Disclaimer: Not mine

Note: Yes, I'm on a Hinata-themed writing spree.

Plot: No idea.

She danced in the rain, her feet barely touching the ground as she moved her lithe, frail body. Droplets of rain water trickled down her face as she slowed and were shook off gracefully as she quickened her pace. A smile was ever present on her face as she treaded on the grass. Her white clothes were drenched, sticking to her skin, revealing the curves that she tried so hard to keep hidden. There were brown patches of mud on her pants and a large dirty smear on her tiny waist. She stopped moving abruptly, apparently straining to see if she was being intruded upon.

He wondered why she didn't activate her byakugan. A few seconds of thinking decided that the morning's mission had drained her of the cakra. He studied the her from afar. Breathing in her beauty like one breathes air. She is his air. Engulfing him, and yet, suffocating him.

She stretched her arms and threw back her head, gazing up at the clouds. Raindrops splattered onto her face, washing away the pain. A look of calm content was written on the pale heiress's face. He was tempted to just leave her here. She looked more at peace with the world than the statues (faces) of their past Hokages themselves. But this morning's conversation rang in his ears ominously…

'She needs to be treated,' Tsunade-sama looked like the epitome of wrath itself.

'Hinata-chan seems fine to me,' Naruto. Goofy and stupid as ever. He resisted the urge to strangle the man.

'She didn't look so well when she came back from her mission this morning,' Sakura looked genuinely worried.

'She doesn't want to be looked at,' Sasuke. Arrogant bastard. They should've just killed him off, like he wanted.

'How're her teammates?' His own voice was calm as ever, revealing none of the panic he felt, clutching his heart, threatening to suffocate it.

'They're both fine. Still sleeping,' Sakura. Figures. That means she completed the mission, with or without her teammates' help.

'Hinata-sama didn't report back?' he focused his glare at the hokage. He had told her to send him along, that Hinata might not be able to handle this mission. But she insisted that 'Hinata can handle herself.' Senile old woman. Damn her.

'She disappeared as soon as she had her teammates admitted to the hospital,' Tsunade glared right back. She will not be undermined by this brat.

'Which probably means she's fine,' Sasuke was annoyed and showed it. He wished Tsunade-sama did not call him in on this. But they need all the help they can spare.

'If she's fine, then we won't be here,' Shikamaru heaved an annoyed sigh.

'I need all of you to locate her and bring her back,' she glared daggers at them, 'GENTLY. We don't know the extent of her injuries, so assume the worst.'

'You need five Shinobis to bring back an injured bit-' he stopped himself as he felt the air thicken. There were more than one pair of eyes trying to kill him.

'Neiji can track down her location,' Shikamaru stated everyone's mind.

'No,' he admitted grudgingly after a moment of silence.

'What do you mean "No"?' Naruto wanted to know.

'I can't,' he wished he could wipe that smirk off Sasuke's face. He looked at Tsunade expectantly, not wanting to explain himself.

'Not in this thunderstorm. And Hinata's a lot stronger than she lets on,' she sighed, hating herself for breaking it to them like this, 'she knows more shielding techniques than the entire Anbu squad added together. Nothing less than the best can find her when she wants to stay hidden.'

'So you mean to say, we're going to have to track her down by checking everywhere?' Sasuke didn't sound happy with this at all.

He didn't even bother to answer that stupid question, 'I'll find her.' He stated bluntly, turning his back on everyone. Damn them. If it weren't for them, this would never have happened.

He tried so hard to keep her from getting stronger.

He'd even tried to kill her at one time to prevent that.

To prevent THIS.

If she were weak, then she would have no choice but to remain a normal Shinobi forever. Were she weak, she would not have to risk her live in A-rank missions. If she could not fight, then she would not even need to go for missions. She could just stay in the Hyuga compound and become the useless pathetic Heiress until they grow tired of her and leave her alone.

He wanted her to stay weak. Defy her fate as a Hyuga Heiress. Live her life outside the lies and deceits of her so called 'family'. He wanted her to stop struggling against her fate to be weak. He wanted to see her stop fighting. To stop hurting.

He wanted her to be happy.

'Hinata-sama,' his voice was shaking slightly in the wind. His eyes were cold when he looked at her, void of the tumbling emotions in his mind. He was not thinking. His legs barely supported him as he walked towards her. The bruises and cuts were clearer as he came close, though the rain had washed away most of the blood. He realized that the brown patches were not mud, but blood.

