Apologies that it took so long. Gosh, my college searching and job has been devouring more time than I thought possible. Nevertheless, here is chapter six, which I rewrote several times out of pickiness. Remember Neji is Hinata's brother in this story, not cousin. We get a new look into Sakura's past, as well as Hinata's. The song lyrics are from a tune that really gets me, in the tearjerking way, and it'll relate to more than one character in this story. Anyway, I'm babbling. ) Read and review and hopefully, enjoy!

Chapter Six: Linger

Hinata Hyuuga had been handed many things in her life by default.

Soon as the fluorescent lights hit her pale face and eyes she was placed into the arms of a live-in nanny with overwhelming credentials. Who wrapped her in a lavender blanket and brought her into a pale cream room to learn how to pour tea and bow to superiors and other meek and mundane formalities. Certain foods and clothes which forced stiffness and stuffiness and royal persona upon its bearers. Drapes of only the finest materials adorned the large sun windows, like a young girl in a lavish and pompous wedding dress at the insistence of her mother. Terribly overdressed.

Her mother was a lovely woman that was never around. Always trying to dovetail the family into some sort of peace that only proved to be shoddy imitations, and begrudging love came piecemeal.

Hiashi Hyuuga yearned for a son. And when the newest addition to the illustrious family was granted his pastel blanket and held in front of the kitschy-decked French doors; the slit of the world's eye pulling apart, his sepia locks caught by the cockcrow light, Father rejoiced. Here was a promise, little Neji, and no one spared even an eye-blink to the eldest daughter.

The girl that rested in his wife's arms, eyes wide and ears open and mouth, closed.

Mother bestowed a kiss on the forehead to her gorgeous miniature and tucked midnight locks behind tiny ears. She said unfortunately the birth of the eldest held no promise in the eyes of your father, a female, no less.

Why did you have to go and prove your father right, Hinata?

Fraternization with society dregs is hazardous to your place.


"A little overwhelmed?"

Tenten and Sakura's kind smiles shone on either side of Hinata's stricken face as the sprawling, grandiose store loomed before her: A carnival of color and people danced. The brunette's countenance seemed glazed in excitement as she proclaimed, "And somewhere in that store, Hina, is your dress!"

"The dress that is going to force these messy relationships to fall in place!" Sakura agreed, nodding in assent and taking a shoulder; the two friends propelled their third companion forward and the pinkette added:

"The dress that is going to make you absolutely gorgeous."

"Not that you aren't already," Tenten interjected, steering Hinata into the nearest rack to browse while Sakura's sharp jade eye wandered in a different direction. An ingrained feminine sixth sense stole her attention easily and pursed her lips, made her eyes dart from color to cut in search of perfection. Of what the curvy body would make perfect. Perhaps confidence could be restored in the delicate process.

"Go on, pick out whatever catches your eye," Tenten said, waving her hand, laying out, for the reluctant and intimidated Hyuuga, the whole of the store that was to be her roaming ground.




"Hm, maybe a dark one."

"Orange, yellow?"

"A burnt orange, perhaps; only a canary yellow!"

The brunette browsed through and yanked out dresses on a whim while Sakura scrutinized them, pitting the shades and hues against Hinata's dark hair and light eyes. Done astutely, of course, because the "test subject" was aisles away, attempting to blend in with her surroundings. Not with the ambling innocence of a child trying to lose her mother by hiding in the racks; she did not want to be caught, like a crime-committer on the run. Father said crowded stores were hassling and the contents, trivial. Not that anything the girl put on would be flattering, much less give her even the appearance of importance.

Tears stung, formless needles pricking her eyelids. Criticisms within her head echoed in the scathing, derisive tone of her father, a reprimand embodied in the skip of a CD forever doomed to play and repeat.

"HI-NA-TA," Tenten sang, eyes lighting up as her head poked around a corner. Taking hold of her arm she pulled her to the rear of the store where Sakura stood waiting, looking rather like a ridiculous coat-hook with her arms laden, wrist to shoulder, with several dresses. As Hinata approached the pinkette grinned.

"Remember, you are to put on every single one, and then come out here and show us," Sakura said.

