Disclaimer: 'Naruto' is owned by Masashi Kishimoto
Two Caged Birds – Part 2:2 – Sky Calls
"Winner, Naruto Uzumaki"
~ x ~
"One, two . . .three . . . four. . ."
Neji frowned at the little girl beside him. Hinata had hardly spoken to him all morning, he had been enjoying the quite until she started in on her random counting games.
"Two trees Neji! Only two!"
"Four flowers Neji, one's pink!"
"Five. . . Five birds Neji. Look!"
He looked upwards to where she was pointing, tiny dark dots flew in circles in the sky.
"Mine make's six. We have six birds." Hinata said.
"Hmp." He looked back down, opening the door for her into the training room.
~ x ~
Neji sat on the wooden floor that edged the training mat. He pulled his knees to his chest, watching quietly as Hinata got thrown back by her father for every attack she tried to make. Lord Hiashi was huge compared to most men, let alone his tiny daughter. "Keep your hand up." He commanded.
"I. . . I'm trying." She was out of breath.
"You are not." He easily pushed her down. She fell with a hard plop.
She scrambled to her feet.
~ x ~
"You're not getting enough practice." Hiashi said. "Soon, you will be using your Byakugan. You have to prepare yourself for that."
"I. . . I'll try."
"S. . . Sorry."
Her father raised a hand and rubbed the bridge of his nose, shutting his eyes for a moment before glaring down at her. "I need to leave. I have more important things to do. Stay here and practice with Neji."
"I expect improvement." He turned, and nodded to Neji, allowing him onto the training area. When her father was gone, Hinata plopped down and sighed heavily.
"Come on Hinata, you can't be a baby," Neji said, stepping onto the mat with bare feet.
"You're always hungry."
"I am not!"
Neji glared. He was already getting a headache. "Come on Hinata, you're going to get me in trouble again."
She nodded and stood quickly, brushing off her trousers and stepping into a clumsy Gentle Fist position. Neji raised her right arm, and lowered her left one slightly. As soon as he let go both arms bounced back into her awkward stance.
"Lower your arm, and turn your foot."
"Like this Neji?"
"No, not like that, like this." He stood, moving his feet and posing so that she could copy.
He lowered his hands "Would you stop complaining."
"But. . . "
They stared at each other for a while. Neji sighed, wiping the sweat from the white wrap around his forehead. "If we go outside where it's cool will you promise to practice?"
"Alright. Come on then."
She reached for his hand, and he moved it quickly, opening the door and letting her outside.
~ x ~
"Come on Hinata!"
She grimaced and moved her feet forward, Neji did the same, digging his sandals into the grass. "Alright, now come attack me."
Her lips trembled in concentration as she moved forward, swinging her palm.
"No Hinata. You need to control your hand. That's where the Chakra's coming from. The palm of your hand, not the back." He took an empty swipe at her, watching her step back quickly.
She put her arms in front of her and hugged herself, shaking her head "I'm tired."
He knew her well enough to know that she was ready to cry. It wasn't even noon yet! "Fine," he finally said. "Look, a few more minuets, then you can take a break."
Her eyes suddenly lightened, "Promise?"
"Ya. But you better do good."
She nodded, flinging herself into position. He readjusted her arms again, then stood before her. "Now, in a battle, your opponent isn't going to be talking up to you or helping you like I am. So you have to keep focused, and no matter what just keep fighting alright?"
~ x ~
"One more." Neji said, stepping back.
Neji frowned "You already had one."
"But I have to go to the bathroom."
"Fine! Just go! But hurry!"
Hinata ran back into the training room. Neji sat down in the grass, staring at the surrounding trees unhappily. He'd much rather be doing his own training. His Byakugan wasn't fully developed yet, but it would be soon, he could feel it. Leaning back in the grass Neji stared upwards into the tree branch above him, where a small orange colored bird was bouncing around and searching for bugs. Neji smiled Once he had his Byakugan he would practice like crazy, he'd become stronger and stronger then maybe. . .
