Solution marks the end to the five-part series Nihilism; I do apologise for the delay! A recommendation: the final piece is best read accompanied by Eisen, a beautiful piece of music from the anime Mai Hime. Finally, I'd just like to take the chance to thank everyone who has taken an interest in the fic for their patience and for the truly encouraging reviews.
She was always the one who drew him in like moth to candlelight; she was the solution he sought.
The first time, it is dawn, the sky a wild mix of crimson-yellow-flame and the escaping moon, awkwardly silver. Neji turns white eyes stubbornly downwards to hide the tears of pain elicited by the curse seal jutsu, small hands fisting in defiance. His gaze trains on the smooth wood he kneels on and catches sight of black-clad, turned-in feet. Neji lifts his eyes, meets Hinata's wide, smiling ones, and his tears recede.
The second time, it is dusk, Neji cloaked by the sound of grey rain, falling upon the ground in the manner of blood brutally released from flesh by a katana. He faces the coffin and refuses to meet the gazes of his Clan, nor the sightless eyes of his freshly-dead father. His chest burns, grief and shock too acute to allow for tears. His eyes are colourless as he holds up a single stalk of incense and bows woodenly, stabs its crimson tip into pliant ash, and departs weightlessly. He turns a corner and stills beside the sliding paper doors of a chamber. He hears Hinata through the relentless rain, a child's voice breathless and thick. Uncle, she whispers, and shakes with tears. Hinata weep in his stead, and the acute ache in Neji's heart lessens slightly.
The third time, it is mid-day, but time is stale and in stasis inside the arena for the second Chunin assessment. Neji faces Hinata, lips curled and teeth bared as he takes her, piece by piece, apart with words. He smells fear the way a beast would from its prey as he faces her, wrists and palms set in deadly pre-motion. Neji is not quite sure from whom it is rolling off in waves; he stills and waits, the biting scent of terror heavy in the air between them. Hinata solves it for him, this strange desperate uncertainty, and turns it into blind, wild rage with her defiance. Then he strikes, and all Neji can smell afterwards are the musk of sweat and her sweet, coppery blood.
The fourth time, it is late morning, the sun half-mocking, half-congratulatory behind taciturn clouds. Neji stands at attention, face impassive as he receives the ceremonial hitai-ate by the Godaime Hokage. He is Jounin now, one of the youngest, and the forehead protector is sleek and cool in his palm. He tightens hold on it as he is half-dragged by his team-mates to a celebratory meal, and a beaming Gai-sensei whose exuberance surpasses normal standards. He hardly registers the slide of food down his throat, but the sake burns and clings to his lips. He leaves, afterwards, and takes refuge near empty training grounds on the edge of Konoha's forests. His grip on the hitai-ate had not once loosened, but now slips between numb fingers to fall to the earthen ground. Hinata steps out from behind foliage, and stands, gazing in silence at his back. Neji turns slowly, and regards white, turned-in feet. Congratulations, Neji nii-san, Hinata offers quietly, but the most Neji can manage to look squarely at is her midnight hair. Ojiisama will be so proud, she continues, her voice dream-like. Neji starts, and their pale eyes meet. Neji draws a shuddering breath, and closes the distance between them. I apologise, Neji says hoarsely, before placing his mouth softly and carefully over hers. Hinata shakes in his arms, but returns his embrace. Her lips are soft, and the knowledge of her kiss tastes bitter and sweet upon his tongue.
The fifth time, it is night. Neji returns feral and fresh from an ANBU mission, and slides into her chambers in darkness, the lack of light smouldering the air between them. He drops to his knees, tears falling from white eyes to moisten dark dried stains on his palms, uniform stiff with a stranger-child's lifeblood. He catches her within his arms, dragging her out of dreams; he presses her against the wall and kisses her so hard he draws blood from her lips. He begs for forgiveness and other inaudible wishes against her parted lips, and takes her, soft and harsh, on the floor. They are both sobbing silently by the end; one from shock, the other from shame, both from pleasure and pain made miscible from the act of touch.
The sixth time it is evening, the moon pale, a luminous crescent clinging to the sky. Neji and Hinata mirror each other, offering deep, slow bows; once, twice, thrice. They raise reverent thimblefuls of ceremonial wine, and drink under the silver radiance of the moon, two pairs of white eyes not once leaving the other. The wine heightens everything, from the stark, dark crimson of the chamber and bed matting, to the rush and hiss of heavy silk as it sinks to the wooden floor, divested from skin. Hinata leans, pressing her lips softly against Neji's forehead, shuddering as her mouth trails past the curse seal, then struggling to remember to breathe, as her lips come to rest on his. He feels the way a moth would when it presses its body against an all-encompassing flame, the instant before it is consumed; all the sensations in the world rushing forth and swelling in his heart, before being extinguished in the face of white hot bliss.
The seventh time, it is winter without snow, black-skied but not raining; dawn could be mistaken for dusk, and so forth. Neji stands on numb legs, sightless behind slow, burning tears. He does not hear grief or whispers carried by the wind from the gathered crowd. Hokage-sama presses a cupful of medicinal tea with gruff tenderness into his hands; Neji drinks it like a soldier who is ordered suicide, and the tea slides like hot ash down his throat. The Godaime eases from Neji's grip a single stalk of white carnation, petals crushed, turns and places it gently upon the altar. Hinata's smiling, paper countenance thanks her silently, and implores for Neji to meet her sightless gaze. The Hokage can do nothing, however; Neji has nothing left to sense with.
Etched deeply into white stone: Hyuuga Hinata is honoured and remembered for her service bravely and nobly rendered as a kunoichi of Konohagakure no Sato.