AN: I wrote this mostly because there is a grand total of one fic that deals with Neji wanting forgiveness and trying to rebuild his relationship with Hinata after Neji gets over himself--everyone either writes as if Neji still hates her when the timeskip has passed, which is ridiculous (go look at the chapter right before the timeskip, when Naruto leaves with Jiraiya) or just skips straight to them being entirely fine with each other.

I'd think that Neji would probably be feeling some serious guilt on the subject of Hinata once Naruto made him realize how badly his philosophy on fate and his hatred for the Main House had warped him; unfortunately, Neji is also cold, haughty and somewhat emotionally retarded. On Hinata's part, while she is very much about love and forgiveness and changing yourself, she's also feared Neji for years and the Hinata of pre-Neji fight was prone to running away from her problems, a major one of which was Neji.

Ironically, Neji does not appear until the next chapter, but this was already getting long, and I also wanted to write about the whole Kabuto healing Hinata thing, which also doesn't get much attention (and anything that allows for more Kabuhina is fine by me). This is more of a framework and set-up for the second part then anything, but it was fun to write.

And I swear I'm working on the next chapter of Muma but Hinata torture is pretty difficult to write, so it's taking a while. Forgiveness please!

Catch the reference and I will write you a very short drabble of choice. :D


"It's a true shame," the ANBU said, as they knelt on the cold ground, one to each side of Hinata's body, "that a girl so strong and beautiful belongs to such an unappreciative clan." The light from his chakra flickered over Hinata's face, dappling it with little shadows, as if he was painting a pattern there.

"Uh-huh, whatever. Just keep healing her, okay?" Kiba said, and wondered just how much trouble he'd get into if he knocked the pervert's teeth down his throat, ANBU be damned. Like Hinata wasn't already self-conscious enough about her body, walking around hunched over in those feed sacks and stepping out every day with the hope that people's eyes would somehow skip over the rounder areas of her figure without some old asshole commenting on her looks while she was lying there half-dead, even if he did come out of nowhere to heal her.

He darted a glance down at Hinata's stone white face with the little dribble of dark blood at the corner of her lip, then at the ANBU guy's hand gleaming blue like a mercury fire over her heart and swallowed hard as Akamaru whimpered in sympathy from his perch on Kiba's shoulder.

Though, he admitted to himself, the guy actually didn't sound that old--maybe a couple of years older than them at the most--and Kiba couldn't remember if there was a lower limit set for entry into ANBU; he just knew that you had to be really damned good, the best of the best, and wait-a-sec, didn't they set a limit after Uchiha's brother whats-his-name went completely fucking psycho and killed everyone in the clan...? The Uchiha'd been thirteen and already a goddamned ANBU captain, way too much pressure; he could just vaguely remember Ma and Sis standing around with the dogs (the ones that could speak human, anyway) and talking about it.

"Pathetic," his mother had said, "pushing a child into something like that, when all he really cared about was his own glory. Well, see how it bit him in the end."

Okay, enough about the freaking Uchiha, Kiba decided and wiped his sweating palms on the stiff cloth of his pants. Concentrate on Hinata, because if this guy can't heal her like he said, we're going to have to run like hell for the medics. A new thought came to him: maybe he should have already sent Akamaru ahead, just in case, and went to lift him down from his shoulder so Akamaru could more easily run free.

A very slight change passed over Hinata's face, and Kiba stopped to watch, heart pounding like a strongman's drum. In the ghostly light of the ANBU's healing, Hinata's face lost its terrible stillness and became her again, her body lying as calm and easy as sleep.

"You did it," Kiba whispered, so choked with relief he could hardly talk. "You really did it! I guess the ANBU really can do everything, can't they?"

"Mmm. She'll be all right now, but she won't be able to watch any more matches," the ANBU said, strangely quiet, and Kiba managed to tear his eyes away from Hinata's face to look over at him, startled. "Huh? What do you--"

"And neither will you," the man finished, and thrust an arm out at him.

