Neji walked quietly toward the practice field. He wasn't sure what he was supposed to accomplish. He had tried to help before and hadn't gotten anywhere. It wasn't as though anyone had given him any helpful suggestions. Go and talk to her. Sure, talk to her, and say what exactly? As he approached he could hear her grunting and the loud cracks of her fist hitting a tree. He could see no less than seven felled trees near her and the one she was hitting was already broken about a third of the way through. Well at least she had been busy. That had to be better than just moping in her room. He stopped about ten yards behind her and was about to speak, still not sure of what to say.
"Hello Neji." She beat him to it. Her Byakugan was active so it was not a surprise that she knew he was there. "Did you come here on your own or did someone send you?"
"Actually I was requested to speak to you by both Hokage-sama and Kurenai-san. They are both concerned for your well being Hinata-sama."
"Big brother Neji I've told you before you don't have to call me that when we're not in front of Hiashi. Call me Hinata-chan or just plain Hinata."
She never stopped hitting the tree the entire time she spoke. She had changed and her appearance was just one example. Her hair was now kept very short and rarely seemed to be combed. All she had on were knee length black cargo pants and a black cotton tee shirt that was drenched in sweat. She did not seem to care much about appearance anymore and black had become her primary color. There had been many other changes as well.
"Hinata everyone is concerned about you."
"I assume everyone does not include Hiashi." The bitterness in those words was a surprise. It sounded like something he might have said before he'd found out the truth about his own father's death. Hinata never spoke about anyone in that tone, least of all Hiashi.
"While it is true Hiashi-sama has not inquired about your circumstances I am certain he is also concerned."
"Neji why are you bothering? You and I both know my father thinks I'm worthless."
"Hinata that is not true!"
"It is and we both know it. The only thing that's changed is that I've stopped caring." There was no heat to those words, no feeling at all. His own Byakugan showed him no increase in her heart rate.
"Hinata I want to try and help."
"There's nothing to help Neji, I'm fine."
"Then why are you crying?"
One of her punches missed the mark, and after a couple more she stopped. She just stood there, her back to him, sucking in air and huffing as her heart rate began to drop. He didn't say anything; he was nothing if not patient. After a couple moments of silence she turned around to face him. Her cheeks were wet but she actually had a grin. "Sometimes I really do hate the Hyuga 'gift.'" He nodded, he'd felt the same way many times. "I'm not crying because of Hiashi if that's what you're thinking."
"You're crying because of him." He said simply. It was no secret what had caused the radical change in her. "Hinata I understand…"
"No Neji I really don't think you do." Her words were completely cold. "Have you ever once in your life loved someone with your whole heart, without reservation, without condition?"
Neji stiffened and looked her dead in the eye. "My father."
It was Hinata who looked away. When she spoke her voice finally carried a little emotion, a little of the old caring Hinata. "Neji I am sorry, I apologize."
He nodded and let out a breath, he really wasn't angry with her. "It is all right Hinata, but you see I do understand what it is to lose someone who means everything to you."
"And look what it did to you, you only spent ten years blaming fate for everything and hating the Hyuga main branch. I wouldn't describe you as cheerful or happy during any of that time."
"That's true Hinata. I did suffer for a very long time from the death of my father. It is because of that I wish to help you avoid that same fate."
She laughed. That caught him by surprise. She quickly got it under control. "Forgive me Neji, it's just funny to me to hear you, of all people, talk about avoiding fate."
"I have changed Hinata."
She nodded. "And who was it that helped you change?" He stared at her. They both knew the answer to that. "I don't think I am going to be as lucky." She picked up a towel from her bag and began to dry off.
He knew she would not want to hear what he was about to say, but he could think of nothing else. "Naruto would not want this for you."
The words were no sooner out of his mouth than she acted. Even with his Byakugan active she moved almost faster than he could see. She activated her Jyuuken fighting style and covered the distance between them in one bound. He had barely enough time to get his arms up before she was on him. She struck fast and hard hitting eight chakra points on his chest and closing them. He immediately felt as if his ribs were caught in a vice. He could barely breathe, for all his strength and skill he dropped to his knees and struggled just to keep breathing. Hinata was over him her left palm drawn back and ready to strike, her eyes filled with a furious hate. "DON'T YOU DARE TELL ME WHAT NARUTO-KUN WOULD HAVE WANTED! YOU BARELY KNEW HIM, I LOVED HIM!" He really thought Hinata was ready to kill him for what he'd said.