'N-N-Neiji nii-san,' her frowns furrowed in confusion when she saw him, 'w-what're y-you d-d-doing here?'

He hasn't heard that stutter since… since he spoke to her a year ago, when she challenged him to a fight in the Hyuga compound to show her father that she was worthy of her position. He hadn't expected her to be so strong. And, apparently, neither did her father. Because when they were done, Hinata had bowed graciously to her father and returned to her quarters without a word from her dumbstruck father, leaving a very much defeated Neiji immobile on the ground.

'Tsunade-sama had us search for you. Are you injured?' his heart was pounding madly against his chest. He was worried she'll hear. But the thunderstorm drowned out everything. He wondered why he couldn't hear anything but her voice.

'I-Ie,' he could see her struggling to regain her façade. She took a deep breath and graced him with a strained smile. It tore at his heart every time she forced herself to smile.

Her voice, when she spoke again, was cold, revealing what little compassion that was allowed, 'I'm fine. Gomen, Neiji-niisan. How are Kib-'

He silenced her with his mouth, noticing with regret that tears welled up in her eyes as he did. He backed away.

'N-N-Neiji-niis-s-an?' she held back a sob, giving him an innocently puzzled look.

'Stop pretending,' cold, harsh words that hadn't worked before might just work this time. He will weaken her. He will make her stop fighting. 'You will never be strong enough,' he pinned her against a tree roughly, forcing his lips against her once more, but with none of the gentleness before. He wanted to break her. To make her stop. Give up. Go back to that shy, gentle Hinata-sama that he had tried so hard to protect.

He didn't expect her to return the kiss.

What the more, deepen it.

He didn't expect her to wrap her arms around him neck.

Strangling him in her gentle embrace.

'Neiji-niisan…' she panted. They both did. The smile she gave him was genuine this time, 'I think… you're the one who should stop pretending…'

'N-Neiji-niisan,' she looked beautiful that night. The blue dress he took pains to obtain for her surreptitiously in his last mission suited her. It showed Konoha that she was no longer the shy, stuttering girl who harbored a not-so-secret crush on the village's 'nine tailed monster'. She decided to celebrate her eighteenth birthday with her friends, blatantly ignoring the coming-to-age ceremony that the elders prepared for her. She looked unsure of herself, fidgeting with the strapless dress awkwardly, trying to make it cover as much flesh as possible.

He couldn't suppress the smile quite well enough. Her eyes watered instinctively, more out of habit than anything.

'You're l-laughing at me.'

Shaking his head, he held her hands to stop her from fidgeting with the dress, 'Hina, you look lovely.'

'Arigatou… she mumbled. Her face beet red, she stuttered, 'y-y-you look very n-n-nice t-too.'

He was wearing a black tux.

Tonight, they were not Hyugas.

'Let's go, Hina. Our friends are waiting,' he offered her an arm.

She clutched it tightly.

'Neiji-niisan,' she whispered, tightening her grasp on his arm. He wondered if he could still keep it after tonight.

'Yes, Hina?'

'I'm going to fight against fate for you,' he never heard her sound more determined, but he forced a laugh nonetheless.

'I can fight for myself.'

She shook her sea-blue bangs gently, 'I have let you fight alone long enough,' she let go of his arm and walked in from of him so that she faced him, 'I am going to fight for you from now on.'

He couldn't help leaning down, drawn in by her eyes as she reached her hands up to him. Instead of the kiss he anticipated, she pulled back his head protector, 'I'll find a way.' She pulled his face down and planted a kiss on the seal, 'I'll make this disappear.'

'Hinata…sama,' he was stunned. Why didn't he see this coming? Had he been so blind that he hadn't noticed what she had been planning behind his back? He thought he had succeeded. He believed she had stopped trying. She didn't seem to have the will to battle against her clan leaders. She can't have… why had he not noticed earlier?

No… he noticed. He chose to ignore it.

She bit her bottom lip and pouted, 'Hina. Tonight, I'm Hina,' her eyes blazed in anticipation as she grinned at him, 'Tomorrow, I'll start fighting.'

For once in his life, he was frightened.

He was frightened for her.

'Stop fighting, H-,' he paused, 'Hina, please… you're only hurting yourself.'

'I'll find a way, Neiji-niisan,' she reasoned, wrapping her arms around his torso. 'I-I'll make them fear me… Then… somehow…'

He held her as she collapse, his heart clenching in pain when he felt how light she had become over the years.

How fragile.

For the first time in many, many years, he felt tears in his eyes.

He cried for her.