"Bitch," Suigetsu muttered irately as he comforted the burning on his cheek with ginger strokes. Mind still completely enveloped with anger towards the red-head for striking him violently, he huffily sat himself beside the sleeping girl with a rather thunderous thud. "Didn't have to hit that hard, I was just messing around." He gritted his teeth, but finding the act painful, loosened his jaw. "Argh..." He should've prepared for it, if he'd liquefied himself earlier, his cheek wouldn't be hurting so damn bad.

About to complain further of the sore, a soft series of knocking came from the sliding door. Suigetsu forced himself to rise, and responded irritatedly, "Who is it? Whaddaya want?" He stumbled towards the door and opened it with ease.

On the other side was an elderly woman with graying brown hair, and soft black eyes. "Hello, young man." She greeted. The smile on her sunken face seemed forced, yet her voice was warm. "My name's Miyu. I'm here to bathe the young lady as your handsome friend requested." She continued, raising her wrinkled hands to indicate a pail of warm water with cloth.

Suigetsu, with a glint of skepticism in his eyes, momentarily glanced at the resting Hyuuga; then, he rationalized that it must have been Sasuke's bidding. With a shrug of his shoulders, he dismissed his concern and nodded. She was, after all, just an old bag. There was no way she'd cause them any trouble. "Alright. I guess I'll head to the springs."

"By all means, dear." Miyu encouraged him. "The hot springs should help you relax."

Convinced, the white-haired nin grinned and gleefully placed his hands behind his head as he walked out the doorway, disappearing down the hall. "Arigatou, Sasuke-kun!"

After making certain that there was no more trace of Suigetsu, Miyu entered the room and slid the door close – locking it securely. Slowly kneeling, she set the pail down on the matted floor and cast her gaze upon Hinata. Her slender brows furrowed as she brought her hands up to her chest; the gesture the old lady made generated a cloud of smoke to veil her. After the white suspension dissipated, Miyu was no more.

Instead, in traditional Hyuuga clothes, there was a disconcerted youth – with flowing dark, chocolate locks. His powerful physique heavily contrasted that of the old lady's; the way his lavender orbs gazed was fierce, unreservedly differing with Miyu's soft brown ones. Neji had managed to infiltrate the inn through the guise of a withering woman.

A grimace was clear upon his striking features; Hyuuga Neji had gone through such an arduous pretense – being a kindly old woman was not easy, especially when one faced a member of Hebi.

Struggling to breathe evenly, due to the very sight of her, Neji raced towards Hinata. At her side, he whispered her name, beckoning her to rise from her sleep. With the neckline of the hiyoku exceedingly low, he was able to see the higher bits of Hinata's bandages. His hand traveled to the edge of the fabric, brushing it gently aside to expose more of the bandages enwrapped around the maiden's slender waist. He became horrified at the sight of blood present at her side. What have they done to you? His eyes narrowed in anguish, brows furrowing with anxiety. "Hinata-sama..." Surveying the length of her body, he discovered yet another wound on her arm – the flow of blood had been stemmed with more bandages. "Hinata-sama. wake up." Placing a hand softly upon her shoulder, he shook her lightly.

A wide smile stretched across his wan face, Suigetsu exited the changing room directly to the hot springs. Despite the unusual calm he felt, there was still a glint of mischief in his eyes.

"Oi, Sasuke-kun." He called to the Uchiha, who was paying little attention to his surroundings and had his eyes cast up into the dark, cloudy skies. "I'm grateful to you." Suigetsu continued.

Monotonously, Sasuke answered, "For what?"

"For sending the old hag, of course." Sighing in relief, Suigetsu entered the soothing waters.

"What are you talking about?" Karin, who'd laid against the rocks (nearby Sasuke) for a while now, piped up. "Sasuke-kun didn't send anyone, did you, Sasuke-kun? He's been here the whole time, since we got here."

The silver-haired nin felt a jolt of shock running through him when he heard Karin's utterance. "Y-you didn't... you didn't send for an old lady to... to clean the Hyuuga up?"

Sasuke's expression darkened visibly as he flew out of the waters.

Finally, she stirred. Her warm eyes fluttered slowly open. And immediately upon seeing her cousin, Hinata inhaled sharply, "Niisan!" With indescribable effort, she rose and threw her arms around his neck.

"Shh..." The Hyuuga prodigy wrapped his arms endearingly around her, comforting her. "Let's get you out, Hinata-sama." In truth, Neji was striving to control himself. He wanted to hold her tightly in his arms, press her delicate body against his own; Neji wanted more than anything to truly feel her; with her critical condition, however, his primal desires were unbearably prevented.

"I... I c-can't, Niisan." She heaved a little sigh, and timidly gazed into his eyes – where immense confusion lingered.

"What do you mean?" Neji searched her face, as if he could find an answer just by reading her expression. "You ...intend to go along with your father's wishes?"

Hinata fell silent, realizing that the reason she was here was not news to Neji.

"I'm taking you back to Konoha." Neji stated, resolved, after a long, deafening silence. "Despite the agreement Hiashi-sama made with him, I will not lose you to Uchiha Sasuke."

A pang of realization struck her dead in the chest, particularly her heart.

