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Every Moment's a Little Bit Later (But Later is Never Too Late)

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Neji takes in the small frame filling in the doorway. It is as familiar to him as his mother’s, he realizes. Most of his childhood memories are either of her or where he is alone. Some strange compulsion to seek her out, if only to tear her down a little more, has been present a long time now. Perhaps that should have disturbed him. He licks his lips, which are chapped, and it stings where things had broken and bled. Maybe he should advert his eyes? He has, he thinks uneasily, tried to kill her and now she’s just standing in the door. It stinks a bit of classism, but maybe not looking is the deferential thing to do? Its not that he really cares only-

He hopes she doesn’t leave. Somehow, he rather hopes that. Odd.

“I-“

Gods this is awkward. What should he say? I still want you dead? Its exactly true, but it isn’t exactly not true either. He wants to take back the deed and bury the impulse somewhere deep. That is true. But the past does not undo itself. Instead, Gai had said he must work to burn out the hatred, even if it left him hollowed out. Nothing could grow in a place choked with weeds. Since that talk, he is beginning to see why Tenten always told him she hated when he talked in metaphors. Things aren’t birds, or weeds.

They were people.

They were her.

They were Hyuuga Hinata standing in at his door uncertain whether to come in and approach him, and his own heart saddened and uncertain what to do. Quite the pair they make indeed.

She smiles uncertainly and raises a basket in her hand.

“I-I brought s-some-“

She stops, twists her fingers and then gestures to the empty plate by his bedside. Understanding bloom- the buns. Gai and he had eaten them during their talk- well, Gai had eaten and Neji had mostly broken his up into crumbs. He didn’t have much of an appetite these days.

That seemed like the wrong thing to say.

“Thank you.” Neji pauses and then-

“Would you-“

They speak to together the same words and almost as one stop again. Hinata’s face lights up flaming red. Its not the first time Neji’s made her blush like this, but it is the first time in a very long time it has brought him any pleasure. Strange.

He fights a smile. “Go on.”

“Oh, I-I was o-only going t-t-o-” She pauses again, and Neji wonders how they will ever make it through this conversation. But then she swallows and goes on much more clearly.

“That is, would you like some of these buns, Niisan? I made them myself.”

“You made them?”

She ducks her eyes.

“W-well, yes. I-I-I should be training, probably instead, I-I-”

“NO-“ His hands are already flung out when he realizes that might have out a little loud.

She made something for him.

His mother thinks female shinobi who cook or clean or do any of those sorts of things are little drudges who are wasting their time and careers. Neji’d had to eat a lot instant ramen growing up because if this, but he’d never questioned that before.

It was nice, he decided, having something made for you.

“I mean to say… I liked your baking, Hinata-sama.”

He notices the way she flinches at the honorfic that he’s never forgotten to use, but he also notices her smile as she comes over to put the plate down. She reaches for the chair by the bed and takes a bun in hand herself. He reaches out and grabs one too. She picks at hers, pulling off little bits of crust, giving over her eyes and too much of her attention to that meaningless task.

“T-thank you. I-I haven’t been at it long. I-I’m still learning it s-seems.”

“What made you want to try?”

“You.”

He jerks up, and it would be exaggerating to say his heart is in his throat, right? No reason it would it be there.

“I mean t-to s-say, you’re here and it s-seemed nice to b-bring something and I-I t-tasted these thing, cinnamon buns, on our last mission and they were really g-good. They-re h-hard though, and s-so I’m just t-trying regular buns now and-“

“I’m good practice?” he finishes for her, a wry smile on his face. It a wry sort of feeling settling into his stomach.

“You’re – well, you’re family and I-I’d l-like y-you t-to be m-more.”

“More?”

She nods her head, eyes never reaching his. “I-I know you h-hate m-m-me f-for w-whatever reason, b-but…”

Could it be that the one person who most had the right the to know was the only one in that Konoha stadium who hadn’t heard his crazy rambling, ranting to Naruto, spilling all their family secrets? He knows she was there; Gai had told him, just hours before that awful mission, he had told him that her name was on the list of bodies retrieved from the stadium alive. Thought you’d want to know Neji-kun, he’d said.What had she been doing then, not to hear him at all?

“My father-“

“Ah, I-I thought that m-might be it.”

Wait. What? Didn’t she just say-?

“You knew?”

She shakes her head.

“I-I didn’t understand f-for a long time why you w-weren’t there to give those people his body. N-not until my own mother d-died and H-he said-“

Neji doesn’t really want to know what Hiashi told his daughter.

“I don’t hate you,” he interrupts.

That raises her eyes up.

“N-Neji-niisan,” she says in clear, soft tones like she thinks he might be stupid. “You tried to kill me. It took four other shinobi to get you off the floor.”

“I- these buns are really great.”

Hinata’s face, he thinks distantly, is going through that awkward phase of adolescence- still clinging to the baby fat while giving way to the stronger features of the Hyuuga, a more definite nose and sharper cheekbones. Too early to tell if she would become beautiful or merely passable. His mother always said for a Hyuuga it would only go one of those two ways.

It seemed like she would be beautiful to him.

Even if her face is working its way through a rather comically large number of facial expressions to process the turns this conversation was taking. The final one is sunshine bursting through clouds, a large smile, a beautiful one. He smiles himself and takes another bite.

“So, we can be friends then?”

“Friends?” The bit of bread is sticking oddly in his throat. He fights to swallow and then looks up. “Yes, if you want that.”

Sunshine through clouds, that smile, so why did it make him feel a little sad? Must be the medication he’s on, he decides.

It’s the scraping of the chair against the floor that brings his attention back to her. She stands up, wiping her fingers on a pretty cloth napkin that seemingly has appeared out of nowhere. She hands him one too, and he realizes they’ve been under the plate the whole time. He really hasn’t been paying attention.

“I-I’m glad,” she tells him and walks towards the door. Turning in the doorframe, her fingers play with the hinge and her tone becomes uncertain.

“Do you want me to bring you buns again?”

There are still half a dozen buns on the plate, but his teammates will eat them, he’s sure. They will be gone by the time she comes again; its eases the way. He finds he wants the way eased, wants her to come again. So he simply answers, “Yes.”