Chapter Rating: PG-13

My Reviewers:
Nalio / sher / emir / Confissao:
Thanks. :D
Lady of Genesis: Slow? O.o Gomen...
innocent04: :) Thanks...I won't be stopping anytime soon, even if I update real slow and stuff. And if I do, I'll have a VERY valid reason!
Fukari: Oh Gosh, you make me BLUSH! Thanks so much. I really appreciate it.
PharoahofDuels: Hey! Thank you. Some people do have fantastic stories and plots...just, English isn't their first language which is a pity. But, thank you, I really am glad you like this...hope I live up to your praise. :D
Marumaruyobi: Yeah. Studying's a biatch. But oh well. Hopefully all this crap'll be worth it in the end. -.-;
MisSs005: Yeah, I know, InoChou is a pretty surprising pairing. But I've seen some fantastic fics out there that really made me go "ooh! aaah!" and it prompted me to stick them together. 'sides. Shika belongs with Temari. hehe. lol.
Anti-D: Unfortunately, this is as soon as was possible. -.-; Gomen, ne?

Scented Candles: Thank you so much...


For Scented Candles whose review prompted me to get off my lazy ass and continue this.
Arigatou Gozaimashita. n.n

VIII
Back

The flowers had bloomed. Spring came snow receded and soon it seemed that the snow had never been. Then summer came just as quietly. Neji had always thought, as clichéd as it seemed, that Hinata was like the summer. Or maybe he had thought that summer, was like Hinata. But that was before he was married to her and they lived under the same house.

They spent little, very little time together. How could they spend any time with each other? Neji was busy. Neji didn't have time. When he came back home these nights, Hinata was already asleep. In the beginning, she was asleep on the couch. She had stayed up waiting for him. Now he would come home, and he wasn't greeted by the sight of a sleeping Hinata on the couch, dinner cold on the table. Now he came home and Hinata was in bed already and his dinner sat in the oven.

Yes, once he thought Hinata was like the summer. But she wasn't. He was wrong. Just as he had been wrong about almost everything concerning her, which he was beginning to realize now. Hinata was not the summer. She was not a season. She was not fleeting, she did not come and go, she did not pass like time. Hinata was permanent and steady. Hinata did not move. She was still. Hinata did not sway.

Neji had been sent on a mission several weeks ago. He had only returned a few weeks ago. His mind had been a whirlpool of emotions and he ached everywhere. He had come home and he had expected dinner. Hinata always had dinner ready for him. His expectations were met. Dinner was there. But Hinata was not.

When she came back that night, she had obviously been exhausted. She looked tired to the bone.

"Where have you been."

Hinata had blinked, and then smiled. "Okaeri-nasai, Neji-san!"

"Where have you been."

"I-I…no where." She replied.

He had paused then. His question had been asked simply to make some sort of conversation. But her answer. Her answer had stopped him in his tracks.

"What do you mean, 'no where'?" Suddenly he wanted to know the answer.

"Neji-san, I-…I…Ittai!"

He had had her pinned against the wall, his hands wrapped tightly around her wrists.

"Hinata-sama, where were you." He said, struggling with himself.

"G-gomen…I was with Kiba-kun. He…H-he needed me."

Kiba. Kun. He had her trapped. She was right there. They were so close. She had been shaking slightly. He had looked down at her lips and he'd leaned down to capture them in his own. Didn't she know? Didn't she care? Kiba-kun. Kiba-kun. Needed her. Didn't she know? Didn't she care? He needed her more. Their lips had been a breath apart. Hers had parted. He had stopped. He had dropped her wrists. He had greeted her goodnight and went into his room and didn't come out.

He had stopped because he had realized that he didn't so much want to kiss her, as he had wanted to suck her soul out through her lips. He wanted to capture her and trap her and make her his. His. Not…Kiba's. He was blinded by rage and…envy. He knew. She preferred anyone's company to his.

That night, most of which he could no longer remember, Hinata was at his side, trying to soothe his fever. She had stayed the entire night and the next day she didn't go to work. He was blind with pain and it was just so cold. But Hinata, he knew had stayed there. Three days later he had gotten better. He had left and when he came back, Hinata was home, having left the hospital early that day. She had gone to him, and checked for his fever, placing a palm on his forehead. He had reeled back from her touch and her hand was suspended in front of them, fingers beginning to curl in and he had watched as she pulled her hand back slowly. He had seen it then. A fading purple ring around her wrists, his fingerprints staining her porcelain skin blue.

So now he couldn't, didn't want to get near her. Neither did he ever touch her. Every touch was a confession and every touch burned him from the inside out. But every burn it seemed; was freedom.

He stiffened when Hinata entered the bedroom they were supposed to be sharing with each other. He never went in there. Only to get clothes. He knew, she was watching him as she pulled down the covers and slipped carefully in.

"Oyasumi-nasai, Neji-san." He heard her.

He pretended not to and slid the closet door shut, the full length mirror attached to the door coming into view, along with Hinata behind him. Her paper-white eyes staring up at him. He wondered, how a blank sheet could say so much. Focusing on his own reflection, he saw himself, eyes like hers with nothing written on them either but having nothing to say. He turned around and looked at her.

"Itte kimasu." He whispered.

Hinata sat up then.

"N-ne, Neji-san? Where...where are…" She closed her mouth and didn't complete her question.

It was better that way. If she didn't ask, he wouldn't lie. He could have, would have, said that he was going on a mission and would be back by dawn. That the Hokage had some task or another for him. But she didn't ask so he didn't lie.

