Hinata takes a breath, feeling the burn in her lungs and the ache of her muscles as she moves, resetting herself into the starting position even though her legs shake underneath her and she can feel chakra burns on her hands. Everything aches and her eyes are blurry as she tries to focus on the wooden target before her, wanting to keep going. She needs to keep going. She needs to be better. Be ready.
Every time she closes her eyes, all she can see is Neji leaning against Naruto, blood dripping from his chin and his voice fading with each word he spoke. It's the nightmare that Hinata can't escape even in her waking hours. It doesn't matter that she can sense Neji-niisan asleep in his room, alive and safe, not even a genin yet.
Hinata isn't even sure how she had returned to this point in time. She assumes that it has something to do with Kyuubi's chakra and her wish to return to save him, but Hinata doesn't have anyone to ask. Can't even ask Naruto or Kyuubi because she's the only one that seems to have come back in time like this.
"Hinata-sama?" She shifts her feet back into place, her eyes closed and her fingers shaking. "Hinata-sama, it's late. You have school tomorrow, you should be asleep."
"Later, Ko-san. I'm busy."
"Please, Hinata-sama," Ko pauses whispering softly. "Hanabi-sama has been watching you for hours and she won't go to bed until you have given up for the night."
Hinata blinks slowly, activating her Byakugan to peer in the direction that Ko had subtly pointed towards, staring blankly at Hanabi standing on her tiptoes to peek through a hole that was in the rice paper. Hinata feels her smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. This was the Hanabi that Hinata hadn't noticed, the little girl that had followed her as reverently that she had followed Naruto, once upon a time.
"I want to perfect this, Ko-san," Hinata says finally looking back at him. "I need to do this. Please."
Ko sighs, "Fine, Hinata-sama but when your father asks why you are so tired at breakfast, do not expect me to lie to him."
"That's fine, Ko-san. Thank you."
Hinata takes up the starting stance of Kaiten once more, her hands shaking and her eyes watering.
She needs to do this. She needs to be stronger, needs to be better, needs to make sure that Neji-niisama survives the war and lives happily ever after. She won't accept anything less and if that means that she must give up on Naruto, means that she must do something other than watch him creepily from the shadows, then that is what Hinata will do. She will give anything for her cousin and sister, even the love of her life.
"One more time," Hinata hisses. "Once more. I'm going to do this, I have to do this."
Hinata stumbles, her vision swimming as she tumbles over her own feet to fall onto the floor, "Hanabi?"
"Nee-sama!" Hanabi shouts rolling Hinata over onto her back, eyes wide and frantic. "What? Are you hurt? What's wrong?"
"I'm fine, Hanabi," Hinata says placing her palm against her forehead feeling like she's spinning. "I'm not hurt, it's fine."
"You just collapsed!"
Hinata giggles, "It's just because I used too much chakra. I'll be fine after a good night's sleep. Right Ko-san?"
"You have chakra burns on your hands, Hinata-sama," Ko says softly. "This is going to take more than a few days to heal, even if you have the medics take care of them. Hanabi-sama, would you go get a medic, please?"
"I know some medical jutsu, Hanabi-sama. If she's hurt herself than I can keep her safe until you get the medics to us," Ko says softly. "Please, Hanabi-sama."
Hanabi shifts nervously for a moment before nodding and hurrying out the doors.
"I didn't know that I was that bad," Hinata says raising an eyebrow.
Ko grins, "Hanabi-sama worries far too much," He lifts one of her hands up and frowns at the burns. "But these are quite serious, what were you attempting to do in here, Hinata-sama? I haven't seen anything this bad since your mother tried to learn the Katien on her own terms."
"Oh my," Hinata says trying not to smile.
"You are your mother's daughter," Ko sighs.
Hinata giggles, "Well, I'm not Otou-sama's clone, Ko-san."
"Here!" Hanabi gasps slamming the door open, three medics on her heels. "Nee-sama! Are you alright?"
"I'm fine, Hanabi-chan," Hinata smiles. "There's nothing wrong."
