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Hope for Change

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With every crunch of shed leaves whining beneath her shifting feet, Hinata's heart sinks farther down her body. Harsh winds strike her back, drawing her forward like a warden guiding her to confinement. Swallowing down nausea best she can, Hinata raises her pale eyes off the grass to the towering building ahead. Red brick compliments the warm colors of the surrounding trees' leaves that have yet to fall. Gaze dropping to the front being flooded by a wave of students, Hinata hesitates.

Her first day of high school, and she can't even muster the courage to open the doors and begin it. Clenching the hem of her shirt with trembling fingers, Hinata gapes at the large clock hanging above the entrance. Her chest aches, swearing that she can hear its ticking as it echoes in her head like a death sentence. The second hand mocks Hinata, each passing moment she hides from her imminent future a disgrace. She already wants to go home.

A harsh grip on her arm rips Hinata away from the tree she'd been hiding behind. She gasps as she's shoved forward. “What disgusting cowardice you continue to display after all these years. Looks like people really don't change.” Oh, Neji came back for her. The relief flowing through Hinata at the familiar face clashes with the dread that Neji instills in her. Of course she loves him, but her hateful cousin doesn't seem to share the sentiment. “Show me your schedule.”

It takes a moment for the command to process in Hinata's fractured brain. It's too long for Neji, who begins to tap his foot, glare intensifying. As if unfrozen, Hinata rushes to remove her backpack from her shoulders, reaching in for her class list. When she doesn't immediately locate it, a fresh pulse of panic surges through her as she shuffles around binders, snacks and pencils in search of it. She repeats these motions again and again, hoping that it'll turn up the next time around. It has to be here!

Neji catches on before Hinata can accept her mistake. She's forgotten it. “Unbelievable. How much more pathetic can you get?” Crossing his arms, Neji looks away from his flustered cousin, annoyed but used to this sort of thing from her. “It doesn't matter, your father paid off whoever to have us share each class. You're such trouble for him that he wants me to keep an eye on you.” The troubling news adds to the flames of her burning cheeks. Hinata buries her face in her backpack.

Shame spreads across her skin, tingling as it devours her from the inside. Tears threaten to spill, beyond embarrassed over the misplaced schedule and her father’s lack of faith. She just manages to dam them, sucking in a heavy breath before returning the bag to her back. Nevertheless, Hinata can’t face Neji, her eyes glued on her feet as she rubs her jacket sleeves. “I-I didn't know he did that...thank you. Sorry to be a burden.”

“Save your useless pandering. Like I said," Neji darts his gaze back to Hinata, hatred seeping out of his pores, "I don't have a choice. Your father's bank account can get even a failure like you anything.” Taking in Hinata’s dejected, hunched frame and shattered expression, Neji merely shakes his head, disapproving. “Apparently he was right to be concerned. You've somehow managed to have a break down before stepping a foot inside. I'd assumed that you could walk yourself to class, but it seems I expected too much.”

Without waiting for a response, Neji turns away from his cousin, tired of her pitiful bearing. He heads back towards the entrance, begrudgingly guiding Hinata. “Face it, you'd be lost without me. Literally. You’re worse than a child.” After a few paces, Neji glances over his shoulder to find a tear winding down Hinata’s cheek. She can’t move, paralyzed by the venom laced within Neji’s words. He’s right and Hinata knows it. There's too much to deal with at once. Every sound, from whistling winds to the ebbing echoes of students as class draws nearer, combines into an ominous cacophony, overwhelming her.

Bearing his teeth, Neji yanks her by the arm once again. He drags her along, dictating that Hinata walk nowhere but towards the interior of the campus. “If you keep this up, we really will be late, and I refuse to pay for your foolishness.” Eyes downcast, Hinata allows Neji to pull her to their first class. She wipes at her eyes with her free hand, sniffling. Hinata almost trips as Neji hoists her up the steps before the entrance. Her cousin doesn't falter, only tightening his hold on Hinata when she yelps in surprise.

The doors are easy enough to walk through, given that most students planning not to ditch their first day are here by now. However, soon as the pair enters the school, they are assaulted by idle, carefree bodies not yet in class, and a hallway of a thousand conversations. Each lively discussion battles with the one next to it for vocal dominance, needing to be heard over the crowd. To Hinata, who hones in on a particular group's topic with every tug forward, hears it as them shredding each other to bits.

She fights the urge to wrap her arms around Neji while they traverse the very occupied halls. Her shoulders smack against a new person after each step, and Hinata apologizes to all of them. No one else does. When the cramped space is on the verge of sending Hinata spiraling, Neji pivots and throws a door open. The sudden shift takes Hinata off guard. She plummets into Neji, causing both of them to tumble into the classroom. Snickers from the seated students follow without remorse. It doesn’t help that they’re the last to arrive; on time, but barely.

