The good left undone

Chapter 5

Final chapter

Outside Hinata's room, groaning Hyūga picked themselves up and salvaged things that still had use after the storm that was Uzumaki Naruto had passed. They shuffled around meagerly with creaking backs and busted faces and wondered how to explain the collateral damage, consisting of expensive broken vases and dented walls, to their leaders. In the meantime, Hinata had stiffened at the alarming sound; a thud that eerily resembled a dropped lump of meat, and perched up on her knees while glaring wide-eyed at the door separating her from the chaos outside. Hinata felt whatever resolution she had, slip from her like sunlight past the crack of a poorly closed curtain. Sensing white hot panic seize the base of her throat once more, Hinata reached for the door and placed a trembling palm against it as if the hard surface could also support her mental state.

This feeling jarred her, made her aware of how she was missing from the side of the man she had promised to walk beside.

Neji was right. Fate was indeed a cruel thing.

Hinata gritted her teeth and pulled her hand back. With the way things stood Hinata couldn't very well fight her clan, couldn't selfishly ask anyone to jeopardize their lives for her, couldn't beg the Hokage for help without straining the relationship between her clan and the political ties it had with the Hokage—perhaps even risking an uprising that vaguely made her think of the Uchiha clan—and neither could she run away without leaving the dutiful Hanabi behind to fend for herself. The more she thought about her situation, the deeper she sank in the quicksand that had become her life.

Hinata repeatedly pounded her head on her knees in a fit of frustration as though she could beat the thoughts out. One thing was for sure. Nothing worth having came easy.

Her forehead burned.

Murmurs behind her door pulled her from her reverie. Head shooting up, Hinata tuned her ears to a familiar low-pitched hum. Her guards were present, that much was now certain, but Hinata discerned three different voices; one of which she knew by heart.

The door creaked open. The bones in her legs crackled when she shot up, body prepared to cling to the man who was about to step in her room. Her heart was pounding in her ears, racing a mile a minute and her stomach felt too taut, painful tight, like it was trying to curl up in itself. If this kept up, a panic attack might rear its head again.

The man closed the door behind him and Hinata narrowly caught a curious glance thrown over the shoulder of a guard, before the wood pried him from her sight.

She drew in a sharp breath, allowed the ball of air in her lungs to satiate the agitation in her heart. What a monster it was. So stubborn and hardheaded during moments where it was best off lying low. Hinata breathed out a part of her tension as she managed to ask: ''Is he…?''

Neji had the uncanny ability to understand Hinata even when she made little sense.

Her older cousin looked like he was contemplating what to share judging from his narrowed gaze and pursed lips. He took his time staring at an unparticular spot behind her head as if it held the answers to his current dilemma. Perhaps what he was going to tell Hinata in the confines of her room would be too much for her to bear. Did he think she was that delicate—or was the truth a bitter pill to swallow regardless of who stood in front of him?

At last, Neji-niisan had sufficiently gathered his words, Hinata could only assume, because he began to speak. ''He's sad,'' Neji tried at first.

He searched her room for something to busy himself with or perhaps Neji couldn't bear to look at her either. Maybe the sight of her face made his stomach churn like it did to hers.

His eyes fell on a forlorn forest green chair in the right corner of her room, near the foot of her bed and he walked toward it. Turning it around, so he faced his cousin, Neji took a seat. They stared at each other for a brief moment before he darted his eyes away, sighing. ''No… perhaps 'sad' is expressing things too lightly. Naruto appeared devastated. And too be honest, I have… never seen him like this before.''

Her heart painfully squeezed together. Her hand made haste to grab the fabric of her shirt between her breasts as though she could hold the bleeding organ in her hand and lull it to sleep. Hinata wasn't aware of the expression she was currently making, but Neji must not have liked the look on her face, because he quickly jumped in to ease the brunt of his words. ''Hinata-sama, this is not your fault. You put your clan first! Nothing less can—or should—be expected of an heir. Neither could you have known how Naruto… would react. And Hyūga-sama…'' His gaze turned downcast as he referred to her father, shaking his head madly, ''has left you little to no choice. To think you could make any other decision is unconscionable—''

''Is this the right thing to do?''

He paused, taken aback by the sudden interruption and confused about the direction their conversation was taking. ''What?''

Her eyes snapped toward him then and Neji shuddered at how hollow they looked. ''Is this the right thing to do, Neji-niisan,'' she repeated.

It was disquieting how Hinata appeared to stare at him, but at the same time wasn't staring at him at all. She seemed far away. Not quite here. Neji might as well have been standing in his underwear and Hinata wouldn't have given a peep. It was the look in her eyes that was so unnerving. It made Neji feel like a ghost that had outstayed its welcome and had finally been caught by an exorcist.

