Title: Kagome, Kagome
Author: Lorelei DiAngelo (to all you faps who still call me "Demi" :P)
Rating: Uh...hard PG-13 for allusions to sex/b00bies? O.o I hate writing things other than porn, 'cuz then you can't tell what rating to give it.
Pairing: Neji/Hinata. For the win/lose. I can't decide which. But I think this fic works, so.
Summary: For Neji, it is like leaving the cage he never thought he'd be free of.
Notes: For cephiedvariable, for your (heavily) belated birthday, loser. I'll eventually send you your TANGIBLE present in the mail, but in the meantime, have this poorly-constructed last-minute fic!
Notes: The title "Kagome, Kagome", as well as the header used at the beginning and end of the fic, is from a Japanese children's game akin to hide-and-seek/duck-duck-goose/whatever. I took massive liberties with the translation because I FAIL.
When will the bird come out of its cage?
The turtle and the crane slipped out at dawn
Who's that behind you?
For Neji, it is like leaving the cage he never thought he'd be free of.
For Hyuuga Hiashi, it is like gaining an eagle at the price of a dove.
For Hinata, it is everything.
Arranged marriages are not uncommon in Konoha for the old families, and Neji is aware of it. Not even Hanabi will reach, let alone surpass, his utter mastery of the Byakugan. The Hyuuga head family wants nothing more than for him to be the successor. There is an almost convenient way for them to get it.
The method is unorthodox, Hiashi admits, but it is not unlawful. It will ensure his total acceptance into the Hyuuga head family, as well as access to training and other secret arts that will fully maximize his potential. He will have money and status and the power to wield superiority over others, even his elders.
They will remove his curse seal.
Neji closes his eyes and inhales, and asks quietly what it is that Hinata has said to this.
Hiashi's eyes, more so than his silence, tell Neji that Hinata does not know.
Bowing formally, he politely declines.
The next day, an escort from the Hyuuga head family arrives at the mountain pass where he is training and tells him that it is time to prepare. When Neji asks for what, the man's lip curls in a way that gives away the purpose of his mission entirely.
Hyuuga Hinata-sama, it seemed, had graciously accepted his marriage proposal.
Everything with the old families always looks better on paper. Neji knows this. The Uchihas are the upkeepers of the law, the Hyuugas are Konoha's bloodline trump card, if there is ever a threat of war. What isn't spoken is the resentment, the rivalry, and the pressure to uphold image.
It is surely that pressure that forced Hinata into becoming a sacrifice for her father's ideals, for she will not look at him during the ceremony, and her tsunokakushi seems too large for her bowed head, her slender neck. It weighs her down, and when Neji uses the Byakugan out of self-spite, he can almost swear that he sees an invisible chain crushing her pale throat. It goes directly to his hand.
Though he is surrounded on all sides by the head family during the ceremony and the reception, Hinata is ignored, for the most part — doted upon meaninglessly by some of the women present, but even Hyuuga women are kunoichi, deep in their heart, and so most of the people pay her no mind — and as Neji breaks away for a moment to ask her if she is all right, she says the only words to him that she will speak for the entire ceremony. They make him feel like a monster.
"Omedetou gozaimasu, Neji-nii-san."
He asks Hiashi about the removal of the caged bird seal on his forehead sometime between his third or fourth cup of sake, but the man only looks at him, impassively, and tells him that it will fade when Hinata is actually his wife.
They're given a house in a quiet but respectful section of the Hyuuga head family district, close to Hiashi, and as the paper door slides shut behind them, casting them in the dark, Neji finally understands that he has simply been led from an iron cage to a gilded one. He also understands the meaning of the word fear.
The sake he's had at the after-wedding reception was a little too much, and it's all he can blame it on as Hinata slips easily and suddenly out of her bridal kimono, and the first thing his hand sees fit to do is to set itself gently atop her right breast.
He takes it back; shakes his head in denial and even takes a step away, but she takes that step forward again and moves his unsteady hand: puts it back upon her breast, where he can hear her fluttering heartbeat. It's almost at the same place where his jyuuken had made her cough up her own blood. He's so close, he can feel the heat of her body, of her blush. She is embarrassed, but she knows what her family expects of her, and Hinata, after all, will always do what the family expects.
All he can let her do is live her own life, trapped forever with him. Neji feels that heartbeat under his hand and gently squeezes the flesh that rises around it. He almost wonders at it, then, at how small and how soft it is, that breast, and when Hinata flinches, and makes a small, scared noise, he pulls her against her and buries his face in her beautiful chest, just so that she can feel how he shakes.
When they fall together, floating through the air as though the oppressive atmosphere around them had been the only thing holding them up, Neji's world flashes Byakugan white.
He wonders if she feels pleasure. It is impossible to tell from her pale, breathless face, from the sweat that runs down her thighs, from the stuttering, timid way she still says his name.
God, he hopes that she does.
