Hinata ~ A Distant, Fading Dream


Part Four ~ Remembering Forgotten Dreams


"Please go out with me Sakura-chan!"

"No way in hell Naruto! I'll never go out with you!"

"Aw come on Sakura-chan, that's cold."

Hyuga Hinata had spent the majority of the end of the war celebration alone atop the stone head of Tsunade, haunted by memories of the old days when her life had been much happier and when her life had been at its lowest. Remembering the happy and sad times she spent with Naruto allowed her to focus on the issue that had brought her to the top of the Hokage Monument in the first place to sort out her thoughts and feelings.

The love of her life, Uzumaki Naruto, was now dating Haruno Sakura, the love of his life, while she was left all alone, suffering in the dark without her dream. She was at the end of her rope, trying to figure out why her life had become one without the blonde jinchuriki in it.

Thinking on it had made her painfully aware about the well ingrained weaknesses she had yet to overcome. While her father had made sure to point them out in her youth, in recent years he had been more supportive and yet, she had come to realize that Hiashi's words still rang true. The troubled times that had been the Invasion of Pain and the Fourth Shinobi World War had brought out the best in her, allowing her to overcome several issues she wouldn't normally have had the strength to have done so.

Confessing to Naruto had been one of them; helping him fight Sasuke in the final battle had been another. Yet she still suffered from shyness and hesitation, second guessing her every action until she simply could not act, allowing precious opportunities to pass her by. She was still weak in spirit and motivation, and that was what was keeping her from fulfilling her grandest dream.

In fact, she would have undone all of her development as a person with Naruto because of her decision to cut Naruto out of her life completely during their genin days. By saying goodbye to him at the hospital after his final beating from Neji, she had very nearly bid farewell to her progress as a shinobi of the Leaf and her dream for Naruto's sake, even though that was neither what he wanted or needed. It was only due to Naruto's kindness, his inability to leave a person in trouble alone that ensured that she kept on growing into the person she was today.

The first time Naruto had saved her like that had been during the Chunin Exams, when she had faced her cousin Neji in the preliminary matches. Without his encouragement and support from afar, she doubted she would have ever reached that first real turning point in her life.

~H~

"Ha-ha! Too easy, too easy!" said Naruto as he waltzed up the stairs, grinning from ear to ear over his victory. Down on the arena floor, Kiba was being gently loaded on to a stretcher. He struggled with the medical personnel for a few moments, and then relaxed as Akamaru was placed gently on his stomach. As Hinata watched him being carried out from the balcony railing, Kiba sent her a meaningful look, prompting her to nod her understanding of his wordless message. Before the preliminary matches had begun, Kiba had taken the shy girl aside and begged her to forfeit her match if she was paired against the crazy redhead ninja from the Sand. Likewise, he also warned her against fighting Neji, who would be out for her blood if she was chosen to fight him.

Hinata had felt slightly guilty about unable to cheer for either of the combatants during the previous match. She knew she was supposed to cheer for her teammate, but Kiba had been fighting Naruto...

She pressed her fingers together nervously as Naruto arrived at the top of the flight of stairs, and began walking along the balcony to re-join his team. Naruto hadn't so much as looked at her during Chunin Exams, even when they had been seated together during the written test, which had been both a relief and a source of heartache for the young Hyuga.

She knew that she had brought this on herself for Naruto's safety, but a small part of her wished to at least see his smile, the special smile he reserved for her and her alone. The smile that was real, the smile that was honest, the smile he only wore when he was with her...

As Naruto began to walk by, Hinata took her chance, despite the obvious danger of having Neji standing only a few feet away. She reached back without turning around, using her Byakugan to direct her hand into his trouser pocket, where she deposited a small gift.

He jumped slightly at her touch, and then faced her with that heart melting smile of his. He mouthed "Thank you." somehow aware of the fact that her Byakugan was active and that she could see his face, even if he couldn't see hers.