''I have been thinking and thinking and thinking and my mind hurts and my heart,'' her fist pressed hard against the surface of her chest, ''hurts so much. I have been backtracking and wondering what I could do to protect Hanabi and Naruto-kun and our family. I keep asking myself: what part of me must I sacrifice in order to make everyone happy? But whatever I come up with, whatever I think to do,'' her eyes began to water, lips quivering in an attempt to hold back the tears. The blood drew back from her knuckles as her skin strained against the brittle bones of her fingers. ''Someone always ends up hurt. Am I right for protecting Hanabi instead of fighting for Naruto-kun or am I supposed to let Hanabi down and follow Naruto-kun wherever it may take me? Neji-niisan, am I doing the right thing?''

''You are looking out for your family.'' He told her patiently. He stood up from his chair and cautiously approached her like one would a frightened wild animal, palms of his hands directed outwards in a placating manner. ''You are giving up the man you have loved almost your entire life, even though you don't want to. Not many can muster up that kind of courage, because this is strength, Hinata-sama,'' he assured her. ''It takes strength to give something so important up.''

''I'm not so sure I want to possess this kind of strength,'' she whispered, surprising herself though her words were without lies.

The prodigal cousin casted his gaze downwards. It wasn't hard to imagine what she was going through. He too had found himself on a junction where duty and love where put on opposing paths. Neji would be lying if he were to say that he had never been swayed to forgo duty… and yet here he was. The dutiful cousin. The prodigal boy; ready to jump lest he is told not to. There were times he pondered whether he was truly happy; if the decisions he made in order to come to this point had been the right ones, and the answer to his questions wouldn't come as swiftly as he hoped. ''Would you rather give up Hanabi-sama?'' He asked her.

''I don't want to give her up.''

''And what of the clan?'' The choice wasn't easy, but Neji believed the answer was clear. ''Would you doom it to an unprosperous fate?''

She shook her head. ''I don't want that either,'' but neither did she want to give Naruto up. She shouldn't be greedy. Hinata couldn't have everything. ''I only wish there was a way I could protect everyone,'' she said through clenched teeth. ''Is that so wrong?''

Neji made sure to look her in the eye when he spoke, ''No, it's not. Unfortunately the cards you have been dealt are not in your favor. I'm sorry. I wish I could have done more for you, but...''

This was his dilemma too. He only hoped giving her an update on Naruto was… something worthwhile.

Hinata moved to sit on her bed as she shook her head. Hinata didn't believe Neji had anything to apologize for. ''It's fine. You've done what you can. You got him out of the mansion, didn't you?'' Even in a lion's den, Naruto had a friend. ''You even spared some time to inform me of his well-being. You've done so much for me. Thank you, brother.'' Her lips tilted into a smile that looked like a grimace, but Neji respectfully decided not to comment on it.

She wanted to be alone now and Neji understood her silent plea after their conversation came to a natural end. He went for the door after squeezing her shoulders in a sign of support and grabbed the knob, twisted it, but paused.

His mouth opened.

Whatever he thought of saying in that sliver of time was swallowed back into the base of his throat as he closed the door behind him. Shrouding her in complete silence.

Hinata wasn't sure how much time she had spent inside her room before she received her second visitor aside from the maid that had dutifully brought Hinata's daily meals. The guards were still glued to the back of her bedroom door as Hinata wasted her days away brooding on her choices. There were times she could hear them whispering, pitying her fate and yet deeming it a necessary one for their futures. For their clan. And try as they might lower their voices so the girl behind the door couldn't hear them, Hinata was still a ninja. Her senses were keen.

Despite how miserable she felt, it surprised her that she was yet to cry. Though appearing as a shell of her former self, Hinata still moved. She still ate. And when the time came to marry, Hinata would still be alive. Her body would drag itself out of bed, hoist itself into a dress and move toward the altar like the dutiful lamb she was tasked to be. However it was as a shell she was found one day, curled up on top of her bed with greasy long hair framing her paler than normal face. A young girl tip-toed into her older sister's room and bore witness to what remained of her, a small figure covered by dirty sheets, and before the younger girl could quietly position herself at her sister's back—probably in order to comfort the ghost-like remnants—a hand grabbed her wrist in a vice-like grip.

The smaller girl froze. Under her fingers, Hinata felt the texture of silk. The smell of bath soap and mint. Hinata assumed it was already late.

Slowly and with her free hand, Hanabi moved her index finger to her lips. Shh.

Hinata simply stared at the spot where she thought her sister must have been.

Hanabi crawled on top of the bed, shuffling closer with her knees and using her one free arm to drag herself toward the vague silhouette of the soon-to-be-wedded heiress of the Hyūga clan. Hanabi didn't stop when they were close enough to feel each other's breaths. Instead, Hanabi placed her head on top of Hinata's shoulder and sighed deeply, no doubt relishing the warmth her older sister radiated. Hinata released Hanabi's wrist and moved her hand to Hanabi's back and like that they stayed, basking in the temporarily silence, on Hinata's messy bed.

