Author's Note: I was going through my documents when I found this little gem, half finished. So, what could I do other than finish and publish it? Takes place after Neji's showdown with Kidomaru in the Sasuke Retrieval Arc. Neji/Hinata friendship, not romance, but take it how you will I suppose.
The first thing that occurred to me was that I couldn't see. Despite the horrible, crushing ache in my shoulder, the crippling pains in my side and the trembling I couldn't seem to stop, none of it mattered quite as much as my all-important vision. Seemed a foolish thought, but truthfully, it was a frightening concept. My eyes. Anything but my eyes. I could live without an arm, even a leg, but not my eyes.
Quickly, I realized that of course, it was only dark because I was gazing at the backs of my eyelids. Yes. Of course. That must have been it. Although, I could be dead, I supposed. Maybe even blinded, if misfortune favored me enough. Perhaps my Byakugan had been stolen by someone in pursuit of the infamous kekkei genkai of the clan, if anyone was stupid enough not to know the difference between the main and branch houses. Unlikely, but not completely inconceivable. Being that my father was identical twin to Hiashi-sama, it wouldn't be impossible for someone to mistake me for a member of the main house, provided the culprits hadn't seen the cursed seal.
No, no. That wasn't right. This wouldn't do. They would have to be blind not to see it without my forehead guard, after it fell off.
…It fell off? When? When was that? I couldn't recall.
I could feel myself cringing as a tingling sensation drowned out the majority of the pain, but all the same, I wanted to ask: What's happening? What's happening to me? My mouth wouldn't move, my limbs wouldn't obey, and my eyelids flatly refused to budge. What cruel irony, to be as powerless outside as I felt on the inside. The great Neji Hyuga, nothing more than a bird caged by the injustices of the clan. Now it was literal and metaphorical. If these wounds were so terrible I couldn't move, I might never fight again. No. I knew what that did to Lee, and it would be worse in my case. I would be trapped. Trapped in that forsaken house, unable to care for myself.
Death would greet me before I allowed that. I would rather end it myself than be put through such a pitiful existence.
Hyuga. Hyuga. Ultimately there was no difference, was there? I was as deserving of that name as anyone in the main house could ever be. Simply put, fate thought it would be funny to gift me with skill, and then make it so that I could never properly use it. Never beyond what the main house saw fit. Never. Not really. My father died for them. By his choice, yes, and in that I admit I had been wrong for countless years and then some. All the same, I still felt vulnerable. I was a puppet on a string, and my path could not be altered.
Destiny was whatever you made of it? People could change if they tried? Maybe but then again, maybe not. Even despite his words, I still wasn't entirely used to the idea.
Yes, that was the way of the clan as it were. No matter how hard you tried, you could only go so far. That was the way it had always been. Hyuga. Hyuga. My name was Neji Hyuga. There wasn't a soul anywhere near the Hidden Leaf who didn't know it. Child prodigy; would-be heir to a legacy as old as time itself, if not for a twist of fate and a mere two minutes of separation between twin brothers.
Just walk forward, one foot in front of the other. That's all there is for you. What was that? You want more? You deserve better? No you don't. It doesn't matter what you want. None of it will get you anywhere. Keep circling that cage, Neji. Poke at the bars with your beak, if you dare. Perhaps you'll catch a glimpse of that untouchable world outside.
I'd given up. Nothing mattered anymore. That was my lot in life, and I would wallow in it. But then, Naruto Uzumaki stepped up and dared to prove that I was wrong. That people could be whatever they wanted to be. It didn't matter what your name was, or what clan you belonged to. A life was yours and yours alone. Nobody could decide for you whether or not you could be somebody one day.
He was nothing but a hopeful fool. Such idiotic dreams he held.
The most horrible thing of all was how badly I wanted to believe him.
Now I did believe in him when once, I could believe in nothing. His eyes were better than mine in so manyways. Ways that I could hardly grasp an understanding of. I admitted that. Me, the prodigy. The genius. That was what I told him, a day not so long ago, and yet it seemed so far back in my memory, I doubted it existed in the first place.
…I believed in him. How? When was that?