Kiba looked down just in time to see the stranger's glowing hand make contact with his heart, and feeling as if a hard wind had suddenly punched him in the chest, fell nose-first into the concrete and lay still.


The ANBU knelt quietly between the two unconscious genin for a few minutes, waiting to see if anyone had noticed the odd little play going on behind the main scenes. It seemed, however, that the audience was too interested in watching Neji Hyuuga pour his withered little heart out to the universe to take notice of a stray ANBU and his charges, the same way none of them had been able to tear their eyes away long enough to see Hinata Hyuuga coughing her life away in the cheap seats. Or how none of the other ANBU stationed in the stadium has noticed an extra Black Ops member among their fold, when their mission orders clearly called for ten ANBU directly at the exam and here he was, lucky eleven. Didn't they read?

"And they call themselves ninja," he whispered, and grinned tightly behind his stolen mask.

He took his time now: the Hyuuga genius was still blathering away, and at the rate he was going, they'd all be listening to him for a few more hours. A swift, simple genjutsu to draw away any prying eyes (there were none) and he acted, casually walking over to a nearly-invisible door set next to the ladder that accessed the corridors of the stadium's heating and cooling systems. A few tugs and the door came free, hinges groaning loud as months of rust flaked away to dust the floor, and the thick scent of fertilizer wafted out to assault his nose. He took a cursory check of the interior--a spare maintenance shed for the stadium's field, just as the blueprints had said--and propping the door open with a handy brick, returned to Hinata's side.

So light it felt like she would float away from his arms; her hair was nearly the same shade of black as his cloak. Carrying her over to the relative safety of the maintenance room, he laid her small body down on a pile of sacking and stepped away to consider her. A shame if anything were to happen to her after she'd finally found the secret spring of her courage. (He'd been there, that day, watching as Hinata Hyuuga earned herself a permanent spot on his list of interests.) A shame, especially after he'd broken his orders and spent crucial chakra to heal someone who was supposed to be dying along with the rest of Konoha's vibrant population in less than two hours. (Orders were guidelines, not absolutes, and Lord Orochimaru generated so much chaos in his wake what harm would it do for Kabuto to spread some of his own for a change? Another drop into the lake of his secrets, that was all.)

(it is not only a sin to waste power, it is utter stupidity. if there is one thing he can't abide, it's foolishness.)

Kabuto left Hinata on her sackcloth bed and walked back to the boy to study him for a moment, head tilted in one of his few genuine gestures.

"Why not?" he said, and yanked the boy up by his armpits, careful not to let the puppy fall free. Letting the unconscious Inuzuka's feet bump against the floor, Kabuto dragged him over to the maintenance room, to place besides Hinata in her makeshift sanctuary. "You'll protect her if you wake first, won't you? That's why I'm letting you live."

(there is nothing challenging or right in killing the small and defenseless.)

(any fool can do that. anyone.)

He brushed some stray hairs out of Hinata's mouth, shut the door on his hidden treasures and they slept away the long, slow hours of Orochimaru's defeat in the quiet dark.


The traitors were long gone, but Kakashi still stood and watched the patch of sand they'd been standing on before making their escape, Kabuto's smug, all-knowing smile hanging before his eyes.

Damn that stuck-up brat.

A worn but still energetic Gai had left to see to the welfare of his team and the other genin; finally, Kakashi turned away and slowly made his way up to the remaining ANBU gathered at the back of the stadium, planning to discuss the latest news, orders and verify that all of the Sound and Sand forces in the area had been taken care of. Fortunately for Kiba Inuzuka, all of them were a little too exhausted to be at their best, because when the door in the wall was suddenly flung open, revealing a very woozy Kiba, a maintenance closet and what looked to be a unconscious Hinata Hyuuga inside, most of the group's kunai were gone and the few that remained went a little wide, embedding themselves in the door frame rather than Kiba himself.

