The beginnings of Chapter 11, and beyond.

Hinata passed the week finding ways to avoid her father. Often, this involved spending time hiding out in Kakashi's apartment, and skulking around with him at the supermarket to buy food. However, these tactics were not always effective; several times, the master of Hyuuga house demanded her presence for a meal. Such gatherings never passed pleasantly.

"Hinata!" Her father held court at every meal, directing the conversation in which topics he felt appropriate, but contributing little other than his own terse opinions.

"Y-yes, father?"

"What plans do you have for your wedding?"

Hinata glanced at Kakashi hoping for some sort of support. Of course, he offered none, instead looking at her with the same polite expectance as the others around the table.

"I… umm… h-haven't set a date."

Guests nodded and agreed as Hiashi criticized her, and outlined his idea of the proper sequence of events for a marriage. Hinata blushed, regretful she had ever wanted to come back to this.

On another night, he quizzed her on her memory of Hyuuga family history. This time, only family and close friends were present, including Kakashi, and Hanabi's betrothed, the movie star Eto. Her family members were thus able to assist The Tyrant with more and more obscure, useless questions.

"And at what age did great-uncle Hachiro single-handedly infiltrate the Mist Village?"

"Thirteen," Hinata answered in a monotone. "And he took out twenty of them before anyone even noticed he was there."

"Hmm." Her father grumbled, dissatisfied at being unable to find anything wrong with her answer.

"Very impressive," Kakashi commented later. His comment, though well-meant, sent her into a depression even deeper still. This knowledge, on which she had wasted her childhood, was never enough to earn her father's approval.

A few days later, Hinata and Kakashi were obliged to spend the afternoon with the company assembled at the House. After taking a late lunch, Eto proposed a walk through the grounds, and the whole party eagerly agreed. The mid-Autumn heat was stifling in the house; even with all the partitions open to the air, the concentration of people was so great that the occasional breeze had too small an effect for relief. Kakashi offered Hinata his arm, and the set out about the park. However, Hinata's inquisitive relatives soon separated them. Two of her second cousins, twins called Natsuki and Natsuko, pinned themselves on either side of Kakashi and led him away, asking giggling questions about his personal life. For her part, Hinata managed to remain unnoticed, walking for a while by herself, until by accident came upon her father. He sat alone on a low bench, in a little secluded area under a willow tree. She remembered the long branches and the stream that ran by the base of the tree. This had been one of her favorite hideouts when she was little.

She waited for her father to acknowledge her before taking a seat next to him.

"Hinata." The gravity of his tone belied what he was about to say. "In a few days, I'm planning to move everyone to the summer house for a couple of weeks."

She knew better than to ask 'why' right away. He would get there in his own time. And meanwhile, she wanted to jump up and down in excitement. The summer house was the Hyuuga's ancestral home, stately and quiet on the edge of a lake lined with pine and maple. She hadn't been there in three years, since she had been exiled. Before that, short trips during the worst heat of summer had been the family tradition.

"I hope the distance from the village will allay any rumors about the circumstances of your connection with Ichiro—of course your exhibition match will be postponed until everyone has settled in up there."

Hinata nodded and repressed a sigh of relief. She still had time to prepare. The topic of Hanabi loomed large in her mind, but the consequences of bringing it up could be disastrous. Still, she had to try. Maybe her father really had changed, if he could see her point of view.

"Umm… F-father?" There was that stutter again. She forged ahead, not willing to give it any thought. "I would like to—to talk to you a-about my sister. I mean, Hanabi."

He was silent. She took this as permission to continue, though her younger self would have just given up and left.

"It's about… it's about her marriage. I think—what I mean to say, is—" she stumbled over her words, wishing she'd prepared some sort of note cards with talking points. "Well, she's too young to marry. And- and she really doesn't want to, either."

"You disagree with my choice?"

"Y-yes. I just think… it's not your choice to make." Oops. That had come out badly. Her father hated being told what he could and couldn't do.

Hiashi said nothing for a moment, then stood up. "I will not tolerate this impertinence from you. Do not speak of this again."


"Silence. I see that living with the influence of the plant woman has deteriorated your manners.—"

'No,' she wanted to say. 'It's taught me to live on my own, without being put down by you all the time'

"—But now that you are back in this house, I expect you to respect…"

He launched into a long-winded speech about social status and one's place in society. Hinata's attention wandered, thinking about her plans for the evening, to go out for drinks with friends she hadn't seen in a while. She was looking forward to it. Anywhere away from her family would be a welcome change.

"Here you go!" Sakura flounced back to the four girls' table, setting down four drinks and sliding one to each carelessly, so that liquid splashed over the sides. "But you all still owe me, so pay up!" The pink haired kunoichi had never been quick to part with her money, although studying under Tsunade had changed that somewhat.

Hinata extracted a couple of coins from her pocket and handed them over. This would be her only drink, not because she couldn't afford more (being an heiress had its perks) but she couldn't return to Hyuuga House reeking of alcohol. And besides, under the influence she would probably try to jump Kakashi again. That would be awkward, after what they had agreed upon at the coast.

