Inuzuka Kiba smiled lovingly right at the girl's face, his usually harsh demeanor softened by the peculiarly mellow emotion in his eyes. "He doesn't deserve you. He never did. He never would." He clasped her hands and smiled forcibly. "So why are you doing this to yourself?"

Moments passed before a sound of throat being cleared came from behind. He turned around and saw Aburame Shino watching him, in his usually disinterested demeanor, but hinted with a little curiosity still.

"Why are you talking to a sleeping person?"

He quickly turned away to hide his flushed face. "Mind your own business, bug boy."

"She's still traumatized from last night, and she's out cold because of what Kurenai gave her."

"I said stay out of this."

"You're wasting your time—"

"Mine, not yours!" the dog lover snapped.

"Very well." Shino shrugged, and then left the room. Once again, he was alone with their female teammate who, upon receiving the sudden wedding invitation from Haruno Sakura and Uzumaki Naruto, fainted on the spot. She had tried and failed miserably to put up a brave front afterwards—he of all people should know that. He saw through her lifeless monosyllabic responses and lame assurances to the people who asked her if she was alright. He knew the grimace she was trying so hard to suppress as she said with much forced cheerfulness that she was glad that Haruno Sakura had finally come to realize what a good man Naruto was.

She may be trying so hard, but she wasn't fooling him.

He was attuned to her every move, her every inch, and her every nuance. And he knew everything about her spoke of volumes of loneliness.

The whole night he lied awake on his bed, hearing the faint choked sobs from Hinata's room. He swore he was ready to kill that blond dumbass, irrational as it may sound. How could anyone be so insensitive when it comes to someone as precious as Hyuuga Hinata? How could he hurt her so easily?

Unfortunately, he knew his questions would remain unanswered for a long while. The ceremony, painful as it may be for his friend, would be the best for her. He knew it would snap her out, and help her realize the reality that Naruto would never be hers.

After that acceptance…

After that…

His fists clenched in silent avowal.

He was going to make sure that from now on, no one could harm Hinata anymore. No siree, not until he was around.

But of course. It was only but natural. He was, after all, Inuzuka Kiba, a man of honor and respect for women. Even before he learned about chivalry in school, he was already being taught by his mother to respect women.

"My son, always remember that the hand that rocks the cradle of the civilization is the hand of a woman. Her pains bore the future generations of soldiers, kings, and heroes. Treat women as you would have other people treat me." His mother's words were his maxim, and so even at risk of being called chauvinistic, he would disagree at times with Kurenai and Shino when it comes to allowing Hinata to participate with the party and complete dangerous B-class missions for Team 8. And whenever the hazards he feared that would occur in the mission would arise, his eyes would always dart first towards Hinata. Stand in front of her, push her away before the enemy hits her, or shield her from the explosions and bullets.

He would get more bruises, scrapes, and wounds than all of them, leading to times Hinata would teasingly remark that he seemed to enjoy the idea of inflicting pain for himself. But he didn't mind: they were all proud testimonies to the times that he successfully defended a woman, as he would have readily done so for his mother.

Yet he failed in the one moment that Hinata needed his protection badly. It was bad enough that he failed once already in the past, in her preliminary Chuunin exam match with Hyuuga Neji. Now he failed again, but this time, he knew that even the best of his efforts couldn't help.

Uzumaki Naruto. How the hell do you deal with that name while interacting with Hinata who was naïve enough to silently believe that her silent feelings would be realized by the loudmouth boy sooner or later?

No, it wasn't that he had a personal grudge against the blond guy. He had long forgotten the somewhat embarrassing defeat he suffered in the boy's hands back in the Chuunin exam's one-on-one duels. But the guy was stupid. Stupid enough to offer marriage to a girl who couldn't offer her heart to him willingly. Stupid enough not to see the other girl waiting behind him all her life. Stupid enough to break the girl he practically spent all his life on protecting from harm's way.

Stupid Naruto.

Ah, but still he was thankful. Hinata was too good for him anyway. He should know, because he fully understood how precious she was. It was a shame that Uzumaki Naruto didn't see the prize he lost when he let Hinata get away.

This time, he would be more careful in screening the men that she would deal with. He was going to make sure that no one would send this woman into the same miserable state, or he would personally show that damn person the way to hell.

Hinata deserved much more than this. She was a good person, with a kind heart and lovely pallid eyes. With matching silky raven hair that could frame the moonless nights into those strands. And a lovely way of twitching her mouth subtly whenever she finds someone or something amusing, but was just too proper and tactful to show so.

He blinked at the last thought. What the…

He shook his head vehemently. Of course, those things he mentioned were said in all the trained objectiveness of a respected unbiased newsman. No, of course it didn't mean anything romantic—they were just facts, that's all.

And he happened to respect women in great deal.

And she was his teammate. It was only but right to be very concerned of her welfare, including her social and emotional good.

Furthermore, it was hard to ignore someone like her. Maybe it was related to the Murphy's Law: the amount of attention you give someone is inversely proportional to the amount of attention someone really wanted. Or maybe it was a heart disease: when you see her smile, your pulse rate defies the stethoscope; when you see her sad, you feel something in your chest tighten into an even-boy-scouts-can't-remedy-this knot.

