There should be a "friendship" category for fanfiction, I think. :humphs: (But then again, OT3s--in this case, OT4s--are where it's at. XD) Gratuitous, teeth-rotting fluff attack, written for shoey. Hope y'all enjoy!

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On Knitting

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Hinata remembers exactly when she took up knitting as a hobby. On her thirteenth birthday, Neji had given her a beautifully crafted wicker basket packed with yarn, a set of rosewood knitting needles, and a pattern book.

"I overheard you a few weeks ago," he'd explained when she looked at him in surprise, though he didn't meet her gaze. The barest hint of a blush colored his cheeks. "You said you'd like to try it sometime."

If their relationship hadn't just recently begun to heal over and she weren't so timid, Hinata would've jumped up and hugged him right there, in front of everyone, but instead she brushed her fingers against his discreetly and whispered "Thank you." She knew Neji. He would've recoiled from a hug, besides. It was bad enough that his blush deepened, and he avoided her eyes for the remainder of the day.

That night, the book opened on her lap, the needles awkward in her hands, she got to work.

By the time she went to bed, she had created a lumpy…something—according to the pattern book, it was supposed to resemble a scarf—that, despite spending two hours on it, she unraveled in ten minutes and resolved to start over in the morning.

It's been almost two years since then, and, while she isn't an expert, she has improved, and she keeps that first scarf in the basket to remind herself of how far she's come.

Out of all places to knit, she prefers to sit beneath the birch tree a mile or so from the Hyuuga compound. It's a little sanctuary of sorts, because nobody comes out there often and it's relaxing to be alone and listen to the birdsong.

Today, Hinata is making socks for Shino and Kiba. It's early autumn, so the days are still relatively warm, but there is a slight chill in the air, a harbinger of the upcoming season. She uses thicker yarn to provide insulation, and she's not quite accustomed to it, but she's determined, and she hums to herself as she carefully picks out a snag, holding the sock up to inspect it afterward. Almost finished. She smiles.

"Hinata."

A figure clad in a long, concealing jacket, hood drawn up, collar erect, covering his mouth and nose, appears as if out of nowhere and leans against the tree, his arms crossed. He wears sunglasses, like always. Hinata assumes he takes them off at home, though she wishes he would now, or at least once in the future. She's never seen him without them, and she wonders what he's hiding. Maybe he's not hiding anything at all.

Or maybe sharing his body with bugs really does bother him. She doesn't know. She doesn't know much about him anyway, regardless of how long they've been teammates, though she wants to.

"Hello, Shino-kun," she greets him warmly, turning her face to peer up at him. "You're here sooner than I expected." They agreed to meet in the afternoon just to spend some time together, and Hinata had suggested they join her at the birch. She figured Kiba would arrive before Shino, but her mysterious companion proved her wrong.

He nods somewhat curtly. "My…my father kicked me out of the house." His voice is strained, and she detects the embarrassment that he's trying, unsuccessfully, to mask.

"Oh?" She keeps her tone light, to avoid embarrassing him further. He shoves his hands in his pockets.

"He said I was pacing too much, and it…annoyed him."

Shino? Pacing? Why on earth would he be pacing? Hinata attempts to imagine him doing it, but she fails.

"I'm sorry," she says in a conciliatory manner. "Did something upset you?"

He doesn't respond, and she immediately thinks she's made a mistake and should've kept her mouth shut. "Shino-kun, I—"

"Should I have waited?" He says, jiggling his foot. She's never noticed him do that before. "I just…at least you aren't alone."

Hinata's palms are damp. She puts the sock down next to the yarn and needles and wipes her hands on her jacket. She's certainly not used to Shino behaving this way, and she gets the feeling he isn't used to it, either. What to do?

She picks the knitting back up.

"I'm glad you came," she says, smiling. "Would you like to sit, Shino-kun?"

He was worried about her. The notion is both pleasing and confusing, though she can't help but be touched by his concern. A part of Hinata believed she would pass through life without impacting anybody, a tiny ripple in a vast ocean, but her mindset had started to change after the Chuunin exams. That her well-being is important to other people still hasn't sunk in yet, however, and it's during moments such as these that she's made aware of it.

She hears Shino exhale, and then he sits, not too close, but not too far. There is silence for a while, save the sound of the needles clacking and the birds twittering. Eventually, Shino lowers his hood, unbuttons his collar.

"What are you making?"

Hinata shows him the sock. "This pair is for you," she says shyly. "So your feet stay warm while you're inside. I have a pair for Kiba-kun, too." She goes to set the sock aside and reach for the basket, but he stops her.

"May I?" He motions to the sock, and, rather nervous all of a sudden, she gives it to him. What if he doesn't like it? Now that it's in someone else's hands, all she sees are the imperfections, and she's convinced he must. If only he didn't wear those glasses!

An old habit she thought had died, Hinata taps her pointer fingers together and waits.

Though it's slight, the corner of his mouth quirks.

"Hinata, this is…"

"Oy! Why the hell are you sitting so close to her, freak? Go attack him, Akamaru."

Kiba's dog races through the grass, tongue lolling in a doggy grin. Kiba himself emerges a few seconds later, his smirk taking up most of his face. Shino drops the sock as if it burned him and tenses in the way Hinata knows he does when he's preparing to unleash his bugs.

Brow furrowed, Hinata pats the earth before her. "Here, Akamaru. Come here, please?"

Akamaru's eyes flick from Shino to Hinata, and he changes direction, skidding to a halt by her feet. He nuzzles her happily, and she giggles.

"Traitor," Kiba grumbles, glaring at Akamaru, who ignores him. He flops down on Hinata's other side. "How long have you been here?" He's looking at Shino.

"Longer than you," Shino replies. "You're late."

"I'm on time," Kiba shoots back. "You're early."

"And? Your point is?"

Kiba scowls and appears like he's about to explode, but the sock catches his attention and he grabs it. "Are you making socks, Hinata? I love socks. I have six pairs at home. My sister bought them—"

"That happens to be my sock," Shino informs him, plucking it out of Kiba's grasp, "that Hinata is making for me."

Kiba splutters. "What the…why you…"

Hinata blinks when Shino returns the sock to her. In the past couple minutes, the situation has become very complicated, more complicated than it should be. She suppresses the urge to sigh.

"Don't worry, Kiba-kun, I made you a pair, too—"

But he and Shino are engaged in a glaring competition, and she has been momentarily forgotten.

Just as well.

She gives Akamaru a scratch behind the ears, situates the needles and the yarn, and resumes her knitting with a smile.

Shino didn't say her work was awful.