If he wasn't her guardian anymore, what else could he be? If nothing else, he would be her cousin, her friend. Neji/Hinata.
Naruto and characters are not mine.
It had to have been past midnight when Neji stumbled into his room and dropped his pack to the floor. The mission had been both mentally and physically exhausting, and while he was not seriously injured, he was positive that he had a few cuts and bruises that badly needed treatment.
The folded-up futon against the wall called to him, and he paused before entering the bathroom. As tired as he was, as much as his bones cried out to him to rest, he wouldn't sleep in his own filth, three days worth of sweat and dirt and blood. He at least owed himself that much.
It was only after his quick shower and only after he had lain down on his futon in his shorts, thoroughly spent, that he noticed a familiar presence outside his door. White eyes closed, hoping that the intruder would leave.
Intruder was persistent, however. Kept pacing in front of his room for nearly an hour before Neji rose from his bedding and threw open the shoji.
"Neji-niisan!" She started, and bowed deeply.
"Hinata-sama," he regarded, and bowed as well. "Do you need anything?"
The heiress shook her head slowly. "No. I just wanted to make sure that you returned from your mission safely. I understand it was an S-rank mission."
He let a weary smile cross his face. "It was indeed difficult, but I'm alright. Thank you for your concern."
Her eyes grew worried upon seeing the stained bandage that was padded against the side of his abdomen. "A scratch," he assured her, placing his hand over the injury, as if to shield it from her eyes anyway.
She glanced up at him and gently pulled his hand aside to peel the bandage away from the wound. The scratch -- deep gash was more like it -- stared up at her, angry and bloodied. He had only rinsed the wound out earlier in the shower; his intention was to get proper treatment for it in the morning.
"You're hurt." She said, and turned to pad down the engawa.
Neji watched, confused, as his cousin left quietly. The thought of stopping her did occur to him, but looking back into his room at the futon, the idea of sleep sounded much better. He was sure that he started to doze off as soon as his head hit the pillow. Just as he began to slip off into dreams, a soft knock came to the wall outside his door. "Yes?" Keeping the irritation from his voice was difficult.
Hinata slid into his room as quietly as she had left, this time she held two jars and some gauze.
"You should treat that before it gets infected," she offered, approaching his bed as he sat up, his irritation mysteriously disappearing. He didn't say a word as she removed the bandage and dabbed a stinging antiseptic into the wound.
"Tell me if it hurts," she added, glancing up to his face.
"It doesn't," he insisted, his wincing face showing the contrary.
"Aside from this, I trust your mission went well?"
A beat of silence came next, and although Neji was no stranger to Hinata's concern for injuries, he had to wonder exactly why she had waited outside his door in the first place. She could have checked tomorrow, it was late, and tomorrow... tomorrow was a big day for her.
Next a soothing balm was smoothed over the gash. Neji gazed at his cousin this entire time; her eyes were unreadable as she wrapped the gauze around the wound, around him. Her arms closed around his torso when she switched the gauze to her other hand, she shivered just slightly as she passed the gauze.
The night was muggy.
She didn't say anything when she finished, simply sat back and closed the jars.
Clearly he expected her to leave. When she didn't, he sighed. "It's late, Hinata-sama. You should rest. Tomorrow will no doubt be very tiring for you."
Her pale eyes closed for a moment before they reopened. "Perhaps I'm simply trying to delay tomorrow."
"Tomorrow will come eventually, Hinata-sama, whether you're prepared for it or not."
Her small hands clenched into fists, gripping at her kimono.
"Uchiha Sasuke is an ideal choice. He's a good man," Neji assured, voice tight.
And it was true. As Hinata's primary guardian and the one who knew her best among their kin, he accompanied Hiashi-sama to the negotiations with the remaining Uchiha. It was a perfect match: Sasuke needed a woman of strong blood to begin rebuilding his clan, and Hiashi, wanting his second daughter to succeed him but waiting for the right opportunity to come and present itself, had agreed.
A weak woman born to a strong family. Hiashi would have thought twice if it had been Hanabi that Sasuke requested.
Considering that Sasuke most likely knew of Hinata's less than impressive track record when it came to missions, it there must have been another reason as to why he had chosen her to become his wife.
Neji then thought of the group of kunoichi that seemed to follow Sasuke and ogle him, whatever it was that he was doing, and grimaced. Hinata never took part in this. Suddenly Sasuke's choice wasn't so mind-boggling anymore.
"I don't understand," she said quietly. "Otou-sama does not want me to succeed him. He is effectively removing me from Hyuuga. He has the power to do this without marrying me off."
"Hiashi-sama is a man of pride and reputation," Neji admitted. "He will not remove you from power without sound reason. That would not be the honorable thing to do."
"Nothing about this situation is honorable," she mumbled. He realized with a start that he had never heard anything so bitter come out from his little cousin, and he prayed to never be witness to it again.
Another stretch of silence passed, and Neji could feel the tension -- and lack of sleep -- overcoming him. His eyes closed as he sat back against the wall and pulled the cover up to his hips. "I'm afraid I don't know what to tell you, Hinata-sama. I stand by my opinion; Sasuke is a good man."
He heard Hinata shift slightly, and he noticed that she had moved closer when he moved his knee and discovered that the cover had a bit of resistance.
"Yes," she agreed. "I'm sure he is. But... is it an adequate match?"
Upon initial thought Neji just thought she was being redundant. After thinking a bit more, though, after analyzing what she said, he chose his words. "Sasuke is a very lucky man."
Pause. "That doesn't answer the question, Nii-san."
Trust his subdued cousin to be pushy only when it really mattered.
"...I can think of no one better for you, Hinata-sama." The lie sunk to his stomach like a lead weight. Suddenly he was very grateful that his eyes were closed -- he wasn't sure if he wanted to know how Hinata would react.
But he found out anyway. The wall against his back sighed in protest as another weight settled against it. Hinata's breaths were low and heavy with a slight shudder, as if she was working hard to control them. The fabric of her kimono rustled somewhere up near Neji's ear level. Somehow, even without the Byakugan, he could picture her very clearly, her knees drawn up to her chin, burying her face in crossed arms. The sight made him swallow.
"Honesty is your best trait, Nii-san," she laughed, a horrible sound. "I suppose I shouldn't have expected anything else."
He tightened a fist at her words. "I never say anything I don't mean."
"I know." The false cheer from her previous statement had disappeared by now, and she did not attempt to cover up the shakiness of her voice. "I'm not familiar with the Uchiha compound. I imagine it will be very lonely."
"You'll manage." It came out harsher than he originally intended. Though perhaps that was for the better.
"Will you visit me?"
"When... If time permits," Neji answered vaguely. No.
His hand, resting on his leg, warmed when she grasped it with her smaller one. Neji snapped open his eyes to look at her. She never looked back up at him, instead preferred to look down at their joined hands.
His fingers tensed under her grip. "Hinata-sama, it's late. You should go to bed and rest."
Finally Hinata raised her eyes to meet his, locking him in. She seemed to be examining his expressions, and upon noticing this he willed his face into his typical deadpan. She nodded then, and leaned in close.
His breath caught when she brushed soft lips against his cheek and whispered into his ear, "Thank you for everything, Nii-san." And not long after that, she stood and crossed the tatami where the shoji slid open and closed.
Neji sighed, resting his head in his hands. When he finally moved to lie down into his bedding, a frown creased his brow. Sleep evaded him.