A/N: This comes from the same arc as 'Strength of Will' and 'Burnt Bridges' but the story can stand alone. This is a oneshot that came to mind as I thought about where I want Hinata's character to go. I freely admit that I see a strong force in Hinata and I'm trying to convey that in future stories. Also, the Hyugas are simply fascinating, especially Neji, Hinata and Hanabi (family is family no matter what). Reviews and feedback are welcome. No beta reader so mistakes are mine.

Rating: M for strong language

Disclaimer: The characters of Naruto do not belong to me.

Common Ground

by Esum Amla

Hanabi never thought she would be standing before this door again but she had become desperate and she needed his help. Before she could change her mind, she knocked firmly on the door and waited with apprehension.

The door soon slide open to reveal her cousin, Neji, looking so surprisingly poised despite being woken up in the middle of the night that the young Hyuga wondered if her cousin was sleeping at all.

Neji's face was cold and impassive, revealing no surprise—if there was any—at the unexpected visitor. This would be the first time the cousins have spoken directly to each other since Hanabi activated Neji's seal those many months ago and the tension between them was palpable.

'Summer storm'. That was what came to Hanabi's mind whenever she sensed Neji's anger. Hinata had once described an away mission to her where the rainstorms moved swiftly across the grasslands like a rolling wave and Hanabi thought the image suited her cousin's emotions very well. However, she also had to admire Neji's self control. His outward appearance did not betray the killing intent flowing from him.

"Hanabi-sama." His tone told her he was barely tolerating her presence.

So Hanabi, never one for subtly, decided to get to the point. "I need a favor."

And Neji, defiant to the very end, decided to get to his point as well. "Fuck you."

"It's concerns Hinata!" Hanabi rushed on blocking the door with her hand as the boy attempted to close it.

It was the mention of her sister that saved her fingers from being crushed for Neji had no intention of being gentle. He gave her a leveled, penetrating glare, most likely taking in the fretful desperation in her eyes that she could no longer hide behind the trademark Hyuga apathy. She met his gaze willingly and unflinchingly, praying that he could see her sincerity. 'He'd better for all his arrogant boasting about reading people,' she thought tersely.

"What is wrong with Hinata-sama?" Neji asked finally.

Hanabi sighed with relief, the anxiety turning her stomach into an acidic mush. "She hasn't returned from training."

Neji's eyes shifted to look at the position of the moon over her shoulder and shrugged noncommittally but Hanabi was able to detect a small hint of concern before her cousin quickly managed to guard his emotions. "Hinata-sama has always preferred to train late. Perhaps she has lost track of time."

"All the same, I think someone should check on her," Hanabi countered anxiously.

The boy merely arched an eyebrow, silently waiting for her to explain and not at all tipping his hand in terms of what he was feeling at the moment. It was like talking to a wall. Hanabi was beginning to understand why so many people were unnerved by talking to a Hyuga--particularly this one. "She has not been herself lately. Surely, you have noticed."

Neji cocked his head to the side thoughtfully and frowned. "I admit that she has been…preoccupied. Anything beyond that is jumping to conclusions."

"Jumping to conclusions?" Hanabi repeated incredulously in a harsh whisper. "I know you've heard about what happened at the council meeting yesterday. Everyone is talking about it."

Indeed it was a council session to remember; not for any momentous, life changing decisions made but for the astounding fact that quiet, shy Hyuga Hinata spoke up and asked questions. Very bizarre questions.

Hanabi was there because her father thought it was time for her to familiarize herself with the inner workings of the clan and Hinata was there because tradition stated she should be regardless of her standing politically. Hanabi found the tedium of the whole affair unbearable. She abhorred how they danced around issues with double meanings and empty words and she had quickly lost interest in the topic, opting instead to daydream about fights and ninja strategy. Her sister on the other hand was apparently quite attentive despite being very unassuming. One could easily forget she was even in the room.

And then, with a series of questions, she reminded everyone.

Hanabi knew what everyone thought of her sister and it infuriated her to no end. She hated how they openly criticized her and called her weak because she preferred mercy over the killing blow. However, she didn't pretend to understand it. Her sister often confused her with her un-Hyuga views and opinions yet she was hopelessly drawn to her nonetheless. When Hinata spoke; she listened because over time, despite the soft cadence, Hinata's words carried an intense, eloquent conviction that was difficult to ignore. It wasn't until these past recent months that she felt a sense of…giddy anticipation…whenever she watched her sister and an overwhelming drive to protect her from those who would destroy her in reckless haste in the name of necessity or preservation.

Perhaps she was too young, too naïve to appreciate the ways of the world. After all, she had never stepped beyond the gates of her village. But Hanabi knew there was something special about her sister and despite the restrictions set upon her by her father, she could not stand by and do nothing. "Neji, I know that you have noticed a change in Hinata and you're just as worried as I about her tardiness."

Neji narrowed his eyes. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Like hell you don't!" Hanabi shot back impatiently. She remembered belatedly to keep her voice down. It would do her (and especially Neji) no good to be caught outside of her room in the middle of the night. "She's become distant lately. She doesn't talk to me anymore like she used to and she spends all her time either training or in the library reading old tomes. Nobody knows what she's doing or why and her questions yesterday…" Hanabi worried her bottom lip anxiously, "I just want you to go make sure she's alright."

Neji studied her for a long moment impassively before replying, "This matter does not concern me."

"You are so full of sh-" Hanabi began before she had to bring her hand forcefully to the door preventing the now angry boy from closing it. "After all she's done for you. After all the crap you put her through. You're her god damn protector! I'm asking you to do your fucking job!"

