Oh. My. Gosh. An update? What's this? SHOCK!

I sort of lost interest for a while, but I think I'm back in action now. I think.

Chapter 7: Mud Wrestling is a not a Spectator Sport

Hinata sat with her chin propped in her hands, staring at the luminescent window- panes, an expression akin to revulsion on her face. What began as a beautiful morning fast deteriorated into this, sheets of rain pouring from an angry, churning sky in a deluge, which seemed to somewhat correlate with her current mood. She had not slept well the night before, but rather tossed and turned, her mind working a mile a minute as it tried to encompass all of her emotions into a neat little box, only irritating her further.

At this rate, no box in existence would be big enough to contain her confusion, and her brain should have gotten the picture by now.

"Would you just look at that?" She spat to her sister and cousin as they entered the living room, the former appearing quite smug about something, and the latter's lips curled into a scowl. "I hate rain."

Neji spared a quick glance outside before he flung himself rather unceremoniously into an armchair, the scowl becoming more pronounced. "Well, it's shaping up to be a fabulous day, isn't it? I never should have gotten out of bed."

"My, aren't we a cheerful bunch," Hanabi commented airily as she sat down opposite Neji in another armchair.

If Hinata's temperament wasn't already so foul, she would have taken the opportunity to tease her stoic cousin about his earlier statement—he scolded her about 'lying abed when it's way past the waking hour' all the time—however all she managed was a snort as the eldest of the three glowered at the youngest.

"Don't talk, Hanabi," the dark-haired boy ordered. "The sound of your voice sets my teeth on edge."

A pair of violet eyebrows shot up. "Is that how you act with all of your opponents when you lose?" Her eyes twinkled with suppressed mirth. "You're a big boy now, you know. Big boys don't throw tantrums."

The corners of Hinata's mouth quirked. That was below the belt…Another snort. This might get violent soon…

"Wh—wh—wh" Neji spluttered, a vein in his forehead throbbing. Damn brat! " I am not having a tantrum!"

Hanabi examined one of her hands. "Really?" She inquired, all feigned innocence. "What do you call it, then? A heightened display of resurrected juvenile tendencies?"

This round, Hinata actually had to smack a pillow over her face to muffle giggles.

For a moment or two, Neji could not even summon words to retaliate. His jaw worked, and he had the distinct air of someone who had swallowed a lemon. "One of these days, Hanabi…so help me…you…pain…"

A loud clap of thunder rumbled, followed by bright, momentary bursts of lightning that illuminated the inky black sky, startling all into a brief silence.

"I hate rain!" Hinata eventually repeated, and, so disgusted, she abruptly turned away from the window and slumped against the couch, one foot tapping on the floor.

Their game of cat-and-mouse abandoned, Hanabi and Neji exchanged a look. Something was amiss, here. Since when did Hinata, cheerful, optimistic Hinata,sulk?

"Okay, what's going on? Are you still in a rut about the flowers?" Hanabi questioned in a no-nonsense tone.

"No," her sister snapped acidly. "What makes you say that? Am I not allowed to be crabby every now and then? I'm supposed to be little miss plastic Barbie doll with that damn artificial smile painted on her face all the time?"

As soon as the words flew out of her mouth, she winced. I shouldn't have said that…I've picked up some awful habits in the past few years…

The two other occupants of the room gawped at her comically, eyes almost popping out of the sockets. A rather tense hush hovered over them for what felt like an eternity, all parties present rendered speechless.

Neji was the first to recover. "Well I'll be damned. The hag is capable of raising her voice. Heaven preserve us."

Despite his many character flaws, Neji had a gift for making himself useful in a pinch. His sandpaper-dry observation left no room for gloom, and made the entire situation appear quite silly.