The addressed blinked in surprise and unsuccessfully hid a sweeping and frantic eye-assessment.

"Hinata, don't worry about anyone else. We're here to find you a dress, and no one else should have a problem with it. They're occupied. Now for heaven's sake, get in there!" And without further pretense, she pushed open the dressing-room door, relieved her load onto a large bench, and gently pushed the girl in.


Unsure of where to start, Hinata gingerly pulled a dress from the pile and held it in front of her. Her friends had cute taste, and it was pretty . . .

Letting her jeans fall to a pool at her feet, then removing a plain gray shirt over her head, feeling her long midnight locks expose her neck and then cascade down her back as she stood in front of the mirror.

Wishing she were everything she was not.

She parted her hair in the back, pushed it in front of her shoulders to cover her breasts. Crossed her arms. Uncrossed. Cupped her hands at her waist, let them trail down to her hips and held them there.


Ran them along her backside for a moment.

Needles in eyes again, so painful and warm.

"Hina, need me to zip it?" Sakura's innocent question floated into the space from the gap between the floor and door.

"Um, I need a minute."

Quickly snatching up the powder-blue dress from a moment before, she stepped into it and asked her to come in.

Jade eyes lit up. "Oh, it practically shines!" she exclaimed as she pulled the zipper closed up her friend's back; it stuck fast near the top, and her face fell. Clucking her tongue, she pushed Hinata out the door while holding the top of the dress together.

"It's like Cinderella," Tenten giggled. Looks uncomfortable at the top, though."

"Won't zip," Sakura told her, peering around Hinata's shoulder. "You think a size up would help?"

Tenten put out her hands, depicting invisible curvaceous hips in the air. "But then the hips'll have too much room."

Another tongue-cluck. "Hm, a designer could probably bring in the extra material. Well this is a possibility. Next dress!"

"You do like it, right?" Tenten asked. Hinata blushed a bit and replied that she did, and marveled a little at how casual they seemed discussing alterations of a dress, like it was no big deal. Like the dress was the problem, not her shape. Like the problem wasn't her.

And so it went. Several were possible and some were a definite no and a couple were almost there; ah, the intricacies and pickiness involved in dress shopping, and it wasn't even prom!

It remained hanging on one of the many gold hooks in the dressing room: A mid-calf lavender party dress that emitted a casual but noticeably exquisite persona. Scrunched material, extra frills were sparse. Even without being worn it was a favourite.

Hinata nearly shook as she held it in front of her and tried to imagine wearing it, walking into the first semi-formal of the year and making an impression as she never had before. Rather, never had at all.

Stomach churned.

Unconsciously her arms shielded her chest from the view of her own reflection. Cast her eyes to the floor.

"I can't do this."

Both her friends were taken aback as she walked out in the outfit she had arrived in, and Tenten immediately inquired, "What about that last one?"

"Um, it didn't fit."

"Not true."

Hinata was startled to see Sakura narrowing her eyes, hands on her thin hips as she stared her down. "You didn't even try it on, did you?"

White eyes widened and fell to admire the floor. "N-no."

"Why not?" the pinkette demanded sharply.


"Well, I guess if you didn't like the look . . ." Tenten murmured, looking uncharacteristically disappointed. A pang of guilt struck Hinata but it was simultaneously smothered, replaced by slight fear as Sakura grabbed her elbow and dragged her into the dressing room.


"That dress is gorgeous. You are gorgeous. It highlights everything beautiful about you. Why won't you wear it?" Sakura said, almost in desperation; she wanted her to understand.


"Take off your clothes."

"Nani?" Hinata could not prevent her native language from escaping in her moment's panic. She cleared her throat. "What?"

"Take off your clothes," she repeated, no trace of humor present in her pretty face. Hands still on her hips, she waited until the girl had shyly obeyed before standing next to her and looking in the mirror with her.

Sakura's voice softened. "What do you see, Hinata?"

After a moment: "I see . . . myself?"

"Don't ask me, Hina, tell me."

"I see myself."

"Do you like what you see?"

She stood, forlorn, in front of the mirror that bared every covering. She stood, listening to her mind buzz, a violently disturbed apiary with no escape holes in the fence.

No. I don't. I never have. No one else ever has.

"You don't. You haven't for a long time," Sakura echoed, startlingly reiterating her thoughts. "I can see it in your face, when you look at your reflection."

Pinpricks in eyelids.

"I don't know who convinced you that you weren't pretty, or who has given you this idea that you aren't good enough. Whoever has, is full of shit," Sakura stated flatly, tone softening as she continued. "You have looks to be thankful for. Being shy isn't a big deal, and you have the ability to break out of your shell a little bit. And," she broke off to bestow a gracious wink and a grin, "Those curves can only help you!"

"It's . . . more than my looks, Sakura."

"I had a feeling."

"What do I do?"

"You can start," the pinkette began confidently, "by ignoring that doubting voice in your head. Whether it's your own or someone else's. Go on, right now. What is that voice saying?"

I wish I wasn't so self-conscious.

Hinata murmured those words into the silence.

"So say you're beautiful. Say it out loud. No one can stop you and they don't have the right! Once you can do that and mean it, you've already changed for the better. So put on that gorgeous dress and show Tenten and I and don't let anything keep you from thinking you look less than beautiful."

Sakura smiled wide and left the dressing room bouncing on her toes.

And only a minute later, the door reopened.

A moment's sweet silence descended among the girls, in which Tenten's face shone like white Christmas lights and Sakura bounced on her toes once more; Hinata's pale face had already flushed with crimson.

"I . . . like this one."

Turning to Sakura, she pressed her fingers against her mouth in speechless gratitude; her smile spoke what words could not properly elucidate.

Finally she managed to say, like whispering, tenderly rustling leaves: "You're a . . . good friend."

Their eyes missed the uncontrollable twitch. Like a recoil out of an unseen pain.

Sakura beamed, the glimpse of her secrets hidden again.

Always between blinks and smiles was it missed.

Something about her smile seemed oddly excruciating. In the manner of intensity and perhaps, pain. Upturns of her pretty lips fashioned into a face of weathered stone which held the timeless aura of seeing many days and nights and horrors therein. It was unusual for her. Normally she emanated an almost unnatural glow of happiness; like a light chasing away all shadows, and with tender fingers would she cradle its victims.

Make them whole again.

Well aren't I the fucking poet?

Sasuke watched her order a coffee, bestow a smile, sunny-bright, upon the girl behind the counter, and pursue a far table with a threatening gait that he swore only he would be able to notice. He rose from his post and followed. Heads may have turned in her direction (Sasuke's expression immediately fell into a dark scowl that buffeted some attention), but by social standards she was still a threat to the female population, a piece of fresh meat for the arrogant jocks, an unnerving, coveted object for the shy males.

What did she do to him? Tie his tongue, make him sweat, invade his emotional walls and eye-fuck her again, kid, and I'll snap your twig neck! He hissed silently, effectively intimidating an underclassman by a glower alone into choking on his drink, who immediately diverted his gaze away from the thin, firm backside of the pinkette.

Reached her destination, a strange isolation for the lovely social butterfly he was tripping over himself to speak to.

Oh yes, that part of it was not going well.

Sasuke felt angry eyes on his back as he loomed over the small round table, towering. How she managed to chill him to the bone with a sharp jade eye and parted full lips, he could not yet grasp, and it was with a sedated and full, greedy feeling did he take the chair she proffered with a push of her foot.

Awkward silence. The sound of her mouth gently cradling the cheap plastic sip-hole of the cup. It made him shift unnecessarily. Lucky cup.

"Good afternoon, Sasuke."

He nodded in response. Regretted not speaking. Tying his fucking tongue in complicated knots. He had to do this. If he never was able to utter anything but this . . .

"So how was your day?" she asked airily, making polite small-talk but leaning toward him all the same, traces of her earlier irritation absent. Or hidden. "What did you do without me all day?"

He blinked, paranoid.

"Kidding. I'm sure you had more important things to muse about," she answered, and at the close of the final word he heard a faint bitter tone. He hated himself, honestly. Mute idiot.

More silence, punctuated with murmurings and conversations of other people, other lives.

