Author Note: This is a NejiHina, so if you don't like the pairing then don't read it. It's as simple as that. Flames won't be tolerated on the subject. Constructive critisizm only. Now that the warning is out of the way, let me just clear up a few things. This idea has been running around in the back of my head for awhile, so I really needed to just write it and get it out. It's AU and the characters might seem OOC at times. Mainly it'll be Neji in this one, but that's mainly cause he's a kid. The story will be focused more on their adult relationship, but I wanted to go over their childhood first. As you read in the summary, this is a what-if story. Instead of Hiashi being the first born, it was Hizashi, therefore making Neji the Hyuga heir. More things will be cleared up as the chapters continue. By the way, I made Hizashi a really nice guy...whether he would have been in the anime or not. Um, I can't think of anything else I need to say, so...if you have any questions, I'll be glad to answer.
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.
Chapter One: Meeting
It was the early morning of Neji's fifth birthday. Being the heir to the Hyuga clan, all Hyuga members gathered to formally greet the heir. As far as Hyuga birthdays go, it always seemed to be more like a meeting rather than an actual party with the word "fun" being the operative word. After years of this being tradition amongst the strong Hyugas, boredom at these meetings only effected the children. Then again, what did the rest of the family care? As long as the children were respectful and spoke only when spoken to, there was inevitably no issue.
The young five-year-old Neji stood proudly next to his father Hizashi, the head of the Hyuga clan. The little boy's face was rid of any emotion, and if there were one…it would be blatant anger. Standing across from his father stood his uncle Hiashi. The two men were identical to each other with only maybe an inch of height difference between them. Despite that, it was always easy for Neji to find the small differences between them. After all, one of them was his father. "Neji-sama is now five." Hiashi began glancing down at the young boy before meeting his brother's gaze once again. "Congratulations."
"Thank you." Hizashi simply replied. "I heard that your wife is expecting. Congratulations."
"Thank you. We are hoping for a strong boy much like your own."
Hizashi smiled slightly turning his gaze downward to the small child clinging to his brother's clothes. "I see little Hinata has grown. She will be turning four this year, correct?"
As Neji listened to them talk about this person named Hinata, he looked around to spot this one who was younger than he. He was finally able to find her standing next to his uncle. Most of her body seemed hidden behind Hiashi, with her upper body peeking out. He wondered why he hadn't noticed her earlier. She was, after all, the only one who seemed to be wearing a colorful kimono. Her drifting eyes met his, and for a brief moment, they just stared curiously at one another. Hinata moved to hide her face in her father's robe once again, but decided otherwise and instead gave Neji a kind smile. Neji seemed somewhat taken aback by this at first, but eventually found himself returning a small smile to her. He glanced up to his father catching his attention. Putting a hand next to his mouth like he would if he were telling a secret, he whispered, "She's cute, father."
Hizashi looked down at his son in small surprise before furrowing his brows in regret.
Neji, not knowing what to make of his father's mixed emotions, dropped his hand back down to his side and stared up at his father incredulously. "What's wrong father?"
The Hyuga head turned away from his son and stared off into the distance. "No, it's nothing." He inhaled and exhaled deeply before staring sternly at his brother, Hiashi. "Then, I will need to borrow Hinata for awhile, Hiashi."
"Yes." Hiashi replied releasing his daughter's hold that she had on him. Young Hinata looked warily between her father and uncle not knowing what was going on. When she saw her father turn to leave with the other branch members, Hinata began to follow but felt a hand on her shoulder stopping her. She turned to look up fearfully at her uncle Hizashi. Her fears were quickly dissolved when he gave her a warm smile, something she had never really received from her father. "Come, little Hinata." He chided softly reaching down to grab onto her hand. "This won't take long."
The next day…
Hiashi walked through the hallway with Hinata closely following behind. "We will continue your training tomorrow morning." He began not looking back to his daughter. "Your footing needs work."
"Yes, father." She meekly replied keeping her gaze on her moving feet.
"I had hoped you would be excelling faster…" he muttered more to himself than her. He stopped walking making the younger Hinata almost stumble into his back. He turned around slowly giving her a stern look. "Listen up, Hinata." He began waiting until she met his gaze as wavering as it always was. "Neji-sama is from the head family. As skilled as he is already, it is your duty to protect him as well as protect the ability of Hyuga."
Hiashi stared intensely at his daughter for another moment before walking away leaving Hinata standing in the hallway alone. When her father was out of sight, Hinata winced and rubbed her fingers over her new marking on her forehead. She felt tears brimming in her eyes, but tried blinking rapidly to dry them away. She looked around quickly seeing the Hyuga garden not too far from her. Entranced by the welcoming flowers, she made her way over to the empty garden.
