That Stupid Dream

Chapter 12

"Oh, for goodness' sake, Sakura. Please stop pacing like that. You are going to wear off the tatami flooring."

Both the Haruno females were currently ensconced in the family living room, and whereas Miharu was calmly sipping tea by the kotatsu her pink-haired daughter was fretting something fierce and diligently trying to walk as many circles around the cozy room as she possibly could. The older blonde did not understand though, why the younger female was so agitated.

"Your father is only going to have a little talk with Neji-kun; why are you so worried?"

"That's precisely the reason why." The kunoichi muttered exasperatedly. "And what's worse is the fact that I am not sure who to worry about more."

It was true; Sakura could not imagine Neji just docilely accepting everything as her father laid it all out on him, as she was very sure that he would. The Haruno patriarch was if nothing extremely protective of his one and only beloved daughter, and said daughter knew that better than most. On the other hand, Neji was ANBU and Hyuuga and while she knew that he would never hurt her father she was still not quite sure how much he could take before her father went too far, gleefully needling the Hyuuga pride and all that. Yes, even Sakura was aware that her dear father could be quite the sadist if he wants to be.

Therefore, the pretty pink-haired female was not very sure that putting both males with long family histories of being stubborn and assertive together in a room was at all a good idea.

Sakura bit her lip and turned to her mother. Unlike herself the blonde was a veritable picture of peaceful serenity and just looking at her made it hard for Sakura to hold on to her anxiety. She quit her pacing and wandered towards the table to join the older female.

"Sakura," Miharu set down her cup of green tea on the kotatsu and eyed her only child curiously. "Do you not trust in Neji enough that you have to worry that he won't be able to interact well with your father?"

The thought of Neji getting along marvelously with her father was equally as frightening a thought as the both of them not being able to tolerate each other on sight. However, Sakura's answer to her mother's question was immediate.

"Not…exactly" The female muttered unsurely. Then she started to frown a little as she examined the reason behind her feelings of anxiety. "I do trust Neji but…" She sighed loudly, slowly growing somewhat exasperated with herself. "I think I just like to worry, huh?"

Miharu gave her daughter a wry smile.

"Well, I think that your worries are misplaced, love." The older blonde remarked. "Your Neji-kun is a lot alike your father, you know."

Sakura looked skeptically at her mother. "Alike?"

Once again, Miharu's lips quirked as she nodded in affirmation.

"I may not know Neji-kun for long, but already I can discern the characteristics that mark both he and your father as the same type of men. Tell me; he is very protective of you, is he not?"

Miharu's innocent question immediately brought to mind all the times when the tall ANBU captain had escorted her home, and had even carried her back to her apartment twice now. It had been a gentlemanly thing to do and Neji hadn't wanted for her to be accosted by strangers at night; never mind the fact that any mugger who dares attack her was going to be a very sorry one indeed. On the other hand though, it seemed to the nonplussed kunoichi that it appeared to be perfectly alright in his book for him and only him alone to 'accost' her, as Neji had more than happily demonstrated for her every time he got her back home successfully.

Sakura started to turn a light pink at the direction of her thoughts, and promptly closed her mouth and ducked her head down to hide her small blush in case her mother picked up on her less-than-innocent recollections as all mothers are prone to do.

Miharu merely smiled knowingly to herself. Young love was always so sweet, and she was so glad that Sakura was finally getting a taste of what she had been missing all these years. It wasn't hard for Miharu to see that her only child was beyond smitten with that handsome ANBU captain of hers, and it was just as obvious that the young man wasn't at all exactly unwelcoming of her daughter's growing affection. Why else would the Hyuuga clan lord risk evoking the fearsome wrath of an extremely protective father?

Neji might not know of it yet, but Miharu had silently approved of him the moment she had met him yesterday. The quiet possessiveness and strong surety in the younger male's silvery gaze was simply unmistakable; this wasn't a young man who was not yet sure of what he wants and was dithering about whether to get it or not. No, unlike most males his age this Hyuuga had an unfaltering confidence around him that even her Masahiro could not shake, and that had all but proclaimed to the older blonde his genuine interest in her pink-haired daughter, not to mention his readiness to protect his chosen intended even if it was only from the possible ire of her parents. It had been quite hard for her not to notice the seemingly casual way Neji would bring her husband's belligerent attention back upon himself every time Masahiro tried to interrogate their child, and Miharu had been inwardly thrilled.

