As always Naruto belongs to Kishimoto.

Neji did his best to stay next to his father as they walked up to the head family house. He hated that place, and, as much as he didn't want to admit it, it scared him. The first time he'd been brought he'd received the seal on his head, and because of what he saw happen to his father, he knew what it did. He told himself he would be fine, though in the back of his mind he added, only if Hiashi-sama isn't there. The look on his father's face told him this was a serious visit, and that scared Neji even more.

Hiashi wasn't the one to meet them though, and the talking was in whispers too low for Neji to hear properly. Finally, Hizashi leaned down to his son and took him by the shoulders. "Neji, something very bad has happened. I have to go meet with the clan council for a while. This woman," Hizashi nodded to an older woman a few feet from them, "is going to take you to Hinata-sama. I want you to stay with her and watch over her. If she needs anything you're to help her, and stay with her until I come for you. Do you understand?"

Neji nodded, very confused by what was happening. Hinata was cute and seemed nice, but he'd never before been alone with her. "I understand, Dad, but what's going on?"

"I'll explain to you later," he replied, gently pushing Neji in the direction of the woman. "Go and stay with Hinata-sama, now."

"Yes, Dad."

Neji followed the woman through the halls of the house. His confusion only increased as he searched around. Everyone here looked sad or worried, but no one was talking so he couldn't overhear anything, and the woman never spoke to him. When they turned a corner Neji saw Hinata huddled against the wall staring at a room people were going in and out of. She looked just as scared and confused as he felt and somehow that made him relax for the first time since coming to this place.

The woman guiding him did not approach Hinata, but instead moved aside and waved Neji forward, as if she didn't want to even get near the terrified girl. Neji pulled at the sleeves of his kimono as he approached Hinata. He had seen her and been introduced, but never before had he talked to her, especially alone. But Hinata was just a kid, like him, and maybe she knew more than he did and could tell him what was going on. By the look on her face, Neji knew that wasn't true.

"Hi—Hinata-sama?" Neji whispered reaching out a hand to touch her shoulder.

A high-pitched squeak was her only response before Hinata buried her face against her knees and pulled into herself.

"Hinata-sama, I'm sorry," Neji whispered quickly, worried someone might think he was being mean to her. No one seemed to take notice of them, though. "I didn't mean to scare you. Are you okay?"

One finger pulled the middle of Hinata's kimono down between her legs just enough for her to peak out.

"Hinata-sama," he said gently, afraid of scaring her again if he spoke too loudly. "I'm Neji. We met before. I really didn't mean to scare you."

Her small head slowly lifted, though her body remained tense as she looked at him. "Neji . . . kun?"

He smiled and nodded. "Right. My dad said to come and stay with you while all the adults are talking."

"Fa–father's gone." Her voice was so tiny Neji almost didn't hear it all.

Inwardly Neji was happy to hear that he wouldn't have to worry about seeing Hiashi today. "Where'd he go?"

Her body scrunched down till her mouth was half blocked by her arms. "I don't know. They won't tell me. But Father's going to be really mad when he gets back. They keep taking his stuff."

"Keep taking his stuff?" Neji followed her gaze to the room she had previously been staring at. People went in and out constantly, removing boxes full of various things. "Is that your dad's room?"

Hinata nodded and wrapped her arms tightly around her knees.

"Why are they moving it all then?"

"I don't know. I want them to stop. It's Father's, not theirs. But I'm scared to go near them." Neji could see tears clouding her already pale eyes.

"I'll go with you," Neji said cheerfully hoping to stop her from crying. "Dad said I'm supposed to help you if you need anything. So, I'll go with you and we can ask them together."

"You–you'll go with me?" Hinata asked, rubbing her eyes with the back of her hands.

"Yeah, come on." Neji held out his small hand for her to take.

Hinata looked from his face to his hand several times before tenuously reaching out and placing her tiny palm into his. Neji gently helped her stand and squeezed her hand to try and comfort her. Hinata returned his smile with one of her own shy ones. At least he got her smiling instead of crying.

Even though the walk was a short one, Neji kept their pace very slow so Hinata wouldn't become more frightened. Her grip on his hand was tight and she did her best to keep herself hidden behind his arm the closer they got to Hiashi's room. All the people who had so far been ignoring the two children stilled as they reached the doorway and looked in.

"Ex–ex–ex . . ." Hinata struggled to bring her voice out of her small body.

"Excuse me," Neji said for her, pulling Hinata beside him but wrapping the hand he held with his other to keep her calm. "Hinata-sama says you shouldn't be moving this since it's Hiashi-sama's." His voice broke slightly at the shocked and nervous looks the adults were passing between each other. "Unless you . . . have a reason?"

