[One-shot][Shoujo-ai] Hinata realizes that to win a war, ground sometimes has to be sacrificed. But... why does it seem like Sakura isn't losing any?
A/N: I wanted to try my hand at Hinakura (my third favorite Hinata femslash) and wanted to do something with this quote I like. From that came this. Actually, funny story, this was originally an Inata fic to make up for the unhappy ending of my first one. I even wrote the first half or so on the basis of this being about that couple. Then a line in the story randomly made me think, "Hey, know what? This should be the Hinakura I wanted to write!" And so now it is.
Warning: If you blink, you'll miss a recent manga spoiler
"To gain that which is worth having, it may be necessary to lose everything."
- Bernadette Devlin
Hinata walked slowly, the usually endless-seeming corridor feeling as though it had shortened by yards and some. She, like any in her position, felt no hurry to the paper screen door that awaited her at the end of the hall. There, her father and the council of Hyuuga elders sat in preparation of her arrival. The only thing that frightened her more than entering the cold room and placing herself for their scrutiny was the idea of running away and disappointing them.
As a child, Hinata remembered, the halls had been large and empty to her. Now they were cramped and devoid of sufficient air. Not for the first time in her life, Hinata felt caught between a rock and a hard place: Suffocate within the depths of these dark walls or be crushed under the stone stares of the elders.
Without meaning to, Hinata slowed down.
But no matter how she dragged her feet and tried to curl up into herself, Hinata knew that she would have to meet her fate sooner or later. The thought didn't brace her, nor did it encourage her to speed up and get the meeting over with. It succeeded only in tightening the icy grip of fear on her heart. Although the reasoning behind her summons to the council room had not been explained, she knew what this was about. This was about Sakura, and their relationship. What frightened Hinata was that she didn't know for what purpose beyond that she had been called. What could there be to say that her father couldn't speak with her privately? What made a hearing before the elders necessary?
Even the stripping of her title as heiress had been done quietly; was this really so much worse?
Stay calm/, she ordered herself. /What would Naruto-kun do? Naruto-kun would march right in and demand to know what the matter is. I'll just... Okay; what would Sakura do?
Lost in the catacombs of her thoughts, Hinata almost walked into the door to the council room. In her rattled state, it was enough to make her dizzy. Destroying family property by means of ignorance and clumsiness would only add to the list of crimes against her clan that she could be found guilty of. It was hardly the sort of thing she needed at the moment.
Taking a deep, shaky breath, Hinata raised one trembling hand, only to catch herself and hesitate. This was a circumstance unfamiliar to her. Was she supposed to knock? Announce herself? Go right in? Would someone come out into the hallway to fetch her when they were ready for her in the room?
"You may enter, Hinata," said a grave voice from inside, effectively deciding the matter.
Gulping in one last bracing breath of air, Hinata slid open the screen and stepped in. Before she even laid eyes on the assembled, all of whom she was certain sat on sitting mats, Hinata was enveloped by the feeling of being looked down at. Her chest clenched, restraining her heart and lungs, her stomach attempted to coil into itself for safety, her mind fell into a panic and Hinata felt as though she might be sick right in front of them all. It was all she could do to stand up straight rather than collapse under the pressure of all of them looking at her.
Naruto-kun lasted twelve years with people looking down on him. Surely I can handle a meeting with a few old men. Sakura always tells me how strong I am. I can do this. I'm defending her, too, since she isn't here to do it herself.
Oh, but if only Sakura were there.
Bowing respectfully, Hinata peered through her bangs to take in her surroundings. The first thing Hinata noticed, looking for anything to notice but her persecutors, was how utterly bare the room was, as though it hadn't been meant to be used. Sitting mats were the closest there was to furniture. Aside from them were the room's occupants, Hinata and her impromptu jury. Five of them, including her father, sat in a line facing her. Her father, as the head of the clan, was in the middle. Hinata wasn't sure whether she should be relieved or anxious that the mat clearly intended for her had been placed in front of him. Her seating certainly did nothing for her now; every eye of every elder in the room had been turned on her. Pinned beneath the stern gazes, Hinata felt again like the lost cause of a child that she had once been perceived as. All of this... could this really be because of her relationship with Sakura?
Breathe... Just breathe...
"You may be seated, Hinata," one of the elders intoned, nodding to the mat on the floor.
Moving as though through cold molasses, Hinata made her way to the mat, forcing herself not to shuffle. Sickened with herself and how much ground she had already lost, Hinata tried to appear as unfazed as possible as she knelt in her place. Catching the cold eye of one of the eldest of the council, she almost fell down, only collecting her bearings at the last second. It did little good, and she all but thudded to the floor. This was off to a bad start and Hinata knew it. All she could hope was that she could keep control of herself when the deliberations began. Not since botching missions as a twelve-year-old genin had she felt this sort of dread.
Not wishing to make any more of a fool of herself, Hinata took even, cleansing breaths and sat up strait, waiting for one of her elders to initiate the meeting. Torturous seconds passed away to minutes in silence. Deep within her, Hinata could feel the onset of panic; she struggled to remain still with a placid expression on her face. It drained her will power to keep from shifting her gaze around like a fearful squirrel. By the time four minutes had passed without interruption, Hinata was beginning to think that perhaps she was supposed to say something to start off. But if that were the case, surely the strict council would have called her on her incompetence by now. Shocked at the sudden feeling of sweat dripping down her paled face, Hinata twitched, squirmed her way right out of her composure.
To her revulsion, it was this show of weak nerves that prompted one of the elders to speak.
"It has come to our attention that you have been taking great deal of time with a young woman by the name of Haruno," he began.
"Sakura," Hinata corrected before she could catch herself, not liking the idea of referring to Sakura in such a distant manner for the remainder of the ordeal.
"Sakura/, then," he conceded, saying the name as though it carried a distasteful flavor. "Also brought to our attention are rumors of your... /behavior toward one another. Do you care to explain this, Hinata?"
Sitting tall and proud, choosing to look into her father's eyes as if answering a question from him, Hinata shamelessly admitted, "Sakura is my girlfriend. We're in love."
