Always Read the Smallprint

August 27, 2002

It hadn't really registered with Hinata that going to a new school that had been an all-boys school up until today, when it would welcome its first female students ever, meant that she would have to interact (i.e. converse with, come in close proximity to, etc.) with her new, decidedly masculine peers. Now this delayed realization was smacking her upside the head repeatedly and mockingly pointing out that she had never actually spoken to a single male who was not in some way related to her. Hinata tried to swallow the anxious lump forming in her throat and wasn't completely surprised to find that she couldn't; her mouth was paper-dry and there was a large wad of what felt like sandpaper where her tongue was supposed to be.

The massive double doors of her new school loomed menacingly before her as Hinata forced her too heavy limbs to carry her towards what she was sure was a nightmare waiting to happen. She had never felt so unprepared or inadequate in her entire life.

Hinata sighed in relief when she managed to get past the entryway safely. There were a few boys loitering around the hallways and she almost fainted in frightened embarrassment when a few of them looked up and waved at her. However, after they waved and yelled brief 'hello's, or 'hey, new kid's at her, they turned away and went back to whatever they had been doing beforehand; it didn't even seem like they really expected her to answer them, for which Hinata was eternally grateful. She wouldn't have known what to do if they had pursued further conversation.

Quickly scurrying away from the boys, now mercifully ignoring her, Hinata went in search of the main office to get her class schedule and homeroom assignment. As she walked down the halls, she was careful to keep a watchful eye out for possible prankers or bullies; she hoped with all her might that the students here would be kinder than the girls at her old school who had delighted in making her life miserable.

After making it all the way to the office without incident, she decided not to count all the other boys who had greeted her as they seemed to just want to be friendly, Hinata allowed herself to relax a little bit. 'Maybe... maybe this won't be as horrible as I thought it would...' Feeling that she might actually be able to enjoy her herself here, Hinata reached for the office doorknob with a quiet smile spreading across her being. Her hand never made it to the inviting metal protrusion.

With two inches left to go, the door burst open and smacked Hinata in the face so hard that it forced her to stumble about a foot backwards and it was only an uncharacteristic moment of supreme balance that saved her from falling flat on her behind. Which was where she ended up anyways when two very large blurs barreled past her and left the vague impression of a pair of miniature twin tornadoes.

She knew something bad was going to happen today.

Now there were more students in the hall and they were all staring at her and her books and papers were strewn about her pathetically- staring at her-, she tried to pick them up- whispering, giggling-, tried to fold in on herself and disappear- staring, staring, too many eyes-, but her hands were shaking and heavy and wouldn't move right and there were too many eyes...!

Then, suddenly, there were too many hands. It took Hinata a moment to get past her initial panicky thoughts that she had somehow managed to grow eight extra pairs of fully functional arms. She came back to her senses when she noticed that the hands were coming from directions that made it impossible for them to be attached to her body. Panic behind her, Hinata decided to settle on general confusion: why were there eight pairs of hands picking up her books and papers?... Wait... picking up her...?

"U-um, g-gomen-" Hinata's automatic apology was cut off as a messy pile of papers was shoved in her face impatiently. She stared dumbly at the offering, not entirely sure what she was supposed to do. There was a dramatic sigh in front of her and Hinata looked up to see a boy lounging on the ground in a lazy squat hang his head forward slightly, as though it were too much effort to hold it upright. "Tch. Mendokusai," she couldn't even bother to bring herself to be nervous at how close the boy was- she was too fascinated by his laid back mannerisms that still somehow managed to portray strength and confidence.

"Oi. Here," papers were once again in her face and, this time having been given semi-clear instructions on the proper course of conduct, Hinata obediently reached for the messy pile. "A-arigato-" another, much less haphazard, handful of books and papers was presented, much less forcefully, to a puzzled Hinata.

She turned to look into a pair of sunglasses. 'Aren't sunglasses against school policy?' The idle thought flit through her mind briefly before she reached to take the other proffered pile. The sunglasses gave her a short inspection and returned to observe her face with concern, "Are you alright?"

"E-eh? Oh, umm, h-hai, I'm f-fine! Demo…" Hinata wasn't quite sure how to pose the question currently spinning in her mind. Eyebrows furrowed, the sunglasses silently urged her to continue. She sucked in a breath and plowed forward before she lost her nerve, "Demo why, um, why are you, u-umm…" The tiny well of curiosity Hinata had been drawing courage from shriveled and died under the suddenly disapproving gaze the sunglasses were sending her. It sort of made her wish she could shrivel up and die.

"We are helping you because you were in need of assistance and we knew that we could provide you with it." There was no room for dispute in the firm tone, so Hinata didn't press the matter. "O-oh. O-ok. Well, umm, th-thank you." Holding all of her previously renegade papers, she attempted to stand and flee the presence of the penetrating sunglasses.

The only problem with that was that apparently her legs had decided they liked the floor and were now refusing to cooperate with her wishes.

Synchronized irritated sighs were her only warning before two different hands appeared in front of her face. It took a great deal of willpower she hadn't been aware she possessed to keep herself from recoiling in surprise. Hinata blinked rapidly at the appendages hovering before her, "U-um, wh-what…?"

"You gonna get up or what?" Another blink for the gruff voice that answered her incomplete inquiry. When she merely stared at him blankly, Gruff Voice gave her a strange look. He glanced sideways to the red-headed boy next to him, whose hand was also stretched out to her, and they both nodded. Entranced by the somber exchange, Hinata watched, a little detached from the somewhat surreal circumstance, as they walked to stand on either side of her. Rough hands grabbed her behind her elbows and hauled her forcibly to her feet.

"E-eep!" Dear God, please tell her she didn't just squeak. Hinata's face lit up like a cherry tomato and she stumbled awkwardly out of the boys' grasp, her books held in front of her protectively. The four boys continued to watch her strangely and all she wanted was to disappear from under their gazes.

Stammering out thanks and apologies for wasting their time in between frantically polite bows, Hinata blushed madly and tried to search for a way to get away from their intimidating presences. She finally noticed that one of them was holding open the door she had been trying to enter earlier. Reddened more than she had ever thought possible, Hinata bowed once more and quickly escaped into the relative safety of the school office, one of the boys' voices trailing playfully behind her.

"Oh, yeah. Welcome to Okibi."

Disclaimer: All standard disclaimers apply

Footnote- tornado twins: Naruto & Kiba; lazy boy: Shikamaru; sunglasses: Shino; gruff voice: Sasuke; red head: Gaara (obviously) :) just to clarify

Author's Note: First off, I would like to take a moment to send out ginormous bear hugs and loves to everyone who reviewed (you know, the whole two of you). It means a lot to me that you both took the time to send me a message!

To all you people who didn't review, please do so; even if all you have to say is 'I hate/love it!', I'd still appreciate anything you throw at me.

As an aside, for anyone interested, I have a running story status on my profile that I plan to use for keeping people up to date about where I am with my chapters. Please give me a visit and drop some feedback- I'd love to hear from you!

As always, comments, suggestions, and criticisms are welcome and appreciated.