“Settle down, everyone.” The teacher, a tan, tall brunette with his hair tied up pinches his brow, though a small smile teases at his lips. Hinata does her best not to stare at the scar across the bridge of his nose. A growl from Neji reminds Hinata of their current situation. She scrambles off of him, a thousand apologies tumbling out in a matter of moments. Her cousin doesn’t utter a word when he stands. Clearing his throat, the teacher returns the Hyugas’ attention to him. “Ah, good job for getting here on time. Way to make an entrance. Please look at the board to find your desk assignments and we'll get started.”

Both embarrassed, the two are quick to find their name and shuffle to their seat in silence. Hinata’s desk is three rows from the front with Neji positioned directly in front of her. Pulling out a fresh binder and two pencils, Hinata glances at the peers she’s sandwiched between: a girl with pastel pink hair on her left and a pale, sullen dark-haired boy on the right. The girl makes Hinata crave bubblegum, while the boy reminds her of a vampire. “Hello everyone, my name is Mr. Umino and I’ll be teaching you algebra. I know you’d rather be sleeping in, but I promise today is easy. I’m only going to talk about what the year will look like and explain the syllabus.”

Hinata notes how Mr. Umino rubs at his neck, nervous, but before she can consider why, a harsh blow is delivered to her shin. She just manages to bite her tongue, holding back a gasp. Since she knows who did it, Hinata doesn’t bother to address him, accepting the punishment. “Are you completely inept? You made us look like fools! How can I be related to someone so stupid?!” Neji’s harsh whisper cuts her to the core. Hinata gnaws on her lip while Neji drives his heels into her skin. He’s right to be furious with her.

Clenching her fists and curtaining her eyes, Hinata steels herself, not wanting to disrupt Mr. Umino by crying out. Her mind has muted his voice to focus on keeping quiet as she absorbs the assault. Just as she nears her breaking point, the kicks come to a halt, following a harsh inhale from Neji. “What’s wrong with you?! Why did you just- assault me?” His low voice addressing someone directly beside him almost cracks from the pain to his own leg. Shocked, Hinata unscrews her eyelids and cranes her neck to spot a blonde sitting on Neji’s right, glowering at her cousin. His hands are also balled, shaking on the desk.

“I’m only giving you what you deserve. You’re the one hurting her for no reason!” The fiery blonde's voice is gruff, seething with poorly hidden rage. It's full of passion, Hinata realizes, heat pooling into her cheeks. Her eyes widen further as she gapes at this stranger. Is someone actually...defending her? Her gaze darts to Neji. He's fuming, heaving air through his nostrils. His reaction makes sense to Hinata. After all, her cousin isn't used to being challenged.

“What the hell? Mind your own business, dolt!”

“Neji, please...”

“Stay out of this, worm!” Mr. Umino looks their way, Neji's voice rising an octave. Hinata holds her breath as the teacher narrows his eyes at them, but continues with his introduction. Relieved, Hinata releases a sigh, though she's disturbed by her usually calm cousin's disregard over almost causing a public stir. Being made into a spectacle in front of their new peers is what enraged Neji to begin with. Undeterred, Neji and the blonde engage in a glaring contest. “Who do you think you are? Leave your hero complex in the sandbox where it belongs.”

“Say what you want, doesn't mean I'm just going to sit here while you treat her like that! If you try anything again, just remember I’ll return whatever you dish out. You better believe it!”

“You—”

Gritting his teeth, the blonde turns to Hinata. She flinches back, uncomfortable with that furious stare studying her. Unlike her pale, soft eyes, this boy's are shining with energy and determination. Hinata wants to look away but she can't, terrified yet in awe of the sheer life sparking behind the bluest eyes she's ever seen. Like staring into the sea, she's overwhelmed, sinking deeper into their depths when he speaks. “Do you just let him do stuff like this to you? Stand up to this jerk!”

“I-I…”

“Is something going on back there, Naruto?”

Both Hinata and Neji jump as Mr. Umino glares their way, arms crossed. On the other hand, Naruto simply straightens his posture and smiles. “Nope, nothing at all, Iruka. We’re just getting to know each other better.” Mr. Umino frowns at his student's attempt at portraying innocence. After a moment, his arms drop from his chest to his hips.

“Good to hear, but please save it for after class. And we've talked about you calling me by my first name while on campus.”