Hinata blushed as he walked away, trying to stop the happy smile that had formed involuntarily on her lips during their little moment. Then it was over and Naruto quickly re-joined his team, while Hinata went back to shyly observing the ninja standing on the balcony on other side of the arena, waiting for the electronic board to announce the next battle.

Against her will, Hinata found herself watching Naruto out of the corner of her eye. He had pulled out her little gift and was in the process of opening it. She had slipped him a small jar of her homemade medicinal cream, and once he realized what it was, began applying it to his numerous wounds. Oddly enough, his cuts and abrasions began to steam gently as the cream was applied, miraculously healing over almost instantaneously. She watched in awe, aware of the fact that while her cream was good, it couldn't heal wounds that quickly.

'You truly are the 'Number One Hyperactive Unpredictable Ninja'.' she thought, stifling a giggle. While she was curious as to how Naruto had healed his injuries so quickly, for the moment she would just put it down to Naruto's talent for achieving the impossible, at least until she had some time to herself to think it over.

"Wow! This medicine is great!" she heard Naruto exclaim. She placed a hand over her mouth to hide her smile of joy, not wanting anyone to ask her about it. Despite her best efforts, Neji was quick to spot her rare smile before it was concealed and frowned, disapproving of her seemingly enjoying herself in any situation. Luckily he had not seen the gift being delivered, which was a small blessing for Naruto.

"Hey Sakura-chan, do you want some?" Hinata's face fell instantly as Naruto offered the gift she made just for him to his crush. While she was glad when Sakura refused his offer in her usual haughty manner, she still felt upset. Did her gifts mean so little to him? Or did Sakura mean more to him than Hinata did?

She was jerked out of her gloomy musings by the sound of the electronic board flickering through the names of the remaining genin. She cast off her sad thoughts for the time being, watching the board anxiously. As the names settled into place, she felt her heart stop. A shocked exclamation from Naruto confirmed that what was on the board wasn't an illusion.

'Hyuga Hinata vs. Hyuga Neji.' The names of the two combatants to face off in the next match were scrawled on the board in large, seemingly ominous letters. Fate was surely mocking the young Hyuga heiress.

She looked to Naruto and caught his eyes. There was no need to distance herself from him now; Naruto couldn't help her even if she wanted him to. She felt a slight glimmer of happiness at the sight of Naruto's helpless frustration in being unable to do anything; it proved he had been as good as his word and hadn't forgotten her. Then the reality of her situation hit her, and she chided herself for those selfish thoughts. It would be better if Naruto simply forgot her and kept going forward without having Hinata dragging him down with her own unachievable aspirations. At least one of them should fulfil their dreams, and it was wrong of Hinata to stand in the way of Naruto becoming Hokage. As Neji started walking down the stairs to the arena floor, a barely restrained smirk raising the corners of his lips, her previous train of thought was derailed, giving way to fear and anxiety on a scale only Neji and her father could bring about.

Naruto's pained expression gave her an odd burst of courage. She had promised to stand on her own two feet, and now was her chance to prove it. Neji had been one of the people who ruined their friendship; by fighting him here, she would show Naruto through her actions that she had learned from his example, and could continue on the road to becoming a kind yet strong shinobi on her own determination and strength. Fearing that her courage would fail her like it so often did, Hinata forced herself began the slow walk down the stairs to face one of the biggest challenges in her young life. Each step was slow but steady, a sign of her infallible resolution.

Or so she thought.

Kiba forced the two medic nins carrying his stretcher to stop, and beckoned desperately to Hinata as she arrived at the foot of the stairs. She padded over to his side, placing her hand in the weapons pouch on her waist.

"Listen Hinata-san, you have to forfeit! He isn't going to go easy on you; he's going to take this chance to exact his revenge! I-"

"I-I will fight!" stuttered Hinata, surprising Kiba with the amount of force behind her words. "I am going to fight Neji nii-san and prove to everyone that I'm not weak!" the stunned look on Kiba's face told her that she's made her point. She withdrew her hand from her waist bag and placed a small jar of medicinal cream in his hands. "Thank you for your concern, Kiba-kun." she smiled and turned away, leaving a frustrated and anxious Kiba to be carried off to the infirmary.

