Behind the Mask

CHAPTER 12: Have Heart

Hinata huffed a sigh after anxiously eyeing the room she'd been assigned. It was nothing special compared to her room back at Leaf Arena. The room was nothing more than a stingy, old storage room with the items of storage removed and placed somewhere else. There was only one light bulb and it barely illuminated, leaving her in dark and dreary surroundings. She didn't even dare venture off of the small bench placed in the middle for her. The placing of it in the middle of the room was odd, but she decided it was a better spot when her lilac eyes saw the thick dirt crusted along the walls and corners from the many decades the building had been standing.

For once, she really envied the other boys, because never had she thought being the sole girl on the team could bring her this misfortune. Nonetheless, she steeled herself with a repulse cringe of her delicate features and turned her attention down to her equipment. She went about her usual routine and carefully adorned every article.

That morning, the morning of their game against Kumo, Hinata had gone in search of her equipment bag among the Heat's pile of luggage. She hadn't found it and was sent into a frenzy of sorts. It had consisted of much stuttering and feverishly climbing the mountain of equipment with no one around to help in her search. However, after ten minutes of stumbling over the mound, Shikamaru had shown up and given her a bemused expression. He then found his bag easily and pulled it from the offending heap.

The Hyuuga had pouted absently and dropped down to sit at the center of the mass of equipment. She looked at him through tired, half-lidded eyes. Yesterday she didn't get to sleep in because Neji had woken her up early, and today she had been persuaded into meeting the Nara goalie for a 'before practice-practice' or that was how he reasoned the early hour. Even worse than not being able to sleep in, Hinata had been hunting for her precious equipment and come up empty handed.

The boy, with his hair pulled up into a spiky and untamed tail of sorts, only offered her a sheepish smile. "Not here?" he asked. She shook her head in defeat. "Have you checked your room?"

"My room," she mused quietly to herself before she bolted upright and sprang from the load, stumbling in the cracks between bags on her way. It wasn't graceful, but she managed to get down without mishap. Shikamaru had only quirked a brow and shrugged. He dragged his bag behind while heading off towards the visiting team's dressing room. Hinata had disappeared around the corner and he assumed he'd just meet her on the ice after he got his skates on, but she suddenly scampered back clumsily, even catching her toe on the corner before her face contorted to express the pain.

She straightened herself out and offered the boy opposite her a nervous laugh. He wondered how someone who had juggled six items the night earlier and won bragging rights was suddenly clumsy.

"Uh, w-where is my… r-room?" she asked. Her slender fingers had found each other in an anxious expression of her inner states.

Shikamaru looked around. Not that he was trying all that hard, but he didn't find any blatant directions which would lead to the exact location of her temporary dressing room. Luckily for them, Naruto and Kiba had sauntered out from around a corner. The blonde had snickered something to his friend and the Inuzuka had chuckled loud.

"Oi!" Shikamaru roused their attention. "Do you two know where Hinata's dressing room is?"

And that was how Hinata had found her room; with the help of the two teenage boys. Strangely enough, her equipment had even been dropped off and a few items removed from her bag. Suspicions rarely found their way to Hinata's thought processes, but they did this time. It was even more suspicious when all the items she carried were in place and intact. Logic, judgement, and the knock on the door got the better of her and she brushed her thoughts aside.

"Just put on your skates," Shikamaru instructed. "You don't need to put everything on."

"O-okay," she conceded, eyes wandering the concrete floor until she found her black skates. Her socks were pulled up before she dipped one foot into the skate. They were laced up quickly and with expert, dexterous fingers. Hearing Shikamaru sigh on the other side of the door, she grabbed the other with haste and slotted her right foot inside. Unlike her other foot, this one was impeded by a soft, squishy feeling she'd never experienced inside a skate before. "Ah," she exclaimed as pale eyes wandered down to see white foam spill past her ankles and over the edge.

There was a shuffle on the other side of the door before Shikamaru turned the handle of eased it open. "Something wrong?" he asked, though his expression conveyed little concern over her current predicament. Lazy eyes darted down to where she was transfixed. His lips curled into a lethargic smile. "Shaving cream," he clarified. "That's why you're stuff had already been moved and unpacked."

Hinata's head inclined upward before tilting to one side, puzzled. "Shaving cream m-moved my stuff?" she queried incredulously, wondering if this supposed genius had lost his bearings.

