Hinata tried to focus on the meeting, but couldn't. She could still feel the warmth of Gaara's hand on hers. She tried to think about their English project, but it was no use. Gaara and everything about him invaded her mind.

The two of them had lunch earlier without Shino, Kiba, or any of his siblings. Just the two of them.

The conversation they had revealed interesting things about him, like:

1) he and his sister had asthma

2) his father owned an oil company and never stayed long in one place (something that made her want to cry)

3) he excelled in written tests better than oral ones

4) Temari tried to dye his hair blond when they were younger, which turned his hair orange (something he made her swear not to laugh at, tell anyone else, and ask any more questions about)

5) he didn't have any standard for liking girls, but he didn't like ones who throw themselves at him, like Sakura to Sasuke, and

6) he drank on quite a regular basis, usually with his siblings.

She wanted him to hold her hand again, and give that half-smile he so rarely did.

"Hey, what about snacks? I'm starving!" Naruto's complaint cut across her train of thought.

"Baka! You just ate!" Ino pounded him.

"I-I'll go see to it," Hinata said, hastily standing up. The papers and pen she forgot were in her lap fell to the floor. "S-sorry," she mumbled, picking them up and putting then on the table. She went to the kitchen, glad to have some time alone with her thoughts.

She rested her head on the counter, grateful for the cool surface. The distant sound of dribbling made her look up.

That's good, she thought, as she watched Neji and Hanabi play basketball. She smiled to herself and got up.

She turned around to see Shino standing at the doorway. "Shino-kun!" she squeaked.

"Hinata-chan. What's up?" he moved to sit on a bar stool.

"Huh?" she asked, feeling nervous. Shino knew that she had lunch with Gaara, so there was a good chance he had a line on her inner turmoil. Hinata picked up a card lying next to the tray of cookies her brother baked.

I did it right this time. the card read. She smiled to herself. She had faith in Neji and everything he did.

Shino rummaged in the cupboards and started mixing strawberry and lychee juice in a pitcher. "You're not acting yourself. Isn't this project important to you and vice versa?"

"Um… Is that so?" she transferred the cookies on a decorative plate. She pulled out a pack of chips from the pantry.

Shino took out five glasses and put them in a tray with the pitcher. He turned to look at Hinata. "Does this, by any chance, have something to do with Sabaku Gaara?"

Hinata colored up to the roots of her hair. She need not know how Shino knew. It was also useless lying to him, since he knew her inside and out, since childhood. Still, he generally gave good advice when she needed. "You caught me, Shino-kun."

"I see." His expression was unreadable. "You can't stop thinking about him, and you're surprised and pleased because this is the first time a boy treated you like that, excluding me, Kiba, and Neji."

Hinata's hands twisted around. She could always count on Shino to clear up her confused thoughts. "Yes," she said in barely a whisper.

"HEY! I'M STARVING HERE!" Naruto's voice could be heard, even behind the closed door.

"SHUT UP!" Sasuke and Ino both shouted.

"Come on," Shino said, picking up the tray. He started to go out the door, but Hinata stopped him.

"Sh-Shino-kun, I—"

"Don't worry. I won't tell."


Sasuke watched Hinata out of the corner of his eye. She looked like she had something on her mind. He noticed that ever since he came in the front door. She and Ino were talking—or, rather, Ino was talking while Hinata was listening, smiling quietly.

Naruto, while trying to make a conversation with Shino (which proved little success), was intent on annihilating the chips.

He settled further in his chair and took a bite on his cookie—and immediately wished he hadn't.

His throat absolutely refused to let the morsel pass, but his mouth didn't want the taste to linger. It was either swallow it or puke.

He stifled a cough, and resisted the urge to puke. He tried not to let on that he was choking, afraid it might spell distaste for Hinata's baking.

Naruto—whether or not picking up on Sasuke's struggle with death or just being plain Naruto—looked at him quizzically. "Oi, what's up with you, baka?" he asked through a mouthful of Lay's.

Sasuke, temporarily out of commission, glared at him, wishing he would shut up. He felt the bile rise to his throat, mixing with the cookie, and making him want to spit out everything in his mouth.

Naruto moved behind him. "Oi, what's happening?" he asked again, a little worried this time.

To Sasuke's horror, Hinata and Ino took notice of the commotion in the making.

Ino noticed the half-eaten cookie on Sasuke's hand. "Oh yeah, I forgot about these. They smell good." She plucked one from the plate.

A strangled cry barely made it from Sasuke, what with all the froth in his mouth. He tried waving at Ino, but it was futile.

"You're acting weird," Naruto said, and gave Sasuke a good-natured thump on the back.

What happened next was enough to make anyone move to another country—after changing his name, faking his death, and having plastic surgery.

Sasuke, his guard down, literally barfed on the floor—on the carpet covering the floor of Hyuuga Hinata's house.

Hinata froze, a mixture of horror and shock on her face.

Ino followed with a violent cough, and grabbed the pitcher. She was in the middle of downing it when a fit of coughing overtook her. And the result? She inadvertently sprayed juice on the pitcher, and dribbled some down the front of her dress.

