Yes, this IS going to be both Itachi x Hinata and Neji x Hinata. Call me crazy, but I'm equally fond of both. So if either pairing disagrees with you or if the idea just makes you want to throw up, please don't read further. Ireally don't appreciate flames...Also, I realize that I'm not the best when it comes to terminology, and the whole honorific thing, but I gave it a shot anyway. (I used Hyuga instead of Hyuuga, by the way) So please do inform me if I make some grievous errors and murder the wonderful anime that is Naruto!

Disclaimer: Unfortunately, I don't own Naruto.


Neji was drenched with sweat as his mind raced faster than he was running. Never, he had never been so afraid in his entire life. He cradled the unconscious Hinata in his arms, hugging her closely, as he leapt through the forest as quickly as his legs could possibly take him. The sun was setting already, and time was running out. She was cold to the touch, her skin paler than ever.

Please… Hold on, Hinata-sama! Neji thought feverishly as he continued to hop from tree branch to tree branch. He knew that a good ninja was required to keep a cool head in all situations, and Neji also knew that he was failing terribly. He didn't care.

Neji pleaded with her, begging. Hold on a while more!

It had started so simply, as most things do. An escort mission; just the two of them and their client, a wealthy but unpopular businessman. That had gone smoothly enough, nothing more than a regular mission. It was the return trip where the trouble began.

---

"Hinata-sama!" The word had barely escaped his lips when the kunai appeared from nowhere. Several were targeted at him, some at her. Hinata reacted almost as quickly as he had, deflected the kunai with her own. Immediately, both Hyugas got into defensive positions, back to back.

It was an attack. Or an ambush. But there was no time to ponder about the reason why assassins would be sent after them.

Neji scanned the area with his Byakugan. That's when the hidden ninja attacked. They came swiftly, far more skilled than the average ninja. Still, Neji knew that he could dispatch of them. What he hadn't expected were the illusions, the trap. He had been careless.

A glint of metal entered Neji's field of vision. It was a kunai, targeted at his blind spot! He was still engaged with one of the assassins and had little time to react. Quickly knocking his opponent away with a kick, Neji spun around a little too slowly. But before the blow had hit, Hinata had jumped in front of him to knock away the deadly weapon. The kunai clattered harmlessly to the ground.

But a split second later, an enemy had sprung from the ground, right between them. He struck Hinata in the back, and she screamed as the blade slashed and cut into her skin. Hinata wavered for a moment before falling to her knees.

Neji struck the assassin immediately and he collapsed to the ground, dead. The others who were still alive fled, blurs in the shadows created by the trees. Neji did not chase them.

"Hinata-sama! Hinata!" he shouted, picking the kunoichi from where she had fallen after being struck. He felt for her pulse. It was still there. She was still breathing shallowly. It was then that Neji reached out for the knife that the ninja had carried. He went cold when he saw the odd color of the liquid dripping from it. "No…" he whispered.

It was the dull black of poison mixed with blood.

---

Konoha Village was not far. A few miles, Neji estimated. Even so, he could feel Hinata's life draining away. He increased his speed. He was conscious as the sweat ran down his face, and not just from the heat. Before, he had not contemplated losing her before. But it was happening, right at that moment.

How could he possibly lose her now? After all the bitterness between them had finally ended?

For a while now, Neji had been watching her, and he felt her watching him too. They had been doing a lot of that recently, ever since they had really began to train with each other. Began to understand each other. He realized that he had been wrong to ever fault Hinata for being the heir to the Hyuga clan. In the end, it was just the two of them, lost in the unbending system of the old ways.

But even that was changing. The definitions of Main and Branch were sometimes forgotten completely; they were no longer a constant thing in Neji's life. In its place, Hinata had appeared. Just gentle, kind Hinata.

At the end of a long day, she would be there, quiet and comforting. Hinata had become strong too, just like Naruto, whom she had admired for so long. Neji wondered occasionally if she still loved him. It had been some years since she had a crush on Naruto after all. But it didn't really matter even if she did, he was willing to stay. If she could live, he would be willing to stay by her side forever.

Neji felt his heart break in two at the realization.

Yes, he had come to care for her too much. Too much, when there were so many obstacles in both their lives.

