Chapter 1: Earning Respect
"Please father! I just..."
Her desperate pleas were drowned by his pure stance of stubbornness and unbending determination.
Her hesitant lips quivered under his unforgiving eyes as he forced himself to stand without clenching his teeth in pain.
The quick swish of his ancient robes indicated the abrupt adjournment of their conversation as he opted on leaving the room they were currently residing in.
Quick silver orbs scanned the area – most specifically, his eldest daughter – with intense scrutiny.
"No daughter. You forget your place." He spat out at her trembling figure.
For a quick second he allowed the feeling of guilt and pity overtake his painful sensations. However, they disintegrated as swiftly as they emerged and he spoke those final words in haste.
"This discussion is over, Hinata."
The slight tremors of his hands, once capable of bringing forth silent destruction to enemy shinobi, were pointedly ignored as he forcefully jerked the traditional door aside.
This was not her day.
And it was safe to make this an official declaration. After all, this just was not normal.
"I'm sorry Hinata, I just... It is a very, very unusual request-" the confused female hesitantly replied as she directed all her attention to her timid friend.
The medical reports lay completely forgotten as the kunoichi with cherry locks encouraged the Hyuuga heiress to take a seat on the comfortable sofa situated next to her over-flowing office desk. It was one of those periods filled with endless missions and Konoha's top medic-nin was absolutely swamped with cases needing her direct attention.
It was also safe to declare that Haruno Sakura was absolutely, undeniably, extremely busy.
She had just come out of directing an extreme difficult operational procedure involving lots of poison, a handful of kunai as well as a deadly jutsu that had paralysed her jonin patient who was immune to anesthetic components.
It was perhaps even safer to assume that she was chakra-drained to such a degree that Hinata's request caught her off guard by complete surprise. And it was most unfortunate that she had unintentionally allowed her face to express such uncertainty, for her long time friend shifted in a rigid sequence as she obediently approached the couch. One thing that the Hyuuga heiress detested more than public speaking was inconveniencing those around her in any way. It seemed Hinata would always remain that shy, timid girl at heart.
"I know and I apologise for troubling you, Sakura-chan." The kind-hearted woman blushed and began fidgeting absent-mindedly with the ends of her elaborate kimono. "It's just that...h-he is under excruciating pain all the time, even though he tries to deny it." The quiet Hyuuga heiress forcefully pushed herself to continue.
Perhaps it was the tightly drawn lips or the rigid straining of her muscles; but Sakura instantly placed her hand above distressed trembling ones.
The signs were all too clear.
Her long-time friend was absolutely exhausted – both physically and mentally.
Dark circles coloured the underside of those silver eyes, there was heaviness in her movement as if her exquisite silk kimono was dragging her down, and then there was the general lack of happiness in her overall countenance. All in all, Hinata looked pretty damn awful. Something was making her miserable in a way no other had succeeded – until now.
Drawing gentle strokes with her thumb, the compassionate medic held onto those hands in a desperate attempt at comfort.
And with that single kind gesture Hinata broke down in an instant, throwing herself into the arms of a very confused yet sympathetic friend with a loud wail.
The mounting stress from it all, the worried looks from her dear cousin, the expectations being placed upon her as the eldest daughter, the whispers, her equally frustrated sister, and most importantly; her father – had taken a toll on this fragile creature. The futility of it all intensified her sobs of pain even as she frantically tried to lessen the endless flow of tears.
"Hinata... How bad are the symptoms?"
The symptoms appeared to wreck his body with fitting coughs.
As soon as he stepped out of the warm atmosphere of his chambers, the Hyuuga Lord had to forcefully clutch onto the door frame for support.
In a matter of seconds, Hinata was instantly by his side as she tried to do anything to lessen the visible pain.
"Father! Please…!" She cried out, pulling him back into his room; back to his bed for the rest that his body so desperately needed.
"Unhand me!" His voice boomed and with a quick movement of the arm, Hinata was stumbling to the very far end corner of the room.
And even from such a distance, neither of them moved.
Not when signs of contentment was evidently beginning to rise from quick silver orbs of the Clan Lord.
Perhaps a sadistic sort of satisfaction but at the end of the day, it still proved that he was in control.
He was still in charge. He was still the head of the prestigious Hyuuga-clan and he was alright. He did not need any help. He was fine…
He was fine.
The soothing long strokes down the length of her back was more than enough encouragement for the disoriented Hyuuga heiress to blunt out all those forbidden words she had longed to pass onto someone – anyone.
