Well, quite a few people asked for this, so I might as well indulge.

If you get confused, this story is a follow up to Eye Envy. I recommend that you read that first.

Once again, I do not own Naruto. I had enough trouble dealing with a dog. There is no way I could handle a crazy fox kit!

Shifting Connections

Returning after another patrol mission, Hinata could not help but smile. Despite the difficulties facing them, she and Naruto-kun had finally managed to grow closer! While they were not quite dating, the formerly shy Kunoichi spent as much time with the blonde as she could get away with. Although rebuilding and protecting the village took up a lot of their schedules, just sitting with him left her feeling warm and breathless. It was all she could do to remain conscious after a hug!

However, the developing relationship was not enough to distract her from another situation. For the last few weeks, the Hyuga had felt something was off about her Byakugan. She had managed to finally see and attack the tenketsu in battle within the last year, but it was very difficult. However, now Hinata found that seeing the energy points was as simple as reading. Her range had also expanded, and somehow deepened. Not only could she see the chakra paths of others, but feel through their intention if those paths belonged to either an enemy or an ally. It was almost like becoming a Chakra sensor overnight.

Watching her teammates banter, Kiba wild as always unmoved by Shino's stoic returns, Hinata felt another sort of warmth in her stomach. Since her Genin days, she had come to view both her teammates as brothers. Yet, never before had her bonds felt so strong and supportive. Helping a pregnant Kurenai-sensei also brought a sense of family and joy to the girl's life. While a part of her had always hoped that these sorts of relationships would develop, she had always felt somewhat unworthy of such a connection. Yet, in another odd change she could freely admit their existence, at least to herself.

Being a ninja, Hinata was rather sensitive to such dramatic changes. Such shifts in personality could indicate an enemy Genjutsu, or a dangerous hormonal imbalance from too many food pills. Yet a trip to the medics brought up nothing unusual besides some additional activity around her ocular chakra pathways. Sakura-san had simply stated it looked like her Byakugan was working overtime, and recommended that she rest a bit more. Yet, despite her attempts to do just that, nothing changed. If anything, the reactions were getting worse.

Coming up to the main gate of the village base, Hinata frowned at the presence of her cousin Neji. While they had grown closer in the last few years, there always seemed to be a gap forged from the titles of master and servant. Even with her recent changes, that barrier still appeared to be in place. The quiet Kunoichi knew that his attitude had improved thanks to Naruto, but there were times that his face of hatred filled her nightmares. She loathed the distance and the trauma between them, but was unsure about how to improve it. Still, even with his exceptional skills as both a Hyuga and a Jonin, she could tell that this meeting would be unpleasant.

Apparently noticing the numerous signals of curiosity that she was projecting, Neji answered her question without pause. "I appologize, Hinata-sama, but the elders and your father have called a meeting at the Hyuga encampment. Given recent events, it has been decided that a question must finally be answered. Please, come with me at once." Sighing, Hinata ignored the hollow feeling of pain within her stomach, and waved her teammates forward.

Within the Hyuga Clan, there was only one question that needed to be answered at this point of time. While he had delayed more than a clan head should, father was still required to declare the identity of the Hyuga Heir. While she had shown reasonable amounts of growth, Hinata knew that her younger sister was still favored for the position. In fact, Hanabi was being given special training in politics and courtly behavior that she had ceased years ago. It was quite reasonable to assume that the only reason that it had been delayed this long was the destruction of Konoha; after all, what better symbol of clan stability than the declaration of the next generation of leadership?

Hinata's relationship with Hanabi was complex. By all rights, the younger girl should have been branded with the Caged Bird Seal years ago. While Hinata was thankful her sister was not trapped just yet, she knew that any delay raised her own chances for such a position. Still, she could never bring herself to harm the younger child, out of her love of family. Hurting her own blood was against everything she and her ninja way stood for.

Unfortunately, Hanabi did not share her hesitation. The younger Hyuga was exceptionally gifted in Jyuken, and clearly her father's favorite. Knowing her fate if things remained equal, she took advantage of Hinata's kindness at every turn. Any time that the two sparred, Hanabi would attack with the intent to maim or potentially kill. While she wanted to love and protect her sibling, Hinata could not find a way to bond with her. Now it seemed that they were out of time. With the way she had been acting, who knew how this would go?

Looking over the newly rebuilt courtyard of the clan, Hyuga Hanabi felt absolutely calm. For years she had known this was coming, and had spent every waking moment she could to insure her victory. Every technique was trained to perfection, every mannerism completely under control, and her goal was almost in sight. By the end of this fight, she would be properly established as heir to the clan, and Hinata would be sent to the Branch House. It was her fate as the strongest of the new generation, and nothing would get in her way.