In spite of herself, Hinata laughed out loud. "I'm sorry," she apologized. "I don't know what's gotten into me lately." Her nose wrinkled. "On second thought, maybe I do." Unable to keep still any longer, she jumped up from the couch and began pacing across the floor, employing the use of her hands to emphasize certain points. "I've had it. I need to talk to Kiba. It's the right thing to do, I know it is, but…but Shino's been thrown into the equation now, too." She paused, flinging her arms in the air exasperatedly, "WHAT IS GOING ON? WHAT THE HELL ARE THOSE BONEHEADS UP TO? ARGH!" The pacing resumed. "I'm completely lost! None of this is making any sense! They've both lost their minds. That's all there is to it."

"Yes, that tends to happen when boys fall in love," Hanabi explained coyly. "They do things that aren't practical, and they don't take the consequences into account until the damage has been done." She gave her cousin an appraising look. "Isn't that right?"

Wonderful…she's targeted me, and now she won't leave me alone for the rest of the day, I just know it. The girl should just be satisfied with kicking my butt when we sparred! Women… "Why are you asking me? You're the expert on male behaviors here." He inclined his head mockingly when she stuck her tongue out at him, and turned to Hinata. "She does have a point, though. The question isn't whether or not they like you; it's how far are they going to go to get you. Rivalries, particularly those over a girl, can be very…enthusiastic."

Another crash of thunder roared, drops of rain pelting against the roof like a thousand marbles being tipped out of cupped hands.

Hinata did not want to believe either her cousin or her sister, did not want to face the possibility that she would in fact have to make a choice between two of her dearest friends, one that would inevitably end in heartbreak and awkwardness. The thought of losing Shino or Kiba as a friend made her sick to her stomach; each of them had been there for her in their own way when she needed it, Kiba with his wicked sense of humor and Shino with his quiet reassurances of her worth.

Promptly, she took a seat in the middle of the carpet and buried her head in her hands. "I can't do this," she groaned, voice muffled. "I'm throwing in the towel. I give up."

"Don't say that," Hanabi scolded. "It's not over until it's over."

"Oh, it's over, all right," was her sister's muttered reply.

Neji was seized with a sudden jolt of panic. Not a repeat of yesterday…anything but that… "You're being melodramatic again, and it is most unbecoming, Hinata." He received a rude gesture in response, and rolled his eyes. "Look, quit feeling sorry for yourself and do something. Remember how I used to be when I was convinced my fate was unchangeable? You're not that type of person, Hinata. You never have been, and I don't think you should start now."

Slowly, her head lifted an inch. "That's helpful, Neji. Thanks."

"Hush. I'm being serious, here!"

"Yeah? What am I supposed to do? Please, I'm all-ears."

Neji gave her a long look. "Take Kiba up on his offer, see how it goes. You'll never know if you don't give him a shot."

Her head rose another inch. "And what about Shino?"

"If you still feel uneasy after you've gone out with Kiba, well…we'll worry about Shino then, okay? You've got enough weight saddled on your shoulders as is."

Her gaze shifted to Hanabi, who nodded an agreement.

Oh good grief…Guess I've got no choice. They're right. I need to take matters into my own hands before I can't any longer.

Lifting her chin stubbornly, she declared, "I'll do it. This mess is getting sorted out once and for all."

Now, if only that confidence was real, I'd feel much better…

The knots in her stomach were woven together so tightly that not even the finest blade could sever them.

Once the last remnants of the fire extinguisher discharge were cleared away, Shino and Jiro flung themselves into chairs around the kitchen table, exhausted.

"I believe we've had a valuable revelation, here," the elder stated dryly. "From this point forward, all persons by the name of Aburame Shino are banned from operating kitchen appliances unless supervised, because said persons are incapable of handling such equipment by themselves."

Hear, hear, Echo chortled. The Other is wise indeed.

Shut it, Echo, Shino ordered the Bug, and to his brother, he replied, "Ha, ha. Excuse me while I bust my gut."

Jiro's eyebrows shot skyward.

"Why, brother dearest! Where on earth did you pick up this behavior? I'm appalled, truly."

"Oh, I've had a very good teacher," Shino retorted without missing a beat. "Or have you forgotten that you're the one versed in sarcasm?"

