Brown eyes watched idly as Akamaru busied himself with an innocent lump of grass, burrowing industrially into the ground as though his very life depended on it, which it didn't at the moment. Kiba's fingers twirled a blade of grass as he kept his eyes on the aforementioned canine companion. Soon, only a furry little rump topped with a small stump of a tail could be seen.
The young genin paused from his scrutiny of his fuzzy friend's unappealing posterior and turned sharp eyes to his surroundings, scanning the innocuous-looking clearing for any sign of his teammates and of course, Kurenai-sensei. He was sure she had said to meet here at eight. It was currently five to eight and no one in sight. For a moment Kiba wondered if he had heard wrongly, before his usual self-confidence kicked in.
'I am the great Kiba! I do NOT get TIMES and LOCATIONS WRONG!!! Akamaru and I are the BEST!' was about all the enthusiasm he could summon before he flopped down onto the grass, looking for all the world like a puppy that had just been kicked.
Kami, Hell must be freezing over right now, the great Kiba actually ran out of steam,'the unwelcome sarcastic thought popped up in his brain.
'Pigs must be flying, I'm ACTUALLY being SARCASTIC,' followed on the heels of the first thought. A self-deprecating smirk appeared on his face, twisting the signature red markings and looking totally out of place on the usually open boy's features.
I wonder what the others would say if they saw me now? I may be Kiba, but I am human too. People are always expecting me to be all gung-ho and ready to go...' He had always played up to their expectations, hiding his true feelings and nature, revealing them only to Akamaru. But now...
'Hell,' he thought to himself, 'I can't even pick a fight with Naruto properly anymore. His last half-hearted attempt had left Naruto staring after him worriedly.
"Why can't I NOT act NORMAL for once?" he muttered out loud to himself."YAH! Don't DO that!" Kiba shouted, feeling rather embarrassed at being caught off-guard. Shino showed no reaction as usual, although Kiba thought he saw a twitch of amusement on his teammate's normally expressionless face.
Akamaru continued his invasion of the grass patch, not even noticing the new arrival. Some nin-dog.
Kiba scowled and waved a hand carelessly at the patch of grass next to him, soundlessly inviting his teammate to sit, which he did.
"So, what's wrong with you?" The usually quiet genin asked without preamble. Kiba glanced at his normally silent friend in surprise.
"What do you mean? There's nothing wrong with me, NOTHING WRONG AT ALL!" By this time, Kiba's voice had already risen to a rather high pitch, and was causing Akamaru some discomfort.
"What makes you think there's SOMETHING WRONG???" He practically screamed, waving his hands around like a lunatic.
Unfazed by all the ranting and raving, Shino just looked at his poor teammate who was apparently still caught up in futile denial.
Kiba dropped the pretense and leapt up from the ground, restlessly pacing the clearing.
"I really don't know." He sighed. "I just feel so confused and messed up...She makes me feel so strange!" Kiba blurted out without thinking.
As Murphy would have it, the worst possible thing that could happen, happened.
"Who's SHE?" Kurenai asked, an interested gleam in her scarlet eyes, having appeared out of nowhere as per normal. A split second later,
"Ohohohoho...Now I see...Little Kiba's having girl problems!" Kurenai fake-sniffed."My ickle Kiba's all grown up now...Waah..."
Shino sweat-dropped and Kiba face-faulted.
"I am NOT having GIRL problems!!!" Kiba shouted, for some reason turning as red as his face stripes.
"Yeah, whatever,""Kurenai snorted in amusement.
"Anyway, today I want the two of you to work on your bloodline skills...
" "Hey, sensei," Kiba interrupted. "Where's Hinata-chan?" he asked, looking around.
"Oh right. Hinata won't be joining us today. She has some family problems to take care of. Now, as I was saying, Shino, you need to work on..." Kiba interrupted yet again.
"But Hinata...family problems?"