A few gasps and murmurs echoed through the emptiness of the large room, intensifying the disgust directed at Hinata's admission. For her part, Hinata was uninterested in any of it. The only reaction she was interested in was that of her father. Meeting his gaze head-on, she had the perfect vantage point from which to gauge it.
Something warm swirled deep within Hiashi's eyes, lightly blanketing Hinata with hope. Perhaps he was on her side after all. But just as the thought crossed her mind, the warmth was buried by uncertainty and disappointment. Hiashi would not let whatever warmth had overcome him for that brief moment to rule whatever decision was to be made. Hinata felt stripped all of a sudden, abandoned somewhere she wasn't supposed to be.
"Do you realize what it is that you're saying, Hinata?" another elder demanded.
"Of course," Hinata answered, never breaking eye contact with her father. "I am in love with Haruno Sakura, and I am not ashamed to be."
For less than a second, Hinata felt that her father looked to her in admiration. Then it was gone.
"You may recall some short time ago," said yet another, looking at her as though at someone too ignorant to understand what she was talking about, "that you believed yourself in love with Uzumaki Naruto. In that instance, you came to the conclusion that you had confused your feelings. Are you certain that you aren't doing the same now?"
"Yes," Hinata answered, albeit with less confidence than she had intended. She was losing. "The situation with Naruto-kun was very different. There are mutual feelings between Sakura and myself. The two of us are in love."
"Can you be certain?" one man demanded, leading his peers in an ambush of condescendence.
"What makes you so sure?" piped up the man at the end.
"What about the Uchiha and her feelings for him?"
"You're still only a child; what do you understand about being in love?"
"I-! I'm eighteen years-"
"How foolish, not to see that the girl is clearly using you for her own gain."
"Sakura would never-!"
"Can you really be so ignorant of your duty to your clan?"
So many voices, brimming with revolt, surrounded Hinata, overwhelmed her. They just kept coming, accusations and demeaning comments one after another, flooding her, trying to drown her. Her vision swam, her breath caught in her throat and Hinata felt nausea claw at her. She couldn't take much more of this.
"That is more than enough," Hiashi said sternly, raising his voice to be heard above the others and shooting hard stares over both shoulders in turn. "My daughter is no longer a child, but a young woman, and she understands her feelings as well as any person can understand his or her own feelings. She says she is love with this Haruno Sakura of hers, and we shall continue this meeting on that assumption."
Hinata looked to her father as gratefully as if he had saved her life. She saw it again, bolder this time, that something warm in his eyes. She saw love, pride, a glimmer of something she yearned to be understanding. But just as before, critical cold and displeasure layered over the sight, blocking her out. Again she was alone.
Naruto-kun was alone. I swore I would be like Naruto-kun... I will be strong. I will be strong for Sakura- and for myself.
"Surely," Hiashi spoke to her this time, "as reinstated heiress, carrying the responsibility of continuing the line, you understand what remaining with this woman of yours can mean."
A blush dusted Hinata's face and she averted her gaze to the floor before responding.
"I... I admit that I hadn't thought quite that far ahead."
"A selfish thing for a future clan head to do," admonished an elder to Hiashi's right, immediately earning him a glare from the younger man. He ignored it, pressing on, "What do you expect to happen if you, the head of the Main House, cannot produce an heir? Or do you expect your woman to give one to you?"
"Enough," Hiashi fairly growled. He then turned back to Hinata and she realized with a sort of shocked dread that he actually expected an answer to the elder's question.
"W-well, we haven't really talked about it," Hinata admitted, stumbling over her words as her confidence began to unravel. "But people like us... well, h-homosexuals do have children together, sort of. When it comes time for me to produce an heir-"
"You will carry the child of someone other than your chosen life partner," the old man who had pressed finished for her, looking at her like something to squish beneath his foot.
Taken aback, Hinata argued, "I don't see what other alternative-"
"There isn't one," said yet another, "and that is the point."
For a long moment, Hinata was quiet as she tried to digest what was happening and determine a way to fight back. Before she had the chance, Hiashi spoke up himself.
"Hinata has expressed willingness to bear child when the need arises. The question of an heir has been settled."
"I disagree," spoke that tiresome man to his right. "What sort of message is it to have an heir conceived out of infidelity?"
"That isn't fair!" Hinata sputtered in shock, her face taking on a bright red hue.
"What isn't fair is the ease with which you throw aside your duty to your clan," the man spat, and several others spoke up in agreement. "It is especially distasteful when taken into consideration that you have already once been stripped of your position. No other heir or heiress in our entire history can have made that claim."
"I haven't thrown anything aside," Hinata pleaded. "I'll gladly produce someone to follow me in the line!"
"The idea of taking charge without a man by your side- of doing so with a woman beside you, to add insult to injury."
"There have been female heads of clan before," Hinata protested, looking to her father for help. Rather than reassurance, she found only critical study in his expression as though he were observing an experiment.
"All of them have taken men to stand beside them," the old man argued, "and produced legitimate heirs or heiresses to follow them."
"This is enough," Hiashi intoned firmly; this time all lips sealed shut. "The concern over an heir has been presented. Let us move on."
"Hinata," the same elder addressed her, "do understand that we are not fully unsympathetic with your circumstances."
"Of course," Hinata answered, not bothering to hide her bitterness.
"We simply wish that you keep the best interest of the clan in mind. On that end, we are willing to allow you to remain with your Sakura if you will submit to compromise."
They will... allow me to stay with Sakura?
"What is it?" Hinata asked slowly, uncertain of what sort of compromise he could mean.
"Hinata," Hiashi took over the explanation, locking his gaze with his daughter's, "allow us to select a husband for you."
"W-what?" Hinata reeled back as though struck. "You said-"
"Allow me to finish," Hiashi held up his hand for silence. "Traditionally, to ensure the purity of the line, the future head is wed to a select member of the Branch. More recently, our laws have been allowed slack; there is freedom to choose outside the blood if deemed."
"Like Mom," nodded Hinata.
