His eyes widened with surprise as the Hyuuga heiress finally came out of hiding, diffident eyes meeting his own with a jolt and shudder as she released a noticeable breath. His heart stuttered, tingles rushing to his face. His ears roared with heat and buzz, as cliché as it was, Kakashi's voice dim in the background (he was in the middle of a discussion with Kurenai-sensei and thankfully did not see his hesitant appraisal, backs turned to them as they whispered in low tones) as he did a double take.

Were the rest of them seeing what he was seeing? Did they see the Hyuuga Heiress emerge from the estate looking like…

Looking like…

Ino's carbon copy.

"You look like Ino's twin!" Naruto blurted out next to him, eerily echoing his thoughts. Hinata's face fell. The noise in his ears cleared and he winced at the tactless idiot.

"..Ah?" she canted her head to the side, a crease of slight infuriation on her brows.

An uncharacteristic fizz of laughter wanted to free itself from the cage within his chest, but he tamped it down. Barely.

The hopeless girl had rid of her Capri pants and that lavender bulk that she called a jacket and replaced them with a knee length skirt with white bandages wrapping around her midriff, forearms and thighs like a fresh mummy. A sleeveless hoodie was cut a few inches below her waist and hugged her skin like Lee's jumpsuit.

The problem?

It was all in purple.

Naruto was ablaze with his exclamations, "You've cut your hair too? What the hell Hinata! And why are you dressed like Ino for!? Have you two joined a sisterhood or somethin'?-"

"I-uh…" Sasuke focused on her lips, watching her tongue flick out and make them glisten, gut stirring by the sight, "I didn't want to look like Ino…" she whispered to the deaf ears of Naruto.

The name of her sworn frenemy finally caught Sakura's attention and one look to Hinata's sullen face had her kicking into sisterly overdrive. She deeply regret her act of trickery and amateurish attempt at interrogation concerning the pale girl from a week ago and she hadn't yet apologised for it, being too cowardly to face the girl and admit her wrongdoing. Well it looked like the perfect situation arose for correcting her mistakes.

"Naruto..."she growled loudly. Naruto had the sense to cower as she stomped her way over to them, gaze zipping from the quiet heiress to Sasuke's wooden expression, finding no support whatsoever to protect him from the spitfire coming his way like a tidal wave.

"H-hey Sakura!" he squirmed on his feet as she stopped before him, "...What's up?" He cringed hard when his voice broke.

The exotic haired girl grinned harshly, teeth and all, then drew her fist back and clocked the blonde square on his crown, "What did you do this time, HUH!?" she barked, seizing the collar of his jacket and bringing his face close to her own, their noses so close that they were nearly touching. "I'll break you in half if you've hurt Hinata's feelings," she threatened. "Emotions aren't something you toy with, got it?"

Naruto's cheeks flamed at the proximity and he flailed and failed to hide his wail of pain from being hit, "I didn't do anything!" he cried out, "I just thought the resemblance to Ino was-"

However Sakura wasn't listening to his justifications and shook him, "Why can't you ever give a girl a proper compliment!?" She shook him some more, "Does it really hurt you to say 'Hey, I like how your hair looks?!' without treating her like a freak to be gawked at!" And because a violent part in her budded with glee as his face turned a putrid colour of green, she shook him once again. "Answer me!"

"I didn't mean anything by it! I swear, I swear!" he amended sheepishly, rubbing his nose as warmth blossom behind his neck like a mini sun.

Emerald eyes glazed with frustration as she unhanded him, grumbling something under her breath about boys and lack of sensitivity.

Sasuke edged away from the two parasitic aggravations, attention drawn back to the heiress who hadn't yet made a peep when Sakura stepped in but instead stared off into space like a loon. He wondered if her feelings were indeed wounded. Or maybe she hadn't taken any offence at all. She was weird like that.

"I think you look good in the new outfit Hinata," Sakura said abruptly, causing Hinata (as well as Sasuke and Naruto) to look at her. An unsure smile appeared, encrusted with an unanticipated amount of warmth as Hinata inclined her head in thanks.

