A Song for Them @nihilistic_bunny
Interlude, The Princess

Naruto Fan Fiction!

Adventure! SI-OC!

(Title)

"A Song for Them"

A/N: Not much to say this time except about how awe-mazin-credible you guys are for caring about what happens in this silly little story. If it wasn't for you guys each week then this wouldn't have gotten past Chapter Five. This is for you, enjoy.

DISCLAIMER: I do not own 'Naruto' or any of the cannon characters! I don't own any chibi-Hyuuga cuteness that may appear either during the writing of this Fanfiction.

WARNING! RATED M! For? The pulling of heartstrings? There'll be some feels in this one. Oh, and the general dickwaddery related to the Hyuuga clan.

Interlude,

"The Princess"

"You don't have to be crazy to be my friend.

I'll train you." -Anon E. Muss

My smile was strained as I weakly waved to the Hyuuga boy. He marched forward, practically bulldozing poor Lee out of his warpath. I stood my ground as the slightly shorter boy came to a stop a foot away from me.

He's gotten taller since the last time I saw him in person I noticed. Still, I was taller than everyone under sixteen that I've met. It made me wonder if I was unusually tall for this world? All I know is that I was totally distracting myself from my current situation.

"You are entering the chuunin exams!?" The very short-haired Hyuuga boy demanded, scowling darkly at me.

I hesitated before nodding, ignoring the bewildered looks everyone was giving us now. The two of us had suddenly become the center of everyone's attention. Nice job, Neji!

The Hyuuga boy stared at me hard before intent spiked in his chakra. My body reacted and I bent backward in a way that wasn't possible in my last life, my arms went over my head and I palms pressed flat against the floor. I felt more than watched as Neji's sandal struck the air where my head previously occupied.

We were starting this already?

As his foot swung down I was already pushing off the floor and preforming a backflip. I landed in a crouch a couple feet away and when I looked up I gave the Hyuuga boy a dirty look.

'Fudgin' priggish, fuddy-duddy, pompous, sententious, stick-up-the-butt Hyuuga!'

Oh dear, she's brought out the big words. I ignored my annoyingly cheerful other-half as I stared down the other boy, waiting for his next move. Was he going to pursue? I wouldn't be surprised if he did. He usually did. Always did, now that I think about it.

I glanced to the side and gave Sasuke a look that clearly said, 'this is all YOUR fault'. He looked slightly taken back, and like everyone else, very confused as to what was happening.

I heard Tenten sigh from beside Rock Lee. "...so much for not drawing attention to ourselves." Neji's hands twitched and my attention was pulled back to him.

Sometimes I wonder how he and I turned out this way. We weren't always like this, were we? I couldn't for the life of me remember a time when we weren't though. It was a long story that begins with my involvement with Hinata and her stuffy clan. One that started... oh, about five? Six years ago?

Wow, does time fly.

Who are you talking to!?

Sora, (Age 13) November 2nd: Not In One Location Long Enough

Fudging cream puffed, vanilla frosted, double-dutch chocolate CHEESECAKE! I pivoted on my heel and dashed down the side-street trying to lose my tail, narrowly avoiding crashing into a worker carrying a stack of boxes.

The twerp had finally decided to hunt me dow-

-'No, no! Stop it! That not far enough back, there's absolutely no context there! Nobody knows what's happening!'

I kinda feel like you're wasting time.

'Oh, I am definitely distracting myself from what was happening. Also from all the other bad, very bad things that will happen before the day is over.'

Mm. Wow, today is gonna suck, isn't it?

'We'll call this the calm before the storm. We'll have to go back farther to explain things.'

Whatever you say, Sky-girl. Roll it!

Sora, (Age 8) September 14th: Classroom 103

The little Hyuuga heiress was staring at the floor and refused to meet my eyes under any circumstance. She was trying to say something to me but I couldn't understand her through all the stuttering she was doing. And if the sudden onset of stutters weren't bad enough, she was shaking like a Chihuahua in a snowstorm!

"-s-so that-that's w-why-" I reached out and placed my hands on her shoulders to stop her from attempting to say anything further. When she paused I motioned her to take deep breaths.

In...

...and out.

She repeated this pattern until she stopped trembling. I rubbed her shoulder gently before letting go and waiting for her to actually speak. She pressed her lips into a firm line before blurting it out quickly.

"...my Otou-sama wants to meet you!" she squeaked.

What now? Did she just say her Dad wants to meet me? I think that's what she just said. Why would the head of the Hyuuga clan want to meet his daughter's classmate?

He wants to know what your intentions are towards his daughter? Terra joked.

'I doubt it'll be that to the point.'

Sora, (Age 8) September 15th: Hyuuga Compound

"I want to know what your intentions are towards my daughter." Hiashi Hyuuga asked coldly.

Smack. and cue my other half's cackling laughter.

'It's kind of annoying when I'm wrong. Almost as annoying when I'm right.' I sighed inwardly.

I found myself sitting in the uncomfortable seiza position across from the current head of the prodigious Hyuuga clan, Hyuuga Hiashi. He was currently looking at me with poorly hidden distain. I was currently trying to keep my own expression neutral.

I pulled out my pen and notebook and wrote, he made no reaction as I did. "I want to be friends with her." I showed the paper.

He narrowed pupiless eyes at me and wow that is unnerving. Hinata's pearly eyes have never looked like that. "Is that so?" he said. I had the distinct feeling that he thought me suspect. Which was rude, we met all of four minutes ago!

I nodded.

"Why?"

Why? Why did I want to be friends with Hinata? What the heck kind of question is that? A bit confused, I began listing all the reasons. How sweet, kind, gentle, thoughtful, friendly and considerate she was. Really, the real question here is who wouldn't want to be Hinata's friend?

