A/N: Okay. I must apologize to you all. I know you all have been waiting ages for this chapter...but really, I'm getting better, I swear. Just as a recap...last chapter, Naruto kissed Hinata. She was a little confused, but seemed happy. Guess we'll see if that lasts, yeah? Anyway, thank you all for being patient with me! Virtual hugs for everyone! With the exception of flamers that didn't pay attention to the pairings. Geesh. I wish you wouldn't review if you just have a stupid comment about the fact that you don't like the pairs I choose. Don't like? Don't read.
Chapter 6: Outed?
Well. I got home tonight, and Neji was here. Not that big of a surprise. It also wasn't surprising that I couldn't even tell that a horde of people went through my apartment, and that there were now cameras in so many places that there was little chance of even showering without being caught on tape. But what was the shock of the century was that Sasuke was here too, and he was getting along with Neji. Not only do I find that difficult to believe, but it's also slightly creepy.
Something's got to be going on. I mean, the entire world is backwards. I've got crazy people stalking me, and enough surveillance equipment sending off radio waves in my apartment to probably fry my brain. Then, there's how everyone has been acting.
I kind of expect bipolar behavior from Sasuke. Sometimes I wonder if he has a split personality that just hasn't been diagnosed. He can be so decent, almost sweet…and then he'll turn around and say something that makes me want to slap him. Naruto, on the other hand, is usually a really steady, normal kind of guy. A little hyper at times, but otherwise normal. I thought that he'd been acting funny, and today I found out why. He 'likes' me.
He's really sweet, and fun to be around, but he's…Naruto. Something about him just makes me think of what I would have wanted in a brother if I had one. I don't know. I just feel really confused. It felt nice when he kissed me, and I kind of was happier after. Gah! Why does this have to happen now? Why could it not have happened last year, when I was sane, and didn't have violent creeps sending me dead animals?
I even told him that I'm not sure how I feel about him. Naruto was really understanding about the whole thing, but I could tell he was disappointed. It's just tough to think of someone that's so…bubbly in a romantic way. Don't get me wrong. He's absolutely adorable, and I love his eyes. But there's just this voice in the back of my head that keeps telling me that there are so many reasons not to entertain such an idea. Let's see. He's my editor, and it might affect the way we work together. He's just really freaking happy all of the time, and I am very not. I don't know. It's just weird.
Not that it's any easier to regard Uchiha Sasuke in that manner. He drives me nuts. There are some ways that he reminds me a lot of Neji. And in that way, it would be like I was dating Neji, but not, because they're completely different. But the chances of that happening are slim to none, aren't they? He just enjoys annoying the hell out of me and bossing me around. It might even have become his new mission in life!
Oh, no. Now I'm babbling.
Maybe I should stop.
Life had become very complicated, very quickly. There were just too many things that needed to be done, too many problems to be solved. Hinata now felt as if she needed a bodyguard. What if…what if she went to the coffee shop and Daito was there, waiting around some corner? But then again, there were far too many people that stuck their noses into her life at the moment as it was. Did she really need a bodyguard, whose job would be to do exactly that? Neji had appointed himself dictator of Hinata-land, it seemed. Naruto…well, he was another story.
Having thought hard for a very long time, and being up half of the previous night after her daily gripe session with her journal, Hinata really thought that the poor man was more confused than anything else. Naruto was exceedingly sweet. Really, he was. But he couldn't possibly like her as much as he seemed to think he did. His behavior was very much like that of an elder brother being protective of his naïve younger sister. And really, she had come to think of him that way as well.
It was nice to have the kind of attention she was receiving, though. She wasn't about to lie to herself about that. Being a woman who had been overlooked for most of her life, passed over and ignored, it felt good for a man to look at her and see her. Even if the two men that were giving her this attention were rather high-handed in their protectiveness…
Hinata stared at her computer screen, which was now blank. Her screen-saver kicked in, letting her know that it had been a good five minutes since she had written anything. Grumbling to herself, she got up to make herself a cup of tea. Honestly, she was becoming more of a space-cadet every day. Before she made it out of the room, she heard her computer buzz.
Crossing the room back toward the desk, Hinata looked at the sheet of paper that Neji had given her with the instructions for checking the different cameras. There was a small icon in the bottom tray of the screen, resembling a pair of binoculars, and she used this to open up the surveillance program. Hinata chose the camera that was stationed at the front door of the building, surprised to see her little sister standing there.