"Hina-aaata! Hinata!" Ino was alternately waving her hand and snapping her fingers in front of her face. She had zoned out again, thinking about Kakashi… his perfect, slim body, undeniably male… his handsome face, almost aristocratic… and the way he looked at her sometimes, she could swear his thoughts were nowhere near decent…

"Hinata!" Ino's voice cut through her daydream. "We're going to do sex stories."


"Who wants to go first?" The blonde asked. When everyone looked expectantly at her, she caved pretty quickly. Obviously, she had something juicy to share.

"All right, all right. So you guys know I've been dating Shikamaru for a while, right? Well, anyway…"

Hinata listened with one ear to Ino's rather shocking tale of Shikamaru's preferences in bed, what Chouji did when he thought no one else was around and how this really hot guy who had proctored their chuunin exams had propositioned her and Shikamaru at the same time and the results had been… Hinata choked when she heard Ino describe something called 'double penetration' in grotesque detail.

While she was wondering how such a thing was even possible, something clicked on in her head and she asked out of curiosity, "That guy who… um, you know, with both of you… did he have a senbon in his mouth all the time?"

Ino looked utterly surprised that Hinata might know anyone as cool as the guy she'd slept with. "Yeah. Well, he did most of the time. Other times—" she giggled, "—he had his mouth used for better things."

As usual, Tenten giggled along with Ino, Sakura groaned and rolled her eyes and Hinata blushed.

"How'd you know?" Ino asked after sipping her drink.

"Oh, um… you know, I… uh…" Telling them how she knew would inevitably lead to explaining her relationship with Kakashi, and she knew they would latch like barnacles on a ship to any hint of a romantic relationship between her and, well, anyone. It was just so uncommon. She was used to being the odd one out, the shy, quiet, weird one with no exciting stories to share. But a few weeks, alone, on the road with an older man, a jounin. Kakashi. There were certainly some stories to be had there, and she knew that if she told them her friends would start cooking up seduction plans for her. But she really didn't want them doing that. It wasn't necessary and it would never work. Kakashi-sensei would just end up looking at her funny if she tried to wow him with pretty clothes and a too-friendly smile.

"I… um, just remember him from the chuunin exams. And he's actually still friends with my cousin Neji."

"Oh," Ino said, completely satisfied with Hinata's lame explanation. Hinata was glad that her blonde-haired friend was not very inquisitive.

"What about you, Sakura?" Tenten asked amicably.

Of the three other kunoichi in the group, Hinata figured she was closest to Tenten. Level-headed and hard to upset, her cousin's teammate always knew what to say to cheer her up, and could find something positive in everyone. Additionally, they often commiserated over Sakura and Ino's dramatics. The only thing she had ever known Tenten to get bothered about were the antics of her three original male teammates, Guy, Lee and Neji. Surrounded by so much testosterone, and so many different types—Neji's brooding, fatalistic kind, Lee's unshakeable drive and Guy's pure, unfettered manliness… Hinata admired her friend's patience.

"Oh, I don't know," Sakura said with a bored sigh. "I'm not supposed to tell anyone, but Sasuke woke up a few days ago."

"WHAT?!" Ino spat some of her fruity pink drink out noisily. "Why didn't you say sooner?"

Sakura shrugged. "He's not in a very good condition, but that's all I can say."

"Why?" Ino demanded.

"Yeah, how come?" Tenten asked in a much more friendly tone.

Sakura, busy chewing dongo, couldn't answer, so Hinata spoke up.

"Doctor-patient confidentiality, right?"

The pink-haired girl nodded and finished chewing. "I'm not a doctor, but the same basic ethics codes apply to healers and medical ninja… but wasn't I supposed to share a sex story?"

Ino shook her head, laughing. "Yeah, what happened?"

"Err… well…"

"What?" Tenten smiled. "Is it too embarrassing? Because I'm not sure anyone could beat mine.

"Oh, yeah…" A silly grin came over Ino's face.

Amost three years ago the four girls had all dared each other to tongue kiss someone from their team. Each of them had some sort of obstacle in completing this task, but for the most part agreed that the practice was for their own good. (Hinata had her reservations, but went along for who knew what reasons.)

After much discussion amongst the four of them, Tenten had gone with the obvious choice: Neji. However, when they had started to get a bit hot and heavy, Tenten had gone to take off Neji's forehead covering, only to discover that it was fuzzy and wouldn't come off.

Thus, Rock Lee's first tongue kiss—in fact, his first kiss ever—had been not with Sakura, but with Tenten. Having recovered from the initial mortification of making out with a guy who surpassed Naruto in dorkdom, Tenten swore that he was the best kisser she'd ever had.

"At least it wasn't Gai-sensei," Sakura had said.

Still a little queasy at the thought of Neji making out with anyone, Hinata had pointed out, "Yes, but he's probably really good too. I- I mean… doesn't Lee-san learn everything he knows from Gai-sensei?"