Honestly, this fight should have happened a while ago, but there were complications. Several of the Hyuga Elders thought that Hinata should remain heir. Some believed that the tradition of eldest being in control was the correct one and should be honored. Others saw her kind and gentle nature, and saw a potential puppet. No matter what their reasons, the Hyuga would not acknowledge a leader unless they were proven to be powerful enough to accomplish the will of the clan. Hinata might be relatively strong for a ninja, but to the Hyuga she was nothing particularly special. Once Hanabi proved her true strength, all questions about her suitability would finally be put to rest and the Hyuga would be able to move forward into the next generation.

Shortly, the whole of the Hyuga clan was in attendance. Stepping forward, father began the proceedings. "For many years now, the question of future clan leadership has been an issue of grave import for the Hyuga. Hinata, my eldest, showed signs of weakness in both technique and spirit very early on in her training. Taking this into account, the fate of her sister was put on hold, until it could be determined which child would be the best guide for the clan's future. I admit that this is a difficult choice, for while Hanabi has thrived within the clan, Hinata has grown stronger outside its walls. The elders have decided that this issue will be settled with one last battle between both potential heirs."

At this proclamation, Hinata entered the courtyard, her stance resigned. Hanabi could see the traces of a recent mission in both her unkempt appearance and full ninja gear. Clearly, one of the elders was already on the young prodigy s side, insuring her opponent was not at full strength. While Hanabi might have wanted to prove herself completely superior to the elder Kunoichi, she knew enough not to look a gift horse in the mouth. Any advantage was to be taken, both as a second born Hyuga and a ninja. It was simply Hinata's bad luck that would lead to her defeat.

Nodding for Hanabi to prepare herself, Hiashi continued his instructions. "This battle will be limited to Ninjutsu, Genjutsu, and Taijutsu. Use of weapons or chemical stimulants is strictly forbidden. The head of the clan must be strong without the usage of drugs or other such crutches. Likewise, weapons would be an undue hindrance upon the proceedings. Both of you will fight with your full potential and prove the strength of the Main House. Begin!" Rearing back, Hanabi began to launch her attack, Byakugan blazing. There was no way that mark was going cage her!

Hinata dodged another strike, the frown never leaving her face. The battle had been fierce so far, with Hanabi immedietly striking with the intent to cripple. Each follow up attack had been equal in ferocity, and the elder Hyuga had some difficulty in dodging them. Hanabi's dedication shone, with each Jyuken form picture perfect and powerful. Against most of the clan, the child would be nearly impossible to defeat. Thus it was a major surprise that Hinata had not allowed a single blow to land.

It was almost like she could not help it! Always before, something kept her from hurting her sister in any way. Hanabi was the last remnant of her beloved mother, and striking the child was almost like spitting on that final, beautiful gift. But now, those bonds she had always tried to protect and cherish simply did not seem to exist. Looking at her sister did not bring her any sense of sorrow or longing, but instead a lack of interest. In fact, if she was being completely truthful, Hinata felt a greater connection to the average Konoha ninja than her own flesh and blood.

The more she reflected upon it, the greater her sorrow grew. The shy Kunoichi knew that this sort of relationship was not normal between siblings, but so much effort had been made to separate them that it was difficult to remember their connection in the first place. In fact, other than a select few, there was no one in the Hyuga she really felt was her family. The idea of hurting blood kin paled in comparison to lacking such bonds in the first place. Absently deflecting a strike to her skull, Hinata flipped over Hanabi to get more space.

It was almost like empathy. She had tried to bond with her family, wanting that closeness and compassion especially with the death of her mother. Yet, after years of effort, the best she could manage were a few pitying looks and the odd smile from her father. Compared to the bonds of friends and comrades she had in Konoha, her ties to the Hyuga were as fragile as glass. Seeing Hanabi launch another lethal attack, Hinata allowed them to shatter. After years of abuse and neglect, her limit had finally been reached.

Activating her bloodline, Hinata viewed every single chakra point of her opponent. With that motion, any doubt she might have embraced was locked away behind a wall of ice. She was no longer facing her younger sister in a battle for the future of the Hyuga clan. This was an enemy who sought to kill or torture her. Despite her compassion, at the end of the day, Hinata was a Kunoichi. She could no longer spare mercy for someone who would not appreciate it.

Sighing, she sidestepped another strike; this time aimed at her kidney, and retaliated. Lightly tapping the Tenketsu points, Hinata shut down Hanabi's left arm. Blocking a kick, she shut down every point in her upper thigh. With the loss of offensive power, endurance, and mobility, Hanabi was knocked unconscious with nearly no effort. From beginning to ending, the counter attack took barely fifteen seconds. All in all, the resulting silence meant that you could have heard a pin drop.