It had been a while since she last saw her little sister. With everything that had happened, including Toneri showing up and Hiashi demanding an union between both clans through marriage, Hinata had found herself with little time on her hands to inquire about her sibling's feelings on the matter. Even so, these were troubling times for both sisters. Their freedom was at stake here, although Hinata had implicitly sworn to protect her little sister at all cost, Hanabi wouldn't be safe until Toneri and Hinata were married. The pressure of Hinata's hand on Hanabi's lithe back became a little harder.

''I don't mind,'' Hanabi suddenly said, voice soft as to not wake up any late night patrols and muffled in the crook of Hinata's neck.

By the way, what exactly had happened to the guards at Hinata's door? Were both of them sleeping or had they taken pity on the sisters and granted Hanabi entrance since they hadn't seen each other in a while?

''What's that, bunny?'' Hinata asked, using the endearment reserved for when they were alone.

''Marrying Ōtsutsuki-san. I don't mind marrying him.''

Hinata froze.

Slowly she placed her hands on Hanabi's shoulders and gently pushed her back. Hinata was stunned, to put it nicely.

Though Hanabi couldn't really see Hinata's aghast face, the wide lavender of her eyes stood stark against the darkness. As if what she had said wasn't already horrifying, Hanabi began to patiently explain. ''I overheard some of the members speaking about you after Naruto pulled that crazy stunt. You—never told me he finally reciprocated your feelings.''

''It doesn't matter,'' Hinata swallowed around the lie.

But Hanabi wasn't having any of that. ''Liar. Of course it does. You've loved him probably before I was even born. How could something like that not matter? Whatever,'' Hanabi sighed, looking away. ''I get it. It's because of me, isn't it? You're trying to protect me. I heard that if you don't marry Ōtsutsuki-san, father is going to make me marry him. I'm the reason you can't be with Naruto.''

''Stop it,'' Hinata said firmly, taking Hanabi's hands in hers and squeezing it. ''This is my decision. This is not your fault. I won't have you think otherwise.''

''You're so stupid.''

That made her splutter. ''Eh?''

''Who do you think will be happy after your marriage,'' Hanabi choked. ''After you devote yourself to a man you don't love, who do you think will be happy? Do you think I will hug you when no one is watching and thank you profusely for saving me from a man nearly half my age while you rot away from the inside out? Or do you think Naruto will sigh out in relieve after realizing what for self-sacrificing woman he has come to love as your soul slowly withers away? Do you know what a loveless marriage does to you? It kills you, elder sister. It tears you apart. It makes you feel as though you're no longer living even when you are. Do you think the children you will bring into this world will thank their mother for giving them life as they slowly come to realize their existence is paired with the reason she wants to die? You're so stupid!'' Hanabi wrenched her hands away as Hinata was left feeling completely exposed. Her little sister was shaking. ''No one—absolutely no one who truly loves you—will be happy with this. Stupid Hinata. Stupid!''

Hinata looked down at her hands. They were hovering in the air, torn between reaching for her sister and wrapping them around herself. ''I'm sorry,'' she whispered instead. ''I'm so sorry, Hanabi.''

''Stupid. Don't apologize.''

''I don't want you to suffer.''

''And I don't want you to suffer,'' Hanabi ricocheted. ''What a mess we're in, huh?''

Indeed, but it was now that Hinata had come to realize something very important. While she was busy thinking up ways to protect her loved ones, she had failed to realize her loved ones might want to protect her too. She thought her choice would save Hanabi, but it appeared she had it wrong.

No longer hesitating, Hinata placed a heavy hand on top of Hanabi's crown. Her sister looked up.

''Little bunny,'' Hinata began, schooling her features even though Hanabi couldn't see her. ''Do you think you could arrange for Toneri-san and I to meet?''

Hanabi sat up a little higher. ''Why?'' Hinata imagined seeing a quizzical frown and a small pout on Hanabi's face.

''There's something I need to do. Don't worry,'' she added hastily, already hearing the start of a protest in the way Hanabi exhaled sharply. ''I won't do anything too stupid. I hope. I simply want to talk to him. Could you make that happen for me, please?''

After a beat of silence, Hanabi slowly nodded.

Hinata forced herself to smile. ''Good. Now, you should hurry off to bed. Can't have the guards or maid come in and catch you.''

''Oh, don't worry about that! I threate—err—talked to the guards—''


''And I'll make sure to leave before the maid shows up! Please let me stay for the night. It's been a while, hasn't it?''

Well, Hinata couldn't deny that it had been a while, but what was that about a threat? Perhaps she was better off not finding out. Hinata also reckoned the maid wouldn't make it a too big of a deal if she happened to find Hanabi here in the morning, so she sighed.

''Then, just for tonight, alright?''

Hinata heard loud swishing as Hanabi nodded her head. They crawled underneath the blankets and Hanabi instantly buried herself underneath Hinata's chin, circling her arms around her waist. Hinata made sure to enjoy the moment while it lasted. The citrusy smell of Hanabi's hair. The mint of her breath. The warmth of her skin. It was very peaceful.

