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The magic of first love is our ignorance that it can never end. – Ben Disraeli

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Neji took his time walking through the compound on his way to his room, exhausted from the long term mission he had just returned from. With his mind still on the incidences that had complicated his mission he encountered a familiar scene that always brought him peace, always reminded him of home. In one of the many gardens in the compound he paused and brought his thoughts back to the present, watching a young woman kneeling by some flowers with her eyes closed, enjoying the aroma of the outdoors. Her long dark hair gently swayed from the breeze, brushing lightly against her simple blue kimono and barely caressed the back of her hands folded in her lap. Every year Hinata's beauty grew along with her strength and her heart, an expectation of his. Unwilling to disturb her moment of quiet stillness, he continued silently on his way contemplating the past.

He had spoken honestly to his father as a small child when he had met her for the first time. Even when his father had told him that it was his duty to protect her, Neji did not mind, he had grown fond of his young cousin. She was gentle and kind, smiling with pleasure from the simplest of things...and he loved making her smile. Could one really call it 'duty' when protecting her and her smile was something he already wanted to do? He wanted to protect her, to always keep her safe, happy, and smiling. And yet it's astounding how quickly he turned on her once his father had died, despite knowing she was not directly responsible. It was unfortunate that after the unfolding of certain events would result in the complete opposite of his childhood feelings. The world had contrived to have him hate her and with the death of his father he had immediately complied.

Instead of seeing her good and positive aspects like he used to, he only chose to acknowledge those things that she lacked…only chose to see her weaknesses. For years he was consumed with bitterness and hatred there was absolutely no room for love. No longer blinded with childish affection he was then only blinded by undeserved hatred. And he had never hated her more than when she had shown him in the Chuunin exams that his anger was misplaced. Losing his first Chuunin exam to Naruto, a boy completely different and yet similar to Hinata, was both humbling and life changing. In his fight against Hinata, she had revealed that deep in the root of his hatred wasn't actually her, showing his attitude towards her was futile and foolish. His fight with Naruto had opened the door of opportunity and a glimpse of freedom, proving that fate and destiny are not predetermined but are shaped in the present. Since then he tried to make up for those lost years to Hinata and his friends that he had taken for granted, but changing oneself was a difficult and slow process.

Still feeling tired though refreshed after his shower, he was unsurprised by the knock at his bedroom door. Changing quickly before opening it, he gazed down at the once ex-Heiress carrying a tray of tea and rice balls. She smiled gently and raised the tray.

"Too tired for some tea?" she asked, hopeful for the opposite. She had missed him terribly, he was gone for so many months. Without a word Neji stepped aside, allowing her to come in and set the table down for her.

"How was your mission?" she asked as she put the tray down and watched him walk to the bathroom counter and grab his brush.

"Completed with minimal interference." He stated vaguely as she immediately followed him, reaching out and gently taking a lock of his hair into her hand, her fingers playing with the long strands.

"May I?" she asked with a small smile. He handed her the brush and walked back towards the low table, sitting on the floor with his back to her. As she sat behind him and brushed his long hair she told him of the things going on in the village and their clan while he was away.

"And…I…I think I want to tell Naruto…how I feel again." She said quietly with her cheeks pink before twisting her mouth into a small grimace. "Telling him in the middle of a fight…that was probably not the best idea."

"You will not choose someone else?" He asked her softly, his body stiff. He admired Naruto and cared for him greatly, he had the scars to prove it, but the thought of Naruto in a romantic relationship was farfetched. The man was married to his job, leading the village and loving its people. Neji did not think there was room in Naruto's life for anything else, even his long term crush on Sakura did not grow to fruition because of his commitment to the village. He did not think Naruto was a good choice for Hinata.

"Who would you have me chose Neji-nii-san?" Hinata asked just as softly, sadness and disappointment lacing her voice at his lack of support for her. Neji was silent for several minutes contemplating her question and unable to come up with an answer, there was not a single man he knew who he felt was worthy or capable of truly cherishing her heart. He supposed that if Naruto could change enough to achieve his dream of becoming Hokage, then he might be able to change enough to allow Hinata's role in his life to shift. If Naruto brought her happiness he supposed that he could deal with it.

"If he breaks your heart I'll make him suffer." He said, knowing such a statement would bring a smile to her face, though he said it in all seriousness.

"Thank you nii-san." Hinata replied, touching his shoulder and holding back the giggle that threatened to spill from her lips.

"Neji-san, Hiashi-sama wishes to see you." A voice suddenly stated immediately after a swift knock on the other side of his door. Pausing for a moment Neji slowly stood, allowing her a quick second to finish her volunteered task before grabbing the tray with its untouched tea.