Gradually, Hinata loosened her embrace. She felt his eyes on her, it was as if his gaze was a burning pressure, boring into her – delving deeply.

Did she hear Neji correctly?

No... perhaps she was still in her momentary state of delirium.

Hinata understood that Neji would want her to return back to Konoha, but for the reason of familial concern.

What he stated moments ago, however, sounded as if... as if he liked her in the way a lover would.

Neji gritted his teeth, frustration etched visibly upon his countenance. "Hinata-sama, you'll return. Please. Please. You needn't worry about Hiashi-sama; I will talk to him. I'll talk him into reason."

Her feelings were torn; casting a heavy strain inside her chest. It was becoming difficult to breathe, just thinking about the decision she was being forced to make. If she left with Neji, Sasuke would be devastated. But if she stayed, she knew she'd break Neji's heart. The options presented to her weren't exactly fitting ones.

"B-but... he needs my help..." She murmured softly, not inaudible enough for Neji not to hear, however.

"He can find someone else." Neji said sternly in his low voice. He easily lifted her up in his arms, carrying Hinata's lithe figure presented no challenge for Neji.

"W-wait! Niisan!" Hinata hissed. "Somebody's coming."

Damn, Neji cursed inwardly, if I don't get her out now... He let the thought go unfinished, grinding his teeth and returned Hinata to the futon. Without further delay, he darted out the window, before anyone could catch a glimpse of him.

When the Uchiha bolted into the room, he expected a hostile presence. To his surprise, however, he found the Hyuuga heiress, with wounds undressed and back exposed to him, seeming to be tending to her own wounds.

Tentatively, Hinata glanced over her shoulder, cringing noticeably when she twisted her side. Fear ran the course of her blood as her eyes met his penetrating ones. Unable to maintain eye-contact, Hinata turned away and pretended to continue her ministrations, softly wiping at the closing wound at her right side, while her right arm was raised to cover her bare chest.

Had he noticed Neji? She bit her lower lip nervously and cast a surreptitious glance toward the window her cousin had leaped out of.

Sasuke grew even more cautious when she spoke no word to him, taking note of the crimson-tinged water in the pail beside her. As he approached the Hyuuga, he directed furtive glances at her, eyeing her smooth bareness with furrowed brows. Merely footsteps away from the girl, he uttered, "...you're not a medic nin, are you?"

He saw the Hyuuga's flitting hesitation, and immediately realized she had not told him the truth.

Hinata felt the soft breeze generated from his movement, and tensed instantly when she saw – from the corner of her eye – the Uchiha stooping down beside her. An unrestrained whimper was elicited when she sensed his tepid touch upon the curve of her side, just above the grave wound.

"If you were one, you would've healed yourself long ago."

His caress was rough in feeling due to the numerous callouses that graced his powerful hands, it made her truly realize just how powerful Uchiha Sasuke was. And yet, his touch was gentle – something she found to be surprising and unexpected of someone capable of such power... and one who was filled with so much hatred.

A warm sensation manifested where her wound was, resulting in another whimper from the Hyuuga. The sensation lasted some ten long seconds, and when it abated, all that was left was an odd tingly feeling.

The heiress felt another soft breeze and opened her eyes. A new surge of panic flowed through her veins when she realized that Sasuke was about to approach the opened window. Without giving her impending action a thought, she extended her left arm – hand clasping around his. "N-no!"

His head whipped toward her, his onyx orbs penetrating hers with such intensity...

"D-don't go..." She muttered, her other arm still covering her chest. She cast her gaze down, wondering what she should do next to make the situation less awkward or ...suspicion-inducing. Uchiha Sasuke was no dimwit. "I... I want to thank you..." Then she lifted her face and offered a soft smile, "Thank you for fixing me."

He watched her through narrowed eyes, eyes roaming from the cut wound on her forearm to the light scar on her side, taking the subtle hints of suggestiveness she seemed to display – he wasn't sure if they were intentional or not, however. Simultaneously, some parts of his subconsciousness found delight in her delicate, yet firm grip upon his hand – and her position... it was as if she was presenting herself to him.


Any form of intimacy that had transpired between the Uchiha and his potential wife fizzled at the sudden clamor – their joined hands were no more. The shoji screen entrance was broken down, a hole ripped through its midriff.

"Those Leaf shinobi! They're coming! Fast!" The red-head fixed her spectacles with the push of an index finger, her bright red hair unruly from the sprinting.

"Well, whadd'ya expect?" Suigetsu worsened the atmosphere with cynicism, appearing beside Karin, "She's the friggin' heiress to her clan and we stole her."

"Get Juugo," The Uchiha commanded, the displease on his face too obvious for their liking. "We're leaving this place."

Karin and Suigetsu dispersed upon the command, leaving the couple alone once more.

"Put that on." He said to her without making eye-contact. "I'm carrying you."

Hinata silently obeyed and slipped her feeble arms through the hiyoku's sleeves as he turned away.

Only when he was certain she'd be decent enough to make bodily contact with, the Uchiha descended momentarily to hoist the girl onto his back. He evacuated without a second glance.

A/N: Do forgive me if this chapter's unsatisfactory. x.x This took me forever. A little appreciation would be much appreciated. Please. xD