Now that she was standing on the arena floor, Hinata was suddenly aware of how large the battlefield was. She walked carefully through the debris left from the previous battles. Strands of platinum blonde hair littered the floor, while the craters in the cement from the high powered 'barrage' attacks of Naruto and Sasuke and Kiba's fang-over-fang forced her to step carefully.

Her nerves were getting the best of her as she drew nearer to the middle of the arena, prompting her to draw on a memory of Naruto to bolster her determination. She barely stifled a giggle as she remembered Naruto's unfortunate... release... that had helped him turn the tables in his match against Kiba. The look on his face had been adorable; it wasn't often that the ever-confident Naruto got embarrassed. She quickly sobered up when she spotted a smear of blood on the ground, remembering where and why she was here.

Soon she stood opposite her cousin, unable to meet his barely concealed glare. The referee, Hayate Gekko, briefly observed the two fighters to see if they were prepared, coughed once and raised his hand. "Now, begin the match!" he yelled, dropping his hand and leaping back to the sidelines.

Hinata had barely begun to assume her Jyuuken stance when Neji began to speak, making her flinch. "Before we start the match, I'd like to say something, Hinata-sama." his cold white eyes stared impassively into her own, the distaste for his cousin evident in everything from his tone to his mannerisms.

The young Hyuga girl could feel her confidence eroding with each passing second. She had forgotten how overbearing Neji's presence was, how unwelcoming his aura was when she was around. She wanted to start the fight before she lost her nerve, but nodded slowly, giving him her permission to speak. She just wasn't sure if she'd like what she was going to hear.

"You will never become a great shinobi. Forfeit now!" Hinata's eyes widened in shock. His words had cut through her false bravado easily, resonating with her true feelings buried deep in her heart.

"You are too kind, you wish for harmony and avoid conflict, you agree with others and never attempt to voice your own views," his words weren't as harsh as they could have been, but it was unacceptable for a Branch member to openly critique a member of the Main house. But Hinata could still feel and see the intense hatred he had for her behind his words, it was right there in his eyes. "You have no confidence in yourself. You personally think that you are inferior to others and that's why I believe you could never become a Chunin, let alone a great shinobi. You don't believe in yourself."

Hinata was crumbling under Neji's verbal assault. Her dreams were being shredded apart by the harsh reality Naruto had helped her to forget. She truly was useless. Everything her cousin said rang true, but she still had to fight back, if not for herself then for Naruto. She had told the blonde she could stand on her own feet and change herself for the better. She opened her mouth hesitantly, wondering if she still had the resolve to speak. She couldn't disappoint her idol and make him worry about her.

"I... I can... I have to do this a-and change myself. I want to b-become better and fulfil my dream..."

Neji's eyebrows dipped in the slightest of frowns. "As I thought, you are a brat of the Main house. People cannot change themselves!" Hinata face was the very picture of alarm as his words washed away her fragile determination. "Failures will always be failures. Their personalities and strength cannot be changed by willpower alone. You speak of your dreams like you can accomplish them, but it's all talk isn't it?"

Behind Hinata and up on the balcony, Naruto's scowl became more and more pronounced as Neji continued to verbally beat down Hinata and crush her fragile resolve. "I...I..." Hinata was beginning to tremble. All she wanted to do was run. Run away as fast as she could, just to escape Neji icy glare. But two things made her stand her ground. One: she was too emotionally distraught to move and two: the last part of her mind still functioning properly remembered that Naruto was watching her, waiting for the proof that she could fulfil her dreams without his assistance.

"Because of the fact that people cannot change, differences between them manifest. Terms like 'elite' and 'loser' are made." said Neji, never taking his eyes off of his cousin's. "Looks, intelligence, ability, physical aptitude, personality... All people judge and are judged based on these values. Based on these unchangeable factors, people discriminate and are discriminated against. They suffer for it, stuck in their unchangeable lives heading for a predetermined fate. Just like the fact that I am from the Branch house and you are from the Main house cannot be changed."