"Hey," the boy rasped, completely ignoring the weapons that had just come flying at him and jabbing a clawed finger at an ANBU to his left "why'd the hell you'd knock me out and stick me and Hinata in there, huh? I woke up on a bag of manure, man, manure! Me 'n Akamaru just about died from the stink, you don't do things like that to an Inuzuka, dammit..." Swaying hard, he gripped the edge of the door with his other hand, then lost his balance and slipped quickly to the floor.

"What the hell are you talking about, kid?" the ANBU he'd accused snapped back. "I've been out patrolling the walls all day, haven't set foot in this place until after Orochimaru fled. Too busy mopping up Sound and Sand grunts to shut a noisy kid up in a side room."

Kiba blinked up at him, then lifted the hand he'd been pointing with to rub his eyes, hard. "Uh...yeah, you're right, it's not the same mask and you're too tall to be him. Sorry. My eyes seem like they're kinda messed up." He waved the hand in apology, then squinted around at the group of ANBU with Kakashi, clearly searching. "But an ANBU guy did knock me out and stuck me and Hinata in there while we were out cold. Like to think I've got a right to know why."

"It wasn't me," another ANBU in the back offered, and his murmur traveled through the group in affirmation. "Don't know what you're talking about/Haven't been here/It wasn't me either/I'm a woman."

"Now, everyone just hold on for a minute," Kakashi said, putting both his hands up in a let's-all-think-about-this position, quieting the group. "Kiba, maybe it would be better if you told us what happened and what kind of mask this ANBU was wearing, since no two of them are alike. That will narrow things down pretty quickly, I think."

"You know how that bastard Neji beat the crap of Hinata last month, right?" Kiba said, his voice shifting into a snarl at the mention of Neji Hyuuga, lip lifting enough to show a glimpse of fang. "Well, we were watching him be his usual crap self to Naruto during their fight, and Hinata started getting really upset and couldn't breath. Said her chest hurt and started coughing up blood." He swallowed and looked down, his fingers twitching. "She'd just about passed out when this ANBU guy literally shows up out of nowhere and said he could heal her."

A small and terrible suspicion began to unfurl in Kakashi's brain, bit by thorny bit. "Did he now," he stated, keeping his voice as neutral and steady as a stone. Kiba nodded.

"So, Hinata's real sick and this guy picked her up and took her all the way to the back, because he needed the space and quiet, he said. I went along too because somebody's gotta watch out for her, and I'm not letting some ANBU weirdo walk off with her when she's practically dying. And he did it. He really did heal her. You should have seen her face...but then he made this weird comment about her not watching any more matches and I looked at him, and he said I wouldn't be watching any more either and he hit me in the chest with the same hand he'd healed Hinata with. Then the next thing I know, I'm waking up on a sack of cow crap."

The mouse-faced ANBU Kiba had first accused looked over at Kakashi. "The only healers among us are Kanna and Shimotsuna, but Kanna's on a mission out to Grass and Shimotsuna's been out all day with Horikawa: I know because I ran into them myself. They were posted together and they weren't supposed to be anywhere near the stadium. Their territory was the Western Gate."

Kakashi jammed both hands into his pockets to hide his clenched fists. "The mask, Kiba. Do you remember the mask?"

"Head's a little fuzzy," the boy muttered, closing his eyes, one hand rubbing his forehead as if the memory could be brought out by the motion. "I looked kinda like a cat."

"Minomo!" the female ANBU gasped. "But his body...that's can't be--"

The sudden explosion of voices made Hinata Hyuuga stir, just a little.

"I know exactly who it was," Kakashi interrupted and moved so he was blocking the door of the little room with his body, his voice as tense as a strung wire: Kiba looked up at him in shock. "And it's not good. Get the medics and Interrogation here. NOW!"


Hinata pleated the blanket she'd been given with nervous fingers and wished that there was a window in the room.

Snatches of conversation made their way into her, despite the closed door: she heard Kiba-kun very clearly because when he was agitated, he had a tendency to be very loud. "...How was I supposed to know...was I just going to let her die...He did what? No, we would have damn trackers...Beats me...Like I said, I don't know!"