The identical, disgusted expressions on each of her friend's faces had been scarred into her memory. From that time on, Hinata had rarely contributed to sex conversations, except to share the occasional tidbit of Kiba coming on to her again.

Sakura laughed. "Okay, mine wasn't that bad. It was actually kind of good… I mean, in a strange way. I never expected it—"

"What?! Just say it already, you know we won't judge you, only him—or her. Oh, my god! Was it a girl? Did you switch teams on us?" Ino was unusually ditzy today, Hinata noted.

"Eew, no! I mean, it's okay if you like girls… or anyone else… it's just…"

"Holy shit, Sakura, just say it already, or I'll tell Tsunade-sama about the time you snuck into her office with—"

"Islepwinarto," Sakura mumbled.

"What was that?"

"Naruto. I did Naruto."

"You… seriously?" Ino and Tenten seemed shocked by this news, too much to say anything to Sakura.

When she was younger, this news would have devastated her, but Hinata found that she could take it in stride. Having discovered some of her own confidence over the years made her less psychologically dependent on others who had too much of it. She asked quietly, "Was he good?"

Sakura brightened. "Yeah! He had soooo much stamina, it was kind of scary. But—oh…I shouldn't have brought it up, Hinata—sorry."

"I—no, it's fine. I'm pretty much over him. It's good that you finally gave him what he wanted."

Hearing the conversation turn to sex once more, Ino jumped back in. "Exactly how many times did he want it?"

"Oh, about six or seven."

Hinata knew her eyes probably bugged out comically upon hearing that number, but saw that Tenten managed to convert hers into a look of being pleasantly surprised.

"How long were you there?"

"All night. He's got a really nice apartment now, too."

They continued pelting Sakura with questions until they ran out of things to ask, as the pink-haired girl refused to tell them exactly what Naruto expected out of a blow job. ("Go find out yourself!" Sakura had snapped at Ino.)

Finally, the moment Hinata had been dreading. With all their newest sex stories depleted, they turned on her, like a pack of ravenous wolves.

"What about you, Hinata?"

"Yeah, you've been away for a while. Did you meet someone?"

"N-no…" She blushed, thinking about how Kakashi-sensei had kissed and touched her, how his body had felt against hers that morning snuggled up in the tent.

"What about Kakashi-sensei?" Sakura asked keenly.

Crap! How did she know? Oh, yeah. She must remember from when they had run into each other on the path by the river. She and Kakashi had been leaving Konoha that day. Damn. Sakura was smart and perceptive. She'd have to do this very carefully if she didn't want them knowing about her connection with the Copy Ninja.

"You're doing Kakashi?" Ino practically yelled.

"What? No!" Agh! This was the last thing she needed.

"But we saw you that time—a few weeks ago—"

"W-we just ran into each other there…"

"And you both happened to have backpacks?"

Cutting through Ino and Sakura's interrogation, Tenten said firmly, "You know we won't judge you if you're with him. We don't even have to hear any details."

"Yes we d—" Ino started to say, but the other two shushed her.

Hinata was about to shake her head, denying that she was with him. And technically, she wasn't with him, it was only this tangled situation in which they were constantly around each other, but never actually 'together'. What was the harm in telling them, though? They were her friends, they deserved to hear the truth.

With that, she spilled the whole story. When she had finished, nothing had been held back. Her friends knew everything, from the situation with Kurenai that had gotten her into this, to waking up in Kakashi's arms, to their fight and subsequent reconciliation.

Ino's reaction had surprised her the most. Instead of asking about the sex (or lack thereof), she had said, "I'm glad you found someone, Hinata."

"Th-thanks. But I'm not exactly sure we're together."

"Well, what does Kakashi-sensei think?" Sakura jumped in.

"I… don't know." Hinata answered honestly. She had barely thought about a romantic relationship between her and Kakashi. The only one she could fathom centered on hot, sweaty sex. It seemed like they were both too awkward for anything besides that. A date would be hell.

Soon the conversation turned to sex again, mainly speculating about why it hadn't happened yet between Kakashi and Hinata.

"I told you," Hinata repeated. "He says I'm too young for him."

"Oh, BS!" Ino said disdainfully. "He's probably scared he's too old to keep up with you!"

"Eh… I don't know…" Hinata said, blushing furiously.

"So he took off his mask… in front of you?" Sakura kept asking incredulously.


"What does he look like? Naruto and Sasuke and I could never get a good look."

"H-he's… umm… pretty good-looking."

"Handsome, or just decently good-looking?" Sakura asked shrewdly.

"Handsome, I guess?"

As usual, Tenten was relatively calm and supportive. However, Hinata resented her for beginning the thread on how Hinata could finally get her teacher into bed.

"Just show him exactly what you want," was Ino's contribution.

"And don't take 'no' for an answer," Sakura pitched in.

Great. This was exactly what she hadn't wanted. "But he already said more than once that we can't have sex! And I agree with him! I'm not even old enough, it would be illegal."