Neji sat in front of his father, Hizashi, paying close attention to the words he was being given. It was the day after his birthday and he was to begin his official training as heir. After completing his physical training earlier that morning, he was then summoned to have a short meeting with his father. As young as he was, even he knew how well his training was progressing. He remembered hearing constant murmurs amongst the other family members that he was the "genius" of the clan. I wonder where Hinata trains…?
"Neji, are you listening?"
"Like I was saying, the little girl you met yesterday, Hinata…she will be your protector from now on. Is that understood?" Hizashi asked his only son, taking note that his face brightened slightly when hearing the name of his younger cousin.
"Good. You're dismissed now."
Neji bowed and stood up walking towards the door. He opened it and closed it soon after, and began walking down the hallway with no particular place to go. He eventually decided to go back to his room.
On his way, he was distracted by the sound of quiet sobs in the garden, which was just to the side of him. He glanced over noticing a small figure hunched over on the ground. It sounded like the sobs were coming from him or her. Normally, he would've just walked on, but he recognized the short hair cut and the unique indigo color. Neji approached from behind looking curiously at the quivering Hinata. "Hey, why are you crying?" he asked breaking into her sobs. He saw her shoulders tense and her head move slowly to face him. When he saw her red puffy eyes and wet cheeks, he felt something strange clench his chest.
He quirked an eyebrow and moved to crouch down next to her. "You didn't answer my question."
"I-I…I'm sorry." She wiped her tears away furiously. "I-I just…it k-kind of h-hurts."
"What does?" he asked looking around for any sign of an injury. His attention caught onto her hand that moved to brush away her bangs showing him the curse seal mark. "Oh…that." He paused staring at the mark intensely. "Does it hurt a lot?"
She sniffed, "N-Not too b-bad. It just a-aches s-sometimes…"
Neji tilted his head in deep thought. He reached his hand out to place on her forehead covering the mark. "Does it feel better now?"
"U-Um…" she felt her cheeks blush at the close contact.
"I know! We could put a cold washcloth on it." He gave her a small smile.
"N-No…that's o-okay. Th-thank you, Neji-sama."
He placed his hand back to his side and stood up watching her follow suit. "You don't have to call me that, you know?"
Hinata stared at him blankly with question.
"Everybody calls me that…so I don't want you to."
"O-Okay…wh-what should I c-call you?"
"Hmm…" he shifted his weight to one foot thinking on it.
"H-How about N-Neji-san?"
He gave her a disgusted look, "No, that makes me sound old."
"Oh." she giggled lightly, "I-I guess you're r-right. Um…nii-san?"
"But I'm not your brother."
Neji's once thoughtful face brightened and he turned to her with a small smile. "Yeah, that's much better!"
"O-Okay." She giggled again making his smile widen. "Y-You're really nice…Neji-kun."
"Huh? You think so?"
She nodded fervently, "Yes. Most of the m-main house p-people our age…are k-kind of m-mean…to me a-anyway…"
"Why would they be mean to you?" a part of the young Neji felt a strange sense of over-protectiveness as well as anger boil inside of him.
"I-I don't know…they just…they s-said…"
"Said what?" he asked with persistence.
She lowered her gaze and fidgeted with her fingers, "Th-they said…that I…I w-was…u-ugly be-because of…of this…" she whispered motioning to her curse mark. Neji knew he wouldn't have heard her if he hadn't been leaning towards her closely. But after hearing it, he wasn't sure if he really wanted to. At first he was taken aback, but it gradually turned that momentary shock into pure anger. He felt his fists clench at his sides, and he also felt ready to go search out those certain perpetrators. Just as he was about to stalk off, another sound of sobbing stopped him in his tracks. He turned around to see Hinata once again in sobs. He sighed audibly. Father says she's my protector…but I feel like I'm her protector instead. He walked up to her and placed his hands on her shoulders. At the touch she looked up at him through tear-filled eyes. "You're not." He simply spoke. "Ugly I mean."
"R-Really…?" she sniffed wiping away her persistent tears.
Neji did his best to put on another smile, "Yeah, I think you're cute."
Hinata smiled widely and embraced him tightly. This of course caused Neji to feel a blush rise to his cheeks while he hesitantly wrapped his small arms around her smaller body.
One month later…
Hiashi entered the room closing the door swiftly behind him. He noticed his elder brother sitting down drinking calmly from a cup of hot tea. He glanced up to Hiashi and motioned for him to sit on the spot across from him. Hiashi bowed and sat down. "Hizashi-sama." He greeted meeting his brother's gaze.