''So,'' Hanabi's quiet voice split apart the silence. ''You and Naruto, huh?''

Hinata's heart squeezed painfully.

That didn't seem accurate anymore.

''Never thought he'd realize your feelings, in this life, at least.''

Unable to help herself when thinking about the boy who had captured her heart, Hinata began smiling as she spoke about him. It was natural—loving him—like breathing was. ''He didn't quite realize it. More or less asked.''

''Wh—aat? Seriously?'' Hanabi bristled.

''Yup. I told him, after he told me he loved me.''

Hanabi gasped. ''He told you first?''

Even now it seemed surreal. Naruto had fallen in love with her. Naruto had kissed her. Naruto had made love to her.

Hinata blushed.

''He did,'' Hinata was overcome with a sweet warmth. ''When he said it, I thought life finally made sense. I hadn't even realized something was missing until he told me the words I've longed to hear. It's almost scary how he completes me. Almost.''

Hanabi hummed, moved a little closer. ''Sounds nice,'' she said into Hinata's shirt. ''Loving and being loved, I mean. Don't give him up.''

''I don't want to.''

''Then don't.''

Yes, Hinata had a vague idea on how to put an end to this, once and for all. She just hoped Naruto would be willing to listen to her afterwards, whether it turned out for the better… or for the worse.

The sky was a morose gray when she met Toneri at the front porch of her house. The snow had melted considerably and under the splotches of crystal white glimmered shades of green, soft blades of grass sprouting forth as they sparkled despite the lack of sunlight. Toneri stood on the slight elevation that led them outside, near the ledge, and watched water drip down the grass blades. He seemed entirely too focused on the little happenings of mother nature, but Hinata was sure he had noticed her presence, so she didn't announce herself. Hinata simply clasped her hands together and walked into the cold air in her thin, pale blue, kimono. She had finally washed her hair. It was fastened on top of her head in a neat bun as a few stray strands that had managed to escape, dangled down her neck.

To anyone passing by, these two would look like a perfect married couple drawn artistically on an old painting.

Hinata knelt at the edge of the platform and extended a hand to a random icicle. When her fingers touched the small cube, it came undone. It was so fragile that it had shattered into pieces upon impact.

Melted water ran down her fingertips and dripped aimlessly to the ground.

It was much like waking up from a dream.

''Toneri-san, have you ever been in love?''

She felt his gaze weigh heavy on her. ''I was hoping I would come to love you.''

''Is that so?'' Her lips quirked up. Hinata placed her wet hand into her lap and looked out over the lane. ''When I was younger, my mother told me a story. Have you heard of 'The letters from war'?''

''I'm afraid I haven't.''

''I see,'' Hinata spared him a fleeting glance. ''It's a tragic love story. A village woman had fallen in love with a knight and he had fallen in love with her, but their country was at war. They had only spent a short time together before he was called to serve his king. At first, the woman and the man exchanged many letters, but at some point he stopped sending any letters back. The woman, as hopelessly in love as she was, didn't allow his silence to deter her and continued sending letters. Professing her undying love. Wishing for his well-being. And yet, he never responded. Do you think she knew?''

He allowed a pause to wash over them. ''That he was dead?'' Toneri asked her and when Hinata nodded, he told her, ''I think she did.''

''Why did she continue her letters even while knowing he had passed away? That's what my mother asked me. May I ask you the same question, Toneri-san?''

A sharp wind suddenly swept by and Hinata hugged herself against the cold.

''Surely it's because she refused to believe he had passed away,'' he said. ''Deep down she knew he was gone. Stopping her letters would be the same as giving in to that fact. What's the point of this story, Hinata-san?''

''That's not why she continued writing.''

Toneri frowned.

''Mother said, it's because that was the only way she could show him her undying love. Even after the war ended, she still sent him letters. Placed it at his graveyard. Told him she loved him and always will.''

''Hinata-san,'' Toneri sighed. ''Are you in love?''

''I am.''

The branches rattled as another strong wind passed by, but this time Hinata didn't attempt to protect herself from the cold.

''Is this why you called me here?''

''I can never stop loving him, Toneri-san,'' she told him. ''Can one person truly be happy if their heart and mind are in a different place?''

Toneri looked at her funnily as though he wasn't sure whether to answer honestly. Unable to understand her question, he asked his own, ''Can you live without your heart and mind at the same place?''

''I don't think you can,'' Hinata whispered.

His frown deepened and then he froze. A look of clarity crossing his fair features.

''Oh,'' he said dumbly. Finally understanding.

Then he turned away from her and walked to the door of the mansion. Hinata felt sorry for him. Toneri wasn't a bad man. He had never done anything to hurt her. Toneri had a dream like most people did and chasing that dream required her assistance or at the very least the assistance of her little sister. Unfortunately neither could give him what he wanted and yet here Hinata was, counting on Toneri's kindness to help her through. She was mean, wasn't she?