A silent conference was being held in the adult's gazes and ended when one of the younger women set down what she was packing and approached them. Neji could feel Hinata tense as she returned to her hiding place behind him.

"You two should go and play outside. It's too nice a day not to enjoy." Despite his age it wasn't hard to see how strained the woman's smile was.

"But-but this is Father's . . . and he'll . . . mad . . . when he . . . back."

Even for Neji, who was still holding onto her hand, most of Hinata's sentence was inaudible. But the point was made, and he knew she was trying hard to speak up.

Another silent conversation was held between the adults. The woman turned back to them with her faulty smile. "We're moving this for Hiashi-sama. You see, he no longer needs these things here."

"Why!" Hinata squeaked loud enough for the whole room to hear, only to quickly lift her free hand and cover her mouth in apology.

There was no conversing this time. The woman's body tensed and she waved the two children out of the room as quickly as she could, placing a hand on their backs, once in the hall, and near pushing them away from Hiashi's room.

"You two need to go play outside. We have much to do. Stay out here, and don't come back inside." Once they were on the front porch the woman turned closed the doors with slam.

Neji could hear Hinata sobbing even before he turned around to find tears falling down her now flushed cheeks. "Why are they taking Father's things? Where's Father?" Short coughing fits choked her words off.

Neji looked around not sure what to do to help her, but no one was nearby to ask. "Hi–Hinata-sama, it'll be okay. They said they were doing it for your dad. So he already knows about it. He won't be mad when he comes back." A worried grin pulled at his mouth.

"I want my father," she whimpered beneath her sobs.

Neji looked on her reddened, tear-streaked face wishing he had some idea what to do to comfort her. "I'll stay with you," he blurted out.

The small girl's crying quieted, though the tears continued to trail down her face.

Neji softened his voice and helped her to sit on the smooth wood porch. "I'll stay with you."


He nodded. "I promise."

Hizashi followed his father through the main house till they reached one of the back rooms normally kept locked. His relationship with his father was just as strained as the one with his brother was . . . had been. His father knocked on the door in front them before entering.

Hizashi looked around the room, carefully avoiding the sheet in the center. Atsuko, Hiashi's wife, knelt next to the sheet. Her eyes were bloodshot and the skin around her nose was raw from crying. Yumi, Kanjiro, and Takeru, three of the deciding members of the clan council, sat on the opposite side of the sheet.

There was no one else in the room, and no where else for Hizashi to look but at the center. To the white sheet pulled over his brother's body to the neck, revealing only a small hint of skin before a white cloth covered his face. His dead face.

Hizashi may not have had a very brotherly relationship with Hiashi, but what he had done, for his daughter and for the clan, for that Hizashi looked on the lifeless body before him with nothing but respect and familial grief. Hizashi's father had closed the door behind them and already taken a seat next to Atsuko by the time Hizashi found himself able to approach his brother's body. He followed a motion from his father and sat next to him, waiting to be told what would happen now.

"The council has come to a decision," Kanjiro began. "One that we hope you will accept, Hizashi."

Hizashi focused his eyes on the white fabric covering his brother's feet. "In place of the clan head, the council's decisions are binding."

"This is not an ordinary decision." Yumi had spoken this time. Her voice was softer and Hizashi could hear the grief hidden behind her calm tone. Yumi was Atsuko's mother, as well as a member of the council, thus she was much closer to the main family than even Hizashi. "We have decided not to return Hyobe-sama to clan head."

Hizashi's head snapped up to look at his father. "What do you mean? Hinata-sama's far too young, and the clan head must be a blood descendant of the main family. Atsuko-sama cannot take over."

Hyobe cleared his throat and sighed. "Indeed, that would leave you as the only one fulfilling the needed requirements."

A firm, bitter glaze covered Hizashi's previously calm eyes. "I was made a member of the branch family, as was my son. We are no longer allowed to be a part of the main family."

"What the council wishes," Yumi interrupted with her saddened voice that forced Hizashi to relax himself, "is that you become regent over Hinata-sama until she comes of age."


Kanjiro nodded. "You would be made acting clan head until Hinata-sama is capable of taking her birthright. This, however, requires that you also teach Hinata-sama what she'll need to know. You'll be expected to train, teach, and guide her just as we would've expected Hiashi-sama to do."

"You want me to become her father?" Hizashi wasn't sure if he was more shocked or disgusted. To think, they were speaking of replacing Hiashi with him right over his brother's body.

"She must be raised to take her place. She needs to look up to someone in order to do this. You and your family would be moved to the main house."

"You want me to take her father's place."

Kanjiro continued as if he hadn't been interrupted. "You, Hizashi, will be allowed to learn the main family techniques so as to teach Hinata-sama. And you'll be given all the freedom and responsibilities that come with clan head."