"Yes, like your mother," agreed Hiashi. "I was the first of the main line to take wife outside of Hyuuga blood, and-"
"And look what it got us," one of the old men sneered at Hinata.
Hiashi turned on the man faster than a cobra could strike, effortlessly silencing him with no more than a look.
"I don't understand what this has to do with Sakura," Hinata attempted to lead the conversation back on track, eager to clear her confusion.
"We believe that the old law should be reinforced, starting with you," spoke up an elder that had been quiet the whole time. "It is our will that you wed and conceive by your cousin Neji."
"But you said I could-"
"In return," Hinata was cut off yet again, "you will be allowed to keep your woman on the side, if you can remain discrete."
"You want me to marry and have a child by Neji-nii-san... and keep Sakura as a mistress? Something disgraceful and dirty off to the side?" Hinata felt her anger boiling as she never had before. "I have already expressed that I am not ashamed of what I share with Sakura. I will not act as though I am."
"Think about it, Hinata," Hiashi fairly urged her. "No other in your position would be given this sort of opportunity on love and marriage. Don't be unreasonable when an offer like this is made to you."
"What you offer is a chance to wrong two people I love," Hinata argued, not caring that it was with her father, "three when a child does come around. You ask me to trap Neji-nii-san in a marriage with me, and deny Sakura. You ask me to raise a child in a make-believe family for the sake of foolish pride."
"You would be trapping no one," assured Hiashi, clearly surprised at his daughter's sudden attitude. "Neji is fully willing to become your husband should you agree to our proposition. As for your Sakura, surely she would be happy with any chance to remain with you."
About to retort, Hinata caught herself and let the heat of embarrassment and shock over what she had just done rush to her face and neck. Then she hesitated over her father's words. If she should agree to their proposition...
"And if I refuse your offer?" Hinata asked carefully. Her spirit fell when her father averted his gaze, allowing her only a glimpse of guilt.
"You will be removed from the line. Hanabi will regain her default position as the clan heiress and Neji will become her husband when it comes time for her to take her place as clan head."
A cold sense of dread settled into the pit of Hinata's stomach. Stripped yet again of her title; again looked upon as a disgrace to the line. She squeezed her eyes shut, trying to block everything out, but couldn't escape the cold looks, the mocking words, the shame. But then she saw something else; she saw keen, clear green eyes and hair like cherry blossom petals blowing in the wind. She heard loving words whispered in a soft but passionate voice. She felt the protective warmth of Sakura's arms around her, of Sakura's lips on her lips. No matter what they took from her, they could not take Sakura.
"Hinata?" Hiashi broke into her thoughts. "What is your decision?"
"I have lost my position and fared before," said Hinata quietly. "I can do the same again."
"You misunderstand," said one of the elders, prompting Hinata to look questioningly to her father; Hiashi looked away. "It is not merely your title as heiress at stake. You risk the reputation of the entire clan by carrying on with this woman of yours. To protect our pride and our honor, you will be stripped of your name. You will no longer be Hyuuga."
At his words, the world slowed to a stop. It was as if everything waited in breathless anticipation for Hinata to respond. To her end, Hinata wasn't sure that she could. Disownment... This was more than her title; it was her name. For a fleeting moment, the entirety of the situation felt surreal, dreamlike. It was as though she might awaken any second to find that the whole thing had been the result of her worried imagination.
"Father... you will really turn me away for remaining true to the woman I love?"
Looking up, Hinata found her gaze locked again with her father's. This time, everything was clear, printed in bold for her to see. Within his pale eyes she could see that he would stand by the decision of the council, but there was apology, confusion, even comfort and hope. Though his expression remained still as stone, his eyes begged her to accept and stay, begged her to remain as the daughter he was still only getting to know.
Begged her, through a layer of doubt, to turn her back on the woman she loved.
Admittedly, there was an instance in which Hinata almost thought she would do it. Not for the clan or for honor, but for the man she was still awkward in thinking of as her father. For him and the plea in his eyes, she thought that just maybe it was worth it to give in.
Then she saw those eyes again, that hair; heard that voice and felt those loving arms around her.
No matter what they take from me...
"I am in love with Haruno Sakura, and she with me. I will not treat her with shame."
"Then so be it," the elder to her father's right all but spat at her. "You have until tomorrow to gather your belongings from your room."
"I understand," Hinata answered, unable to keep her voice from harboring a tremble. She turned her eyes back to her father, heart stuck by needles at his unguarded, wounded expression. Hiashi looked tired, and for the first time she could remember, Hinata saw an old man in her father's place. A pang of guilt hit her, but she shook it off. With a slight bow, "Hiashi-sama."
Returning the gesture, "Hinata-san."
Offering a slight nod to the elders, Hinata stood up, a feeling of pins and needles shooting through her legs. Lightheadedness overcame Hinata and for a fearful instant she thought she might pass out. Fortunately, the sensation passed and Hinata made it to the door without incident in spite of a few stumbling steps. There she paused and glanced back over her shoulder. She was met by a wall of cold, abhorrent glares. Only one of the men in the room didn't look upon her in antipathy, and he wasn't looking at her at all.
Even before she was out the door, Hinata felt as though a thick wall separated her from her father. It wasn't at all unfamiliar. Contrarily, it had been there for years, protecting him from the disappointment of his first born. In the last few years it had begun to crumble at their feet, giving way to a chance at true togetherness between the two of them. But now it was built back in all its foreboding glory, keeping them away from each other. This time, Hinata didn't doubt, it would separate them for good.
Closing the screen door behind her, Hinata willed herself not to fall back against it. Greater than the desire to just fall down was the need to run as far away as she could. Had she had that much power over her legs at the moment, she might've gone through with the notion. As it was, walking alone, truly alone, was enough to make the idea of collapse more appealing.
"You're still here."
Brought back to reality by the voice, Hinata dragged her gaze from the floor and found her sister standing before her. Upon Hanabi's face was a look of confident knowing. Hinata furrowed her brow at Hanabi's words and facial expression, not understanding- then it hit her and she smiled sadly.
"I have until tomorrow to get my things."
"You... what?" Hanabi's eyes widened as realization dawned. "Are you saying that you... you chose that girl over your own family?"
