The Logical Conclusion

Standard Disclaimers Apply

Hinata is passed over as heir and is heartbroken when the elders engaged Neji to Hanabi. To revive his clan, Sasuke needs a wife. He chooses Hinata for her bloodline but learns that there's more to her than what he thought. Neji isn't happy. NejiHinaSasu

Chapter One: Pretty Eyes

Hinata had never really liked her eyes. There was even a point where she hated them in fact. Everything that had gone wrong in her life was somewhat tied to her eyes. When she was young, she had been kidnapped because the Cloud wanted the secrets of her eyes, her Byakugan. Her father had rescued her but as a result, her uncle Hizashi had to die. Her cousin Neji hated her and the Main House because he thought they killed his father, forced him to lay down his life.

That was all in the past of course, everything had been worked out.

But now and again, Hinata's feelings of hatred would resurface and as she stood there watching the ceremony that betrothed Neji to her sister Hanabi, Hinata had never hated her eyes more.

This was all happening because of her eyes. Because her eyes were weak, because she was not the strongest Byakugan user in the family and because she, Hyuuga Hinata, first born of the Main House of Hyuuga, was not worthy enough, strong enough, to be heir.

She shed no tear even though inside, she was breaking apart.

Crumbling was nothing new to Hinata, nor was pain.

It seemed to her sometimes as if she lived in a constant state of pain, sadness and shame broken only by little interludes of happiness here and there. Of course, there had been a point in her life when she thought the cycle had been broken.

Six years ago when she was twelve years old and she had brought tea to her father and Neji, uncle and nephew who were speaking after years of being estranged, Hinata had smiled to herself.

She had stood up to Neji during the Chuunin Exams and proven that she was not a quitter. She wasn't very strong but slowly, slowly she was starting to change herself. After that, Hiashi, Hinata's father, had given Neji the letter his father, Hizashi, had written for him. Neji now knew the truth surrounding his father's death and the hate and accusation that had bred and grown inside of him slowly drained away. It took time, years even, but the wounds were healing.

That simple gesture of sharing afternoon tea had said it all.

Hinata thought that perhaps, this, this was the beginning of happiness.

Her father had begun to teach Neji the secrets of the Main House fighting technique, something no Branch House member was supposed to learn. Neji in turn, began to help Hinata through her katas. Her cousin was a strict and exacting master, but under his watchful eyes she began to improve. He didn't lose his patience with her and he never told her how unworthy she was and how disappointed he was with her. All he ever said whenever she faltered was 'Will you prove them right Hinata-sama?'

No, of course not. She didn't want to prove them right. She didn't want to be weak. She wanted to be strong. She wanted to prove them wrong.

And so, each time she falls, each time her breath hitches in her throat and her limbs tremble from fatigue and all that she could think of is lying down and closing her eyes to rest, Hinata stands up despite the pain because that is her answer to Neji's question.

"Will you prove them right Hinata-sama?"

"No Neji-niisan. I will prove them wrong."

OOO

Three years ago when she passed the Chuunin exams at fifteen, Neji had taken her out to dinner. At sixteen, he was already an ANBU Captain and more than a few females in the village were struggling to catch his eye.

Hinata had been amused to see just how many admirers he had, as the two of them strolled together into town. Neji had chosen a quiet, dimly lit restaurant. It was obviously expensive, but as Hyuugas, the two of them had grown up in luxury and dining there was not so different from dining at home.

After dinner, the two of them had walked home but didn't immediately go inside the house. Hinata asked her cousin to accompany her for a walk to her private garden.

The Hyuuga estate was vast in size and at the very far end of the compound was a strip of land Hinata's mother had claimed as hers. There was an official Hyuuga garden, cared for and maintained by servants but Hinata's garden was special because her mother had planted it. After Hitomi's death, Hinata had taken it upon herself to continue to care for the garden; adding more varieties of flowers and herbs as she got older and learned to be more and more proficient. She spent countless hours there when not training; trimming, pruning, tilling the soil, pulling out weeds, watering the plants and making sure that each and every single one of her plants them were healthy. Whenever she had missions that took her away from Konoha, Hinata would always bring back some seedlings from varieties of flowers and plants that she had seen and liked.

