Neji trained at night, eyes closed, his face smooth. No Byakugan for these training sessions, no penetrating vision, no sight at all. Relieved of visual input, his other senses became far sharper, letting him feel the terrain, letting his ears tell him what his blows struck, letting his feet find their balance by feel, telling him when he stepped on stones or branches or dead leaves.
It had started as a way of mourning; Neji would not, could not publicly express his emotions, and so he trained in darkness, wordless. At Hiashi-sama's funeral, he had been impassive, quiet and grave as the whole clan had been, but otherwise seemingly unaffected. He should have been unaffected, and once upon a time would have been. But as the years had grown, as the small things of childhood gave way to the greater worries of adulthood, he had grown out of his distrust of the clan leader. At twelve, he had been cold toward his uncle; at twenty, he'd found himself friendly with his father's twin, in the quiet, seemingly unemotional Hyuuga way. And at twenty-five, he mourned him by training in the dark, making no use of the family gift that manifested so strongly in him.
Wartime changed everyone. Even the civilians of the village, those who had never laid hand to weapon in their lives, suffered, and the shinobi suffered more. They fought, they bled, they died. And Hiashi had died, stepping forward to defend the village because retirement was meaningless when the enemy was at the gates and walls. Many had died. The Hyuuga clan might be wealthy, they might carry a valuable bloodline limit, but when the village was so badly stricken, one man's death alone meant little. And so there had been no extravagant funeral, as there might have been in times of peace; Hiashi was memorialized with all those who had died, yet another name added to the memorial stone, one among countless others. Life went on.
And Neji trained at night.
He made no effort to conceal it, but neither did he advertise his activities; it was a private thing, not so much training as it was meditation in movement, and to the best of his knowledge, it went unnoticed by his clan, his teammates, by everyone.
A turn, a kick, recovery, a step back, a sweep of his arm, and there was a rustle behind him; Neji froze and opened his eyes. The moonlight seemed bright after the total darkness of his closed eyes, and he turned sharply to see who or what was there. The invasion of his privacy, of his mourning-meditation-training, bothered him in ways he couldn't fully verbalize, and he intended to speak sharply to whoever was there, if it was a someone and not a something.
And stopped short, blinking. "…Hinata-sama." The anger he had been preparing drained out, leaving an unsettled ambivalence in his voice.
Many things changed over the years; she had changed in her own ways, but she still tended toward certain traits – many of them the ones that had initially indicated her lack of suitability to succeed her father. Hanabi, though not a pleasant person to deal with, was a far better clan leader than Hinata would have been, Neji was rather certain of that.
But, of course, Hanabi had a personality that Neji found grating, whereas Hinata… well, she'd been damned grating too, when they were younger, but experience had mellowed her worse tendencies, and perhaps had mellowed Neji too, because he could remember a time when he was glad to see someone, anyone, with pale eyes that weren't clouded over and staring in death. After that – after that battle that had decimated Konoha, and more than decimated the Hyuuga – he couldn't bring himself to hold quite as much animosity toward anyone of his blood. Not when there was still some part of him that looked at each one and said Thank God you're still alive.
"Neji-niisan," she murmured softly, ducking her head – hesitant as always. That was something not even war, not even standing over her dying teammate and screaming defiance in the enemy's face, could cure her of. Neji had witnessed that heated moment, and in that moment, he'd seen something in her that he would never forget. But now, it was hard to find again. Hard to see it when she stammered and acted as though she were about to be struck by anyone she spoke to.
But he'd seen it, and sometimes, traitorously, he almost wished that another battle would come, so that side of her would come to the surface once more. So that he could see that strength that had come out only when a friend she treasured lay bleeding at her feet, vulnerable and dying, life pumping from his body into the dirt. But those wishes never lasted long, because a glimpse of the Hinata that could have been, that only came forth in brief moments of life-or-death urgency, was not worth the destruction that had torn at Konoha.
"Did you want something?" She flinched at his tone, and he sighed.
"N-no. I just…" She looked down, pursing her lips, and her hands twitched at her sides. She didn't indulge in that nervous little habit anymore, tapping her fingers together, but it wasn't something that had been burned out of her – Neji saw her catching herself at it often, fisting her hands and pressing them to her sides to stop the instinctive gesture. She was trying to get rid of it. "I wondered… what it was Neji-niisan does out here."
"Train," he said shortly. Go away, Hinata-sama. Leave me be. He started to turn away from her, but her next words froze him.
"Would… would it be all right if I trained with you?"
He turned and regarded her intensely, his stare catching the tiniest twitches of her face, the tightening of the skin around her eyes. She was nervous, but the request was not made idly.
What was he supposed to think about such a request? He opened his mouth to say no, but the memory of her single shining moment of power and certainty flashed before his mind's eye, and he heard his voice say, "Yes, that's fine."
Perhaps he could coax that moment from her again, under happier circumstances.