"There are those endless coughs…h-he can barely stand! His chakra level is at its worst condition. He is trembling all the time... I'm worried that he will; that…oh Sakura! I just don't know what to do!" She screamed out as she buried her tear-stricken face into the capable shoulders of the medic.
And in response, the pink-haired kunoichi could do nothing else but whisper gentle words to lessen the distress and tighten her hold of the Hyuuga heiress.
But underneath the calm exterior, the ANBU medic was fuming in blind anger and fury.
Where the hell was Naruto and why wasn't he fulfilling his job of a devoted boyfriend?
Narrowed emerald orbs must have given away such dark thoughts, for Hinata reluctantly pulled away to compose herself.
"N-Naruto, he...Naruto doesn't know. I didn't want to trouble him with…family affairs and f-father wouldn't have approved."
Those small uncertain hands quickly tried to dry wet cheeks as the sniffling gradually descended. And yet, Sakura was far from convinced; even as those hesitant words of explanation emerged.
Hinata had been suffering alone throughout this entire ordeal?
"No, no…Neji-niisan… Niisan has been so very supportive." Hinata replied with a grateful look. "He's been like a solid rock for me, Sakura-chan… I-I'm alright…"
Ah, yes. Hyuuga Neji; the most capable and well-respected ANBU captain.
The firm yet, dangerously respectful tone of his voice commanded silence from both occupants.
With a slight bow, the stoic ANBU captain made his way swiftly towards his fallen cousin.
Helping a trembling Hinata back upon her feet, he guided her out of his uncle's chambers – far away from her current source of distress.
Over the years, Neji had grown to appreciate his position within the Hyuuga-clan. There were still certain aspects of his life that he wished differently, but the Byakugan user had finally found stability that had been so lacking beforehand. He had earned the respect from his clan-members and all of that of Konoha as he steadily moved forward to achieve his goals and ambition.
He was now the top ANBU captain in the village of Konoha, his relationship with his uncle had improved immensely whilst Hinata and Hanabi became as precious as if they were his very own younger sisters. On top of all this he had faithful, loyal comrades who supported him through thick and thin.
All in all, he was completely content.
But for something like this to befall upon his household – his fragile cousin – was distressing to say the least.
With a strained expression, he gave a light squeeze to lessen the sadness radiating from Hinata as he gently maneuvered her into the waiting arms of an equally distraught Hanabi.
As soon as he knew she was in capable hands, Neji promptly closed the door in order to face the equally fuming Clan Lord of the Hyuuga-compound.
"So, how do I come in all of this Hinata?" Sakura asked hesitantly, trying to not sound so uncertain and unsure.
It was most obvious that Neji would never back away from helping others nor remain ignorant to his responsibilities as a Hyuuga member.
But indeed, how did an outsider – such as herself – fit into this...mess?
...Considering all she had heard, the sharp kunoich was not liking the direction the conversation was leaning towards.
"As you would have figured out by now, f-father absolutely detests any signs of…weakness." Chuckling quietly as Sakura snorted at that particular comment; Hinata resumed explaining the situation.
Minus the tear-stricken face and an occasional hiccup; Hinata looked greatly refreshed by the sudden outburst.
"Unfortunately, the healers in the Hyuuga compound cannot seem to detect the cause of his illness," the small woman sighed regrettably. "They haven't been able to make any form of diagnosis. We've been trying to make him come to the hospital for a check-up but he just won't budge. He sees this as a sign of weakness and just won't admit he needs help…"
So far so good. But it was the next sentence that had Sakura wanting to break down in a similar fashion and cry like there was no tomorrow.
"So I was wondering, Sakura; c-could you possibly come to our compound and perhaps, heal him?"
For the love of…!
Holy Mother of-
Sakura berated herself as she stood outside the traditional compound that would be manifested with silver-eyed species.
She nervously twisted the ends of her short cherry locks; almost resorting to nail-biting methods to relieve the stressful sensations that began mounting upon her petite frame. It wasn't that this was her first time visiting the prestigious clan. On the contrary, the emerald-eyed beauty was one of the most frequent visitors to this gigantic estate due to her tight bond with the Hyuuga-heiress and, of course, Hyuuga Neji.
After all, being a qualified ANBU medic-nin resulted in Sakura interacting with the handsome captain in situations revolving around that of dangerous missions, medical check-ups, and surprisingly; social occasions. His quick wit and dry sarcasm was much appreciated in gatherings consisting of the usual group of quirky individuals who have remained tightly bonded since their genin days. And Sakura had ended up being pleasantly surprised in which the more she got to know the Byakugan user, the more she learned of the depth of his character. His loyalty, his fierce protectiveness as well as his understanding and thoughtful ways...