---

At the Konoha hospital, time always seemed to crawl for the friends and family of the patients. They would wait and wait… This was the first time that Neji had waited outside the emergency room. He felt that it had been easier being the one inside. But at long last…

"She'll be all right," Tsunade said, emerging from the emergency room looking extremely weary. It had been a grueling night for all the medic ninjas who had been trying to save Hinata's life. After a brief moment of relief, Neji stood up and went to her, along with Hinata's father, Hiashi. The two of them had been waiting at the hospital ever since Neji's return, praying for good news. "Hinata isn't in critical condition anymore." They breathed a little easier.

Tsunade's expression was still grave. "The knife wound is easy enough to fix, but the poison prevents us from healing much," she explained. "It's not like any I've seen, so we don't have any antidotes for it."

"What problems might this present?" Hiashi asked, frowning. Surely it would not be too big an issue. Yet, it was disturbing that this was a poison that not even the Fifth Hokage could cure.

Shaking her head, Tsunade replied, "I can't say. You'll have to find out when she wakes up. At present, the poison doesn't seem to be having any effect at all. It just… lingers." She looked past them, thinking about something that she could not figure out.

All that mattered was that Hinata was alive, and that she would recover. "Thank you, Tsunade-sama," Neji said, gratefully, bowing. He was truly relieved that the worst was over. He himself had only sustained minor flesh wounds, and apart from a few new bandages, he was no different than before.

Tsunade smiled, and raised a hand to wipe the drops of sweat from her forehead, "I did the best that I could, but it lucky that you had her rushed here so quickly. You saved her life, Neji." Once again, the young jounin bowed his head, this time in embarrassment.

Hiashi gave his nephew an enigmatic look.

---

Hinata arranged the flowers that her teammates, Kiba and Shino, had brought for her. It had a couple of days since the accident, and she was recovering well. There was little pain, but she was told that the mysterious black poison had not been expelled from her body. Neither had the identity of the attackers been confirmed.

But such things mattered little to her now. Hinata was happy to be alive and home with her friends. Even Naruto had come to visit. He had, as always, brightened her day.

The three of them had come together: Naruto, Sakura, and Sasuke. Like old times. It was easy to forget how much had happened since they were all still genin. Yes, they were all either jounin or chuunin now, including Sasuke and Naruto.

Their return had been strangely quiet. Not much was said about the Uchiha Avenger's quest, apart from the fact that Orochimaru was gone. Naruto had gone to search for Sasuke once more, and he had found him. The two of them had come back together, revealing few details of how Sasuke had returned to them, or why.

What had happened to Uchiha Itachi? Had Sasuke given up on fighting him?

It was the question on everyone's minds. But no one was willing to ask and risk opening a can of worms that might not be able to be sealed again.

Now, some two years later, the others were accepting Sasuke again, thanks to Naruto and Sakura's tireless attempts at getting things back to normal. Little by little, he was gaining back their trust. Sasuke was still quiet, of course, but the darkness no longer hung above him constantly. There was still anger and pain in his heart, Hinata could easily tell, but revenge did not cloud his mind. The void that Itachi had created had been temporarily filled, at least.

Now, alone in her bed by the window, Hinata picked up the bouquet that Naruto had brought her. Well, it had come from the members of Team 7, but Naruto had been the one to give it to her. He had sat on her bed until Sakura scolded him for disturbing her. Hinata held the bouquet—a bunch of colorful flowers—, and closed her eyes.

Oh, if this had happened a few years ago, she would have fainted from the sheer excitement of Naruto giving her so much attention. Today, Hinata had only blushed and smiled, whispering her thank-yous. It was a remarkable change.

"Hinata-chan!" she heard Naruto say as he grinned happily. She smiled too. "Hinata-chan!"

"Hinata-sama."

Hinata was surprised, but there it was. Neji's voice. More than his voice. His image floated to the front of her mind.

She could see it: Neji was focused on his training, Byakugan activated. But then he turned toward her, and the severe intensity of his eyes dissolved as he smiled at her. "Hinata-sama," he would say in greeting, whenever he saw her standing behind him, watching. This scenario had happened many times before, but it was never difficult to catch Neji's attention, because he was always aware of her presence. Where Naruto had been in the distance, he was close to her.

And sometimes he would help her train too, and he would be patient, something that she never knew that he could be. Yes, there were times where he was harsh, but then, he understood her need to become stronger, to be recognized. All in all, Neji seemed to be trying to make up for all the earlier animosity with kindness. He was encouraging, and he believed that she could become strong. She believed that she could be strong too.