"Right. None of your business. Back to work." Kurenai continued, a small smile crossing her face. Shino too, smirked behind his trench coat. He knew what Kiba's problem was, even if Kiba didn't know it yet. The everyday sounds of thuds and bodies hitting ground soon filled the clearing.
In one of the many courtyards located in the spacious Hyuuga clan grounds, a confrontation of sorts was taking place. Across the length of the yard, two almost identical pairs of eyes were staring intensely into each other. For all that the blank pupil-less orbs were similar in appearance, minute differences could be seen.
One of the pairs normally showed warmth and timidity; confusion was also currently the main emotion evident. They belonged to a young girl of about twelve years.
At the opposite end of the courtyard stood an older boy. His eyes were normally cool and emotionless, but this time, conflict could be seen within them, and this was where the above-mentioned confrontation was taking place, internally. The insides of the boy were writhing in turmoil as he steeled himself to do the hardest thing he had ever done so far.
This is so totally against my basic nature.' Neji groaned in the privacy of his own head. He took a step forward and opened himself to say the three fateful words.
Hinata tensed at the movement, suppressing an involuntary flinch, harmless as the action may have been.
"......" was all that came out.
Hinata waited. Neji tried again.
The words came out clipped and curt. Hinata stared wide-eyed in surprise and amazement at her cousin and one-time enemy. This was coming from the proud Neji? The guy who had recently tried to kill her? She could imagine how much it took for him say those words. Her eyes softened.
"It's alright. I... forgive you." Her soft voice was almost inaudible through the distance between them.
"You...do?" His voice was startled, uncertain. Apparently he hadn't expected this.
She nodded shyly. Some of the tension built up earlier dissipated away.
"So...are we friends then?" Hinata asked, not sure if she wanted to know the answer.
"Hn." Then, "You are weak."
Hinata reeled back in shock, a look of hurt crossing her face. Neji looked flustered.
"I meant...you are weak, so you need to train with me. Then you will be strong." Neji stated matter-of-factly. Eloquence, it seemed, was not one of his strong points. Hinata looked happier and relaxed.
"Hai, oniisan." Neji stiffened at the honorific used, before relaxing a little.
"Let us begin then."
Early evening saw Kiba dejectedly walking home, kicking at various unoffending pebbles on the ground. Feeling restless and irritated for no reason, Kiba decided to stay outside for a while longer. With Akamaru in tow, he settled himself under a nearby tree and glanced up at the setting sun.
The sky was awash in gold-orange streaks, shot through with golden highlights and accentuated by wisps of fluffy white clouds. The sight was breathtaking, yes, but pale in comparison to the sparkle of her rare timid smiles... He closed his eyes, enjoying the feel of the stray breeze against his face, the rustling of the leaves akin to her lovely soft whisper...
Kiba smacked his forehead in frustration, causing Akamaru to sit up and look around in alarm. He knew what the problem was, now.
I, Inuzuka Kiba, am a FOOL!' He lay back with a sigh. 'Well, what else would you call someone FOOL enough to fall in love with a girl, the most wonderful perfect girl, who would never, in a thousand years, return his affections.' Sigh. 'Fate may be impartial and Justice blind, but it seems that Love truly hates humankind and me specifically.'
"Oh well, at least I still have you, Akamaru." The faithful canine whined, gazing at his master sadly. 'Although it isn't enough anymore...' Kiba sniffed, rubbing at his eyes furiously.
Meanwhile, the magnificence of the sunset did not go unnoticed by others as well. A strangely companionable silence filled the training yard of the Hyuuga clan as two pairs of white orbs remained fixed on the setting sun. Hinata was the first to break the silence.
"That was so beautiful, oniisan." She sighed.
"Hn." Came the eloquent reply.
"It kind of reminded me of someone..." she trailed off wistfully. Discomfortingly penetrating eyes turned to regard her.
"Uzumaki Naruto?" A slight hint of curiosity was evident.