"Well, Tenten and I took Hinata to get a dress for Homecoming, seeing as she has a date. I think it's wonderful, because I think it will really boost her confidence. And such a nice person to go with, too."

Sasuke cringed at her words; he wondered if Sakura had caught on to Naruto's strange affection for Hinata, or realized how many soda cans were crushed and ripped in half and now littered on the dorm floor out of frustration. He was nowhere near done beating himself over his incident with Ino, who had not spoken to the blonde male since that night, and Shikamaru was strangely absent in all outings and proceedings. Neji, too.

"Truthfully, I got the impression that Hinata was devastated about that night, but then, I don't know how Naruto feels, or if he knows how he feels. But no matter. Hinata will have a great time, and so will the rest of us," she rattled off, bringing her cup to her lips again. She gave him a fleeting glance, meeting his eyes briefly as he drank her in her every subtle move.

In that second, he could have just taken her.

Fugaku says again: "Promiscuous little harlot!"

So what was mom? A goddamn saint?

Using a blasphemy and "saint" in the same sentence made him laugh under his breath. A second later he felt sickened, thinking of his mother in an ill manner. She had been better than him, in so many ways.

That's the impression he got, anyway. Until he was born.


"Anyway, I was thinking of signing up for the Homecoming football game. Are you going to cheer?" she asked, giggling in a strained way. "I think it'd be a bit emasculating," she added, smirking.

Another awkward silence.

He looked up as her elbows hit the table; she locked her eyes on his. "Do you want me?"

Despite having nothing in his mouth, Sasuke choked violently, dropping his head to stare at the spotless tabletop. He felt her jade orbs burning into the crown of his skull as he struggled to breathe, and felt himself begin to wither under her intimidating gaze. Funny, how he felt the urge to kill ogling men but wanted to submit when she showed even a hint of anger.

"I asked you a question!" she said loudly, catching the curiosity of nearby diners and loiterers. "I want to know."

"Uh, am I interrupting something?"

A guy had come to the table, tilting his head between the feisty female and her companion, still clearing his throat. Shaggy coal hair was tossed carelessly out of his face and he leaned toward her, half-smiling.

"Ah, no," she replied, returning his grin with one of her own.

And her eyes assessed him.

Sasuke recovered from his breathing issue. He watched her watch the stranger, watched her watch him bend down and take her hand and half-smile again and tilt his head again and all those stupid quirks that seemed to be catching her attention.

"What is your name, stranger?" she asked quietly, almost . . . flirtatiously.

"You speak to me as a princess to a commoner," he replied, "And such is prudent. You are one."

"You flatter me," she giggled.

"I was inquiring about the upcoming dance. I've been hoping you were unburdened regarding a date." He glanced at Sasuke, whose face betrayed his mounting discontent. "Unless, of course—"

"No, actually. I would be glad to go with you—"

"Sai," he supplied, inclining his head.

"Sai," she repeated, blinking slowly. Sasuke observed every curled eyelash gently press against one another, bounce back into place as her irises surfaced again. Sai didn't miss it either. "Again, I would be glad to be your date."

"And I am honored to be yours," he said softly, lifting her thin hand toward his lips—


Sakura and Sai and the entire cafeteria stared at Sasuke's retreating back. Chair lying tipped on the floor. His furious prowl parted a group of underclassmen girls, chattering akin to a gaggle of geese; as he passed, they watched him depart, sighing and squealing and wishing the heartthrob would spare them a passing glance.

Sorry. He's already fallen.


"You're kidding."

Naruto shook his head disbelievingly, almost laughing at the prospect. It was simply infallible.

"Damn, you amaze me. Seriously, a girl asks you a question like that and you still can't answer, especially when it's true."

The dark-haired male did not turn from his place at the window. Forehead leaning against the chilled, late-evening glass, he murmured, "How the hell am I supposed to answer that?"

"Dumbass! YOU SAY YES."

"You don't get it, Naruto!" Sasuke accused, voice raising as he swiveled, scooping up a textbook from his bed and threw it overhand against the wall. A loud 'THUNK' and it landed upside-down, spine bent back, on a pile of dirty laundry. "I can't talk when I'm around her. My tongue ties. I can't remember things. She gets under my skin—"

"And into your pants—"


"It's true!"


"So do something about it!"

"What, say 'Nice shoes, let's fuck?' That always gets them!"

"Hey, that was one bad pick-up line . . ."

"Your point?"

Naruto hopped over his bed and put his hands on Sasuke's shoulders, mustering up every ounce of seriousness he possessed, and said, "You need to talk. You need to say hi. You need to say she's pretty. Say she smells good, say you like her laugh, whatever-the-fuck you need to say to get her back before she gives up on you!"

Without further ado, he steered his troubled friend around the beds to the door, wrenched it open, and shoved him out a bit harder than necessary. "And don't come back in until you get the message across!"


What unnerved Sasuke the most was not the fact that he had been kicked out of his room and that his friend was pushing him to fix his own pathetic romantic life while his own was in shambles, but that the door he needed to rap his knuckles upon was already ajar.

Light spilled onto the dim carpeted floor from room 208. Faint murmurs sounded from within along with soft instrumentals, and he took a step closer. Another. A silent animal covering the space between with no dramatics and drawing no attention. Driven by an unrecognized recklessness he stepped in the open space into the girls' dwelling.

Two beds, a balcony, a half-open bathroom door. Then details. Shelves of pictures and a dresser crammed with empty cigarette packs and spearmint gum wrappers. A docking station for a music player and a laptop with books piled upon it. Stilettos. A black cocktail dress on a hanger spread across the left bed; the left, laden with unsorted, folded clothes and a multitude of pictures.

Lights dimmed. Familiar smell enveloping him in the comforting and sedated sense she instilled with her mere presence. There was the distinct feminine atmosphere of perfumes from late nights past and pungent nail polish remover, faint cigarette smoke masked by sprayed air-freshener and . . . a candle. A scent that pulled his mind back to autumn and early winter. Pumpkin fields and apple orchards and smoldering leaves, crackling fires and a pinch of cinnamon. The cinnamon from the kitchen his mother loved to occupy, with her talent for baking and her endless love.

Taking another step, he could see the carmine color of the candle on her night-stand.

"And I don't care what you might think . . . I think you've had too much to drink . . ."

The words jumped at him from the speakers; the volume was low. Dark eyes roamed over the bed on the right, its rich red blankets, haphazardly ruffled underneath the scattered clothes and pictures. He stepped toward it, running careful fingers over her slightly indented pillow, across the warm sheets and folded clothes ( deliberately avoiding certain articles ), until he fingered the edge of a photograph. Taken on a disposable camera with a date in the corner of a year prior, her radiant smile dominating the scene; her cheek was pressed against another girl's, a dark brunette with crimson irises and a paler face. Caught in a whirlwind of carefree laughter, it struck her how beautiful she was in such a state, and recalled her strained smile from earlier.

Her flirting. To make him react. To do something.

But who was that other girl?

Curly handwriting . . . a letter peeked from underneath another picture, near-flawless script in bright green ink. Taking it by the corner, he slid it toward him.

It was an apology letter. Accepting responsibility for not being there at the occurrence of something unnamed, and understanding of not being forgiven.

" . . . She had asked me to tell you something. While never having any idea of what was to occur, it was a precaution, just in case things did not play out as she wanted. She entrusted me to tell you that she"

A large, bright green ink blot partially obscured the 'e' of the final word written, and nothing followed, not even a closing.

Shuffling through the contents of the open shoebox produced more photographs, some depicting them as preschool-age children.

Heartbeat stalled.

A letter informing Sakura of a wake.

He dropped everything and backed away from her bed, glancing over his shoulder as if she was to appear and berate him. Or worse. He paced, trying to shake it off.

"Run away . . . run away . . . but that won't make it any better."

The song still played.

He should have gotten out, but it trapped him. Her scent touched everything within the room, her memories and fears were hidden in nooks and crannies, her habits were revealed, and god, the clothes that touched her skin were lying on the floor and draped over chairs, strewn over sheets that she slept on. That he wanted her wrapped in.

In them with her.

Soak those rich sheets with sweat.

He took a step back slowly. Another, another. Eventually he felt the presence of the door, ajar, behind him, but he did not turn and did not look. He could not tear his eyes away from where she dwelled and what she owned and had touched.

I'm crazy. Fucking crazy.

He turned on his heel—

And a knee was slammed into his stomach.

He fell to his knees at her bare feet, sputtering, as she demanded, "What are you doing in here? You can't seem to talk to me, let alone hold a conversation."

Looking up at her through watering eyes, he was surprised to see her eyelashes brimming with unshed tears. Slim body adorning only a long nightshirt, hair untied and falling in waves over her shoulders, drawing his eyes to her thin collarbone and pale neck.

"Do I intimidate you, too?" she burst out, voice high-pitched. "Is that why you look at the floor when I look at you? Why you can't do more than act like a mute when I try so hard to make conversation with you?"

Startled, he rested back on his knees, listening.

"I know . . . that you can't get close to people, Sasuke, but could you drop me any sort of little hint so I know I'm not wasting my time?" she demanded, screwing up her face against the onslaught of tears. For all he had imagined, he could never have expected her to take it like this.

He raised himself on his knees.

"Just leave," she said harshly.

He stood. Silenced her. Almost scared her. Loss of control.

There was a gap to be breached, and she so wished him to.

He stepped within her boundary. Within the reach of the scents of shampoo and sheets that lingered around her and drew him, and perhaps other men, near. Tiny light hairs stood up on her arms and finally his fingers touched her. Brushed them across her cheeks, pressing against defined cheekbones carved so delicately into her pretty, pale face. Like marble. To her lips, full, pushing against the pads of his fingers. A thin neck able to be taken in his hands and fragile, breakable; her collarbone, naturally shaped and creating a secure crook.

She inhaled. His fingers found buttons. Her shirt was green.

Nothing greedy or perverse possessed his fingers: Deliberately he undid them with a masculine, strangely patient grace. Between her breasts they worked, knuckles brushing her navel as they descended, and her first reaction came as his fingers neared the final buttons, where they covered the area between her thighs.

A knuckle brushed; her breath caught.

Shirt hung open, baring all.

He began from her collar again and felt his way down, hands rough against her scrubbed-soft skin. Trailing fingertips over firm, perfect mounds and across rigid ribs. Moving to her sides and cupping a tiny waist; she made some indistinct noise again from her throat. Little body shuddering beneath his secure grasp as his hands continued, pressing against thin hips.

Third time's a charm . . . a moan escaped her.

Space was an obstruction and air, unnecessary. Let his hands fall to her firm bottom and clutched it, pressed her against him in a possessive act, this manner in which he claimed her and everything about her for his venal self. Abandoned balance and let her back hit the cool wooden door. It clicked shut and seemed to echo, hovering in the air like one frantic note, reminiscent of the same racing heartbeats involved. Trapping her lithe body with his also lean and muscular frame without pretense, tangling his rough hands in her strawberry-pink locks and he almost lost it, he almost took her, was nothing but quick breaths away from crashing his lips on hers and wrapping her in those rich red sheets—

Making her sweat.

"Sasuke," she whispered. It sounded strangled and somehow breathless. "You really are too late."

With the greatest regret skewed on her pretty face, she put her hands on his chest and lightly pressed him back, away.

"I didn't ask that question to hear my own voice, you know."

He willed it not to be what his paranoia was highly suggesting.

"I can't be doing this."

Swallow. Swallow that regret.

From somewhere far away he heard himself say, "Yes."

She knew what he was referring to.

"You should've said that earlier, Sasuke."

I want you.

"It's one night. But you still have to wait," she whispered, grasping the doorknob behind her with fingers that, he noticed, were perspiring as she spoke.

She stepped forward and he stepped back, careful not to touch her again. Walked around her and lingered in the doorway as the lovely aura of her room seemed to melt into nothing.

"I still like you, you know," she murmured to his back. "I like you a lot."


"Just . . . please open to me. I don't dance like that for my health."


"Or don't. I'm not that great of a person, anyway."


And he leaned against the door, listening as she turned up the volume, the better to hear the song that little he knew was an admonition to her ears.

"Run away, run away . . . you'll keep on running 'til you deal with today."