Whenever Hanabi had the opportunity to watch her cousin spar, it always impressed her how inhumanly quick the Hyuga genius was. It reminded her how far she had to go in her own training and she took that realization to heart. However, despite putting in the extra hours of training, she recognized it was blind luck and Neji's emotions running over that saved her from serious injury when the boy ('summer storm') suddenly shot a chakra laced hand at her. She barely—barely!—managed to reflexively deflect the blow with her hand and the two stood frozen, panting heavily and wide-eyed at the severity of the moment.

Neji attacked her.

A Branch member attacked a member of the Main House.

There was no question what was expected of each of them. Neji should have been on the ground bowing low in fearful supplication or dying miserably as Hanabi, by all rights, activated his curse seal until his brain imploded.

Neither moved.

At that defining moment, Hanabi's thoughts turned to her sister. Hinata would not have been able to block the attack, she thought with detached logic. Her body would have most likely bounced painfully across the court yard, bruising and breaking along the way, lungs collapsing, heart convulsing, ribs cracking. But then she wouldn't have provoked Neji as Hanabi did. Her sweet, shy enigma of a sister would have apologized profusely for disturbing his rest and humbly make her request of him.

And Neji…

Neji would have gone above and beyond to see the task done all because his cousin asked it of him and because, like herself, saw something in Hinata that gave him…hope?

"You…hate me," she began slowly, staring at where their hands met just off her shoulder. The hand that managed to block burned painfully but she ignored it. "And no doubt you have good reason to. I never…apologized for activating your seal."

Neji's eyes widened slightly at that and he slowly brought his hand back to his side, staring warily at the Hyuga girl. He waited; clearly uncertain about what to expect.

"It was wrong of me. I see that now ('Hinata helped me to see')," Hanabi's gaze met that of her cousin's whose face had returned to its mask of neutrality. But it was just a mask. "If you are looking for retribution, I'm willing to give you your chance."

"Retribution?" Neji repeated, clearly unimpressed. "What sort of retribution can a Branch member seek from the Main House that would come even close to justice?"

Hanabi swallowed, knowing that she was appearing very ignorant at the moment but she pushed on. "A spar. You and me, no holding back. We would fight as ninja of the Leaf, not Branch and Main House. You can come at me with all you got."

"Hn, if I came at you with all I got, I would kill you."

"You can try!" Hanabi shot back reflexively, her competitive edge coming out despite her efforts at restraint. 'God, what an arrogant prick! Are we really related? I can't be this bad, even on my worst day. ' "I'm ready for you anytime, anywhere. Just…please, go check on Hinata. If you do that, I'll fight you whenever you want."

She ended on a pleading note and Neji bowed his head in thought, a small frown on his face.

She would never know if she got through to him that night for in the next moment Neji—with no interference from Hanabi this time—slammed the door rudely in her face.

Hanabi hated mornings. Oh, god how she hated mornings! Especially when she spent the night before worrying anxiously over her wayward sister and negotiating a death match with her emotionally dead, slightly psychotic cousin ('What the hell was I thinking? He's going to kill me!') and thereby getting no sleep whatsoever.

Oh, well, she thought logically. There was no point in dwelling on it now. The sun was beginning to rise and she was to meet with her father for early morning training. If she was anyone other than Hyuga Hanabi, she would have burst into tears at the thought of getting out of bed at such an unholy hour. Alas, she merely rolled out of bed and proceeded to grumpily get dressed.

As she was attempting to get her hair in some sort of order, a soft tap on the door interrupted her morning routine. Her first panicked thought was that she was late and her father sent someone to retrieve her (The day she's late for a training session with her father is the day she plays deathly ill, going so far as to slip herself a mild poison if need be). Fortunately for her, she had time to spare so her anxiety quickly turned into curiosity. Who would come to her at such an early ('unholy') hour?

She opened the door to find her cousin, Neji, stone faced and rigid in posture, patiently waiting.

An assortment of emotions ricocheted instantly through her body at that moment: blind panic, surprise, curiosity, confusion and anger. It was weird but her face betrayed none of it. "Neji-kun?"

"Hinata-sama is resting quietly in her room. She is safe," the boy recited without preamble.

Hanabi's heart raced at the news and relief flooded her veins. "When did she get back? What was she doing?" 'I can't believe you actually went to check on her.'

"Two hours ago. She was meditating when I found her by the river but there were scrolls nearby. I do not know their contents or why she had them but for now it is unimportant. She is safe."

Hanabi nodded unconsciously in agreement. She looked at her cousin who was as composed as ever in his white training attire and absently admired how well he hid his emotions, volatile as they were. It was a quality she often times struggled with herself as her temper often got the best of her, raising legitimate concerns amongst the elders. "Thank you for checking on her."

Neji turned away. "I did not do it for you," he said shortly. Everything else was left unsaid.

"I know," she said quietly, completely understanding the strange pull Hinata had on her cousin. "I suppose I owe you a fight now."

Neji snorted cynically. "You would hardly be a challenge."

Hanabi smirked dangerously. "Make no mistake, cousin. I am not Hinata."

Neji turned and studied her for an intense moment and Hanabi returned his scrutiny with a glare that she hoped conveyed to him that she was not afraid of him (even though she was--a little). "No, you are not," he said quietly before turning and walking towards the Branch section of the manor.

Hanabi stood frozen at the doorway, the enormity of her own words hitting her like a knife to the gut.

She was not Hinata.

Someone like her sister, at least when concerning the Hyuga, came once in a lifetime.

Perhaps, she thought, as she watched the retreating form of her cousin, she was not the only one who realized this.

She hoped to any deity who cared to listen that it was earnestly true.

- The End -

Reviews welcome