Though it hurt like hell Neji managed to say something. "I…know… he… wanted… friends… happy." With that her eyes changed. The anger in her eyes was muted and he saw fresh tears.
Her left hand snapped forward hitting his chest eight times again. Suddenly the vice was gone and he could breathe easy. He stayed there on his knees though; he didn't have the energy to get up. She turned away from him. "Neji I'm sorry, please forgive me." The sorrow in her voice was raw and he didn't need his special vision to know she was choking back tears.
"It is all right Hinata I understand. No one thinks you shouldn't mourn him, but it has been a month."
"Has it really? It's only felt like a week or so. I guess time flies when you're busy."
"Hinata it is time for you to return to your training and your team."
"No, my time with team 8 is over and I'm done with medical jutsus. I've got about two more months of training and then I'm going to apply for ANBU black ops unit."
Neji stared at her. She could not have shocked him more if she had told him she was a Mist Nin deep cover agent. "Hinata! That was Kakashi's old unit, they specialize in assassination." She simply nodded. "The Hokage will never allow it!"
"I'll pass the ANBU exam Neji and if she refuses to place me in black ops I'll leave Konoha and become a missing nin."
Neji got up to his feet and went over to her. She was crying but her face was set. "Hinata don't even joke about that!"
"I mean every word." She looked at him. "How many men have you killed Neji?"
He stared, what had happened to her? What the hell had happened to her? "Eleven that I'm sure about, maybe more like twenty or thirty. You can't always be sure in a big fight." This was not something he ever liked talking about even with his teammates, talking about it with her seemed wrong.
"They say Kakashi killed over 200 while he was with them. Do you know I've never killed anyone? That's why I have to get into black ops; I have to learn how to kill. I have to learn how to do it well and without hesitation."
"Why? Hinata what could you possibly need to know that for?"
"Because it's the only way to fulfill my dream."
He looked at her in confusion, none of this made sense. "I thought your dream was to become head of the clan."
"No Neji that was never my dream. Hiashi and Hinabi can do whatever they want with Hyuga I don't give a damn. I used to have two dreams. First I wanted to win my father's respect. Second I wanted Naruto to return my feelings or at least acknowledge me. I've lost them both, one dream is gone forever and the other doesn't matter to me anymore. So I have come up with a new dream to give me something to strive for."
He was dreading this but he needed to know. "What's your new dream Hinata?"
She smiled a cold smile. "How much do you know about how he died?"
"Not much really, just that it was an S-rank in Tea country and that Akatsuki was involved. I've run into Kakashi, Sakura, and Kiba but none of them would say anything. For that matter neither would Hokage-sama or Kurenai."
"There was a reason for that. As soon as they received Kakashi's mission report the Council got together and passed a decree making the mission details an S-rank secret. Anyone revealing those details would be subject to immediate execution without trial. So that not even Tsunade could tell anyone the truth about what happened to him. You see…"
"Hinata! Whatever you might feel you can't tell me an S-rank secret!"
She motioned for him to calm down. "I'm telling you Neji. If you want to report me to the ANBU go ahead I won't blame you, I might even thank you." There seemed nothing for him to do but listen. "It was a mission to Tea country and Akatsuki was there in the form of Uchiha Itachi and Kisame Hoshigaki they were after the six tails demon. But we had information about a third party as well. Since Itachi was there his little brother was coming out to play too."
"You mean Uchiha Sasuke was there as well?"