"Brother…do you know why I have summoned you here?"
"No, I do not."
Hizashi nodded standing up from his seat while Hiashi stayed sitting on the ground. "How is little Hinata progressing?" he asked walking over to open the door to the room. Most Hyugas were out on missions this time of day, so he had no fear of anyone overhearing them. Hizashi had just always preferred the room door open, so he could get a good view into the garden, where his son and niece were sitting and talking. Leaning against the doorframe, he turned to look at his brother who had sighed in frustration.
"She is not progressing as quickly as I'd like her to." He finally answered bitterly. "She lacks the motivation to fight, and her skills are poorly lacking. I'm afraid to admit that as a protector, she would be quite useless."
Hizashi turned his gaze back onto the children focusing more on the three-year-old Hinata. A part of him felt disgust toward his brother for thinking so little of his own daughter, but forced himself to shrug it off. "Little Hinata is unique for a Hyuga." He began. "Unlike the others, I see a true gentle spirit in her. As trained as we all are on keeping our emotions hidden, she doesn't seem to fear showing hers so freely."
"My apologies, brother, I will train her more on-"
"No need to apologize, Hiashi. I never said it was a weakness. I agree with you that she would not be suitable as a protector like most branch members, however…I do believe she is greatly needed."
Hiashi furrowed his brows in confusion. Greatly needed? How on earth was his useless daughter greatly needed? That didn't make sense at all. "I don't understand what you mean, Hizashi-sama."
Hizashi didn't reply for a few minutes and instead kept his focus entirely on the two children playing in their carefree nature. He almost wanted to laugh at seeing Hinata blindly walk around with her blindfold on trying to search out her hiding cousin. Obviously, they had to have made rules earlier about no byakugan usage. Without that special bloodline limit, they could almost resemble the average children playing hide-and-go-seek. "When my wife passed away two years ago, Neji was devastated. At such a young age, he didn't know how to deal with grief. I myself became angry at the situation, and so Neji followed my lead. Thinking my way of showing grief was the right way, he didn't hesitate in doing it as well." He paused watching Neji run up behind Hinata to tap her on the shoulder before running away quickly. Hinata turned around speedily holding her arms out to continue her blind search. He noticed Neji standing behind a tree with one hand held up to his mouth to silence his laugh. "Thus, for the past two years, Neji rarely smiled and never laughed once. He lashed out in anger at anyone who so much as gave him a sympathetic look. He always yelled out that he didn't need their pity. I'm sure you remember this?" he glanced over his shoulder seeing Hiashi nod with his face still contorted in confusion as to why his brother was telling this story.
Hizashi turned back to facing the two children seeing Hinata take off her blindfold and tackle Neji to the ground. Both of them erupted into giggles, while Neji's arms seemed to link around his smaller cousin's body. "I look at Neji now, and I have never seen that boy smile and laugh as much as he has been this past month. I've been watching him closely, and have figured out that the cause of his newfound happiness is none other than your own daughter, Hiashi."
Hiashi's eyes widened slightly at the news. So his daughter was useless as a protector, but she managed to get Neji to do what even his own father couldn't? But still…wasn't it the branch family's duty to be the protectors to the main house? How was Hinata still "greatly needed"? Hiashi stared intently at his older brother. "What are you suggesting?"
"I'm simply suggesting that little Hinata be given a different duty. Whether it be Hinata or not, anyone would know that Neji doesn't need a protector." Hizashi paused to glance back at the two children who were now just sitting on the bench. "Hyuga tradition states that every main house member needs to have a protector, who derives from the branch family. While Hinata will still technically be Neji's protector, I would like to give her different duties in the matter."
"I would like Hinata to be Neji's caretaker." He turned to look at his younger brother to see his reaction.
Hiashi looked at him incredulously. "Caretaker?"
Hizashi nodded with a small smile on his face. He walked back over toward his brother and sat down in front of him again. After taking a drink from his tea, he stared sternly at his brother. "Hiashi…I need you to make me a promise." He paused, "Make me a promise not as my protector, but as my brother."
Hiashi's emotionless face softened. "Of course, Hizashi."
Hizashi nodded solemnly, and turned his gaze away from the person in front of him. "I do not know how long I will be around, so-"
"I would like you to promise me that when the day comes that I am no longer…here, that you would make sure that little Hinata will always be by Neji's side."
"Please, Hiashi. As a father I need to ensure that Neji will stay happy and cared for. Little Hinata is the key to this. So, please Hiashi, as my brother promise me this."
Hiashi felt himself gulp lightly, before lowering his head and closing his eyes. "It's gotten worse, hasn't it?" he lifted his face to meet eyes with his twin. This time, their guards were down and they expressed their concern freely. "Tell me brother, and do not lie to me…how much worse has it gotten?"