"Neji! I told you and Hinata to stay in the training room!"
Neji sat up with a jerk at Lord Hiashi's voice, the wild bird flew away to the safety of the sky
Neji walked back to the training room.
~ x ~
"Hinata – Sama?" Neji peeked through each door as he passed them down the hallway, walking quickly to the sound of raindrops on the window panes. "Hinata?" He reached Hinata's room and opened the door, "Hinata?"
Neji ducked as a flurry of feathers almost hit him in the head. He gasped as the bird flew upward to the ceiling, It crashed into the mirror behind Hinata's bed, sending a spray of loose brown feathers as it fall to the floor with a thud. "Hinata. What are you doing?" Neji ran and jumped onto the bed, picking the bird up in both hands. Hinata stood by the window between the closed curtains and empty cage. "I thought. . ."
"Well stop thinking! You scared it!" He threw the bird back into it's prison, slamming the door, then turning to glare at her. "You are so careless!"
Hinata's lips trembled. "I'm. . . I'm sorry."
"You're always sorry!" he yelled, "Sorry doesn't cut it!"
She looked away, tears falling by her feet. "I. . ."
"Just stop it! You're completely useless. All you ever do is get me into trouble and whine and complain. 'I want this', 'I want that', 'I'm hungry', 'I want a bird'. Well you got one so stop it. Just stop!"
Neji stared at her, breathing hard. Hinata stared back, violet eyes wide, then, with a sniffle, she ran from the room crying. Leaving Neji standing in her room, shaking in anger. "Hinata!" he called, running after her.
~ x ~
Hinata was fast when she wanted to be, and she hid well. Neji looked through all the rooms one by one, growing more and more angry at her, himself, and life in general. It was almost dinner time and if Hinata was gone. . . He shuddered. He had to find her before her father came in the house, or her mother asked for her. He looked in the spare rooms, then in the outer buildings, avoiding the dining room at all costs.
Coming back inside, and shaking the rain from his hair, Neji walked back through all the rooms and searched the kitchen as well. No Hinata. He ran back towards the stairs to check her bedroom again.
He froze, taking two steps backwards and standing in the dining room doorway. Lord Hiashi sat in his large chair at the head of the table. Hinata was sitting in her seat, picking at her food quietly.
"I thought you were supposed to bring Lady Hinata to dinner." Hiashi said.
"I. . ."
"I found her in the drawing room alone. She could have gotten hurt."
"I. . . "
"Don't speak until I am finished."
Neji stood silently, unmoving.
"I'm getting weary of your lack of responsibility. As a. . . "
Hinata suddenly looked up from her plate. "Daddy?"
"What Hinata?" Lord Hiashi snapped.
Hinata cringed but spoke quietly, "Neji was outside."
"Was he now?" The man was not happy at being interrupted.
Neji glared at Hinata for tattling. That spoiled, selfish. . .
"He. . . He was looking for something for me."
Neji started in surprise,
"Oh?" Hiashi said, looking at Neji with a frown.
"Did you find it Neji?" Hinata asked, setting her eating utensil down and raising in her seat, "Did you find it?"
Neji glanced at Hinata, then to his uncle. The look in those eyes, dark and cold. It was the face of his own father, but not those eyes. He had only seen the man look so hateful once, a long time ago, the day Neji came to understand what the seal of the caged bird meant. He reached up to his forehead, feeling fearful. "I. . . I put it in your room. . . It. . . . It almost got wet."
Hinata smiled, sitting back down."Good."
Hiashi shook his head at his daughter. "I told you not to leave your toy's outside Hinata." he said, turning back to the doorway. "Go eat Neji, get dried off. And for goodness sake, stop that stuttering, no wonder where Hinata gets it from." Neji nodded, glancing at Hinata once, then leaving quickly.
