Characters: Neji, Hinata
Summary: He realizes that he doesn't hate her.
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.
The bridge only shows one sky to all and it only allows the walkers and the stragglers both to show one face. This is where they meet; this is where they come halfway, and they no longer have any names, but that's how he likes it. He who always struggles to escape his name can here discard it with obscene ease, and the taste left in his mouth is oh so sweet, instead of the habitual bitter.
This is the first moment in which he realizes that he doesn't hate her, as she smiles tremulously and holds out the soup bowl and he accepts with no comment, pretending not to notice the way a little bit of the soup has sloshed to the earth thanks to her shaking hands. He has always hated what she represents, hated her like generations of his kind have hated hers. As a result of his hatred he has pursued the paths of bitterness and cruelty and she has felt it all come down on her shoulders, like a blow from an axe.
But he doesn't hate her.
It's surprising, but there's no question as to why. He can still feel her pliant flesh under his destroying hands, her blood on his skin. He can remember red gushing from her mouth like a river and the way her heart stopped for just a moment. The sudden absence of chakra spitting in her veins was glorious, but it only lasted for a moment.
A pallid strain of thought seized him as she was carried away. What if she died? What would happen to him then? What would be done to him? What would he do without her timid gentleness to cloak him and make him seem so much stronger?
Oddly enough, with thoughts of her death came the absent realization that he would miss her smile, and her pale shadow flitting around the walls of the compound, clinging to cool, dark places with the sweet smell of soil beneath her feet. He would miss those things the way he missed all things he lost and couldn't help losing, if she was to die.
That thought unearthed many other thoughts and he couldn't help but peel them away. What he expected to find at the center was the core of hatred, but he did not. It wasn't there, at least not after his uncle told him tales of long ago a month later, and bowed (bowed!), head on the ground and hair spilling around him. That, he supposed, could have cooled his hate, could have extinguished the flames. But for her, there was no hint of it ever being there at all, not really.
He did not hate her. He does not hate her.
He tried to kill her but regretted it afterwards, if only because she is small and weak and because it wasn't a real fight and because she dug in so deep beneath his skin. He had never known her to be so piercing, so discerning.
Maybe that was worthy of respect. Maybe that is worthy of respect.
The soup is hot, a little scorched around the edges. The thick, wealthy flavor clings to the roof of his mouth and he drinks while she lingers in the door and watches, waits without words.
Is it good? she asks in her half-whisper and, slowly, he nods, feeling his stomach full and warm for the first time since leaving the sterile hospital. He does not rise from his bare white room, bandages still swathed stiff around his about his chest and his body still weak. He can have the seal bared to her for the first time and not feel the deepest shame and resentment because of the way she worries at her lip when she watches him drink.
There is a slice of sky caught in the web of the window that spills on him; she can only feel the sun outside on her back and the kissing brush of a dragonfly's wing on her cheek as it darts by. The sky encompasses them both.
Her feet making whispers on the creaking wood floor, she steps forward, eyes downcast, to take the bowl after he's done. This is the first time he can recall that she doesn't flinch and ready herself to flee when she's close to him.
He smells the warm aroma of soup on her and he sees her short, fine hair and the way it barely brushes the nape of her white neck.
Slowly, he touches her shoulder—a murmur of Thank you—and her eyes dart to him briefly and then floorwards. The slightest hint of a smile ghosts across her pink lips and is gone again, and she is gone from the room herself.
He lies down, watches a bird fly past the window in the slice of sky, and smiles.