I'm not sure at what point but the man across from me had started scowling, pale eye narrowed into a glare. The sudden change in mood had thrown me off a bit, the air around us now holding a good amount of tension. He reached under the table and dropped something in front of me. I recognized the handwriting on the front. It was mine. This was one of the storybooks I had lent to Hinata for helping with her stutter, so why did he have it?

Hiashi's voice was cold as he spoke down to me. "Over the course of your 'friendship' with my daughter, she has become increasingly distracted from her training and studies with false ideas of benevolent Heroes and selfless Princesses."

The book he placed on the table was a collection of stories about Disney Princesses. I stared at the man, trying to figure out what his problem was.

"For months now, you have been filling her head with fairytale's and nonsense and it stops today. I do not know what your real motives are by behind taking advantage of daughter's loneliness, but let me be clear. I do not want Hinata associating with you or that boy."

'Nonsense' he called it.

That nonsense being my precious memories from Before.

'That boy' he said.

That boy being Naruto.

My Naruto.

I put my pen to my paper and wrote, a coldness inside my gut was fueling my words before tearing out the page and slamming it on the tea table in between us, rattling the fragile cups on the surface.

Without waiting to be kicked out, I stood and walked back out the sliding door with my head held high and a scowl on my face. As I passed over the threshold of the door a wave of murderous Killing Intent washed over my body in a rush. I broke into a cold sweat and immediately felt sick to my stomach and wanted nothing more than to empty said stomach all over the stupid polished wooden floors.

I leaned on a support beam in the hall, feeling all the strength leave my legs and inhaled deeply trying to regain my breath. Remembering my Mother's melodic voice as she instructed me on how to hold my bearings.

"Breathe deeply, Clever girl. Fill your lungs and hold it. Focus on the subtle heat under your skin. Do you see it, Sora?"

I see it. It was warm and burning. Tangible and just out of reach. It was never as bright as yours was, Kaa-chan.

"Good. Now block everything else from your mind and focus only on the burning in your core. There is nothing else."

There is nothing else.

"See it."

See it.

"Move it."

Move it.

There is only myself and my burning core.

I exhaled as I felt the sickening pressure release. I straightened my back and walked out of the gates of the Hyuuga compound without further incident, no one stopped me until I was back in my apartment with the desire to create a explosive note strong enough to rearrange an entire Training Ground. As I gathered up my Fuinjutsu supplies for my therapeutic exercise I thought about the page I left behind.

I was harsh, probably, but I really couldn't find it in myself to feel the slightest amount of guilt at the moment.

Sora, (Age 8) September 26th: Hokage's Residence

As if this was some kinda joke, it wasn't even a couple weeks after meeting and consequently angering Hinata's Dad that I found myself sitting in the eternally irritating seiza position in front of current Hokage, Sandaime Sarutobi Hiruzen.

Hiashi, the prig himself, was sitting a couple feet to my right. I'd bet my notebooks that this was all his doing.

I'd been pretty surprised an hour ago when ANBU Sakana showed up at my front door, informing me that my presence had been requested by the Hokage.

An eight year-old girl walking alongside a fully dressed ANBU operative had gotten quite a few strange looks as we walked right down the Main Street in broad daylight. ANBU Sakana had been very polite as they escorted me to the Hokage's residence, only leaving my side when I was standing outside Hiruzen's private office.

Hiruzen set his Calligraphy brush to the side of his work and regarded me coolly. I was currently trying my best not to fidget where I was sitting.

"Sora-chan, do you know why I've asked you here?" the Sandaime asked, I absently noted that he wasn't wearing his funny hat. This was more of an informal meeting then? It was also then I noticed a crumpled piece of writing paper on the Sandaime's desk. I recognized that style of paper. I had a notebook full of paper just like that.

The snitch. Terra hissed, referring to the Hyuuga in the room. I gulped nervously, tuning out my other's half's desert-related curses as I became hyper aware of the other men in the room. I'd been called to the principles office.

"Hiashi-dono has formally requested that I, as Hokage, prohibit you from entering the premises of both the Hyuuga compound and their surrounding lands."

I'm pretty sure my jaw hit the floor then.

Banned!?

Hiruzen folded his hands on his low desk. "Normally this would be handled between the families of the two parties but as you are both an orphan and a shinobi-in-training, the job falls to me. Now I hear that you've been entering the Clan's compound without the proper permission? Is this true, Sora-chan?"

I lowered my gaze to count the number of tiles on the floor, pressing my lips into a firm line. There may have been one or two occasional trips through the storm drain in the southern-west wall. I nodded. There was no point in denying it. I've had less than a year of ninja training in the Academy and I was traipsing into a shinobi clan's domain. Not to mention the clan had all-seeing eyes. Of course I'd been spotted.

"I see..." the Sandaime rumbled. "Well, do you have anything to say for your actions, Sora-chan?"

I looked up at the Hokage and signed, ignoring how Hiashi's chakra spiked with annoyance when I did. 'Hinata is my friend and I just want her to be happy.'

The old Hokage was quiet as he lifted his smoking pipe to his lips, keen and weary eyes inspecting the two of us. Smoke that stank of tobacco wafted from his lips as he spoke. "Sora-chan, from this day you not to enter the Hyuuga clan's compound without explicit invitation-" What, what, what- "-and should you again be apprehended on the premises then disciplinary action will be taken. Do you understand?"

I just stared. Hinata spends all her days at either the Academy or at the compound and after the farce of a meeting with Hiashi a few weeks ago, he'd forbidden her from speaking to me again. I had to calm her down after she burst into tears when she told me. She is six years-old and doesn't understand why she couldn't be friends with me.

"Sora-chan. Do you understand?" the old Hokage repeated more sternly.

I nodded numbly.

Coal eyes landed on the Hyuuga. "Is that satisfactory to you, Hiashi-dono?"

"It is. Thank you, Hokage-sama." The man nodded, stoic as ever. When his nod was returned by the Sandaime, Hiashi stood and left, the door closing behind him without a sound on his way out.

I began to stand but was stopped when Hiruzen spoke, "Hold on a moment Sora-chan, I want to speak with you."

I sat back down on the hard wooden floor, crossing my legs under me sloppily and more comfortably, this wasn't a formal meeting anymore. The strained air that had filled the room left with the Hyuuga prig. The old Hokage lifted his hand and the ANBU in the walls left and it was just the two of us.

The old shinobi chuckled softly, "Quite the trouble you've gotten yourself into, Sora-chan." he drawled as he lifted his pipe to his lips.

I didn't raise my eyes from where I was glaring holes into the floor tiles. This was unfair on so many levels. That Hyuuga prig was willing to go so far as to get the Hokage to forbid me from going to visit Hinata! What the heck. After a minute of silence I heard the old Hokage heave a heavy sigh befitting a man that has the weight of thousands of lives on his shoulders. Papers shuffled around before he spoke again.

"'A man who allows his own flesh and blood to be treated as second-rate citizens and binds them into indentured servitude is not a man at all. One that claims he does it out of love and protection of his flesh and blood yet does nothing to change how they are treated is just a coward too afraid to do what he knows is right. Such a man has no right in telling me what I should and should not do.'" he murmured aloud.

My shoulders raised and my face actually began to burn with shame. Hearing all that said aloud makes it sound a lot harsher then when I wrote it down.

"...on the positive side, your handwriting is quite lovely to look at, Sora-chan." Hiruzen said mildly.

I curled into myself further if it was possible.

Hiruzen was good.

I realize now that I was needlessly harsh and that was a pretty out-of-character reaction for me to write that. I wasn't thinking. The annoying truth is that Hiashi is just trying to look out for his daughter's best interests, even if he went about in a total fudge-waddish way he was just thinking about Hinata. I understood that he loved his daughter, that was obvious in his chakra alongside his fierce desire for protecting her. I also wasn't stupid. I had some idea of what a political state of the Village was, I knew what a valuable political ally Hinata would be once she was grown up. The Hyuuga clan was up there in prestige alongside the Uchiha, Senju and Sarutobi clans.

I knew these things but the fact was I couldn't give two licks about it all. Hinata was kind and sweet and adorable and though I've only known her for a couple months she is my dear friend and I love her.

Hiashi's first priority was her safety. Her happiness was second and I couldn't disagree with that more. There's always a difference between being alive and living. She's six and already has a anxiety disorder for crying out loud! I understand that Hiashi isn't a bad guy. He's just a guy who's protective of his daughter who was kidnapped when she was three. I understand.

I still thought he was a royal fudge sucker though.

"Quite the situation, indeed..." Hiruzen murmured to himself as he held his pipe up to his lips again, taking a drag. Then he added in a quieter tone, "...of course, disciplinary actions can't be taken unless you were to be caught in the act of trespassing."

My eyes snapped up from staring at the floor to see a glint in the old shinobi's eyes.

Is he saying what we're thinking he's saying?

"-should you again be apprehended on the premises then disciplinary action will be taken." is what he said specifically. Very specifically.

Tricky ninjas.

I grinned widely at the greying-haired man.

Hiruzen-jiji is kinda awesome sometimes.

Sora, (Age 9-and-a-half) July 10th: Hyuuga Compound

Sneaking around the corners and peeking around walls, I crept through the long corridors of the Hyuuga compound as I left from delivering a couple new cheesy romance novels for Hinata to binge when she's not being trained into the ground.

I'd been somewhat amused when I found out that she has been stashing all the novels I've leant under her mattress like a some kind of teenage boy hiding his porn.

...I'm so glad Naruto is still an innocent six year-old. His only interest in girls at this age is whether or not a they can out eat him during lunchtime.

Just as I entered the less patrolled branch-clan side of the compound I sensed the crystal ringing chakra of an incoming Hyuuga member and quickly pressed myself against the wall of the nearest building, holding my breath and hoping I wasn't seen. The chakra paused and I heard a young and squeaky voice.

"I know you're there. Show yourself." they demanded. I didn't move, hoping they would think they imagined it and move on. It's worked more times than one would think. "I can see you. Come out or I will come after you."

Dang it.

Withholding a sigh I stepped out from the building and saw standing there was a boy around my age with long brown hair, large pale eyes and a scowl that really shouldn't be on his round face. It would've been endearing if it wasn't so disturbing to see such cold eyes on a child so young. He watched my movements with far too much suspicion for someone his age.

He had bandages wrapped around his forehead and I felt a pit form in my stomach as I recognized what that signified. He was a little kid already branded with that disgusting excuse for a seal.

"You are trespassing on Hyuuga land." he stated formally. "I must insist that you follow me to Hiashi-sama-"

Yeah, that's not happening. Cute as the kid was, I didn't need to be caught. I lifted my hand and wiggled my fingers in a wave before turning on my heel and hightailing it out of there.

I heard the little Hyuuga boy shout after me in surprise as my longer legs out-stripped him. I ran down the corridors, abandoning all sense of stealth I dashed right by the civilians members of the clan and thanked my lucky stars that there were no actual shinobi in sight. I ran out into the grass and through the laundry lines, scaring the bejeezus out of the housewives, desperately trying to distance myself from the surprisingly determined small footsteps right behind me. The women gasped and some yelped but what really almost floored me what one of them shouted as we passed.

"Wha-What are you doing!? Neji!" she called angrily. I nearly tripped over a laundry basket at that point but recovered my balance beautifully and continuing to run my skirt off.

"Intruder-Sorry-Hahaue!" the voice behind me panted out.

The part of me not currently freaking out about the chibi-sized Neji-friggin'-Hyuuga currently chasing me was a bit proud of the fact my eight year-old body was barely winded when the seven year-old behind me was panting. I attributed this to being half Uzumaki and having to build up the endurance to keep up with my Hero when he's on a sugar high.

Seeing my exit I looped around a building once more to cut right through it to break Neji's line of sight and slipped through the gutter in the wall, quickly covering it back up with the empty barrel before getting to my feet and hauling skirt down the street again, ducking through crowds before any of the clan sentries could be bothered to come after me. Or something even worse, like that scarily determined Hyuuga boy.

I didn't know back then that that encounter would be the first of many across the years. Always with him getting faster and me having to get getting trickier.

Sora, (Age 11) June 3rd: Shopping District's Main Road

I blinked hard. No change. I tried it again but the small person I saw wandering the street didn't disappear or change appearance. The small person looked a lot like Hanabi Hyuuga.

I was walking home to make dinner for Naruto and I when I saw a little person that looked disturbingly like Hanabi Hyuuga, age four, walking down the street all by herself without her caretaker or another Hyuuga clansman in sight and the sun had set a half an hour ago.

There was something very wrong with this situation.

As kid-friendly as Konoha appears, it is decidedly not. Kids get snatched off the streets in the middle of a shinobi Village too.

I blatantly ignore how I know that fact from personal experience. Shoving it into 'The Box' and focusing on the now.

I remember Hinata telling me about how strict her Father was about having an escort for whenever she went into the Village when she was younger. It wasn't until just last year that Kō, Hinata's caretaker finally stopped following her everywhere. Hanabi shouldn't be alone here and all my internal alarms were going off at the moment.

The little princess was practically drooling over some of the sweets in a shop window when I tapped her shoulder lightly, ignoring the twitch it inspired in my fingers. Large, too large, pale eyes looked up at me in curiosity. She blinked and smiled at me.

"Oh... you are Nee-sama's pet!"

Eh?

No, wait. Little girl all by herself on the street. Priorities. Focus. Ask later. I pulled out my pen and notebook and wrote, showing her the page. "My name is Sora. And you are Hinata's little sister, it's nice to meet you."

The dark-haired girl read the page and tilted her head at me, "Why did you write that?" she asked in that innocent four year-old way.

"When I was little, I got hurt and now I can't use my voice. I talk with this." I wrote and her eyes widened as she came to an understanding. "Can you tell me why you're out here all alone?"

Immediately her smile fell away and she looked entirely the part of a stoic and serious Hyuuga stereotype I've become acquainted with over the years of interaction of her clansmen.

"I am running away." she informed me gravely.

I balked at that. What!? Why is she running away? I know Hiashi isn't the warmest or affectionate but from what I hear from Hinata, she dotes on her little sister whenever she gets the chance! How did Hanabi even sneak out in the first place!? I have a hard enough time sneaking in!

I asked her that last question.

"The same way you did," she informed me brightly "I crawled through the hole in the wall like when you are running away from Neji-san or the guards."

Oh dear.

So, this is all your fault is what I'm hearing? Terra drawled.

'Shut up!' I hissed at my other half. How was I going to fix this? I'm pretty sure I don't remember anything about Hanabi Hyuuga running away from Before and since her means of escape was provided by watching me, it's safe to assume that this is my doing. Great. If Hiashi didn't hate my guts before, he will definitely string me up for this.

Feeling the symptoms of a headache coming on I lifted a hand to rub my temple. How to fix this... how to fix this...?

Little kids want to run away all the time. I remember doing it a couple time when I was a kid the first time, even now it's very tempting to just pack up Naruto and go live together in a forest in the middle of nowhere some days. Never mind that it would never happen.

I just need to find out why Hanabi wants to run away and convince her otherwise.

Okay, that's a plan at least.

"Do you have any idea where you're running away to?" I asked, starting soft, humoring the idea. My Grandfather did this for me the first time I ran away from home. He'd let me think that I could do it and stayed by my side the entire day until I exhausted myself and fell asleep. I'd woken up in my bed the next morning and all my ideas of running away had disappeared for a time.

She shrugged her little shoulders, turning back to look through the window. "I don't know."

Well, then. How to go about this? What did I want when I ran away from home all those years ago?

Parents.

This got depressing quick.

'Agreed. But what else?'

As I lift a hand to my chin to think about it, my eyes also wandered to the window. Mmm. That Hakuto jelly looks absolutely delicious and I could smell fresh anpan from inside. That reminds me of the recent craving I've-Oh.

I... I know what to do. I wrote and turned my notebook around, getting her attention again.

"Want to get a treat?"

Hanabi and I were now sitting on a bench in the very well-lit and populated area of the district, each nursing one half of a blue popsicle that tasted surprisingly like strawberries. When I noticed the long-haired girl was staring at her treat intently I leaned over to catch her eye, she glanced up at me before looking at the all consuming ice cream again.

"Sora-san..." she whispered after a moment, "do you believe in destiny?"

Pfft.

"No. Destiny is not real." I wrote on my notebook that I left conveniently sitting on the bench in between us, a small smile on my lips. Is this why she wanted to run away? One the Hyuuga stuffies sat her down and talked about unchangeable destinies?

She frowned at the book, looking up to frown at me. "How can you know that?" she asked challengingly.

I didn't even bat an eye as I responded. "Because if Destiny were real then I wouldn't be sitting next to your right now."

If destiny had it's way then I would have died That Night with Kaa-chan. Or in a hole, trapped under the roots of the Village. I know that 'Sora', daughter of Ikari Uzumaki never existed Before.

"...what do you mean?" she asked softly, almost as if she knew what I was thinking. My smile fell a bit.

"I had been really, really hurt when I lost my voice." I confessed.

The overly-perceptive little girl's eyes went to the orange scarf tied around my neck.

Her eyes went back to the treat melting in her hands and she told me why she ran away in a whispered tone. "As the main family, we have a duty to protect the Byakugan for eternity. And sometimes we have to... we have to rule the branch families using absolute fear... and... death."

I became horrified. I knew that the Hyuuga's weren't the most emotional bunch but for someone to tell this innocent four year-old girl that her family uses death as a means to keep her cousins from acting out, is so beyond fuc-

"Ojii-sama says that is who we are and that we are all born with a destiny that never changes."

"That's stupid." I wrote, keeping a hold on my anger. Hanabi blinked large, innocent pale eyes at me.

"But..." I raised my hand to stop her there. No buts. The only butt was her Grandfather for filling her sweet little head with total and utter crap. The gall of the man!

"Our own decisions are what shape our lives and the people around us. There is no stone, or book, or tapestry that has our entire lives and choices written down." she watched my hand write these words intently. "We are our own people and we shape our own lives. Understand?"

"...I... I think I do." she mumbled with pinched brows. Maybe that was a bit too much for her. I forget that though most of these kids were way more advanced than the ones I knew from Before, they were still little kids at the end of the day.

I smiled warmly at the little girl, "It's okay if you don't. You are four and have a big sister who will love you no matter what."

She blushed with embarrassment and I reached over to ruffle her hair, causing her to pinken further. So cute! We finished our popsicles with Hanabi peppering me with questions about myself and how I was friends with her Nee-sama and how come we've never met before today.

"I've got a question for you." I wrote, interrupting her game of 20,000 questions. "Why did you call me your sister's 'pet'?"

"Oh, that. Well, Neji-san always calls you a stray animal, like a kitty-cat!" she informed me with a sweet smile.

My eye twitched.

...Neji!

I knocked softly on the pane of the window before shifting the small body dozing on my back higher when she began to slide down. Inside I heard the soft padding of feet before the window cracked open to the distraught and panicked expression of my Hyuuga princess.

"Sora-chan! It's Hanabi-she's been-" she inhaled sharply as I leaned down to show the littlest sleeping princess I was carrying piggyback.

"Hanabi!" she gasped in absolute relief. Tears threatened to spill from her eyes and she pulled me forward to wrap her arms around me and her sister. Hanabi mumbled sleepily and Hinata released us, beckoning me through the window.

I carefully maneuvered Hanabi into my arms and handed her through the window where her sister took her into her arms and gently laid her into her own bed without waking her. She was a bit of a heavy sleeper, I mused as I leaned my arms on the window pane, still standing outside.

As Hinata thoroughly tucked her baby sister, I wondered why it had been so easy to sneak in tonight? From Hinata's reaction they definitely knew that Hanabi was gone but I doubt that they knew she had snuck out by her own choosing. So on the off chance they hadn't realized they were missing one princess, I'd snuck in one of the branch families' side entrances in hopes of placing Hanabi back so she wouldn't get in trouble for her little adventure.

Hinata stood and rushed over to pulled me into another hug, this one was the nice leave-you-struggling-to-breathe ones. I returned the hug and pretended not to notice how much she was shaking. She mumbled questions into my shoulder. "Whah hammened? How did wew find mer, we thought that she'd beem-beem-" I rubbed small, comforting circles on her back. She pulled away and I reached for my notebook.

"I found her wandering the Shopping District. Apparently she saw you fight against Neji and lose. And afterwards your poor excuse for a Grandfather told her some stupid crap about unchangeable fates and ruling the branch families with fear and the threat of death and she decided to run away."

Hinata became so pale and she stared at the page in horror, slowly raising a hand to cover her gaping mouth.

That's why I love this girl, she's sane.

"All-in-all I don't blame her for wanting a bit a fresh air. But I talked to her and I don't think she'll be trying to run away again anytime soon."

Before Hinata could say anything our eyes snapped to the door that slid open suddenly and watched as Hiashi stepped silently into the room, chakra churning like a summer storm and the grimmest, darkest expression I've ever seen on his usually emotionless face.

We were frozen as he briskly walked in and kneeled in front of Hinata's bed, eyes scanning his youngest daughter for any sign of mistreatment or injury. Here, I was convinced he was going to kill me and chop me into itty bitty pieces and no one would ever find said pieces. I was hyper-aware of the man's every movement and my body was tensed uncomfortably, ready to bolt at a moments notice.

I watched as all the tension drained from him and his shoulders sagged, relief filling every line of his body as he gently brought the blanket to rest Hanabi's chin and tucking a lock of her messy hair to the side, behind her ear. Without a word, he stood and calmly walked back to the sliding door only to linger on the threshold. He turned back and his eyes glanced at the page I was still holding up. Startled, I slapped it against my chest futilely hoping that he didn't see what I'd said about his Father.

His pale eyes locked eyes with me.

Something silent and unsaid passed between us but I don't think I fully understood what he tried to convey. But if I had to guess, it was something like...

I still don't like you.

And then he left, closing the door gently behind him. The only sound in the room were the soft snuffles and snores of a sleeping Hanabi.

I think Hinata and I were still holding our breaths, waiting for her Father to rush back in and Gentle Fist me into the next country or throw me into a cell for... something.

Minutes passed and he didn't come back.

I was in shock.

My utter incomprehension of the situation was interrupted by the very out-of-place sound of a bubbly giggle.

I looked over to see Hinata's shoulders shaking with barely contained laughter, tears soon began rolling down her face as she held her hands over her mouth trying her best not to wake up her sister. It seems the out-of-character reaction of her impossibly impossible Father was the last straw she could handle after the last few hours she's had.

