The Lavender Beast of Konoha
Summary: In a fit of hubris, Hiashi forced Hinata to attend the same Academy class as Neji. Having never been in the same class as Naruto, who shall serve as her inspiration to grow stronger when she graduates? AU Team Gai: Lee, Tenten, and Hinata. Gen for now.
Disclaimer: Naruto was created by Kishimoto Masashi. No disrespect is intended in its use.
Edit: I've changed the pairings to only show Hinata, as I'm told that some people may be interpreting the second character as her romantic pairing (when he is actually acting as her mentor)
Hinata remembered that day as the one that overtook her kidnapping as the worst day of her life.
At six-years old she was in her clan's meeting room, standing behind her father. To her left was her cousin, Neji, his face impassive. The young girl's eyes glistened as she fought with all her dignity to fight the urge to sob. She knew the dishonour she was facing. She had, after all, been told in exacting detail when her father had called her to his study the night before.
Her father inclined his head slightly in the shallowest of nods as a woman wearing a chuunin vest entered the room. "You are here for the mission? Yuuhi Kurenai, was it?"
The chuunin woman nodded. "Yes sir."
"Very well. Neji and my daughter will be starting their training at the Ninja Academy as of today. You are to escort them to the school and back for the next week. After that, Neji should be familiar enough with the duty to take over as a bodyguard."
"Your daughter is going to the Academy?" The underlying question, which Hinata understood even at that age, was left unspoken – 'A Hyuuga Main Family member is being sent to the Academy?'
"Yes, that is correct."
"But sir, isn't your daughter a year younger than the Academy's normal starting age? If she is to go, should she not wait until next year?"
"My daughter has spent her life attended to by the finest tutors. While most children wasted their time on rough-housing in the dirt or playing with rag dolls, she has been trained by some of the best teachers available in Konoha. As the heir to the Hyuuga clan, she should be capable of handling the same level of education as our Branch family and a group of other children can. And if she is not capable of even that, then she is not worth any more of my time. Now, attend to your task."
Taking the dismissal for what it was, the chuunin nodded. "Of course. My apologies for prying." She looked at the two children. The cold-looking boy had not yet fully mastered his emotions – she could see that under his calm expression he was excited about his first day at the Academy. The girl, on the other hand, was an open book. Kurenai suspected that it was only the typical Hyuuga training in poise and decorum that was stopping the girl from erupting into tears. It made her heart ache, but in the end there was nothing she could do besides her duty.
"Alright. Please follow me."
Neji remembered that day as being much like many other days at the ninja academy.
"Tomiko, where are you going?"
A redheaded girl looked back at her two friends. "Look – over there." She pointed to a small alcove hidden under one of the Academy trees.
"Who is that?" A blonde girl squinted as she tried to see through the tree's shadows.
The redhead looked at the other girl in exasperation. "She's been in our classes for a whole year and you don't know her name?"
"So what's her name then?"
"Dunno. I forget. Hibana, maybe? Don't think the teacher calls on her too often – she kinda hides up the back."
"She looks really lonely over there," the third girl mused.
"Maybe we should invite her over to share our lunch?" The redheaded leader looked to her companions for their approval.
"Or perhaps you should go back to your corner and stay there."
The girls turned around to face a glowering Neji.
"Hinata-sama is the heiress of the greatest clan in this village. It is her destiny to wield her clan's power – more power than you could ever hope to have. Why on earth would she want to lower herself to associate with any of you?"
"What!? You… you idiot! Well if she's so stuck-up that she needs you to act as her go-between, then forget her!" The other girls nodded in agreement with their leader as they turned and stormed back to their eating spot.
Neji fought the urge to roll his eyes at their childish antics. Not one of the students acted with an ounce of self-control or dignity. It was clear that every one of them was destined to be an idiot.
His eyes narrowed as he spotted a boy approaching Hinata It seemed that some people wanted to reach beyond the station that destiny had given them by latching themselves like social leeches onto someone of higher political power. Fools. No-one escaped their destiny. Not while he was here to stop it. Neji quickly moved to intercept the boy before he could reach his cousin.
Today was the day that she was sure that it would all change for the better. From this moment on, life would improve. Five years since that day, all it would take to start her new beginning was to walk through this door.