Decent, Echo complimented. However, you could do better, Shino-human. You are not quite up to the Other's level yet.

For some reason, that only made him more annoyed.

Didn't I tell you to shut it?

Forgive my impertinence, oh wise master.



Stop. Now.

The Bug sighed. Teenagers are so troublesome. I will be relieved when you grow out of this stage, I daresay.

Shino decided—wisely—not to reply to that. He had already made a disaster of the morning, which had turned ugly out of nowhere, rain coming down in buckets, and he had no desire to allow his temper to spiral out of control—an occurrence that happened at a much greater frequency these days, he noted with dismay—on top of it.

"This royally blows," he muttered. "I'm not cut out for romancing. That trait must've skipped a generation.

"Make that two," said Jiro ruefully. "I'm not much of a Casanova myself." He cast an appraising look at his brother. "But that's never stopped me before. The thing about dating," he leaned back in his chair, propping his feet against the table, "is that it's hit or miss. So far, I've been on a missing streak, however I'm not one to accept defeat. Persistence is key, little bro. If you prove to the lady that you're serious, she's more likely to be impressed—most of the time."

"There's always a catch," grumbled Shino. "Let me guess, the ratio of appreciative girls you've charmed the pants off of is slimmer than the ones who beat you up because they think you're a creepy stalker."

Jiro appeared a tad stung. "I wouldn't call it stalking." —Shino turned a snort into a cough when his brother glared at him— "What? I do not look like a stalker!"

"Of course you don't," Shino told him gravely.

"I don't!"

"Not at all."

"You—" Jiro broke off, a sardonic gleam coming to his eyes. "At least I'm not a coward who snivels when he's under pressure. Who cares if Kiba steals Hinata from under your nose? You obviously don't have the balls to contend with his superiority."

Echo, who had done his best to remain silent throughout this exchange, began cackling uncontrollably. I believe that was a trump, Shino-human.

The young Jounin felt as though a kettle were shooting off steam inside him; he would not have been surprised if some of it blasted out of his skin like the Destruction Bugs—even though they Bugs did not quite blast. It was more like they materialized, but that was beyond the point.

Normally, Shino was levelheaded enough to determine when his brother was provoking him on purpose, yet the events of the past few days had taken their toll on his nerves, virtually depleting his store of sensibility.

Snivel…I do not snivel! And Kiba? Superior? HAH!

"Oh yeah?" Jumping to his feet, he rounded on his brother, jabbing a finger at his chest. "Oh yeah? I'm a coward, am I?"

A large gust of wind rattled the windowpanes as it howled by, and a colossal bolt of lightening forked through the steely-gray sky. From where he sat, Jiro had the distinct impression he was in the middle of a scene right out of a horror film, where he was the disobedient test subject to Shino's mad scientist.

Oy…the kid needs some heavy duty tranquilizers…he's flipped out…

Part of that is your doing, you know, Arrow, one of Jiro's Bugs, chided in amusement. I have always said that your tongue will herald trouble one day.

Bite me.

With pleasure!

On second thought, I take that back.

"I'm going to see her right now," Shino's voice penetrated his conversation with the Bug. "And I'm going to prove that I'm not below Kiba!"

Jiro blinked. "Your sudden burst of enthusiasm is great and all, but…take a look out yonder window, dear boy. There's enough rain out there to build a boat and sail to the other end of the universe."

Most of Shino's madness receded as he glanced outside; his shoulders slumped, and he hung his head, defeated. "Well…piss on me," he sounded rather morose, as if the world as he knew it had just come to a catastrophic end.

His brother wasn't sure if he was any more comfortable having to deal with Shino in his current condition than his previous one. He wasn't used to hysterics from his younger sibling—most likely because, in his earlier years, Shino didn't concern himself much with members of the opposite gender, and was therefore spared of the inevitable baggage that accompanied relationships. Jiro was convinced that his own dating experiences had fried more than a few valuable brain cells, and had, in some way or another, permanently affected his sanity. Why he still went back for more, after countless rejections, accusations, and slaps to the face baffled him, however he was not one to probe. Perhaps he was born with iron in his blood.