She's missed this. Missed Hanabi because of everything that's happened since the last time she was this young. All the time that she's missed with her sister over a boy that only paid her attention when she sacrificed herself for him. Who obsessed over someone who tried to murder him.
"Hinata-sama, we'd like to move you to the medical wing," Otome says calmly, her eyes narrowing in concern. "Kaede get the stretcher."
"I'm not that bad!"
Otome frowns, "These burns," She taps them and Hinata hisses in pain. "Are bad enough that I'm worried we might have to transfer you to the hospital."
"Oh," Hinata says softly, feeling rather embarrassed.
"Yes, oh Hinata-sama. You are going to go to the medical wing and we are going to look and see if we have to get you more help than we can give."
Hinata nods, "Do we have to tell Otou-sama about this?"
"Not unless we have to transfer you to the hospital," Otome promises.
"Thank you, Otome-san."
There was already going to be quite a bit of talking. After all it wasn't every day that a young Hyuuga got themselves put into medical trying to learn a move that they shouldn't have even heard of. Hinata was younger than most who heard about such things too, only just started the academy and considered a failure compared to her sister and her cousin. She wonders what the rumors will say about this when they start to circle.
"Hinata-sama, you are to stay awake," Otome says coolly. "Until we know if you've hurt your head in the fall."
"I didn't," Hinata promises.
Hanabi shakes her head, "Nee-sama's head bounced hard! It made a really loud noise, Otome-san!"
"You didn't answer me the first time I called you," Hanabi whispers to her. "I shouted and shouted and you didn't answer until the fifth time that I did."
"Sorry to scare you, Hanabi," Hinata says wishing that she could reach out and brush her hair from her face. "I didn't mean to do that to you."
Hanabi sniffs, "It's okay, nee-sama."
Hiashi throws himself out of bed at the first knock on his bedroom door, throwing on his robe as he moves to throw it open, blinking in confusion at Ko, "What?"
"Hinata-sama's been transferred to the hospital for severe chakra burns on her hands and feet. Hanabi-sama is with her," Ko says quickly. "Otome-san went with them while I came to inform you, Hiashi-sama."
"Where did Hinata get chakra burns?" Hiashi demands, closing the door to his room and hurrying down the hall to the entrance. "What happened?"
Ko ducks his head, "Hinata-sama has been staying up late practicing something in the training rooms. She asked me to keep watch so that she could surprise everyone with what she was learning. Hanabi-sama has been watching her."
"That doesn't explain how Hinata got chakra burns," Hiashi snaps.
"She insinuated that she's been teaching herself Kaiten."
Hiashi feels the world fall out from underneath him, his stomach dropping down into the void of nothing because where had Hinata even seen someone do the Kaiten? He had been careful to keep his daughters away from the more advanced forms of their taijutsu, where would she have even heard?
"You would have to ask Hanabi-sama to confirm. She was actually watching her big sister."
Hiashi nods and takes off over the rooftops, his feet barely touching the ground as he races towards the hospital, Byakugan flashing to life, searching desperately for Hinata's chakra signature in the distance, hoping to see her. It takes too long to spot, weaker than it's ever been.
He lands at the entrance and brushes past the nurse that approaches him, moving quickly up the stairs to find Hanabi sitting on the edge of a chair, her fingers near her mouth, teeth worrying her nails.
"Otou-sama!" Hanabi shouts throwing herself at him. "Nee-sama, she!"
"I heard, Hanabi. What was Hinata doing that caused this?"
Hanabi glances up, biting her lip, "Will you be mad about nee-sama and I stayed up so late?"
"Nee-sama practices this spinny thing. She spins really fast and her chakra goes around her like whoosh! It's really cool, Otou-sama. And," Hiashi feels his heart sink because Kaiten wasn't all? "She does the twenty-four palms and then does it three times? And she can do it with her feet?"
Hiashi feels ill. His oldest daughter, his weak, too much like her mother, Hinata has taught herself how to do Kaiten, but also possibly one of the harder trigrams and he hadn't even noticed. He hadn't seen that she was holding back in practice or how she hadn't been giving her all against Hanabi.
