Chapter 22: The Important Things
Hinata and Sakura made their way to the grand dining hall which to the first reminded her of a warriors den with hunting and war trophies hung from extremely tall walls beside weapons from many different ages, some of them going as back to the cave dwelling days of the Hercian.
By the gigantic thick wooden table was already standing Haku and Tayuya which Hinata could barely recognize for their clothes had been replaced with fine garments meant for the occasion.
Haku wore a suit similar to Naruto's and he used his hair in a long flowing low ponytail tied by a red string. Nonetheless Hinata couldn't help to feel that he resembled a she in cross dressing for his grace defied normal standards.
Tayuya on her side wore a red dress and her hair finally combed was adorned with jewels hanging from her apparently polished horns unto her forehead making her look more regal than probably her entire life.
Lee was standing on the far end of the hall next to a door as he fidgeted nervously while Naruto was standing on the other side casting nervous glances over his back.
"They seem more worried than I am" said Sakura with a confident smile that Hinata replied with one of her own for in truth the two males seemed even more stressed over the incoming dinner.
As in cue the doors at both lengths of the hall opened and from each came a procession of musicians and warriors dressed in ancient ceremonial armor. Each procession came behind a different banner.
One with the colors and symbols of the Haruno and the other with those belonging to the Lee.
After them came Sango Haruno who was dressed in the same attire Naruto and his group already saw and on the other side came Lady Raika.
As Hinata's eyes and that of Naruto, Haku and Tayuya fell on Lady Raika they couldn't believe their own eyes. For Lady Raika was perhaps one of the most beautiful women that had ever seen in their lives.
Lady Raika had a long flowing mane of black hair framing a finely cut face with black eyes. Her body was gently curvaceous and it was wrapped in a fine dress of leaf green and white jewelry.
"Hard to believe she's Lee's mom, huh?" said Sakura to the shocked Hinata who just nodded with an open mouth.
As soon as the musicians dropped the fanfare music and began a gentler tune Lady Sango raised her fist to acknowledge her lifelong friend and then bowed her head to honor the clan's ancestors.
Lady Raika did the same to honor her friend and the ancestors of the house she was guest to.
"Come, let us grab a seat" said Sakura gently pulling the still astonished Hinata towards the table as to seat next to Naruto and his group.
As soon as every guest was seated the drinks began to be poured Lady Raika said "It's been so long since beloved Sakura returned home isn't it? In a melodious voice that once more made Naruto and his retinue wonder what forsaken god had denied Lee from inheriting any of his mother's wondrous traits.
"Yes it has been some time Lady Raika" drily replied Sakura earning her a disapproving glare from her mother.
Naruto, Hinata and the others smiled awkwardly at the evidently uncomfortable atmosphere that was being built in the hall.
"Sakura my dear, would you be as kind as to introduce me to your guests?" asked Lady Raika with her eyes already fixed on the anguish ridden Naruto who fidgeted nervously.
"Of course Lady Raika; this is Justicar Naruto Uzumaki and his retinue. Hinata Hyuuga, Tayuya Hokumon and Haku Momochi, I asked them to come here for we have Justicar business to attend to, so we won't be on Hercia for long" said Sakura with a barely respectful tone.
"Justicar Uzumaki, I have heard much from you. A Feranian if I am correct and the hero of Soundya hostage situation and eventual rebellion; no wonder Sakura why Sakura dotes on you so much" said Lady Raika with a false smile.
"Thank you very much Lady Raika, but it's my duty so no praise is necessary for what is already expected of me" said Naruto trying to sound confident albeit the whole situation was proving to be too much for the simpler minded Naruto.
"True enough, there's is honor in duty and being faithful to that is important for if people stopped fulfilling their duties then where would we find ourselves?" said Lady Raika drifting her eyes to Sakura who looked back undimmed and defiant.
"In a very un-youthful place without a doubt!" added Lee completely or willfully oblivious to the whole situation.