Either that, or he was really a masochist in disguise.


"Er…hey," he tried to sound encouraging, "that doesn't mean you should give up! Just…wait until the rain stops. I'm sure Hinata will understand that you didn't want to be buried alive in a mudslide to deliver cookies that'll be too soggy to eat by the time you get there."

Shino made an unintelligible noise.

"What?" Jiro prodded. "I didn't hear you."

"Kiba might not wait," came the reply, louder this time. "This is the perfect opportunity for him to one-up me."

"Bah," Jiro flapped a hand in dismissal. "The kid's a little on the sketchy side, but I seriously doubt he's dumb enough to slog through that," he jerked a thumb at the window.

But his brother appeared to have come to a decision. His eyes were clear as he turned to Jiro and said, "You obviously don't know Kiba as well as I do. He's the one who proposed this race to begin with, and he's not gonna let a storm stop him from gaining an advantage." Resigned, he let out a long sigh. "Which means I've gotta get there before he does."

Is this wise, Shino-human? Echo inquired sternly. Do you not recall what occurred the last time you and the dog-human had it out?

I know, I know. It's not going to happen again, though. I'll be much more careful, now.

So you claim. I find that your responses to his presence have been somewhat heated as of late. You may say that you will exercise self-restraint, but your actions must mirror your words.

Shino bit the inside of his cheek. Look, Echo, I know, okay? Trust me, I don't want to cause Hinata any more grief than I already have.

Echo did not speak again, though his host had a feeling the Bug was not convinced

The worst part was, Shino wasn't sure he had convinced himself, either.

"I never thought I'd say this, but I think you've finally managed to prove me wrong, whelp," Kianna told her brother with a straight face, "In the past few days, you've gotten stupider than I ever thought possible."

"What the hell were you trying to do in here, Kiba?" His mother demanded, eyes glinting dangerously. "Do you have any idea how long it took to get this place clean?" She looked around at the mess her son had made, something she assumed was cookie dough spattered all over the walls, on the floor, stuck in Akamaru's fur…and a vein throbbed in her temple.

Not a good sign.

Kiba was thankful his mother's canine companion had not chosen to accompany her, as the situation would have deteriorated beyond repair in that event. The scarred dog—who happened to wear an eye patch, which gave him a rather intimidating appearance—had a horrid temper, and did not tolerate any 'tomfoolery,' as he constantly referred to Kiba's antics. The Inuzuka boy would have had some difficulty in talking his way out of punishment, to say the least.

His mother, on the other hand, did have a soft side, and Kiba knew exactly where it was.

"Mother," he began obsequiously, the picture of innocence, "you do want me to settle down and start a family of my own eventually, don't you?" He paused a moment to gauge his mother's expression, and he noted gleefully that he had her rapt attention. This subject always had interested her, as she spent a fair amount of time abusing him about his lack of seriousness when it came to potential happiness in the future—a.k.a. presenting her with a pack of legitimate grandchildren—and he knew pulling this card out of the deck would curb her wrath over the state of her kitchen.

"Of course I do," she agreed somewhat suspiciously. "But—"

Kiba held up a hand. "Now, now, allow me to explain. There is a certain young lady of my acquaintance whom I am in the process of wooing, and it is essential that I impress her by any means at my disposal." He glanced about the kitchen, one eyebrow raised. "Obviously, I can cross baking off the list."

Kianna snorted at the outlandish language her brother used. Resorting to the flowery speech again, eh, Kiba? Idiot. She's not gonna fall for that load of malarkey…

But as she watched her mother's face morph from stern to somewhat enchanted, she became less certain.