"Her feet?" Ko asks.
"Nee-sama uses her feet sometimes. It's cool," Hanabi says bright eyed. "She crushes the training thing with her feet. Can I learn to do that too, Otou-sama?"
"I will ... think on it," Hiashi says instead of saying no.
Hanabi will teach herself just as Hinata has been trying to if he tells her no, if he waits and shows her something else then Hanabi will forget it and he won't have to do anything.
"You've been watching Hinata?"
"Nee-sama is cool."
Hiashi raises an eyebrow, "I see. Has she been meeting anyone that might have shown her how to do this?"
"Hm," Hanabi frowns, face scrunching up in thought. "Nee-sama tried to talk to the boy she liked two weeks ago. She wanted to ask him something about class but he called her weird and nee-sama looked upset. That was the last time she talked to him or," Hanabi flushes. "Don't tell nee-sama but sometimes she follows him. I don't know why, but she stopped."
"Followed?" Hiashi lets the sentence trail off, unsure if he wants the answer to whatever he was going to ask. "But other than that?"
"She makes sure that no one is being mean to Neji," Hanabi reports. "She ordered one of the elders to stop using the seal on him. She threatened them because Neji didn't do anything wrong except do better in class than the elder's grandson."
Hiashi will be having a word with his elders it seems. He appears to have been giving them too much freedom if they think that the seal is to be used as such. And for Hinata to stand up to them for her cousin, that is interesting.
"Otou-sama, are you going to be mad at nee-sama?" Hanabi asks softly. "She's not going to be in trouble, is she?"
"I'm not mad at your sister," Hiashi says after a long moment, taking a seat. "I am concerned, but I am not mad."
He's furious, but not at his daughter, but that someone was stupid enough to let his daughter see such advanced moves well enough and often enough that she was able to reverse engineer them at such a young age. She was only nine, she shouldn't be able to start doing this for a few more years.
"Do," Hanabi pauses. "Do you think that nee-sama will be alright?"
"I'm sure that she will be fine, Hanabi."
Otherwise, Hiashi would take his time finding out who had failed him and make sure to have them learn exactly how displeased he was with them. He needed someone to make an example of to ensure that it didn't repeat itself.
Hinata curls her hands into fists, frowning at the burn of pain that comes from the still healing burns. It's painful enough to keep her from practicing for at least another week, the medics had told her two, but Hinata's spent years, will spend years?, skirting the medic's orders to push herself. To make herself better.
"Otou-sama?" Hinata asks in surprise. "I didn't know that you were here."
"You didn't know I was here?"
Hinata frowns trying to find a new way to word herself, "I didn't expect you to visit? You haven't before now."
"Where did you learn the Kaiten?"
Hinata has prepared for this question. She has laid enough trails to make it plausible and to ensure that no one will find out the truth because she doesn't want to say the words out loud. Doesn't want to admit to her failure.
"I saw a scroll and Okaa-sama," It's easy to make the grief seem real even if it's for Neji rather than her mother, who has been dead to her for a decade. "I saw her use it once. I ... I just wanted to be like her."
"Hinata, you shouldn't be doing something so advanced yet."
"Yes, Otou-sama." Hinata ducks her head to hide the fire that burns in her eyes because she won't stop. She won't be stopped, not even if she is ordered. She needs to advance. She needs to protect her family. "I am sorry."
He sighs, "You are far too much like your mother."
Hinata jerks as if struck, "I'm sorry, Otou-sama."
"She use to do the same thing, did you know? She would sneak scrolls and teach herself how to do things," He pauses glancing at Hinata for a long moment. "Will you stop?"
"I didn't think so. Hinata, you're my daughter and I do not like to wake up to be told that you've been rushed to the hospital after you've burned your hands using too much chakra. You are to only practice these moves while I am there to watch you, are we clear?"
He smiles, at least Hinata thinks that it's a smile, "Hanabi had much to say about how good you were at using them, I doubt that I could stop you, but you are not to practice them alone until I say that you can. Are we clear?"