Smiling Lady Raika said "Of course my son, it would be a very bad existence is people suddenly stopped fulfilling their duties. Such characters can't possibly have a shred of honor in them"
Haku and Tayuya seemed rather uncomfortable with the subtle jabs one side and the other were throwing to one another and just prayed that the food would be brought soon as to shut them up already.
Hinata observed them and felt pity but to her this was also an important moment and so her attention was undivided.
As if a merciful angel had heard them the food was brought in long trays of silver and portions were cut and served to everyone.
With this everyone began to eat in silence with the musicians providing a lively tune for the background.
After being done eating a light dessert was brought and here it was where Hinata sensed that things would finally play out.
"My dear Sakura, don't you feel it has been long enough of you prancing around the galaxy playing the spy for the Federation? It's not the Hercian manner to do things underhandedly" said Lady Raika.
"The job of a Justicar is much more than spying on others my Lady, not to mention that I have saved countless lives. And don't forget that your son has been part of that for as long as I have" replied Sakura smartly earning approving nods from Haku and Tayuya.
"Nevertheless Sakura, you are the heir to the Haruno clan. You'll eventually have to leave that life behind as to fulfill your duties to your family and people" added Sango trying to stop the useless word fight and get back to the topic at hand.
"The day is still far from us mother. You and Lady Raika are only 60 years old and still have several centuries ahead of you to properly lead the clan without relinquishing leadership" replied Sakura softening her sight for he mother.
"That's not the point Sakura. The longer you spend away from the Clan the less willing they will be to follow you and obey when the time comes" said Sango with a bit of exasperation that told Hinata this was not the first time she brought the subject to her daughter.
"Then give it to someone else! Who cares about who leads what? We have plenty of qualified relatives who also share blood ties to our mighty ancestors" replied Sakura making her mother sigh in annoyance.
"That's not our ways Sakura. The clan would be diminished in the face of the others" replied Sango earning a nod from Lady Raika.
"This is quite intriguing don't you agree?" muttered Haku to Tayuya who nodded as she discreetly munched some sweet snacks.
Hinata observed them with disapproval but agreed that indeed this was like going to the theater.
"And so would be mine Sakura. Would you be able to still call yourself a Hercian if you did that?" asked Lady Raika with subtlety completely missing in her son.
Sakura sighed and said "How about we cut to the chase? This whole theater is about me, or rather you two, honoring the pact of brotherhood correct?"
"Once more I urge you Sakura, this is not only about you! It's about the honor of our ancestors and every single one of our clansmen" said Sango losing a bit of composure and showing a side of herself that resembled Sakura making Hinata smile.
"A pact made by two men who lived way long before anyone of us was born! And a pact both of you conspired to see fulfilled! But if you want to see it made so badly then have Lee marry one of my countless cousins" said an exasperated Sakura who probably said the same thing many times over before.
"My son will not marry a lesser woman of the Haruno" stated Lady Raika making his son look ashamed.
"Sakura, not honoring the pact might sour centuries of brotherhood among our clans. Don't you care about that?" asked Sango in a more soothing voice.
"If we are such brothers in arms already and many of our clansmen already saved one another's lives countless times before; Then what does a marriage would do that could weaken our bonds? Or are they so weak that a single refusal would shatter them forever?" said Sakura earning nods even from Hinata.
"How dare you!" half yelled Lady Raika showing some emotion for the first time and genuinely scaring Haku, Tayuya and Hinata.
"This is a thing that has taken centuries to finally come to fulfillment Sakura, many in both Clans have been waiting a long time for this to happen. Heck, we even built those two statues as a symbol to that!" said Sango trying to put some sense in Sakura.
Sighing Sakura got on her feet and said "I think we won't be going anywhere with this…"
"Please don't leave again Sakura, we truly need an answer from you" said Sango.
"It's that Justicar isn't it?!" demanded Lady Raika sending bolts towards a nervous Naruto.