The older blonde could also have cried with joy when she glimpsed of the soft look of returned affection shining in her daughter's eyes every time she looked at her young man.

Her baby was finally falling in love again, and this time Miharu was determined to help her along no matter what.

"Well, your father is the same. Very protective of his family." The blonde continued to speak even as her eyes gleamed with a familiar glint of determination. It really was a good thing that Sakura was currently too preoccupied with her thoughts to notice anything unusual. "And they are also both very confident men; very blatant in what they want and determined to get it once they make up their mind. Or am I wrong to assume that of Neji-kun?"

The disgruntled look that appeared on her daughter's face was more than enough answer for Miharu, and the older blonde hid her growing smile.

"'Confident' is too nice a word to describe him. 'Arrogant' and 'pigheaded' would sound a lot more appropriate." Sakura mumbled irritably as she remembered how she seldom managed to win whenever they had a contest of wills. By fair means or foul, Neji would almost always emerge the victor whenever they had a difference in views, and boy was her mother right about the 'very blatant in what they want and determined to get it once they make up their mind' part. It hadn't even been a full week since Neji had openly expressed his interest in her and they were already meeting the parents, and what's more amazing was the fact that even though said event wasn't exactly planned Neji sure wasn't having a hard time at all taking everything in stride. It was simply mind-boggling.

The chagrinned look on Sakura's face increased, and Miharu merely looked mildly amused. "Well, arrogant or pigheaded, that doesn't really matter now. You are already in love with him."

Sakura, who had been about to help herself to a cup of tea, immediately sputtered to a halt. Wide emerald eyes flew up to meet the gentle blue of her mother's. What, did she have a glaring 'I heart Hyuuga Neji' tattooed on her forehead or something?!! Her mother was already the fifth person in less than two days who had touched upon the truth regarding her feelings for the Hyuuga genius!!

"Oh, quit looking so surprised, Sakura." Miharu waved away her daughter's look of frozen disbelief and briskly took over the task of pouring the tea. "I am your mother after all; it isn't really hard for me to see things like these."

Slowly, Sakura accepted the cup the older female presented to her. After taking a sip to calm her nerves, she regarded her mother questioningly. Or rather, she tried to. "Aren't you supposed to ask whether if I have feelings for Neji first?"

Miharu shook her head with exasperation, clear blue eyes shining to amusement. "Why should I ask what I already know? Your eyes gives you away, love. I just had only to look at you whenever Neji-kun is nearby to know the truth."

Sakura flushed, then bit her lip anxiously in thought.

Had she really been that transparent? Then does Neji know too? The pink-haired kunoichi promptly shook her head at that foolish question. Of course Neji probably knew as well. He was always so keen-eyed and quick on the uptake and Sakura decided that she wouldn't be surprised if he had realized it even before she had. Now the only question would be if he feels the same way she does. Oh, Sakura had no doubt that the stoic Hyuuga had some feelings for her; if not he wouldn't even have bothered to have things developed this far between them but affection could be defined on so many levels and Sakura was not proud to admit that she was feeling a tad insecure regarding her standing with the handsome ANBU captain.

And what of her father? Sakura had adored her gruffly affectionate father ever since she was a little girl and had always tried her best to defer to his wishes if possible. What if Masahiro decided that he didn't like Neji? What then?

Sakura's anxiety over not knowing exactly what was currently happening in her father's study immediately returned full force, and Miharu was intuitive enough to pick up on her daughter's distress. The older blonde laid a calm hand on her daughter's, and emerald met gentle blue.

"Don't worry, Sakura." Her mother soothed gently. Miharu thought that she could understand why her child was so anxious about the subject. Unlike Sakura's one-sided crush on the poor Uchiha boy so many years ago, it was obvious to the blonde that her loving adoration was returned fully this time around. The young Hyuuga would gladly welcome any act of affection coming from her daughter, and if Neji-kun really was anything like her beloved husband Miharu really doubted that it would take long before Sakura's insecurities were finally laid to rest. Now if Sakura would just stop worrying about what both their men were up to.

"Always remember that you are our only child, and your father only wants for you to settle down well. I think that Neji-kun is a very nice young man; your father would definitely see that too. Give him some time alone with Neji-kun. I am sure they will get along very well."

"What do you mean you don't drink?!"

Masahiro frowned ferociously across the table at the Hyuuga, obviously not quite happy about what he had just heard. Neji regarded the redheaded Daimyo calmly. Not at all affected by the aghast disbelief in the older male's voice, the ANBU captain repeated his sentence clearly.