"Sure you are." Tenten said. "The age of consent is sixteen."

"No, isn't that for sex between minors?"

"I don't think it matters. Anyway, you're only a few months away from being old enough."

"Yeah, by now it doesn't even matter. A few months won't make a difference."

"He doesn't know when your birthday is, right?"

Hinata did not like where this was going. "Well, no…"

"So don't tell him!"

"But… I don't want to lie to him!"

"It's not lying if he doesn't know anything in the first place," Sakura added smoothly.

When the conversation started to die down, Ino asked innocently, "So, how big is he?"

"Um… I guess he's about six feet tall, not fat or anything… you've seen him."

Sakura was giggling rather maniacally. "No, she means—" She broke off in more giggles.

"I can't believe you two are even asking!" Tenten admonished them, but was still smiling. "She means, how big is his…" She gave Hinata a meaningful gaze downward, towards their laps.

"Oh!" How would she know how big his… thing… was? No, she had better call it by it's proper name, if she wanted him to take her seriously. Thinking of it in terms like 'cock' called intensely dirty, hot images to her mind, however. Okay. 'Penis' it was, then. And they wanted to know how big Kakashi was… she didn't know—not that she hadn't thought about it. She had felt him, both the time they had shared the tent, and after dinner in the hotel room. He had been hard and hot, but how could she know his exact specifications? Unfortunately she had never seen the actual thing erect. There was that time she had walked in on him back at his apartment—flaccid, he still looked well-sized.

"I- I really don't know. I've never seen it like that."

"Well, get a good look and come tell us, okay?" Ino demanded impatiently.

"Yeah, I bet he's hung like a horse, and just doesn't let on. It's always the quiet ones…" Hinata was slightly repulsed to hear Sakura talk about her former teacher this way.

Tenten leaned over to Hinata and spoke quietly. "Sakura and Ino have a bet going about who has a bigger dick—Kakashi-sensei or Gai-sensei."


"Yup. Personally, I'm leaning towards Kakashi—he's much more laid back, I think Gai is trying to make up for something by being all manly, if you know what I mean."

"Sure… um, can I ask you guys something?"



"Well, this has been on my mind for a while—his birthday's coming up and I don't know what to get him

"Wait, who? Kakashi?"

"Yeah. I was thinking… I don't know. I'm not old enough yet to buy him any of those books he likes."

Immediately her friends deluged her with suggestions, most of them not helpful at all. Ideas ranged from typical (gift certificate) to boring (extra green vests) to outrageous (show up in his room one night wearing in a skimpy negligee or something like that.) Many of their ideas seemed to tend towards Hinata offering herself to him sexually. Well, 'offering' wasn't strong enough—more like insisting that they slept together. Some were more creative than others.

"Maybe you could plan a picnic," Tenten said.

"You don't think that'll seem like I'm putting in too much effort?"

Tenten shrugged. "He seems hard to buy for. He'd probably like your company better."

"Yeah, something like that," Ino added, giggling.

"We could talk to him for you," Sakura offered innocently.

"No! No, no, no. It's fine, really." Hinata tried to smile, but could only imagine the disaster that would ensue from those three questioning him.

Hinata ended up having seven drinks at the first place they went to, and another uncounted number of shots at subsequent bars. At three a.m., she finally stumbled back to Kakashi's apartment in a drunken stupor.

"Sensei?" She called, knocking on the door.

He took a few minutes to answer. "Hinata?" His chest was bare, and it seemed he had only just pulled on a pair of loose cotton pants.

"Happy birthday," she mumbled, and lurched past him inside.

He closed the door after her. "What are you doing here?" His tone was calm, not interrogative.

"Ugh…" She threw herself down lengthwise on his couch.

"How many drinks did you have?"

Her brow furrowed in response.

"Should I get a bowl?"

A head shake 'no'. Her head was spinning. Every time she opened her eyes, she got dizzy, but it was worse if she closed them for too long. Kakashi mysteriously left, and then arrived again at her side with a glass of water. She sipped from it, and in time, her head cleared. Kakashi sat by her on the coffee table, reading from his favorite series. Seeing she was improved, he repeated his first question.

"I… uh… drinking with Sakura, and Ino, and Tenten…"

"I thought you were going to stay at your father's tonight."

Hinata filled with a vague dread at the thought of having to see her father while in this condition. "…c-can't."

"Happy birthday?" He couldn't remember mentioning it to her, or anyone, for that matter.

"Kurenai told me a while ago."

"Well, it's not for another few weeks."

"Mmm." Her head lolled back on the couch. "I'm gonna get you… negligee…" Wait, that wasn't right. "No! Picnic…"

In this manner, she drifted off to sleep, hardly aware of what she was saying. Kakashi carried her to the spare bedroom and tucked her in. He wondered what she meant about that negligee. No doubt, that suggestion was her friends' influence. He was glad he wasn't drunk, and that she hadn't thrown up. It wasn't that he minded looking after her, rather that he wanted to make sure she felt safe around him. If Kurenai ever got word that he relived his partying days around Hinata he might never be fit for active duty again.