And once more he was at lost for words when he realized how he returned to this uncomfortable point again. The whys of worrying about That Girl so much. He had established many times over that when it comes to That Girl, he had went beyond the wish to obey his mother's teaching. It certainly didn't cross his mind that while he was holding Hinata's hand and guiding her through their walks in the forest, that he was just doing this as a manly obligation. In fact, there was no other thought but how nice and warm her hand felt when clasped by his. Anyway, the bottom point is, he never liked thinking deeply and pondering when it involved Hinata and his infinite amount of worry he had within him for her alone.

He wasn't afraid of what the answer may be.

He was TERRIFIED of it.

Because beneath his denials and attempts to cover his secret truths with flimsy alibis and reference to other people, he knew and could read clearly the Whys.

It was all simple, really. But sometimes in life, things that were often all too simple were still the hardest to accept.

And he didn't think he was ready to accept that his concern for his teammate had went beyond his mother's gospel, or his personal respect for women, or even his brotherly care.

However, in life too, those that were hardest to accept were always the hardest to ignore.

Like the fact that she was beautiful, but that was taboo, since he was after all, just her friend.

Oh yeah, speaking of which, THAT one was hard to ignore too. She would always see him as nothing more but a mere friend.

So summing up all that he was able to reflect on, he realized that he was hopelessly lost as to what his role was really in this girl's life.

For some reason, his hand found its way once more to her hand. He was going to seize this moment: if Hinata wakes up, he would lose his nerve, as well as the battle of Whys.

The minute he did though, three things happened at once.

Bug Boy arrived in the room.

He wasn't able to withdraw his hand fast enough.

And Hinata opened her eyes.

Despite the shades and the coat, Shino's snicker wasn't concealed. He could have mumbled something, or it could have just been the wind talking. Nevertheless, the bug boy closed the door behind him when he left.

"O-Ohayou, Kiba-kun…" she murmured.

"O-Ohayou." He was on panic mode—should he let go of her hand, or should he play dumb?

"A-Anou…what time is it?" she asked, not looking down. It was okay—he was not looking down too. And he was not planning of letting go of her hand too.

"Um…" Why the hell did he let go of his presence of mind though?

"N-Never mind." She was about to sit up when she suddenly paled and collapsed back on the bed.


"N-No, I-I'm fine!" she said quickly. "I-I just feel dizzy."

"Well, you should. You drank half a case of beer before you went upstairs. Had Kurenai-sensei not injected your drink with tranquilizer, you could have went on and on!" he barked. "What were you thinking anyway? Even with Akamaru and my combined efforts, we can't drink that much!"

"S-Sorry. I-I'll pay for the beer…"

"Heh. I don't care about the beer." Well, that was true, since Shino's wallet had paid for it already. "I'm talking about your hangover…and your heart." He sighed audibly. "Hinata, damn, look what that idiot did to you!"


"Geez! You've never tasted spirited liquor your whole life, and you were so full of hope. But just because of one little bastard who couldn't understand a gem when he sees one, you had to suffer like this!" He ended his speech in a groan. "Why? You never cried in Neji's battle, or so Shino told me. You didn't cry when your father treated you coldly. You wouldn't even cry amidst situations of hopelessness in our missions. But just because of him…" His eyes burned unforgivingly.

She blinked, and then laughed quietly. This made him pause.

"Did I say something funny?" he asked, clueless. "And you've got some nerve laughing. I hate to remind you this, but you just broke your heart last night."

"Yes well…you're right. D-Demo…in my sleep last night, I remembered something." She smilingly shook her head. "When you love someone, you love with no fears or regrets. These two things are what one must let go off to be able to receive with open arms the gift of love."

"So you're saying that it's okay that the idiot did this to you?" he said incredulously. "And he never loved you back!"

"He did, in his own way." She looked at the window, nostalgia in her eyes. "And for that, I can never thank him enough. A part of the me I have now is because of him." Her eyes went back to him. "I realized it the hard way, but well, at least the tears were worth for something."

"Hinata…" He would still be caught surprised by her strength of character every time, but then, nothing less could be expected from her. He knew so. He slowly smiled.

"Plus…plus…" She blushed, embarrassedly laughing. "The beer and pork cracklets were good!"

And at that moment, he realized that contrary to his belief, Hinata didn't need so much protection from pain, because she considered it as a disguised blessing. One she had to ponder on, and when finally understood, would be a lesson to keep.

To say that Hyuuga Hinata was amazing would be cruel. She was much, much more than that.

"M-Maybe I should take my breakfast." She slowly sat up, and for a moment he was torn between insisting that she stay in bed and rest, or just let her be.

In the end, he offered his hand towards her. This made her look up at him.

He smiled uncertainly. "Need a hand?"

She broke into a smile as she took it. A better smile than those she see when he would take the hits for him or push her out of the shurikens' way.

While walking with her out of the bedroom, he just realized that at least he found one answer to his questions. He had found a role for himself in Hinata's life at last.

He would hold her hand until the time she lets go.

And with that simple realization, he felt that in a single moment, all was right in the world of men and canine and women who were liberated from unhappiness.



For Nabooru Tsutsuji.