With a quick groan, the pink-haired beauty mentally slapped herself for allowing her thoughts to go off track.
A visible frown warped flawless features as she steeled herself to focus upon the current issue at hand.
And Sakura was absolutely dreading the inevitable encounter with the prestigious Clan Lord; Hiashi-sama.
More so, considering she had always made sure to never cross paths with the said individual, always politely declining dinner invitations and keeping her visits as brief as possible unless she was hidden safely within the confines of Neji or Hinata's quarters. So far, she had been incredibly successful in her personal mission. Perhaps it was childish of her to do so, but if the horror stories and accounts relayed upon by her sworn brother – Uzumaki Naruto – were anything to go by, Sakura would be happy to be branded a coward.
Nevertheless, she had to admit her extreme bias to the situation considering her involvement in the relationship between the Hyuuga heiress and the Rising Fox.
As soon as her two dear friends formed a romantic attachment, her displeasure regarding the Hyuuga Clan Lord intensified immensely due to all those stories of insufferable dinner meetings, his analytical gaze, the pressures of the upper-class, and his highly life-threatening analytical gaze. Such events personally elaborated upon by Naruto in their 'weekly ramen-dates' for the past year had been bone-chilling at the very least.
But now, all her hard work, her extensive planning and her objective of living a stress-free life was in vain.
...Because she just knew that what she was about to do was not going to sit well with the Hyuuga Clan Lord.
And being scrutinised, even by a sick Hiashi-sama, wasn't something she was looking forward to.
Forcefully biting her lips, tightly clenched hands made their first contact with the majestic wooden entrance.
Almost instinctively, the beautiful medic knew she had taken the first step to sealing the very end of her existence.
Yep, she was well on her way of finalising her fate with a very painful death.
"Would you care to repeat that, Sakura-san?" His voice reeked of displeasure and the emerald-eyed medic mentally applauded herself in responding just as calmly. If looks could kill…
And yet, it was difficult to deny the respect he deserved for his ability to act all high and mighty despite the preventable deterioration of his body.
Perhaps the sight of a sick man had brought forth her instincts as a healer. Or it could even be that her professionalism prevented her from breaking down as soon as she entered into Hiashi-sama's private chambers; notably dark and isolated.
With a purposeful smile, Sakura pointedly ignored his venomous glares and opted to taking a long sip of the tea provided by the equally distressed household staff.
Maybe she should have asked for sake? Alcohol would have definitely been a better source of comfort in situations such as these.
"With all do respect sir, I must recommend my services to you as a medic-nin of Konoha." Sakura declared all the while desperately hoping that he did not notice the unnaturally tight grip around her tea cup.
But such uncertainty was forcefully pushed back as the medic scanned his physical status.
His chakra level was as empty as a drought on a murderous summer's day. She was surprised that he could still form a coherent string of thought considering his internal depletion. And amidst this most uncomfortable tea party of the century, Sakura managed to come up with a rough diagnosis. And it was not a happy one.
Her brilliant knowledge base assisted in the quick formulation of possible causational factors and soon, an elaborative mind-map began to emerge. The 'Kekkei Genkai', being that of a genetically formulated ability, of the Hyuuga clan was that of 'Byakugan' – the pupil technique of the eyes. Such biologically integrated ability being used frequently in combination with 'Taijutsu' – the technique of the body – could result in deadly consequences. The sudden deterioration that had commenced with the aging of his physical form appeared to have resulted in a level of imbalance within Hiashi-sama's chakra system.
Rather than adapting to his body's needs, the stubborn Clan Lord appeared to have thrown his internal system into chaos by the endless use of unnecessary force and chakra supply.
Suddenly, Hinata's fleeting comment made so much more sense when they were finally put into context.
"F-Father always trains before dawn. He routinely exercises his techniques everyday."
The realisation that this unbelievably ignorant man had carelessly taken no steps to look after his body began to slowly sink in, fuelling Sakura with just enough anger to direct a challenging look of her own. Emerald orbs screamed of irritation as they lit up with a passionate inner-flame. This stupid man was going to accept her help, whether he liked it or not.
"A quick restoration of your chakra system and a bit of rest would have ended this meaningless situation," the increasingly agitated kunoichi seemed to have completely forgotten her previous feelings of dread and panic.
The sheer audacity of this man!
"Instead, your stubbornness has pushed Hinata to the point of having a mental break down in my office."
Her words never increased in volume and yet, they held a tone of authority and finality. She was indeed every bit of the apprentice of Tsunade-sama.