“Will do, Mr. Umino sir!” A giggle slips out of Hinata at Naruto's mock salute, which their teacher rolls his eyes at before speaking again. She ponders on the two's relationship, curious about their history. Naruto does know Mr. Umino's first name, and seemed relaxed when the teacher called him out. She considers how they know each other, but her thoughts cease when she notices Neji thumb a pencil off his desk. It topples down, and Hinata leans forward in an attempt stop its descent. However, Neji snatches it from the air.

On his way back up, he slams his elbow back. Being in a close range, Hinata's nose takes the full brunt, blood immediately spurting out. Unable to bury a scream, Hinata's head spins as the classroom grows in volume as fellow students react with gasps and yells and other exclamations. The girl next to Hinata rushes to her side, tissues in hand. “I don't think it's broken, though it might be fractured. Let me take you to the nurse. Or maybe we should call an ambulance?”

Dabbing at the blood raining down Hinata's face with one hand while helping Hinata up with the other, the girl looks to Mr. Umino for guidance. Her seafoam green eyes are frantic and begging. Their teacher still stands in the front of the room, eyes wide. The situation hasn't processed in his mind, reality yet to drive him to act. Neji feigns remorse, pursing his lips at the two girls when they pass his desk. “Oh, how clumsy of me. I'm sure you understand this was just an unfortunate accident.” Neither girl catches the minute smirk Neji throws Naruto's way.

Gripping Hinata's shoulders tighter, the girl glares down at Neji as she walks Hinata to the door. When Hinata glances at her cousin, her gaze lacks malice or hatred; void of anything but hurt. She's yanked away by the girl helping her when Naruto launches out of his seat, uppercutting Neji from his own. From the floor, Neji gapes at Naruto's hovering figure, rubbing his jaw. The anger Hinata saw in him before is nothing compared to now.

“I warned you about putting your hands on her, and now you do this?! You smug bastard, hurting her just to piss me off!” Naruto's chest rises and falls rapidly, seemingly holding himself back from doing further damage. Both girls flinch back when Naruto raises his eyes to them. “Sakura, get her out of here already!” In the brief moment Naruto looks away from Neji, the Hyuga uses to strike back. Jumping from the floor, Neji prepares to palm Naruto's stomach only to be incapacitated halfway. Locked into place, Neji thrashes in the vampire-esque teen's hold. “Sasuke?!”

“You're welcome, loser. Of course an idiot like you manages to get into a fight on the first day.”

“Hey, he started it by being an ass!”

“Don’t think that really matters.”

“You’re damn right it doesn’t! I’m taking both of you straight to Tsunade.” Snapping out of his daze, Iruka stomps over to the involved group. Sasuke backs off for their teacher to take over the situation. He grabs the troublemakers’ arms, seething, though his eyes soften at the sight of a quaking Hinata and unsteady Sakura. “Please get her to Shizune. She’ll know how to best handle the injury.” Nodding, Sakura helps Hinata out just as Iruka prepares to lead the two boys to the door. “Everyone, I’ll be right back after I leave these two with the principal. Until then, please grab a copy of the syllabus off my desk and go over it.”

Sakura mumbles comforts to Hinata, though she struggles to comprehend them through the ache of her throbbing nose. However, it’s impossible to not hear Neji shout her name. Frowning at the male Hyuga, Sakura continues to the door, but Hinata doesn’t budge. “I'm the brightest among us but my family has nothing, while you're the epitome of failure yet you have everything. Do you understand how much torture it is for me that I have to spend more than a second with you?! Undeserving, talentless brats like you make me sick!”

The room bears a pregnant silence. Soon enough, Naruto shatters it, pointing an accusatory finger at Neji. “See? This guy deserves to get punched in the face!”

“That’s enough, from both of you.”

“But Iruka—”

“Enough! Tsunade will straighten you guys out.”

Guilt bubbles in Hinata’s gut. She’s already caused so much trouble, and to someone who stood up for her. Sensing her sorrow, Sakura bumps their shoulders together, returning Hinata’s attention to her. “Don’t worry about Naruto. Me and Sasuke have known him forever, and believe it or not, he’s always doing things like this. It’s kind of ridiculous, you know? He’s a real moron...and the most selfless person I’ve ever met.” Smiling at the awe on Hinata’s face as she stares at Naruto, Sakura focuses on her task. “C’mon, we need to get you some help.” Hinata lets Sakura lead her to the door.

Taking one last look at her cousin and her savior, Hinata watches with wide eyes as Naruto dips his fingers into Hinata’s blood on the floor. Their eyes meet, and Naruto offers Hinata a grin and a thumbs up before the door closes behind her. Despite everything that’s happened, from the immense hatred from her cousin to the pain in her nose, Hinata smiles. She’s found a light to follow.