I couldn't recall.
It was cold. Dark and cold. Was I lost? Was I…afraid? I wished someone would find me, wherever this place was. Someone could at least tell me where it is I am, and where I'm going. Won't someone point out the way? I haven't truly asked for anything in such a long time. Is this my lot in life? Is this my…destiny?
No. That couldn't be. This was unacceptable. I wished to survive. Not only to survive, but to flourish. If I had a destiny, I wanted that to be it.
You can do it too, 'cause after all, unlike me, you're not a failure.
"Shizune-sama, we've done it! He's stabilizing!"
What was that? Shizune. I'd heard that name before.
"I can't believe it. He was at death's door. I thought he was a goner for sure. Congratulations, kid. You just told fate to fuck off. "
I…defied fate? Changed my fate? Me? I wanted to say something, to tell them they must be mistaken, but I was so tired. Sleep. Yes, that sounded wonderful.
I had defied fate. The thought put a smile on my face as I felt myself fall deeper and deeper into the darkness. Only, it wasn't suffocating this time. Now the darkness I supposedly feared felt oddly welcoming.
When next I woke, I honestly couldn't tell you how much time had elapsed. The pain was a dull ache now, and I was drowsy enough to know that I was under some sort of sedative. This was the hospital surely, and though my thoughts were sluggish, I could tell I was thinking much more clearly than I had been before.
This room looked the same as any other; white walls, sterile equipment. A standard issue bed in the center, placed beside an open window. But there were flowers by my bedside… balloons, stuffed animals, cards from well-wishers. There were even some colorfully wrapped packages along the farthest wall. I wasn't normally the emotional sort, but the thoughtfulness of the gestures warmed my heart.
The next sight I took in was what truly threatened to break me.
Hinata was sitting beside my bed, silently watching me. Just watching, biting her lower lip and wringing her hands nervously, the way she was often prone to. Tears were overflowing beneath her eyes and streaming down her cheeks. She looked worried, relieved, happy…and she felt these things for me.
All I could do was lie there, gaping. Surely I was hallucinating. They must have had me on stronger drugs than I'd though.
I blinked, rubbed my eyes, blinked again but she was still there, and that didn't make any sense, because what reason would she have to sit with me? Why was she here? Why was she crying…for me? I hadn't visited her when she was in the hospital. Not even once.
"H-Hinata-sama?" Now I was the one stammering when normally, that part would be her job. My voice was so soft and weak, I nearly didn't recognize it as my own, and that only served to add to how utterly bazaar this all was. A dream? Yes. If not a hallucination, then I must have been dreaming for certain. That was the only logical explanation. The only…
Her face crumpled before my eyes, and my mind went completely blank. Before I could say anything further, she launched herself forward, wrapped her arms around my waist and sobbed into my chest. She was hugging me. This had never happened before. I wasn't sure how to deal with it, and to be honest it hurt a little too, but I tried to return her kindness all the same, patting her back in a way even I knew was horribly awkward.
Suddenly, she seemed to realize what she had just done, for after a second more she pulled back, face red with embarrassment.
"Neji nii-san! I-I'm sorry. I was just so happy to see you awake. I…w-we thought you might never…" Hinata looked away from me, swiping those glimmering tears off her cheeks and still I could find nothing to say. After all that I had said and done to her…
Then, as if her tears weren't enough to throw me, she smiled. I could count on my fingers the number of times I'd seen her do that. And this one…was for me?
Such a kind, open heart she had. How could I ever have ridiculed her for it?
I almost envied her.
"I…" My voice cracked and my body was wracked with coughs. My throat was so dry, I wouldn't have been surprised if it were bleeding. A glass of water was thrust into my hand and I raised it to my lips, guzzling it down as if I'd been trapped in the desert for weeks.
Clearing my throat, I handed the glass back to her and tried to speak again. "Thank you." That was a little better. The inside of my mouth still had the consistency of cotton, but I could talk, at least.