People she guessed were medics from their dialogue--"All samples read normal...impossible...not done properly the first time...chakra is normal as sign..."--also passed by. Several of them had been with her earlier, taking vials of blood and doing test after test until her entire body ached. She'd been probed and prodded from every angle, then given a blanket and locked in the room. No one had told her what was going on.

She was very tired, but her chest felt fine; she took a few deep breaths to test it once more and was reassured at how easy it was. The last thing she could remember before being brought here was feeling as if small, sharp wires were being twisted into her heart and blood dribbling past her lips. Oh, she'd thought, it's same as when he-- Then there was nothing, not even regret for Naruto-kun.

Now that she was thinking about it though, something else was coming back to her: a fierce heat that burned away the wires and the weakness in her heart, straightening everything up and setting it back to normal, but it had hurt. Blue flames and a man? Shrouded in black, his face hidden by a mask. Was that why she was here?

There was a sudden quick stamp of footsteps outside her door; she tensed and then the door clicked open to reveal Kiba and Akamaru's smiling faces. "Hey, Hinata, you feeling okay? They finally let us go, so I came right over to see you."

She smiled back, anxious to forget herself and reassure him. "I'm fine, Kiba-kun."

"Yeah, they think so too." He pulled an apple out of his pocket and held it up so Akamaru could take a bite, then took one himself. "Sorry; I'd share but they said you can't have any food just yet and I'm too hungry to wait." He took another bite, speaking through the mouthful. "Man, it's been /hours/!"

"Kiba-kun, what's going on? No one's told me why we're here," she said, feeling the anxiety from earlier settle back on her. "D-did something happen...?"

He stopped eating and stared down at the apple with an expression she'd never before seen on him, a mixture of anger, regret and sorrow. "Yeah. A lot happened," he replied in an uncommonly soft tone. "The Third Hokage's dead, Hinata."

"W-what?" she whispered and her still-good heart skipped a beat. "The poor man..."

"The Hokage died a hero though--Hinata, a lot happened and you getting sick was just the start of it, so maybe you better just sit quiet and let me tell you what's been going on." Kiba rose and began to pace the room with hands in his pockets and Akamaru's little white face peeking out of his collar; the apple lay half-eaten and forgotten on the bedside table. He stopped across the room from her, facing away, towards the wall. " you remember Hinata, the first day of the Chuunin exams? When all us rookies were together for the first time?"

She nodded, even though he couldn't see it. "I remember it."

"Okay. Do you also remember that guy that came up to us?" Kiba was snarling all of a sudden and she couldn't think why. "The snotty four-eyes with the info cards? Offered to let us know anything we wanted about the competition?"

A boy of medium height with a round, mild face and a hint of arrogance around his eyes, otherwise unremarkable except for his silver hair, glasses, and the good-natured embarrassment with which he'd confessed to failing the exams seven times. "Yes?"

Kiba paced a few more steps, then turned back to face her. "You ever notice him hanging around after that? Like during the Forest of Death, or anytime after that? Specifically, hanging around us? Or you?"

"N-no. I remember seeing him with his team right before we went into the forest, but everyone was around then...why, Kiba-kun?"

"Because." Kiba really was snarling now, his fangs exposed and heavy anger in his eyes. "Because that guy's a liar, a traitor and a filthy fucking spy, that's why. ANBU told me he's working for this guy named Orochimaru, the leader of that Sound village. Orochimaru killed the Third. While we were fucking sleeping, Orochimaru hid his Sound goons outside and launched a sneak attack with Sand to try and wipe Konoha out. I saw outside for just a little bit while they were taking us here: stuff's in ruins--"

A steel band closed around her heart at his words and Hinata bolted up, gasping. "My family--Hanabi and my father--everyone!"

"Hey, hey, it's okay, calm down," Kiba said, rushing to her side and squeezing her arm, trying to calm her by touch. "They said that most everyone's accounted for, and Orochimaru hardly killed anyone. In fact, your old man and my ma and sis killed a whole bunch of Sound by themselves. Konoha did pretty well for itself: those assholes'll think harder the next time they want to take us on."

Akamaru wriggled out of Kiba's coat to land on her lap, barking reassurances as his tail wagged frantically. She patted him with trembling fingers, then gathered him up against her chest for a hug, trying to take comfort from his soft little body and wondered how the world had flipped so drastically in so short a time. Kurenai-sensei, Shino-kun, Naruto-kun...oh please, be all right...

Kiba's eyes were still unnervingly serious. "Hinata, the reason I'm asking if you saw that guy around is because--well, you know your injury started flaring up real bad again during that bastard's fight with Naruto, right? I thought that maybe you were gonna die...I..." He looked away and bit his lip. "Doesn't matter what I thought. Anyway, Kabuto Yakushi--that's the guy's name--he's something else, from what they told me. Killed a bunch of ANBU all by himself, and he tricked Kakashi-sensei and got away from him when Kakashi tried to capture him. Brains and brawn. He disguised himself as an ANBU he'd killed and when you got sick, he came out of nowhere and said he'd heal you."

Another brand to the slowly-building fire of her panic. "W-why? He's evil, isn't he? I-I mean, he killed all those people and you said that he was working for someone who tried to d-destroy Konoha. I didn't know him at all, I-I never saw him other than those two times, I honestly never did..."

"That's what I told Interrogation: we're the best goddamn trackers around and if this Kabuto guy had been following us, we'd have known, even if he is as good as they say," Kiba said, and snorted. "So why did he care about healing you? According to ANBU, Orochimaru wanted everyone to die and Konoha left in ashes. Complete and total destruction. But this Kabuto guy healed you and no one can figure out why." He lowered his voice slightly and glanced around, then added: "Don't get scared okay? Because they told me that they're almost one hundred percent sure he didn't do this to you, otherwise they wouldn't have let me see you. But at first...they thought that maybe he'd put some kind of jutsu on you when he healed you."

"W-what kind of jutsu?" she whispered. "You one of t-those ones that c-control people without them knowing?" She clutched Akamaru too tightly and he yelped.

"I said not to get scared, didn't I?" he snapped, then sighed when he saw the look on her face and gave her a pat, stroking her as if she was Akamaru. "I'm telling you, they checked you for everything like that and found nothing. Zip. Zippo. You're clean, absolutely. Everything came up normal." He leaned in, lowering his voice again. "Now everyone's really confused though, because it really looks like all he did was heal you, and not only that, he knocked me out, but he didn't kill me. He tried to kill Sasuke Uchiha while he was unconscious in the hospital earlier and Kakashi caught him, that's how they knew he was working for Orochimaru---nice of Kakashi to tell us that he was a traitor wasn't it, he could have gotten anyone without them being the wiser, because I guess genin are too stupid to be trusted, even though he was posing as one of us, asshole--so if he was okay with killing Sasuke, why not us? Not only that, he put us in a place where we'd be safe from the fighting--and we were."

Hinata closed her eyes and brought back the memory of the smiling boy, hands shuffling his deck of cards with a supple grace. Did his eyes linger on her a little too long, back then? Was his face a little too friendly? What about her, small and plain and weak--getting stronger, maybe, but still weak--could have brought him to her side?

"My eyes," she whispered, leaving them shut. "I think maybe he wanted my eyes." Her severely underpowered Byakugan, worthless to anyone except her and perhaps a bloodline researcher. There was nothing else about her that could possibly attract someone so powerful.

More footsteps in the corridor, heavier then before. Different voices. Interrogation, coming to speak to her?

Kiba reached over and took Akamaru, tapping her hand with a nail in passing so she'd let go. "Maybe, but you don't have a seal, so he could've taken them even if you were dead, right? Didn't you say that the was the whole point of the curse seal, that it zapped the Byakugan if the user died, so no one else could take it? And what about me? If all he wanted was your eyes, why'd he spare me? We Inuzuka don't have any fancy bloodline limits."

Why indeed?

The boy--Kabuto--looked straight at her, and smiled.

Hinata opened her eyes.