After, he lays sprawled under the blankets with his head pillowed on Hinata's lap and wonders why it is he can't seem to catch his breath. He is panting, tired all over, and feels somewhat like a child as Hinata brushes her fingertips across his forehead, eyes staring across the dark, silent room at something he will never see. Neji can't stop shaking, and he has no idea why. Logically, he tells himself that it is from using muscles that he isn't particularly used to using in that particular way, and the sudden strain is causing them to spasm, but in a more forward part of his mind, he feels a thin line of pain throb its way across his forehead and feels like it is all a dream.
When he at last meets Hinata's eyes, he sees his face reflected in their silvery depths, and knows then the source of his dull pain.
The curse seal has burned itself away.
Before he drops off to sleep entirely, Neji lifts his head from Hinata's lap and holds up the coverlets for her in invitation, unsure of what sort of expression he should wear on his face. He's tired, satisfied, and anxious, and he was rarely so straight-forward about those sort of things, even to himself. He doesn't even try to think of what that means.
Hinata slips into bed with him, but rolls pointedly onto her side when he reaches for her, showing her strong, slender back. There are lines from where he had pushed her too hard onto the mats of the floor, and the sight of them makes him feel like an animal, again.
They look like the bars that would cage a felon...or, perhaps, a bird.
"Oyasumi," he murmurs, in what he hopes is a reassuring, gentle way. It comes out dreary and monotonous, so he brushes his fingers through Hinata's hair softly in order to get the message across.
She curls even farther into herself, burrowing under the covers like a flower starting to wilt.
"Oyasumi nasai," she says, so quietly that Neji almost cannot hear it.
He awakens before Hinata in time to see the dawn hit her delicate cheeks, her rounded nose, her ebony hair. She is even more fragile when sleeping, and he wonders if the marks on her back have faded away. It doesn't bother him that they're both unclothed, lying together under the same blankets and sharing the same house. It doesn't even bother him that that doesn't bother him, when faced with the almost pleasant ache in his limbs and Hinata's radiant, almost doll-like face. His hair is too long, falling over his shoulders in thick tangles, and he wishes that it were Hinata's hair, instead. But he knows, beyond a doubt, that she will never grow it out.
Long hair was a disadvantage that only a true Hyuuga could afford.
He visits Hiashi for their morning training, and the man is not surprised when he sees Neji's unblemished forehead, his choice limp.
He welcomes him to the family with a well-aimed jyuuken to his wrist.
On the walk home (strange that he could have a place of his own like that, now), Hinata is awake, and he is almost disappointed. The morning sun, at least, put a little bit of rose in her cheeks. She pads along the empty street with her head down and a reed basket in her hands. The Hyuuga family, now with no need of a successor, has sent their once-highest shopping.
"Oh-Ohayou," he says, uncomfortably, stopping with his hand held out, offering in perhaps not the best way to assist her with her burden.
Hinata whisks past him with her head still down, and had the wind not been blowing in his direction that day, Neji wasn't even sure he would have heard her.
It is strange to have a breakfast made by someone else waiting ready for him on his plate. Neji is used to dragging himself home from lessons, thoroughly beat, and slapping together whatever food he could find around his former meager lodgings that looked even the remotest bit healthy. He is not a terrible cook, but nor is he a particularly devoted one, and he knows from experience that Hinata is gourmet.
He taps his hands together, silently, says the formal greeting, and somehow manages to find a way to eat despite the lump in his throat.
Hinata stares out the window, hands propping up her chin and the breeze swaying her hair gently back and forth. She is wearing the first expression he has seen her wear in days, and it makes Neji's stomach roil a bit to notice that it is not a particularly happy one.
When she clears the plates, he wanders casually up to the window and searches for the object of her melancholy stare. It is not something as generic as freedom, as he had originally thought it would be.
It is Uzumaki Naruto, sleeping quietly under a tree that gives him shelter from the sun.
Word spreads like fire through the leaves of Konoha, and soon their house (their house, their house) is filled with genin teams of all numbers and intents. Ino is proud of Hinata, and Neji can hear her say some somewhat exaggerated sentences regarding his physical anatomy that causes Hinata to accidentally set the stove afire. Shikamaru idly remarks that Neji could have done worse for a wife, because Hinata was nice, and at least she kept quiet all of the time (he puts specific emphasis on that part, to say the least). Chouji asks if her cooking is really as good as everyone says it is.
Naruto's response is typical. He yells at Neji, he curses the Hyuugas, and he asks Hinata why, why doesn't she stand up for herself more often, when the results were always going to be something like this? He promises to beat down Hyuuga, if that's what she wants, and the entire room goes still with the sudden heavy implicitness of that statement.
All eyes are on Hinata as she stands that close to Uzumaki Naruto without fidgeting, passing out, or even showing a trace of her usual blush, and meets his eyes without embarrassment.