Akamaru, too, aside from being distracted by the thunderstorm that raged outside, sensed that his master engaged in a cunning ploy, one he was likely to pull off without a hitch at this rate. He is clever, I will give him that, he thought dryly, attempting to rid his fur of batter. Even if he is playing with fire…

"Oh…well…you…" Kiba's mother spluttered, as if she were struggling to determine which side to take. Switching tactics, she said, "Who is this girl? Do I know her? What kind of person is she?"

Kiba grinned, the faraway look that appeared whenever he spoke of the Hyuuga heir resurfacing. "You know her. She was on my team when we were Genins. Little thing, violet hair, silver-ish eyes, shy…well, she used to be, anyway…" His grin became a lovesick smile. "An absolute angel, she is…"

As one, Akamaru and Kianna rolled their eyes, exchanged a glance, and concealed snickers, yet the other two individuals in the room did not notice, as they were far too engrossed in their conversation to allow petty background noise to divert them.

"Do you mean that Hyuuga girl? What was her name…Hinata?"

"Mmm," Kiba nodded dreamily. "Hyuuga Hinata…perfection made flesh…the ideal image of womanhood…the shining sta—"

"Are you mad, boyo?" His mother interrupted, awestruck at her son's gumption. "Hyuuga is Konoha's oldest noble house! You've set your sights rather high, haven't you?" The prospect of her errant youngest child inheriting prestige by marrying into nobility was quite appealing, however. "Wouldn't that be something, though? I'd pose no objection if you did manage—"

"Mother," Kianna interjected, hands on hips, "are you encouraging him? That's ridiculous! He—" she pointed at her brother— "made a bet with Shino over who would get her first—"

She found the rest of her statement cut short when a hand clamped over her mouth. Kiba glared sidelong at her, hissing out of the corner of his mouth, "Not another word." He turned to his mother. "I really have no idea what she's talking about," he insisted, forcing laughter. "The girl must've gone mental, I swear…heh…bets…how absurd!"

Akamaru opened his mouth, though he shut it when his master directed another ferocious glare in his direction. Well that was rude…he sniffed, returning to his previous task. I shall have to bite him later.

Kiba's mother raised both eyebrows, a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. I had a feeling this was too good to be true… "You made a bet," she said flatly.

"No I didn't! I…just…" he faltered under her steely gaze, "It 's not a bet, exactly, it's more like a friendly competition."

"Oh, so that's what they call them now," Kianna muttered in a muffled voice, Kiba's hand still covering her mouth.

A particularly ear-shattering clap of thunder boomed, and three heads swiveled to the window, the panes incandescent from rain.

"When did that start?" Kiba asked, puzzled.

It has not stopped all morning, Akamaru supplied moodily. You were too busy making a fool of yourself to observe, apparently.

"Be nice," the dark-haired boy said in an injured tone.

Tch. Akamaru stuck his nose in the air.

"Oh Kiba," his mother groaned, aiming a sold whack at the back of his head. "I honestly believed your delinquent streak was only a phase, but then you go and pull this garbage!" She lamented tragically. "I had hope that at least one of you would be married off before you reach thirty!"



"What? Where are my grandchildren, Kianna?" The older woman demanded; when her son chortled, she rounded on him. "And you! Eighteen and still carousing about like a hoodlum!"

But the wheels in Kiba's head had begun to turn, and he did not hear the rebuke. Wait…there's a storm…Shino wouldn't go out in a storm, and Hinata wouldn't expect anyone to go out in a storm, so If I happen to be the one to take the initiative, I'll score major points!

"You're right, Mom," he declared piously. "I have acted out of turn, and I'm going to rectify my mistake."

His mother, Kianna, and Akamaru stared at him in disbelief.

"Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a girl to impress," he said, and swept out of the kitchen, but not before he grabbed a protesting Akamaru and held the dog firmly against his chest.

"You're coming too, pal."

I did not agree to this! Put me down at once!

"No, I don't think I will. We're in this together."

The dog growled, sinking his small, sharp teeth into his master's arm. Kiba winced, though he did not relinquish his hold.