There was now a boom microphone set up on the desk, which was attached to the intercom system of the building. Hinata held down the 'control' button on the keyboard before pressing the 'T', and said, "Come right up, Hanabi." Another few keystrokes opened up the door, and she went to her bedroom to throw on some clothes. Her family was still unused to seeing her lounging about in her pajamas at all hours of the day and night. Hinata had just finished slipping on a pair of socks when the doorbell rang.
The video screen that was stealthily hidden behind a mirror to the right-hand side of the door showed that it was indeed her sister, and she was alone. The younger woman was fidgeting slightly, which was more than a little strange. The deadbolt slid open under Hinata's fingers, and she pulled the door open, stepping aside so that Hanabi could enter.
Her sister was about an inch taller than Hinata, and of a slender build, making her seem much more delicate than she was. Her pale eyes seemed not to light upon any one thing for too long. What could she be so agitated about? "I'm sorry for not calling before I came over," Hanabi murmured, stepping over the threshold, "but I thought I should come in person…" None of this boded well. Hanabi was usually so calm, poised and elegant. She was the very picture of the serenity that their mother had tried to instill in them both. But at the moment, she looked…paranoid.
Clearing her throat lightly, Hinata gently took her sister by the elbow, her fingers sinking into the plush velvet of the younger woman's blazer. "Why don't you sit down, and I'll make some tea?" She kept her voice gentle, so that she would not frighten or upset Hanabi any further. Gingerly guiding her sister forward, Hinata pressed her into a seat on the burnt orange sofa. "I'll be back in a moment, all right?" The distracted nod she got in reply made her worry. She went to the kitchen, looking over her shoulder at the back of Hanabi's head as she approached the door. Now, her old habit of biting her lip was starting to come back, and Hinata had to make a conscious effort to stop it.
Unsure of what might be bothering her sister, Hinata moved around the kitchen with mechanical ease, her mind occupied with unsettling thoughts. It occurred to her that she might actually be worrying needlessly as she pulled the kettle out of the cabinet. Hanabi had been, as a little girl, very nervous and easily agitated. Though Hinata had not had much close contact with her sister in the past five or so years, she was sure that such a large part of the woman's character could not have completely vanished. Whatever the case, she thought that it might be wise to prepare two cups of chamomile tea, and not just one.
Ten minutes later, she returned to the living room with a steaming pot of sweetly scented tea, the honey-pot, spoons, and two cups arranged neatly on a tray. Setting these down on the rich, cinnamon-colored wooden coffee table, Hinata poured Hanabi a half-full cup, and then dropped a dollop of honey into it before filling it the rest of the way. Stirring the hot liquid carefully, she asked gently, "Now, what is the matter, Hananbi?"
Taking the offered cup, her younger sister smiled at her distractedly. "How did you remember how I make my tea?"
Hanabi was being evasive, which was unlike her. Usually, she got straight to the point, with no messing about. But because she was so highly agitated, Hinata returned her smile warmly, and said, "It's tough to forget those kinds of things. I lost count of how many times I made tea for you before I moved out." Finally seating herself opposite her sister on the couch, Hinata once again inquired as to the object of Hanabi's anxiety.
"Have you spoken to Neji today?"
The question caught Hinata so off guard that she blurted, "Pardon?"
Hanabi took a sip of her tea before saying, "I just came from Neji's office. He's about to have a melt-down. Something big is happening over there, and he didn't want me to tell you."
Hinata's eyes narrowed, and she frowned as she poured her own cup. "Big…how big?"
Pursing her lips slightly, Hanabi looked at her appraisingly. "It's big enough that Tenten nearly bit my head off when I asked her what was going on. You know how she picks up his moods." That much, Hinata knew was true. The woman was, after working for Neji for so long, keenly attuned to the fluctuations of temper that he often went through. She thought it a shame that he did not have the same talent for his secretary's moods, or Neji might be a happier man. Tenten had a temper, which had the tendency to flare at unexpected times.
Finally taking a sip of her tea, Hinata thought. What could have her cousin in such an agitated state? There was no way of knowing. "If he did not want you to tell me," she asked gently, "then why are you here now?"
At this question, Hanabi's posture went from stiff to limp. Slumping, she looked into her tea, turning the cup in her hands. "I…I thought you had a right to know. Something is wrong, Hinata. It might be in your best interest if…if you confronted him about it." Confusion creased Hinata's forehead, and Hanabi quickly tried to reassure her. "It is not something he is doing. I'm pretty sure I heard one of the aides talking about that old man with the white hair. Jiraiya. Something about a press conference."
A stab of fear shot through Hinata's stomach. Without realizing what her body was doing, she stood up and started pacing between the couch and the kitchen hallway. "A press conference…I have no idea what it could be about." Then an idea entered her mind. Smiling, she said, "Will you excuse me for just a moment?" Hanabi nodded, and she leaned back in her seat. Hinata walked quickly over to where the telephone was stationed on the far wall. It was a matter of seconds before the thing was ringing, and a voice came through the receiver.
"Hello?" the bored female voice said.
"Please tell Uchiha-san that Hyuuga Hinata is on the line for him." She kept her voice level and cool, thankful for all of the years of practice she'd had with her grandmother. Only five seconds later, Sasuke was on the line.
Sounding a little agitated, he said, "Hinata? What's wrong?"
For half an instant, Hinata was almost sorry for doing what she was about to. After all, Sasuke was—deep, deep down—a decent person. But if this was the only way to get information they didn't want to give her, then she would do it and the consequences be damned. "Sasuke," she said in a dangerously sweet tone, "I just heard an unconfirmed rumor…something about a press conference?" There was a long, tense silence. "Well? You know Jiraiya, and you know how he operates. What's he up to?"
Sasuke took a moment to close his eyes and inhale deeply. The tone in Hinata's voice was a little scary. It was all but venomous, and somehow reminded him of being poked in the middle of his chest. Wondering how much he could lie and still get away with it, Sasuke bit at his bottom lip. On one hand, Jiraiya had not authorized him to talk about the fact that the company had been planning to present Hinata publicly in about a month and a half. Then again…if she knew about it, Hinata would be better able to deal with the situation. If they just sprung it on her, then she might just dig her heels in and flatly refuse.
The present circumstances, however, had caused the date of the press conference to be moved, and that event was certainly something she needed to be aware of. After considering things for another moment, he just opened his mouth and told the truth.
"Are you sitting down?" Sasuke asked, fiddling with a pen.
There was a short silence, followed by a sound like a chair scraping across flooring. "Yes."
Nodding, and yet knowing that the woman could not hear it, he said, "Good. Now, Hinata, I hope that you won't be too upset with Neji. He's trying to protect you." Hinata made an affirmative noise that also sounded annoyed. "The newspaper division of the company received a phone call last night from one of the tabloids. Jiraiya is very good friends with the woman that runs that trash rag. She told him that a man has offered to sell his story to them, and he's identified himself as a 'close personal friend' of Hester Aldridge. They're pretty sure it's Daito, and he's going to out you."
"Excuse me?" Her voice was an almost inaudible whisper. He knew that voice. She was about to faint.
"Hinata? Are you all right?" He heard nothing for a long moment, and then another voice came over the phone.
"Sasuke?" Hanabi's throaty voice asked.
"Yeah." He knew what she was going to say.
"Um…she passed out." Hanabi sounded exasperated. "I'm going to put her to bed, but I have to get back to the office or my father will have an aneurysm." Sasuke tried to tell her what was going on, but she stopped him. "I don't want to know. That's between you and Hinata and Konoha Publishing. I'm just her sister, Sasuke." While he understood what she was trying to say, he certainly did not agree with it. Hanabi did not understand Hinata well enough to help her deal with this particular problem.
Quickly, Sasuke flipped through the pages of his date book. He had only one more appointment for the day, but that man didn't really need to come in until the next week. After one more deep breath, Sasuke said, "Can you stay there for another twenty minutes? I'm going to take off of work for the rest of the day, so when I get there, you can go back to the Hyuuga building. Okay?" Once she agreed, he bid her goodbye and hung up the phone.
When Hinata woke up, it was to the smell of tea. Her eyes cracked open, and she saw the white ceiling of her bedroom, then looked to the left. On the small ebony night-table, there was a steaming cup of tea. In a chair next to the table was Sasuke, and he looked very…different. She had not really seen him since he got back from wherever he'd gone, but he certainly did look worse for wear. There were dark circles beneath his eyes, and his white dress shirt was slightly rumpled, the sleeves rolled up almost to the elbow. The dark blue tie he wore was loosened, the top two buttons of his shirt undone. It was far from the vision of icy perfection he that Uchiha Sasuke usually presented.
Strangely, Hinata found that he actually looked human. This was perhaps a truer view of him than his usual appearance. From seeing him this way, she thought she could better understand him. Very like herself, he was tired, most likely stressed out, and quite harassed. Hinata tried to sit up, using her arms to lever herself into a seated position. This, however, proved to be rather difficult, since Sasuke had his hands on her shoulders the moment she stirred. He was pushing her back onto her pillow, frowning. "Lie down, stupid. You don't just pass out and then get back up."
Rolling her eyes, she grumped, "Fine."
"Your sister let me in," he explained, even though Hinata had surmised as much already. Dark eyes shut momentarily, and a pale hand scrubbed through his already unruly hair. "I was really worried about you, Hinata." It seemed to take a lot out of him just to say that, and she could see it in his eyes when he finally opened them. He picked up the cup on the night table, sipping from it lightly. For a moment, she thought he might need more than just a little caffeine.
"Sasuke, why don't you go home and rest? I'm fine now and—"
Black eyes trained on her in a glare that promised retribution. "I am fine, Hinata. You, on the other hand, are not." She tried to sit up, but he pushed her back. Now, she was beginning to get angry. Another attempt to sit up earned her a hand in the middle of her chest, and a bit of leverage. "Stay where you are."
Surprising even herself, Hinata pushed the covers away, and used both hands to shove his hand off of her chest. "Damn it, Sasuke! What is your problem? I'm fine! Why do you feel the need to treat me like I'm an invalid?" She sat up and threw the remaining covers off, getting to her feet and glaring down at the flabbergasted Uchiha. "I am a grown woman, and you'd better start treating me like one!" His mouth hung open for a moment, and she thought that she preferred him this way.
Already thin lips compressed into a bloodless line. Sasuke's face darkened until it became nothing short of a thunderhead. Suddenly, he shot up from his chair, towering over her and making every centimeter of his height count. "Look here woman," he growled, leaning over her in an obvious attempt at intimidation, "I've stuck my neck out for you in ways that you can't begin to comprehend, and this is the gratitude I get?" His eyes narrowed, anger clouding them. "You are the most insufferable…mule-headed…gragh!" he exclaimed, throwing his hands up in frustration.
Hinata blinked up at him in confusion. What on earth was he talking about? Sasuke turned away from her, picking up his cup and saucer. He walked quickly from the room, leaving her there next to her bed, standing and gaping at the open doorway. Unable to stop herself, she ran after him. He was going to explain himself, if it was the last thing he did. By the time she got to the kitchen, he had already unrolled his sleeves and was replacing cufflinks. He slipped back into his suit jacket and walked over to where she stood, just in front of the door. "Move."
"No," she said, planting her feet.
"I said move, Hinata." He was deadly serious now, his eyes full of what looked like righteous anger.
"And I said no. I'm not moving until you tell me what the hell you were talking about back there." Suddenly, Sasuke looked as if he'd been struck across the face. His eyes were wide, and his mouth popped open.
After a long moment, during which neither moved or spoke, Sasuke pressed his lips together. Then, it all came out in horrifyingly clear, eloquent speech. He told her everything; from how he'd made sure his brother did not hit on her, to exactly what he had done when he disappeared for nearly two days, to how he had blown off clients and work and responsibility…all for her. Hinata blinked, confusion settling over her like a fog. Her head began to shake slowly from side to side. He was not serious. He couldn't be. Sasuke had gone and made a deal with the yakuza? He'd all but threatened a member of his own family? None of it made any sense. If he had really done all of that, then there must be a reason for it.
She couldn't stop the question as it tumbled from her lips. "Why?"
A crease formed between his eyebrows, and his mouth formed a frown. "Don't make me answer you, Hinata." He tried to step around her, but she moved into his way once again, looking at him expectantly. "Let me by."
"Not until you tell me why you put yourself in harm's way for me. You don't strike me as the kind of person that would wake up a yakuza boss, risking dismemberment or worse, for just anyone." That was a bit of an understatement, Hinata thought. She had not figured him for the type to do anything like that at all. He simply stood there, looming, for a few seconds, and did not say anything. "Why?" she heard herself asking, "Why would you do that for me? I haven't done anything for you…I never asked for anything from you. All I have done is tell you how much you annoy me…"
Vaguely, Hinata could feel tears forming in her eyes, slipping down her cheeks. Unable to understand exactly why she was crying, she turned away from him. The last thing she wanted was to see a look of pity on Sasuke's face. "If you need to go, then go." She used the back of her sleeve to wipe her eyes, and moved from the door. "I'm not stopping you."
Silence filled the space between them, and Hinata closed her eyes. Then she heard his footsteps. They did not retreat, but moved closer. A hand on her shoulder gave her a start, but not so much as when Sasuke said gently, "Don't cry for me, Hinata. I'm not worth it."
Those words made her suddenly angry again, and she turned toward him, eyes filled with sharp fury and dull fear. "And you think I'm worth getting killed for? What the hell is wrong with you?" Hinata shoved his chest, causing him to stumble backward, against a bank of cabinets. Astonished by her outburst, his mouth opened and closed like that of a fish. "Answer me, Sasuke!"
"God damn you, woman." Sasuke groused as he regained his footing, "Yes, I thought at the time that you were well worth getting killed for. And no, I do not think that I am worth crying over, so stop it right now. I swear to all the gods that half of the time I don't know what to do with you. I don't know if I should shake some sense into you, or kiss you until you haven't got any left!" Hinata could not believe what she was hearing. Sasuke did not just say that…did he?
Sasuke suddenly seemed very close. Had he been there all along, and she just had not noticed? He was so close, she could feel his body heat. Feeling awkward, she asked in a small voice, "And what about right now?" Yes, maybe he was a little too close.
"Right now?" he repeated, a far-off expression creeping into his eyes, "Right now, I'm thinking you're still worth getting killed…" Hinata took in a rasping breath. He wasn't finished. "Right now," she felt a hand take hers, squeezing gently, "I'm thinking it might be nice if I manage kissing you…without you slapping me."
Hinata shook her head. "I wouldn't slap you," she said quietly. "I'm not sure why I wouldn't…but I wouldn't."
Sasuke started to lean down toward her, but stopped. "Can I, then? Can I kiss you?"
She was sure that this was a bad idea…
So many things could go wrong…
Sasuke smiled, one of those rare, real smiles that had the power to renew Hinata's faith in humanity and make her insides go all mushy. And then that smile was touching her mouth, his lips soft yet still firm, and a little demanding. None of it felt foreign to her, though, which was strangely okay with Hinata. For a brief moment, she thought that this was more than just a kiss. This was more like Sasuke was trying to say something without words.
What that something might be, she wasn't sure. But the strange fear she'd felt at the thought that something bad might happen to him was gone now. Simple and brief, the kiss ended with the odd feeling that something was missing, but also left a kind of warmth in Hinata's chest that had not been there previously. Dark hair was tickling her cheeks as he remained as he was. The air in the room had grown heavy with things that remained unsaid, and when Sasuke pulled back from her mouth, both of them seemed dazed. A sense of unreality hung around the entire situation. What had happened here?
"Sasuke—" she began, but stopped herself. Hinata looked at him intently, now fully aware that he was just as unnerved by this new development. Instead of questioning the meaning of what was happening, she closed her eyes and laid her head against his chest. His heart was pounding as they stood in the kitchen, Hinata pressed against him, and Sasuke dangling in indecision.
How? How had open hostility turned into…whatever this thing was between them? He wanted to put his arms around her. Sasuke wanted to hold her, to promise that everything would be all right, because it had to be. He wanted more than anything right then to soothe away Hinata's fears, to frighten away the demons that plagued her. But instead of doing what he wanted, he merely stood there lamely, frozen to the spot like a stiff scarecrow on a pole. Hinata's face rubbed against his shirtfront slightly, and then she looked up at him. Her pale eyes missed nothing, scrutinizing him and making him feel suddenly uncomfortable. But then something happened…something so unexpected that the wind was knocked out of him as surely as if he'd been kicked. Hinata smiled at him, very slowly, and with terrifying clarity, he watched as every defense and wall he'd erected around his life came tumbling down.
She nearly gasped when Sasuke's arms wrapped around her, his head bending down to press against her hair. Wordless murmurs of comfort soothed her more than she had ever thought possible, and Hinata felt the bottom drop out of her stomach. There was a strange sensation coming over her body now, as if she were falling from a great height. Unable to explain it, and unsure she wanted to know from whence it had come, she pushed it to one side to be examined later.
After long moments, she asked, her voice half-muffled against his shirt, "You're not still leaving, are you?"
"Not if you don't want me to."
Hinata smiled into the partially rumpled Egyptian cotton of his dress-shirt, and shook her head. "No," she replied quietly, "I don't want you to go."
A/N: Just as a warning, the next one might be a while. I'm adjusting to new living conditions.