"This isn't about anyone but me you pair of numbskulls!" yelled Sakura stomping on the ground with a loud boom.
"Don't I have any word in all this? Can't I give my heart freely to anyone of my choosing? I am Sakura before being a Haruno and I am done with being treated like some bargaining chip in an oath made by two dead men! What do they care anymore? They are gone and the affairs of the living no longer concern them! Our clans are already like family and the only one making a fuss of things are you two!" screamed Sakura finally venting all of her frustration, one Hinata could sympathize with more than anyone in this hall.
Before any of the two ladies could say anything Sakura slammed her fist against the table almost splitting it and said with a growl "But I am done running away, like a Hercian I'll stand and fight this unwanted fate you two selfishly conspired to make happen"
"What do you mean Sakura?" asked Sango while Hinata feared that she would shame Lee by refusing him.
"Rock Lee, heir of the Lee Clan; I, Sakura Haruno, challenge you to a contest of strength for the right of my hand in marriage. Should you win I'll relent and become your wife in the future but if I win, my fate will be my own to decide…what say you?" asked Sakura with all the hostility and determination she could muster in her icy glare.
This left everyone in the hall agape with shock for not even Hinata could have foreseen this outcome. Haku and Tayuya were on the edge of their seats…
Lady Raika was about to say something when Lee standing up said in his most serious tone "I accept your terms Lady Sakura of the Haruno"
Lady Sango swallowed hard and rising, knowing that forms needed to be observed, she said "This challenge has been made under my roof and as such I stand witness to the wager and place my honor on seeing its fulfillment whatever the outcome. Contestants, you may choose your shield bearers and present yourselves in the hall of honor"
Sakura then turned and said to Naruto "Will Justicar Naruto Uzumaki make me the honor of being my Shield Bearer?"
Naruto just nodded while Lee called out across the room and said "Will Lady Hinata be my Shield Bearer?"
Hinata panicked turned to look at Haku and Tayuya who seemed petrified at what was going on and gulping down she just nodded as well and then turned to look at the equally conflicted Naruto.
xoxoxoxo xoxoxoxo xoxoxoxo xoxoxoxo xoxoxoxo xoxoxoxo xoxoxoxo xoxoxoxo xoxoxoxo
Lady Sango led everyone to the "Hall of Honor" which was according to her an ancient sacred hall standing since the days when the Haruno carved their home into the mountain they resided within.
The room was very large natural cave smoothed by stone masons and decorated with banners and trophies from every single foe the Haruno have defeated in wars.
According to her, many duels have been fought here and on more than one occasion a stubborn Hercian has found death in it as he or she has refused to grant victory and so the duels are fought until one side either yields, drops unconscious or dies.
Sakura had changed into her training attire and had combed her hair into a long thick braid that hung heavily on her back. For this challenge though she had removed the Justicar signet and instead had placed on her head a bronze circlet with an ancient Haruno symbol carved in it.
Lee on the other side had also changed into his training attires and also removed the retinue signet and placed a gold armlet with the symbol of his house on it.
Sango beckoned both contestants to the middle of the hall.
Sakura winked and smiled tenderly at Naruto and without a word between them left with a long stride while Lee punched his knuckles together and turned from Hinata who had wanted to give some sort of encouragement but found herself lacking any words for the current situation was a very ugly business from any angle one decided to look at it.
Both contestants got to the center and clasped their hands in the greet of a warrior and then took a step back.
Lee was surprised though for she didn't found any trace of hostility or disgust from Sakura as he had been expecting.
"The rules are already known to both but I'll pronounce them for our guests and shield bearers. They are simple, this is a hand to hand combat with no weapons whatsoever; any punch to any place is valid and will not be looked down upon for combat is a life and dead situation and holding back is an insult to honor. The victor will be declared when the opponent yields, falls unconscious or die, and as for the shield bearers, you are not to intrude in any way and you may step in to assist at the end of the combat. Should any of them perish here you are to carry out their funerary rites in the custom of Hercia" said Sango clearly disappointed and a bit worried.