Again, her lips twitched upward and she smiled. Only for a second, but it was there, all the same. "How are you feeling? Can I get you anything else? Y-You're not cold, are you? It's such a nice day, so I thought I would open the window to let some air into your room. O-Oh, your blanket is falling off! That was careless of me. Here." Without further delay, she leaned forward and pulled the covers more securely around me, and I was grateful for it. I liked feeling the breeze on my face, but my body didn't seem to agree with me. She must have seen me shivering, because she moved to close the window.
"It's fine, you can leave it open," I said gently, not wanting to hurt her feelings by sounding too harsh. "As long as I have the blanket, I'm okay."
"W-Well, if you're sure." She looked so genuinely concerned for me, it made my heart ache.
"Can I ask you something?"
At this, she looked puzzled. "Why what, Neji nii-san?"
"Why are you here?"
It was only when she looked stricken that I realized how bad that sounded. Suddenly, I had the insane urge to hide my face in my hands.
"That didn't come out right. What I mean to say is, I don't understand. I nearly killed you. How could you care so much for me after that?"
Her face cleared and she cocked her head at me in confusion. "Why wouldn't I? You're supposed to look after the ones you care about, and I care about you. I know you don't like me much, but I don't mind. Nobody really does anyway. I was lonely when I had to stay here. I didn't want you to be too. Kiba, Shino and Kurenai sensei were here to see me a lot, but they were busy with training, and father came by to see if I was okay, but he didn't stay long."
I could feel my cheeks redden as I stared down at my bedcovers, too ashamed to look her in the eye. What I had done to deserve any love from her, I would never know. Over the years, I had become a master at being cruel to her without actually being cruel; treating her as badly as I dared without crossing any lines.
Ignoring her. Just like everyone else had.
And I was going to make it up to her if it killed me. Starting now.
Why were my eyes burning? I couldn't be this close to crying, could I?
The drugs. Must have been the drugs.
While I'd been stewing in my own self-loathing, Hinata had busied herself with arranging a bouquet of flowers on my bedside table. The card made me smile in spite of myself. It was from Lee, TenTen and Guy sensei. 'The power of youth is strong in this one. Get well soon!'
She stopped and turned her head, that fleeting smile flashing across her lips again. "Yes?"
Hinata frowned, giving me her full attention as she straightened my bed covers again. The lump in my throat grew until it threatened to choke me. "What for, Neji nii-san?"
"For everything." I'd like to pretend my voice didn't break on the last word, but that would be a blatant lie. How could she call me brother after all the things I'd done? How could she look me in the face? How could she love me with a heart I had almost literally squeezed the life out of? I didn't understand. I don't think I ever will. To my horror, I could feel my eyes brimming with tears so I kept my gaze fixed upon my hands, clenching the sheets in an effort to stop the tremors threatening to overtake me.
Gently, my meek, shy little cousin placed her hands over my own. Still, I couldn't look at her. I was too ashamed, too in pain, too lost and scared, drugged up and guilt ridden to control myself.
"Neji…please, I don't want you to cry. Don't be sorry. I'm grateful."
Shocked, I jerked my head up, a few tears escaping despite my best efforts. "Grateful? What could you possibly be grateful for? Hinata, I almost killed you for no reason other than to make myself feel better. I hated you and here you are being so nice to me and…" I was losing it. Completely. Before I knew it I was sobbing, sitting with my arms wrapped around my stomach. Struggling to hold myself together. Struggling to understand why she didn't hate me as much as I hated myself.
Dimly, I noticed that Hinata was crying too and then she was holding me, and I didn't care that Neji Hyuga was supposed to be calm and collected. I didn't care that he was supposed to hate the girl who held him in her arms. All I knew was that she was here and the only thing keeping me sane. She was holding me and it was bittersweet, because I would never understand why.
"You gave me something to work for. You made me believe in myself. So thank you, Neji nii-san. Thank you for challenging me. Thank you for helping me find that I was worth something after all." Later, I would vaguely recall her settling me back into bed. I would remember her holding my hand until the tremors stopped and I drifted off to sleep. For whatever reason, I had been given this second chance and I wasn't going to waste it.
When next I woke to my Uncle Hiashi standing in the doorway, I swallowed the bitterness and smiled.
My heart soared all the more when he smiled back.