Request done for damagedgarden on LJ.

Requirements: Hinata/Neji, Summertime, involving Neji's sweet tooth.

Four, Fourteen, Twenty-Four

Neji is four, an ice cream cone in his right hand and his chin sticky with the melting treat. He's wearing a black summer yukata and wooden sandals as he stands on the grass. Next to him is tiny Hinata, three years old and wearing a white yukata, holding the cone he bought for her with the money his father gave him this morning before he sent them off to play. He had gone running up to his father when Hinata had told him she had never tried ice cream before.

Neji's forehead is absent of any mark or bandages or headband. His smile is soft and delighted and his eyes shine with childish joy. Hinata is small and bumbling, shy, as she looks up at him from underneath her lashes and thanks him quietly for the treat. He loves to make her happy, and she likes to be with him. They've only met a day ago but it's the first time they both had a playmate their own ages.

He's her favorite person, she confides.

He beams, radiating innocence, and imitates what he remembers his father does when his mother makes him that happy. He bends and presses their lips together.

When he goes home later that day, his father informs him he will be getting his seal tomorrow.

:-:

Neji is fourteen, feet spread apart, arms arched in an angle, veins pulsating clearly next to his eyes, and breath slightly heavy as he ends his routine. He sees and 'sees' Hinata standing off to the side on the wooden boards of the porch, tray in hand. He shifts positions, thrusting his hand out, palm flat, and pretends to ignore her presence until the kata ends.

As he brings himself to a finish, he scans the surrounding area of the house and no one is within the next 100-meter radius of the two. Sweat soaks through the white bandages wrapped around his forehead and he pulls them off. He turns and smiles to Hinata as she sets the tray down, and he sits, then surprising him, instead of tea she shyly hands him a bowl of ice cream.

It's been a year since Naruto has departed the village to train and a year since that Chuunin exam. A year since the fight between the two of them and the revelations revealed afterwards. Slowly, Neji has begun to make his peace, and finally it seems Hinata has stopped trying to avoid him.

He tells his hands not to shake when he reaches out for the bowl. His face doesn't change and her eyes are dropped down towards the boards. It's the first time she has sought him out, out of her own free will and without any company. He grips the bowl firmly and testing his boundaries, lets his fingertips brush against hers.

I remember you liked it, she whispers.

His hands are still are he stares at her, his mind running through the encounters they've had in the past year and all of them had been either businesslike or proper. He doesn't recall a conversation or a meal that concerned the sweet at all. He hasn't indulged in it for years actually, though he loved it when he was a child. One memory faintly hints, under of many years of past, fog, and pain.

He swallows in the silence. She takes a bite of the white cold treat and she flickers her eyes up to look at him from under her lashes. The light shining in her eyes and the way she looks at him makes him shake. Then a memory comes, crawling from the recesses of his mind, in the time before a decade of bitterness.

The phenomenon of her forgiving him, of her remembering, of her holding on to such memories, of her embracing -not forsaking- them, brings a burst of emotion in him. In an action that will send her running from him for the next few months, and later on in which they pretend that it never happened, or went around the subject, he drops his bowl and rushes forward. She's startled and turns to him at the same time his hand cups her cheek and helps guides her face to where he wishes it to be.

Then he kisses her.

When he goes to report in at the end of the day, Hiashi tells him he is an eligible candidate for the position of Heir.

:-:

Neji is twenty-four, legs folded under him as he sits at the dining table in Hinata's new apartment. He looks around the clean, modestly furnished, and comfortable room. It is near the peak of the summer, and the air conditioner is broken, but Neji can endure it. She comes from the kitchen and in her hands are two bowls of ice cream.

She smiles and apologizes about the heat and hands him the cold treat. He takes and waits but a proper moment before he asks her, why she moved out on her own from the Hyuuga compound. She smiles a bit sadly from her bite and swallows.

She wants to start a family, she reveals.

He thinks back to the last few months where a few men had been courting her, sending her flowers and chocolate and candy. One had composed poetry and another had sent letters. There were ninjas, businessmen, and even nobility.

Many of her female acquaintances have already married, she continues. They have had children, are having children. And she tired of it. The Hyuuga have made them both Heirs but only one will ascend to be Head of the Clan. She's tired of the standstill.

He sits unmoving as he asks, has she chosen the man she will marry.

She stands and to take her empty bowl to the sink, and takes his untouched melting one as well. She knows the suitors now were courting her because she was the Hyuuga Heir, when she pulls out, they will most likely lose interest. But what she hopes for is sincere suitors afterwards in which she will meet a match.

She walks him to the door and he stands back facing her, almost out the door as he repeats the question.

Has she chosen the man she will marry.

A pause.

No, she answers.

She watches him whirl around, takes the two steps towards her, and pushed his hands into her hair at the back of her head to keep her from pulling away. He kissed her fervent, fierce, ardent, and deliberately. When the frantic motion turns into lingering caresses and she leans into him, he relaxes his hold and allows her to pull back. Short, shallow pants of air and he waits for her eyes to slowly flicker open.

" Marry me." He tells her intensely, voice low and eyes hypnotic.

Then he drops his hold and takes a step back, before turning and walking away. He closes the door behind him quietly and she stares, chest moving up and down, eyes glazed over at the polished brown of the wood.

Late that night when he finally retires for bed, he closes his eyes and thinks he can still taste the lingering sweetness of the ice cream. He has always liked it best warm from her mouth. When he slides the door open he finds her standing in the middle of the room look small and fragile.

She only hesitates for a few moments before she nods, head bowed the tiniest bit as she looks up at him with shining eyes from underneath her lashes. And Neji smiles, bright and shining and filled with such joy. He smiles a smile with such radiance he hasn't since before the years of pain and bitterness, in a time of when his father was still alive.

. : Ende : .