In her dream, Kakashi was reclined stark naked on his bed, stroking his large, engorged sex. He looked at her with desire in his hooded eyes.

Come here. He spoke to her in commands.

She obeyed, drawn to him. There was something god-like about him, something more elevated than just an Adonis. There was no nervousness or awkwardness, only primal instinct. She knelt next to him on the bed, the springs dipping with her weight. His free hand came up to caress her cheek.

Take off your clothes, he bade her, his voice a whisper thick with need.

Slowly, without pretense, she did. First, her socks, then pants and finally her plain white cotton underwear. He smiled as he saw the last garment, an ironic symbol of her virtue, which he was about to take. The stroking hand briefly stopped to take the underwear from her and bring her scent to his nose.

Wonderful. Even this was a command, words that had power over her, making her want to give him more of her. She moved to take off her shirt, but he stopped her.

Your bra. Take that off first. She acquiesced, reaching behind her and unclasping it, then sliding the straps off her shoulders and over her arms. Not wearing a bra was freeing. Her breasts swayed, pendulous and hypnotic, drawing his gaze away from her hair, which was short again, for some reason. The material of her thin, light shirt moved softly against her skin. Her nipples stood out proudly in the fabric, and even under his gaze she didn't cover herself or try to be modest. The sight of her gave him pleasure and she knew that soon his pleasure would be hers as well.

Without asking he took her small hand and closed it around his erection. His large hand closed over hers, guiding her rhythm. The skin was silky and hot and she felt a new tightness between her legs. His face was less guarded than she had ever seen it, and his breathing was uneven. Suddenly he took both their hands off him and pushed himself up to a sitting position.

Your turn. His scarred, perfect face displayed a devious, knowing smirk. And with that, he flipped her on her back and crawled over her. He seemed to already know her body, sense what she was feeling before she actually did. He wasted little time with tender words and kisses. Instead, he was almost immediately between her legs, licking her wet sex. He took hold of her ankles and pushed her bent knees toward her ears, giving him better access. Something he did with his tongue built an intense pressure at her center. She moaned in aching anticipation, reaching for an unreachable height.

Hinata. The puff of air on her sensitized wetness brought her even closer. Then it occurred to a part of her, a separate part that was watching the whole scene from outside, that if Kakashi's mouth was already occupied, he wouldn't be able to say anything, not so clearly.


Instead of her own knee on her shoulder, she felt a hand. Blearily, she cracked open her eyes.

"Kakashi?" Hinata looked in bewilderment at the room around her. Had she been here before? Then, she realized—this was Kakashi's spare room in his apartment, the one she had stayed in, just a few weeks ago. It seemed like an age since the two of them, newly acquainted, had spent the better part of an afternoon moving evidence of his more dangerous hobby around.

"You were…making sounds," he elaborated after a pause. "Are you okay?"

She had been about to nod 'yes', but then remembered her dreams and its contents and blushed.

"You're blushing," he commented. By this time he had removed his hand from her shoulder, and sat on a chair close to the bed. His observation reddened her cheeks even further. This was the first time she could remember that he had said anything about her tendency to blush.

"Yes," she agreed. She ventured to look at him. As usual, his mask and hitae-ate were gone, but the brown hair still threw her for a loop.

He raised an eyebrow. "Do I want to know why?"

Did he really want to get in to that? About the fantasy she had dreamed, still vivid in her mind, still pulsing through her body? Not the part of him that governed his self-control, that was for sure. And not while they were so close to a serviceable bed, either—although if they had their minds set, lack of a bed wouldn't really stop them.

"Probably not," she conceded. Looking away, a small smile quirked her lips. Where was all this deviousness coming from? A bit of rebelliousness had always been in her, but now it roiled beneath the surface. Her head hurt for some reason, and it felt as though she was missing something.

"So, are you going to tell me what happened?"

Memories of last night suddenly flickered on in her mind. It was as if the acknowledgement of her drunkenness made her hangover worse. Oh, god. What had she said to Kakashi? What had she tried to do with him?

"Uh… I went out with some friends. I- I only meant to have one drink." She put a hand to her forehead, trying to ascertain the degree of her headache. "D-did I… say anything? I-I mean, to you?" Anything incriminating or embarrassing?

"Ehhh… no. Not really." He sounded unusually shifty. "I was thinking, we should get some more training in today."

Glad to move away from the awkward topic, Hinata readily agreed.

In the midst of sparring Kakashi was about to win his eight match in a row, when a booming, familiar voice called out.

"Kakashi! My esteemed rival!" The more subdued teacher and student looked over in mild horror to find Maito Gai standing before them. His typical green pantsuit ensemble had gained some extra "unique" touches, and Kakashi was horrified to see that his unwanted rival had grown a handlebar mustache.

"Hello, Gai." He answered in a bored tone. The trick with Gai was to make him think you didn't care. Then he would go away faster—usually. Hinata was giving him a look, which he interpreted as 'What's he doing here?' or possibly 'How does he know who you are in the disguise?' At the moment, he could unfortunately answer neither.

"Are you surprised, Kakashi, that I could see through your disguise?"

"Uh… it's not a disguise…" Kakashi mumbled, but Gai continued over him.

"You're forgetting that I'm one of the few people who succeeded in getting you to take off your mask!"

"You walked in on me in the shower…"

"But now the whole village can see! Kakashi! You can tell me—do you ache with the unsatisfied passion of midlife crisis?"

Kakashi looked over at Hinata, and saw, to his horror, that she was giggling slightly. Gai was such an embarrassment! What must she think of his friends?

"No, Gai!" He shouted, then lowered his voice to his usual calm tone. "I'm fine. And, um, nice mustache."

"Thank you! And I see you have a new student—Hyuuga Hinata, was it?" He strode over to her.

"Y-yes, sir." She bowed politely.

"I'm sure you work very hard, for Kakashi-sensei to have taken you on so late."

"Yes, sir. I… try my best, Gai-sensei." Throughout the exchange, she hardly met Gai's eyes, Kakashi noted. A few weeks ago, he might have thought she was being polite or respectful, but now he suspected it was so no one would see her laughing. And he had to admit, that mustache was damn funny. He had to keep reminding himself not to smirk, since he wasn't wearing his mask.

"She does work very hard," he reassured Gai. "I've seen that she has some of the same determination your favorite student has."

"Oh!" Gai's face lit up anew at the mention of his beloved Rock Lee. "Well, then she should come to the dojo, and spar with my favorite adorable student! For the passion of youth! Life is the experience of love!"

"Yeah…" Kakashi took a few steps back in order to avoid the tidal wave of excitement spit from Gai's mouth. However, the mustache addition caught most of it, so they were safe. "Well, we'd better get going—training, and all that…"

"Well, if you really want to train, you should come the dojo! I can show you the way right now!"

Hinata looked at Kakashi, her expression clearly screaming 'Help me!' But there wasn't much he could do. "Have a good time!" He waved cheerily. "I'll catch up with you later." And he was gone, leaving Hinata to fend off Konoha's Noble Green Beast by herself.

The day before the exhibition match, Hinata couldn't concentrate on anything. She and Kakashi were out in the field at five a.m. and he had set her doing drills but stopped her after ten minutes because her form was so bad.

"What's the matter?" He asked, closing his book and coming over. "You had this yesterday."

"I don't know. It's like—every thought I have somehow ends up related to that stupid match tomorrow. I'm so—nervous—I can't do anything except be nervous or thing about how nervous I am. I mean, why am I even participating? I don't know, my father thinks I have something to show, but he never asked me about it." She breathed heavily and then realized she'd been ranting. "S-sorry. I didn't-"

"Don't be. Feel good to get that off your chest?"

"Yeah. I still wish he were dead and gone, though." The silence settled before she realized she had said this to a man who had lost both his parents before age seven. "Kakashi-"

He shook his head once.

"Sensei, I—"

"I'm not offended and you don't have to apologize, but consider more carefully what you say about things like that—for your own safety." Ever the teacher, he continued, "anything you say in the presence of an enemy, or even when you think you're alone, can be used against you. So just think about the possible consequences of whatever you're going to say."

She nodded and let him correct her form before resuming the drill. At least she wasn't thinking about the match anymore.

Around midday, Gai paid them another visit. Hinata had been hoping for a respite, but Gai's presence secured the impossibility of any rest.

Luckily, however, she was quick enough to speak for Kakashi, and assure Gai-sensei that they had no prior commitments for the day. This way, Kakashi was forced to endure the training with her, though he was cruelly silent as Gai instructed her through more and more ridiculous feats. As she completed another lap around the field, Gai urged her to add another pound of weights to her wrists and ankles. Kakashi looked up idly from his book.

"Don't you think that's enough, Gai? We should leave time for some actual sparring…"

"You're right, Kakashi!" Gai pumped his fist, looking as if he wished he'd thought of that. "All right, young lady. Or, should I say, kunoichi?" He gave a large wink, and she repressed a shiver of disgust. The wink in itself was not offensive, not in any way sexual, thank god, but the gesture reminded her of one of her few encounters with Eto, Hanabi's fiancé. Her revulsion at his manner was much more justified.

The movie star had been able to join the Hyuuga family only a few times. In Hinata's opinion, it had been a few times too many.

The man was handsome, and looked much younger than he actually was; for this reason, Hinata hadn't connected the name and face when he first introduced himself in the hallway. She had thought he was just some young, cocky guy coming on to her, and told him primly that she was engaged.

Kakashi had then stepped out from around a corner. "Aren't you engaged too?" He addressed the young man.

That was when Hinata realized who the sleaze bag was. "Ah—excuse… excuse me. Please." She scurried to Kakashi's side and led him to the dining room. The following meal was even more uncomfortable than usual. Eto had charmed everyone excluding her, and Hiashi had not failed to notice.

"Hinata, won't congratulate your brother-in-law on his new contract?"

"He's not my brother-in-law yet," she bit out, uncharacteristically acid. Eyes around the table flew up in surprise. Her father's jaw clenched in anger. He reprimanded her gently in front of the company, but later, after banishing everyone else, shouted furiously about respect. She had cried on Kakashi's shoulder afterwards; he had sportingly patted her hair and tried to calm her, but she knew he felt uncomfortable doing so, and apologized after the tears stopped.

If she had learned anything, it was that she couldn't allow her sister to stay here any longer.

The day of the match, Kakashi got up early so he could help his protégée prepare. Although, if he were honest with himself, he would admit that unless he was actually in the process of giving a lesson, he had stopped thinking of Hinata as his student a while ago. Was he honest with himself? He really couldn't tell anymore. Even sometimes when trying to teach her something, he would notice completely stupid, irrelevant things, like the unique sheen of her hair, or how he thought she was beautiful where others thought she was just cute.

Bearing a tray full of a healthy, light breakfast, he went to Hinata's room.

"Hinata?" He called, about to let himself in. She slid open the partition, wearing only a towel.

"Oh, sorry!" Damn, damn, damn. Why couldn't he have Genma's (lack of) conscience in these situations? "I thought you would still be asleep."

"Oh!" She gave that shy, slow smile that made him want to throw her down on the floor and have his way with her. "Well… no. I couldn't sleep after four."

"…right. Yes. Well, I brought you food." He held out the tray. "It's breakfast," he added unnecessarily. God, could he really sound as idiotic as he felt? He should ask her sometime.



"I asked if you'd like to eat with me?"

"Oh, yes, of course, but you're wearing…"

"Just come in," she whispered. He did, closing the screen after him, looking to her to see why she wasn't moving. In fact, her cheeks were turning very red and she kept glancing at him and then away.

"Something wrong?"

"Um… please… please turn around so I can put on a robe. Please."

"Right, sorry." Maybe the hair dye was affecting his brain. Yes, that must be it.

"Tea?" Kakashi offered.

He and Hinata sat across from each other, kneeling at a low table. She nodded silently, her mouth thin and pale.

"Still nervous?" It seemed like anything longer than one-word questions might push her over the edge right now. He poured himself some tea too and went to pull down his mask, which wasn't there.

"It must be weird…"

"What?" He prompted.

"I was just thinking, it must be weird to have so many people see you without your mask."

He sighed, nodded, and wondered what the world had come to when he voluntarily went without his mask in public. "It… is."

They fell silent, each trying to comprehend how the other was feeling.

"You know, it's okay to be nervous. It's normal."

"Yeah, but… I still am."

"When I get nervous, I just imagine that everyone around me is naked and wearing a silly hat."

"I—right, thanks." She gave a shaky laugh. "Now I'll be standing out there and have some really disturbing images in my head."

"Sorry. Just think of me, then—or whoever, um, you know, you want to see naked and wearing a silly hat."

"A-actually in your case, I imagine no hat, just wacky socks."

"Huh. I don't usually wear socks."

"Why-? Oh, right, sandals. Um… What kind of hat? I can't really think of any."

"Ah! Well, sometimes the jester style, or there's also the pimp hat with, you know, velvet animal print and a fuzzy brim."

Hinata appeared bewildered. "So you're saying that it makes you less nervous when you imagine your opponent naked, wearing a pimp hat?"

He shrugged. "Yeah."

Her frown deepened. "What about when you fight Gai-sensei?"

Eew. "I, um, don't get nervous when I fight him. And please—never mention that again. I know for a fact he's quite a hairy individual, and I really don't want any part of that."

Hinata giggled, and then seemed to be contemplating something.

He knew waiting for her to work up the courage would take more time than he had, so he asked.

"And what about when you spar with me?" She didn't seem to be trying to be provocative, but she did a damned good job of it. Blushing cheeks and averted eyes. Hn. She couldn't possibly be as innocent as she seemed.

He couldn't help laughing. "Are you sure you want to know?" He teased.

Suddenly she looked very solemn. "Why? Is it bad?"

"Not—exactly." Time to stall. "Do you know what time it is?"

She took a wrist watch from the pocket of a pair of discarded pants and examined it. "Ten past—shit! I'm not even dressed yet!"

"I'll wait outside…"

Hinata walked into the large courtyard alongside Neji. Upon introspection, she was surprised to find that she wasn't afraid to fight him. Rather, her nerves came from concern for Kakashi, and the possibility that their scheme could be exposed.

Memory took over; she and her cousin bowed to the assembly of family and guests, then to each other, and assumed the traditional Jyuuken stance. When her father called 'start', that was the signal for both competitors to activate Byakugan.

Kakashi was right on his mark as Hinata formed the corresponding hand seals. She felt his chakra wash over her, so different from what she remembered of her own. Where hers was calm, steady, and soothing, his was vivid, crackling and sparking—no surprise, given he was a lightning type. Around her eyes, he created the illusion of Byakugan. If anyone noticed the hoax, they said nothing.

Neji attacked first; she stepped aside and avoided it. The ease of this evasion told her that she was now faster and more agile than her cousin. She struck his extended forearm. His eyes widened in surprised. He, too, realized she exceeded him. There was a general outcry from the assembled audience. No-one who remembered her previous match against Neji had expected her to put up any sort of fight again. But her cousin recovered from the shock quickly and swept under her guard with a two-handed attack, wrists pronated and fingers pursed. He was still fast. She stepped back, his left hand missed, but his right grazed her stomach. She had forgotten how much it hurt to be hit there. Gentle Fist was certainly a misnomer.

As she recovered, she happened to glance at Kakashi, who was seated next to her father. She knew her fake-fiancé must be under tremendous strain at the moment, due to the constant output of chakra, yet he managed an expression somewhere between sleepy and polite interest. Just a glimpse reminded her not to fall back on her old habit of defend first, attack second. She struck rapidly, one open-handed blow after another, driving him back. She was too fast—when he tried to interrupt her onslaught with a counterattack, she leapt clear over him, twisted around, and hit him on the back. He stumbled and jumped away from her. His eyes narrowed; Hinata wondered if he realized that her attacks weren't having the normal effect of Jyuuken. But if he had, he made no indication. Instead, he assumed a stance she didn't recognize. It resembled the classic Hyuuga stances, except his feet were further apart, his arms held closer to his body. And his hands, the fingers were curled instead of relaxed and open—was this some technique her father had showed him?

She slid her feet into her familiar position—left leg and arm forward, right leg back and arm close to her side. After their first exchange, she had gotten too confident, it seemed. She thought she had judged the distance correctly, even accounting for his longer reach, but his next attack hit her. She felt its full impact, right in her heart. He had thrown his chakra, and with the perfect accuracy of Jyuuken, hit her tenketsu. Of course, it wasn't meant to kill, but it was still painful and disabling. She fell to her knees, coughing blood onto the dusty ground.

Neji walked up to her. "You should give up, Hinata-sama."

She frowned at him. Even after this, he didn't scare her anymore. "I'm not done yet!"

To his credit, he didn't scoff, as she had expected.

"Fine." He backed off, giving her a chance to get up. She struggled to her feet, trying to ignore the pain from where she'd been hit. This wasn't supposed to take so long—she and Kakashi had estimated they would be able to hold out for about half an hour, forty five minutes at the most. She should have given up when she'd had the chance. But it was too late. She would not go back on her word. And if she wanted to prove to herself that she could be independent, if wanted to show Kakashi that he hadn't wasted his time—she would finish this match!

With renewed vitality, she attacked, prepared for when he started lancing chakra at her. Thanks to training with Lee and Gai-sensei, she could dodge it. However, her cousin was starting to get used to her attacks, and predict them. After all, they had essentially the same move set.

So, she began to use attacks and footwork better suited to her superior speed. Watching Lee had helped her improve in this aspect. She used kicks, and more powerful strikes which, when combined with her natural precision, began to take a toll on her cousin. The only drawback of the new hybrid style was that the blocks and parries were less effective against Jyuuken. For fighting their own kind, Jyuuken users had developed counters that protected them very well from attacks to the chakra network. But Hinata was now vulnerable to just such an attack. And, she was beginning to slow down. Neji took advantage of this, grabbing her by the wrist and swinging her down past him. Her own momentum carried her too quickly—she couldn't stop herself or even counter him.

She felt the whisper of his chakra on the back of her neck right before he struck, had enough time to register that it was exactly the same place she'd been hit with a needle, two years ago, and lost her livelihood. And then—an explosive flash. She inhaled dust as she was thrown face down onto the ground with the force of the blast. It took her another moment to realize that the chakra surrounding her was her own. She chanced a quick peek at Kakashi to see if he was okay. Had anyone noticed the change?—No, dust still hung in the hot summer air. People coughed and waved it away from their faces.

She sat up, then noticed Neji doing the same about fifteen feet away, looking singed and confused. Hinata got up unsteadily and wobbled toward him, but halfway there, fatigue overtook her—the exhaustion of using too much chakra.

'That's right,' she thought happily as she stumbled into darkness. 'I remember this feeling.'

She had never been happier to pass out.

Author's note: hello to anyone still reading this... If you bookmarked it for an update, I'm sorry to say that this will be among the final ones. Since I last updated this almost ten years ago, I graduated high school, then university, got a job, learned another language and got married. While you may not care about any of that, it factors in to why I stopped writing this story. Mostly I just got busy, lost interest in the Naruto fandom, but also when I came back and reread the whole thing the writing seemed really amateurish. I'm keeping it up in case people still want to read it, and also posting the fragments I had written years ago when I still intended to continue. I apologize to those who are disappointed that it won't be completed, and for keeping people on the hook for years.