A/N: I finally posted this! XD This was written sometime ago for the livejournal gift exchange community, narutowishlist. Special thanks to Ladii for the beta!


-Heaven-
Neji x Hinata
for nasouiishimata


Hyuuga Neji's childhood ended when he was four.

That day, he saw his father being placed into a bag; his face ashen and with no sign of life, and given to a smirking Cloud shinobi like some birthday gift. As he desperately kicked, wailed, screamed, and cried till his tears dried out, he stopped believing in things that a child was meant to believe in: heroes, miracles, and how the Good would always triumph.

He saw the darker side of life, found out that there were too many things that were out of his reach; beyond his control. His life had been planned out for him even before he was born, and he had no say on how his life should be lived. Destiny had all.

Hyuuga Hinata never had a childhood.

She never knew what it felt like to play hide-and-seek with children her age, step on puddles in the rain; water splashing to the knees, or listen to her parents recite a bedtime story to her while she was tucked in comfortably in a warm bed.

Her days were filled with trainings, lectures, more trainings, and then the punishment she always got at the end of the day, no matter how hard she had tried. From the moment of her birth, the Clan painstakingly groomed her into the perfect heiress she was to become: firm, strict, proper, disciplined, and whose decisions were for the best of the Clan.

Hyuuga Neji and Hyuuga Hinata were two children-once pure and innocent-who were forced to grow up too quickly in a harsh and cruel system they called the Hyuuga.

---

His eyes bore into hers, hatred and bitterness evident in them. But she knew they spoke of more. The strength to kill. The promise of revenge.

He lashed at her then; hurtful remarks, leaving wounds so deep that not even a scar would form.

But she ignored the bleeding in her heart, stood as upright as she could, looked at him squarely in the eye, and faced his full-blown wrath.

She paid dearly for this foolish act of bravery; the thrust to her lungs had almost stolen her last breath. But when she dropped to the ground all too ungracefully, she smiled, for the first time since nine years, for herself.

And perhaps for him.

Hinata woke up abruptly, drenched in cold sweat.

Steadying her ragged breath and calming her tingling nerves, the Kunoichi brought her knees to her chest and hugged herself. Staying in that position for some time, she bit her lips, shut her eyes tightly, and willed for the images to go away.

God knows how many sleepless nights Hinata had been having because of these dreams. They seemed to keep on haunting her, reminding her of painful memories.

After minutes of deep breathing and swallowing back of tears, the Hyuuga heiress finally mustered up enough courage to get out of her bed and proceed to the kitchen for a glass of water.

It was only upon reaching her destination and noticing that the lights were on, did Hinata remember the kitchen was the only place the Main house and Branch house shared.

---

"The person lost and suffering within the destiny of the Main and Branch houses... is actually you."

The calloused fingers closed around the porcelain cup tighter at this memory. Hand slightly trembling, the Hyuuga genius raised the cup to his lips and drank the bitter liquid in one gulp.

After washing and the cup and putting it back to where it belonged, Neji shuffled his feet and was about to head back to his own quarters when he heard footsteps approaching him. Raising his head and turning it slightly to his right, he squinted his eyes and could only make out a petite form in the darkness of the corridor.

But as the person neared the kitchen, the lights inside traced her silhouette, revealing pale skin, raven hair and paper-coloured eyes; so similar to his own, and yet not entirely the same.

At that instant, a brief past scene flashed across his mind.

"Listen, Neji. Hinata-sama of the Main family… You will live to protect her and the Hyuuga blood."

The tone used was serious, like he was telling Neji to swear and take a vow. Yet, there was something else underlying that hardness between his eyes as he spoke.

The young child that he was had nodded eagerly and replied with a firm 'yes' then.

The excitement and willingness to protect his cute little cousin even at the cost of his life, was shown by a tiny tint of pink on his cheeks.

This memory had been tucked away to the back of his mind for many years. It was only after knowing the truth of his father's death and meeting his cousin again; standing all but a three feet away from him, wearing the exact expression that she had on when they had first met, that Neji finally remembered.

--

A gasp broke the silence of the night. It was then quickly covered up by an apology and a greeting.

"Neji-niisan," Hinata started, bowing deeply; out of politeness and nervousness.

"Hinata-sama," Neji answered with a slight nod.