Hinata hesitated, her hand halfway to the doorframe.
All it would take to start getting stronger would be to open this door.
Hinata chewed her lip.
"'Scuse me," one of her ninja academy classmates muttered as he shouldered past her, opening the door as he entered the classroom.
The Hyuuga heiress stared at the open door. This was it. Now was the time to seize the day and-
"Could you hurry up? You're blocking the doorway." Three girls stood behind her, the leader tapping her foot in impatience.
"Ah, r…right! Sorry! Sorry!" Hinata ducked into the room and scurried up to her usual seat at the back. She did her best to avoid her cousin's silent stare – his duty to escort her to the Academy ended at the gates, and he had quickly left her side once they were there.
The girl looked around the classroom as she waited for her teacher to announce the genin team she would be in. For five years she had been in the academy with these people, and despite all the promises she had made to herself over that time, she hadn't managed to approach so much as one of them to try and make friends. She was too afraid, too shy…too weak.
It was a situation unbecoming of the girl who was the heiress of her clan. Expectations had been high of her as the official representative of her age group. Unfortunately, as time had showed, she was the weakest of her generation. Every other Hyuuga child had surpassed her. Her cousin, Neji, eclipsed her in their rare matches at the Hyuuga clan's quarters. Even her younger sister – her five-years-younger-than-her sister – could beat her in basic sparring. With each new humiliating defeat by one of her family members, the expression on her father's face became stonier and sterner until he no longer had any expression at all when he looked at her.
There was simply no comparison between her and the other Hyuuga. Neji, for example, had secured the 'rookie-of-the-year' title with his top marks in almost all areas of examination. She, on the other hand, had struggled to be anywhere higher than the middle of her class's ranks. Some might argue that she was doing well, considering that she was at least a whole year younger than the people in her class – sometimes closer to two thanks to her late December birth date. But in her clan, the Main Family was expected to outshine the Branch Family in any endeavour – being a year younger was not considered a valid excuse to them. In her lonelier moments she sometimes wondered what would have happened if she had of attended the class below her with people her own age. Could she have made friends? Would things have turned out better?
By now she was certain that her father was no longer disappointed in her. Instead, he seemed numb to her existence, barely caring about her at all. But now this was her chance. Today it could all change. With one of Konoha's finest jounin – whoever he or she may be – working with her as a teacher, maybe she could finally get stronger. Maybe she could earn the respect of her clan, her cousin, and her father. Maybe even if just a little?
"-and Hyuuga Hinata. The last team consists of-"
Hinata blinked, before her eyes widened. She'd missed the teacher announcing her team! Her stomach clenched like it had been hit by a sledge-hammer as her eyes frantically searched her classmates for a hint of who was in her team. Her habit of sitting in the back of the room worked against her, however, as everyone was facing forward listening to their teacher as he started to give them their farewell speech.
Hinata started to raise her hand to ask him to repeat her team members' names, but she quickly lowered it again. She didn't want to interrupt her teacher in the middle of his speech and have all of her classmates looking at her. Surely it could wait until afterwards.
"-and remember that as Konoha shinobi that your actions reflect on the village as a whole. Do not dishonour your duty." The teacher finished his speech with a solemn nod.
Hinata's hand started to rise again, her mouth opening to call her teacher's name, when he disappeared in a puff of shunshin smoke. Panic clawed at her as she fought the urge to whimper.
"Well," a female voice rang from her left, "I guess we'll all be partners from now on."
Hinata turned her head to the voice. A girl with her brown hair bound in buns stood next to a boy with bushy eyebrows, fish-like eyes and his black hair tied back in a thick braid. With their distinctive hair-styles, she easily remembered them from her classes.
The boy, Lee, didn't really stand out in any skill, besides being okay in written tests, but she'd never seen him successfully perform any sort of ninjutsu or genjutsu – not ever. There were rumours among the other students that he couldn't perform them, but Hinata had dismissed that as cruel teasing. Dead last in the class, she'd overheard other students saying that he had barely passed the final exams and that was only due to his taijutsu. She couldn't be certain of that - as the girls and boys were usually separated for any hand-to-hand combat class, she hadn't really seen much of his fighting skills.