"Well, it is a little like him, but no, I was thinking of someone else." Hinata replied, a tinge of red lacing her cheeks.
Neji quirked an eyebrow. Interesting, he thought she liked that boisterous troublemaker.
"Who then?" Neji asked after a while, his curiosity overcoming his usual taciturn nature.
"Anou..It reminded me of Kiba-kun. He's always so cheerful..." Hinata lapsed into silence, and they just sat there.
'Well well. The Inuzuka kid huh. That's a surprise.' Neji's train of thought got interrupted as Hinata's embarrassed stutter broke the silence yet again.
"......" Neji discovered that he liked being called that, now that he didn't regard her as an enemy.
"Do you um... have anyone sp...special in your life?" she stuttered.
"Hn. None of your business." Neji felt defensive for no reason and swiftly turned the conversation away from him. He wasn't ready to deal with THAT yet.
"You have." He stated. It was not a question.
Hinata twiddled her thumbs nervously.
"Um...ah..." "Is he Uzumaki Naruto?," he asked again, feeling a sense of déjà vu. Hinata looked down and answered.
"No. I did like him at first, but I can tell that he likes someone else, and he only treats me like a friend anyway. It took me long enough to realize and everyone else knew all along." She blinked sadly and sniffed. Neji felt a sudden urge to kaiten Naruto.
"Now...I like someone else, but he won't notice me anyway...I'm just a teammate to him." A tear trickled down her cheek.
"Thank you, oniisan, I'll see you tomorrow for training?" Neji nodded mutely and Hinata made her escape. It had been strangely comforting to tell Neji all her troubles, just as though she had a real older brother, even though he did not seem a likely candidate.
Neji remained sitting for a while, trying to assimilate what Hinata had just told him. His indifferent nature warred with his newly developed older brother instincts. He made a decision and stood up abruptly.
Soon, all that remained of the conversation was two slight depressions in the grass, and the presence of a strong gust of wind to mark the departure of a purposeful young man into the encroaching darkness.
The next day dawned bright and sunny, which didn't make any difference to Neji, being as unaffected as he was by inconsequential matters like the weather. Byukugan activated, Neji concentrated instead on finding his prey. THERE!
And he was gone.
Unlike Neji, Kiba was very much affected by the weather, it made him act surlier than usual. He was walking, actually more like stomping, along, with his head down looking for more unsuspecting pebbles to kick.
Hence, he was oblivious to what was coming his way.
His only warning came from Akamaru's bark, which came a split second too late, as he found himself gripped by the neck and pinned up against the nearest tree. Pupil-less eyes glared at him.
'Hinata? No such luck. His assailant was most definitely male.'
Kiba endured the most piercing examination he'd ever had, before the grip on his neck released a fraction and he breathed a little easier. But only a little.
"Hmph. You'll do." Neji muttered and glared at him.
"Tell me, do you like Hinata?" Neji asked abruptly, as his grip tightened, cutting off Kiba's air.
At this point, Akamaru had disappeared under the nearest bush, with his furry paws over his eyes. Faithful partner indeed.
"I...I...can't breathe..." The grip loosened, but the glare intensified.
"Answer me!" It seemed that Neji was getting impatient.
"Yes, so what? Just leave me alone!" Kiba screamed into Neji's face, which fazed him not one bit.
"Hinata is unhappy. I do not like to see her unhappy. Do something. Or else."
Neji glared at him again and released him, letting Kiba slide to the ground. When Kiba next looked up, Neji was gone, but a note was pinned to a ground by a shuriken just five millimeters from his leg. Kiba gulped and picked it up.
It said (in neat perfect handwriting):
'Be at the Hyuuga training ground 'C' in one hour.'
"Wonder what that was all about?" Kiba gasped, rubbing at his sore throat.
Akamaru whined in response, having moved his cowardly butt out from under the bush.
Hinata ran into the training wondering which technique her cousin would practice with her today. She looked around and found no Neji in sight.