"I apologize we did not have enough time to-"

"Tell me more about your mission, if you can, once you finish talking with Otou-san." Hinata smiled as she interrupted him and took the tray from his hands, disappearing from his sight. Neji watched her round the corner before heading in the opposite direction towards his summons.

Moments later Neji was kneeling with his head tilted down in front of the leader of the Hyuuga clan before raising his eyes, remembering a time when both were filled with bitterness and misunderstandings. They had come a long way from how they felt about themselves, each other, their family, and Hinata.

"Neji…it is apparent to all how strong you've become over the years, an important asset to not just our clan but to the village as well." Hiashi said slowly, as if still trying to decide what he wanted to say. "Because of the war our family has become closer…more unified. But we are not quite one yet."

Neji nodded, the animosity and prejudice between the houses were significantly less though still present enough to keep them separated. During the war, there was nearly no distinction between them, put aside to fight a more threatening enemy than each other. But after the horrors of war, some prefer to go back to ways that were familiar instead of reveling longer in the unified comradery to change.

"Despite their resistance, the council and I do want to unite our clan, but I am afraid that with our current situation of hybrid-unification things will only go back to how they were before the war…unless we do something drastic." Hiashi continued, letting his statement hang in the air. He was unwilling to lay this burden on other shoulders, but he was unable to see any other way around it. Neji remained silent, as Hiashi had expected.

"We believe that it is time for Hinata, who is once again heiress of our family, to be married." Hiashi continued.

"There is a suitor in mind." Neji stated more than asked, Hiashi nodded. "Who is Hinata-sama to marry?"

"You." Hiashi answered, releasing a breath he didn't realize he was holding. Watching the shackles of family duty and honor bind his nephew's hands together. Neji remained silent as he lowered his eyes to the floor again. He could swear that his heart stopped for a full minute. They wanted him to marry Hinata? But her heart would be crushed, she would be getting him instead of Naruto. Though he suspected that her dream to be with Naruto was just that, a dream, he didn't want to be the one to destroy it. He had caused her enough pain in the past, and now he was to sacrifice her dream of love for his dream of freedom? If he refused, who would they pick? Would she rather have someone else from their family? It was most likely she would agree with the arrangement, she would do almost anything to unite their clan and it would solidify her position as future leader. So then, what should his answer be?

"If she'll have me, I will be honored though I do not deserve her." Neji said firmly, lifting his eyes which were full of his conviction but careful to hide the torrent of emotions running through him. She would feel forced into acceptance, but he wanted to make sure she still had a choice.

"I understand." Hiashi replied, "Please bring my daughter to me."

Neji paused for just a moment before getting up, he knew a dismissal when he heard one. He found her in a garden again, picking flowers to press, a hobby he knew she loved. Blissful, she was unaware that her future would now be tied to his in a way she never expected or wanted. He found himself stalling, filled with dread and regret. He watched her silently for several minutes, he didn't want to do this to her. She had become special to him over the years, teaching her how to improve her fighting techniques and learning from her how to quietly enjoy the small things in life. He sincerely wished he had the power to take away the pain she would be feeling soon, but even a genius had his limits.

"Hinata-sama." He called out to her to catch her attention. She turned and smiled at him.

"Neji-nii-san, so are you now willing to give a less vague answer to how your mission went?" she asked, a teasing note in her voice.

"Hiashi-sama wants to see you." He replied, shaking his head. Her expression grew curious, it was not often that her father summoned them separately, one after another. But she nodded and started to quickly walk towards Hiashi's office. However before she was completely out of earshot he called out to her once more.

"Hinata-sama…" she paused, "I'm sorry." He said, piercing her with his gaze, wanting to show her he truly meant what he said. She looked at him questioningly for a moment before continuing on her way, leaving him with his eyes gazing up towards the sky.


AN: Woah, I can't believe it's been over four years since I've been on here (not counting when I'm lurking). But before anyone goes crazy into thinking that I'm back to writing again, at the moment, I am only here to revamp this story. I still get lovely reviews, which touch my heart, but then I come back and read this story and I'm embarrassed. This was my first multific...and it shows, lol. I like to think that my skills at writing have improved, at least a little. So it was driving me crazy to the point where I just had to do something. And here we are. As much as I would like to, it is unlikely that this will be a quick change. I apologize to all those who came back to re-read this only to find it practically gone, please bear with me in its gradual change. Thank you so much for everyone's continued support and love of this old NejiHina fic (gosh, over eight years old O_o).