''What… do you expect me to do,'' he asked her then and Hinata snapped her head back to look at him. He had an expressionless look on his face as he stared at her. ''Do you want me to talk to your father? My apologies, but I cannot do that. I am not ready to give up.''


''I envy him.''

Hinata flinched.

''It's that orange ninja, isn't it? The one we met more than two weeks ago? He is the one you love.'' She didn't answer, still worried about what could happen to Naruto if she confirmed it. ''I saw the way he looked at you. Enthralled, is the best way to describe it. Were you hoping to garner my sympathy by telling me that story?''

''I was hoping you would understand why I can't marry you.''

Toneri scoffed.

Hinata rose and started walking toward the door. When they stood shoulder to shoulder—or in Hinata's case, head to shoulder—she gave him one last look. ''I—I didn't expect you to talk to my father. I cannot say I wasn't hoping you would offer. Alas, I am aware that this is something I must do on my own. I only aimed to make you see what an error it would be to marry a woman in love with another man.''

His nostrils flared as he glared down at her, but he didn't speak nor did he look at her again when she made her way toward her father's office.

It all came down to this, didn't it?

This was where it started. In this room. In front of this man. He still had that patronizing look in his eyes and the amount of papers on his desk had triple folded, but that was what it meant to be a leader. There wasn't a day's rest for people on top.

Is this what they called a full circle? Ah. What she wouldn't give to be back at Naruto's place, in his bed, in his arms and come undone underneath him. Maybe stuff her face full with ramen and hang out on top of the Hokage's statue where the world spread wide open for them and the air was good.

Who could have thought that Hinata would be forced to fight a battle that didn't require kunai and chakra, but still end up so drained?

It didn't matter anymore.

There was something Hanabi had said that held her up. Those who truly loved her wouldn't accept this marriage. And if they did… then…


Could Hinata really run away?

''I hope you're here to tell me you have finally accepted your fate.''

''Father,'' Hinata started, voice clipping the stagnant atmosphere. ''This is not my fate.''

His jaw clicked as he leaned back and sighed to the ceiling. He raised two fingers and squeezed the bridge of his nose with them. His eyes shuttered and his shoulders sagged. ''Hinata,'' Hiashi lamented. ''Does this old dance not tire you?''

''Would I be a Hyūga if it did?''

The head of the clan flinched as if she had struck him across the face.

''Strength. Courage,'' Hinata ticked off. ''And determination. Are these not traits of the Hyūga? I've come to realize I would be going against your teachings if I do not pursue the voice of my heart.''

''This is not the time to insert our clan's values.''

''No, father. This is exactly the time to insert our values. If I cannot be brave during troubled times then when can I be brave?''

It started soft, as good as a cough, light and fluttery until it built up like a heckle. The sound was boisterous, struggling to properly free itself from his throat as her father spluttered with laughter. It grated on her ears, because Hinata spotted no ounce of genuine cheer in his tone nor was anything she had said remotely funny. Her father was mocking her.

He abruptly ceased all laughter.

''Out,'' he told her primly.

''With all due respect—''

''I do not want to hear it. It's clear you have nothing of merit to add. I told you to leave my office.''

''—your unwillingness to listen to me is a sign of weakness.''

The way his face froze was almost comical. His eyes nearly bulged out.

''What… did you… just say to me?''

''Are you not afraid to hear me out, because it terrifies you to hear your beliefs challenged?''

There was no time to think. No moment to pause. A proud man like her father needed to face the error of his ways. And Hinata could only show him the way if she remained composed and resolute. She kept her voice leveled and not once did her eyes stray from his own. ''Perhaps you should take a good look at yourself. Think very hard on what it is you want to protect. I do not think you would be able to recognize yourself if you were to look into the mirror.''

''Out!'' He backhanded the papers off his table and Hinata instinctively took a step back. ''Leave my room immediately, Hinata, so help me God even if you are my daughter I will not let your insolence go unpunished!''

''So be it,'' she hissed.

Hiashi's head snapped back and his mouth fell open.

''Punish me, but do not touch my sister. Do not touch Naruto-kun either. Take your anger out on only me. But I will not marry Toneri-san. Yell at me. Hit me, but I will not marry Toneri-san. Hanabi will not marry Toneri-san. We will not continue to be pawns in your game, father! We are your daughters! Have you forgotten?''

His faced splotched purple with anger, but also appeared exhausted. The shades underneath his eyes had darkened. He leaned both palms on his disarrayed desk and while looking down at the mess he had made, told her scathingly, ''I will drag you to the altar even if it's the last thing I'll do.''

She closed her eyes to the harrowing sight of the man she had loved first and foremost—her father—and ignored the stab of pain inside her heart. ''Then it is you,'' she sighed, ''who will have to explain to the gathering why your shameful daughter has embarrassed the clan by refusing to marry the heir to the Ōtsutsuki-clan.''