Hinata was shivering now, eyes wide with panic. She began to press her index fingers together nervously, trying to find something to say, to defend herself and refute Neji's claims. But deep down she knew he spoke the truth, even if she wasn't ready to admit it to herself just yet. She glanced up from the floor and froze, feeling like a rabbit caught in a trap. Neji had activated his Byakugan, and the effect was terrifying. The bulging veins around his eyes only enhanced his scowl, making him seem even more menacing than ever.

"I have seen through many things with my Byakugan, so I know that you are pretending to be strong while deep down, you just want to run away and hide."

"N-No... I really..."

His icy white glare seemed to pulse with power, silencing her futile attempt to justify herself. She tried to recall a happy memory, anything to distract her from the fear clawing at her heart. Her eyes shifted up and to the left, trying to remember something Naruto had done for her; there wasn't a shortage memories in that department. Yet all she could remember was Neji's relentless punishing blows during their training and the disapproving glares of her father when she inevitably failed against her much more skilled cousin. He would definitely have made a better heir to the Hyuga legacy rather than herself.

Her eyes then drifted down and to the right unconsciously, imagining all the horrible things Neji would try to get away with during the match, justifying his actions as necessary in the heat of battle. She could see him as a demon in her mind's eye, existing solely for the purpose of ruining her happiness with Naruto... No, that wasn't fair, he was only following her father's orders, but at this point rational thought was beyond her. Finally her hands rose of their own accord, one holding herself protectively while the other rose to touch her lip.

Hinata flinched when Neji resumed speaking. "You can't fool my eyes," he said coldly. "Against my pressure just now, your eyes floated up and to the left. That is a sign that you are remembering painful experiences from your past. After that, you looked to the lower right, signifying that you are imagining physical and mental pain. Basically, you are thinking about yourself. From all your experiences until now, you are picturing the results of this match. You are imagining that you will lose!" the veins around his eyes pulsed menacingly, almost bringing Hinata to the verge of tears. He'd managed to read her mind solely through observing her body language. Hinata was not nearly as skilled enough to do that, proving that there was a massive gap in talent and skill between them.

Up on the balcony, Naruto was just about ready to burst. His face was a rictus of anger, his mouth locked in a furious snarl to match his scowl. His pupils had dilated and his canines seemed slightly longer and sharper than usual. A large vein at his temple threatened to burst when his temper did. And that would be happening soon, since Neji was continuing to degrade and mentally abuse his best friend. Hadn't he done enough to them already?!

Back on the arena floor, Neji still wasn't done with his scathing analysis of Hinata's body language. "By raising your arms in front of your body, you are trying to create a wall between us, to create a space between you and me. You are trying to hide your feelings from me because everything I have said is completely true. Furthermore," he narrowed his eyes menacingly as he spoke. "By touching your lip like that, you are revealing one of your many personality traits. This one expresses your anxiety, it's a defence mechanism to soothe your nerves and ease your worrying. So by now, you have realized..."

Neji stepped closer, and Hinata would have moved back accordingly, had she not been frozen to the spot with fear. As Neji finished his little speech, tears were streaming down her bruised and dirt streaked cheeks. She was shaking like a leaf, one that could be blown away by the slightest breeze. "...That you cannot change your-"

"YOU CAN!" Hinata twitched as Naruto's furious yell cut through Neji's poisonous words. She turned to face the irate blonde while Neji barely shifted his eyes to coldly regard Naruto. "STOP DECIDING THINGS ABOUT PEOPLE YOU IDIOT!" Hinata watched Naruto in awe, never having seen him so furious and worked up. She had stopped crying, feeling the tear tracks drying on her cheeks. "KICK THAT BASTARD'S ASS! HINATA!"