"I do not consume alcohol."

Masahiro promptly looked appalled by the blasphemy that had just come out from the young man's mouth.

"Are you joking?" The Haruno patriarch demanded immediately. How could anyone deny themselves the simple pleasure of appreciating well-fermented sake? The boy was obviously crazy; sake was like the nectar of the gods! How could he not drink?

The young Hyuuga shook his head warily at the Haruno who had suddenly sprung up from his seat, looking as though he was ready to start defending his passion anytime Neji said a wrong word. The young ANBU captain didn't have to be a genius to know then that it probably wouldn't be a wise idea to remark upon the hedonistic effect of alcoholism on the society nowadays. After working under the Hokage-sama for so many years he could easily spot a sake enthusiast when he saw one, and the Haruno senior clearly belong to that particular group of people.

"I have no tolerance for alcohol, therefore I do not drink." Neji admitted firmly when Masahiro looked almost disappointed. At that particular admission though, the Daimyo of the East started to look a little recovered from his horrifying discovery, and looked a little cheerful even.

Well, well. It looked like the seemingly fazed-by-nothing Hyuuga has his weaknesses too, and Masahiro was just all too lucky to have blindly touched upon one of his few flaws. Now that he was aware of this particular tidbit, everything has changed…somewhat. Whereas Masahiro's objective remained the same it wouldn't hurt to tweak his original test a little, and this tiny change would definitely help assure Masahiro of Neji's true intentions, whatever they may be. The redhead started to smile all too pleasantly at his prey, sharp emerald eyes glinting with a familiar sense of glee that could only be seen whenever the vindictive Inner Sakura took over her outer self.

Neji could only sit back and stare ruefully as the Haruno patriarch gave him the evil eye. Really, he should have known that the other male would definitely not let him off the hook this easily.

"Well…this is certainly disappointing." Masahiro drawled out at long last when Neji did not appear to break a sweat over the almost wicked smirk on his face.

At least outwardly he didn't.

Inwardly though, the Hyuuga was silently cursing his fate for falling in love with the one woman whose father was clearly psychotic and sadistic. Sakura had better be grateful for what he was going through for her; Neji was definitely going to be demanding a certain payment from the delicious pink-haired kunoichi, and just the thought of passion glazed emerald eyes and swollen, well-kissed Cupid's bow lips was enough to make him feel a lot more determined to survive this hellish interview.

Masahiro eyed the slightly preoccupied look on the Hyuuga's face and decided with satisfaction that the young man was probably starting to get worried. With an inward grin, the older male took his own sweet time and poured some sake onto a saucer. Smiling fondly at the precious liquid, Masahiro set the urn of alcohol almost tenderly by his side before returning his attention to his daughter's suitor.

"So what are we going to do with you now, boy? We haven't even started on my simple little test and you have already gone and failed it spectacularly. I really do mean what I said about-"

"But I have not failed your test, Masahiro-san." Neji interrupted quietly before the older redhead could start to gloat. "How could I, when it hasn't even started like you have mentioned earlier?"

Masahiro merely raised a red brow at Neji's almost calm reply. For some reason though, the seemingly unruffled tone of the young man didn't irritate him as much as it had before. Maybe he was slowly getting used to the composed responses that were famous among the Hyuugas, and just the thought of that possibility made Masahiro wince inwardly and quickly find something else to dwell upon.

There hadn't even been a need for him to goad the young lord into accepting his challenge, which was somewhat of a pity because a most perverse part of Masahiro had wanted to see how the young man would have reacted when truly angered. Still, Neji's quick acceptance was quite a surprise; since it indicated to Masahiro that either the Hyuuga was genuinely interested in his daughter, or he was blatantly lying about the 'low tolerance to alcohol' part. Either way, the truth would soon reveal itself later, and so Masahiro shrugged aside his concern.

"So you have decided to take up my challenge?" Masahiro asked modestly instead. He was promptly met with an unwavering stare but was feeling sadistic enough to try again. "You know, boy. It's really alright if you cannot hold your liquor. You don't have to force yourself. Nobody is going to fault you-"

"Masahiro-san." Neji interrupted once again before the older redhead could get anymore ahead of himself, the composed look in his silvery eyes betraying none of the irritation he felt at the older male's apparently unamusing antics. The ANBU captain had years of experience trying to mimic the facial expression of a lump of stone and therefore it wasn't hard denying the Haruno patriarch what he so wanted to see. "Sakura is very important to me and it is very obvious that she cares a lot for your approval. If your test is the only way to gain that approval then so be it. Please do not attempt to discourage me; I will take your challenge."