Dead last or not, that didn't mean that she didn't admire him – she really did. From what she had seen, she admired Rock Lee's determination to prove himself. Where she would withdraw and curl into herself when taunted, he would use the students' taunts as a reason to better himself and to try and prove them wrong by showing them that he wasn't a failure. Earlier in her Academy days she had tried to spy on his training once to see what drove him, but she had soon found that he normally trained in the outer Konoha training grounds, not in the school's grounds. Neji - her constant escort to and from home - had quickly thwarted any idea of following him and secretly finding out how he had found his determination.
The girl, Tenten, was – as she recalled - very weapons focussed. Hinata, as a fellow kunoichi, had fought her regularly. She was best in the class – male or female – with throwing weapons and in general weapons melee and was also better than her in ninjutsu. Unfortunately for Tenten, any weapons melee beyond the use of a kunai or shuriken was not a part of the academy courses, and so she couldn't earn any points on the exams for it. Also, Hinata herself usually ranked slightly above the girl in hand-to-hand combat, as well as in genjutsu, most of the kunoichi classes (except for the seduction/'using your body as a weapon' course which she had failed miserably), and in written exams.
This was not to say that she was better than Tenten. Hinata had seen the weapon shop owner's daughter train after class. Long after lessons were over, Tenten could be found in the Academy weapons range, doggedly throwing kunai after shuriken after kunai at every target in sight. Or, she would be practicing the movements of one of a dozen different weapons in a display of versatility that left the Hyuuga heiress embarrassed at her own limited knowledge of only two forms of taijutsu – the basic Academy version and her clan's Jyuken style. She also admired the girl's single-minded focus and her ability to excel at her chosen expertise. No matter how many hours she spent on the Hyuuga taijutsu arts, Hinata knew she would never be half as skilled in her clan's speciality as Tenten would be in her arts.
In spite of her respect for her new teammates, her feeling of foreboding mounted and peaked as Hinata realised that out of the three of them, she had the best overall academy rank. She was (theoretically, if you didn't know her) the best on her team.
She blinked as Neji leaned down next to her, and whispered to her. "It appears that we have been placed on different teams, Hinata-sama. Just remember what Hiashi-sama told you. It is not the destiny of any true Hyuuga to fail."
She couldn't contain a small shiver at his words. That morning, for the first time in a fortnight her father had spoken to her during breakfast. His eyes had flicked to the new hitai-ite around her throat, before he had said, "Each team is tested before they are allowed to become true genin. No true Hyuuga would ever fail such a test."
If she was supposed to be the best on her team, then it probably meant only one thing. Her team must be one of the leftovers – one of the teams that was thrown together after all of the talented students had been assigned. Their team was probably there to make up the numbers – they almost certainly weren't expected to pass. If she was thought to be the best of the three, then this team had been set-up to fail.
And if her team failed, her father would kill her. Maybe literally.
As her cousin walked out of the classroom, Hinata gave her team a weak smile and let out a tremulous "Hello", as she resigned herself to her father's certain punishment.
Lunch with her new team was very awkward. Lee was obviously brimming with excitement over making genin – he couldn't sit still for more than a minute. Hinata could see Tenten's hand twitch, almost as if the weapons girl was constantly fighting an urge to tug the boy back into his seat via his hair braid. While Tenten was less demonstrative than Lee, she too was obviously excited for their shared future.
Every time they tried to engage Hinata into their conversation, however, she could barely stutter three words before falling into silence. She wanted to tell them – to warn them, but one look in their excited faces froze the words in her throat. Finally, to her relief, lunch ended and they returned to the classroom to wait for their new team instructor.
Ten minutes later, after the first two teams had met their jounin teachers and left, a new instructor entered the class room. From the gasp of her male teammate, it was obvious he recognised the man.
Hinata had never seen such a visibly strong man outside of the Akimichi clan. Broad-shouldered, with muscular arms and legs, he clearly took pride in his physical fitness as he proudly wore a tight, green bodysuit. His thick jounin vest helped in making his chest seem even bigger than it was as he folded his arms and looked at the remaining students.
Unlike the lean and almost willowy frames of men in her family, there was nothing delicate-looking about this man. His weathered face was rugged and tanned – he clearly spent a lot of time outdoors. His large nose, heavy eyebrows, dark eyes and thick, short black hair would have given him a menacing presence if it wasn't for his kind expression.