There is a heaviness in her eyes, true, but she tells him without stuttering that no, she is fine.
Neji cuts his hair in the hopes that Hinata will smile again.
There is surprise in her eyes, but the smile only comes at his awkward embarrassment when she asks just why it was that he cut it.
He has no experience on the techniques necessary to make a girl happy, so he chokes down his bitter family pride and asks Tenten just how it is he should go about it. She asks him, in return, just why it is that he needs to know. There is no reason he needs to go around impressing girls now, now that his fate has already been carved in stone.
He asks Haruno Sakura, and she tells him, without laughing, all of the things that it is she knows.
The head family has no interest for her, anymore, so Neji takes over Hinata's personal training himself, though he suspects it is something she would have eventually continued doing on her own. He thinks Hiashi will disapprove, but he doesn't particularly care.
They have put her in a cage, but they will not clip her wings.
Around February, when the snow has colored all of the Konoha leaves to crystal, Hinata starts, in sleep, to lean timidly into his broad frame. She is ice in his arms, sculptured ice, but he will use the fire of his determination to burn away the cold.
He laughs, self-depreciatingly, and wonders when it was that he had started to speak like Lee.
They do their training at night, now, because the glare of the sun against the snow hurts their Byakugan eyes.
Winter comes and goes, but Hinata still sleeps safely in the shelter of his arms.
Around May, Neji finally has the courage to feel for her heartbeat again.
In the second dream-like afterward, they take a bath together. Neji reflects that perhaps not everything, such as the standardization of open-air baths, is terrible about all of these old families. He is about to say the most vulnerable thing to anyone since the time he admitted Uzumaki Naruto saved him from the darkness (it is, Hinata-sama, I'd like to...wash your hair, if you don't mind), when he slips on a moss-covered rock and somehow forgets in that moment that he is a fully-fledged shinobi, for he goes down on his rear atop an almost comically-placed bucket of wash water.
Never since he had thrown up the ironically named Curry of Life all over Tenten's shoes has he been so mortified. But Hinata laughs, laughs until she cries, and Neji figures that he can always ask her to keep it between the two of them sometime later.
For the time being, he asks her candidly if he can wash her hair.
It is soft; as soft as her skin, as soft as her breasts, and to him, it feels like the feathers of a thousand fledgling birds.
"Oyasumi," he says, as though to get a point across.
She takes no notice, face pressed against his neck and smelling of sweetness and shampoo.
"Oyasumi," she replies, and though her voice is still quiet (it will hardly ever raise beyond a respectful pitch for the rest of her life), it no longer sounds like she is asking for permission or forgiveness, and therefore, it is all right.
Before he knows it, an entire year in this manner of life has gone by.
"Love is not perfect, but love is free," Hinata says out of the blue one lazy day, as the two of them are sprawled out in the grass taking time to do nothing in particular (Shikamaru would most definitely approve). She lays on his chest as though it is nothing, now, and perhaps it is meditation on that subject that leads to her current question.
Neji sits half-upright, an expression both bemused and fond passing across his pale features. "Why say something so...nonsensical...like that so suddenly, Hinata-sama?" he asks, though of course, he already knows. Can't forget, even if he wanted to. Their marriage was a cage, designed to trap them both.
He thinks it, but Hinata is the one to say it aloud. "We picked the lock, and set ourselves free."
He lies back down again, arms behind his head, and watches the birds drift by aimlessly in the sky. "...Yes."
"How many birds do you count, Neji-nii-san?"
He closes his eyes. "You're just full of strange questions today, aren't you." Even as he is speaking, he is adding the total up in his head.
Hinata smiles, abashedly. "That's funny. I counted ten."
Ten... of course, ten. He had counted the seven in the sky, the one in the tree, and the one in his arms. He had forgotten to count himself.
Love is not perfect, but love is free. He is starting to think that he is more like Lee than he once thought, because he likes the sound of that. Even his own father had chosen to make his first real decision based on a strange manner of twisted love. He wonders when it was that both he and Hinata had finally begun to think for themselves.
On a breezy summer day in Konoha, Neji feels for her heartbeat just to have the feel of her heartbeat.
When will the bird come out of its cage?
The turtle and the crane slipped out at dawn.
Who's that behind you?
AN: This...definitely wasn't supposed to end happy. O.o It was supposed to end bitter and ironic and cruel. GOD I SUCK. It must be the 2 AM talking.
Word Count: 3,050 words. Wow, that's fucking long. I didn't even want to end it where I ended it, either. O.o God, my love of this pairing is so random and occassionally unappreciated. I think it may become, like...my Naruto OTP. >__>
*cough* Next up! Lee/Gaara porn of a serious nature! Yes, it CAN be done! (Hopefully!) I will only attempt to use the phrase "springtime of youth" once! WILL I SUCCEED? FIND OUT NEXT TIME, IN eternally_sky!!!!
*shot for st00pid*