"Oh, uh, I could wait for her, I guess. When is she supposed to be back?"
"I really don't know, Naruto," says Neji, standing in the half-open Hyuuga compound gate, a hand pressed to the doorjamb. "It's not that important anyway." A faint, wry smile. "I don't know what Uchiha told you, but she won't be mortally insulted if you don't want to come back all the way here several times in a row hoping to catch her."
Naruto sighs, looking torn, and then gives in, handing over a second envelope. "Alright. Thanks, Neji. And, uh, I guess I'll see you both at the wedding, huh?"
"Of course. Hopefully before that, too."
"Heh, yeah. Okay, bye!"
Two envelopes in hand, one for Hyuuga Neji-sama and one for Hyuuga Hinata-sama, Neji slides the heavy wooden door closed and looks down to his left. There's a little stone bench there; a step takes him to it.
He hands Hinata her letter without a word. His cousin accepts it in her cupped hands, the perfect, polished gesture of a traditionally raised clanswoman.
She doesn't open it. She looks down at it, her eyes tracing the kanji of her name, and she runs her thumb against the velvety edge.
"He isn't the one getting married, Hinata-sama," he murmurs.
Hinata tilts her face up to look at him, soft and quiet and sad. "... Isn't he?"
Neji doesn't want to presume, to take a place on her bench, it's too close, too invading, but looming right now bothers him. He thinks about crouching, a knee on the ground, however archaic the gesture might seem. (However it might look like fealty offered.) Hinata sighs quietly when he doesn't leave and inclines her head; "Please sit with me, Neji-niisan." He does.
There's silence for a while. This part of the compound isn't the most beautiful -- just a wide, impressive open-sky corridor, white gravel lining a path toward the second gate, the one that opens onto the gardens and the Outer House proper. Flowering bushes grow along the walls, well-tended. The purpose of this, though, is mostly to funnel a possible invasion force together so they might then be strafed at will from the top of the walls.
"Tonight I'll tell Father he can begin looking for a suitable match for me."
Neji flinches, turns in his seat to stare at her face to face as a Hyuuga is supposed never to need to. "Hinata-sama!"
She's still gazing ahead, the ruler-straight path and the second set of doors, just as tall and imposing as the first. "If Sasuke-kun is of age to do his duty to his clan, then so should I be."
He fights for words for a while. That's -- Hinata-sama was never subtle about her feelings, not to anyone who knows her well, who can read her, but...
She's been dating Inuzuka Kiba for three years. In those three years Neji has seen her smiling, and laughing, and moved to tears at least twice. He has seen Kiba goofy, and tender, and protective, he has seen Hinata accepting it, growing comfortable with it, feeling safe with him. They're sweet together, enough to make his teeth ache to see. There is no need to end that.
But he looks at her face and he thinks there might be. She still loves Kiba like she loves Shino, like a dear friend, a big brother almost. She's not in love with him. After three years, she's not going to be.
They know how much the Elders would complain, but Hiashi-sama is not heartless; he would allow her a love match. Neji wishes Hinata-sama were the kind of girl who breaks up with a boyfriend in order to go after one she wants more. He does think it fair, to end things with Kiba if they're never going to progress farther, but why rush into this kind of cage?
"You never know what might happen." They've certainly discussed it, Shino and Shikamaru and him. "When it's merely dating, three people might find a balance for a while, but when marriage is involved --"
"No..." Thoughtful, she gazes down at the gravel under her feet. "If it had only been Sakura-san, it would have been different; her happiness would have been enough, he might have made himself move on. But only if he had never learned to see Sasuke-san in such a way, either." She smiles, and it's small and wan and yet rock-certain. "Both of them at once? He can't lose them both... I would never want him to."
She's right, and now he feels a little dishonorable for mentioning the possibility that Naruto's relationship might still fail.
He knows why he did, though, why he wishes Hinata-sama at least could. He knows why Hinata-sama prefers to let it go.
"It really does seem like everyone is a little in love with Naruto, isn't it?" he says with a little sigh, and he smiles. It's bittersweet.
If he was never going to have Naruto anyway, he wishes she could have. If she was never going to have him anyway, she wishes...
"... Oh, Neji-niisan."
Neji gives a faint, amused snort, and pushes himself up. "Just a little bit."
He looks the envelope over a last time and stuffs it up his kimono sleeve. Oh well. Naruto doesn't know what he's missing.
He never will.
Neji holds out an unneeded hand to his cousin. She takes it anyway, expression firming, resolute. "I'll be in the Go room, when you come back from the Inuzukas'. We can have a rematch."
She closes her eyes briefly, for strength, and then she produces a small smile from reserves he will never match. "Thank you, Neji-niisan. That sounds lovely."
He opens the gate for her, and then he goes back inside.