As a result, her garden was even more beautiful than her mothers had been and Hinata had flowers and herbs that did not grow in Fire Country and could only be found either outside Konoha or at the Yamanaka flower shop.

It was quiet that night and the moon spilled its beams down through the thick blanket of branches and leaves that the trees provided them. When they passed the grove of trees and entered Hinata's garden, Hinata led Neji to a clearing and he saw that there was a small picnic blanket set up in the middle of the glade with a basket to one side.

"Hinata-sama?"

She smiled at him, shyly but happily. "P-Please take a seat, niisan," she said as she motioned to the blanket laid out in the grass.

Gingerly, Neji obeyed and watched as Hinata settled down across from him, busily pulling out glasses and plates from the picnic basket that she had left there earlier. He cocked an eyebrow as he watched her eyes twinkle as she took out square box and opened it, revealing a white colored cake topped by chocolate covered black cherries.

"I hope you like it."

Neji wasn't very fond of desserts; especially cake. They were too sweet and he didn't like the scratchy feeling it left in his throat after he ate. Hinata, lover of all things dessert had tried to prove to him that there was nothing better than having cake, and she surprised him one day when she made him a cherry and vanilla gateau.

He hadn't wanted to eat it but she'd insisted so he'd tried a bite. It wasn't too sweet, he actually quite enjoyed it and she smiled, pleased when he reached for another spoonful. It was the only dessert he ever ate and Hinata was the only one who ever made it for him.

The vanilla reminded him of Hinata's eyes and her skin.

The dark cherries were reminiscent of the bluish hue of her hair.

He lifted his eyes from the cake and met Hinata's. "Arigato. I will."

She blushed and averted her gaze, but she was smiling.

OOO

They were quiet for a long moment as they shared the dessert. Afterwards, Hinata packed up and they sat on the blanket drinking the tea she'd brought in a thermos. They sat side by side, looking up at the sky both of them pale skinned, dark haired and white eyed.

Hinata finally spoke up, her voice barely above a whisper because the silence in the air was so pure and fragile she was afraid to shatter the beauty of the moment. "Oniisan…"

"Hai?"

"A-Anou…I want t-to t-thank you."

"Doushite?" Neji asked, glancing at her and looking perplexed.

Hinata smiled, "For helping me change."

"I didn't help you change. No one can do that for you," Neji said as he turned away and gazed up at the sky. "You were the one who changed yourself Hinata-sama…I am proud of you."

Hinata was stunned by the praise and her face colored. "A-Arigato…" she reached into her pocket and gave him the gift she'd bought for him. She presented it to him with her head bowed. "Please accept this token of my gratitude niisan," she said softly. "You helped me train and you believed in me."

"It's not necessary Hinata-sama…"

Hinata looked at him through her dark bangs and shook her head. "P-Please, accept this g-gift in the s-spirit in which it is o-offered."

Neji looked at her and then at the gift in her hands before he lifted an eyebrow and smiled slightly, looking bemused. "Hai, Hinata-sama," he said as he accepted the tiny box. He untied the gold ribbon before unwrapping the silver paper carefully. Hinata waited with baited breath. It was a necklace of a thin platinum chain with a pendant of an eagle, with its wings outstretched as if soaring in the sky.

Neji lifted it carefully from the box and touched the pendant with his index finger.

"N-Niisan, I b-bought it b-because it m-made me t-think of y-you. S-someday, you will have your wings outstretched too a-and you c-can soar freely…" Hinata stammered, trying to explain.

"Hinata-sama…" he began, in an emotionless voice.

His tone was so deadpan that Hinata felt scared that perhaps he had taken her gift the wrong way. "P-Please, don't be mad Neji-niisan. I…I just…it's a token of m-my promise. W-When I a-am h-head, I promise I w-will do my best to, no I p-promise that no one else will ever be p-placed u-under the seal…"

"Hinata-sama…look at me…"

Hinata was to busy wringing her hands in anxiety, berating herself for picking out such a foolish gift and mumbling barely intelligible apologies that she didn't hear Neji nor did she realize that his tone was softer and gentler than what he normally used when speaking. She felt the tip of his finger on her chin as he turned her face his way and tilted her head up so her eyes met his. She opened her mouth to offer yet another apology but Neji lifted his other hand and placed the tips of his fingers over her lips to silence her.