"Team 9, my name is Maito Gai. Yosh! Come, follow me!"
Even his voice resonated with confidence and power. Hinata looked at her teammates (Lee was already halfway to the door) and then back at her new teacher before she scrambled to catch up. Surely…
Surely with a teacher like this, she could get stronger?
Gai lead them to an open-air balcony at the side of the academy building – it had been a popular place for the kids to sit at during lunchtime. Hinata had tended to avoid it for fear of interrupting the camaraderie of the cliques that favoured the spot. It really was quite a beautiful little place, she noted, with a lovely view of the buildings nearby and the street below.
The genin sat on a bench while their teacher stood in front of them. "You three are promoted to genin as of today. I want to hear what your goals are."
"Oh! Me! Me! Me!" Tenten waved her hand.
"My goal is to become a really strong kunoichi like the legendary female ninja Tsunade-sama!" She looked at Hinata for a moment, and hastily added "But I guess that's what Hinata would have said too. Okay, the truth is that I want to be acknowledged as the premier weapons specialist in the village. I want to show that girls can do more than be medics or use genjutsu to protect the village."
"Hmm." After nodding, he looked at the next genin. "And what about you, Hinata?"
Hinata blinked, and looked up at her new teacher. "I… I w...want to find my strength." Realising just how weak that sounded after Tenten's impassioned goals, she continued, "I have to prove to myself wh…what it is that I am worth. There's…" She hesitated, closing her eyes as she tried to block out the feeling of being watched by her teammates.
After a few moments, she opened her eyes again and continued, her voice slightly stronger. "There has to be more to me than what I've seen! I… I know it! I just h…have to find it." She opened her mouth as if to say more, but she closed it again and started fidgeting when she again registered that the other genin were staring at her.
'Interesting. I've never seen a Hyuuga like her. There's more fire in those eyes than is seen at first glance', Gai mused.
"Oh! My turn!" Lee leapt to his feet. "I want to prove that just because I can't do ninjutsu or genjutsu doesn't mean that I can't be a really great ninja! That is everything to me!" Lee nodded, before sitting down.
Hinata couldn't help the small smile that lit her lips as she stared at her teammate. She wished she had a quarter of his confidence. Her smile faltered. Wait, he really couldn't do ninjutsu or genjutsu? And he passed the exam? That was astonishing! How could he have overcome an obstacle like that?
'And his eyes are also interesting.' Gai smiled. "Very good! Those goals are all worthy of pursuit." Nodding, he continued. "And you can reach those goals through the pursuit of four things. Hard work, dedication, guts," Gai paused and raised his finger to point to the street, "and a worthy rival to strive against in your youth. Follow me, and you shall see the lengths a man will go to when he engages in such an eternal contest."
Half an hour later, they were standing atop a concrete silo as they watched their sensei stand patiently on the road below. Hinata stared at her teacher as a disinterested-looking silver-haired jounin approached the man. "Is… is this his rival?"
Tenten shrugged, watching Gai admonish the man over his lateness. "I guess so."
Below, Gai pointed to his opponent. "We currently stand at 48 wins apiece. Today, one of us shall take the lead!"
Lee's eyes burned with fire as he looked down at the pair of men of below. "A fight between two jounin level ninja… imagine the skills that we are about to see. I bet that this will be an epic showdown!"
The silver-haired man sighed at Gai's antics, before lowering the book he had been reading. "It's my turn to choose the challenge, right? Well, if we must do this today then how about janken? Luck is a skill too, after all."
The three genins jaws dropped. Gai didn't seem too happy either.
"That's his worthy rival?" Tenten muttered. Hinata didn't say anything, but in her head she agreed. Seeing such a dispirited reaction to their sensei's enthusiastic challenge seemed to be very disrespectful.
"Very well! And if I should lose, I shall do 500 laps of Konoha while walking on my hands! It's my promise!" A blinding smile and a thumbs-up sealed Gai's pledge.
"He's a little bit strange, isn't he?" Tenten murmured as they watched their teacher engage in – and lose – a game of janken with the other jounin.