"They had no right to make me choose," Hinata asserted, feeling long, cold fingers wrap around her heart. She had already lost her father; she didn't want to lose her little sister too.
"You shouldn't have to choose!"
"That's what I-"
"No, you shouldn't have to choose because it's no choice," Hinata was cut off for the umpteenth time that day. "You have- had, excuse me, a responsibility as heiress. You already lost it once and still you take it for granted? Just throw it away?"
"It wasn't as if it was easy for me, Hanabi," Hinata tried to reason. "But I won't turn my back on Sakura because the elders don't understand what we have."
"But you'll turn your back on your /father/, your si... your whole /clan/, Hinata! All just because you don't want to lose your little girlfriend?"
"Sakura is more than that, Hanabi," begged Hinata. "What we have is more than that!"
"What you have is sick! Wrong!" Hanabi accused, trapping Hinata with her lone glare as effectively as the five elder Hyuuga had minutes ago. "This wouldn't be happening if you were in the right!"
"Hanabi, please understand," Hinata reached out for her sister, only to have Hanabi pull back as if burned. "Please, I've been disowned. The two of us may not have a chance to see one another again for a long time, and-"
"Good!" Hanabi raged, hurt and distrust reflecting in her eyes. "I don't want to see, don't even want to be around, someone as disloyal to her own clan as you are. I... you... you sicken me."
With these parting words, Hanabi turned away and fled down the hall, putting as much distance between herself and her sister as she could. Hinata could only stand there, frozen in place. Watching Hanabi run, Hinata was looking through another wall. This one seemed even more foreboding if only because it hadn't been there before. Although Hanabi had treated her with the same cool disregard as the rest of the clan had, no animosity had ever existed between them. There had been no reason for it. Now, Hinata felt like she could reach out and take a handful of the uncertain hatred that Hanabi spilled in her wake.
Not knowing what else to do, Hinata continued on her way out. She tried to rationalize the situation by telling herself that Hanabi was just confused. Having never been in love, Hanabi simply couldn't understand why her sister would turn away from her place as heiress after the unspeakable honor of having the title returned. Surely no true hatred was between them. Surely not.
Lost in thought, Hinata was surprised when she found herself outside. Permitting a sliver of a smile, she looked back up at the impressive Hyuuga compound. Here, some of her loneliest years had been spent. Here, she was just beginning to feel that she was home. In spite of everything that had taken place in her earlier years of life, she would miss it.
Again shoved from her train of thought, Hinata spun around in search of the interruption. The voice was one that she knew well. Neji-nii-san was out here somewhere, going through his morning exercise routine. He didn't take long to spot amongst the inanimate scenery of the yard.
Sweaty, shirtless and hair in a mess, Neji-nii-san embodied grace itself as he moved through his stances with flawless precision. A breeze blew gently, and Hinata found herself momentarily caught up in the beauty of her cousin. Then he spotted her, prepared to smile in greeting, and froze as he caught her eye.
The wind picked up.
No words passed between the two of them. Hinata could tell that Neji-nii-san knew by looking at her what had happened. An anger and hurt bared itself in his eyes that surpassed that of either her father or sister. Hinata could only guess that he was like Hanabi on the matter. As someone who had envied the Main House for years, he couldn't understand why she would throw away her place in it. To add insult to injury, she had turned down the idea of him as her husband along with the council's offer. Perhaps he saw that as some kind of personal rejection.
The need to reassure him rose in her chest, and Hinata opened her mouth to speak. She didn't know what she was going to say, only that she needed him to understand. Her words were cut off before they began when he turned away from her and went on with his exercises. His movements were no longer effortless and fluid but forced and almost jerky. Not wishing to watch someone else she loved through a wall, Hinata quietly made her way out the front gate. This time she didn't look back.
Walking, not caring where to, Hinata felt tears prick the backs of her eyes. She had never been a crier, in spite of everything. It wasn't just because Naruto-kun never cried; her disappointment to the clan had never been an uncertain matter and crying over her treatment as such felt selfish. Looked down on enough, Hinata had been unwilling to compile more to her list of discrepancies. Now it was she who had been wronged, and she was almost ready to give in to the sobs she was now swallowing. The words of the council and her sister prevented the tears from falling at the last moment. Could it be that she had let her clan down yet again?
A sob escaped and Hinata all but slapped a hand over her mouth. No matter how much a good cry might well be called for, this was not the time. First, she had to find a way to adapt to her new situation. Evicted from the only home she'd ever known, she had nowhere to live. Normally when dealing with issues with her family, she would go to Kurenai-sensei. Now ugly rumors were flying around about herself and her sensei, grotesque lies about their close relationship. Both had agreed that, until things settled down, it would be best for the two of them not to associate as closely as they usually did. Staying with Kurenai-sensei, even temporarily, was thus out of the question.
As for her two teammates, Hinata was simply unsure of just where she stood with them. She and Shino-kun had never been particularly close, Shino-kun not being the type to get close with anyone. And while Hinata was to understand that he had spoken- actually spoken- on her behalf, she could feel that some sort of distance had come between them. There was none of the repugnance that she had experienced from her family, but he seemed to be uncomfortable or displeased in her presence. A pang of guilt struck Hinata at the thought, for she had a sliver of an inkling of an idea why he might be upset with the situation.
A shake of her head cleared the guilt. It was only a feeling, with no physical evidence to back it up. And in spite of it, she didn't think Shino-kun would turn her away if he knew her predicament... But then there were the other Aburame to consider, and she had no idea how they might view the situation. Truth be told, they had always made her feel a tad uneasy, albeit unintentionally, and the mere thought of the whole of the Aburame clan turned on her was enough to make Hinata shudder.
Kiba-kun was another mystery. Hinata had witnessed him openly and passionately defending her, but he too appeared uncertain and uncomfortable around her. It was as though her relationship with Sakura changed the way he should treat her, as if he no longer knew how to handle her. Besides, his mother and especially his beautiful sister made the option of staying at the main Inuzuka household null. On a barely lower level of concern, Tsume-san was another Hinata shuddered to think turned on her.