''You would go that far?'' He spat through the limp strands of hair hanging down his face.

Instead of answering him directly, Hinata thought back to the moment in her room with Hanabi. ''Someone once told me that the people who love you will want you to be happy. If you are not happy, then they are not happy.''

''You can become happy during the marriage.''

''I won't,'' she whispered. ''I really won't.''

''Get out,'' he sighed. ''Just leave.''

She took one step backwards, then another. It didn't seem like he had changed his mind. Hinata dropped her shoulders.

There was only one thing for her to do now.

She left to go to her room and make her preparations ready. There were still two days until the wedding commenced.

All Hiashi wanted was a stronger clan.

He hadn't watched her leave the room, but he felt it. Her presence packed a punch.

''Who does that girl resemble so much,'' he mumbled to himself as he dropped his weight into his seat, not bothering to properly position his legs and re-arrange the papers he had smacked to the floor. He had sat on one of them. One that required his signature, but Hiashi felt too tired to put a measly scribble on the slab piece of paper.

Why, of all times, couldn't she remain silent now? That girl had a habit of watching the world pass her by, but ever since that Uzumaki boy…

He sighed again. He couldn't tell whether Naruto was a blessing or a curse to his livelihood.

It wasn't just the clan Hiashi wanted to protect, but also his daughters. This union was as important to their family as it was to his eldest and youngest daughter. Why couldn't they just look at it from a long-term perspective?

Or was it Hiashi who had to look at it from a broader view? He could no longer tell what was right or wrong.

Even so, he had started on this road, so it was his duty to see it through to the end.

''What do you think?''

The dress was magnificent. Hinata stared at the full body length mirror placed in front of her. The dress she was wearing was white and embroiled with shimmering stones that looked like diamonds. It flowed long and had a flowery skirt that tempered at her feet, hemline splayed wide across the floor in a sea of fabric. The stones covered every inch of texture sans the thin spaghetti straps and tight corset that hugged her chest. That part was white so pristine, one felt the need to squint their eyes lest its brightness blinds their sight. As finishing touch, a baby purple sash was tied right underneath her bosom where the material changed into the mass of stones that kissed the breadth of her skirt.

Hinata clutched the fabric around her chest. ''I can't breathe.''

''Too tight?'' The seamstress fumbled with the lavender stained sash, unfolding the bow and tying a new, lax noose that hugged Hinata a little less tighter. ''Better?'' She asked.

Unfortunately the tightness in her chest remained. ''I—I still can't breathe.''

The seamstress' hands paused somewhere around Hinata's ribs and moved up to touch the shoulders of the soon-to-be-wedded heiress in a placid manner, almost as if she was dealing with a shivering puppy. It was chaste, but a slow, droopy smile curled around the older Hyūga member's mouth and was laced with the smallest hint of sympathy. ''I don't think I can fix that problem, Hinata-sama.''

A knock jostled them and the woman released her shoulders before bending toward the figure that entered the room. It was one of the guards. Hinata eyed him carefully.

''Is she ready,'' he asked the Hyūga seamstress.

Hinata's hair was already done too. Just like her dress, the ends of her hair were curled into perfection and looked like the gentle waves right before the ocean howled to the sky.

''She is,'' the seamstress told him. ''Hair, make-up and dress are done. Please be at ease.''

The guard nodded and motioned for Hinata to follow him. It was almost time.

Hinata followed the guard out of the door. It was the same one that had stood waiting when she was held in her room. The second guard was walking behind her. Neither said a word as they made their way to the hall where it would all take place. In a few minutes, Hinata would come face to face with her family and friends, and in less than an hour she would swear love and loyalty to the man her father had chosen.

Yes, that was what would happen were Hinata a different person than she was today.

''I need to use the restroom before we enter the great hall.''

''You look beautiful, Hinata-sama. No need for the restroom,'' the guard in front of her told her without reducing his pace. ''Our presence is needed now.''

Whether he realized something was amiss was beyond her, but Hinata didn't let his reluctance to let her out of his sight sway her.

''A woman does more than check on her make-up in the restroom,'' she pressed. ''They say bladder inflammation is very painful.''

Hinata noted the hot flush creeping up the nape of the guard's neck while the one behind her coughed insistently.

''Err—'' the second guard began. ''I think the restroom is at our left side.''

The first guard no longer resisted as they proceeded toward the secluded hallway were the washing rooms were lined up. Hinata made sure to inconspicuously check if there were any other members around and wait until they were walking down the narrow hallway before she brought her fingers to her mouth to make the hand-seal that summoned her Byakugan. She scanned the inside of the restrooms and the area around them for any sign of life. When she noted everything was in the clear, she made quick work of the guard behind her, so the one in front wouldn't know what hit him until it actually did. She worked swiftly once she turned around and cut the guard's chakra points. The dress was hard to move in, her feet nearly tripped over the thick material pooling around her legs and Hinata struggled to properly breathe in the corset, but what Hinata needed most were her arms and hands. That was why she had asked the seamstress to sew her a sleeveless dress, preferably one with spaghetti straps.