An awkward silence hung in the air, and the atmosphere seemed tensed. Hinata was twiddling with her fingers while Neji was pressing his lips together. Both were swallowing lumps in their throats and staring at each other, but avoiding looking directly in the other's eyes.

It was, surprisingly, Neji who spoke first, or rather, attempted to. He had already prepared himself; drawing a death breath and parting his lips. But his words abandoned him when he saw where his cousin's gaze was on.

Her ghost-white eyes were looking at his forehead, and Neji was quick to realise that he was not wearing his forehead protector from his reflection in the glass door of the cabinet by his side.

Hinata averted her gaze and clasped her hands together in response, when he knitted his brows together and glared at her.

Neji noticed her predicament and relaxed his muscles, deciding to let it drop. Debating with himself whether to stay on and see if Hinata had anything to say or just leave her alone in the kitchen and go to bed, the Byakugan user, for the first time since he saw her that night, focused his mind somewhere else instead of on the dark-haired female in front of him.

Perhaps if Hinata had not done what she did later, Neji would not be having that many thoughts about her and his heart would not beat so wildly at the sight of her after that incident.

--

"Neji-niisan..." her soft voice floated to his ears.

A pair of tiny hands reached up and grabbed the hem of his shirt.

"Yes, Hinata-sama?" The four-year-old answered back with a teasing smile.

"What... are those?" a finger pointed at the ripples in the pond.

One hand reached down to ruffle her hair. "They are fishes called 'Koi'. My mother once told me that they bring good luck."

The girl placed her hands together and spoke aloud,

"Koi-san, please bring Neji-niisan good luck, always."

Her companion only smiled fondly at her.

Days later, Hinata, donned in a black kimono, stood by the pond and stated her request to the fishes again. When she went nearer, one foot accidentally kicked a stone and she tripped. A shout rang throughout the compound before she fell, head first, into the water.

The pond wasn't exactly deep, but she wasn't exactly tall either. As she flailed her arms desperately and gasped for air, she saw a familiar figure coming into sight.

He had looked at her, but his eyes held much contempt, not the kindness she was used to and loved. The seal on his forehead; a stark contrast to his pale skin, was wrinkled by the deep narrowing of his eyes.

Then, as Hinata watched; forgetting to move or scream or even breathe, Neji rolled his eyes back to his front, and walked away, the black belt of his similarly black yukata fluttering behind him.

Later, when a few servants passing by saw and saved her, Hinata trembled violently and failed to talk for very long moments. They all assumed that it was the result of the shock she just had-nearly drowning.

--

Neji could have sworn his heart stopped beating when Hinata gingerly traced the outline of the seal on his forehead with her fingers. He noted that her fingers were cold, when they came into contact with his skin, but was ashamed to admit that the places she had touched and left later, felt cold.

Fighting the urge not to blush, Neji spoke as harshly as possible, though there was still some huskiness in those few words,

"What are you doing?"

After he had said this, he started questioning himself why he did not flinch from her touch. A part of him answered that he was reluctant to do so. Her touch seemed so... soothing, comforting.

And then he was wondering if it was pity that she felt for him.

"Does it hurt?" a murmur reached his ears, and he lowered his gaze to land on her milky orbs. Her two fingers never left his forehead.

"Only if a person from the Main house activates the jutsu." This time, his feelings were shown in his sentence.

Her hand fell back to her side, and-if not for his strong self-control-his hand almost reached out to grab it and still her movement.

"No, I mean," now her face was facing the floor, "Does it hurt when you look into the mirror everyday?"

"Yes," was all he could answer. His pulse raced and he could feel his blood humming in his ears.

He didn't know if it was because the weather was cold and her warmth invited him, or if it was because her eyes were so intense and full of emotion, or because he had wanted to do that for a long time now, since the day he met her.

He bent down and took her deliciously parted lips with his own.

--

"I'm sorry."

"W-What?" she almost dropped the cup she was holding.

A few days had passed since that incident in the kitchen, and Hinata was wondering when Neji would mention it. But this was not what she had expected; to talk about it when her sister was sitting right next to her.

"I'm sorry for not saving you when you fell into the pond," his tone was almost solemn.

"O-Oh."

Nothing more was said, and it was only after Hanabi finished her tea and was about to leave when the silence was broken by her,

"I freed a bird today..." She paused, looking at the two of them for a brief moment before continuing, "but it came flying back to its cage."


-End-