Naruto was doubled over in laughter, barely managing to breathe, while Shino was shaking with silent laughter.

A loud snap from the screen door in the kitchen indicated Neji and Hanabi's return inside the house.


Neji glared at Hanabi for slamming the screen door. Hinata and her groupmates were having a meeting in the living room, and here Hanabi was, disrupting it. "Come on," he told her sternly. "You can't hang around in here."

"Why not?" Hanabi asked petulantly. "This is also my house, isn't it?"

"Your sister is having a meeting for her project just outside. Would you like to ruin it for her?" he asked sarcastically.

At the mention of Hinata, Hanabi quirked her eyebrows. "Oh. Okay. You didn't say so." She followed poured a glass of juice, and proceeded to follow her brother.

Neji opened and closed the kitchen door quietly, prepared to sneak quietly so as not to disturb the meeting, but the sight that greeted him didn't look like a meeting at all—more like a circus.

Hinata was frozen in her seat, staring at Sasuke. Ino was frantically wiping her shirt front, Naruto was curled on the floor, laughing his head off. Shino, in contrast, had his face buried in a pillow, his shoulders convulsively shaking, as a sign of silent laughter. Sasuke, his back to Neji, was staring down at something.

"What happened here?" he addressed Ino icily, who looked the sanest so far.

Ino raised her eyes to meet his, but lowered them down again, her hands wringing in her lap. "Um… Eh… Well, the cookies—"

"What about them?" he asked, his tone hard as flint. What about the cookies I baked!

"Um… Ah…"

"YOU ARE SO GROSS, SASUKE!" Naruto managed to shout between his laughter.

"What the—" Neji started to say.

"Oh, cookies!" Hanabi said. "You guys don't mind if I take one, do you?" she asked, quite oblivious to the weirdness of the scene.

"No—! Don't!" Ino cried out, but too late. Hanabi had popped one of Neji's cookies in her mouth. Instantly, she rushed to the kitchen. Everything present could hear the high blast of water and the sound of retching.

"Leave. Now." Neji found his voice, and the words came out in a furious hiss.

Hinata galvanized into life. "Oh, nii-san! You misunderstood—it was just—"

"I do not want to shout, Hinata-chan. Please ask your classmates to leave." He took a step forward and looked down on them. Then he saw it. "What is that?"

"Um, uh…" Hinata fumbled for words.

"It's Sasuke's barf. Duh." Naruto said who— by some miracle— had stopped laughing, and was now sitting beside Shino, who had also stopped laughing and was sitting up straight, his calm face in place.

The door banged open, and Hanabi walked in, wiping water off her face. "Phew," she said airily. "I don't know about you guys, but that cookie sure sucked. I'm sure nee-chan didn't bake it, right, nee-chan?"

That was the last straw for Neji.

"OUT!" he screamed, the veins near his eyes bulging. "GET OUT!"


"Some meeting, huh?" Ino commented at lunch the following school day. She twirled the straw around her milkshake, smiling in amusement.

"I'm sorry! I'm really sorry! Nii-san didn't mean it! I'm really sorry!" Hinata apologized for the nth time. "I'm really sorry!"

"Don't worry about it, Hinata-chan," Shino said, shrugging.

"Yeah! It wasn't your fault those cookies were spiked!" Naruto said cheerfully. "Although Sasuke barfing— that was hysterical! Priceless!" He started to laugh again. "And then… And then when—Ino… she…" Naruto broke into fresh gales of laughter.

"SHUT UP NARUTO!" Ino and Sasuke shouted.

"But… But…! It's my fault! I'm really sorry!" Hinata bowed repeatedly.

"Hey, what's going on? What did you guys do to Hinata-chan?" Kiba demanded, plunking down his tray beside Ino.

"We weren't doing anything to her! She was the one apologizing to us!" Naruto replied defensively, stopping from laughing.

"Cool it, Kiba," Shino said quietly before Kiba could reply.

"Shut up, Naruto," said Sasuke without looking up, fiddling with his fountain pen. "Well, since our last meeting was a concrete failure, we may as well start over again."

Hinata looked horrified with herself.

"None of it is your fault, Hinata-san," Sasuke said tightly. He looked away quickly from her.

Hinata wanted to cry. "Um… O-Okay…" she said, her lips trembling. She bent low on her food, trying to hide her tearing eyes. Everything is my fault! I never should've let nii-san bake those cookies! Not only was our meeting ruined, he was humiliated before my classmates! And now Sasuke-san's mad at me… Oh, I wish this day would end soon… They all think the meeting was a disaster, too. And it's all because of me! She took a deep breath and willed the tears away. Focusing on the table, she tried to think of things other than the events that recently took place, unaware of two pairs of eyes watching her.