As Gai accepted his loss with a smile, tilting his body forward and settling into a hand-stand without so much as a word of protest, Hinata couldn't help but agree with her female teammate. Was he truly going to go through with his declaration? Five hundred laps? No, that was impossible. Surely no-one would go through with such a thing.
The green-clad jounin stood there on his hands for a moment, slightly wobbling, before looking up at his students. "Team, I have heard your goals – now here is mine. My most important goal is to help my wonderful charges achieve their dreams. Be at training ground nine tomorrow at 7am, my youthful students! With hard work we will begin to achieve your goals." He smiled, showing impeccably clean teeth, while raising his right hand to give them a thumbs up. Hinata could feel her respect for the man rise, not only for his promise but also for his ability to remain so stable while only using his left hand to balance his hand-stand.
The scene was so surreal that they almost forgot to say goodbye to their sensei as he slowly hand-walked away.
"Well," Tenten hesitated, "I guess that's it. I'll see you two tomorrow." She nodded to Hinata and Lee before jumping off the silo.
Lee didn't respond as he was too busy staring at the retreating figure of their team leader. "Surely he is not going to actually do it?" the boy muttered to himself. Shaking free of his thoughts, he turned to Hinata. "I am sorry, I also have to go. It was a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Hinata-san. I shall see you at training."
Hinata blinked, muttering a soft goodbye, before she found herself alone on the silo.
Her teacher was nothing like what she had expected, but maybe that was a good thing. She had seen many self-assured people – it was hard not to in a clan as full of confident people as hers. But this man did not have a prominent clan to affirm his power – as a powerful clan's heiress (even a disgraced one), she had been taught enough village politics to know that she had never heard of a 'Maito' clan before. So where did he get the boundless confidence needed to gamble so much over something so little as a game of janken?
She frowned slightly. Wait, what about the test that her father had told her about? Was he so confident in his abilities as a teacher that he had passed the team without even testing them? How could anyone be that confident? Where could he have learned how to be so brash?
And was it something he could teach her?
"I'm back!" Tenten shouted as she entered her family's weapon store.
Her father looked up from the sword he had been polishing. "Welcome home. So, how did it go? Who did you get for a sensei?"
Tenten sighed. "It turns out that I have a madman for a teacher."
Her father nodded. "Alright, we've narrowed it down to them being a man."
His daughter looked at him oddly, so he clarified, "Honey, all the jounin are crazy in one form or another. It's a stress-release - the normal ones either quickly retire or crack under the pressure."
"Oh. Well, he said his name was Maito Gai."
"Really?" Her father's tone was definitely excited. He carefully put away the sword he had been holding, and smiled at her. "Congratulations! This couldn't be more perfect for you!"
Tenten blinked. "It couldn't?"
Her father nodded. "Sooner or later I hear his name from over half of my clientele. Everyone calls him Konoha's best taijutsu expert – he supposedly knows more forbidden taijutsu techniques than most other clans combined. He's famous among my clients for matching one of the village's most elite jounin in an endless series of challenges."
"Yeah, I saw one of those today."
"You did?" Her father leaned towards her, eager for information. "What was it like?"
"I've honestly never seen jounin battle like that before," Tenten admitted while not quite managing to meet her father's gaze.
Hinata stuck to the shadows as she followed Gai. She had always had a talent for blending into the background – when every eye in your clan looked at you in disapproval, you soon learnt to avoid those eyes. And it took a lot of effort to not be noticed when your clan had all-seeing eyes. It was these skills that she used now as she stalked her prey.
At first, she had chased after her teacher to ask him about the test, but when she saw him remaining true to his word, using his hands to walk through the village while he ignored the sniggering of the civilians, she hung back. It didn't take long to spot Lee just ahead of her, also clearly spying on their sensei.
As she followed her teammates, she would stare over her back every so often, expecting to see the annoyed face of her cousin as he demanded that she 'stop her foolishness' and return to the clan compound, but he was nowhere in sight. She almost flushed with guilt over the joy she felt for the giddy realisation that Neji's tenure as her daily escort – placed on him years ago and never rescinded - had ended the moment they were placed in teams. For the first time ever she was walking through the streets of Konoha without a bodyguard tracking her every movement. She'd never felt this free before.