~ x ~
Neither of them mentioned Hinata's lie for the next two days, which was why she surprised Neji one late afternoon when she asked - "Did I do good?" The two of them were making their way up the hillside, gathering edible mushrooms that grew in the damp soil and grass. Hinata had begged to come, and like the spoiled child she was, she got her way. "Neji!"
"Did I do good?" she spoke slowly and pointedly.
"I don't know what you're even talking about."
She frowned, lips forming a near pout. "The toys remember?" She smiled. "I told Daddy you were looking for my toys." Neji nodded, picking a mushroom and putting it into the basket Hinata held for him. "You shouldn't lie to your father"
"Uh? What do you mean?"
He stood, walking to the next spot of ground. "He'd get mad if he caught you."
"He won't catch me."
He ignored her. "Hurry up. You're not doing anything."
She ran over to him, tipping some of their mushrooms from their basket as she did so. "Do you like me now?"
"Hinata!"He picked up the mushrooms and put them back, yanking the basket away from her.
"Well, do you?"
"Do I what?"
"Like me." she repeated,
"Why should I?" he snapped, walking away and leaving her struggling to catch up again.
"But you play with me."
"That's because I have to. Are you going to help me or not?" Hinata lowered her head meekly.
"Look for mushrooms." Neji commanded. kneeling to pick some more.
". . . O. . .Okay Neji."
"And be quiet will you?"
She nodded, walking away from him as he continued to fill their basket.
.~ x ~
It was late, and the sun had already set by the time the basket was full. Neji stood, finally feeling calmed down enough to stop Hinata's moping before they got home. "Hinata, come on." He turned when she didn't answer, and growled. Where was she? Walking down the steep hill he searched the old orchard trees. "Hinata?"
Somewhere to his left he heard a crash. Neji spun. "Hinata! Answer me!"
"N. . . N . . . Neji!"
He spun towards the sound, "Hinata?"
"Neji!. . . H. . . Help!"
Clutching the basket closely,he ran up the next hill where the terrain became rocky and drier, old bits of twigs snapping under his feet. What was she doing up here? Hadn't he told her to be careful? He finally came to the top of the hill, where an abandoned building stood. Running around to the other side of the stone walls he found a place where the ground had moved away, damp from where the morning's rain had drained. Hinata was part way down the slide clinging to a bit of grass, her knees dug into the dirt and rocks to keep from sliding any further. "Ow. . . "
"Gaul Hinata! What were you thinking?" Neji stared, she was hanging off a complete drop down the hilsdie, with nothing but weeds and sharp rocks to break her fall.
"Climb up. Be careful."
"I. . . I can't . . ."
"Yes you can, you're not far." He sat the basket by his feet and knelt. "Its too steep, I can't come down and help you. You need to climb up."
"I. . . I"
"Come on brat!"
"O. . . okay."She slowly began climbing up the steep bank.
"That's it. You've got it."
He reached down to take her arm. The ground slipped slightly under his knees.
"Neji I'm slipping!"
"It's alright Hinata I've got you."
Her feet lost their grip and she stumbled backwards, grabbing at his sleeve, then flinging her arms back and falling head over heals down the rest of the ledge.
.~ x ~
Neji dodged down the hill, sending the basket by his knees flying. He jumped off to the side, to the right where the hill wasn't as steep, running as fast as he could, so quickly he couldn't stop.
Hinata fell to the very bottom. Finally stopping against a tree with a clunk. She sat up, screaming in pain.
"Hold still!" Neji demanded, kneeling next to her. "Gaul Hinata, I told you. . . "His words trailed off when he noticed the blood on her cheeks. She shook and sobbed,
"I'll go get help." He stood, stumbling.
"No!" Hinata cried, reaching out and grabbing a lock of his hair in her fist. "I don't want to die!"
"Shh! Stop crying!"
She didn't. Neji pulled her hand from his hair, then moved to take her other arm, to help her stand. She screamed when he touched her wrist and he let go quickly, causing her to fall backwards. She clutched her left arm and bawled, yelling words at him that Neji couldn't understand through her screams and sobs.