Swiping a hand over her eyes in case any tears had escaped without her notice, Hinata decided that it might be in her best interest to seek out Sakura. While staying with her was probably out of the question, knowing the conservative mother and father that had nearly had heart attacks upon finding out about the relationship despite being ultimately accepting it, Hinata was sure that Sakura would know what to do. In Sakura were so many of the qualities that had drawn Hinata to Naruto-kun for so long- and more. Hinata wasn't thinking as strait as she'd have liked to have been, and she was certain that her Sakura would be able to help her sort everything out.
/My Sakura/, Hinata thought with a blush. She must have picked it up just that morning from the elders.
Taking a big breath, Hinata took a quick glance at her surroundings. She was close to the village market, subconsciously walking towards Sakura's house. All around her, people gave her a series of interesting looks. Some were disgusted like the elders' had been. Some were curious, others worrisome. A few people, all male from what she could tell, threw her knowing smirks. A pink dust of shame settled over Hinata's cheeks and she sped up her pace.
Why do people care? Hinata wondered with an edge of desperation. Is it because I'm the- because I was the heiress of the Hyuuga clan? Because Sakura is Tsunade-sama's apprentice? Maybe both...? It was a streak of cruelty not usually found in Hinata that had her thinking that perhaps these people had no lives of their own to mind.
Just ahead, reflecting late morning sunshine, she spotted the sign announcing the Yamanaka Flower Shop. Sakura's house wasn't much further.
An elderly woman walked out of the shop just as Hinata was about to pass it, and a very familiar laugh followed her out.
I guess Sakura must be in the shop visiting Ino.
At the thought, Hinata was overcome a chill that she couldn't explain. Halting, she peered through one of the large windows, past the flowers displayed there. Ino was at the counter, apparently on duty. Across from her, seated on a stool, was Sakura. The two of them were talking amiably about something that Hinata couldn't hear. The chill instantly dropped in temperature. There was something wrong with this.
It wasn't until the pair laughed at something between them and Ino placed her hand over Sakura's that Hinata was hit by the full force of what she was seeing. Sakura and Ino were talking together, laughing together, /touching/. Despite knowing what Sakura was, Ino willing submitted to contact, initiated contact.
Hinata's rational thought was rudely pushed aside to make way for hurt, anger and jealousy. Not even fully aware of what she was doing, Hinata stalked over to the door and yanked it open, nearly jerking it off its hinges. Instead of a friendly jingle, the bells over the doorway clanged irritably to announce her arrival.
Shocked at the intrusion, Sakura and Ino both jumped, Sakura swiveling in her seat to see Hinata at the door. Sakura froze, obviously not knowing what to make of her normally sweet, quiet girlfriend standing in the doorway and looking ready to kill. In her surprise, Ino had tightened her grip on Sakura's hand. Now she too stood unmoving and unsure.
"H-Hinata?" Sakura stuttered, stunned. Hinata's only response was to stalk a few paces into the store and then freeze, her field of vision zeroing in on Ino's hand on Sakura's. It was a casual touch between close friends- the kind of touch that Hinata's own sister had denied her.
Snapping back to reality, Ino followed Hinata's line of vision. Upon spotting the source of the problem, she jerked her hand away like she'd been caught doing something wrong. The movement also caused Hinata to shift her glare to Ino alone, succeeding in making said blonde shudder at the look in her eyes, the look of a desperate animal.
"You touched her," Hinata accused Ino in a hiss, her throat tight. "Why?"
"Hinata, it was only a casual touch," assured Ino, arms akimbo. "It was nothing."
"Then why did you do it?" Hinata demanded, begged. "Why was your hand on hers?"
"I... we weren't doing anything," was all Ino could say. She clearly didn't know what else to say about it.
"Hinata, what's the matter?" Sakura asked, concern radiating from her entire being. She stood up, intending to get closer to Hinata, but stopped when Hinata took a step back as if to run away.
"Tell me why you were touching," this time Hinata's voice came out in a clear plea. "My own sister backed off of me like I was a leper. They... they..!"
"What?" Sakura questioned, eyes flashing. "Hinata, who did what to you? What has you this upset?"
For a moment, the room and the girls in it were only a blur to Hinata. Even when the odd phenomenon passed, Hinata's vision was murky as though she were under water. It wasn't until she finally took note of the hot trails blazing down her cheeks that she realized she was crying. With a strangled sob, she finally gave in to the desire to just fall down.
Before she had a chance to hit the ground, Hinata was in Sakura's arms. Ino stood over them, consternation plastered over her features.
"Why?" Hinata choked.
Ino and Sakura shared an anxious look over her head, making Hinata want to scream. Instead, she settled into Sakura's embrace, hungry for the warmth and the comfort.
The moment was broken when someone tried to walk into the store only to nearly trip over Sakura and Hinata on the floor. Ino was quick to push the man back out, telling him to come back in ten minutes. Hastily hanging the "out to lunch" sign on the door, Ino knelt to help Sakura bring the reluctant Hinata to her feet.
"Storage room," Ino grunted under Hinata's uncooperative weight.
With a nod, Sakura led Hinata to the door to the storage room where they could get some privacy. Once inside, Hinata was gently seated on a bench and Ino took Sakura's arm to get her to the side to talk. Seeing this reminded Hinata of her original fury, and she pulled away, trying to get to the door. Sakura grabbed her around the waist to stop her, frantically asking what the matter was. Hinata simply struggled further until a wave of exhaustion caused her to slump in Sakura's hold.
"They kicked me out," she whimpered, barely audible.
"What?" Ino looked up at Sakura in confusion. The two of them managed to get Hinata back to the bench, Sakura sitting beside her.
"The elders," Hinata sighed, letting more tears run down her face, "my /father/. They kicked me out."
"They what?" Sakura's eyes went wide, her chin all but dropping into her lap.
"I'm disowned," Hinata said. "I have until tomorrow to get my things."
"Oh, /hell/, no," Ino fumed. "Those... that /bastard/!"