She gazed up at her idol, screaming in burning fury at Neji and cheering for her. She felt a blush creeping across her cheeks and a warmth in her chest, overpowering the cold, useless feeling that Neji had instilled in her. 'N-Naruto-kun...'

He was cheering for her. Naruto was supporting Hinata, telling her to fight back. He didn't think she was weak or useless. He saw something in her that she couldn't. She looked down at her feet, gathering her thoughts. 'I...I can't let him down...'

"Hinata, stand up for yourself! This is hard to watch, you have to fight back!" Naruto had shouted himself hoarse, and stood waiting for her response while rubbing his throat.

'Naruto-kun... Thank you!'

As Neji returned his gaze to Hinata, no doubt thinking something insulting about Naruto, his now Byakugan-less eyes widened slightly. Something had changed within his cousin's eyes. Hinata stared straight into his eyes determinedly, the fear and self-doubt he'd so carefully inflicted now erased from her gaze. "So you won't forfeit. I am not responsible for what happens."

Hinata closed her eyes briefly, forcing chakra up to her eyes. The veins around her pale lavender eyes bulged visibly on the surface of her skin. 'I will not run away!'

In her mind, she could hear the most famous words of her beloved as clearly as if he were reciting them by her side. "I never go back on my word. That's my ninja way."

"I will no longer run away!" she said, placing a hand with two extended fingers in front of her face. "Byakugan!" said Hinata, opening her eyes and revealing her now activated bloodline.

Neji watched her little display with barely a change in his expression. However, using her three hundred and sixty degree vision, Hinata could see the surprised look on Naruto's face, coupled with a proud smile. She vowed then and there to prove to him that she deserved it. The fact that she was using Naruto's strength to fight this battle hadn't eluded her, but she decided to let it slip for the time being.

She assumed the Jyuuken stance, placing her left foot before her right and raising her arms with palms facing outwards out in front of her body. "Neji nii-san, prepare to fight!"

"Hmph. As you wish, Hinata-sama." Neji replied, settling into the same stance. There was the calm before the storm, where both fighters faced each other completely unmoving, waiting for the other to make the first move. Then simultaneously they rushed each other, engaging in swift ballet of palm strikes, blocks and lithely swaying as each dodged the other's attacks while barely moving their feet. Hinata could feel the eyes of the onlookers watching their quick yet graceful movements, but all her attention was focused solely on her cousin. She knew Naruto was watching her, and that was all she needed to keep going.

After a lengthy volley of blows and blocks, Hinata finally created an opening and struck without hesitation. Her chakra infused palm slipped through his defence and struck Neji soundly on the chest. He slid back a few metres and scowled, before sliding his foot forward in a half circle motion to force her to leap backwards. Then he was back on the attack, powering forwards to try and land a hit. Or so Hinata thought.

The fight seemed to be going her way. She had avoided most of Neji's strikes and blocked the rest, and landed four or five solid hits of her own. She felt a fresh wave of strength flow through her limbs when Naruto yelled "Yay Hinata! You can do it!" But as the battle wore on, Hinata began to suspect something was amiss. For all the palm strikes she'd successfully landed, it seemed like Neji wasn't slowing down, like he hadn't been affected in the slightest. Then it happened.

With an audible thud, Neji's right hand slammed into her chest, pushing chakra into her heart. Immense pain filled her senses as she coughed up blood. Surprised gasps from the balcony echoed her confusion. Hadn't her attacks been connecting perfectly?

"So this is it. This is the extent of the Main houses' strength." muttered Neji. Hinata noticed that he had struck her with both hands, his right over her heart while his left index and middle finger were jabbing into a spot on her upper arm.

"Not yet." she whispered, pushing forwards with her right palm, scoring a glancing strike on his shoulder. As soon as her attack connected, she expected his arm to give out, providing her with the chance to aim for his vital organs. Instead, the arm that should have been limp and unmoving rose up swiftly, jabbing two fingers into her elbow.