Sasuke glanced at Hinata constantly, who had her hair bowed and looked like she was minutely examining every nook and cranny of their table. Her hair hid her face so he wasn't sure what she was feeling or doing. But he was sure something was wrong with her. She sounded shaky, and she wasn't participating in the meeting. Dammit, I can't afford to talk to her now! I just barfed all over her carpet... Maybe in a few days she'll forget all about it, though. And then we'll forget that thing ever happened. But I can't face her now… She must think I'm a total loser, like that! Oh, shit… Hm, maybe Shino can help me… Or maybe Ino… But then they'll know! Oh shit. This is really stupid. I just go up to her and talk to her. But then, I just barfed all over her carpet! She might not want to talk to me… Unless of course I ask for an… apology… Sigh… This is too troublesome…

Gaara, who had been silent since the morning took his time observing Hinata and the others. They were discussing the meeting she told him at their lunch, the one for their English project. Although the project was due for the fourth quarter, they were starting work now. Sasuke sure doesn't waste any time. He glanced at Hinata, who seemed to be glued watching the table. I don't care what happened at the meeting, but if it affected Hinata so much, then someone has to pay for it.



A/N:
Oh my gosh! Sorry for the looong update! This chapter was already almost ready for posting, but I got stuck on the ending, so you'll have to excuse Gaara's corny line at the end. –sighs- Also, I got too busy with schoolwork and playing Dragon Quest VIII—it is just too addicting! Anyway, I hope you'll forgive me for this chapter as it kind of sucks, but if you give me nice reviews I'll do better! –smiles suggestively- Anyway.Happy Holidays to everybody! Spread the Christmas cheer and SasuHina love!


Payday: -gets glomped-
Ooh. Thank you! XD If you must know (and I think you already do) Temari distracted the two guys so Gaara could score some major points. Heh heh. Wish I had a sister like that. o.O

Kichou: Thanks! Yeah, poor Neji, being saddled with Hanabi. Points for Hinata for a date with Gaara, hehe XD

The Dark Hanyou: Not much fluff here, I'm afraid! Just sappy character thoughts and a whole bowl of embarrassment. But there's going to be more fluff in the later chapters! Well, duh. XD Please don't mind me.

thunder sister: Nice! You should consider a career in commentator-ing, hehe. Orochimaru is coming up in the next chapter… I think. I'm still undecided yet, but hopefully I get to start the next chapter during the rest of the vacation. And yes, there will be Itachi, although I myself am not clear on his role, though. I'll have to think it through. Any suggestions?

Anime/Manga lubber: Yea, my point exactly! XD

mI.ShOE: Well, here you are. I'll be sure to add more KakaIru, if you like it so much!

hatami: Yeah, I thought it was short too… I'll do my best to make it longer and better, though! Hm, I'll take you up on those Spanish lessons anytime!

Maynar Namiya: Thanks for the constructive criticism! Hopefully this time I managed to articulate everything well. Thank you!

ospreyanimeg: Yep, I think so too. Usually my style changes after a hiatus, because I'd be reading SasuHina fics to give me inspiration. Thanks!

'.Serene. Panda.': Thanks! Well, I just got sick of everything being around Sakura— she is such a pest!

shikaruTo: Thank you so much for your lovely review! –hugs shika-chan- Thanks for the great drawing too, I had no idea I inspired anyone like that! I nearly cried! So sorry about your valentine fic… I would've loved to see it! Don't worry about Sasuke! He still has a fighting chance for Hinata… That lucky girl! XD I'm glad you noticed Hanabi's presence in the chapter! Much love 3

xXAmakuraHinasakiXx: Thank you! Hm, I guess Alone No More is on hiatus! I can't seem to continue it, meanwhile, enjoy yourself with this one!

Lunarangel's Dark Flame: Of course I know you, and yes, thank you for the summary! You hit all the nuances dead-on! –glomps Kiba's biggest fan- Yep, I hate skirts too! Especially when I'm being forced to wear them. Man, that sucks. Hehehe. XD And you're right about Sakura being an annoying bitch. Too bad I can't kill her off here. Hm, but maybe I can. Hehe. Either way.

Rakusu-Yamato: Hm, that's nice… Sasuke entering into the Hyuuga estate. I'll let you in on a little secret: Sasuke lives in a high-rise condominium. Yum. XD Thanks for the picture thingy, it looks really nice. Hahaha! Desperate for love, eh? Hm, Neji and Hanabi? I'll think about it. I'm kind of wrung out from making Neji mad! Aww a bid supporter! Thank you so much!

kenshinlover2002: He's not gay! He just… Um… Has an inordinate amount of affection (and probable lust) for Iruka-sensei. XD Thanks.

Shanice Miharu: Yep, pareho tayo! Sakura ticks me off, like that. Hm, ShinoIno isn't so bad, eh? I'll look into it. Ingats!

Love Hunter 02: Yep, I'm a Filipino! Mm, salamat, hehe! Mabuhay tayo! XD Keep on reading, ne?

Dearx: Yes! YES! FINALLY! Someone finally noticed that little bit! Thank you so much! Am working on the SasuHina moments, though it kind of eludes me for now… I hope I can think of GaaHina moments too… Hay… So hard to write a triangle! Thanks!

Xtreme Nuisance: Thank you so much! Wow, it's kind of hard to think that I make people react like that. o.O I have to do more. XD Well, here's the next chapter!