The first guard only noticed something was wrong when Hinata's opponent dropped limply to the floor and the thud reached his ears, but by then it was too late. Hinata had a handful of wars in her back pocket. Something as silly as a wedding dress wouldn't stop her from taking out two guards. The guard's eyes widened as he turned around and saw his fellow comrade on the floor. Still reeling from the surprise, Hinata took advantage of his shock and hit all chakra points needed to paralyze him. He dropped almost instantaneously.

There was no time to think. Hinata hoisted a part of the thick skirt in her hand and took the collar of one of the guards. She grunted softly as she pulled him across the floor toward the empty restroom. It was no surprise that no one was around at this moment. Almost everyone had gathered in the hall and were waiting for the wedding music that would signal Hinata's entrance. Hinata had roughly ten minutes before the music started and people would notice something was amiss. Until then, she had to lock the guards up in the empty stalls, find her little sister and make their great escape. Finding her sister wouldn't be hard. After Hinata's unpleasant conversation with her father, Hanabi had shown up at her room two more times before the wedding.

By then, Hinata had already formulated her escape plan and had told her little sister about it. If all was well, Hanabi was now waiting in one of the empty rooms as planned.

She shoved both guards in one stall. One lay clumsily on the floor and the other sat partly on the toilet seat as his slack head leaned on the side of the wall.

Hinata sighed tiredly as she closed the door.

Okay, now all she had to do was find Hanabi. The veins around her eyes thickened as Hinata focused on looking for her sister.

It became glaringly obvious something was wrong after fifteen minutes had passed and the bride to be did not show up. The musicians, bless their hearts, continued to play their instruments even as the whispers among the invitees grew. Several of Hyūga members scattered around the back, where the entrance was and hurriedly discussed the situation, but it was the face of Hyūga Hiashi that spoke volume. Something told Ino that Hiashi already knew what had happened.

No, there was probably no one around who didn't know what had just transpired. Ino had to hold in her laughter.

The man Hinata was supposed to marry, to his credit, seemed completely unperturbed. Hell, if Ino didn't know any better she'd say he didn't even look surprised.

In the back, seated among Hinata's friends and family, a young man with long, spiky hair wrapped tightly in a ponytail yammered on in a bored tone, ''She just had to take the troublesome route, hadn't she? I'm going to need a smoke if I'm going to sit through the reception.''

Temari, sitting at this man's left, smacked the back of his head.

''Ouch!'' Shikamaru yelped.

Chōji quietly piped up from Shikamaru's right side, ''Does this mean there won't be any cake? I was told wedding cake is the best kind of cake,'' undisturbed by the scene next to him, probably because he was used to it, Chōji resumed munching on his chocolate bar.

Ino rolled her eyes so far back, there was a moment only the whites were visible. ''That's not important, you idiots! Hinata pretty much just told the Hyūga to go fuck themselves. Go, Hinata!'' Ino screeched the final part, standing on her feet and pumping a fist in the air, accidentally chaffing the toupee of the man in front of her so it leaned to the side of his head. ''Oops!''

They ran hand in hand and ignored the curious and shocked looks of the people they passed by, who couldn't quite believe their eyes once they saw the runaway bride. The underside of her dress was dirtied brown and Hinata had kicked off her heels somewhere along the way in order to make moving easier. Her hair was a clutter due to the wind and her skin was chilled because of the cold, but dared she say, Hinata had never felt more alive.

It was completely by chance that they crossed paths with Naruto. His cheeks were flushed and he seemed to be in a hurry. If Hinata hadn't called out his name, he might have passed her by and gone running in the direction she had just came from.

His eyes slid over to her once she called him, widened like a deer caught in headlights before he skidded to a stop. Hinata absently noted the bags under his eyes.

''Huh? What? Eh?'' His mouth flapped open like a gaping fish. ''Hinata? Eh? Woah—no wait, huh?!''

''I think you broke him, elder sister,'' Hanabi chirped from behind her.

''Yes, it's me, Naruto-kun,'' Hinata said. She wasn't sure whether to walk toward him, but she found out that she didn't have to, because Naruto made that decision for her. Before she knew it, Hinata was enveloped by his arms in a tight hug and suddenly she felt like crying.

''Hinata,'' he breathed into her ear, burying his face inside her wild hair. ''Hinata,'' he repeated, choked-up. ''Shit. Crap. I thought I was too late.''

Hinata sniffed, tears tracing lines down her cheeks. ''You're not. Don't worry.'' Her free hand clutched the back of his shirt. ''I'm right here.''