"Shhh…" he said. "Let me speak first."

Hinata blushed, clamped her mouth shut and nodded.

Neji withdrew his hands from her. "What I was going to say before you interrupted was," he said his tone amused, 'Hinata-sama…domo arigato'."

Hinata sighed, relieved.

"You don't have to promise anything, Hinata-sama."

"Yes I do," Hinata answered solemnly as she thought about Sasuke and how Neji, Naruto, Kiba, Chouji and Shikamaru had almost died trying to retrieve him. Hinata was normally a very gentle and placid person but the amount of anger that had coursed through her when she learned that someone had actually punctured her Neji-niisan's body and that he had a hole on his shoulder had frightened her with it's intensity. Couple that with the fact that her precious Naruto-kun and her beloved friends Kiba and Akamaru as well as Shikamaru and Chouji had been injured was enough to make Hinata's emotions reach a state of acute anger with a modicum of hatred all directed toward the Uchiha Avenger.

He was still out there, with Orochimaru somewhere and Naruto and Sakura were both working hard to try and 'save' him. Hinata had never been close to Sasuke but she did remember him because he was her classmate even before the tragedy that had befallen his family had occurred. She had seen him sometimes when she was younger and their families had gotten together in some function or other. They were relatives in a way after all, albeit distant. The Uchihas had once, long ago, been a branch of the Hyuuga bloodline that had somehow deviated from the normal Byakugan. The Sharingan was a genetic hiccup that had proven to be a dominant gene.

Back then years ago when he was a lot younger and before the massacre had occurred, Sasuke hadn't been so bad. Hinata could remember him following his older brother around and being a normal child. It was only after Itachi had murmured the entire Uchiha clan, except for him, that Sasuke had become the cold, aloof person that he was.

Obsessed with Power.

Obsessed with Revenge.

No one knew exactly why Itachi had murdered his clan but a lot of people had theories about it. Some believed it was because he was evil; it was as simple as that. Others thought perhaps his father had pushed him too hard to be perfect and that his mind had crumbled under the pressure. He had become a Shinobi too young and had advanced too fast. Itachi had been an ANBU captain at an age when those born the same year as he was were just starting their training at the academy and realizing exactly what it is to be a ninja and to kill. No one knew the reason why Itachi had killed his family and betrayed his village but one thing was for sure, no one wanted history to repeat itself.

The murder of an entire clan in a single night was devastating.

"The Hyuuga has to change," Hinata answered Neji after a moment of silence. "Some traditions have to be broken sooner or later or else, we as a family will fall. I…I don't want what happened to the Uchihas to happen to us."

"There is very little chance of that happening Hinata-sama. The curse seal serves as a safeguard against that. No one is strong enough to go against the main family, especially not with the seal."

Neji was strong enough, Hinata knew. He could probably kill every single one of the Main House members, he was the Hyuuga genius after all…but with the seal, he could be easily subdued.

What about in the future?

"Perhaps not now," Hinata ventured, "but sooner or later someone might figure out a way to over come the seal. I don't want our family to fall. Despite everything, I am still proud of who we are and what we stand for. Too many have died to preserve our name. Too many sacrifices have been made. It would be such a waste if all that ended up in nothing. I won't let Hizashi-sama's sacrifice go to waste."

OOO

It had been three years ago…three long years ago when she had made Neji that promise. It seemed she would not have the opportunity to keep it, since she was no longer the heir. Hinata had been passed over in favor of her younger sister Hanabi and it was to her that Neji, who had first been promised to Hinata, was now betrothed to.

Hinata's earlier betrothal to Neji had been tentative. Her father had announced it to both her and her cousin the week before she turned sixteen, a year after she'd reached the rank of Chuunin. Sixteen was the official marriageable age for a Hyuuga female and since she, Hinata, had been decided as unsuitable for the position of heir, she would be married to Neji so that he may help her lead the Clan. He was an Exemplary Hyuuga after all. The epitome of everything they should all strive to be.

The announcement had come as a surprise to them both, but yet not at all. Hinata and Neji had grown up in the House of Hyuuga and they had been born and bred in the manner and tradition of their family. It was actually quite logical, this decision of marriage and both of them did not mind very much that they would be tied together in such a way.

The mark on Neji's forehead declared that he belonged to Hinata after all and she in turn belonged to him.