Minutes turned to hours as her astonishment slowly grew. They had circuited Konoha at least a hundred times, but Gai was still going strong. The sky darkened and the crowds on the street thinned out, but still Gai pushed forward. Sometimes when he had to turn a corner, she would catch a glance of his face. It was strained with effort, sweat dripping off him as the strain of such a strenuous exercise taxed his obviously fit body. But he still kept going.
She was fascinated. Where did he draw his will from? It was obvious that this was putting tremendous strain on his body – she could hear his gasping breath from her newest hiding spot behind a copse of trees. Deep within her, she felt the question struggling to surface. Twice now as Hinata had followed him, she had almost stepped from her various hiding holes and blurted out her questions. Why? Why did he keep going? But each time she froze, worried about how he would react to being spied upon.
Thankfully Gai's other spy did not have the same shyness that she did.
"Why?" Lee stared down at his sensei as he blocked the older man's path. "No-one is watching, not even your rival, so why do you keep going?"
Gai grinned, looking up at his student. "I made a promise while acting cool and posing like a nice guy. I have to keep such a promise even if I die."
Lee couldn't help himself as he chuckled. "But why do you make up such weird rules?"
Gai laughed as he launched himself to his feet. "So you noticed? All right, I'll tell you, but don't tell the others."
Hinata shrank against her trunk, worry gnawing at her. If her teacher didn't want her to hear this, then shouldn't she go? But if she did, then she'd never find out what drove him. Her indecision decided for her, as she stayed rooted to her spot.
"This is my self-rule – my training for victory. The point of this rule is to place harsh conditions upon yourself before you attempt anything. By making the loss less palatable than the win, you force yourself to do your best in even the most mundane of tasks."
Lee nodded as he pulled out a notebook and started scribbling down notes.
Gai continued. "In this case, I imposed a rule of 500 laps if I could not beat Kakashi so that even if I lost, I would be better equipped to face him next time. Mark it well, this is the power to change the future. With this self-rule, you can turn even a pointless game of janken into something to be taken seriously. Best of all as a contingency, even if I lose I gain the opportunity to train my body by doing 500 laps."
"Ah, I see!" Lee nodded as he put his notebook away. "Then I will do it too," he decided as he moved into a handstand. "You see, this will be my nindo – to put as much effort as you into growing strong."
Hinata collapsed against the tree she had been hiding behind, her thoughts whirling. Could something like that work? Was this the power to change her future? Her instructor clearly believed in his words and the man was a confident ninja, capable enough to be entrusted with training a genin team. He was a man who had stuck to his word and walked on his hands for… how long had it been? Her eyes widened as she looked up at the night sky to estimate the time. It was late. Extremely late. She had to get home right away!
As she turned away and rushed for home, her teacher turned his head to face her for a moment, before he smiled and turned back to the task he now shared with his male student.
The next day, the young Hyuuga arrived at the training grounds to find the rest of her team already there.
"Oh… I'm sorry! I… I didn't realise that I was late."
Tenten shook her head as she practiced hurling various weapons – shuriken, kunai, kama and more – at various targets scattered in the surrounding trees. "You're not late. We're not supposed to meet for another thirty minutes or so. I just thought that I'd get in an hour or so of personal practice on my own techniques before we moved onto team things."
Lee, who was nearby doing push ups while also watching Gai do chin ups on a low and sturdy tree branch, nodded. "I too always try to greet an early day and start my morning exercises by no later than 5 am. If I can not, then I shall do an extra 1000 squats!"
For a moment Hinata couldn't help but smile at Lee's self-rule. He must have stayed up far later than her if he had joined their teacher in his hand-walking, but he was still here happy, eager, and early. Her face fell a little as she considered his efforts. Perhaps arriving at 6:30am was not as early as she had thought.
"But then, neither of us has a family style to learn like you do," Tenten quickly added when she saw Hinata's fallen facial expression. "We understand if you have to spend time at home practicing with the other Hyuugas."
"Ah. Yes." Or rather, no. It was true that the early part of the morning was spent on training and sparring in the Hyuuga clan dojo, but in the past few years her father had spent less and less time with her as he focussed more on her sister Hanabi. One day last year Hinata had badly overslept when she was up late the night before studying for the end of year Academy exams, and had missed the morning training session. Her father had not said a word about the matter during breakfast that morning – not even when she'd tried apologising for the matter.