Sasuke's female teammate returned the gesture, confusing Sasuke, before she addressed the blonde, pinning him with her eyes as she said, "Don't listen to what this doofus says. He has no idea what he's talking about. The buffoon's head is always up in the clouds you know?"

Naruto glowered at her and pouted, crossing his arms over his chest in a rare and reserved act of control.

What he really wanted to do was shout to the navy heavens with its fluffy marshmallow looking clouds and mope on the cold, dead floor and then for the grand finale- drive Sakura into apologising for being so mean. But he wasn't going to do that, Naruto was learning a thing or two since meeting his enigmatic sensei.

"Hmph! Say what you want but I am a caring, soon to be- illustrious young man and the future Hokage of this village and Im not gonna' listen to you call me names any longe-"

He found himself at home beneath Sakura's underarm, being squeezed to a ripe blue colour.

"-Longah."

The knock to the head had developed into a gargantuan red bump on his crown, thrumming like a heart and the veins distended on his temples looked ready to pop and squirt plasma everywhere like juice pop. He squealed as she increased the pressure and locked down her muscles.

"Oh sorry, what were you saying? You're a kind and illustrious person? Hoo- four syllables, im almost impressed."

Naruto wheezed pitiably yet still managed a snark retort, "Well what can I say? I like to read."

Sasuke (neutral as he was) observed Shino and Kiba moving in the background, herding around the heiress and whispering amongst themselves. He spared them a minute watch, shamelessly reading their lips and catching Hinata's milky eyes as he did so. They stared at each other for an inappropriate amount of time before she broke contact and looked away, pink on her cheeks.

Odd. His own cheeks felt warmer than usual.

Kiba took notice of the interaction and looked to Sasuke over his broad shoulder, a snarl rising up on his lips in warning. Sasuke ignored the uncouth mutt, trying to catch her eye again, but she had stubbornly negated the chance by aligning her back to him.

That's bold of her. He thought, eyeing the short strands of her hair whistling away with the wind.

His black eyes landed back on Naruto and Sakura bickering.

"Enough of that canoodling, you can save it for another time." Finally wrapping up his conversation with Kurenai, Kakashi slid into the fray with a calm indifference. Though being the debauchery fellow that he was, he then escalated the squabble by placing a hand on Sakura's pink head and pushing.

What happened next was easy to guess. Naruto and Sakura both fell to the floor with a groan in a tangle of short/long limbs and thrashed like frightened hens running away from the butcher, shrieking and drawing all sorts of attention.

"Kakashi..." Kurenai admonished firmly, but didn't step in to assist.

The Jounin observed the scene with a keen eye, ignoring her. "Maa, you two kiddo's need to grow up a little bit more for that kind of familiarity." So Kakashi remedied the situation (since he was so considerate) and grabbed Naruto by the scruff of his jacket (Sasuke's eyes bled every time he looked at it, honestly- orange) before he lifted him off Sakura, never mind the fact he was the reason they were on the powdered concrete in the first place.

"Behave," he reprimanded the boy dangling two feet off the floor.

Naruto stuck out his tongue and began kicking his legs, "Shaddup' ya damn dirty geezer."

Kakashi sighed and flicked him hard on the nose. "I'll pay for three whole bowls of ramen if you repent," he bribed with no remorse. Naruto's eyes became vacant as he slowly and apologetically verbalized to Kakashi that he was so, so sorry Kakashi was old.

The Copy Nin dropped him back on Sakura, who was in the process of picking herself up. She yelped as Naruto's heavier physique flattened her on the ground like a pancake. "Sensei!" they screamed in accord.

What trailed thereafter was some simple dialogue with a sprinkle of coercion via threat by homicide that had everyone's fingers quaking. Sasuke inched his way to Hinata but was chopped up in his quest to do who knew what when Kurenai ordered their attention with, "Team Kakashi and Team Kurenai. Group up." Wherein she imparted what their joint- operation entailed with the mission scroll that was sitting in her hands, helpfully decoded into words they could follow easily.