Hizashi sighed, "I feel as if my body is worn…and I tire too easily. Luckily, I am able to mask my exhaustion to the others, but I don't know how much longer I can do so."
"I see." Hiashi leaned back slightly and turned his stare away from his brother for the first time in that whole meeting. Such an act could be punishable, but at this moment the two weren't Head and Protector, they were the twin brothers they were born to be if not in the Hyuga family. He schooled his features back into a serious gaze as he once again made full eye contact with the Hyuga Head. "As your brother, I promised you to keep your illness secret…so as your brother, I will promise you that Hinata stay by Neji-sama's side."
There was no doubt that Hizashi was relieved to hear this, for he expressed it clearly. He closed his eyes and smiled slightly, "Thank you, Hiashi...thank you, my brother."
A moment of silence passed over giving both men time to dwell in their thoughts. Hiashi quirked a brow at his older brother in question making Hizashi look back at him curiously. "Hizashi…I've been meaning to ask you."
"Why is it that you call my daughter 'little Hinata'?"
Hizashi let out a light chuckle, "I'm not really sure. It seems I've become quite fond of my niece. Then again, who wouldn't be?"
A small smile graced Hiashi's lips; "She makes it increasingly difficult to be a stern father."
December 27th of that year…
Hinata woke up early on the day of her fourth birthday. It was obvious to say that Hinata did not wish to be up early on this day, but rather she was woken up. Neji had come in early that morning waking her saying he wanted to be the first one to wish her a happy birthday. Now, he was telling her he wanted to show her something.
When the young Hinata stepped out of her room, she felt the rush of icy cold wind blow against her. She shivered automatically and focused her eyes on the snow-covered grounds. A wide smile made its way onto her lips in delight at the newly fallen snow. Since the first time she saw the freezing white substance, anyone who knew her could tell you it was something she had fallen in love with. She looked ahead seeing her elder cousin, dressed warmly for the weather, already running quietly across the yard heading for the front entrance. By glancing around the empty area filled with nothing but silence, she could tell that it must've been really early since no one seemed to be awake. The orange tint to the sky confirmed that the sun still must have been rising. "Hinata-chan!" Neji called to her more resembling a whisper than anything else did.
She snapped her attention to him, and saw him motion for her to follow. Hinata nodded and jumped down into the snow padding quietly over to Neji. When she caught up to him, he turned away from her and began opening the front gate with precision trying to avoid making any noise. "N-Neji-kun?" she whispered.
He grunted pushing the door open a little more, "What?"
"U-Um…" she poked her fingers together nervously. "I-Isn't it a-against the rules…for um…y-you to, um, l-leave without your f-father?"
He stopped budging the door open and turned back to look at her blankly. He blinked a few times before a small smile crept onto his face. "Yeah, but it's your birthday, Hinata-chan. Plus, we'll be back before anyone knows, I promise."
Hinata looked up at him fearfully. She remembered all the times she was scolded by her father for anything she did wrong…and it wasn't something she wanted to go through again. But she trusted Neji. If Neji said it was going to be all right, then surely it would. Hinata nodded to herself in reassurance, "O-Okay."
Neji smiled again and finished pushing the door open. Once he finished, he walked through motioning for Hinata to follow so he could close it behind them. "Alright Hinata-chan, let's go." He grasped onto her hand holding it firmly in his own small child hands and began to lead her into the nearby forest.
Neji led her deeply into the forest passing by all the trees smothered in the sparkling snow. Even with her heavy coat and gloves, Hinata could still feel the cold send chills up and down her spine. She would've been shivering if she weren't so concentrated on her hand that was being held tightly by Neji. Since the moment he grabbed her hand, her blush hadn't left her cheeks just as her smile didn't fade either. "N-Neji-kun?"
"Just a minute, Hinata-chan, we're almost there." He replied quickly never turning back to face her. Hinata nodded in understanding as she continued to run behind Neji with their hands still connected warmly.
Hinata didn't realize when they had entered a small clearing, nor did she realize that Neji had stopped making her run into his back and stumble back onto the ground. She felt a sharp pain on her behind from the fall, but was relieved to know that the snow padded most of it. "O-Ow…" she muttered under her breath. She felt tears brim in the corners of her eyes blurring her vision, but she did manage to notice a hand placed in front of her face. She blinked away the tears to look more closely at the open palm. Hinata trailed her eyes up the arm meeting Neji's amused face. "You're really clumsy, you know that?" he quirked a brow and sighed, "And you're s'posed to be my protector…?"