Masahiro beetled his brow at the calm finality behind Neji's solemn tone.

It was true of course, that Sakura had been the apple of his eye ever since she had opened those big verdant eyes of hers and locked eyes with him just hours after her birth. It was no big secret that Masahiro adored his daughter and only wanted to give her the best in life, which was why he was always so protective and defensive whenever the topic of her suitors came up.

According to Masahiro, any male who even wished to date his little girl was going to first prove it to her fiercely protective papa that he would be able to take care and provide for her like she deserved and would never, ever do anything to hurt his precious pink-haired princess. And of course, god forbid that is, if this unknown male ever made her cry Masahiro would personally make sure that he was going to have to eat through a straw for the rest of his life. And speaking of tears, the grumpy Daimyo was still waiting for the damned Uchiha brat to return to Konoha just so that he could whup his ass for making his daughter cry so many years ago, and those were basically the full extent of the things that ran through Masahiro's mind whenever the words Sakura and boys came up in the same sentence.

However, what the redheaded Daimyo had failed to take into consideration was his daughter's feelings. Masahiro had seen the way his child had looked at this Hyuuga and as much as he wanted to deny it there was no mistaking the pure affection shining in her emerald depths whenever their eyes met. Like it or not Sakura was obviously smitten with her young man, and if he was to believe all the Neji had said as well as implied behavior-wise so far it would also be obvious that their attraction was mutual.

Masahiro was torn; his baby wasn't supposed to fall in love and leave him until she was at least forty!

Inwardly rattled by the realization that was slowly dawning upon him, Masahiro could only look at Neji with slight displeasure and (despite his every attempt to suppress it) approval. "I won't go easy on you even if you are as horrible a drinker as you claim." The tall redhead muttered gruffly at last.

Neji appeared even more wary if possible. Given Masahiro's warped way of thinking the Hyuuga decided that he didn't want to know if he would survive the Daimyo's mercies. "Please don't." Neji was quick to answer, and fully approving this time Masahiro barked out a loud laugh.

"Very well." The Haruno patriarch acknowledged almost amiably, tilting his head towards the untouched saucer of sake sitting on the table. "Take your first shot then, boy. Let's see how much you can take."

Neji directed his gaze at the small, innocent looking bowl of liquor and watched it as if it contained the most potent of poisons. The Hyuuga grimaced inwardly. Forget it; he would have stood more chance with the poison than with the liquid that was inside the saucer now. With his impossibly high metabolism Neji could only hope that he wouldn't get knocked out after a mere sip. He did not look at Masahiro; knowing the older male he was probably smirking cheerfully away at his unfortunate predicament. Seeing no choice but to get this entire ordeal over with as fast as possible, Neji inhaled deeply and reached for the saucer.

It was all Masahiro could do not to laugh out loud when he glimpsed of the boy's face. The Hyuuga looked almost ashen and impossibly grim, as if he was about to face his executioners instead of just a puny saucer of sake. Something told Masahiro then that Neji was speaking the truth when he had admitted earlier of not being able to handle alcohol, and once again the redheaded Daimyo had no choice but to admit to himself that Neji definitely possessed a determined character as well as an impressively strong moral fiber; both qualities that he was expecting to find in an ideal mate for his daughter. Goddamn it, he just might have to accept this Hyuuga clan lord as an acceptable suitor for Sakura after all!

Neji took the saucer of sake in his hand, and after directing a curt nod towards the Haruno patriarch he quickly tipped the liquor down his throat and downed the entire contents of the small bowl in one quick swallow, grimacing inwardly at the overpowering taste of alcohol as he did so. Sitting across from him, Masahiro was cringing as well, but not for the same reason.

The boy was wasting his high quality sake!

"Tch. You are drinking it wrong." Masahiro grumped as Neji was still trying to keep from gagging at the unfamiliar taste of such strong alcohol. "Have you never drunk sake before, kid? This isn't water, you know. You don't guzzle it down like there's no tomorrow. You sip and savor the aroma and flavor. I will show you how."

When Neji continued to stare at the redhead, no doubt wondering what on earth the Haruno was talking about and how on earth he himself had qualified for the term 'kid', Masahiro frowned and snapped at him. "And what are you still waiting for? Serve me!" Then the Daimyo started to mutter about how ignorant the younger generation was, to not even know of the simplest etiquette in drinking.