Instead, she found Kiba sitting under the tree, looking decidedly handsome as the sunlight illuminated his striking profile. Hinata flushed.
"Kiba-kun? What are you doing here?" She asked hesitantly.
Kiba got to his feet, blushing furiously. "Umm...er...ahh," he said ever so eloquently. He tried again.
"SoIseethatyouandNejiareokaynow?" he said in a rush, in a rather obvious attempt to change the subject.
Both of them settled themselves under the tree, while trying not to meet each other's eyes. Hinata was wondering about whether Neji had forgotten their lesson, while Kiba thought he spotted the glint of sunlight reflecting off a pointed metal thing somewhere in the branches above them. He gulped audibly.
"So uh Hinata, how's it going with Naruto?" he blurted out unthinkingly, while immediately mentally smacking himelf. 'You don't just go asking a girl about her crush like that!'
He had expected her to blush and stutter, but what he didn't expect was for her to look calmly at him and go,
"What do you mean?" while smiling sweetly at him.
'Thank kami for my talk with Neji yesterday, at least I don't react in that way anymore.' Hinata was silently cheering. Kiba certainly looked flabbergasted, which in any way only made him look cuter.
"But...but don't you like him?" Kiba really felt like banging his head against the tree trunk. He imagined Neji's shuriken with his name on it coming closer. 'Oh man, really tactful of you, Kiba. Could you be any less subtle?' It seemed that inner Kiba had not lost his sarcastic edge.
"Naruto is only a friend. So, um, do you have a most important person?" Hinata asked shyly, while trying to keep up her pretense of being calm.
'Please, please let him say no. It's already painful enough to know that he will never notice me, I don't think I can deal with him liking Ino or Sakura,' she thought desperately.
Kiba fidgeted before answering hesitantly.
"I...I kinda like someone, but I don't think she will ever like me back," he muttered to his knees, unwilling to face Hinata. Thus, he missed important details like the tears gathering at the corner of her eyes.
Hinata's heart clenched at those words. Kiba could not have hurt her more, not even if he'd used Sennen Goroshi (A Thousand Years of Pain) on her.
"Can you..." Hinata choked on the words, her throat clogged up with swallowed tears.
"Can you describe her?"
Kiba's resulting dreamy look and his seeming unawareness of her condition sent more needles of pain into Hinata's shattering heart.
"She's kind, with a golden heart, able to forgive even her enemies. She's helpful and caring...Her soft voice is like an autumn breeze. Her eyes, her beautiful eyes are filled with warmth. I could so easily lose myself in them...She's..." you, he finished silently.
Kiba sneaked a glance at Hinata to see how she would react. To his chagrin, pearly drops of tears were rolling down her smooth cheeks, and those beautiful, beautiful eyes of hers were bright with still unshed tears.
Wha...Don't tell me she likes me too? Please, let it be so...' He stared at her pleadingly, waiting for something, anything.
"I am happy for the both of you. I wish you happiness..." With that, she turned to run, one hand brushing away the tears that refused to stop falling.
Kiba's hand snaked around her free hand as he pulled her back down onto the grass. He slid his fingers under her chin, turning her tearstained face to face him.
"Hinata," he began, voice gentle, "Even with the Byakugan, you can still be really blind. You are the girl I was talking about. You are my most important person."
Hinata stared at him in shock and amazement before breaking down into Kiba's arms. Kiba drew the sobbing girl close to himself, barely noticing as the unseen observer left the tree, the only sign of his presence being the soft rustle of the leaves.
The next morning, Hinata joined Neji for training as usual, none of them mentioning the previous day's events. The training went as per normal, the only difference being near the end, where after Hinata bowed and thanked her cousin, she looked him in the eye and whispered, with a small smile on her face,
"I'll return the favour someday, oniisan."
A/n: NejiTen sequel in the works. But first, u must review!!!