Hinata was Neji's to protect and serve with his life.

The marriage was just another thing that would bind them together and though the specifics of the production of heirs was a topic both their young mind shied away from, the concept of leading and living a life together and working to change and rebuild the Hyuuga was something they both looked forward to.

A small bitter smile grazed Hinata's lips, so foreign in her countenance that if Kurenai-sensei or her teammates had seen it, they surely would have had doubts about the authenticity of Hinata's identity.

Change the Hyuuga?

Some things never change; Hinata was disgusted with herself that she was only learning this lesson now at eighteen years of age. How foolish she had been to hope. How could she, a weakling of a girl, stand against the indomitable tide of hundreds of years of Hyuuga tradition?

OOO

When she'd turned seventeen, Hinata was still Chuunin, having failed the Jounin Qualifying Exams. She had joined half-heartedly because it seemed expected of her, her father commenting about the amount of time she'd spent as a Chuunin and how she should start thinking about attaining a higher rank.

Hinata didn't care about ranking.

She was much happier working as a medical-nin in the hospital under the guidance of the Shizune-san and the help of the Godaime herself. Sakura, the Hokage's primary apprentice had been tasked, along with Naruto, to help Sasuke, their newly rescued and recovered teammate, reintegrate himself back into Konoha society.

Hinata had seen them now and again, Naruto talking loudly and walking along with Sakura with Sasuke between them, all three of them ignoring the fact that some people went out of their way to avoid their path and others pointed and whispered behind their hands as they walked past.

Uchiha Avenger

Traitor

Monster

Sakura would stiffen, her cheeks coloring a bright red as she fumed and fought not to yell at the people around them. Naruto would keep his banter up, his pace not faltering. He was very used to such treatment and he knew the best way to cope was to ignore them and so he kept his loud conversation up and ushered Sasuke and Sakura along as if he was not aware of the looks and wide berth everyone was giving them.

Hinata went out of her way to meet them whenever she would see them on the streets, just to make up for other people's rudeness. She would blush and say hello to Naruto, Sakura and yes, even to Sasuke even thought she didn't like him that much.

All three would return her greeting and Naruto's eyes would twinkle a bit brighter and Sakura would have a look of gratitude in her green eyes for Hinata's small act of human compassion. Sasuke would scowl at her because he knew, he knew that she had greeted them, had walked up to them intentionally because she saw how everyone else was treating him and she felt pity for him.

Anger at Sakura and Naruto would simmer inside of him even though he knew it made no sense. Why was he angry with those he considered his friends? As much as they annoyed him with their overly bright smiles and desperate attempt to make it seem as if not everyone in the village despised him, Sasuke was honest enough with himself to admit that it helped.

They helped him turn his thoughts away from brooding and thinking too much about that bastard Orochimaru and the fact that his brother Itachi was still out there somewhere, alive instead of lying in a decaying pile of flesh six feet underground.

His Clan was still a long way from being revived.

The truth was, there really wasn't any Uchiha Clan anymore. How could there be, with only two members one of which was already disowned? Sasuke was the only one left and he couldn't be a Clan by himself.

Thinking about it made the seal itch and burn hot against his skin. The noise helped, and the people helped but it was so hard to forget that his two primary goals, after everything he had gone through to realize them, were still left unfulfilled.

Then here was this white-eyed Hyuuga girl he remembered as shy and pitiful, pathetic and weak.

How dare she look at him with pity?

He hated her.

Hinata saw this, but she was familiar with being hated and despised so his glare didn't bother her in the least. Most of her family and the people that she loved had hated Hinata and that had hurt; she didn't like Sasuke so it didn't matter to her if he hated her or not, just as long as she did the right thing; that was enough.

As the months passed, Hinata saw the change in people. Orochimaru had used Anko-san too but she wasn't half bad so maybe Sasuke would turn out all right as well. The females had been the first ones to forget about the betrayal and soon, most of the village remembered and acknowledged that in the end, Sasuke had made the right choice and he had gone back to Konoha.

Slowly, the dark haired Uchiha was welcomed back even though some people were still wary of him.

Naruto was lauded as a hero even though people still treated him with caution and a bit of lingering resentment, for what, Hinata did not know.

With Sasuke-s reentry into Konoha well under way, Sakura began to concentrate on her studies as medic-nin once more and she and Hinata both worked hard to perfect their craft of saving lives instead of taking it.

Hinata's Byakugan although not the sharpest in her clan, could still see the chakra pathways in a person's body and it was beneficial whenever she operated on an injured ninja. She was dedicated to her craft and skilled in the art of healing and though her fighting skills had improved dramatically, she was still more a doctor than a soldier.

Because she was not a strong warrior, therefore by her family's standards, she was weak.

Hanabi, by this time was already twelve years old and had graduated as the Number One Rookie from the ninja academy. She and her team had been voted to take the Chuunin Exams and she had passed with flying colors. Everyone was proud of her and they celebrated her strength and accomplishment with much enthusiasm. Hinata had been very happy and proud of her younger sister.

She was seventeen and Hanabi was twelve and they were both Chuunin.

Later on, that same year, the Council convened to discuss the future of the Clan.

It was then that it was decided that Hinata be stripped of her title as heir and the honor be given to Hanabi. Hinata had been fine with it until she learned that along with her birthright, they were also going to take Neji away from her. It was a shock and her heart had rebelled but even as she struggled to get the words of protest out, she knew she couldn't.

They wouldn't listen to her and she didn't have the right to stand in the way of her clan's future.

That would have been selfish and self-serving and Hinata wasn't like that.

Neji was needed to help guide the clan, he knew what it was to be a Branch House member and he would understand the concerns and issues that divided the clan. To be married to Hanabi who was Hiashi's successor and the future leader, meant that he would be in the position of power where in he could implement the changes that were so badly needed within the structure of the clan.

And so Hinata had stayed silent and watched as Hanabi and Neji were both called into the room with her.

Hinata had stayed silent as the Council explained the new arrangement.

Hinata had stayed silent as Hanabi's eyes grew fractionally wider and flash with something unnamed just before she turned towards her older sister, her white eyes meeting Hinata's briefly before looking away again.

Hinata had stayed silent as she watched the muscles in Neji's arms tense and his back stiffened and she bowed her head when he tilted his head a fraction so his eyes could meet hers.

OOO

That had been several months ago and in the time between then and now, Hinata had spent most of her days at the hospital, taking extra shifts and working herself to exhaustion just so by the time she was able to drag herself back home, she would only have to collapse in bed before sleep finally claimed her. There were even times when she didn't make it home, she just collapsed on one of the empty beds in the hospital, so tired was she. On those days when Shizune would force Hinata to take a day off and rest, she would spend as little of her time at home as possible, preferring to spend her day with her friends that with her family.

The Hyuuga House had never been a home to her.

The halls were filled with too many prying eyes and wagging tongues that spoke of the disgrace that was their heir, the first born who in all the history of the family, was not chosen to lead. There were those who pitied her and those who thought that it was only right that she be set-aside for someone stronger and more talented. Hinata didn't care anymore what they thought of her; she was too tired.

All her life she'd tried to please her family, to make them proud, but nothing she did was ever good enough and she knew, as she watched her father place Hanabi's hand in Neji's, that it was time to stop trying.

Neji and Hanabi's engagement ceremony was a small and solemn family affair.

Later on, there would be a larger celebration to honor Neji and Hanabi's betrothal as it was formally announced to the village. Hinata was expected to announce that she was passing over her birthright as heir to her sister as well as to congratulate both Hanabi and Neji for their engagement.

Perhaps she should be grateful that her father and the council of Elders were at least allowing her the courtesy to save face, to step down gracefully from her position. They could have just announced Hanabi as heir, they didn't need to make her formally renounce it as if it was her choice but in allowing her to do so, they were at least giving her a little bit of dignity.

Hinata started to think about what she would say then. One of her older aunts, Hitomi, who was a member of the Council, had been helpful enough to give Hinata some tips regarding she speech she would make in a few weeks at the upcoming celebration.

With Hanabi's betrothal to Neji, I feel as if the two of them would better lead the clan than I alone. By renouncing my position as heir and future Clan Head, I am not giving up the responsibility for the Clan but am instead thinking of the greater good of Hyuuga. All of us have a responsibility to look out for the future of our family and by doing this, I am doing my part in ensuring that the Hyuuga House remain as it is. Strong.

It sounded quite nice.

Now, Hinata only had to make sure she didn't start crying when she finally delivered the lie in front of everyone she knew.

Naruto may have been strong enough change the way people perceived him, but Hinata didn't think that she was. She didn't seem to have the same indomitable spirit as him. She was tired and all she wanted now was to live her own life away from her Clan. Hinata made her choice then, as she listened to thirteen year old Hanabi swear, in a solemn voice, that she would protect and uphold the Clan name and all it was to be a Hyuuga.

Hinata knew she needed to leave.

The festivities would take a few weeks to arrange so she had time to look for a place to stay. After her speech and official renouncement of her title, she would have fulfilled her obligation to the family and she could leave them. She could leave…she needed to leave. She couldn't bear to be in the same house with them anymore, under the same roof.

She would have to leave her garden and the thought made Hinata's heart lurch as she imagined to weeds growing and choking each flower and plant she had painstakingly raised from the ground up. All her work, all the love she'd put in the endeavor would go to waste. Maybe Neji-niisan could have someone take care of it for her. She would need to talk to him later, to say good-bye.

Hanabi too.

Hinata didn't hate her sister because Hanabi, as strong as she was, was caught in the same web of destiny all Hyuuga children were born into. They were all in the same positions, pawns in the game of life and strength and weakness and death. All for the Byakugan and all for the family and all for the sake of black haired, white eyed, pale skinned children that would serve as the future of the Clan. Children with talent, strength and strong blood coursing through her veins: children that, Hinata hoped, would not have to fear the curse seal.

If her nieces and nephews can live without fear and if the future of the clan and the children about to be born into the family would be devoid of conflict, dissatisfaction and fear, then perhaps Hinata, Neji and Hanabi's sacrifices would be worth it.

No one else had to go through this manipulation again….

Hopefully…

OOO

"Hinata-san…Hinata-san…"

Hinata blinked at the sound of someone calling her name and she realized she'd been so preoccupied with her thoughts that she hadn't even noticed that the ceremony was over and that everyone was headed towards where Neji and Hanabi were, to greet them and offer well wishes. Hinata smiled at her Aunt Akiko, one of the members of the Main House and a Council Elder who had always been distantly kind to her. At least, Akiko-san had never showed displeasure when she looked at Hinata.

Hanabi was too young, she was only thirteen, not old enough to be married but once she hit sixteen, three years from now, she would be wed to Neji in what would undoubtedly be the grandest wedding in Konoha.

When Hiashi steps down as the Clan Head, Hanabi and Neji would take his place.

Hinata was too old to receive the curse seal.

It was placed at a young age for a reason.

She wondered if they would still try?

Would she survive?

As a member of the main family and the older sister, Hinata was the first one to greet Hanabi and Neji after her father. She walked towards the center of the crowd acutely aware of the eyes trained her way. The room was quiet as everyone watched her progress and Hinata prayed that she didn't trip on the hem of her kimono. She gave a silent prayer of thanks as she reached her destination without accident and stood in front of her sister and her cousin.

She bowed respectfully to them and murmured the proper words of congratulations and hopes for a wonderful, fruitful future together. She leaned forward to place a ceremonial kiss on her younger sister's cheek and was surprised to feel two arms wrap themselves around her neck.

Hinata stiffened, her eyes wide.

This was not part of the ceremony.

It wasn't for show.

It was…it was real.

Her body relaxed and she sank into Hanabi's embrace, her arms coming up to encircle the span of her sister's body. It was the first time she and her sister had embraced but somehow, it did not feel awkward at all.

"I'm sorry Hinata," Hanabi whispered in a soft voice. "I didn't want this to happen, I promise."

Hanabi, the younger sister she never had the opportunity to get to know very well. Hinata closed her eyes, her arms tightening around the younger girl as she whispered. "It's okay."

Both girls let go and they bowed to each other.

Hinata stood in front of Neji and bowed again. "Congratulations Oniisan," she whispered softly. She lifted her head and met his eyes because he always told her to look people right in the eye when she spoke. "I wish you the greatest of happiness."

Something flashed in Neji's eyes but he was quiet as he nodded and murmured his appreciation and thanks.

Hinata stepped aside and the line progressed as each Hyuuga member from the Main House and then the Branch, stepped up to congratulate the two.