Grabbing her arm with his free hand, Neji slowly pushed her sleeve back, revealing several dark red blotches on her skin, almost like tiny bruises. Hinata's eyes widened with realization as she recognized the marks on her skin. "No way... So from the beginning..."

"Exactly. My eyes can see the tenketsu points." Neji replied, masking his smugness with a mask of Hyuga indifference. His bandaged and bloody hands released her arm, then in one swift motion, Neji sent her flying backwards.

"Kyaa!" yelled Hinata as she landed painfully on the smooth cement floor.

"Hinata-sama, this is the difference in talent that can never be changed. This is the difference that divides an 'elite' from a 'loser'. This is the reality that cannot be changed. At the point when you said 'I will no longer run away.' you were setting yourself up for pain and regret. You are probably overcome with desperation right now," he slowly eased out of his Jyuuken stance, standing straight and proper as was expected of the members of the Hyuga clan. "Forfeit now." he repeated.

Hinata slowly pushed herself up, blood dripping from her mouth as she began to speak. "I... Don't go back... On my word..." Neji's eyes widened slightly as he recalled where he'd heard those words before. "That is... also my ninja way!" she staggered to her feet, gazing tiredly up at the balcony where Naruto stood. She smiled when she saw him watching her intently, a look of awe written all over his features. As she panted exhaustedly, Neji's Byakugan activated without any hand signs, a visible reminder of his genius status.

"Come." was all he said, once again assuming the Jyuuken stance.

"Gah!" yelled Hinata as her heart throbbed painfully. Fresh blood welled up from her throat and splashed noisily onto the ground. Her body began to quake, and she stood still for a few moments, unintentionally hearing the comments being spoken between the observing genin.

"What incredible eyes..." she heard Ino mutter.

"Hinata-san won't get killed right?" murmured Choji between mouthfuls of chips.

"You know... that Neji guy's strength is amazing... It's almost not fair. He's seriously too strong." Sakura noted, not noticing Naruto's quivering as he sought to restrain himself. Finally, he could hold back to no longer.

"You can do it Hinata!" he yelled. The strength returned to her and the pain in her chest mostly subsided almost instantaneously. For the first time, Hinata activated the Byakugan without hand signs, having caught her second wind.

'So this is the power of friendship... Naruto-kun...'

With that, she charged forward, ready to fight. As soon as they connected, it was a high speed battle of strikes, blocks and dodges. But Hinata was fighting a losing battle. Her movements were noticeably slower, allowing Neji multiple strikes at her vital points before she could counter. Still, she kept up the fight. 'Naruto-kun, I have always watched you all these years. When we were together as best friends I drew inspiration from your example. Why is that?' she found herself thinking as she ducked under a wide palm strike and retaliated with her own. 'I don't know why but when I look at him, when I'm with him, I feel courageous. I feel that if I try my best, even I can achieve the impossible. I feel like I am worth something.'

At that moment, Neji leaned to the right to avoid her attack, and then countered with a vicious palm strike that smashed into her throat, bruising her windpipe. Shocked gasps echoed amongst the Konoha genin as her blood flew in all directions. She coughed painfully, finding it difficult to breathe. As soon as she felt her lungs re-inflate, she was back on the attack.

'Naruto-kun, in the past, I was the one who was always watching. But right now, you are-' Neji slipped through her defence once again and slammed a chakra powered palm into her stomach, instantly dropping her. "Gaaha!" she yelled as she tumbled to the floor, clutching her internally wounded stomach.

"You do not understand anything," said Neji as he stood over her, enjoying the feel of superiority of having a Main house member squirming in the dust at his feet. "From the beginning your attacks have done nothing."

The jounins began commenting on how those blows to her heart and other organs guaranteed she wouldn't be getting up again. Hayate stepped forward to announce the victor. "It appears that continuing is impossible and thus-"

"Don't stop the match!" roared Naruto, making everyone around him jump. Sakura was the first to recover. Loudly.

