Disclaimer: All characters belong to a nice fellow named Kishimoto Masashi. Who is, incidentally, not me.
Notes: Pre-Chuunin Exam arc. First in a series of Hinata-centered fics. Prompt - Rough.
show me the way to forgive you
allow me to let it go
Even before the seal and his father, in the days when he still loved her, he was never gentle. "Don't play so rough with your little cousin!" his nursemaid would always scold, when he got too excited and accidentally knocked her down again or grabbed too hard. "Girls are fragile. You have to be careful, or you'll hurt her."
And he did hurt her. He never meant to, but Neji was a high-spirited, rambunctious little boy, and sometimes he forgot to play soft, play nice. Scraped elbows and bruised knees were the currency of his affection.
It was always worth it to her. He was her big cousin, her idol; she wanted to be fast and strong like he was. She would have done anything to please him. A little pain was a small price to pay, she felt, for the reward of being his favorite.
Everything's different between them now, or at least seems that way. It's all rippling surface change -- deeper underneath, in cold and darker waters, they are as they ever were. She's still desperately proving her worth to him, over and over, and Neji still hurts her without trying.
A slipped punch while sparring, a hand that snags in her hair during a throw. Fingers that dig into her arms, and leave marks.
Doors that slam in her face. Hinata goes to her first day at the Academy with a black eye from that, and has to explain to Iruka-sensei that it was an accident (it's always an accident).
In time, Neji learns restraint, but that's what it is: learned. His hands stay rough and grow callused as he grows taller, as her body grows awkward, grows curves that both of them hate. His eyes find her sometimes, and in them is the contempt she's gotten used to, yes, but there's something else as well. An...anger.
Something that makes her dizzy, unsettles her in a way she has no words to articulate.
She trains in the garden, running kata under her father's orders and Neji's supervision. The weight of his stare unsteadies her feet, unravels her concentration. She makes stupid mistakes and knows it, knows she's disappointing him (always). "Do it again, and focus this time," he tells her, scowling. "Perform as if you're facing a live opponent."
Hinata takes a deep breath, and obeys, tries harder this time to ignore his critical gaze. It works. The movements feel good, flow together in exactly the shape they are supposed to. Every step is right, every pause and stretch. She loses herself in the rhythm, wants to shout to him: look, I can do something well. I'm not useless. I'm not.
His open-handed slap catches her across the face, shatters the moment. She stumbles and cradles her stinging cheek, looks at him in stunned confusion. "You still aren't focusing," he says, cold as ice to anyone else but she knows him too well, knows the cracks where bottomless hostility leaks through. "If I were an enemy, you'd be dead. It's disgraceful. Now concentrate, and do what I told you!"
Hinata flushes and presses her lips into a thin line, frustration tightening in her chest, hotter than shame, sharper. But a shinobi has no room for complaint, only improvement, and so she resumes the kata without a word.
She hardly has time to blink before he slaps her again, harder. The taste of blood explodes in her mouth, and instinct takes over, carries her without thought into the next step in the pattern; counterattack.
Her fist grazes his cheekbone, would have hit directly if not for his split-second reflexes, the quicksilver hand that shoots out to deflect and grab her by the wrist. He yanks her sideways the same time as his leg hooks behind her knees, and she's on the ground between heartbeats, arms pinned one-handed above her head.
The impact knocks the wind from her, trails bright sparks across her vision. She struggles under his weight to catch a breath, and he presses her harder into the grass, uses his body to hold her still beneath him. His own breath comes harsh and hot on her face, ragged. Neji looms over her with bared teeth, eyes white-hot from both Byakugan and that strangely voracious rage, and Hinata is afraid of him in that moment, really and truly afraid.
"Nii-san, what -- " she starts to cry out, but is cut off by his fingers closing around the back of her neck, his mouth crushing against hers.
The kiss is brutal, unforgiving, all teeth and seething resentment and punishing, savage need. It hurts, sucks away what little breath she has left, and the appropriate response would be to fight him, she knows, but her body isn't following that command (doesn't want to). His hand on her neck is hard, slides to fist in her hair, and her pulse is pounding through her whole body like a thousand running feet.
It shocks her to feel his heart beating just as fast, just as crazily.
Neji rips away at last, breathing hard, and she gasps for precious air, head spinning, lips swelling. His face is just inches above hers, wild-eyed and flushed dark, and they stare a moment at each other in mutual disbelief.
Then he is off her like a shot, on his feet and panting, wiping her blood from his mouth. "I...I didn't mean to -- " he stops, jaw clenching and unclenching, then bows stiffly, turns his back on her. "I beg your leave, Hinata-sama."
He's halfway to the house before she can shake off her stupor enough to call out to him. "W-Wait!" it's all right, she wants to say, and can't force the words from her clumsy tongue. I didn't mind it, Neji, please, I just want us to be happy again.
But he ignores her and keeps walking, straight-backed and long legs quickly swallowing the distance.
At the door, however, he pauses, and lowers his head. "You..." he glances back at her, carefully not meeting her eyes, then looks away again. "You did...well that last time."
And then he's gone. Hinata draws shaky knees up to her chest, and can do nothing else but sit there in the grass, trying to make sense of what has just happened, the tangle of feelings it's left behind. It doesn't seem real. She touches her lips with trembling fingers, and finds them bruised, smeared with blood. Her wrists are angry red turning blue; matching fingerprints burn along one side of her neck, echoing calluses, prodigy strength.
A flash of memory, sensation. Rough-skinned hands, the heat and pressure of his mouth. His heartbeat racing next to hers. The sliver of praise he had given her, pathetically little and yet so precious to her, starving as she is for his approval. For his...love.
Everything is different again now. Everything and nothing, because the truth of it is, at their deepest center, they are as they have ever been. It is simply in their nature. Neji has never been gentle to her, and she has always forgiven (will always). This is the currency of his affection. This is how it was, and how it will be.
This is the price she is still willing to pay.
Because it's still worth it.
o o o
Originally written 8/08/08 (how symmetrical).
Lyric snippet is from "Thomas" by A Perfect Circle.