OOO

Neji walked back into his room, in the Branch House and closed the door softly. No ANBU mission had ever left him feeling so drained as he did right at that moment. His mother had asked after his health and all he'd had the strength to do was to quietly smile at her and say that he was fine. Both of them knew it was a lie. Neji felt anything but fine. It was as if the weight of the world rested on his shoulders and for the first time in Neji's life, he doubted his strength.

There was a mirror on one side of his simple, Spartan room and he walked towards it, reaching up for the band of dark cloth that concealed the cursed seal that marred his forehead. With slow, careful motioned, he unwrapped the cloth and exposed the mark and with candid eyes, he studied himself.

More and more, he was starting to look like his father.

Even his eyes had the same sad look Neji remembered seeing in his father's eyes sometimes whenever Hizashi looked at Hinata and him when they were younger and still played together. He hadn't been able to tell exactly what that look meant back then, but now Neji understood only too well. It was resigned acceptance of unavoidable responsibility and fate.

Some things could be changed, but others could not.

Fate could be changed but there were some responsibility that one cannot turn one's back on, no matter how painful.

Neji took of the ceremonial clothes he wore and folded them carefully before placing them in the box from which they came. It was his father's garments. The same ones he wore when he had been betrothed to Neji's mother, Namiko.

His father had promised him that one day, he would be free.

Hinata had promised him that one day, he would soar freely.

When he was younger, Neji had wanted to be part of the Main House, thought it was his right. He was strong, he was worthy, why should he be caged and sealed and have to live and die to protect those who were not even half as good and talented as he was?

As he matured, Neji had come to accept the cage he was born into and he had learned to move within its parameters, making use of the space he was allowed. It wasn't so bad to be caged really, because it was Hinata who was the lock and it was she who had the key and she had promised to set him free.

Even if she opened the door, Neji realized he would still have stayed by her side.

He owned her, she belonged to him, had belonged to him from the moment she'd peeked out from behind her father and had smiled at him. Neji had claimed her then.

Hinata was his and he was Hinata's.

He wanted to belong to her.

But he belonged to Hanabi now.

No.

Not Hanabi.

He belonged to the Clan as did Hanabi and Hinata, and they were all moved by the will of the Clan and it dictated that their wants and desires were second only to the greater good of the Hyuuga.

Growing up, for all his anger, Neji had still been proud to be a Hyuuga and had done his best to uphold his family's stellar reputation. Hinata had told him when she was fifteen that despite everything, she still loved their Clan and everything the Hyuugas stood for. Neji had agreed with her then, but as he stood beside Hanabi and watched Hinata approach them and bow her head, he felt his love for his Clan, already cracked because of his father's death and the seal they imposed upon him, shatter like glass.

He had been surprised when Hanabi had raised her arms to embrace her sister but he knew Hinata would return the embrace, there was no question of that.

That moment when Hinata had raised her eyes to meet his and had smiled that soft smile of hers and wished him all the happiness in the world, Neji had wanted nothing more than to go on a killing spree starting with Hiashi and followed swiftly by the Council of Elders.

He didn't of course, not because he feared the curse seal but because he remembered Hinata's words that night three years ago.

"I…I don't want what happened to the Uchihas to happen to us…"

Neji closed her eyes, his hand reaching up to unconsciously clasp the intricately carved image of an eagle with its wing outstretched as if soaring freely through the sky. It hung in a simple platinum chain, suspended right over his heart.

"The Hyuuga has to change. Some traditions have to be broken sooner or later or else, we as a family will fall. I…I don't want what happened to the Uchihas to happen to us. I don't want our family to fall. Despite everything, I am still proud of who we are and what we stand for. Too many have died to preserve our name. Too many sacrifices have been made. It would be such a waste if all that ended up in nothing. I won't let Hizashi-sama's sacrifice go to waste."

"Neither will I," Neji promised.

OOO

To Be Continued…

OOO

A/N: This could probably stand as a one-shot huh? Anyway, I love NejiHina but I like SasuHina too so I made this fic. Not much of SasuHina in this chapter but this is more or less a prologue. Anyway, did you guys enjoy it? Please review. If you think I should continue this fic, or leave it alone then please feel free to tell me. If you want to read more of this story, then review please and let me know. Thanks.