She nodded. "We had a report from one of Jiraiya's agents Sasuke would be there as soon as his older brother appeared. The mission goal was basically to capture the 'good' Uchiha and kill everyone else." She stopped then. "The night before everyone was in a good mood. We all really thought we could do it. Sakura and Naruto were especially excited they really thought once they got Sasuke back to Konoha and the curse mark removed everything would be fine. Naruto would get his best friend back and Sakura would get back her precious Sasuke-kun." She spat the word out. "As it turned out Naruto and I shared the last watch. You know I think, no I know, Kakashi did that on purpose. He probably had some weird idea that something would happen and one of his little Icha Icha scenes would play out. Well nothing like that happened. But we…" Hinata stopped, even after a month the pain was still so raw, the memory so fresh. Would it ever stop hurting like this? "We talked, it was the best talk we ever had. He was practically bouncing he was so ready to go. And I was happy to just be there, the only one with his attention. He was paying all his attention to me and I was loving it. We talked about the academy, the exams, old missions, and then he asked me…" She stopped, the tears were coming again. Why couldn't she stop crying? "He asked me if I had a boyfriend, or someone special I cared about. I told him I didn't have a boyfriend, but that there was someone very special to me. He wanted to know who, but of course I couldn't say because it would have been too embarrassing." She made the word sound like a curse. "He told me that whoever it was he was very lucky because I… I was … a great girl… and any guy would be lucky to have me." She took a deep breath. "I asked him if he had someone like that. I thought he would tell me about Sakura. But he told me he didn't have anyone since he knew that Sakura would only ever love Sasuke. He had accepted they would never be more than friends. He told me he hoped… he could… he wanted … to find… a girl… who… who could… love him." The dam burst and she couldn't talk anymore.
Neji had never been good at showing his feelings or comforting others, but he did what he could. He put his arms around his cousin and told her it would be all right. He let her cry for as long as she wanted and tried to assure her she would get through this, that the pain would not last. After a time the tears finally stopped. She stepped away from him, dried her eyes and continued.
"When he said those words my heart was pounding so hard I really thought it might burst. I should have told him. I should have wrapped my arms around him and told him he already had someone who loved him and always would. But I couldn't, even then, when we were alone and he was crying to be loved I still couldn't tell him. So I did what I always did; I smiled and I blushed and I promised myself I would tell him later at a better time. I was such a coward. This precious boy who was my inspiration, this lonely soul who I had loved and admired for eight years and I couldn't tell him that he wasn't alone, that he was loved. All because I could never muster up enough courage to say three little words. I had a hundred chances. The day of the Genin exam when he was all alone, at our first Chunin exam, right here on this field before he went in to fight you Neji, all those times I visited him in the hospital, after all the missions we were on together, before he left with Jiraiya, when he came back after two years, and every other time I saw him I could have told him. Even if he had told me no, even if he had still wanted Sakura, I could have let him know my love was his if he ever wanted it. And every single time I chickened out because I couldn't bear to hear him tell me he didn't feel the same. I always told myself there would be a better time."
She looked at Neji and tried to drive her words home. "What I never let myself think about was that we were shinobi and that we lived with death every single day. I knew of course that death could come at any time. It was the first lesson at the academy and I had seen first hand how fragile even the life of a powerful shinobi could be. We are never promised tomorrow, all we ever have is today."
Neji felt uncomfortable at her earnestness. "What happened in the fight?"
She did not mince words. "It was a disaster. The six tails was a black bear about the size of the Hokage monument. Akatsuki appearedand then so did Sasuke with four ninjas with curse seals. Before we even engaged them we learned the Uchihas had something else in common. Itachi summoned a gigantic wolf, so not to be outdone the little Uchiha summoned Manda the boss snake demon. Then Naruto amazed me and the rest of my team by summoning a gigantic frog called Gama Bunta. The three summons and the six tails all went for each other in a crazy four way fight. Itachi and Sasuke fought each other while we had our hands full with Kisame and the curse seal ninjas. I have never been in a fight like that and I hope I never see another one like it. After awhile the snake and the frog were gone which left the six tails and the wolf summon. Kakashi and Kiba both went down fighting Kisame while Naruto, Shino, and Kurenai were fighting three of the cursed seals. The fourth cursed seal attacked Kisame while Sakura and I got Kakashi and Kiba healed and out of harms way. By the time we got done with that the three curse seals Naruto's group had been fighting were all down but so was Kurenai, Shino was still standing but most of his bugs had been burned up in the fight so he couldn't really do any more. Kisame had killed the cursed seal he'd been fighting but was hurt bad and was pulling out. So that just left Naruto, me, Sakura, Itachi, and Sasuke." She took a deep breath.