Observing the shocked silence, Hiashi had to wonder how things had come to this. When the elders had demanded this confrontation, he had resisted as long as possible. Although he was not the kindest man, the Clan Head loved his daughters and had no desire to cause either lasting harm. Knowing what cruelty fate had dealt his younger brother, he had tried to give each of his own children all the chances possible to insure their own destinies. However, he had really begun to hope that both would avoid the Caged Bird Seal. Sadly, such a fate appeared destined for yet another of his family.

By favoring Hanabi, Hiashi had insured that neither child would be branded until the last possible moment. Either Hinata would prove herself and become clan heir or Hanabi would advance to her rightful place at his side. Regardless of the outcome, he had hoped that the delay would allow both children to grow into the beauty he knew them capable of. With enough time, a proper marriage could have been arranged with a local lord, which precluded the Caged Bird Seal. While the child would no longer be Hyuga, at least they would be free from this mark. With just another year, Hanabi would be old enough to begin making inquiries.

However, the elders had denied him such an escape. With recent events, the Hyuga needed to present a unified front for the future of Konoha. Not only had circumstances forced them to work under the leadership of the Raikage of all people, but Hinata had made a declaration of love to the Kyuubi Jinchuuriki in front of the whole village. While the blonde was no longer as despised as he was as a child, the elders did not want the next heir of the clan tied to a clanless orphan, no matter what their accomplishments. The loss of a dowry alone was enough to motivate such swift measures, destroying all his maneuverings and back room deals.

Of course, once the seal was in place, the elders would probably encourage such a pairing. A sealed Hyuga maiden was only useful for maintaining the Byakugan and tying lesser ninja to the Hyuga. Having the one who defeated Pain under their banner would be a major coup, and would probably propel them into even greater prominence. After all, such a disaster could only provide opportunity to the quick witted, and Neji was far from the only genius of the clan.

However, there was no way that he could have foreseen such a dramatic conclusion to the duel. Instead of folding like she had in the past, Hinata had toyed with Hanabi for an eternity before putting the child down without hesitation. Hiashi was proud of his Byakugan, and thought that he had properly read his child from years of observation. Yet nothing in his eldest's past actions explained this sudden and vicious counter attack. While quick, the precision and control needed to deal with someone of Hanabi's skill was always beyond Hinata. What could have possibly changed?

Sighing, the Clan Head decided it was time to speak up. While not the future he had wanted, it was time to cut his losses. "As decreed, Hanabi had been defeated and will be sent to the Branch House. From this day forward, the Hyuga will be led by the true heir Hinata." Of course, he still had a few years left before his daughter fully assumed the position. In the meantime, he could attempt to understand what had happened to change his gentle, stuttering daughter into this cold Konoha Kunoichi. His pride alone would not allow such a mystery to go uninvestigated.

Controlled and contained, the collective Main and Branch Houses of the clan bowed to Hinata. But instead of returning their bows and withdrawing as was proper, Hinata locked her still activated Byakugan with his own gaze. Despite years of battle both physical and political, Hiashi could barely meet his daughter's eyes. For some reason, the look sent a chill down his spine. "Before we do anything hasty, I believe that I have something to say." Suppressing a shudder at the icy tone, Hiashi gave the barest of nods. At least she was beginning to act like a true Hyuga.

Facing the assembled Hyuga, Hinata narrowed her eyes. "For over ten years I have bled and cried for this clan. I wanted a family to love that would love me back. It was never about the Hyuga name or our power. It was about the bonds that we shared through both genetics and tradition. But I was deamed weak, and thrown into the village as a castoff." Hiashi did not blink at the lack of emotion, but did wish she would hurry it up a little. A leader of the clan should learn to put such issues into their proper perspective. She was weak, and casting her out made her strong. It was as simple as that.

"I love this village of Konoha, and I love my teammates and comrades. They have shown me mercy, trust, and faith when my own clan deemed me useless. I have tried so many times to find those bonds with my family only to be denied." Turning to the unmarked members of the household, the shy little princess actually sneered. "The Main House viewed me as a weakling at best, a potential puppet at worse. My own sister was raised knowing that she could either defeat me and take my place or live out a life of servitude. Instead of trying to work with me, she viewed me as a simple obstacle."

Turning to the Branch House, Hinata sighed. "For my entire life, I have never once activated the Caged Bird Seal. I have spent years showing kindness and mercy to those of my blood, because I hated that practice with a passion. Yet, instead of recognizing my efforts and trying to offer support, the Branch House has continuously snubbed me due to their own hatred of the Main House. My lack of retaliation did not form bonds, but brought ridicule for those who finally had a target for their frustrations. This was not universal, but enough were involved for you to know this was true."