And they listened with open ears and closed mouths as any good Leaf Shinobi would, absorbing the information and storing it away in their memory banks.

"Now do I have to repeat myself or have you've all understood each of your parts in this mission?"

They all nodded in harmony, like the perfect novices they pretended to be.

"No, sensei!"

"Good, now move out!"


Their mission to the land of Tea was doomed from the start.

Ofcourse that was just a prediction of his. Yet considering, his unfathomable precision and natural intuition (Rivalling his brother's repertoire of skills no less!), something on this mission was bound to go wrong, especially with Naruto here (the boy was bad luck personified). But Sasuke didn't care all that much about the impending failure of this mission. He'd got what he wanted in the end. Getting closer to her.

"Hey," he uttered, slowing down to match her stride.

She walked alone in the rear formation, the triggered spirals of her Byakugan fading from the corners of her eyes. "Erm, hey." They were alone. Behind the pack. Good. Now he didn't have to worry about the bug boy and hound interfering. Very good.

His nose twitched as she shuffled beside him, gaining speed in her gait, attempting to escape. He nudged her with his elbow, "I've missed you." He said brazenly.

Queerly enough, she squeaked and flushed red. "Arhh-"

"Did you miss me?"

She stared at him. "I'm not sure…maybe," then speared her gape to her feet, faltering. "It's only been a couple of days, Sasuke." His name rolling off her tongue sent a shiver of delight up his spine.

He tugged on the hood of her vest, pulling her back from venturing too far, the muscles in his face convulsing as he fought back a smirk when she squealed. "The days have been long Hinata," he muttered in kind, towering over her, nearly announcing how much it perturbed him for being away from her for such a short amount of time.

Her eyes went wide and her hands shakily tugged at the ends of her shirt, overcome by the heat radiating off him.

"I'm sorry..?" Her eyes suspiciously shined and his chest began to constrict strangely. He had to wonder if this girl had trickery up her sleeves, always making him want to watch her, consume her addictive responses, touch her places he'd never thought he'd want to touch.

…Like her lips. Pretty, pink and lush.

Frowning, he caved to the hammering confusion of his brain and moved away. "It's nothing." A hand came up to rub at his sternum, the bizarre pain persistent. She was making him feel funny and soft around the edges. It had to stop.

"Ah...okay."

He blinked.

"I…" he began to say.

She blinked.

He whipped his face away from hers, "The choice of colour you've chosen for your clothes clashes with your hair," he said clumsily. "…I" I still like it, is what he wanted to tell her but the words were stuck in his throat.

And why was he suddenly giving fashion advice?

Who knew?

He was off kilter today.

Maybe his mother had spiked his water or something.

Who knew?

(Then again he was hardly the conversationalist.)

His eyes went wide as he had a sudden thought. Is there something wrong with me? He looked at her, finding a pinched expression on her round face. Am I sick? His ears began to burn as her eyes bore into his. She's doing this to me.

"You don't like it?"

Well he wasn't going to tell her the truth, now was he? And risk looking like a-

Like a-

Love-struck fool!?

GAH!

"It's…adequate." He managed to choke out.

She folded her arms, "Sasuke, you're being very vague."

"…" He stayed silent.

In truth, what Sasuke was experiencing wasn't a phenomenon.

It's just that he was clueless.

Sasuke frowned when she gave a defeated sigh.

"Im just going to go…?" she posed it as a question, unsure of what else she wanted to say and nodding towards Kiba's back like a frightened cub deprived from the protection of its mother. He frowned harder, sweeping the imagery out of his mind and saying nothing as he fell behind while she strode away from him, a noncommittal "Bye" tossed his way.

Hinata was weird.

Was she always that weird though?

Creeping away from him, avoiding eye contact like he was some ghoul that crawled out from its grave and was coming after her entrails. Or did he just not notice before?

His frown became a scowl, mood ruined. He confesses that he misses her, opening himself up- permitting a second of vulnerability that anyone else would have taken advantage of and all she does is run away.

Voices of impatience reached the back of the line as Naruto whined about something or the other. The Land of Tea was muggy, sticky and smelled of cloying wildflowers. At least for an escort mission, they hadn't been sent to rain country, and then perhaps Sasuke would have echoed Naruto's displeasure. He hiked his travel backpack higher on his shoulders, following behind the carriage that moseyed along the rocky road.

Pulling at his newly acquired garment (It was a scarf, a scratchy black thing that he would throw out after this mission) Sasuke picked up the pace to walk next to Sakura, who, amazed by his lack of hostility began to chatter away into his ear (He only walked with her because she was closest.) as he burned a hole through Hinata's head.

Damn her and damn her damnable face.

Damn it!

He snorted at his own train of thoughts. It can't be helped... Hinata would be dealt with later... after he felt like his normal self again.

For now, he had to focus.

Their mission was a small one, a class C and they had been on the road for two days thus far. It was an upgrade from the mindless tasks they were being given before, sure, but it was no espionage or infiltration. No, their job was to escort a trade dealer's carriage full of poppy stems to all the way to Wave and make sure their client wasn't harassed or worse, by the roaming bandits that plagued the main travel road. Kakashi thought their client (Whose name was Akihiro, a scrawny looking bloke with a nose that pushed his eyes far apart) was hustling opium to a drug lab and that they were going to get mugged. Kurenai was much more dubious.

His newly donned on gear were gifts given to them on behalf of Akihiro's young daughter Hisa, who was travelling with them. She was small, brunette and into the art knitting and she had a whole sack full of supplies, which she spent working with whilst striking up conversation with the two other females who were closer to her in age. Hisa was also generous, bubbly and he didn't trust her at all. Their clients seemed shifty with their laughs and unassuming exteriors-and much to his shame to admit- rustled his jimmies.

Ha.

He'd express his concerns to Kakashi.

Later.

"Sakura."

The girl stopped talking, almost tripping over her feet from being addressed by him, "Yes Sasuke?" A pretty blush came about upon her cheeks and she bit her lip, more than eager to please. She too wore a scarf, identical to his.

Her woollen plaid pink monstrosity rested just below her nose. "Don't you think it's cute on me Kakashi?!" she had asked their sensei, "Im like you now, look, look!" Hinata too had gotten a scarf, which she'd wrapped loosely around her shoulders, the red piece that finally brought some colour to her outfit.

Kakashi had seemed unruffled of his subordinate's comments but Sasuke had caught sight of the subtle movement of his fingers touching his own mask and the partially rankled expression on the half of his face that was visible.

"Am I abnormal?" he asked Sakura, glancing at her curiously.

"Er, what?" Her blush dimmed.

"Am I emotionally stunted?" She spotted the colour red angrily creeping up from under his collar as she pondered on the question.

Truth be told Sakura was feeling pressured, still nursing a crush on him. And no girl wanted to tell the boy she was infatuated with that yes indeed, he was quite unskilled in the social department.

"…A little." Unbeknownst to Sakura, she had single-handedly shattered his veil of control with that answer. Sasuke wavered between outrage and deflection.

"…Is that a good or bad thing?" Why am I asking her more questions?

She hummed, thinking on it. "Depends on who you're asking," she settled on. You, he answered in thought. "B-but I personally don't find a problem with it! You're fine the way you are and- I think you're really really cool-"

He was already walking away.

And that was why he didn't talk to girls.

They sucked up to his ass and made him feel like a piece of meat.

But-Hinata though…didn't objectify him like… that.

It was probably why he liked being around her so much.

...and her being engaged to that smug Neji just really pissed him off. Neji didn't deserve her. Neji could go live in a hole for all he cared.

If only he had a proper older brother who was familiar with emotions such as his, then perhaps he may have unburdened the load on him.

But Itachi was useless.


Wowzers look who updated! Anyways, this was originally like 6k long. But then I cut it in half. Fuck. (Guise, guise. Can we pass 100 reviews?)