Blatantly ignoring the older male's insulting comments Neji complied with his demand, reaching over for the large flask of sake and pouring it gracefully onto the second saucer beside his own. Setting the flask carefully back onto the table, Neji was not surprised when Masahiro relieved him of the urn of liquor and poured some for him as well. Just as it was the guest's duty to ensure that the host's cup was full, it was also the host's prerogative to reciprocate the gesture for his guest. It was all very formal, and as much as Neji disliked alcohol he had still been taught how to observe all sorts of etiquettes ever since he was a young boy and the serving of sake had been one of many such topics that had been enforced by the Hyuuga clan.

"See here." Masahiro took his saucer and Neji followed suit, albeit a little reluctantly. The older redhead took a loud, appreciative sip of his sake and promptly looked as if he had achieved pure bliss. Neji simply had no idea what to make of it but he made a mental note all the same. Being aware of Masahiro's weaknesses seemed like a very good thing to do, especially on the off chance when there might be further need to appease Sakura's cantankerous father in the future.

Feeling a lot more cheerful now that he had some high quality sake—and was about to have even more very soon, Masahiro smiled brilliantly at the Hyuuga prodigy. "This is very expensive ultra premium Junmai Daiginjo sake." The redhead was speaking almost pleasantly now. "If you sip and allow it to run slowly over your tongue you will definitely taste the fruity aroma and mild flavor. Try it."

Neji tried not to look skeptical.

Knowing that he had no choice in the matter, the Hyuuga brought the saucer to his mouth and sipped obediently. Surprisingly though the taste of the sake wasn't as overpowering as it had been earlier and Neji was forced to conclude that Masahiro was right about one thing; sake was meant to be taken in small quantities. He wasn't exactly sure about the 'fruity aroma and mild flavor' part though, and had to fight not to exhale too obviously in an effort to rid of the alcoholic fumes swimming in his sensitive nose.

Frowning slightly down at the saucer in his hand Neji took another tentative sip. Once again, the flavor seemed to have improved itself and Neji's frown deepened with growing curiosity. Interesting. And before he knew what he was doing the young ANBU captain had took another two more swallows of the potent alcohol and had drained the shallow saucer of its contents.

Masahiro was only too happy to refill his cup, emerald eyes glinting with amusement when the young Hyuuga started to turn slightly pink with growing intoxication. Boy was he not joking when he said that he had a low alcohol tolerance!

By the time Neji finished his sixth cup of sake he was beginning to understand what Masahiro was talking about. The liquor wasn't half as horrible as Neji had made it out to be at first either, and if Neji was being honest with himself he would say that it was quite good.

It really was a good thing (or bad, depending on which side you are on) that Masahiro had decided not to comment on the how red in the face the Hyuuga was becoming, not to mention the fact that he was also starting to look—and act somewhat unfocused. Yes, Hyuuga Neji was well on his way to getting hopelessly smashed, and personally the Daimyo of the East much preferred this more…relaxed alter ego of the normally calm and stoic male.

"Masahiro-san, let me help you…pour." Neji concentrated hard as he tilted the urn carefully to fill his host's saucer with sake. Masahiro happily nodded his thanks as he brought his fifth helping of sake to his lips.

"Tell you what, Hyuuga." The somewhat lucid redhead announced almost conspiratorially to the almost dazed Hyuuga. "Help me finish this entire urn tonight and I will welcome you into the family with arms wide open, no questions asked. Do we have a deal, kid?"

Neji smirked (or at least he tried to) as he drained yet another saucer of the potent liquor, all good sense having long since fled along with every other sense of self-preservation and tact the moment he finished his third cup of sake.

"Yes, we have a deal, you old coot. Bring it on."

Three hours later, Sakura's patience was rapidly reaching the end of its tether. It was almost midnight and there were still no signs of either her father or Neji. Morbidly Sakura wondered if they were still alive, and what on earth they could have been up to for so long. A sideways glance at her mother revealed a similar, albeit a lot more subdued sense of curiosity and in an unspoken agreement both women decided to search out for the two men.

The whereabouts of both Masahiro and Neji weren't as hard to find as one would have originally thought. In fact, it wouldn't have been difficult to locate the males even if the Haruno patriarch had not told his wife firsthand that they would be in his study. Why, the loud racket that the both men were making would have easily led even a blind man to their current location, and Sakura really did not know what to make out of the uproarious laughter that had suddenly erupted from the room as the females neared the study.