Naruto and Hinata shared a look as Sakura and Lee took a couple of steps back from one another. And it broke Hinata's heart to see the sadness in Naruto's eyes over the coming struggle.
Sakura took a long breath and said in a voice clear a clarion "Lee, do not hold back for anything you hear me? I'll kill you and never forgive you if you do!"
Lee gulped but nonetheless he nodded as he admired the fiery beauty of Sakura as the object of his adoration of so many years readied herself to fight.
Sakura acknowledged Lee and clasping her hands in a prayer like position let out a piercing cry that made Tayuya cringe with pain and everyone else but Naruto jump back. At this Sakura's psionic power came to the fore in a green aura that covered her body completely and in Hinata's perspective increased all of her abilities exponentially.
Hinata then understood that back then when she had faced Sakura, she had been lucky that the Hercian warrior had gone easy on her though how she won still left some doubts on that regard…
Lee seemed unfazed by Sakura's display and in turn separated his own legs from one another and pulling his arms next to his body he shouted and right after his body began to tremble at an incredible pace while his skin adopted a red hue that Hinata guessed was the blood running through his body at an incredible pace and swelling his every single vein with the rushing liquid.
Baring his teeth Lee inclined his body towards Sakura before disappearing into thin air with a boom of sound in less than a blink she had struck Sakura who somehow had managed to block his kick with two handed block.
At this Lee disappeared again and now he had kicked low aiming to drop Sakura but once more she had now resisted the strike by angling her leg in the proper way and planting her foot strongly against the ground.
Both continued with this amazing combat for a few instants that Hinata took to observe the rest of the audience gathered in the hall.
Lady Sango and Raika stood there with mouths slightly opened clearly in surprise of their offspring's mighty performance that Hinata betted far outclassed any other Hercian warrior.
Haku and Tayuya watched with wide eyes the strikes on the field became louder and louder.
And finally she observed Naruto who seemed the most serene as if this display was the most normal thing in the world and at closer inspection Hinata saw that his eyes moved incredibly fast which told her that he was managing to follow Lee's movements.
Not wanting to be left out Hinata focused and with less pain than in previous occasions she activated her own Psionic power and so the world plunged once more into shades of grey but at least the combatants in front of her became clearer.
Lee shone like a bright star moving and jumping all around Sakura trying to land a significant blow to win the contest but to her surprise Sakura stood her ground time and time again with her aura shining less brilliantly than Lee's but closer to her body and more focused.
Seeing how Lee used his energy Hinata couldn't help but think that this was no contest at all despite his best effort.
Then Hinata's breath was taken when Sakura grabbed Lee's leg in mid air and circling into his guard slammed a hammering blow to his chest that crashed him into the ground with a loud boom.
Sakura jumped lightly back and re adopted a fighting stance that gave no feints or openings.
Lee dragged himself from the hole with his energies slightly dimmed and once more launched himself at Sakura who caught Lee's fist and holding to it, Sakura spun on her heel and threw him to a far wall where he managed to land on his feet and use the momentum to gather strength and shoot himself at Sakura who this time didn't managed to stop him.
But to Hinata's surprise Sakura received the punch with her stomach and refusing to bend skidded back.
Hinata observed that Sakura's energies were focused on her abdomen and immediately thought that even if her body couldn't match her thinking, her energies clearly could and had used them to brace herself to the impact.
Lee though didn't let up his attack and managed to land several earth shattering blows on Sakura who took them all on a boxer's defensive stance making Lady Raika smile thinking that the proud Haruno girl was being fed her own confidence.
But Hinata's eyes told a different story for Sakura's energies began to flare and become brighter every passing moment, telling her as well that the fight was coming to an end though she feared of what manner.
As Lee jumped far into the back he shouted focusing the last of his strength into a spinning leap that gave him momentum for a devastating and probably murderous kick.