She laughed and cried in turns as the stress of the last few hours finally caught up to her. Happiness overtook her as the last threads of fear finally faded away and she tried not to make a single noise.

I hopped up to sit on the window and leaned down to wrapped my arms around her shoulders, pulling her into my chest where she fell into my embrace. The room was peacefully quiet as my shirt slowly became damp with only the occasional sound of a muffled sob.

Then she fell asleep on me.

As her body went limp in my arms I awkwardly floundered to catch her before she fell to the floor. After a couple minutes of careful maneuvering and using my measly hard-earned strength, I set her in the bed where she curled protectively around the smaller girl.

I wanted so badly to coo at the pure adorableness of the scene. But instead I turned out the light and slipped back out the window, closing it securely behind me.

It was as I was sneaking back out of the compound that I realized that completely forgot about dinner with Naruto!

Sora, (Age 12) December 27th: Hyuuga Private Gardens

"'You, the smallest and weakest of the earth's creatures, have saved my life. When all the other creatures of the forest had forsaken me, when I had given up all hope myself, you risked your own life to come to my aid and I will forever be in your debt, Mouse.' And the Mouse and Lion lived the rest of their lives as the best of friends." Hinata finished reading, smiling softly. I was sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with her under a bare plum tree as she read one of the presents I'd gotten her. It was December but thankfully there wasn't any snow this year, only a bit nippy as long as you were properly bundled up.

Besides the book I wrote for her, I'd bought her a cute hair barrette clip and a little sunflower charm that's supposed to go on a bracelet. But, as bracelets are impractical for Taijutsu fighters she'll just have to figure out something else to do with it.

"Thank you for all this, Sora-chan. I really like this story." she murmured, still smiling.

'I'm glad you like it.' I signed.

"Do... do you think that it can really happen?" she asked.

I raised a brow at her. Can a mouse really save a lion's life? Well, I guess it's plausible in this world. If they were, y'know, intelligent summons or some-

"No, no!" Hinata giggled in my considering face. "Not actual animals, Sora-chan."

Hm. When did she get so good at reading me? I thought only Naruto could do that.

"But, can someone weak really be of any help to someone so strong?" she asked, trying to hide the hopeful look in her pale eyes. I gave her a droll look. We both knew why she asked something like that.

'Strength isn't simply about who is the fastest or who can hit the hardest. There are many types of strength, and you-' I poked her in the chest before continuing, '-have one of the rarest strengths of them all. Hinata, your heart makes you one of the strongest people I know.'

She smiled a watery smile and rested her head on my shoulder, looping her arm in mine. "...thank you." she whispered sincerely.

I rest my head on top of hers.

Happy birthday, my little mouse.

Sora, (Age 13) April 23rd: Sora's Apartment

There was a soft knock on the door, I set my ink brush down carefully and stood. Pushing my senses towards the other side of the door I recognized Hinata's usually Clear and Alive chakra was muddled and weighed down with heavy emotion. I was quick to rush to the door and yank it open to see Hinata looking dishelmed and still wearing her training clothes. She was shaking and seconds away from tears.

"H-Hello, Sora-ch-chan. I'm-m-m sorry for the in-intrusion-" I pulled her inside and she followed without another forced word. As soon as the door clicked shut, she collapsed onto the floor in a trembling mess. I rushed to kneel in front of her to find her with her face buried in her hands as she sobbed.

My heart broke to see her like this.

Whoever did this to my Hinata was going to hurt.

"I -hic I couldn't do it! I couldn't do it -hic- Sora-chan!" she sobbed loudly, "I c-couldn't hurt Hanabi!"

A cold feeling settled in my gut as I realized what happened.

Hanabi just replaced Hinata as the Hyuuga Clan heir.

I wrapped her shaking frame in my arms tightly as I rubbed her back, cursing out Hiashi and Hiroto and their utter stupidity in every imaginable way. Her own Father had just cast her aside at the behest of her Grandfather. There were no words that could make her feel better or change what happened.

So I did the little I could for her.

I held her in my arms as she cried herself dry.

Cleaned the dirt off of her and gave her some spare clothes to change into.

A warm cup of tea to soothe her raw throat as I played her favorite songs.

Invited her to dinner and to sleep over when it got late, offering to send a message to the compound so Hanabi wouldn't worry.

Let her pretend that nothing big or life-changing happened that day.

The same routine repeated the next day and walked with Naruto and I to class.

On the third she finally went back home, not okay by any means. But... better than she was.

Sora, (Age 13) November 2nd: Not In One Location Long Enough

Fudging cream puffed, vanilla frosted, double-dutch chocolate CHEESECAKE! I pivoted on my heel and dashed down the side-street trying to lose my tail, narrowly avoiding crashing into a worker carrying a stack of boxes.

The twerp had finally decided to hunt me down.

That 'twerp' being an angsty Hyuuga tween that has already been a genin for almost a full year now. Doesn't matter that my graduation was only a couple weeks away. I turned down another winding alley as I felt his chakra steadily gaining on me. Crap!

The only reason I wasn't currently freaking out at the moment was because I finally had the advantage of being a 'street-rat' -as Stick so lovingly calls me- compared to his stuffy clan upbringing. Neji might be a genin with eyes that see through everything and the ability to jump across rooftops with enviable ease, but he didn't know the streets like I did. I've lived on these streets for years now. Seeing me and catching me are two different things as he's learned over the years.

Neji is the only one that bothers to go out of his way to chase me out of the compound anymore. Of course, this wouldn't be happening in the first place if Hiashi-dodo had just removed the ban on me after we came to a mutual understanding in regards to his daughters. But, nooooo... he just likes being a fudge sucker about the whole thing. The man had the gall to say that it was for my own benefit even!

