Precious: Part Two

"Hinata!" A voice startled her and her eyes flicked from Sasuke to see Naruto racing towards them.

Just as a whimper made it past her clenched teeth, a wall of sand flew up between Sasuke's fist of pure chakra and her body.

She saw the impression of his fist in the sand as it pushed against the power, but his Chidori didn't break through the wall.

She let out a whoosh of air as his fist suddenly disappeared. The wall of sand slid down, following her as her legs suddenly refused to support her.

She looked up in time to see Naruto's foot slam into Sasuke's face. She was panting but refused to acknowledge it as hyperventilating because she was supposed to be able to control stuff like that.

She sat amidst a pile of sand, watching as it shifted occassionaly to let her know that it was still prepared to jump between her and any danger. She glanced around for it's owner and saw Gaara standing beside Naruto as they watched Sasuke get up from where he had been knocked flat.

Sasuke slid his thumb over his lip to wipe away the blood from Naruto's attack. He watched Gaara warily.

"You blocked my attack with sand? How is that possible? The last time we fought I was able to penetrate even your final move."

Gaara smirked and crossed his arms over his chest, "That was over five years ago, Sasuke. While it appears you have not grown in the slightest, I have. My sand is virtually impenetrable. It's especially voracious when my opponent's aim is to kill a friend of mine. Explain yourself."

Sasuke glared at him, clearly fighting the urge to jump him. A growl from Naruto reminded him not to forget the blonde ninja and he merely shrugged.

"I am no longer a ninja of this village." At this, Sasuke pulled out his forehead protector from his pocket and used a kunai he grabbed to make a long horizontal slash through it. "Hyuuga Hinata lost our fight and as such, I demand blood."

Naruto snorted, "You demand blood? Well, hell, Sasuke! I'd be more than happy to oblige you." His eyes went hard and he flashed a sharp grin, showing pointed teeth, "Of course, it won't be Hinata's blood we'll be drawing."

Hinata, while the three men were talking, had already begun a set of seals. As an apprentice medic-nin, Hinata had been taught the strongest binding jutsus available. The jutsu took time and concentration, however, so it was most often useless in battle. If she had been able to use it, then her teammates wouldn't have had to come after her. After witnessing Sasuke's declaration, she was within her rights as Juunin-medical staff to return him to his village. She decided to ignore the fact that he hadn't actually left yet.

Sasuke cracked his knuckles and dropped into a loose crouch. "Come on, demon-spawn. Show me what you can do."

Naruto growled and made to move towards him but Gaara's arm caught his shoulder before he launched himself. He glanced at his teammate and raised an eyebrow.

Gaara shrugged and motioned towards Hinata, "She has it covered now."

Naruto looked at Hinata and then at Sasuke and burst out laughing. Sasuke was clearly fighting to move but he was stuck in his position as though frozen in place. His face was turning red from effort and more than a little embarrassment and anger. His eyes flicked to Hinata, who stood in reply and approached him.

She stood, not more than a foot and a half above his crouch and fingered his ruined forehead protector where it rested against his hair.

She sighed sadly, "To answer you, Uchiha Sasuke, I am not afraid to die. I think I am more afraid to live. Like you, I feel alone and lost. Sometimes, all I want to do is leave this village and never look back." He growled his denial but she ignored him and flicked her eyes to her two protectors, her teammates. "But then I see them, my friends, my family, my team and I'm not so alone. You had that, Sasuke. You had them. But you pushed them away because you feared the feelings you felt around the. It is too late, I'm afraid, to fix what you so carelessly shattered. What will you do now?"

He either refused to answer her or she had been a little overzealous with her jutsu and had even sealed his jaw shut. It didn't matter, because Naruto was already hauling him back to headquarters to be placed in a protected cell for the night.

Gaara stayed behind with her and together they sat and watched twilight fall.

"Were you afraid, Hinata, really?" Hinata glanced at Gaara. He was resting against his hands, his legs stretched comfortably out in front of him. He nudged her leg with his foot when she took too long to answer that he began to suspect that he had spoken too softly.

She looked back at the sky just in time to see the first stars come out.

"I'm not sure. I think I was more upset than anything. I was thinking of how many things I wanted to do still, and of all the people I wanted to be with and the things that I wanted to say to all of them." She nudged him with her shoulder, both comfortable in casual touch like they never used to be. It had taken several years and missions and wounds and nightmares to get them to the point of casual affection that Naruto had already given them.

"I kept thinking of who would replace me as your third teammate and if he or she would be able to deal with your bad days and Naruto's anxiety. I wondered if he or she would be able to comfort you at night like we do or calm Naruto's need for acceptance and affection. But most of all, I wondered if I would be missed as much as I would miss." She wiped away a stray tear inconspicuously, but Gaara missed little, if anything at all, and he rubbed at her other cheek, which felt a little damp.

He pulled his hand away and stared at her tears on his fingers. He rubbed his fingers together, as if to absorb her sadness and caught her eye.

"I think," he said softly while reaching up to rub a spot at the crook of her neck, "that Naruto and I would be unable to function for a very long time without you."

He held up his hand for her to inspect and she saw, in the dim light, the sparkle of several grains of sand.

She raised startled eyes to his and he grinned unabashedly, "We take preventative measures against that. It's how we found you. My sand and his nose."

She laughed, the sound catching on the tears rising in her throat. She had wondered how they had found them so far away from town.

A blur of color caught her eye as Naruto slid down onto the grass next to her. He grinned at his teammates but frowned when he caught the glimmer of tears on her cheeks.

"Hinata, are you all right? Are you in shock?" She shook her head as she wiped at her wet face. He turned to Gaara. "What's wrong with her?"

Gaara shrugged and pointed to his hand where the sand still shimmered. Naruto nodded in understanding.

He wrapped an arm around Hinata, his fingers resting comfortably against Gaara's sleeve.

"You thought we wouldn't watch out for you, Hinata, when we weren't around? Geez, can you imagine what the two of us would be like to live with without you around?"

Gaara nodded and pressed closer to her side as his arm slid around her waist.

"We protect our precious people, right Gaara?"

The man in question nodded and discreetly slid some sand onto Naruto's body as well. Today was too close of a call.

Hinata, cocooned between the two warm bodies of her teammates, didn't try to fight the lethargy that came over her body.

Before she slid into sleep, resting against the solid strength on either side of her, she felt lips brush against her forehead.

My precious people.