Lee flew like a spinning bullet and right by Sakura's side he up righted himself and began the final turn to deliver his kick.
But Sakura, very likely out of experience, turned to face Lee and with a fierce "Shanaro!" she directed her clenched fist to meet with Lee's incoming leg.
The equally strong blow made Lee stop right in midair in astonishment and pain but that small gap was all Sakura needed to land a second karate like punch straight into Lee's chest propelling him like a cannon ball to a wall where he was incrusted in a loud crash.
Hinata's eyes saw how Lee's energies dissipated and with that she sighed and knew the bout was over.
Sakura breathed out dispelling her own focused energies and held her now shattered hand but showing no pain on her face walked unsteadily towards where Lee remained incrusted in the wall.
"I am so sorry, I couldn't make it…Guess you are truly beyond my reach Sakura" said a pained Lee on the wall.
"You sure are dumb as you look Lee…You took this challenge the same way you always have" said Sakura with a stern voice.
"You just don't get it don't you? I am no goddess you try to prove yourself worth to and I am no trophy or reward you get for giving it your all! I am your fellow Hercian and no more!" yelled Sakura turning her anger at her mother and Lady Raika who observed with wide stares.
"I am Sakura Haruno and I not bound by any other pledges than those I make! And anyone who doubts me can challenge it here anytime and anyday!" said Sakura turning back to Lee.
"Naruto Uzumaki is the man I love and nothing will change that anytime soon Lee. But that doesn't mean that I am to trample your feeling like nothing" said Sakura reaching her broken hand at Lee who at first was weary to hold it less he hurt her further.
But at Sakura's compelling he took it wincing at his own injuries and making Sakura shut an eye with the effort.
Sakura then grabbed Lee's wrist in a warriors greeting and said with solemnity "But you are my partner, my friend and today I want to make you my brother. Here I pledge a new oath of brotherhood to you Lee and no one else"
Lee's eyes went wide at first but looking the battered hand of Sakura holding him he sighed closing his eyes and letting out the last tear he would shed over his unrequited love he grinned brightly and holding Sakura tightly he replied "From this day onwards I name you Sakura Haruno my sister in arms. May our brotherhood last to the day we enter the halls of our ancestors"
Sakura nodded and granting Lee a mercy she leaned in and gave him a gentle kiss on the cheek.
With that Lee collapsed while smiling into Sakura's embrace who whispered "Just this time I guess…"
Tayuya was in tears while Haku nodded as if pleased with the outcome.
Lady Sango and Raika seemed shocked but seeing their offspring finally setting the issue just nodded their acceptance for at least honor had been preserved and maybe someday Lee's and Sakura's children may finally fulfill the oath.
Hinata was glad that everything ended well but she then turned to Naruto who looked genuinely disquieted over Sakura's loud and clear confession.
xoxoxoxo xoxoxoxo xoxoxoxo xoxoxoxo xoxoxoxo xoxoxoxo xoxoxoxo xoxoxoxo xoxoxoxo
After the contest was over and medics had gone over Sakura and Lee's injuries Sakura had taken Naruto to her chambers alone and though Tayuya had raved over the perverseness of the pink haired Justicar who wanted to celebrate, Hinata had seen their mood and knew that no love making was going to happen in there.
Neither exited the room until after midday of the following day…
Hinata, Tayuya and Haku were once more in their original garments feeling now heavily underdressed after the fine garments they had been lent and made a mental note to buy better clothes on the next stop they made on a nice planet or station.
Tayuya had attempted to keep the jewels but two hulking Haruno warriors had identified her intentions and a simple threatening glance was enough to make the red hair the utmost law abiding citizen.
The three were waiting in a reception hall seating on a neat couch in silence until Tayuya said with bit of jealousy "Boy, can they go at it! It's already midday and we are running late!"
"Late for what Tayuya? We don't have any pending missions that I know of" replied Haku making Tayuya growl.