Miharu directed a knowing smile to Sakura. "It seems like your worries were for nothing, dear." The older blonde remarked. "They sound like they are enjoying themselves, aren't they?"

The pink-haired kunoichi merely shook her head slowly, not really knowing what was going on in that study and somehow she wasn't really sure that she would want to know either. Reaching for the entrance of the room, the kunoichi chanced yet another glance at her mother before pushing the door open.

Emerald eyes widened with disbelief as Sakura took in the incredulous sight before her.

They were both dead drunk.

Even as Sakura watched with a slightly open mouth, her father was loudly singing what sounded like a very bawdy song and Neji…

Well, Neji was actually learning to sing it as well. Both men were red-faced and glassy-eyed from drinking from what looked like an unbelievably huge flask of sake that was on the table and as the pink-haired kunoichi surveyed the scene she had no idea whether to laugh or to cry.

"Oh dear." Miharu murmured as she watched her husband corrupt her daughter's Neji-kun. And where had that sake came from? Hadn't she weeded out each and every bottle of her husband's secret stash a few weeks ago?

Neji swiveled around when he heard the soft exclamation from the older Haruno female. Drunk or no, his senses were still sharp as ever. Unfortunately one couldn't say the same for his brains though.

"Miharu-san! Sakura!" The Hyuuga called out cheerfully, promptly alerting Masahiro of the females' presence. The young male was currently feeling so uncharacteristically uplifted that he even tried to sketch a flamboyant bow to the kunoichi's mother, only that trying to bend over while seated before a table wasn't working very well. Neji gave up at last and opted to grace the women with a charming smile instead.

Sakura was hardly impressed. The pink-haired female merely stood there in blunt shock as she watched this side of Neji. It was probably the oddest thing that she had ever seen, this…happy Neji, and somehow it all looked uncomfortably wrong.

"…Neji?" Sakura's voice was still soft with disbelief, as if she was hoping for the off chance that this really wasn't the Hyuuga she knew but instead someone who had come impersonating the ANBU captain just so that he could drink sake with her father.

"Yes, love?"

Sakura blinked at the endearment that he had given her.

"Love?" She echoed dumbly. Just when did Neji become so vocal with his affections?

Neji shrugged confidently at her, exchanging a quick glance with an amused Masahiro as he did so. "Your father calls your mother 'love', isn't that right? Since I love you too, I figured I have earned the right to call you that too."

It wasn't exactly the most romantic declaration in the world, but Sakura would definitely have melted at Neji's declaration if not for the fact that he was obviously pissed and she was equally convinced that he was muttering bits of drunkened gibberish that he definitely would not be remembering the next morning. That and the fact that he had just told her that he loved her right in front of her parents. This entire situation was almost too surreal, but eventually the pragmatic side of Sakura kicked in.

"The only thing you are now is drunk." The kunoichi retorted smartly as she shared a similarly exasperated glance with her mother. The two females proceeded to approach their male counterparts.

"Really, Masahiro. What were you thinking?" Miharu rounded the large study table to reach her husband's side, lecturing him all the while. "And how on earth did you smuggle in this sake? Didn't the doctor say that you weren't supposed to drink this much?! You know that it's bad for your health!"

Unlike Neji, Masahiro knew that he was in trouble when he saw the stern look in his wife's normally gentle blue eyes. He had spent nearly twenty years reading the many moods of his spouse and knew better than anyone when she meant business. Throwing up his hands in a placating gesture, the liquored up redhead defended himself.

"Today's an exception!" Masahiro announced firmly. "This sake here has been waiting for Neji for almost twenty years! S'only right that we open it up to drink it today! After all, I must welcome Neji into the family properly, eh?"

Sakura stared at her father.

"You approve?" The kunoichi asked with a mixed reaction of surprise and relief.

"Of course he would approve." Neji butted in, tripping slightly over his words as he did so. He also tried to stand up from his seat but his legs seemed to have gotten entangled with each other. He ended up grabbing one of Sakura's hands to capture her attention. "I am a Hyuuga!" The pickled ANBU captain announced proudly to that hand. "I am everything you would want in a potential husband, Sakura."

Once again, Sakura could only stare at him who was at the moment looking all too pleased with himself. Miharu hid a small giggle behind her hand. Neji-kun was pretty…entertaining when drunk. Masahiro snorted, still lucid enough to see what was going on.