After that, she was mostly ignored during the training sessions. Even Hanabi rarely fought her any more in sparring matches. Eventually she had stopped attending the morning sessions, replacing it with self-lead after school sessions in the outer Hyuuga training grounds when they were (thankfully, she guiltily thought to herself) empty.
Maybe Neji was right – maybe she was spoiled if she couldn't even wake up early enough to show the same level of drive as her team.
"Yosh!" Gai shouted as he finished his exercises. "It is good to see you all here bright and early! While Konoha still lies sleeping in its bed, here you all are ready to improve yourselves. Mark it well my students, for this is the power of the springtime of your youth!"
Hinata felt her spirits rise for a moment at the impassioned respect she heard in her teacher's voice, before it all crashed down again when she remembered how much earlier everyone else was.
"Well then," Gai continued, "how about we start with some simple warm up exercises?"
Hinata collapsed to her knees, desperately drawing in ragged breaths of air. To her left, Tenten was hunched over with her hands on her knees. To her right, Lee was breathing a bit louder than normal but was otherwise fine – he was even happily grinning. She successfully fought the urge to groan in pain, but only because groaning would have required expelling precious oxygen.
This was a simple warm up? She felt like she was going to die. If her legs and arms were threatening to turn to jelly after what he defined as a simple warm up, she was dreading what they would be doing next.
After giving them a minute to recover, Gai nodded. "Good, good. Now, I think I should see you all spar so that I can assess your training needs. Lee, show us what you can do-" His eyes sidled over Hinata, whose face was still red from exertion. "-against Tenten."
"Yes Sensei!" Lee eagerly agreed while Tenten straightened and acknowledged her teacher with a nod.
To the less observant, Gai was focussed on his two genin as they sparred against each other. While he certainly was looking at the pair, he had placed himself so that his attention could also rest on his third team member.
It did not take him long to see that she flinched every time Lee or Tenten scored even a minor hit on each other. As the battle grew more heated, with neither genin wanting to look bad for their first fight in front of their sensei, Gai's eyes narrowed. As the hits grew harder, Hinata's body movements grew more jerky. It took him a few moments before realisation dawned on him – she was holding herself back from stopping the fight. After thinking about her reactions, he came to a decision. "Alright, halt! Good effort, both of you."
The two genin broke off their attacks and looked expectantly at their teacher.
Gai looked at his most timid student for a moment, before he walked to the nearest tree and casually picked up a thick, sturdy branch that had broken off sometime in the recent past.
"Tenten, come here."
The bun-haired kunoichi hesitantly approached. "Yes Sensei?"
He passed her the branch. "Here, I wish to demonstrate something. Hit me as hard as you can on my torso with that. I want you to hold nothing back."
Tenten hesitated, looking from the branch in her hands and back to her instructor. "Sensei, are you sure?"
Gai grinned as he puffed his chest and placed his fists on his hips. "Absolutely!"
Flinching slightly at the idea of assaulting her teacher, Tenten nevertheless drew her arms back and slammed the branch into his stomach.
He didn't even flinch, although his gaze did turn a little disappointed. "Tenten, you will never bloom into the flower of your youth if you do not follow your team leader's instructions. Please do it again, and this time do not hold back."
Tenten's eyes narrowed, her pride as a kunoichi slightly wounded by his complete disregard of her attack. She hefted the branch, measuring its weight and heft and comparing it to other blunt weapons she had wielded. "Fine. Here we go!"
The air reverberated with a crack as she broke the branch against his chest. Silence then followed the blow for a few seconds after.
"He did not even move a muscle," Lee muttered, looking at their sensei in respect.
"Ha! Very good, Tenten!" Gai nodded. "As you can see, I can take some damage without any problem. You do not have to worry about hurting me. For that reason, you shall always hold nothing back when you spar with me."
The three genin replied with a chorused "Yes Sensei."
"Good." Gai gestured to the youngest member of their team. "Now, Hinata, I want you to spar with me."
Hinata swallowed, before timidly nodding.
The spar had lasted five minutes so far, with Gai dodging each of her strikes and offering no attack in return. She hadn't come close to hitting him, and she was starting to slow as her low confidence fell even lower.