It was hot. Neji could hardly breathe behind the mask. It didn't matter. He sat, perched on the walls that surrounded Konohagakure. Beyond its walls were other ANBU, returning from missions or just guarding the village. His peripheral view showed that there was a concentration of ANBU roughly fifty feet away. He didn't move from his spot when they emerged from the forest and asked access into the gates. He looked down upon them; four men were carrying the limp bodies of two more. His eyes widened.

He dropped down from his place on the wall, concentrating chakra on his hands so he could graze the wall with it, slowing down his impact. The ANBU below looked up.

"Eagle." They acknowledged him, nodding.

He bowed his head a fraction and then turned his attention to the two bodies being carried.

"We found this one carrying the other one…both are suffering some major injuries." The Bear said, gesturing to the body he carried.

The guards at the gates finally opened the gates for the five ANBU. Neji said nothing.

"We should take these to the hospital." The Tiger whispered.

"Someone has to alert the Hokage about this." Neji finally said.

"Nani?" The Bear asked.

"She'd want to know."

The smallest of the other four, the Dog, nodded.

"Hai. I'll inform her immediately."

He disappeared.

Neji followed the other three to the hospital and followed the nurses to a private room he had requested for them where the two were laid down. Neji stared. Both suffered major burns; one of them all the way up his left arm, the other on his right. He stared. The moment they had been lain down on stretchers and were close enough, the more badly torn up of the two had unconsciously grabbed on to the shirt of the other in a death grip. He did not let go. They had to push the two beds together to get them close enough to each other.

Neji stayed, he didn't know for how long. But the Hokage had turned up and then a hundred other people had turned up and they swarmed around the two lying in the beds. Jutsus were being performed left right and centre. Neji ignored everyone completely, stepping aside to give them room but that's about as much acknowledgement he gave the others. His gaze was transfixed on the two.

Near dawn, everyone began to filter out. No one stayed but Neji and the Hokage. She looked exhausted but she didn't leave the side of the smaller of the two who still held the other as if even in sleep, he was frightened the other would leave again. Tsunade hadn't shown this to the others, but it was alright in front of Neji who had probably seen it anyway. Tears fell and landed on the cheeks of the one Tsunade was bent over. She smoothed his forehead over, the young man before her being shown the affection a mother would give her hurt twelve year old.

Tsunade whispered and Neji didn't listen but he couldn't help but watch. She was rocking slightly, lips brushing the bare forehead, hair being smoothed back over and over again. An ANBU appeared and quick as a flash, Tsunade's face was blank, none of the earlier pain visible. She left the room.

Neji stayed a moment longer. He turned towards the door and eyes were trained on the back of his head.

"Okaeri-nasai, Sasuke-san." Neji said without turning around and gave the other a curt nod before leaving.

Sasuke's eyes looked on and didn't move from Neji. Once Neji was gone he looked down at the hand that gripped his shirt tightly but didn't even try to remove it. He turned his head to his left where the other lay. Blue eyes were closed and blonde hair matted to the tanned forehead, face contorted slightly in pain. Sasuke turned away, lying stiff as a board and stared up at the ceiling. Nothing had changed in the deep, cold, ebony eyes apart from the fact that they had grown deeper and colder. But that was only when he wasn't looking at the one besides him.

He returned a few hours before dawn, slipping into more comfortable clothes and stared out of the window. Neji stepped into the guest bedroom and paused for a moment. A guest in his own home.

Hinata was surprised to see Neji sitting at the kitchen table with a mug of coffee in front of him. She couldn't imagine Neji making coffee.

"Ohayou Gozaimasu, Neji-san." She greeted.

He looked up from his cup and nodded a reply. His face was drawn, his face a thin line and the muscles of his jaw taut from pressing his mouth shut.

"A-Ano, Neji-san…Daijoubu ka?" She whispered, walking over towards him.

She tried to press a hand against his forehead but he reeled away; dodging her hand as if she were attacking him. She tried to hide the hurt she felt.

"Hai." Was all he said.

She wanted to press on but it was obvious he wasn't going to talk about it. Instead, she went to make coffee for herself. She gave him a side glance. Neji hated coffee. He never drank it. Let alone made this much. She was sure it was all for him. She lifted the carafe and saw that it was nearly empty; a telltale ring of coffee showing it had once been full. He'd drank all of it by himself? She was surprised he wasn't on a caffeine-high. The coffee which she brought with her from the Main House was chock full of caffeine. It was imported and one of the finest around.

"I didn't put much coffee in it. It just gave me something to drink." He said from behind her, as if reading her mind.

She stayed silent. Maybe he would talk some more. She poured out the remaining coffee, washed the carafe and began making another. She leaned against the counter, inhaling the rich smell. She looked over at Neji who was looking at her now. It made her nervous. She pulled at her freshly washed hair. Unlike most people, Hinata showered first, before having her coffee. She pulled it into a bun and kept it in place with the hair tie she had around her wrist.

The coffee was done and soon she was revelling in her own cup, standing instead of sitting next to Neji who looked like he liked this particular arrangement very much. He was tapping gently on the table, his coffee nearly finished. She looked into her own cup, it too, nearly empty.

"Naruto is back."

Neji stared at the broken cup of coffee on the floor in the place where Hinata had once stood. He was glad he'd waited for her to finish before telling her. He heard the front door being tugged open and then slammed shut. No Good-bye. No Itte Kimasu. Nothing. He was alone in the house that was barely his. He continued to stare at the broken cup. He got up and left himself, not bothering to pick up the broken pieces.