"I don't think they are doing what you think Tayuya" said Hinata absent mindedly making Haku and Tayuya turn to look at her.
"What makes you say that?" asked Haku with interest.
"Oh, you know something we don't do you?" said Tayuya with a smug face.
"Never mind me!" said Hinata trying to end the matter there.
"I won't have any of that princess! Either you tell us or I'll make you with my flute!" threatened a grinning Tayuya as she spun her flute on her fingers.
At this Hinata stood up and tried to pry the flute from Tayuya who kept her at bay with a hand to her large chest which helped the red hair in keeping her away.
Just as Hinata was about to beg the doors of the room opened and through them entered a heavy bandaged Lee on crutches with Sakura and Naruto walking behind him.
"Well, it sure was a very intense couple of days but duty never ends" declared Sakura in a confident manner slightly pushing Lee forward.
Naruto nodded silently though his expression was too even for him making him somehow look out of place there.
Sakura then with narrowed eyes leapt at Hinata and Tayuya and holding Tayuya in her arms before the red hair could even react, she said "I have to collect my due over Naruto's transgressions!" and kissed Tayuya deeply.
Hinata almost screamed as Tayuya's eyes shot wide open and she struggled in vain against the implacable hold of Sakura and after a few moments stopped fighting at all.
Withdrawing her tongue from Tayuya's mouth Sakura licked her lips and gently laid the red hair to rest on the couch while saying "We will have to catch up later beautiful…"
Sakura then turned to Hinata who placed her arms in defense for she feared a similar treatment but was surprised when Sakura hugged her normally albeit a bit too tight for her liking.
"Take care of him…" whispered Sakura in a sad tone that took Hinata's breath from her but as quick as the moment had been, Sakura released her and returning to her usual self pumped her fist into the air and began walking to the exit with a limping Lee in front of her.
Turning to watch at Naruto and then at Hinata Sakura winked and said "I'll be seeing you both later!"
"Sis Sakura, that habit of yours is very un youthful! People will think you deviant! But don't worry, your beloved little brother will turn you into a proper lady!" said Lee with conviction.
"I am a deviant…" thought Sakura and with a sigh she said "Yeah right Lee, come on! And what's that of me being your older sister when I am younger than you!" while gently pushing Lee towards the exit.
"That's simple! Little brothers are by norm cute!" replied Lee earning a slap on the back of his head.
With that Sakura and Lee left Naruto and his companions alone.
Haku had managed to rouse Tayuya from her reverie over being defiled (again) and the group made their way back to the shuttle off from Hercia and back to the Daring Fox in the aegis station of the planet.
They had plotted a course for a planet where they would re stock and take a small rest.
Finally onboard Hinata was as usually reading a slate of information while Tayuya had already gone to sleep and Haku was watching over the ship's instruments at the cockpit.
As she was about to end her reading session and go to sleep Naruto entered the common area and watching Hinata he almost doubled up but stopped and without turning he asked "Say Hinata…"
And turning with eyes brimming with tears he said "Why do I feel, as if I lost something very important?
AN: Done at last!
Hello my beloved readers! Been a long time right?
First than anything I want to say that I am very sorry over having neglected this story, especially after the extremely good response from the previous chapter some months ago.
The reason was a combination of factors such as being conflicted over what to do with the NaruSaku, NaruHina thing, playing the Star Wars MMO like a drone and the conclusion of my first project.
I went over the last chapter several times and upon reading some very intense and sound reviews I decided to play things in this manner so I hope people is relatively satisfied. For those who expected me to write a flame on Sakura, know that I dislike such things in a story and the moment I read them on other's story I stop right then and there because is an ugly cheap shot at pandering.
On future chapters we will have the proper development of NaruHina and at last the grand entrance of the Feranian species as a whole and the final arc of this story.
So as always I am open to helpful criticism, suggestions and questions.
Read, Enjoy and Review!