for me? The words were balanced on the tip of his tongue, ready to spill over and embarrass him. Of course she hadn't. She was marrying Jin, a member of the main family who escaped the curse seal only through the luck of his mother's marriage.
"I… I w-won't ask you to dishonor yourself by continuing what is between us." Her eyes were on their joined hands, her voice less sure. "We…we can be…" pale pupils shifted, searching for the words. Her fingers tightened around his, the pressure edging into pain.
Neji watched in silence. Hinata really couldn't keep her emotions under control, not for very long. He could see what she wanted, could feel it echoed in his own heart, but both knew it couldn't be, would never be.
"I will enjoy being a member of your ANBU, Hinata-sama, once I have recovered." His words were flat and emotionless.
The only response he received was her hand tightening around his.
Wow. It's been… oh god, I don't even want to think about how long it's been since I updated. THANK YOU SO MUCH everyone who stuck around, encouraged, poked, and otherwise didn't give up on this story ever being finished, even when I thought it wouldn't. I know, it's a sad, slightly dissatisfying ending, but I never thought it would end happily. In fact, trying to find a happy ending for them was what kept me from finishing for so long. And this is the end, in case anyone wondered.
If someone wants to write an epilogue, feel free. While I've been batting an idea for a second part to this, involving what happens after the kid is born, I don't think I"ll write it. If someone else wants to, once again, you have my blessing. Once again THANKS FOR READING!!!!
PS: If anyone was hoping for Hinata and Shino to get together, I would suggest reading the story Of the Sky by Fairia13 http:// www. fanfiction. net/ u/ 701499 (her userpage). It's wonderful, and a perfect companion to piece to this one.