Turning to face the assembled elders, Hinata radiated the emotional impact of a statue. This was the control he had strived for years to impart upon his eldest child, and yet at the moment Hiashi felt no sense of accomplishment. Something was seriously wrong with his daughter. "Now, when push comes to shove, I am forced into a rigged duel for supremacy with my younger sister. One who is a true genius of the Jyuken who only comes along once in a generation. I am taken fresh from a mission with no preparation or time to reflect and given an ultimatum. It does not take the eyes of a Hyuga to understand that everyone decided that I would fail today. Yet, here I am, victorious and untouched while your champion lies broken on the ground. This was not some vital problem for the clan. You simply wanted to take care of an inconvenient issue before it grew beyond your control. Who would have guessed that saying "I love you" would merit such drastic consequences?"

Snorting, Elder Shinji of the Main House stepped forward. "Really, Hinata-chan, you should remember your place. As heir of the Hyuga you will be expected to work towards maintaining the clan and insuring its growth. A marriage to some clanless oaf like Uzumaki will not benefit the Hyuga. Now that you are named the heir, it is time to put these childish games away and find a more suitable match. Despite his recent victory, there is no way that boy would make a proper mate." Hiashi had to resist the urge to step backwards. The temperature had only decreased with the elder s speech.

"That is one reason you should probably hold off on marking Hanabi. If after years of abuse and neglect, I have been proven to be your superior, why would I wish to remain a part of the clan? I am a ninja of Konoha and proud of it! I will fight for my comrades and those precious to me, but this clan has done everything in its power to ensure that none of its members fall within such guidelines. What can I be offered as a Hyuga that I cannot gain as a member of the village? Wealth and power mean nothing to me without love and family; things the Hyuga can never seem to grasp." It was only his many years of control that prevented Hiashi from collapsing in shock. Never had a Hyuga been so willing to throw away their family connections before! It was unthinkable, especially for the chosen heir!

As the shocked silence continued to envelop the courtyard, Hinata finally deactivated her Byakugan. At once, the icy wall of determination was replaced with a deep and abiding sorrow. "I see you are unable to provide me with a satisfactory answer. If that is the case, I will save everybody some time. From this day onwards I will be Hinata of the Leaf and will trouble such an exalted clan no more." Turning, the shy princess walked out of the courtyard of the Hyuga leaving only confusion and sorrow in her wake. Hiashi did not know what was wrong with his child, but one thing was clear. Nothing was ever going to be the same again.

Throwing another shirt in his bag, Naruto sighed. The last thing he wanted to do during the reconstruction was leave on a secret mission, but his orders were clear. Tsunade-baa-chan had been too busy to see him, but Kakashi-sensei left no room for argument. He and a group of elite Jonin would soon be acting as a protective detail around the other Jinchuuriki of Kumo. Apparently, the theory was the two demon hosts could work together to insure each other s safety. Still, if not for the warning from the Elder Toad, he might have raised a bigger stink. This island they were using as a base sounded just like the one in the prophecy. If there was an octopus or something there that could allow him to properly utilize the Kyuubi Chakra, then he had no other choice but to go along with this. Still, leaving just as the people of Konoha were beginning to recognize his greatness was annoying. Maybe Hinata-chan would be up for a quick bowl at Ichiraku's to help calm him down.

Although they had not had much time together since the attack, Naruto had to admit hanging out with the pretty Hyuga was a lot of fun. She never seemed to get tired of his voice, and was surprisingly helpful whenever he was struggling with something. While both ninja had avoided the deeper issues like Sasuke, the sheer feelings of normalcy she inspired made his days all the fuller. Honestly, he had never felt so relaxed or at peace since the end of his Sage Training. No matter what his future with the Uchiha held, the blonde was honest enough with his feelings to know that Hinata would have to be a part of his life as long as possible. He was entitled to at least that little bit of happiness, right?

Hearing a knock at the door, the Jinchuuriki gathered his bags. It seemed like his time had run out. However, instead of an impatient Kakashi-sensei or Gai-sensei, Hinata was standing at his door, unshed tears in her eyes. Before the blonde could even issue a surprised greeting the Hyuga fainted into his arms a sigh escaping from her lips. That was how his escort found them ten minutes later, franticly trying to rouse the slumbering girl.

Author's Notes

Well, after all the positive feedback from Eye Envy I couldn't just leave this time-line hanging now could I? Don't worry, I won't leave you waiting forever with a cliff hanger. I just want the Canon to progress a little farther before begining part three. In fact, I already have somthing in mind *Insert Evil Laughter!*

I want to send out a big thank you to Tallymark for her excellent work as a beta reader and sounding board. I can only hope that she continues to help me deliver fiction of such quality to you, my lovely readers! :)
I'm sure that any death threats made after finishing this part without a conclusion were just harmless jokes. Really...

Oh, and I have been notified by Starfire-chan521 that Escape From the Hokage's Hat has been nominated for The 2010 Naruto Fanfiction Awards under the category of Adventure. Voting starts May 20th on MegaB's profile, so just follow the link from my Favorite Authors and show your support!

Thanks a lot and stay tuned!