''Thank God.'' He held her at arm-length, looked her over once, spared a fleeting glance at the smaller girl at her side and then grabbed her empty hand. ''Let's go,'' he said. ''I'll ask questions later. Something tells me now's probably not the best time.''

She gave him a grateful smile and together they ran as fast and as far as they could.

Ironically, the furthest place they went was Naruto's house, but Naruto promised that no one would take them as long as he was around, and so, for the first time since all of this had begun, Hinata allowed herself to lean on someone.

''What are you doing here?''

''I want to see my daughters.''

''Yeah, how 'bout no?''

Hiashi had finally shown up after Naruto had housed the girls for a string of days while they filled him in on the overall story. Naruto was enraged to find out what Hiashi had put Hinata through. There was no way he was going to let her father near her any time soon.

Naruto had half the mindset to close the door once he opened it and saw Hiashi, but there was something about the man's countenance that made him stop. Naruto didn't sense any hostility and the clan leader hadn't come here up in arms even while knowing that Hinata and Hanabi were sure to be at Naruto's house.

''You have no right to withhold me my daughters, Naruto.''

''Sure, 'cause that's something up your alley, right?''

Hiashi flinched and, shockingly, had the decency to look ashamed. ''I only want to talk to them.''

''You had your shot,'' Naruto huffed. ''I know the full story now. There's no way I'm handing them over. It sucks that this is the way we have to talk to each other, since I was hoping we could be friends seeing as I'm going to marry Hinata in the near future—''

''I beg your pardon—you are going to do what now?''

''—but,'' Naruto resumed. ''You haven't left me much choice,'' he sighed. ''I know it took me a while to figure out, but I really love Hinata 'ttabayo. Most of all, I want her to be happy and if she also allows me to be by her side that's even better, y'know? But when I thought she'd be happier marrying someone who isn't me, I nearly went under with the pain. I didn't want to give her up until I had tried everything I could to make her choose me. That's why, now that she's by my side,'' Naruto's eyes flashed. ''I don't plan on handing her over.''

Hiashi swallowed. ''I understand.'' He clenched his fists. ''That is why I'm here.''


''I've decided to cancel the wedding.''

''Y—you have?''

Both men suddenly turned around as they heard a voice coming from the inside of the house.

Hinata moved into view. Her cheeks were slightly pink, no doubt because of what Naruto had just said. She laid a hand on Naruto's forearm.

''It's okay, Naruto-kun,'' Hinata's eyes slid toward her father. ''I want to talk to him.''

Naruto frowned but nodded and dropped a kiss on her forehead. ''Yell if he does anything, alright?''

''What in heaven's name do you take me for,'' Hiashi muttered under his breath once Naruto had moved a safe distance away. Then he sighed and stared at his eldest daughter for an unnamed amount of time. ''What you did was irresponsible,'' he told her.

Hinata squared her shoulders. ''You hadn't left me any other choice, father.''

''No, that is true too,'' he dragged his palm across his face. ''I seemed to have taken care of the clan as a clan leader should, but failed to take care of my daughters as a father should.''

Her heart clenched as she tried to swallow the lump in her throat.

''When both of you disappeared I was left to face the fact that I had pushed both my daughters away,'' Hiashi closed his eyes. ''Your mother would be livid if she knew. Hinata, I am sorry.''

This time she closed her eyes.

''But, even so, not showing up at the wedding also had its repercussions. I'm here to inform you.''

Not for a second had she thought that her actions would go unpunished. What she had done hadn't only involved her, but also her clan. She was ready to accept the consequences.

''From now on,'' Hiashi started. ''You are no longer the heiress to the Hyūga clan.''

''I see,'' she whispered. That made sense. After her shameful act, there was no way the Hyūga could continue respecting her as a leader.

''But at least now no one will care who you decide to marry.''

She looked at her father in surprise and he smiled. It was going to take her a while to forgive him, but Hinata believed they were on a good start. ''What about Hanabi and, um, Toneri-san?''

''No one knows about Hanabi's involvement, so naturally the heir position will be delegated to her. As for Toneri, he had accepted the news surprisingly well.''

Perhaps the story she had told him had struck a nerve. Hinata smiled. ''That's good. Thank you for telling me.''

''Don't stay here too long,'' Hiashi glanced over her shoulder. ''There's a home back at the mansion for you.''

''I'll keep that in mind.''

She closed the door and leaned her forehead against the surface.

This was fine. It wasn't as if Hinata held any strong ties to the heir position, but she couldn't say it didn't hurt a little bit.

Strong arms wrapped around her waist and Naruto's chin came to rest on top of her head. ''You okay?''

In his arms, Hinata turned around and looked up at his face, stared into his crystal blue eyes that promised a beautiful future, watched his mouth curl up into a sweet, worried grin and she smiled.

Finally, she told him, ''I am now.''


End notes: I want to thank everyone who took their time to read this story and stood by it even though it took me forever to update. Also a big thank you to everyone who reviewed, favorited and or followed this story. You guys are amazing.