"It's alright Hinata! It's alright! We have to get you home."
"It hurts, it hurts, it hurts!"
"Let me see."
"Don't touch!" she shoved him away with her right hand, loosing balance and falling sideways, making her scream again. Neji stood back, staring. Hinata was going to die out here and he couldn't do anything! He shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts.
"I'm here Hinata."
She cried. Neji scooted closer to her.
"I won't! Just calm down!" Hinata gulped and buried her head in his shirt. Shoulders shaking. He put a hand on her back to steady her, looking around. No one was going to hear them up here, and it was getting dark.
~ x ~
"I'm scared." Hinata finally said softly.
"Me too." He said quietly.
Hinata lay still for a moment, then started bawling again "You can't be scared! You can't be! You have to help me. Daddy said! You can't be scared!"
"Shhh! I am going to help you. But you have to listen to me and stop crying!"
She sniffled. "I'm. . . Listening."
"Good. Can you stand up?"
Her lips trembled as he took he right arm to help her stand. She stumbled and he reached to catch her.
"No!" She pulled away, stumbling but staying upright. Still clutching her left arm. She whimpered.
"Come on, lets go." he took her hand and led her slowly up the path. "Ow Neji! It hurts to move."
"Don't move it then!"
"I. . . I can't!" she sat down and started crying again. Neji knelt, "Does it hurt if it stays still?"
"Ya. . . "
"But what if you hold it just like that?"
":Do you even know what I'm talking about?"
". . .No!"
"Give me your arm Hinata." he touched her arm and she yelled at him. Her skin looked a little bluish. Hinata held very still, digging her small shoes into the dirt, trembling. "Neji? What if my bird gets hungry while I'm gone. What if Daddy forgets to feed him?" He ignored her. What if it was broken? He only barely remembered breaking his arm once, maybe it hadn't been broken, just hurt. He couldn't remember how or when it had happened. But he remembered that it had hurt like crazy. His father had wrapped it up in a bandage so that he would hold it very still and it could heal properly. He needed a bandage, something to hold Hinata's arm close to her body where it wouldn't move much. Reaching up, he touched the white cloth wrap around his forehead.
"Will he give him water?"
"Why do you suddenly care about it anyways? You forget to feed it most of the time." He pulled the knot behind his head and let the white cloth fall into his hands.
"I do too remember."
He took her arm.
"Hold still." He wrapped the cloth around her wrist and up her arm. But that wouldn't keep the limb from moving. He carefully untied it and tied a single knot just above her wrist then wrapped it around her back and back again. Still a little short. Neji frowned. Finaly he positioned her arm crosswise in front of her, surprised that she just watched him in silence, and tied the wrap around her shoulder, leaving barely enough to tie a small knot.
"Why does your forehead look funny?"
"It. . . It still hurts."
"You've got to walk."
~ x ~
When Neji finally helped Hinata limp into the front hall, there was a large group of people just getting ready to go look for her. The room fell silent as they entered, Neji breathing heavily from having to drag Hinata most of the way.
"D. . . D. . . Daddy!" Hinata cried, pulling her arm from Neji's shoulder and reaching her hand out, crying. Her father lifted her up, and she cried harder. "My arm! My arm!"
"What did you do?" Lord Hiashi demanded, looking at Hinata, and carefully repositioning his daughter to avoid her injury. He brushed the hair from her face. "Hinata what happened?" Hinata just cried. Hiashi carried her away quickly and Neji stood in the hall for a moment before sitting down right there in the hall, trying to catch his breath.
~ x ~
Neji was sitting in the kitchen sipping warm soup when Lord Hiashi entered the room. Neji stood quickly.
"Sit down and eat." Hiashi said. And Neji did so, turning his head away.
"I want to thank you for bringing Hinata back."
Neji looked up, surprised.