"What are you saying you idiot! She's at her limit, she's unconscious!" Naruto, in a surprising show of resistance against his crush, simply nodded towards the spot where Hinata lay. As her eyes fell on the girl, the pinkette's face was the very picture of shock. That look was mirrored by everyone present, and even Neji had faint worry lines creasing his usual smooth brow. Naruto could only grin with pride as Hinata struggled to her feet, clearly on the end of her rope but determined to keep fighting. She held her stomach tenderly, shakily regaining her balance. Fresh red blood flowed thickly from the corner of her mouth down to her chin as she gasped for breath.

"Why do you stand? If you keep pushing yourself, you'll die." Neji said quietly.

'He's finally watching me... The person I admire...' Hinata raised her head slowly to meet Neji's gaze. Her face was battered and haggard, yet she still had a small but confident smile raising the corners of her lips. 'I cannot afford to look bad in front of him now. I will prove to him that I too am strong!'

Neji scowled, activating his Byakugan in the same gesture. "It's not over." Hinata managed to say.

"Acting tough is useless. You can barely stand, I can see that." Neji shifted on the spot before continuing, trying to hide the fatigue that was starting to weigh upon him. "From the time of your birth, the responsibility of the Hyuga Main house has been forced upon you. You have always hated yourself for your own weakness. But people cannot change, that is destiny. There is no need for you to suffer like this. It's time to let it go."

"That's not true Neji nii-san." Hinata whispered, barely able to speak. "Because I can see it... It's not me at all. The person who is lost and suffering within the destiny of the Main and Branch houses... Is you."

Neji's eyes pulsed with power as rage overcame his common sense. Hayate was quick to notice the change in Neji's usually impeccable demeanour, but to slow to stop him as he rushed at Hinata, radiating killing intent. "Stop Neji-kun, this match is over!" he yelled to no avail. In a last ditched attempt, he shunshined over to Hinata...

... Where he managed to place himself between the injured girl and the enraged boy, placing two extended fingers on the steel plate of his headband. Hinata peeked around Hayate and was surprised to see her jounin sensei Kurenai as well as the jounins of Naruto's and Neji's teams helping to restrain her cousin. Kurenai and Kakashi had grabbed his arms and blocked his legs while Guy had him in a head lock.

"Neji, give it a rest. You gave me a youthful promise not to lose your head over this Main family stuff." Guy muttered into his ear.

Neji simply glanced from jounin to jounin. "Why do even the other jounins jump in...? Oh, more special treatment for the Main house..." At that point, Hinata's heart thumped painfully against her rib cage. She fell to her knees vomiting blood, and then flopped lifelessly onto her back. "Hinata!" several voices yelled out, but there was only one voice that Hinata heard.

She lay on her back staring up at the vaulted ceiling above. Even though she knew she had lost, for once, she didn't feel that crushing sense of failure that so often plagued her mind. Maybe it was because she had definitely put her all into this fight.

No, that wasn't it.

She felt... She felt an unfamiliar sense of achievement. She had stood against her cousin and had communicated to him through their exchange of blows her true feelings. How she wanted to change herself, how she would fight for her dreams. She had proved to him how her dedication to Naruto, and his dedication to her, could let them accomplish anything, regardless of what he and her father said and did.

And that led her to her main realization. She had learned that she couldn't fight on her own, not yet. She still had to rely on Naruto to help her achieve her dreams. But was that so bad? Sure, having him wait for her to catch up to him would be a selfish thing to ask for, but she didn't need to cut him out of her life completely. Hinata had asked Naruto to continue being the role model she loved and admired, and he'd gone above and beyond of what she'd asked of him. By simply cheering for her, and supporting her when everyone had given up on her was more than enough to help her achieve the impossible like he so often did. Normally, she wouldn't have been able to stand up to Neji, today, she had fought in a way that she hadn't believed she was capable of.

While she had severed their bonds to protect him despite knowing how much he relied on her, she realized now that she needed his strength and passion just as much. What she had done was foolish, Hinata realized that now. She had only hurt her beloved, and in turn hurt herself. It was time to make amends.

