It felt weird, being on the outside like this. Not just literally, but mentally, too. But Tsuda-taichou had confirmed Neji's appointment before slapping him on the back. Hard. So in addition to a hand-shaped bruise on his back, now Neji had the fun task of informing his uncle of the news. First things first, however: he needed to tell Hinata. He glanced skyward when his peripheral vision caught flakes falling. The sky, leaden with clouds, was finally releasing the snow it had been hoarding for the past week. And judging by the way it was sticking, it would be quite a bit of snow. With a mental sigh he zipped up the front of his jacket before pulling the hood up as well, and hoped she wouldn't be too long. Their talk could possibly take a while.
Hinata had been surprised at the note left for her, but she didn't hesitate in getting ready to meet her cousin. Neji didn't usually ask to talk, so she could only conclude that what he wanted to talk about was important. She just couldn't understand why he would need to tell her. Things were less strained since they were children, but they were far from being ideal.
But worrying about it wouldn't help any, so she pushed her doubts away and hurried to the gates. She found Neji already there and slowed, a little unsure.
"Afternoon, Hinata," he replied as he pushed off from the wall. "Would you mind walking with me?"
She nodded her head slightly. "Yes, of course." She got into step with her cousin, slightly behind him as they walked away from the compound. She couldn't help feel nervous, though; he'd said nothing of where they were going or why, just that he needed to talk to her. And she couldn't shove her doubts away this time.
"...You wanted to talk with me about something...?"
"I did." And he shortened his stride so that she walked beside him instead of behind. "Hokage-sama has decided to promote me to the rank of captain. This means a number of things. One of which is I will not be moving back into the compound. My... connection to the clan is, for all intents and purposes, severed. As far as involvement with and whom I take my orders from." Personal relationships to her and other members of the clan shouldn't be too much affected. He hoped. "In light of this, the branch family will need a new head. My choice is you."
Despite Neji slowing so she could walk beside him, his words made her stop short in surprise. He hadn't said much, but it was still almost too much to take in at once.
He wouldn't be part of the clan anymore? She couldn't understand that, couldn't wrap her mind around it. Neji was the best the Hyuuga had, how could his connections just be gone like that?
"...I don't understand." Her voice was soft, almost weak. "Why?"
He stopped when he did, and faced her directly. The shock was visible in her stiffness, the way her face paled and her eyes widened at him. "You'll need to be a little more specific," he said quietly. She asked several questions at once with that single word, and he thought it better to answer them one at a time. There were limits to how much he could disclose in regards to ANBU, after all.
Hinata only stared at him for the next few moments, unable to think of how to answer him. Specifics? There were too many why's to really pinpoint the ones she really needed to know. Although she supposed she could start with the most obvious.
"Why me?" She'd done nothing to show herself worthy of being in charge of anything.
He relaxed a little and allowed a bit of warmth into his eyes. Theirs might be a strained sibling relationship, but still siblings verses cousins. "Because I believe you have the potential to be a good leader, for one. And I believe that given a decent chance, that potential could turn into ability." Also, my other choice would be between Isamu and Osamu, and I doubt anyone in the family wants them in any sort of position of power.
She still had difficulty believing what he said. "But..." Words just seemed to fail her and she let herself fall to silence. This was definitely out of nowhere to her. "And you won't be back at all? Ever?"
"Not in any sort of official capacity, no." Unless he was masked, but in that instance he wasn't necessarily himself. He would be Falcon, and on the Hokage's business. "I would still come by to visit and see how everyone was doing. But if you thought I was busy before, things are going to get even more busy." He paused to let that sink in before he continued. "I'm still family. Slightly estranged, but still family. I simply wouldn't be living in the compound anymore, or involved in the day-to-day concerns therein."
It was funny, because in a way he had finally managed to obtain the freedom from the clan he had so desperately wanted for so long. The only downside was that he wouldn't be going into the field as much anymore, and he now had ANBU administrative duties to attend to as well.
It was comforting to know Neji would still be family and would stop by, although the information still felt hollow. He wasn't living at the compound now as it was, but... This was permanent. There'd always been the feeling before that he'd come home again someday.
"I see. This is still very strange, though. And sudden." She blushed a little and glanced down. "I still don't understand how you see me as being able to lead the Branch, though." It felt wrong to be talking about such a thing, even. She'd been branded because she wasn't fit to lead, hadn't she?
You don't know how sudden, Neji thought. But Asuma could be like that. Sudden, and annoyingly manipulative in order to get what he wanted.
His words made her feel guilty and her cheeks darkened further. She had said that, when she was nearly dead but still standing. Now she was perfectly healthy and there was no reason for her to run away.
"I know. I'm sorry." She looked up and tried to smile a little, although her eyes were still a little too wide. "I'll try." She paused. "...What about you, though? Are you alright with all of this?"
"I like to think of it as someone else gets to deal with Tweedledee and Tweedledum's antics, besides me," he answered, straight-faced. "I would say you would have a month's grace period before they decided enough formality was enough and it was time to show you their less serious side."
Yes, that first month after Neji had assumed leadership when he turned sixteen had been filled with what would become the usual hassles was rather peaceful. Then the twins decided that he needed to lighten up. The flare-tags left him with a migraine and sore eyes for a couple days after. And he swore (but always privately) that Tenten had to have helped them learn what made the best non-lethal traps. He never knew when he would be walking into a tripwire, or worse. And there was always the regulars: rotting food carefully concealed so that by the time it was noticed, the stench permeated the room; the ceiling panel rigged to dump a load of flour on him as soon as he sat in the chair; the bunch of spiders they loosed through the window... (He almost killed them for that stunt; his previously-unmentioned [to the clan, anyway] arachnophobia wasn't anything to laugh at, as they quickly found out.)
Hopefully they would go easier on her.
She couldn't help the smile at that. "I've heard. They seem to like you a lot, niisan." Whether or not that was entirely because he was the leader of the Branch she didn't know. She hoped they wouldn't take quite that kind of a liking to her.
She hesitated a moment and then moved closer to Neji. "Any other surprises?" She said it lightly, although the question was honest.
He shook his head. "I believe that's my quota for the day. Other than I still need to inform your father of this. After that, he will be the one to inform the family of the change in leadership." Pale eyes that matched her own studied her intently. "What about you? Are you all right with all of this?"
Honestly, Hinata wasn't sure she could say yes, but she nodded. He'd said it earlier: her father had been training her for leadership most of her life, and she'd said she wouldn't run away. She'd always wanted to change the Hyuuga, and this was her chance to at least try. "I'll be alright."
He kept looking at her a few more moments before he nodded himself. She would do fine. All kidding aside, if he seriously felt she wouldn't be capable of the position, he never would have broached the subject with her. "Good. And so you don't think I'm utterly deserting you, if you want or need to talk about something, just send me a message. It doesn't need to be clan-related, either."
That was comforting, definitely. She smiled a little and nodded. "That's good. The Compound would be lonely without you." And she liked talking with him, she realized. Now that it was certain that he wouldn't be around very much, she regretted all the missed chances they'd had to grow closer after their tense childhood.