"As I said before, you are very drunk, Neji." Sakura retorted wryly as she watched the Hyuuga puff up like a rooster. Oh, what she wouldn't give to have a video recorder on hand right now! As mortifying as this entire situation should have been for her Sakura was instead feeling somewhat amused and exasperated at the same time. Really, of all the times for Neji to act all out of character he had to choose now, when he was right before her parents. Of course it wasn't entirely his fault; something told the kunoichi that the Hyuuga was going to feel very, very mollified when he wakes up tomorrow morning with a godawful hangover and the memory of what he had been up to the night before. For obvious reasons that made her feel a lot better.

"I'm not drunk!" Neji shot back defiantly then. "I'm just feeling a little…happy…"

Now it was all Sakura could do not to roll her eyes heavenwards. "Of course you are, Neji. I'm sure that it's all very natural for you to feel this cheerful."

Neji nodded agreeably, his glazed eyes still looking at her hand. "Your father was right about sake, you know. Everything looks fuzzier after awhile, isn't it?" He squinted at the appendage of hers that he was currently holding on to. "Even you."

Desperately holding on to the urge to laugh now, Sakura slowly freed her hand from Neji's grasp. "You are looking at my hand, genius." The kunoichi's voice was full of laughter as she told him the truth. "And by the way, I think that you have enough interacting time with my father to last you a year. And there will definitely be no more sake the next time."

Miharu immediately nodded her agreement. "Yes, just look at the two of you! Both drunk as a pair of sailors! You are definitely not going home like that, Neji-kun; I can just imagine what your family would say! You will stay for the night, of course." Fully expecting no arguments from the beleaguered Hyuuga, the blonde turned to her daughter next, immediately taking full charge of the situation. "Sakura, this means that you will be staying here tonight as well. It is getting late and ninja or no I do not want my daughter to be walking around the deserted streets unprotected so late at night. Will you please show Neji-kun to a guestroom while I handle your father here?"

Knowing that she had no choice but to listen to her mother whenever she had that determined, take-charge glint in her eyes, Sakura nodded immediately and did what she was told.

"Can you walk, Neji?" The pretty pink-haired kunoichi asked as she started to bend down to look at Neji. "Or are you too paralytic by the alcohol to even stand?"

Neji was immediately offended. "Of course I can stand!" The powerful shinobi stumbled up from his seat, severely lacking in his usual grace. Sakura could only step aside as the drunk Hyuuga fought a failing battle with gravity as well as with his own impossibly gigantic male ego. She came to rescue just in time when he almost fell on his ass.

"Neji…" Sakura could only shake her head with growing exasperation. "Just hold on to me, baka."

"Is that an invitation?" The Hyuuga made an attempt at seduction but only ended up croaking like a frog for all the good it did him. Sakura really did roll her eyes this time, and a part of her decided that she was going to take extreme delight in reminding him of how he had tried to seduce her in front of her parents when he wakes up painfully sober tomorrow.

Turning towards her amused parents next the kunoichi bid them a hasty goodnight (which was cheerfully echoed by her masculine counterpart) before dragging the Hyuuga out of the study room, muttering about how much trouble he was giving her the entire way.

Both the elder Harunos watched the young couple leave, and only when the study door slid shut did Miharu turn towards her husband.

"So." The blonde eyed her mischievous husband with a sharp glint in her eyes. Masahiro promptly collapsed exaggeratedly into his chair.

"Oh look!" The tall redhead cried out loudly as he pointed at the covered ceiling. "Stars, Miharu! I see stars! Aren't they pretty, my love? Do you want me to pluck some down for you?"

Said blonde promptly shot her spouse a disapproving stare before delivering a sharp, warning poke to his chest. "Quit pretending to be drunk, husband." The petite female exclaimed. "Do you really think that you could still fool me after spending all these years together? Not to mention that the sake you bought on the day of Sakura's birth no longer exists. How could I not remember that you opened it up the very day you bought it and toasted everyone who walked into the hospital?"

Masahiro winced. Well, his wife always had the sharpest memory.

And now, said wife had put her hands on her hips in a universal you-better-do-what-I-say-or-else gesture. "Just what were you up to earlier? And don't try to bluff me again this time; I know that your sake isn't anywhere as strong as the type you normally like, if not I would have gotten hold of it a long time ago."

Really, his Miharu was just too intelligent and keen not to notice anything amiss. Masahiro knew it when he was soundly trounced and defeated.

"But that was still very high grade sake!" The redhead protested gamely. His blonde wife arched a brow and started to tap her feet impatiently, and the Daimyo grumbled.