Her heart fluttered when she thought of him now. Yet, she normally felt at peace when Neji was around. Calm, and serene.

Hinata let out a soft sigh, and looked out the window. Her eyes widened instantly. "N-Neji-niisan!" There was he, walking toward the hospital. He couldn't be coming to see her, could he?

The bouquet in her hands fell onto the bed with a 'thud', scattering a few petals over the bed. "Oh no!" Hinata scrambled to gather the scattered petals, and that was how Neji found her when he entered the room. She hurriedly put them on the bedside table.

"Good morning, Hinata-sama," he said, with his usual smile. "Are you feeling better today?"

"Y-yes! Much better!" Hinata looked down at the blanket as she fought her blush. "Thank you for coming to see me, Neji-niisan. Tsunade-sama told me about what happened, and how you saved me. I am grateful."

"She gave me too much credit," he replied, protesting. Neji walked over to her bedside, and held out the flowers that he had brought. It was customary to give flowers to a patient, but somehow he felt self-conscious. "I brought these for you, Hinata-sama," he said, handing her the white lilies, "Hanabi-sama said that you liked them."

Hinata accepted them, but was unable to meet his eyes. "T-Thank you, Neji-niisan," she said almost inaudibly. She could feel his curious eyes on her, and they made her even more nervous. The sudden change in feelings perplexed her, but it felt like a good thing. She kept her eyes down.

There was a pause, and then both Neji and Hinata started to speak at the same time.

"Umm…"

"Hinata—" Neji began before breaking off. He politely gestured for her to speak. "Please go ahead."

"N-Nothing. It was nothing important," she said, shaking her head vigorously. Truly, she had had nothing to say other than 'umm.'

Neji's tone became serious as he went on. "Your father thinks that the attackers were after the secrets of the Byakugan."

Ever since she was younger, Hinata had always been in danger of being kidnapped by enemies who wanted to learn about the Hyuga bloodline ability, probably in order to find a way to gain it for themselves. It meant that the attackers had wanted to kill her, a member of the Main house, and give her body to whoever they were working for. This ambush was nothing strange.

"The poison?" Hinata asked, hesitantly.

"No one has identified it yet," Neji replied. But just as her spirits dropped, he gave her a reassuring smile. "But I'm sure it'll be discovered soon, seeing as Tsunade-sama is working hard on it. Make sure to get a lot of rest in the meantime, Hinata-sama."

"Y-yes!"

---

The Hyuga compound was fairly quiet, as it usually was. Neji entered the room where Hiashi was waiting to meet him with some apprehension. Normally, private conferences like that were not a good sign. This was how most of Hyuga's businesses were taken care of. Behind closed doors. Still, Neji steeled himself, knowing that he was just being foolish. He stepped forward and greeted the Head of the Hyuga clan with a deep bow.

"You know why I called you here today, don't you, Neji?" Hiashi said, standing authoritatively in the center of the room. His eyes were lacking in warmth, as was his voice. It was not a question.

Neji raised his eyes bravely. "It is about Hinata-sama," he replied. "And her recent injury." Without hesitation or confirmation, he went on. "I accept full responsibility for it, Hiashi-sama. It was my miscalculation that almost got her killed. I failed in my duties to protect your daughter, whom you entrusted to me."

Hiashi held out a hand to stop him. "You misunderstand, Neji. I am not blaming you for anything." He suddenly sighed and rubbed his temples. "No. Your neglecting your duties is not the issue. Quite the opposite."

"What do you mean, Hiashi-sama?" Neji asked, confused. He tried to keep the nervousness out of his voice, as he slowly realized what the statement meant.

Apparently, his question had been anticipated. "What I mean, Neji, is that you and Hinata are getting closer than is appropriate. Am I wrong in saying that you think of her as more than a cousin or a charge?"

Neji could not reply, neither could he meet Hiashi's eyes. He was unsure of what was the truth, but he knew for a fact that Hinata's father was not wrong. It had become obvious to him when he had been faced with the likely possibility of losing Hinata once and for all. But what he had not noticed before, Hiashi had already seen clearly.

He had seen the growing affection, and did not approve. A foster son, he could tolerate as a payment to his brother to whom he felt he owed that much, but not a son-in-law.

"I understand," Neji said quietly, stiffening. "From now on I will not act… unseemly around Hinata-sama."