Hinata heard several soft thumping sounds, the soft patter of ninja sandals on concrete and suddenly she was surrounded by people. But her eyes only focused on one face full of nothing but concern for her wellbeing. She reached up with one hand towards the blonde kneeling at her side, and he gently took her hand in his.

She was slipping in and out of consciousness, barely able to hear his words. "Hinata-chan, are you alright?! Hey!"

"N-Naruto-kun..." she whispered softly, prompting him to lean closer towards her. Behind him, Sakura was commenting on how pale she looked while Lee motioned for a stretcher to be brought over. It was getting hard to stay awake, but she had to know. "Were you... Watching me?"

"I had eyes only for you." he replied softly.

"Was... Was I able... To change just a little?"

"Hinata-chan," he said, giving her his special smile. "You showed me what a strong and determined person you are. I am incredibly honoured to call an amazing person like you my best friend."

In true Hyuga Hinata style, her face went bright red from chin to forehead. "I'm glad..." was all she could say before her eyes closed and she sank into oblivion, whether from her injuries or embarrassment, she didn't know. But that warm feeling in her chest that blossomed with Naruto's words didn't leave her for the next few hours.

~H~

As the main celebrations began to wind down, the shopkeepers who managed to scrounge up furniture and food from the wreckage set about organizing an open air feast for the heroes and the survivors. It was simply a time to sit down with one's fellow villagers and enjoy the peace and each other's companionship. Friends and family could be reunited, while search parties went out into the ring of wreckage surrounding the crater that was their village, looking for people who had been stranded after being revived by Pain's Gedō: Rinne Tensei no Jutsu in the rubble.

Hinata supposed now was the time to go and join the others. On the other hand, it didn't seem like anyone had missed her, since she had spent several hours up on the Hokage Monument by herself. As she gazed out at the slowly moving procession heading back from the village gates towards the Hokage Monument, she noticed a single figure clothed in white breaking away from the ragtag parade, winding their way through the wreckage to the stairs that led to the top of the Monument.

The dark haired girl watched the figure, a spot of white slowly drawing nearer to the base of the stone heads, leap from wrecked building to wrecked building until it disappeared beneath Tsunade's head and out of Hinata's field of view. Maybe that was someone coming to look for her, someone that had missed her presence, no matter how small it was. Ideally that would be Naruto, but she could recognize his signature orange jumpsuit from any distance. He was probably with his girlfriend Sakura, not sparing any thoughts for his best friend. She didn't blame him, that's what love did to a person's mind. But still...

She reached into her weapon's pouch and rummaged around until her fingers found a small wrapped object hidden safely at the bottom. She gently pulled out the small package and cradled it gently in her hands. Slowly, almost hesitantly, she unwrapped the dark lavender cloth, revealing the first and probably last gift she would ever receive from Naruto.

Inside the cloth was a roughly carved wooden kunai, slightly larger than a real one. She quickly checked it for any damages and breathed a sigh of relief when she was satisfied that it was unharmed. She turned the wooden kunai over almost reverently, her eyes finding the engraved sentence on the handle by the light of the moon.

"Dream of the impossible, fight to make it a reality." she read out loud, smiling faintly. This had been a special gift from Naruto just before he left for his three year training trip, and it was the only gift she truly cherished aside from the heirlooms her mother had left her.

When he gave her the wooden kunai, Naruto had told her that it was a reminder of their battles with Neji, and by extension her father. It symbolized how their friendship was eternal, built on hers and Naruto's creed of achieving the impossible. Then he hugged her and left, only turning back when she had called out to him saying she would train hard and become strong too, so they could be together when he returned. He smiled that special smile of his at her and left with Jiraiya, leaving her to her own devices for the next three years. Of course, she had help, and she accredited her growth as a ninja during Naruto's absence to that person. She doubted she would have come as far as she had without their encouragement when she occasionally lost sight of her dream.

It made her wonder who was climbing up the stairs to find her. It could be her beloved Naruto or him...