"It was a test." Masahiro conceded. "Actually, Hiashi had sent a letter earlier informing me about Neji's intolerance to alcohol but I had thought that he was exaggerating as usual. You know the Hyuugas, always doing everything they can in order to avoid embarrassment to the clan, as slight as it may be. I just wanted to see if the boy would be willing to forgo that massive Hyuuga pride for Sakura when the need arises. I didn't know that he was really that intolerant that just a little bit of alcohol would disorient him so, though it was pretty amusing all the same." The Daimyo could not help but smirk at the recollection. Maybe he should introduce the real type of alcoholic beverage that he liked on the night of their wedding.

"And so what was your verdict?" Miharu interrupted when her husband started to sport a preoccupied look on his face, accompanied by that almost gleeful smile that told her that he was plotting something again. Distracted, Masahiro snapped out of his daydreams and could only answer Miharu reluctantly.

"Neji really isn't the type that I have in mind for Sakura." The tall redhead admitted, recalling the traits that he had once upon a time settled upon his ideal son-in-law.

The young man would have to be gentle and loving to his Sakura and definitely not in the ninja business. He would have to be very intelligent too, but not so strong-willed that Masahiro would not be able to bully him into doing things that pleased the older man. Neji barely passed his requirements, having failed two aspects out of five but now that Masahiro thought of it teasing the stoic Hyuuga boy would be a lot more entertaining compared to pushing around some weak-willed businessman who would have immediately prostrated himself before Masahiro anytime he demanded for it.

Besides, Masahiro didn't think that Sakura would have loved any such ordinary men that he had in mind for her.

"Neji will do." Masahiro said at last, his heart heavy as he finally admitted what he had known from the start. "He's certainly not what I had in mind, but he will do."

Miharu looked at the woeful look on her husband's face and promptly placed a comforting hand on his shoulder.

"We have raised her well, haven't we?" The petite blonde asked gently. When her husband didn't seem to respond Miharu continued speaking. "She has her whole life ahead of her now, our Sakura, and you cannot live her life for her, Masahiro. You have to let her go eventually; you knew that. Besides, Neji-kun is a very nice young man; I'm sure that he will take good care of our daughter."

In response to his wife's very sensible words, Masahiro emitted a long sigh. "I know." He said at last, and Miharu smiled.

The blonde bent down and perched herself on her husband's lap, drawing her beloved redhead into her arms as she did so. Masahiro was more than willing to enfold his petite lady within the protective circle of his strong arms, and he buried his face into her sweet-smelling hair as she sighed and held tightly onto him.

The couple of nearly twenty-five years stayed together in that comfortingly familiar embrace for a long time, and neither spoke a word. There was no need.

Only when what seemed like minutes had passed did Masahiro loosen his grasp on his wife, and Miharu pulled back slightly to look at him. Her husband still appeared quite glum but Miharu was sure that he would get over it soon.

"You should stop acting like we are going to lose our daughter; we are not. And besides, we still have each other, silly." The blonde chided. "We should allow Sakura to be with her other half as well."

This time Masahiro could only nod in agreement. It was a very reluctant nod, but Miharu thought that at least it was a step in the right direction. In time she was sure that her grouch of her husband would come to see Neji-kun as part of the family and would definitely defend the young Hyuuga as one of theirs as well. Now he was only sore over the fact that his little girl was growing up and that his very important position in her eyes would soon be usurped by another male. Miharu could only shake her head inwardly at her husband's ridiculous notion. Of course Sakura would always reserve a part of her heart for her father; there wasn't even a need for Masahiro to worry that he would be displaced from his daughter's affection.

Miharu continued to stroke her husband's arm comfortingly, and just when he began to look mellower the redhead suddenly stiffened with a most appalled look on his handsome face. His wife raised a brow in question.


Masahiro looked at his wife in dawning horror.

"Damn it!" The Daimyo cursed at the horrifying thought that had just occurred upon him. "This means that we are going to have Hiashi for an in-law!"

Miharu merely eyed the green look on her husband's face and was mildly surprised that he was recovering so quickly. Why, he was already jumping onto other topics to worry about! It was all the blonde could do not to laugh at her husband's antics.

"I'm sure that you can handle Hiashi-san," The blonde retorted with smiling blue eyes. "You have handled him well enough during meetings, haven't you?"

But Masahiro hardly looked appeased; in fact he looked comically unhappy.

"Yes, but I didn't have him for a relative then!! Now he's definitely going to expect me to help support that giant stick up his ass!"