Hizashi couldn't take it anymore and was on his feet before he even realized how angry he truly was. "Have you even told Hinata her father is dead? Have you told her Hiashi's dead and you're going to replace him with me? We may look identical, but the girl will know the difference between her own father and me!"

His hands clenched and unclenched in a hollow attempt to resume control. Where had all that anger come from? It was more than just disgust at their proposition that had fueled his outburst. Perhaps, despite his own preconceptions, Hizashi could feel more than just familial grief. Perhaps, just perhaps, Hizashi knew that his only brother had died and now lay at his feet.

Kanjiro glanced over to Hizashi's father who nodded his assent to some prior agreement, and Takeru quietly slipped out of the room. Hyobe was the first to break the uneasy silence following this scene. "We expected something like this. That is why the final decision will be yours alone, Hizashi. If you agree we will begin moving you and your family immediately. If you refuse then I will take place as clan head until Hinata comes of age."

Hyobe turned to face his son directly. "Think hard on this Hizashi. We're not trying to replace Hiashi, but I'm not what Hinata will need."

Hizashi returned to his place beside his brother's body. "Byakugan has been taken care of?" He knew that if he didn't change the subject now his emotions would take over again.

Yumi nodded. "Hyobe-sama placed the seal on Hiashi-sama before he died. The Raikage will find nothing of the Hyuuga bloodline in him."

Hizashi spared a glance at Atsuko only to find silent sobs raking her tender frame. Hinata would grow up to be like her; she already resembled Atsuko more than Hiashi. Surely Atsuko and Hyobe would be enough to take care of preparing the next clan head. A substitute Hiashi was not necessary.

A knock on the door drew everyone's attention as the disappearing screen revealed Takeru and Neji.

"What's Neji doing here?" Hizashi demanded.

Takeru stepped and cleared away allowing them so catch the hint of a smaller body hiding behind Hizashi's son. "He refused to leave her."

As Neji entered he could see his small hand holding onto another. Neji had taken his directions quite seriously it seemed. Slowly, Hinata peaked out from behind her living shield only to look upon Hiashi's covered body.

"Hinata," Atsuko called in a loving voice, beckoning her daughter to her. "Hinata, we have to tell you something."

The young girl didn't move. Her body was rigid and clenching onto Neji's shoulder. Hizashi could see the fear consuming her gentle eyes.

"Hinata, please come here." Atsuko's voice was breaking at the sight of her daughter.

"Fa—I want Father." How such a tiny voice had made it to his ears Hizashi would never know.

Tears fell freely down Atsuko's cheeks now. "Hinata, Father . . . Father can't come."


"Father's gone."

Atsuko's sorrow fed Hinata's fear and Hinata's fear only increased the guilt and grief Atsuko bore. It was a cycle that nothing could break without breaking both of them first. "When's he coming home?"

Hyobe stood and approached his two grandchildren. Gently, as if both Neji and Hinata would wilt beneath his touch, he separated them enough to look directly at Hinata. Hizashi could see the worry in Neji's young face, the concern for the tiny girl still holding his hand.

"He's never coming home, Hinata, because he's dead." Hizashi watched as Hinata's chest rose and fell with each quickening breath. "Hinata, it's time for you to say good-bye to your father."

Hyobe moved away enough for her to see Hiashi's body once again. The girl's eyes glistened with unshed tears as her body shook and cried in itself. Her hand ripped from Neji's protective grip and she ran to Hiashi.

"Father! Father! Father!" Hinata grabbed Hiashi's shoulder and rocked him with all the strength her body could force. The small cloth covering his face began slipping off before Atsuko could subdue the screaming child. Her cries continued, now muffled by her mother's chest.

Hizashi hurried to reach his own child, who stared dumbfounded next to Hyobe. Neji's eyes were not on Hizashi, but Hinata, as she wept and raged in her mother's embrace. "Dad, what's—"

Hizashi silenced his son with a shake of his head. He knelt so as to look Neji in the face. "Hiashi-sama has died. It's best if we go for now."

Neji shook his head before Hizashi could even move his weight to stand. "I promised I'd stay with her. You said I was supposed to take care of her. She was scared, so I promised."

Hyobe placed a hand on Hizashi's shoulder. "I can teach her to be a clan head, but I've already raised children and none too successfully. What she needs now is more than I can give her."

Protect Hinata-sama. He had told Neji to do that, but that was their duty. Neji had promised more than duty. Hizashi looked back to the sobbing child. Hinata needed more than duty.

"Neji," Hizashi said, his voice finally completely calm. "We'll be moving over here very shortly."

Hyobe eyed his son cautiously. "Are you certain of this, Hizashi? There's no turning back."

"The only thing I'm certain of right now is that I have always taught my son never to break his word. And my son has promised to stay with Hinata-sama."