'It's beneficial training for an aspiring Kunoichi. I will not allow my daughter to associate with a class failure.' he'd said. I'm pretty sure that was his poor attempt at a joke. I'm also positive he didn't lift the ban just in case he changes his mind about me and decides to enforce it again.

I ran through Iwagari Yoshi's sewing shop and went through the back door and into the back alleys. This alley in particular was popular in the underground for all the imported goods they smuggle in from out of country and was the closest thing Konoha had to a Baazar. It also had a nexus of intersecting paths that lead out at all directions.

Stick's chakra pulsed outwards and I knew he'd just activated his Byakugan. I kept running, ducking, just barely avoiding plowing into bystanders. Going way too fast I hit the wall at the end of the alley and bounced off it as I turned, then I saw it.

My escape route.

The walking bridge and surrounding areas in the south-east section of the Market District were currently under construction. The area I was in now was narrow and didn't leave much room for maneuvering whatsoever. It was all I needed for my plan.

I jumped onto the scaffolding and ran across, reaching the end I leapt over the last bit of distance to stop, panting, waiting, at the beginning of the bridge. It was not long at all until I saw the long-haired boy come to a stop at the edge of the last roof.

He smirked smugly down at me, like he didn't have a sheen of sweat on his own brow. "Have you finally decided to give up, street-rat?"

In response I signed something I will never teach Naruto that I learned myself from the lovely Onee-san's that reside in Konoha's not very well advertised Red Light District.

He made a surprised and disgusted sound as his face went red. I briefly wondered how he knew what that meant as he jumped down onto the scaffolding. He stepped down to the ground level and pushed himself running start, his foot hit that ground and-the ground held his foot in place as he face-planted into the wet cement!

Yeeessss! Victory! I did a little excited dance here, as out of breath as I was. Sweet, sweet victory was mine! I'd wondered before if the Byakugan could tell the difference between wet and dry substances.

Now I guess I've got my answer!

My happiness got cut short as KI spiked into the ambient air. I looked back over and watched as Neji slowly, oh-so slowly, pushed himself up and I got a full view of my success. His entire front was covered in grey gooey cement, from his face to his nice clothes. It even got a good amount of his hair when his ponytail flew in.

Seething pale eyes landed on me and he stood back up and-Oh, Shi-RUNNING AGAIN! I ran and filled my lungs with air before I leapt off the side of the bridge and dove headfirst into the water. Before I submerged, I heard him howl after me, sounding more pissed off than I've ever heard him before.

I went in deep and out of sight, swimming alongside the current and was propelled downriver and further away from him. I stayed under the surface for as long as I could before swimming towards the shore and cautiously poking my head out, scanning for any sign of his chakra.

From that day on I took extra care not to get caught by that boy. Positive that he would attempt to murder me if he did.

May 26th, Present Day: Second Floor of the Academy

I blame Duckie for this. I was doing so well being invisible before he opened his big mouth. I'm lucky Stick didn't just jump to shutting down my chakra network, and killing me in a slow and painful fashion.

Maybe he's calmed down with time?

The short-haired boy in front of me looked somewhat disappointed that I wasn't currently eating his sandal. "I'll admit I'm surprised you can avoid a simple attack like that, street-rat." Neji sneered at me. "I suppose if you have no skill to begin with then all you can do is improve."

Pontificating snot-nosed brat. He has not changed at all!

I stuck my tongue out at him and his eye started twitching.

"Oi! The hell do'ya think you're doing, you bastard!?" Naruto snarled as he came to stand in front of me. How sweet. I blinked in surprise when I saw the backs of both my teammates standing between me and Stick. Aww. My chest filled with that warm fuzzy feeling reserved for my boys.

"I believe it was already explained by your teammate. I'm weeding out the weak." Neji narrowed his eye in distaste at my boys as he cocked his head arrogantly, causing a lock of his neatly cut hair to fall across his face.

I absently notice that even though it been months since our last face-to-face encounter, his hair only barely reached the nape of his neck. He must've cut it all off at one point to even it out like it is. Hinata had told me months ago that he hadn't washed out the cement in time after our little outing and had to cut out the patches that dried up and became brittle, leaving him with patchy hair like a ragdoll. Which, she informed me, he fully blamed me for and was swore venomously to kill me on sight when he saw me again.

"'Weak'? Sora-chan's not weak! Who the hell even are you?!" the Hero demanded angrily as he defended my honor,

Duckie just stood beside the blonde and glowered at Neji. As unaffected as he usually acts, I guess an attack on a teammate -however annoying he finds us- is not something he'll let slid. That's good to know. I got up from where I was crouched and laid my hands on their shoulders, signaling them to stand down.

Now that his initial aggression was expended, Neji's anger has calmed down significantly. And even though he's a jerk to me all he did was just swung his foot at my head instead of using Gentle Fist like if he really was intending to kill me.

Oh my Gooood... Terra groaned, Do you really not realize this isn't something normal?

'Don't worry.' I signed to my team when they stepped away to look at me. 'This is just how Stick and I say hello.'

"Wait-HE'S 'Stick'?" Naruto gasped in recognition, knowing about him from when I'd rant about him. I nodded in confirmation. When the Hero looked back at Neji, he snickered.

"Stick?" Tenten murmured in confusion as Neji scowled darkly at me that familiar fire sparking to life again.

Naruto decided to clarify the nickname.

"Yeah, it's 'cause he's got a stick up his-"

-Intent spiked again and Neji started to move at me, chakra reacting to his anger. On instinct I pushed Naruto and Sasuke back but before he could reach me my vision was obscured by broad shoulders clothed in forest green.

Rock Lee stood in in between Neji and I, holding his hand in front of him in a pacifying manner.

All I could think at that moment was how he's really fast.