Gai put less and less effort into each of his dodges as her attacks grew sloppier and slower, before he couldn't take it any more. "Come now Hinata, I know you can do more! As your sensei, I promise you this: if you do not give your all in this fight then I have failed you as a teacher, and I will climb the Hokage mountain 1000 times while using only my lips and teeth to pull me up!" To seal his promise, he managed to smile and give her a thumbs-up even while dodging her attacks.
Hinata's eyes widened, and she pulled back from the fight for a moment. Climb a mountain using only your mouth? That was impossible, wasn't it? Her doubt wavered when she saw the serious look on his face, and as she remembered his drive to complete his last promise. How long would it take to do something like that?
Gai smile widened as his opponent's eyes narrowed and she shifted into a new stance. Before he could blink, she was attacking him twice as fast as before. "Yosh! You're doing better, Hinata, but you're still not there! Give it your all! Show us the springtime of your youth!"
Hinata felt her desperation mount as he continued to evade her attack with apparent ease. He still didn't think she was trying! That meant he would still try climbing the mountain. If the villagers laughed at him for walking on his hands, then how much humiliation would he face because of her if he had to complete his promise?
Lee and Tenten looked on in surprise as Hinata moved faster again, her chakra now supplementing her physical speed.
"I do not understand why her academy rank was not higher if she could fight like this," Lee noted to his bun-haired teammate while never taking his eyes off the match.
Tenten shook her head. "She never fought like this at the Academy. Not that I saw, anyway."
It still wasn't enough! What if he fell when he was near the top, and refused to grab at a handhold because he promised not to use his hands? He could die! No, she had to try her best! Hinata drew deep within herself as she remembered the one technique she knew which could go faster. Due to her being shunned in the Hyuuga spars she had never attempted it on a live opponent before, but she had to stop Gai from enacting his promise. The Hyuuga girl jumped back from her sensei to gain some space.
Gai blinked. "Yosh. Are you finished? If so, then-"
"No! I…I can't let you risk that mountain! Byakugan!" Hinata stared at him for a moment. "I…I'm sorry, sensei. You are in range of my divination," she whispered before darting forward.
Gai's smile slipped, a serious expression taking over as he began deflecting her arms rather than dodging. Her soft words barely reached his ears as she whispered her attack. "Two Strikes. Four strikes. Eight Strikes." Her hands were moving in blurs, but so were Gai's as he deflected her attacks. "Sixteen Strikes. Thirty-two strikes. Sixty-four strikes."
Silence stretched over the battlefield in the aftermath of her attack. Hinata gasped for breath, her chakra stores heavily depleted. Her teacher looked at her with a calm expression. He shook his hands a few times as if getting rid of some pins-and-needles, but otherwise seemed unaffected. "Hinata?"
Hinata got her breath under control before hesitantly responding. "Yes, Sensei?"
"Your explosion of youth was beautiful to behold! Well done, Hinata!" Gai smiled, tears in his eyes, before hugging her in a fit of teacherly pride.
Hinata flailed her arms ineffectually as she tried to escape the hug. "G…Gai-sensei," she weakly protested.
Hinata's flailing slowed as the warm hug continued. Was this what an embrace from a person who cared about you felt like? Her clan was not known for affection. Her mother had stopped hugging her when she had begun her Jyuken training at age three – she really couldn't remember them any more. If her father had ever hugged her, it was before she was old enough to recall.
She had seen other parents when they picked up their children from the Academy. Even as Neji drew her away, she had glimpsed mothers or fathers hugging their kid as the child regaled them of their accomplishments in classes. She had noticed how even the most rough-and-tumble of boys and trying-to-act-like-an-adult girls would melt into their parent's hugs even as they loudly protested the public embarrassment. Hinata had often wondered what it would feel like to be hugged like that by a loving parent.
It probably felt something like this. She could feel the warm contact from the hug tearing at her loneliness and lack of affection. Tears collected in her eyes and she choked back a sob as her arms hesitated for a moment before they started to return the hug. "Gai-sensei!"
Lee looked on, smiling, while Tenten stared wide-eyed at the sunset that was somehow acting as a morning backdrop to her teacher and her fellow female student.