"Do that again and I'll muzzle you," he said cheerfully.

I despise you, Akamaru snarled in reply.

"Wonderful. Let's go."

Where are we going in all this rain?

"The Hyuuga compound, of course. And we're not leaving until she says yes."

Why me? Akamaru wailed as Kiba flung open the front door, receiving a blast of wet, gusty wind in the face. Why me?

"Tally-ho!" Shouted Kiba.

Hinata paced back and forth across her bedroom, a variety of discarded garments scattered all over her bed. None of them suited her fancy, which did not add to her mood in the slightest.

"Damn it!" She cursed, flinging another shirt on top of the pile. "All of this looks horrible!" Yanking open her closet door, she began rifling through its contents furiously. A skirt, two more shirts, and a pair of black pants later, and she settled on a light blue sundress secured at the shoulders with white ribbon. "There. That'll have to do."

Dressed, she went to her vanity and sat down before the mirror to get her hair in order—despite the fact that it was probably pointless to try with all the rain—and she saw movement out of the corner or her eye.

What on earth?

Going to the window, she peered out and down, and her eyes became the size of small dinner plates.

"Oh my lord," she murmured. "You have got to be kidding me."

Taking the stairs two at a time, she ran into the main hall to get a better look, and found her cousin and sister already there, howling with laughter.

"I didn't realize Shino was that flexible," Hanabi gasped.

Neji wiped at his streaming eyes. "You're telling—"He flinched suddenly. "Ouch! That had to hurt."

Hinata stared at them for a moment before she pushed past, her nose nearly plastered to the glass.

There was no denying it. Shino and Kiba had officially gone stark raving mad.

"What are they doing?"

"Mud wrestling," Neji supplied with a straight face. "It's all the rage these days."

Hinata punched him on the arm, not amused. "They're going to get sick out there!" Turning on her heel, she marched to the door and squared her shoulders. Here goes nothing…

To say that it was wet outside would be an understatement.

Within the first few seconds, her dress was sopping, her hair was plastered to her head, and her feet were covered in gooey mud so that they made a squelching sound with every step she took.

This was, more or less, what she witnessed:

"ARGH!" Kiba took a handful of mud and made to smash it into Shino's face, however his opponent was faster, and ducked out of the way, throwing the Inuzuka off balance.

"Take that!" Shino bellowed, and whipped two globs of the stuff at Kiba—his target practice proved more successful.

Enraged, Kiba abandoned strategy and settled for launching himself at his former teammate, who was half-blinded by the rain, and they both went down in a spectacular heap, rolling around in the mud like two possessed animals. The words that emerged from their mouths were so foul that they would not even be suitable for a racy cabaret.

Closing her eyes, Hinata rubbed her temples. I've gotta stop this somehow…

Before she could do anything, however, a particularly large, smelly glob of mud spattered in her face, rendering her speechless.

Time came to a screeching halt.

Kiba and Shino, realizing what had happened, had the same, horrified expression on their faces when they glanced up at their visitor.

What did I tell you, Shino-human? Echo snapped. Look what you did!

Kiba, you moron! I knew you would only make things worse! Akamaru growled.

But neither boy could summon their voices; they merely continued to stare, aghast.

Hinata, on the other hand, was more than capable of movement. Passing a hand over her face, she wiped as much mud off as she could. Her strange, pupil-less eyes gleamed eerily.

"I am very disappointed in you," she said in a dangerously quiet voice.

The boys cowered.

Smiling an almost deranged smile, the Hyuuga girl stooped down, gathered two handfuls of mud, and hurled it at them with all her strength.


Shino's glob hit him beneath the chin; Kiba's got the side of his face.

"Do you want to play some more?" Hinata inquired, the deranged grin growing wider.

Mud wrestling is definitely not a spectator sport.

XD To be continued next chapter…(when I get around to writing it…) I won't take this long next time…Sorry for the excruciatingly long wait! You have no idea how hard it was to get back into the groove again...:dies: