A/N: At least it wasn't a full month since I last updated this time! This was probably the hardest chapter to write so far, because I'm trying to get a bit more development of relationships and plant in the plot seeds... Which hardly makes sense, but I suppose I'm trying to say that there are clues in this chapter in regards to future story revelations, so keep an eye out for them.
Chapter Seven: Obvious
The night was soothingly cool and the sky littered with stars, but Hinata paid no attention. Her mind was entirely occupied with Shizune's odd behaviour.
Despite her silent attempts to defend Shizune, who'd always been a friendly form of support for her, there was no getting around the fact that Shizune was acting highly suspicious. Her distraction wasn't the only indicator of further knowledge of the incidents, although she was presenting a very different image to the punctual, schedule-obsessed Shizune of their earlier days. Her tendency to skirt any questions put forth regarding the incidents, or else recite carefully neutral answers, were adding to Hinata's suspicions.
Still, Hinata couldn't quite convince herself that Shizune was in any way involved in all the sabotage, as Sasuke had put it, or that she was concealing information. Shizune had seen what had already happened. She knew the consequences for the victims of those 'unfortunate incidents' could have been even more severe. She couldn't possibly be so hard-hearted as to keep helpful information to herself.
The element of doubt remained.
'Some day, wasn't it, Hinata?'
The easy question brought Hinata's head up; looking around, she saw Naruto scrutinising her with a considerable degree of concern.
'It was,' she agreed, trying to smile, but she guessed by his frown that she'd failed.
Naruto opened his mouth, as though intending to reply, but another thought seemed to have changed his mind. Raising his voice, he addressed their little group as a whole.
'Hey, how about we go out and have a drink together?'
Kakashi immediately refused, saying he spent enough time with them as it was, without including them in his social life. He departed for his car, reducing their group to four; Shizune had not accompanied them outside as she often did.
Sakura wrinkled her nose at the proposal.
'You're not suggesting we find a bar somewhere, are you, Naruto?' she asked. 'I like a good drink as much as anyone else, but not this late.'
'A coffee,' Naruto clarified. 'Somewhere quiet.'
Hinata saw him throw a look her way.
'All right,' Sakura sighed, drawing her coat closer as a sharp breeze drifted past. 'I doubt I could sleep, anyway.'
She had an idea of what Naruto was doing: giving her the choice of some company, if she wished it. His sensitivity to her current feelings surprised her; back in the Academy, he'd never seemed to be particularly attuned to other people's emotions.
She was, however, glad for it in this case. The idea of returning home, the thoughts of the production's increasing dangers free to prey on her, was becoming more unappealing as she considered his offer.
'I'd like that,' she answered, giving a genuine smile, and he returned the gesture in apparent relief.
Hinata soon found herself listening to Sakura's suggestions on what their destination should be. She only vaguely heard Naruto press Sasuke about joining them, and saw Sasuke agree with an accompanying shrug.
The decision as to where to go was made surprisingly speedily. Sakura only wanted someplace 'comfortable,' which the other three took to mean 'appropriately expensive,' and Naruto insisted on somewhere casual. They were allowed barely two minutes of bickering before Sasuke cut in and mentioned how much he'd like a drink sometime before they all died of old age.
The café Sakura chose was elegantly decorated and softly lit, and each table was spaced far enough to provide customers with relative privacy. The four actors elicited little reaction from the two patrons sitting cosily in the far corner; Hinata, sparing them a cursory glance, thought they looked somewhat familiar, but as Naruto asked her what she'd like, she averted her gaze from their backs to the star-struck expression of the waitress.
Hinata requested tea, and let her mind wander as the others placed their orders. An indignant Sakura roused her from her contemplation of the café's artwork.
'I was not, Naruto,' Sakura was saying, with a haughty toss of her head. 'Maybe you were, but I wasn't.'
'Any more eager and you might as well have snatched the pen from her hand and given her an autograph without her asking,' Naruto said gleefully.
'Naruto, that is offensive,' Sakura hissed, leaning over the table to glare even more forcefully at him. 'I would not have done anything like that. I have more dignity than you give me credit for.'
'I'm glad you didn't,' Sasuke drawled. 'It's enough that people ask; we don't need to start forcing autographs on them.'
Hinata privately thought that his attitude was somewhat condescending; after all, he was an actor, not royalty, but Sakura readily assented to his input in such a way that Hinata was reminded of Emma's Isabella Knightley.
Naruto too seemed to feel this, judging by his quick eye-roll, but his attention was soon drawn to the couple in the corner, who'd paid shortly after the actors' arrival and was now making a noticeably hasty exit.
'Hey, that's Tenten,' he exclaimed loudly. 'And is that your cousin, Hinata?'
Hinata looked over as the couple positively dashed out the door, and thought, with some delight, that she saw Neji's form. It didn't seem like Neji would have welcomed her intrusion, but she was a little ashamed of having not recognised her own cousin earlier.
'Are they dating?' Sakura asked Hinata, looking very interested in this latest discovery.
'I wouldn't know if they were,' Hinata replied, smiling. She wondered if she would dare to tease Neji about his secret love life when she next saw him. 'Neji doesn't tell me anything about his private life.'
'I expect you don't tell him anything of yours, either,' Sasuke said, taking a sip of the tea the waitress had brought over.
'Well, no,' Hinata said. She hesitated. 'Neji isn't exactly the type of person you'd confide everything to. It has to be of a particular nature; he wouldn't stand for nonsense like your interest in buying a dog, or your argument with a friend.'
'Would you tell him if you were dating someone?' Sasuke asked, and there was something in his tone that seemed to hint the question was not simply one of passing interest, or voiced from politeness.
The question produced a variety of reactions: Naruto began smirking in a knowing sort of way; Sakura struggled to maintain her composure, even as she looked torn between angry jealousy and curiosity; and Hinata felt heat rising to her cheeks.
'I wouldn't hide it from him if he asked, but I wouldn't voluntarily offer the information.'
He only smiled, as though her answer had been expected, and Hinata was saved from further exploration of the topic by Sasuke's cell phone ringing. He took a look at the screen and none of his companions missed the way his amusement immediately vanished.
'Excuse me,' he said briskly. He chose to take the call outside the café.
Naruto smirked again at Hinata and she turned away. She was still slightly thrown by Sasuke's question and the suggested motive behind it.
'Stop grinning like that,' Sakura said, irritably. 'It's creepy.'
Without Sasuke to stop them, the pair began to argue again, this time in regards to Naruto's right to smile as he liked. Hinata, glad to turn her thoughts by observing them with the familiar exasperation and amusement that their bickering induced, wondered why Naruto argued so much with Sakura when he spent most of his time trying to get into her good books. Any progress made in his favour would surely be lost in these arguments. It seemed a strange kind of love to Hinata; half devoted, passionate love, a quarter intentional antagonism and a quarter quiet affection.
When she'd surfaced again from her thoughts, she found their argument had ended and Naruto had somehow persuaded Sakura to take a look at the outdoor component of the café with him. Hinata declined their request for her to join them and watched them stroll quite cheerfully away.
Sasuke returned shortly after they'd left, but appeared graver than he'd been before. Hinata recognised the mood: it was rare compared to his usual steady calm, but more frequent than his irritable, stubborn silences.
'Is everything okay, Sasuke?' she asked.
'Yes. Where did Naruto and Sakura go?'
'They decided to have a look at the garden,' Hinata answered.
'Taking a moonlit walk?' he said, without the slightest hint of emotion. 'That's nice.'
He seemed to have no more inclination for conversation, if such dry exchanges could be classed as such, and she allowed him to sit in peace.
As soon as their two friends returned, Sasuke was quick to decide to leave. No one protested; it was late and Hinata noticed Sakura and Naruto both appeared just as unwilling to talk as Sasuke. She was curious as to what had occurred outside for both to undergo such drastic mood changes.
Their waitress blurted out a request for their autographs just as they were leaving, but aside from a tentative smile from Sakura to Naruto, which wasn't returned, there was little reaction from the famous group. Hinata tried to make up for the lack of enthusiasm from her friends, but was unsure of her success.
As they walked towards their cars, Hinata heard Sakura call Naruto's name very softly. She didn't see his reaction, having suddenly realised both the limousine and driver, who'd promised to wait for her, were gone.
'What happened to your limo, Hinata?' Naruto asked, staring at the parking space that had last been occupied by the vehicle. 'Wasn't it just here?'
Hinata was already attempting to contact the driver on her phone, but with no success. It was odd; her father had told her that the car was for her use alone, so it was unlikely it had been called to pick up any other Hyuuga family member. Sasuke's suggestion that the driver was off having a few drinks himself wouldn't stand; she knew the man was the dependable and responsible type.
'Forget him,' Sasuke said, somewhat impatiently. 'Have your father fire him tomorrow. I'll take you home.'
'I don't trust you with her,' Naruto said, whether jokingly or not, Hinata was unable to discern. 'I'll take Hinata home.'
'What do you think I'll do? Seduce her into taking a side trip to my place?'
'See?' Naruto said, seemingly with the view of provoking Sasuke. Hinata saw that he was pointedly ignoring Sakura, even turning slightly to exclude her from his view. 'Already have it all planned out.'
'Naruto, do me a favour and shut up,' Sasuke snapped. 'Your bullshit is even too much for me to handle at this time.'
Naruto's face contorted into an angry expression and he stepped towards Sasuke with his hands clenched into fists.
'You act as though the rest of us aren't as sick of you and your goddamn high-and-mighty attitude as you are of me,' he immediately snapped back, as though he'd been waiting for the opportunity to attack Sasuke. An idea of what had passed between Naruto and Sakura at the café crossed Hinata's mind. 'Making signing autographs such a chore… You are where you are because of the fans, Sasuke.'
'Meanwhile, you act completely without any thought for dignity,' Sasuke sneered. 'Drooling over Sakura like some kind of starved dog, throwing yourself at her feet. You'd respond to a command of hers to 'go fetch,' wouldn't you?'
There was a pause, and Sasuke smirked coldly.
'…And you wonder why she isn't interested.'
Naruto's fist was not wholly unexpected; Sasuke managed to block the blow for the most part, although his cheek looked red as he pushed Naruto away from him.
The look on Naruto's face, of bitter resentment and hatred, did not suit him, and the expression of outright disgust directed at him by Sasuke was equally ill fitting. Hinata implored them to calm down, but she was either ignored or unheard.
'You like that, don't you, Sasuke?' Naruto shouted, preparing to strike again. 'You like that she's madly in love with you, and that no matter how much of an asshole you are to her, she'll still want you!'
'Stop it!' Sakura cut in. Her eyes moved rapidly between the two men, who did stop but did not look at her. 'You're in a public place; do you want to be the subject of tomorrow's gossip?'
'Am I embarrassing you, Sakura?' Naruto asked. His voice was terribly emotionless; Hinata thought it bordered on coldness, but cold wasn't an adjective that described Naruto well. 'I'm sorry; it's unlikely I'll ever change.'
Sakura looked as though she'd been hit. She stared at him for a second.
'Hinata, I'll take you home. We'll leave these two to destroy each other.'
She turned away, walking three steps before dissolving into silent tears. Hinata stayed only to convince the men to leave, and to watch them tear down the street, before joining Sakura at her car and doing her best to comfort and soothe.
x . o . x . o . x . o . x
Sakura said little as she manoeuvred her car through the dark streets. Hinata heard her sniffle quietly a few times, but unless Sakura wanted to talk, she didn't feel the need to press her. They sat in silence for the majority of the ride, but as they neared Hinata's house, Sakura suddenly spoke up.
'Hinata, is Naruto truly interested in me?'
Hinata had once foolishly thought that she'd had a clear picture of her co-stars; she didn't know them exceptionally well, but she'd believed she had their general characters all figured out. Sasuke was the epitome of cool, calm and collected, and would never involve himself in nonsense like the love lives of his friends; Naruto, while good-hearted, wasn't particularly sharp when it came to sensing people's moods; and Sakura was exactly the opposite, frighteningly sharp.
She'd been proven wrong on all accounts in one day.
'Did you really think he wasn't?' Hinata asked, gently.
'I did… Maybe.' Sakura paused and began again. 'It seems stupid, I know, that I never really believed he was interested before tonight. I always thought that it was a temporary thing, a-a passing interest, like a high school crush.'
Hinata considered her next words carefully, wondering how best to form her own thoughts into inoffensive phrases.
'Sakura, I've been the quiet type of person for most of my life, and I think I still am now. I preferred watching people rather than talking-' she broke off to comment lightly on how much of a stalker she sounded like, earning her a small smile from Sakura- 'and even though I hardly knew you and Naruto back at the Academy… I could see that he loved you even then.'
Sakura's eyes began shining again, and in the midst of her tears, she half-laughed, half-sobbed, that Hinata should have been a romance writer. Hinata attempted to join in the unexpected moment of merriment, but she couldn't manage it. She felt desperately sorry for Sakura and Naruto; the blindness of one and the alertness of the other were hurting both.
'He asked me tonight whether I would ever be interested in him, outside the café. And I told him I didn't know, but it was unlikely. Oh, God, Hinata, that's what I said: It's unlikely. When did I become such a bitch?'
Hinata convinced her to stop the car, worried by how thickly her tears were falling. She leaned over and pulled Sakura into an awkward hug over the clutch.
'I'm sorry; I'm supposed to be driving you home, and you've become a substitute psychiatrist,' Sakura sobbed. 'And I was angry at you before, because Sasuke's shown more interest in you than he has me… I'm so sorry. You've never been anything but kind to me, and I resented you.'
'It's fine,' Hinata told her, sincerely. 'And Sasuke and I are nothing more than friends, I promise.'
Sakura drew back, wiping her eyes with a damp tissue.
'You'd be good together,' Sakura said, struggling to smile despite her tears. 'He likes you, I can tell.'
'No, we'd be terrible together,' Hinata laughed, a little embarrassed by the topic. The idea of dating Sasuke was an unsettling one. It wasn't the time to be asking herself why, but she could acknowledge to herself that the thought, as it did in the café, made her uncomfortable. 'We're both usually so quiet that I can imagine what a date with him would be like: spent in completely awkward silence.'
Sakura lifted her shoulders in a shrug and half-smile, indicating she thought otherwise, but wouldn't continue the subject. She started the car again and they proceeded quietly until Hinata decided that she ought to offer a final few words of comfort.
'Naruto isn't the grudge-holding type,' she said. 'He'll forgive you; his anger won't last forever.'
'I hope so,' Sakura said, her hands tightening around the steering wheel. 'I probably don't show it as often as I should, but his friendship means a lot to me.'
'I'm sure he will,' Hinata said, and she had no hesitation in saying it.
One look at her house as the car pulled up and all worries about Sakura and Naruto briefly left her. Beyond the gates, the front door stood slightly ajar, blowing open and close with every puff of wind. A dim light shone from the window of a room upstairs, but Hinata couldn't see anyone moving inside.
'Someone's broken into my house,' she whispered in disbelief, fumbling in her bag. She pressed a button on the tiny controller she had fished out and the gates slid open. Sakura drove further along the driveway and both women peered nervously at the seemingly deserted house, unwilling to stir outside the car.
'I'll call the police,' Sakura offered, and Hinata nodded.
'Should I take a look inside?' Hinata wondered aloud. 'There doesn't seem to be anyone still here.'
'Don't,' Sakura advised, locking the doors even as she spoke. 'I think we'd better wait for the police. Whoever broke in could easily be hiding inside.'
The wait for the police seemed to drag on. Hinata hated sitting there, too afraid even to enter her own home, her place of sanctuary. She sometimes thought she detected movement past some of the windows on both floors, but kept those ideas to herself. It was completely unnecessary to frighten Sakura as much as she was frightening herself.
When they had enough law enforcers by their side to feel secure, Hinata's house was thoroughly looked through. Nothing seemed to have been stolen; whoever had broken in seemed to have amused themselves by rummaging through her jewellery, clothing and other belongings, but taking nothing.
Hinata was advised to spend the night elsewhere, which was a recommendation she did not need; she was already planning to return to the family home when Sakura offered her a place to stay. Her initial reluctance was easily removed by Sakura's insistence and another car ride saw them safely at Sakura's beautifully furnished apartment.
'I'll get the spare room ready for you. You're probably tired,' Sakura said, seeming to notice her barely-concealed distress. 'Don't hesitate to make yourself something to eat or drink, okay?'
Hinata thanked her and was at the point of following her to help ready the room when Sakura, guessing her intention, put up a hand to stop her.
'You're my guest; let me do the work.'
'Thank you,' Hinata said again, touched by her kindness. Sakura smiled and disappeared towards the bedrooms.
x . o . x . o . x . o . x
Hinata woke the next morning to a mind already planning out the day. She had calls to her family and an inquiry into the break-in to make, strained relationships to worry about and a heavy dread of what another day's filming would bring to trouble her.
She and Sakura were dressed and ready in less than twenty minutes; Hinata was surprised to discover that Sakura spent less time in the bathroom than she did.
'I know you usually arrive at the studios fairly early,' Sakura said, throwing together a light breakfast with Hinata, 'and with Tsunade and Shizune both so touchy lately, I thought we shouldn't linger too much. I hope you don't mind that I woke you up?'
'Of course not,' Hinata assured her, suspecting her desire to see Naruto was the real cause behind the speed she'd dressed at.
The television was set at an early morning news program and during their conversation, Hinata caught a mention of the street they'd visited the night before, where their café had been located. She grabbed the remote control and turned up the volume.
'It can't be…' Sakura said, staring at the shot on screen of the street, during a pause in the presenter's report.
'…Police are advising anyone walking alone at night to be alert. Neither the woman's bag or jewellery was stolen and the apparent randomness of the attack has authorities concerned.'
'The media is not as pathetic as I once believed,' Sakura commented, finishing her toast. 'Although, Curiosity will probably have a report on Naruto and Sasuke's brawl soon enough.'
More disturbed by the news report than it was logical to be, Hinata only nodded, and was grateful for Sakura's suggestion that they head out to the studios.
A/N: Emma is by Jane Austen, and my third favourite novel by her, after Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice.