Just a little thing I whipped up in my spare time. The next Prodigals chapter is pending; and this is pretty much all written (only about 3 chapters long).

Enjoy.


"Ouch! What was that for, Sakura-chan?!"

Naruto rubbed the back of his head, wincing from the super-powered blow Sakura had delivered to his skill. Though parts of their relationship had definitely matured into a deeper friendship, a bit of his teammate's old tendencies remained, like that of physical punishment for verbal stupidity.

"The same thing it always is, you idiot," she hissed at him, eyes flashing dangerously. She didn't elaborate.

Naruto scowled childishly. She'd been acting so weird, lately… it was almost like she -

"Pay attention, Dickless," said Sai, smiling widely. "You almost ran into that pole there."

"HEY! Shut up, Sai!"

"Can't you two get along until we get to Hokage Tower?!"

"Sorry, Hag."

BAM! The punch meant for Sai soared over him and onto Naruto's head once more as the black-haired nin crouched suddenly.

"OUCH! Damn it!"

When they finally arrived, there was a line forming to see the Hokage. The receptionist there informed them the wait could be a long while, as the Hokage's latest appointment hadn't even arrived yet. Naturally, everyone else had to wait, as this appointment was with a very important person.

Naruto and Sakura grumbled, for once in agreement.

"Geez, it's like we're just a little blip in Tsunade-shishou's day schedule," said Sakura, crossing her arms across her chest.

Naruto frowned. He found that what Sakura said summed up what he felt nicely. There wouldn't even be a Fifth if it wasn't for him…

"Hyuuga-san!" The reception had stood suddenly, acknowledging someone's presence with a small bow – more than she did for anyone else. Naruto's belligerent scowl deepened. There were very few Hyuuga he could stand – Neji and Hinata, in fact. The rest were all holier-than-thou jerks, for the most part. And this Hyuuga woman, with her stiff expression and equally stiff clothes exuded an exclusive aura he was all too familiar with.

"Hinata-chan," whispered Sakura to herself, eyes widening.

"No way," Naruto whispered back, incredulous.

But it was. Dressed in a silky gray kimono and a black obi, hair done up in an elaborate bun held together by two ornate pins, subtle makeup on her face, and black geta adorning her feet, Naruto found she was like a gorgeous, untouchable doll, a standard of sophistication he could never hope to accomplish. The sixteen-year-old was every inch heir to the Hyuuga clan, walking with her chin held high and no blush in sight; and what Naruto had mistaken for dislike was actually indifference. Her face was blank slate.

Following behind her was a girl around nine or ten, wearing a similar outfit of much less detail. In contrast, she wore her hair down and seemed very unsure of herself, for whatever reason. This, Sakura thought, was the sister Hinata had told her about once, Hanabi. And behind her was Neji, also dressed in formal wear and looking distinctly regal.

Naruto caught himself staring at Hinata. She seemed ethereal, almost like a princess from the stories he used to hear, up in her white palace all day waiting for a Prince Charming to come and make her something more human and in love and understandable. Except that, as far as he knew, she didn't have a Prince Charming.

She glided past them without recognition and swept open the door to Tsunade's office with a delicate flare of authority few could hope to replicate. Straight-backed, she stepped inside with Hanabi close on her heels. Neji did not go in; instead, he stood opposite the door and closed his eyes, but seemed to be watching it somehow anyway.

"Hey, Neji…" asked Naruto after a few minutes, voice cautious. "Why didn't you go in?"

"I am not privilege to the conversations of Main House members," he replied, as if on cue. There was no visible sign of resentment on his face at this clear inequality.

"Oh. What's with the – clothes, and um, things?" Such ceremony made the blonde very uncomfortable. He hoped he wouldn't have to deal with all that shit too much when he was Hokage!

"Hiashi-sama is out of town," said Neji shortly. "Hinata assumes power while he is away, and an urgent matter came up that needs to be addressed."

"So she takes care of it?" The Hyuuga jounin nodded. "Gotcha."

One temperamental man glared at Neji. "So you just get to skip all of us? That hardly seems fair! Why does the Hokage take your problems over mine?"

"Life is rarely fair," suggested someone. It was Hinata, having reemerged from the Hokage's office. "Is there an issue here?" Her pinkly-painted lips glistened like ice and her eyes and tone were just as cold.

"N-no, ma'am," said the man, cowed into silence by her unforgiving Hyuuga gaze.

"Good," Hinata said curtly. With a quick nod to Neji she swept off again, with all the grace and refinement of an empress as Hanabi haunted her steps and Neji kept a steady pace behind them.

Naruto watched her retreating back. He didn't know it then, but this was the last time he would see her before it happened.

-

Hinata stared blankly at the wall under the crisp white sheets. Naruto, Sakura, Tenten, Neji, Lee, Ino, Chouji, and Shikamaru were all there, silent and unsure of what exactly to say. Kurenai had tried to make an appearance, to no avail. She had broken down within a matter of minutes.

"Hinata…" Sakura began tentatively. "We can't make this better unless we know who did it, you know? We can fix this if we catch who did it."

Ino picked it up when Sakura seemed to falter. "Look… I know what it feels like. It's like you never want to get up and do anything ever again. You feel dead on the inside. But you have to do something! You've been here for an entire week. You can't lie in bed like this forever!"

Hinata's indifferent stare seemed to mock them, saying "just watch me."

Gai's Team had found them coming back from a mission. Shino and Kiba, both very dead, obviously having bled heavily and with various dismembered limbs. Akamaru, missing. Hinata, sitting in her teammates' blood, staring into nothing and not saying a word.

Tsunade walked into the hospital room. She had not yet been to speak with the Hyuuga heiress. Everyone was silent again as her presence filled the room in a suffocating way.

"Hinata." Her voice was pure authority, demanding her complete cooperation. "Who?" Tsunade narrowed her eyes, crossed her arms over her chest and waited.

For a long moment, Naruto thought she wouldn't answer. And then Tsunade's temper would be a sight to behold. But answer she did, in her slightly breathy, monotonous voice.

"She did it."

The Hokage's face hardened. "She?"

"She," Hinata agreed listlessly. With a sigh, she turned on her side and ignored them all.

"All of you, come with me," ordered Tsunade. They all complied, filing out of the room except for Naruto, who leaned in close to Hinata's face (he had been on the side of the bed she had turned to) and spoke.

"Hinata… it's okay to feel like this when your precious people leave you… for a while. But eventually you have get up and move again." Her eyes were closed. He frowned. "I know how it –"

"No," she said suddenly, her eyes snapping open. "You don't." She stared straight at him with no emotion. He stiffened immediately.

"Well, I'm sure Kiba and Shino wouldn't have wanted you to sit around the rest of your life," he told her rather coldly, offended by her dismissal. He left the room in silence, leaving Hinata to ponder his words.

-

We can't make this better unless we know who did it, you know? We can fix this if we catch who did it.

You've been here for an entire week. You can't lie in bed like this forever!

Well, I'm sure Kiba and Shino wouldn't have wanted you to sit around the rest of your life.

I can fix this if I catch who did it.

I can't lie in bed like this forever.

Kiba and Shino wouldn't have wanted it…

Kiba… Shino…

I can fix this… I just have to catch her. I won't lie in bed like this forever, I'll catch her. Kiba and Shino wouldn't have wanted me to sit around… they'd want me to avenge them… I'll catch her…

Catch her…

-

In the morning, the nurse found only a gleaming forehead protector and a very short note: Sorry.

To be continued…