"He wouldn't have had a choice in the end," Hinata shook her head. "But then Hanabi... she wouldn't let me near her. She ran away from contact with me, said I made her sick."
"Oh, Hinata," Sakura soothed, rubbing circles into Hinata's back, tears coming to her eyes on Hinata's behalf.
"Neji-nii-san wouldn't even do that much. He wouldn't speak to me."
"Neji wouldn't?" Sakura asked hesitantly, something that looked like guilt flickering fleetingly over her features. "I'm sorry, Hinata."
"You're sorry?" Hinata asked, icicles hanging from her words. "You're /sorry/?"
In a rush of adrenalin, Hinata pulled away from Sakura, brushed right by Ino's attempt to grab her and then wheeled on both of them. Where she had played the helpless rabbit to her family, Hinata was now the unlikely bird of prey, trapping both Ino and Sakura in the hot, irrational fury of her gaze.
"Hinata," Ino said, exasperated and annoyed, "what-"
"What do you have to be sorry about?" Hinata fairly growled, surprising the other two girls so that they each took a step back. "What have you lost? Everything is falling down, crumbling all around me, and what do you have to be sorry for? Friends who are willing to touch you? Parents who let you stay in their home?"
Sakura said nothing, but took on a wounded look. Ino's eyes narrowed dangerously and her lips curled up in a snarl. In the following silence, Hinata felt a wave of guilt crash over her, drag her far into its frigid depths. It was Ino's palm landing smartly across Hinata's face that pulled Hinata back to solid ground, shame still lapping at her ankles.
"Ino!" Sakura cried in horror, grabbing the offending hand by the wrist. "What the hell was that?"
"I don't care what she is to you, forehead girl," Ino now turned on Sakura, pulled her hand away, "or what she's dealing with. She's not going to talk to you that way. I'm not going to stand here and let her blame you for this."
Sakura opened her mouth and then closed it again, shifting her eyes wearily between Ino and Hinata. Ino stood her ground, but Hinata surrendered to her nature and looked away. The tears had stopped, chased away by mortification. Although there was no clock in the room, Hinata could hear the seconds ticking by. It was a voice from the outside that broke the quiet.
"Ino?" Inoichi called.
"Coming!" Ino answered, throwing Hinata one last dirty look and Sakura one Hinata couldn't read before leaving. Ino slammed the door as she went, and Hinata could just hear her explaining the situation to Inoichi.
Even though they were now a person short, the room felt crowded, reminding Hinata of her trek to the council room. The air was heavy and she could not look at Sakura. At last Sakura sighed and took it upon herself to approach. Hinata went rigid, still refusing to make eye contact. When Sakura reached one hand, pulsing warm from chakra, to Hinata's stinging cheek, Hinata jerked away and raised her own hand in its place, amateurishly applying her chakra for first aid. She didn't deserve for Sakura to sooth her.
But Sakura was not to be discouraged. She raised her hand again, cautious this time, and gently shooed Hinata's away. Hinata gave in and cuddled gratefully to the touch and allowed Sakura to lead them back to sit on the bench.
"Hinata?" Sakura spoke softly, thumbing small circles on Hinata's cheek. "Hinata, do you remember when we told Naruto?"
"Sakura-chan... you... Do you love her?" Imploring.
"Yes." Confident, firm, unashamed.
"And she loves you..." A questioning look over Sakura's shoulder to where Hinata stood.
"I do." Less firm maybe, but just as confident and lacking in shame.
Quiet deliberation, frantic heartbeats; clear blue eyes, almost too pretty for a boy, shifting to look from green eyes to lavender and back again. A nod at the girl standing closest, a determined stride toward the other. An expression fierce, warning, giving way to a smile that should not fit the face.
"Welcome to the family, Hinata-chan!" An exuberant hug.
A Hyuuga girl simply too overwhelmed not to faint...
It was the ghost of a smile that managed to present itself on Hinata's trembling lips that answered the question. Telling Naruto-kun was a moment Hinata didn't feel she would ever forget. Not only had she never imagined herself telling Naruto-kun of her feelings for anyone but him, the idea of how he would react to her relationship with Sakura scared her nigh witless- and it had been Sakura's place to tell anyway!
"I was so happy when he accepted us," Sakura continued softly. "I was so relieved that I wouldn't lose him- and he was so upset when he realized I'd been afraid I might."
"Ino-san was like that," said Hinata, voice cracked.
"Yeah," Sakura chuckled lightly. "That was another interesting experience."
"You're not kidding, are you?" Shock, disbelief.
"No, Ino, I'm not." Ground held confidently; a silent dare that need not be explained.
"You and... you and Hinata here? I mean, uh, you're...?"
"I'm bisexual." Something very close to amusement.
"But what about that thing she has for Naruto?"
"I-I really only admired Naruto-kun very greatly." Not quite embarrassment. "That's the reason why I had a crush on him so long. After getting to know him and getting to know Sakura, though..."
"You like chicks and you've never once made a pass at me? How the hell am I supposed to take that? And what am I supposed to say to her?" A nod to Hinata. "I had a whole speech worked out for the guy you finally settled down on and here you are showing off a timid girl!"
"... Ino?" Uncertainty, hope.
"What? Oh, you thought I was gonna freak out and lynch you, huh? Sorry, ladies, but I'll do nothing of the sort. Pick yourselves some flowers and then I'm treating you to dinner. A lesbian and she's never hit on me..."
At the memory, Hinata allowed a sickly chuckle. After them, telling Sai-kun, Kakashi-san and Tsunade-sama had seemed easy. Sai-kun apparently didn't know better as he'd never put much study to homosexuality, and couldn't figure out why he should care ("Good for you for finding someone who doesn't mind how ugly you are, though."). Kakashi-san, while surprised, hadn't had much to say other than blessing the relationship ("For all I'm sure the two of you care whether I approve or not."). Tsunade-sama had been quite approving, and also quite unsurprised ("If I couldn't see it coming, I'd have no place as a shinobi, let alone as Hokage. Just promise to take care of each other.").