"When you're healed, I will teach you. Now you must excuse me, Hinata, but I have things to take care of, and I think that Hanabi might be upset if I don't allow her in to see you soon."
"Nee-sama!" Hanabi shouts throwing open the door. She doesn't even pause, throwing herself across the room and onto the bed. "You're awake! I didn't think that you were ever going to wake up!"
Hinata laughs, "Hello Hanabi."
"Don't ever do that to me again," Hanabi says hiding her face. "You fell down and I thought you weren't going to get back up again. I don't want you to leave, nee-sama."
"I won't leave," Hinata promises. "Sorry that I worried you so much."
"You better. Neji, where's the gift we got nee-sama?"
"Gift?" Hinata asks slowly.
Neji struggles into the room with teddy bear almost as tall as himself, "Hinata-sama, I hope you are feeling better?"
"I was told that you've been doing something that you shouldn't have, Hinata-sama."
"I don't need to be scolded, Neji-niisan."
"No, but," He steps forwards. "The next time that you do something this stupid, Hinata-sama, I will be very upset."
Hinata grins, "Just upset, Neji-niisan?"
"Maybe," Neji smirks and Hinata's heart stutters because this isn't how her cousin had acted at this age. "I am glad that you are unharmed, Hinata-sama."
"I'm glad you're alright too, Neji-niisan."
Because he was dead. He had been dead, dying in Naruto's arms and Hinata's never going to forget that moment where dead and gone and Hinata's going to live with that moment for the rest of her life, but here and now. Here Neji is alive. He's alive and he remembers, that's more than what she would have hoped for.
Maybe together, they can make sure that this time, they all make it out the other side alive.
Hinata refuses to accept anything less.
Death, Neji finds, looks much like the Hyuuga Clan manor when he was young. It also is short his father, which is the moment that Neji should realize that there is something strange going on. He doesn't, too caught up in the memory of his own death, the stinging pain in his chest and the last words still bitter on his tongue. Perhaps that is why he does something he hasn't in a very long time and slips up.
It's the excruciating pain that confinces him that this is real, the way his seal burns and twists when the elder activates it. Until-
"What are you doing!" Hinata places herself squarely between him and the elder, just where Neji can't see her face.
"This is my cousin. He is my guard," Hinata snaps, and Neji doesn't know what is going on, he doesn't understand. "He is mine to punish and to reward, should you take what is my right again, I will find a way to make sure that you understand the difference. Am I clear?"
The elder nods, "Yes, Hinata-sama."
"Good," She turns on her heel and helps Neji to his feet, watching intently as he staggers to his feet and steadies himself against a wall. "You are dismissed for the day, Neji-niisan."
Hinata smiles, "Have the rest of the day to yourself, Neji-niisan."
"Of course, Hinata-sama."
The things is, Hinata would never have done this when she was a child. She might when she was older, the Hinata that he had known before his death, but this wasn't that Hinata. This was the little girl that had stuttered and stumbled and been scared to harm her sister. This girl would never.
At least he thought so until Hanabi had demanded he take her to the store to buy a get well present for her sister, rambling on about chakra burns and spinning. Saying how she wanted to learn how to do those things herself and how her father said that he might teach her.
Spinning meant Kaiten and Hinata, this Hinata ... Neji stares at his hands and bites back the urge to laugh because this isn't death. This isn't death and it's not the world that he lived in before perhaps, but he is alive and his Hinata, his cousin, is here trying to protect him like she had always wanted to.
Hinata who stares at him like he's dead.
"You know, Hinata-sama. We have years."
"That wasn't enough last time."
"It can be. We'll be better, but you're pushing yourself too hard now and you know it. You don't have to treat this like we could die at any moment. We can do this."
Hinata laughs, "Do you really think that, Neji-niisan?"
"Well if Naruto can get strong enough to beat me than I think that you and I can make sure that we live through the end."
"Thank you, Neji-niisan."
"You're welcome Hinata-sama."
He loves his cousin, wants her to succeed with her goals and if her goal is to survive this world than he will be with her to make sure that happens. They are family, after all.