"The Uchihas were both still fighting and right then the wolf summons disappeared. When that happened the six tails left and Itachi went after it. Sasuke was going after Itachi. But pinky got in his way, she didn't attack him or do anything other than beg him to stop. Sasuke was in full curse seal mode and activated his Black Chidori and told her to get out of the way. She stood her ground and Sasuke went straight at her, ready to kill her so he could chase after his brother. But of course Naruto got in front of her and went for Sasuke with a giant Rasengan. I was still running to get to Naruto while Sakura just stood there and watched the two of them collide. When they hit there was a burst of power that blinded my Byakugan for a few seconds. When I could see again Sasuke had gone rushing past Sakura without even a look back. And Naruto… was lying face down in a pool of his own blood. He was still alive, but I could see his chakra beginning to fade. I ran to his side and put him over on his back. There was a hole in his chest and his heart had been damaged. Sakura and I both poured our chakra into him but there was nothing we could do." She stopped again, but there were no more tears, she thought she was out of them. "I saw his chakra going but his eyes were looking up at mine. I screamed his name and told him that I loved him and would always love him for as long as I lived. And my darling boy smiled up at me and he said my name, and then he was gone. The last thing my Naruto-kun ever said was my name."
She shook her head. "I don't remember anything after that; the next thing I can remember was being at his funeral and Tsunade's proclamation. Naruto would be recognized as a hero of the leaf who spent every day of his life protecting the village from the Kyubbi. He held the nine tails inside of him and I never even knew. I think he would have liked the statue outside Hokage Tower and I think he would also have liked knowing the academy would teach that he was one of Konoha's great heroes. Amazing how the Council went along with that. They never gave him any credit while he was alive but they were just so generous once he was gone. Though not generous enough to tell the truth about dying at the hands of the traitorous bastard. They want to pretend that he just might come back someday and restock the Uchiha clan."
She smiled at Neji. "I loved my Naruto-kun with all my heart but I was never strong enough to be there for him when he needed me. I could have given him friendship when he was all alone. I could have given him my love when he had none. I could have given him the comfort of knowing he would always have me there waiting for him no matter what. But I failed him, because I always waited for a better time to tell him what was in my heart. But even though he's gone now there is still one last thing I can do for him"
"Hinata what can you do for him now?"
"Isn't it obvious Neji?" Her smile seemed to split her face. "I can avenge him. I am going to become the greatest killer this miserable village has ever seen. Then I am going to track down Uchiha Sasuke and execute him. That is my dream now; it's the only thing that matters to me and the only thing I care about."
Neji deactivated his special vision. He didn't need it any more; it was obvious enough that the kind girl he had known all his life was gone now. All that was left was an empty husk. "Hinata that's the very same thinking that led Sasuke to be what he is now. If you go down the same path you will end no different."
She nodded as she picked up her gym bag, but continued to smile her cold smile. "I am sure that's true Neji, but I just can't seem to care anymore." She began to leave. "Please tell Kurenai and the others to stop worrying about me, I'm as well as I'm going to be. Also, if you could, tell the Hokage I'll be applying for ANBU in a couple months. Please don't mention anything about black ops; I'll talk to her about it after I pass the exam. And if you could Neji do one more thing for me. If you care for someone tell them. Don't wait for a better time; there is never a better time than now." With that she left the field and headed home.
There was a knock at the door. The young girl opened it. To her very great surprise there was her teammate standing there with a bouquet of the most beautiful pink roses she had ever laid eyes on. Tenten stared at him in shock.
"Are those for me?" Neji smiled and handed them to her.
"They're beautiful, thank you! Is there a special occasion?"
"Perhaps, I am hoping the special occasion will be our first date."
Her jaw dropped and she gawked at him. She had been flirting with him for four years and had just about given up hope of penetrating that thick skull of his. Now completely out of the blue he appears at her door step with roses. "Who are you and what have you done with Neji?"
He looked at her seriously, now this was the Neji she knew. "I know you have feelings for me Tenten, and I have had feeling for you as well for sometime now." She took a sudden breath until this moment she had never been sure whether or not he cared about her in that way. "I apologize for wasting so much time before acting on them, but if you care to I would very much like to have dinner with you tonight."
How does it happen that my dream comes true on a Tuesday? "Neji I would love to, but why now after all this time?"
He gently took her hand and stared happily at her soft warm smile. "I just decided now would be the best time."