Tsunade-sama's reaction had been quite a shock. Hinata and Sakura had only gotten really close within the last few months. Hinata, along with all the other active Hyuuga, had been selected for medical training several years ago, but it wasn't Hinata's major line of work just as it wasn't Ino's. Slowly, though, as more work led them together, Hinata and Sakura-san had started spending more time together. It was something Hinata had tried and failed to pinpoint to one moment in time more than once. She remembered there had been a point when getting close to Sakura-san meant simply getting close to Naruto-kun. Then she was close to Naruto-kun- but after a while it didn't mean as much; Naruto-kun was her friend, and a good one. Maybe after that, maybe before, maybe at the same time, Sakura was more than just her good friend.
"You're parents didn't take it so well," Hinata recalled. Sakura's hand was still where it had been, even though Hinata's cheek didn't hurt any more. Hinata had no intention to complain. "But they still..."
"I'm sorry for what's happened to you, Hinata," Sakura said, her hand going from Hinata's cheek to chin and urging upward, making Hinata look her in the eye. "It's wrong, what the council and your father did, and I'm sorry Hanabi and Neji got caught up in it. You know I love you, and I'll do everything I can to help, and I'm sorry that this has to happen to you... But, Hinata..."
Sakura's eyes, still glimmering with tears for Hinata's situation, grew firm. Sakura's voice lost some of its gentleness.
"I'm sorry I can't suffer with you. But I will not be sorry that my friends and family stood by me. I don't think you have the right to ask me to be."
"No, I don't," Hinata said, pulling from Sakura's grasp to swipe at the tears that still clung to her face. "I-I'm sorry, Sakura. I was just so- no, that's no excuse. I-"
Smiling, Sakura leaned in and silenced Hinata with a soft kiss.
"It's okay, Hi-chan," said Sakura, using the nickname that was more of a tease than anything else. "I forgive you."
"You shouldn't," said Hinata seriously, averting her eyes. "It's just that after my team seemed to take it so well... and now this."
"Yeah... Um, I did apologize about that little scene didn't I? I knew that you wanted to be the one to tell them, but..."
"Oh, hey, Sakura." Curiosity at the intrusion; a pause in the pseudo-fetch he'd been playing with Akamaru.
Nothing from Shino, as to be expected.
"Sakura-san, is there something you need?" Worry; shouldn't Sakura be at work?
"No, I just came along to drop Hi-chan off before going to work." A strangled gasp from the Hyuuga girl, a kiss on the cheek to her from Sakura. "I'll see for dinner, right?"
"What the- huh?" Wide eyes, his jaw in his lap- easily accessible since the fall flat on his butt.
Stunned silence from Kurenai; a cocked head from Akamaru; no telling what from Shino.
"Hm? Hasn't Hi-chan told you yet?" Feigned confusion worthy of an award.
"S-Sakura, I... I told you th-that I-!"
"Back the hell up- told us what exactly?" Not needing told; wanting told.
"Uh, Hinata, is this...?"
"It did seem that you spent a lot of time together." Funny that the words, only because of their source, are more cause for surprise than the subject at hand.
"S-Sakura and I, uh..." A cleared throat, a sure however quiet voice. "Sakura and I are dating. We're in love."
"Are you certain?"
"I mean, if you're... yeah." A firm look and a gruff warning. "You better take care of her then, Haruno."
"You'll kill me if I don't." An order, nothing more or less.
"No matter how fast you try to run." A promise behind a grin.
"This is certainly a surprise." Obviously an understatement. "But if you're happy... Well, you don't need to worry about any trouble from me. I guess that's something of the real issue here?"
An almost apologetic nod.
More silence from Shino; no animosity, at least.
"Heh." A grin something like wicked, a flash of kunai-sharp canines. "At least I finally have a teammate who I can talk to about chi- uh, girls."
"I think you would have had to help me eventually," Hinata admitted. "Although I remember that I wasn't pleased about it then." Suddenly, Hinata realized what Sakura had just done and straitened up a bit, tried to sound sanctimonious. "But I suppose I can forgive you."
With a light giggle, Sakura gave Hinata another chaste kiss in gratitude. Hinata sighed, still trapped beneath the dark clouds of her current circumstances.
"Maybe if I had been open with my family in the first place, this wouldn't have happened."
"I doubt it, Hi-chan," Sakura said, trying to lighten the mood with her silly pet name. "If they would actually throw you out... Grr, I could just-! Did they even let you speak for yourself or just hand you an eviction notice?"
"There was a hearing," Hinata said, feeling defensive in spite of herself. "They wanted to hear about us strait from me, and asked what I planned to do about an heir-"
"If they wanted an heir, you could give them one," Sakura interjected. "We haven't really talked about that, but-"
"They said they didn't want an illegitimate heir."
"A /what/? Why those... So they kicked you out after they decided that?"
"They had already decided. They wanted to make sure I knew what they thought of the whole thing."
"Wait a minute," Sakura said, growing progressively more enraged. "Was there any point to this meeting aside from humiliating you?"
"They offered me a compromise. They offered me a chance to stay."
"What? But, Hinata, why didn't you-?"
"If I let them choose a husband for me, they would let me keep you as a mistress- as long as we remained discreet."
"That was their compromise?" Sakura asked incredulously. "After not wanting an illegitimate heir, they were going to have you sneak around in exchange for accepting the husband they chose for you?"
"I told them it was out of the question. They were going to marry me to Neji-nii-san, and I refuse to put people I love in that kind of position- you as something wrong and Neji-nii-san as an arranged husband."
Something that Hinata couldn't read sparked in Sakura's eyes at the mention of a marriage to Neji-nii-san, and again at the refusal of it, but Hinata had no time to try and decipher the meaning; Sakura pulled her into a tight hug.
"I love you," Hinata said tightly. "I wouldn't let them take you away from me. But..."
"You can cry, Hinata," said Sakura. "It's okay."
And so Hinata did, hard and loud into Sakura's chest. Sakura rubbed Hinata's back and whispered encouraging words and rocked the two of them in a methodic rhythm. Hinata clutched at Sakura as if Sakura were the only thing keeping her from drowning, and made verbal her frustrations. Sakura held tighter; she didn't want Hinata to drown either.