"But, you were both foolish. You should have kept a close watch on her. She shouldn't have fallen in the first place. What where you doing?"
"I. . ."
"You should have watched her! You were careless."
Neji looked down, biting his lower lip. "But. . ."
"Nothing Lord – Sama."
"I will discus this with you later Neji. Go to bed." The man turned and left. Neji sat still. Deep down he had hoped that things would change after he had brought Hinata home. He had overheard the medics say that he had done well, that lady Hinata's arm wasn't badly hurt after all and that she would get well soon. He had hoped maybe. . . He wouldn't admit to himself what he had hoped for. What was was, and there was no chance for a change.
~ x ~
Stepping quietly, Neji tiptoed past Hinata's room.
He stopped and peeked into her doorway. "What do you need?"
"Come in, please."
She almost sounded like her father, minus the please. He walked into the room, flipping on the light. "What?" He asked.
Hinata sat up in bed, covers on her lap and arm well bandaged. "Do. . . Do you hate me?"
He stared at her, then turned away. "I'm tired Hinata." he said quietly, tuning to leave when he heard her bear feet against the floor boards. He turned around, "What are you. . . "
Hinata stood before him, holding the large copper cage in front of her, using both her arms, though her left wrist was wrapped tightly in a cast. And most of the cages weight was on her right side. "Thank you for saving me Neji. . . Here's my bird." She held her arms straight out in front of herself, head bowed. The cage began to tilt and Neji took hold of the bottom to keep it from falling. He stared at the ugly little bird's dark eyes. Then gasped when he head Hinata's bare hands gently slap the floor as she made a full bow, curling her knees up underneath her nightgown and facing the floor.
"Get up Hinata, Now!" he set the cage down and yanked her from the positioned
"Sorry. Don't do that again got it?" Neji looked towards the door nervously.
". . .Sorry."
"Go to bed."
She nodded and climbed back onto the bed. "Will you take care of him Neji?"
"You're giving me your bird?"
"But I don't want it!"
Her face fell. "But . . . " she died off.
"Well, you kept asking, so I thought. . . "
"I told you not to think. Go to sleep." He turned towards the door, nearly stepping on the cage. He stopped. "If. . . If it's my bird Hinata. . . Can I let it go if I wanted?"
She looked up from her lap, where she had been staring at her bruised fingers. "You want to let it go?"
He nodded once.
Neji Shook his head. "It. . . It doesn't matter." He took two more steps before he felt her hand latch around his arm. "And you think. . . Maybe he will be able to sing if he gets out? And fly better when he's not in my room?"
He nodded again.
"I want him to be happy too. Come on." She dragged him towards the window, struggling to lift the cage again, one handed. She stumbled to the window sill. Neji helped her lift it from behind. And Hinata stepped back. "I can't reach well. You do it."
He unlatched the wire door carefully. Then turned the cage, carefully shaking the bird out. It looked around at the night sky, cocking it's head.
"Come on." Neji murmured, giving the cage a little shake. "Get out." The bird stood on the edge of the bars, looking back and forth several times, then it spread it's wings and took flight. Neji watched as it made a falling swoop downward before rising on the light breeze and disappearing into the night.
"Do you think he will be okay Neji?" Hinata asked quietly.
"Ya, I think so."
"Are you happy too Neji?"
Neji walked to the bedroom door and opened it, he slowly smiled, glancing at the window again, "Yes Hinata, now go to bed."
"Alright Neji. Goodnight."
"Goodnight Hinata -Sama."
Author notes: So, there you go. I hope it was enjoyable and I look forward to reading your reviews. I have a few ideas on how I can make this a longer story, but right now I am working eleven hour days and getting ready to go back to school. So, this is it for 'Two Caged Birds' for now. Maybe I'll try a few other short stories; and I imagineCaptainflye will probably tie me to a chair and force me to finish and post 'Desert Fox' long work days or not. :) So, until next time. . .