Even though he had recently been somewhat accepted as part of the Main House, the seal on his forehead would never disappear. There were many who would not forget that. It was a certain impropriety for a member of the Branch House and the Main House to…

"Neji," Hiashi's firm tone had become a great deal gentler, like how he usually spoke to Neji nowadays. Hesounded amused at Neji's hastyand icy reply."Although we are usually of the same mind, the council and I have our disputes from time to time. As the Head, I cannot give encouragement; that would also be unseemly." At this, Hiashi turned away to face the wall behind him, his hands clasped together behind his back. "But as a father, I only wish happiness for my daughter, and I see that Hinata, too, thinks very well of you…"

Hiashi had trailed off, but there was no need for more words. Neji's eyes widened. Did he just…? He could hardly believe his ears. "I- I understand," he stuttered. "Thank you, Hiashi-sama." Neji bowed again, this time with far more enthusiasm.

"Hinata will be discharged from the hospital this evening." Hiashi had reverted back to the formal, distant leader. "I expect you to be there to escort her home before nine."

Before nine… "O-of course, Hiashi-sama," Neji said, his blood rushing to his face in surprise. Hinata's father waved a hand, his expression still concealed, and he was dismissed.

Neji left the room feeling much better than he had when he entered. That had been one of the most unexpected things that Hiashi had ever done. He was so dazed that he almost ran right into Hanabi while turning a corner.

"Neji!" The young kunoichi exclaimed.

"Sorry, Hanabi-sama, I wasn't paying attention," he apologized, though his expression was still cheerful.

"Dispense with 'sama' already, okay?" Hanabi said, irritated. It was a constant argument between them, ever since she found out that he could beat her in combat. She did not feel deserving of the title anymore. Hanabi placed her hands on her hips as she stared up at him. "It's ridiculous for you to be addressing me as 'sama'. No one thinks that you're inferior to any of the Main House. It's time this Branch and Main family thing ended anyway."

If only it was that way, Neji thought wryly. "Maybe in the future," he agreed. "But until then, you stay 'Hanabi-sama'."

Perceptive as always, Hanabi detected something different in her cousin's behavior. "What did I miss?" she asked, almost accusing. "It's not like you to be wandering around the compound daydreaming."

Shyness was not a trait that Hanabi shared with her sister. Personally, Neji thought that she was really a sweet girl… just that you really had to look deep to see it. Once, Hanabi had been jealous that he had inherited more of the Hyuga skill than she had, but now they were as close as siblings. She would ask anything and everything, embarrassing or not. Neji was reluctant to answer. She did not push him.

Instead, Hanabi changed the subject… somewhat.

"So, did Hinata-neechan like the flowers?" she asked, casually. When Neji glared at her, she stared innocently back at him. "I always knew that she liked white lilies the best. I would've brought them myself, you know," she said with a shrug of her shoulders, "But you looked like you needed the help."

"I did, did I?" Neji asked, holding back the desire to grit his teeth. Was he really that obvious?

"Guys act so silly sometimes. Even you, Neji-niisan!" Hanabi said, with an exaggerated shake of her head.

With such a demeanor, it was impossible to be annoyed at her for long. "And this comes from the kunoichi who already has boys following her everywhere?" Neji accused.

"Silly, but lovable," Hanabi amended, grinning. Neji gave her an exasperated look. "You may think I'm just a kid, but believe me when I say neechan likes you. It's like how she was with Naruto. I know," she concluded smugly.

Did he ever think that she was a sweet girl? Scratch that. "All right, that's enough, Hanabi-sama," Neji said. "I need to go to the hospital now."

Tossing her long hair over her shoulder with great dignity, Hanabi walked past Neji and continued on her way to the training area. She was still determined on surpassing him. Toward that goal, she trained relentlessly unlike the other girls her age who were more occupied with flirting. No, Hanabi knew that she was different. She did not flirt; the boys came to her.

After she had gone a few paces, Hanabi could not resist one last prod. She turned back and smirked, "Have a nice date!"

How odd that after all the tiptoeing that they had done to avoid that single word, it would be blurted out just like that. Neji was frozen in his tracks like a wooden board until he realized that Hanabi was just playing around with him. When he turned to retort, she was already gone. But Neji could still hear her laughter, and he could not resist smiling too.


There you have it, chapter one! Eh, no Itachi this time, but he'll appear soon. Leave me a review!