He spoke, "Neji. Whatever grudge you might have against Sora-san, she is a comrade of the Leaf and this is not the time or place for a fight. I am sure that you will have an opportunity to work out your grievances with her in future, perhaps even during the course of the Exams."

If I'm remembering correctly, -and I am- this is the same Rock Lee that wants to challenge Sasuke to a fight in... oh, a couple minutes from now? This was very ironic but the thought is what counts, I suppose.

To my pleasant surprise Neji actually stood down after that, his body taking on a more relaxed and less aggressive stance.

The Hyuuga boy looked over his teammate's shoulder and locked eyes with me, there was fire and a silent promise of pain and suffering in my nearby future.

I repeat, this is Sasuke's fault. Never mind that I antagonized the tween in the first place.

Wordlessly, Neji turned around and began walking away. My spandex-clad savior glanced over his shoulder at me and I smiled gratefully at him. It was a bit odd when I saw the tips of his ears tinge red in response. He spun on his heel to face me with a cheerful smile.

"Hello, I would like to properly introduce myself to you. My name is Rock Lee!" he pointed to himself and my smile grew. This was so cool. Rock Lee was always one of my favorites along with the Hero. They were just so... magnetic. His cheerful smile took on a more bashful look to it.

"This might be strange but we met once before years ago. Back when we attended the Academy together you preformed an act of selfless kindness towards me, a complete stranger! And because of that day I felt the need to intervene just now."

Huh? I did what?

An act of kindness? I'm mostly sure that we've never met before today. I'm pretty sure I would've remembered, right? I mean, who would ever forget meeting this guy? He must be mistaking me for someone else. There's no way I'd forget meeting Rock Lee.

"Your name is... Sora, right? Do you... remember me?" he asked hopefully.

As I began to reach for my notepad Stick scoffed from where he was standing on the side of the hallway, waiting for Lee, I assume. "She can't answer you. She's a mute, Lee."

Rock Lee stared at his teammate blankly, I almost wasn't sure that he'd heard him until Lee was facing me again with a small frown. "I'm afraid I don't understand... Sora-san, are you unable to speak?" he asked innocently.

I smiled placidly, nodding and-and couldn't suppress my flinch in time when Lee suddenly took my hands in his own. Unexpected physical contact from a stranger. Doesn't feel nice. The good news is I don't think he saw my reaction as his eyes were currently overflowing with tears.

Wow.

It wasn't some kind of drawing exaggeration, there were tears streaming down his face right now as he clutched my hands in his quite firm grasp.

"Sora-san! To pursue the career as a shinobi despite such a disability! Uwa! And after years of working hard in the Academy you have proven yourself to be capable of becoming a genin despite your setbacks and now are even pursuing newer and greater heights by attending the Chuunin Exams!" he sniffled and squeezed my hands. "YOU ARE TRULY A BEAUTIFUL INSPIRATION OF DETERMINATION AND PERSEVERANCE!"

Okay, wow. I'm getting the full Rock Lee experience up-close and in person and I've gotta admit, it's a bit overwhelming.

A 'bit' overwhelming? Terra drawled skeptically.

'Yeah, okay. A lot overwhelming. And he's still holding my hands.' I resisted frowning as I looked down at our joined hands.

As nice and awesome as I knew Lee was, it didn't change the fact that I was not used to his presence and his continued physical contact was beginning to unsettle me greatly. The longer he held my hands in his, it felt as if needles were stabbing me where he touched the skin of my hands. It's not his fault, he doesn't know, I reminded myself.

He straightened his back and loosened his hold on my hands and I quickly slipped them away and pressed them flat against my stomach, over the largest concentration of chakra in my body. The needling eventually subsided and thankfully Lee was completely oblivious of the discomfort he caused me due to wiping the tears from his eyes.

After a moment Lee raised his fist and nodded to himself before looking at me with hard determination in his large, dark eyes. "I've decided! Sora-san, I promise that I'm going to protect you until I die! Will you be my girlfriend?"

Ahh...

He finished his bold declaration with the signature 'Good Guy' pose. Grinning at me with a thumbs-up.

...eh?

His teeth sparkled as he grinned hopefully at me.

Terra recovered first. What's with you and taking Sakura's place all the time?

My face heated up with the sudden realization and implications of his words and I'm sure I resembled a red, red tomato at that moment.

...is it too late to go back to bed?

Interlude,

"The Princess"

END

A/N: Sigh. I love Lee. He's so adorable. Had anyone else been expecting him to react that way? I hope I did his character justice.

So how was that chapter? Some insight on Sora's second childhood in Konoha and her relationship with Hinata. You got to see why Hanabi's still a sweetie and not a Hyuuga hard-ass. Why Neji wants to kick Sora's face in. That kinda stuff.

Fun Fact! If anyone was wondering, Sora at age 14 stands at about 5'4 and is still growing. In my mind Uzumaki grow like weeds, I mean, have you seen how tall Naruto got?

Can you guys believe it's been almost seven months since this story first started? I really can't. But I have to admit, this has been really fun, coming up with shenanigans with Sora and manipulating cannon just so without blowing anything out of proportion. A lot of this has been influenced by your guys' feedback. If you have any questions or suggestions feel free to message me and I will promise to take them under serious consideration. I've even been thinking of doing Omake's recently. Things that did not happen, AU's and such.

There's this particular one involving Iruka and what would've happened if Sora had followed him down into the dark alley. I wanted to put it in this chapter but I ran out of time. Oh well.

Author Question!

"Who would you want as a Rival? Friendly, not friendly, one-sided, anything goes."

Haah, um. I would want to be Ash Ketchum's Pokémon trainer rival, I think. That would be fun, I would get to fight his Pikachu. I'mma badass trainer, if I do say so myself. Hehe.

Wuv yew all! See you next time~

-Nanami

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