Hinata lowered her gaze to the ground while she wiped away her tears. "I-I'm s-sorry…"
Neji sighed again, "Don't be sorry, it's your birthday, remember?"
The shy little girl blinked a few times and looked up to at her cousin's amusedly stern face.
"Well? Come on. You haven't seen your present yet." He opened his hand wider and pushed it closer to her. Hinata smiled shyly and accepted his hand letting him pull her up off the ground. Once she was standing up sturdily, Neji moved out of her line of sight and pointed just ahead of the two. Hinata followed his motion and saw a small frozen pond that glittered under the morning sun. She gasped, and it didn't take maturity to know that what she was seeing was a truly beautiful sight.
Neji ran to the pond's edge taking Hinata with him. "Look! Isn't it cool? It's all ice." He stepped onto the icy surface and started to walk cautiously watching his steps as he went. He stopped mid-step turning back to look at her questionably. "Aren't you comin'?"
"U-Uh…N-Neji-kun…is it s-safe?"
"Of course it is, dummy. It's all solid ice, it won't break." He crossed his arms over his chest in impatient waiting. Hinata nodded slowly and took a slow step onto the frozen pond, and another step later with her arms held out to her sides for balance. She gulped and tried to make her way closer to her cousin. Not too far away, she felt her feet slip from under her and she closed her eyes tightly bracing herself for the fall. When she didn't feel the collision, she opened her eyes warily to notice a pair of arms wrapped around her stomach holding her up. She turned to look behind her and blushed at seeing Neji's face so close to hers. "You really are clumsy." He stated followed by a small laugh. Hinata felt her cheeks heat up more in embarrassment, while Neji helped her stand up straight.
"Th-Thank you Neji-kun." She spoke meekly and he just smiled in response.
They stared at each other for awhile before Neji's face quickly brightened. "You wanna see your present?"
Hinata tilted her head in confusion. "But N-Neji-kun…I-I thought…this was m-my present?"
"Well…it was part of it. Come here." He grabbed her hand leading her back off the ice and toward one of the many trees surrounding the small clearing. He bent over near the roots and looked to be digging through the snow. Hinata couldn't make out what he was doing since his body pretty much blocked her vision. After a few minutes, he stood up and turned around quickly making sure she hadn't seen it yet. "Close your eyes, it's a surprise." He told her sternly.
Hinata nodded and shut her eyes tightly. Neji waved his hand in front of her face to make sure she wasn't peeking, and when that was confirmed, he moved to the side and pushed her toward the tree. "Okay, open them!"
The dark-haired four-year-old slowly opened her eyes focusing on the tree in front of her. "A tree?"
"No, not the tree. Look on the ground by your feet." He moved to stand next to her watching her with anticipation. Hinata's eyes drifted down to where Neji mentioned, and all at once her eyes widened and a small gasp escaped her mouth. She bent down almost immediately to get a better look at the small treasure. There amongst all the frosty snow was a small patch of yellow flowers. The petals were lightly speckled with snow, but that only added to the beauty of them. Hinata reached out to graze her fingertips over the velvety petals and eventually cradled one in her hand.
"Father brought me out here a few days ago." Neji spoke up watching Hinata caress the small flowers. "I found those when I was here. Father said it's called Winter Jasmine or something."
"Winter Jasmine?" Hinata muttered smiling delightfully at the blossoms.
"Yep. He said they're one of the few flowers that still bloom in winter." He paused looking more at Hinata's joyful face then at the cause of her happiness. He felt his cheeks heat into a blush even though he wasn't really sure why. "So…this is your present." He added noticing Hinata turned her attention back to him. His cheeks continued to feel hotter under her gaze, but he kept talking. "You were always in the garden, so I thought you'd like to, you know, see this…" he shifted his weight back and forth between his feet feeling somewhat nervous. Neji looked down at the snow-covered ground avoiding her gaze. "Do you…like it?" he asked quietly hearing nothing else but their breathing. Just when he was about to look up thinking she didn't like it after all, he felt something soft touch his cheek. His eyes widened when he realized that Hinata had just given him a kiss. It didn't last long since Hinata pulled back quickly trying to cover her reddened face with her hands, but nonetheless, it made Neji smile genuinely and blush intensely.
"Th-Thank you Neji-kun." She smiled widely with a small giggle following.
He smiled back at her and stood up motioning for her to follow. "We should head back, Hinata-chan. Everybody's going to be awake soon." He looked at her face again and couldn't seem to tear his smile away. "Happy birthday, Hinata-chan."
This is my first NejiHina story so please be kind and review to tell me what you think. I'll continue if I know that enough people like it.