Why The Caged Bird Sings
Author: desolate butterfly
Genre: drabble, fluff
Summary: On the day Hinata rises to the secured position of the heir to the Main House of Hyuuga, Neji makes a few realizations.
"You'd better get to the main hall. They're starting soon."
Neji watches as Hinata gasps at the sudden intrusion of his voice and tries to whirl around to face him. The elaborate robes she is wearing catch at her feet, making her stumble. He is half-amused that he was still able to sneak up on her, and half-disgusted that she hadn't heard his approach. She is going to be announced as the head of the Hyuuga Clan: how will she survive if she is found wanting against a lowly Branch member?
"N-Neji-niisan," she stutters, when she finally regains her balance. Her hands reflexively go to her head, where an ornate silver headdress spreads out like a halo over her dark hair, streaming down into little silver bells and tassels that call attention to her white unblemished forehead.
Hinata makes a tiny coughing sound and Neji realizes he is staring. He bows respectfully and then takes a step forward. His hands reach for the obi holding Hinata's robes shut, ignoring the squeak that slips from her lips as she shies away from him. A few sharp tugs and loops later and Neji has deftly reformed the bow into something larger and much more presentable.
"Thank you," Hinata says, smiling at him and patting the folds of the retightened obi. "It was hard to reach without help."
Neji acknowledges this with a grunt and then pauses, suspicious. "Wasn't Hanabi supposed to be helping you prepare for this?"
Hinata flushes guiltily and wrings her hands together, avoiding Neji's gaze.
"Hanabi-chan…she's not feeling well today," she says, softly.
Neji remembers the look of sick jealousy on Hanabi's face when Hiashi announced that the council had made a decision to declare Hinata the heir once and for all and nods to himself. He will have to keep an eye on Hanabi. It wouldn't do to have dissension in the Main House over something Neji has already accepted as inevitable.
"They're waiting for you," is all he says to Hinata, and she nods back, making the bells on her headdress jingle softly.
The trail of silver falls over one of Hinata's eyes, brushing her cheek, and she moves it away from her face with a moue of irritation.
"It's heavy," she says, and then looks instantly apologetic, as if Neji would be offended by any complaints she makes about her status within the Hyuuga house.
But Neji is busy watching the silver cords sway and Hinata's eyes behind them, wide with innocence and fragility and something pure that makes him want to take her by the shoulders and shake her, scream at her to be stronger goddammit, don't you know they'll eat you alive if they get the chance?
Neji is thinking about cages and how they sometimes come in different shapes.
"Hinata-sama," he says, extending his arm.
She looks surprised and flustered for a moment, and Neji wonders if she will accept the gesture. But then her hand is tucking into the crook of his elbow and her tiny socked feet are moving to stand next to him with a graceful stride.
As he escorts her out to the main hall, Neji searches for something reassuring to say to take her mind off the ceremony. All he can manage is an apology that the members of her team would not be able to attend and cheer her on.
Hinata smiles at him, and Neji is surprised to find that he is the one being reassured.
"It's okay," Hinata says, squeezing his arm a bit. "Because Neji-nissan is here."
Neji can't think of anything to say to that, but as he watches Hinata go through her vows to the Hyuuga Clan without stuttering, he think he might have to re-evaluate the fragility he saw as something different. Something more like…trust.