"K-Kurenai-sensei isn't Tsunade-sama," Hinata sobbed. "People can say things they wouldn't dare about Tsunade-sama. The things they're /saying/, Sakura!"
"It's okay," Sakura whispered, as one might to a frightened child. "It will pass, and people will move on. No one cares as much as it seems like they do right now. Soon people will be asking 'Kurenai who?' and no one will remember why it should be wrong that you're so close. It may not seem like it, but those people have lives of their own to tend to."
Through her sobs, Hinata managed a hiccup-ridden laugh.
"Kiba-kun and Shino-kun seem to be on my side, but they avoid me too," said Hinata. Then, with a trace of guilt, "I th-think I might know why Shino-"
"If they have a problem, it's their responsibility to come to you," Sakura said firmly. "You fulfilled your part of obligation by telling them- even if Kiba did throw a fit when he found out we'd told Naruto first."
This elicited another weak giggle from Hinata; her tears were starting to subside.
"I just don't know what I'm going to do," said Hinata with an air of hopelessness.
"You're going to dust yourself off and show everyone how strong you are. This talk will all pass, Shino and Kiba will come around and you'll live on without your so-called family." Sakura's voice softened when Hinata flinched at the last par. "Maybe they'll come around too."
"I don't think so," Hinata said, managing a smile, "but thank you."
"You will be okay," said Sakura without a trace of uncertainty. "It may take a little while, but you'll find somewhere to live and you'll live. Until then, you can stay with me."
"Oh, Sakura, I can't! E-even if your parents allowed it, people would-"
"They'll be saying, 'Sakura who? What relationship? Why do I care?'" Sakura grinned, but then regarded Hinata seriously. "I'm not too worried about me- having superhuman strength and giving physicals will give a person that kind of power- but if this is about you, I understand. We'll figure out another solution."
"No," Hinata sniffled, wiping her runny nose. "If it's okay, I'll stay with you."
"It'll be okay," Sakura assured softly, like a cool breeze in summer, meaning the statement in more ways than one. "It'll be okay."
Now Sakura broke the embrace, though she didn't let go of Hinata. Instead she took firm hold of Hinata's shoulders to help said Hyuuga sit strait and proud. Looking deep into Hinata's eyes, Sakura silently said too much to try to convey in mere words. Then she leaned in and said it with a kiss, notably less chaste than the two before it. Sighing contentedly, feeling the weight of anxiety lifting hesitantly off her shoulders, Hinata leaned in to return it.
Sakura broke away to trail feather-light kisses down the salty trails Hinata's tears had traced over cheeks and chin, going from one eye down and then back up to the other from the chin. Something between a sigh and a moan idled past Hinata's lips. It was with a smile that Sakura returned her lips to Hinata's, pulled Hinata against her yet again.
"Sakura-san, is Hinata-san o- Oh, excuse me!"
Hinata and Sakura pulled away from each other snapped their attention to the door where a rather sheepish Inoichi stood, eyes averted and throat being cleared noisily. Ino stood at his side with a glass of water in her hand and a smirk stretching her lips. There was something in Hinata's gut- or maybe in Ino's face- that told her she didn't need to worry about explaining herself to Ino, provoking a cross of relief and mild annoyance.
"I thought you might like some water, Hinata," Ino said, eyes twinkling to suggest more would be heard of this at some time or another, some time when Inoichi was back about his business.
"Ah, yes, thank you, Ino," Hinata all but mumbled, shocking herself when she was able to stand to accept it without fainting of embarrassment.
"No problem at all," said Ino as she handed the glass to Hinata. Inoichi had scurried off, muttering something about minding the store. "Sorry about earlier. No hard feelings?"
Even if Hinata didn't know Ino, she would know the apology to be insincere. To Ino, the action had been justified. Hinata felt inclined to agree.
"You're not sorry, really, and I don't blame you," said Hinata, looking Ino in the eye. "There are no hard feelings- and thank you."
Ino winked and grinned, silently assuring she would do the same if the need arose. Hinata smiled back, assuring that it would not.
"So," said Ino cheerfully, "stay for dinner?"
"Maybe we'll come back," Sakura spoke up, "but we need to go talk with my parents."
"Right," nodded Ino, cementing Hinata's theory from earlier. "Good luck with that."
"We'll need it," said Sakura dryly, wrapping an arm around Hinata's waist. "Let's get going, Hinata."
"If things don't work out," Ino said to Hinata while walking them to the door, past where Inoichi had more or less immersed himself in attending a customer, "you're welcome to stay with me until you get a place of your own."
"Thank you," said Hinata, her smile becoming more sincere.
"Thanks, Ino-pig," Sakura said as she led Hinata away. "And I'll see about dinner tomorrow, if tonight doesn't work out."
"It'll have to be the night after," Ino said. "Chouji and I are busy tomorrow. Would that be okay with you, Hinata?"
"It should be," said Hinata. "Thank you."
"Alright then. Hope to see the both of you back tonight," Ino waved them off before going back inside.
"Feeling any better?" Sakura asked as they walked.
"Yeah," Hinata admitted. "It still hurts, but I'll be okay."
"Of course you will," Sakura encouraged. "Things will work out, you'll see."
Hinata nodded and smiled, not answering. Maybe it was selfish, but she wanted Sakura to keep assuring her, to keep holding her even though Hinata had decided that no matter how anything else worked out, everything was worth it as long as she had Sakura by her side.
So, that's that. I tried for a very long time to write an ending that wouldn't ooze sap, whether or not you choose to believe it. I do believe this is the longest chapter of anything- and then some- I've ever written. Sad...
I did sprinkle a few hints of unreciprocated feelings for flavor, but I won't insult anyone by spooning them out to you. If you know me, you'll probably recognize the suggestions for what they are; if you don't, you still might- or you might take them as something else. It's not important; I just felt that it should be made clear so I don't get any questions of whether So-and-so is intended to have a crush on Whomever. The universal answer: probably. If you really, really need to know for sure, feel free to drop me a line.
Praise appreciated, concrit treasured, flames raspberried