::: fifteen minutes. See what mush a crazed author can do in fifteen minutes before the net café closes and she has nothing to upload in FF.net yet. Do not try this at home - :::

"Kiba is taking awfully too long, isn't he?"

The soft, subdued voice of Hyuuga Hinata was met by silence. The silence of her teammate, Aburame Shino, who was seated some distances away from her. He was starting to build a fire to warm them for the night, while Inuzuka Kiba was out with Akamaru, hunting for their dinner.

She looked down, trying not to look as disappointed as she felt. It was not like she was expecting too much that Shino would reply; he seemed to be a man who was thrifty with words—to the point that he was a miser with it. Yet she was feeling a little lonely with nothing but silence to keep her company.

She wanted so much to speak with someone.

To speak about…

Her loneliness?

Her homesickness?

Her uncertainties and fears?

Ah, maudlin thoughts. But she was especially vulnerable tonight—this certain night. As hard as she tried not to think of it, her stubborn thoughts wouldn't cooperate. If her Kurenai-sensei learns that she was allowing herself to dwell on these kinds of things, she would feel bad. Her teacher was very kind to give her a chance to see the world outside the forbidding windows of the Hyuuga Main House, and in return, she promised her sensei that she would change herself—make use of her inner strength people around her didn't see.

Her eyes went towards Shino, who had now finished the bonfire. As always, his back was turned on her indifferently, as if protecting himself from unwanted presence.

Like her, perhaps?

She bit her lip. Already she wanted Kiba to return. His vivaciousness could easily fill the gaping void among the group. In a way, he was like Uzumaki Naruto, spirited and always energetic.

Uzumaki Naruto. Naruto-kun.

Her eyes softened. How she wished that one of these days, she could summon her courage to speak to him. She wanted to tell him so many things, but she didn't know how to start. It was as if his mere presence could hold her whole mind and body still.

She thought about Haruno Sakura and how easily the girl could show her love to the person she cherishes the most. Why couldn't she be like her?

"Don't sit there. You're going to get cold."

She looked up. Shino was looking at her through his impassive dark shades.

"H-Hai." She got up at once and sat down next to him. The flame felt delicious against her slightly chilled body. She placed her hands by it to warm them.

"The snow is a little harsher than usual," he said out of the blue. "Kiba must be waiting for the snow storm to finish."

She felt slightly grateful that he decided to speak. "W-Will he be alright?"


"T-That's good…" She tucked her knees underneath her chin, hugging herself. "The storm's too strong."

"Move closer to the fire," he ordered. "Sit over here." With that, he took the place closer to the opening of the small cave where they sought shelter awhile ago. Yesterday, no one, not even Kurenai-sensei, had counted on this blizzard to become this strong. The three of them were left alone to train in the mountains, and they were supposed to return tonight, stronger and more skilled not only individually but also as a team.

Yet here they were now, stuck in the middle of the heavily snowing mountain with their sensei out of contact and with them having to rely on their own skills to survive.

And of all the nights for this to happen, why did it have to happen tonight?

"Maybe you should go after Kiba-kun," she said softly.

He shrugged.

"I'm worried—"

"It's better if you look after yourself first before others," he said curtly. "It will take more than a little snow to overcome Kiba."

"H-Hai." She should know that, but she couldn't help herself but worry. Perhaps, it was her weakness too—she didn't know how to trust and believe whole-heartedly.

He looked at her still apprehensive face, then exhaled audibly. He got up and walked out of the cave, leaving her stunned.


"Stay by the fire. I will return." He then disappeared amidst the heavy blowing winds.


It seemed like an eternity since her teammate left. The flame was slowly dying, and the wind showed no sign of fatigue.

Save for the drops of melted snow dripping a little further into the cave, the place was silent as a grave.

This was not how she dreamt of this certain twenty-seventh of December winter night to unfold. She dreamt of sweets, music, and lights. Of laughter and well wishes. Of an evening she would spend with her wistful musings and her reveries.

She shook her head when she felt her throat constrict painfully. No, she couldn't let this happen. She promised not to cry anymore. She promised to be stronger. She couldn't let those vows go to drain!

Just then, a sharp gust of wind blew into the cave, extinguishing the remaining flaming embers of the bonfire Shino made.

Her eyes widened as the chill settled inside the cave. Yet it was nothing compared to the coldness in her heart.

The darkness, the chill, and the silence.

And she was alone.

A sob escaped her throat, followed by another. And another. Her loneliness, her fears, her wish to belong…they all found outlet in her streaming tears—tears of defeat.

She could never hold the mask of strength forever. She was tired, and all she wanted to do now was to release all her pain even for one single moment, when no one would ask her to stop crying and be strong.

For this moment, she would allow all her weakness to show through.

She held on to herself, as if clutching a lifesaver. It felt so good to finally, FINALLY, cry.

Just then, small greenish balls of lights began to emanate around her. This caught her attention. She looked up and turned around as more balls of light glowed beautifully, like Christmas lights.

"F-Fireflies!" She turned to the opening of the cave and found Shino standing by it, hands inside his pockets. "Shino-kun!"

He walked towards her, then sat down beside her. He took something from his jacket and threw a piece of fur.

"W-What is this—"

"Kiba's message," he replied. "Like I expected, he was furious at me for leaving you. I relayed to him your concern, and he promised to punch me first thing tomorrow for not comforting you."

"W-Why didn't Kiba come here with you?" she asked slowly.

"He's not yet finished baking the cake," he replied simply.

"Baking—" Her eyes widened as she finally understood the situation. "He's not in the mountains!"

"No. He is with Kurenai-sensei, finishing the last details for your homecoming." His face relaxed immensely, and for a moment, she thought she could detect a smile on his face. "I am a terrible conspirator. "

Tension immediately left her, and she nearly collapsed if not for the cave wall behind her. "Y-You knew…"

"Of course," he said, sounding almost surprised.

Tears started to stream once more, but this time, she was happy. Very, very happy. "Arigatou…arigatou gozaimasu…" She dried her tears with her hands, shoulders trembling. "I feel so happy..."

He bent down as he began to gather the woods to start another bonfire. "I'm glad."

She clasped her hands, eyes shaking. Two words—two simple words that broke the wall she thought surrounded Aburame Shino.

He cared. Somehow, in some way, he cared for her.

And it was the best birthday gift anyone could give.

"Don't start the fire anymore, Shino-kun! I want to watch the fireflies! They're pretty!"

He paused, then nodded.

She was now sure that he was smiling now.

He turned to the insects as if ordering them something. Soon, the glowing balls were performing a cotillion of lights for her, and it lighted the cave more than a thousand chandeliers could.