"It is blatantly obvious that all the members of this household are worried sick about you, Hiashi-sama. And yet, you have still chosen to not ask for help." Sakura saw him flinch at the corner of her eye, knowing very well she hit a nerve.
The sudden intensity emitting from his exhausted body caught the pretty medic's attention and almost immediately, the gears of her brain began twisting and turning to formulate an impromptu plan.
"You must realise that this unnecessary delay is the only reason why you are in this pitiful position which you appear to greatly detest." His eyes narrowed impossibly as they glinted dangerously. Just a little more.
Lowering her tea cup gracefully, sharpened emerald orbs taunted her opponent. "Perhaps this is presumptuous of me sir, but I believe I could defeat you in a quick sparring match – without even using my legs."
That had done it.
Because as soon as she punctured out those final words, a sudden battle cry escaped the prestigious Clan Lord as he lunged towards the startled yet ready kunoichi with the intention of damaging her in every possible way imaginable.
The sound of the sliding doors being demolished had the ANBU captain sprinting towards Hiashi-sama's chambers with dread.
When he had first taken a glimpse of his pink-haired comrade, he had been breaking down into cold sweats.
Interacting with Hiashi-sama was no walk in the park and he had instantly feared for her safety.
But if the Hyuuga prodigy had known that by sending Sakura to the god-forsaken room would result in a fight being commenced in their back garden, he would have promptly escorted her out of the Hyuuga compound using whatever means necessary – even if it meant having to throw the petite medic on his shoulders and carrying her all the way back to her apartment; consequences be damned!
The frantic screams and horrified features of the occupants of the Hyuuga compound was lost to Neji as he frantically tried to conjure up a plan to remedy this nightmare.
Regarding the extreme seriousness of the situation, Neji almost had a heart attack when the powerful kunoichi shouted out a daring message whilst skillfully evading the ancient Hyuuga's attempt to block up every single chakra point of her body.
"If you make me use my legs, Hiashi-sama, I shall admit defeat and will deem unnecessary to extend my medical services!"
With a confident smirk, Sakura allowed the chakra to build up around her fists – emitting a soft glowing effect.
Unlike her normal fighting stance, however, her hands were relaxed in such a way that a punch would not have left that much of a damaging consequence.
As the unsteady movements emitted by the proud Clan Lord surrounded the female opponent in every possible direction, she simply evaded effortlessly with the help of the delicate movement of her hands. The obvious discomfort being experienced by Hiashi-sama was all too obvious and she was strategically taking full advantage of this. But surprisingly, the un-rhythmic movements involved within this particular battle appeared to gradually diminish the closer Sakura got to the infuriated Clan Lord. The weak tremors of his hands, the slight wobbling of his legs, the tight clenching of his jaw, and the look of raw pain that had veiled his silver eyes for many weeks on end; began to evaporate ever so gradually.
His palms displaced a strongly emission of chakra and his movement held more stance until Hiashi-sama appeared to be initiating a tactful dance with the emerald-eyed woman.
The deadly gracefulness, the swift movements, the undeniable strength held behind every implication was all too clear.
If Neji had paid more attention to Hiashi-sama's facial expressions, he would have been graced with an understanding look within quick silver eyes.
Nonetheless, as the dance intensified ever so slightly, Sakura let out a gleeful laugh as she launched her usual set of attacks – using a combination of punches and kicks.
And when her left foot connected firmly with the defensive structure of Hiashi-sama's right arm, both parties sprang apart as if they had come to a silent agreement of their own. The rest of the occupants were left staggering in disbelief as Sakura made a graceful bow to the Hyuuga leader as soon as she landed gracefully next to the gigantic plantation of cherry blossoms – indicating the end and her defeat of their fight. What had them frozen solid to the ground, however, was not the warm smile spreading across the kunoichi's face as she directly faced the clan leader.
It was instead the responsive act of Hiashi-sama bowing in return in the most polite way; showing all that of acceptance and admiration that had everyone incapable of speech or movement.
And even when the pink haired medic-nin leisurely made her way towards the main entrance of the Hyuuga estate to let herself out or when Hiashi-sama let out a low chuckle of amusement while making his way towards his – doorless – chambers, it took a painstakingly long time for the stunned members of the Hyuuga clan to finally realise that Sakura had restored his chakra points during their quick sparring match.
...She had healed without directly challenging nor offending the stubborn nature of the Hyuuga Clan Lord.
And to Neji, that was the greatest thing a woman could do to earn a man's ultimate respect.