"No," he countered, still grinning subtly. "Kiba and Naruto moved your stuff. They also put the shaving cream into your skate."

Her reply came in a slow, steady nod. "But wh-why?"

Shikamaru sighed as he pushed off the wall, walking over until he was close enough to kneel in front of her. His shoulders were slouched and his hands left the confines of his pockets before pulling the skate off. "Because you were our team's highest three star's last game. Remember, second star?"

The skate was held up for her and she took it grudgingly with a discontented frown. "They put sh-shaving cream into s-skates when someone gets a s-star?" It seemed silly and she felt herself shrink back into her recluse shell. Hinata knew the two boys were energetic, and had plenty of it to spare, but to taunt her like this felt so… wrong.

The Nara appeared to catch on to her shift in mood. "You got off easy," he mentioned, resisting a chuckle. "Have you ever seen that picture of Sasuke from a few years back? It was before Neji joined the team."

Hinata searched her mental database and followed it with a shake of her head.

"Well…" His lips curled into a real grin and even the corners of his eyes crinkled. "They took a pair of clippers and temporary hair dye, in Heat's colours, and then while Sasuke was sleeping…" he paused, a bit of mirth boiling over. "You can fill in the rest… It was really troublesome. But we did stop calling him 'duck butt' for awhile."

In her mind, a pair of clippers, a few bottles of hair dye in the team's colours, and a very unhappy Uchiha materialized. Oh, and then the duck butt reference. Hinata laughed outright, and then she covered her mouth and uttered a quiet apology. She was only glad Sasuke wasn't around for fear that he'd scowl at her with those scary eyes. They were very strange eyes, which could be nice and frightening all within the same second. Where Naruto and Kiba found the nerve to prank Uchiha Sasuke was something she couldn't come close to understanding, but it astounded her nonetheless.

Shikamaru sat back on his bum with his skates on. He looked to be amused by her reaction to the anecdote. Hinata, however, tried to hide her smile as she turned back to her skate. The inner lining of her skate, the boot that was normally encased in the resistant material outside, was pulled out. She spread the tongue of it forward before flipping the entire thing over to dump the contents out, scraping the remaining gunk out with her finger. "So…" She hummed softly, eyes locked on the boot like that was her only concern. "Wh-where is this picture?"

Her fellow goalie let go another laugh while he settled down and watched her clean out her boot. "All the hard copies were burned… in a big steel barrel." Shikamaru leaned back a tad and scratched the side of his head, then spoke, "if you're lucky, Naruto might have a copy saved somewhere."

"Mhm." She nodded and filed the new information away for later inquiry. Inwardly, she wondered if Neji knew about the rather provocative sounding picture. But then another question occurred to her. "Wh-what if Naruto or Kiba get one of the three stars?"

"Then they try to out-prank the other. It's not pretty." And he meant that for the entire team, not just the two. The old bucket on the door prank had been pulled off flawlessly earlier in the year when Kiba earned second star. The dog-lover had meant to get Naruto before the blonde could get him. Unfortunately, an innocent bystander had walked into the room before Naruto.

Shikamaru could still remember the chill that ran through his body when the ice water hit him like a slab of ice from the rink. "Yea, anyway…" His face returned to its normal expression of laziness and disinterest, though there was still a hint of a smile. "Chouji and I will meet you on the ice. There are a few things to go before tonight's game."

He left the room and Hinata dug through her bag until she found a small towel. The cloth was used to wipe away the last of the white foam. When she was satisfied, she inserted the boot back into her skate and proceeded to test it with her foot. It didn't feel damp or uncomfortable, which was to her pleasure. The fuzz of the material would likely get a little crusty later when it tried, but nothing to be concerned about.

A few minutes later, she stepped out of her storage room and headed down the hall until she found the archway. Chouji and Shikamaru were at the end, talking and pointing to various spots on the ice. None of the three Heat goalies wore more than their normal street clothes and a pair of skates. Their goalie skates, of course, were different from regular skates. They sat lower on the ankles and didn't offer the same protection over the back tendons, just above their heels as other skates did. The blades were flatter, wider, and shorter, allowing them to station themselves closer to the ice.

"Let's hit the ice," Chouji cheered, hopping over the boards with a whoop.

"Tch." Shikamaru smirked and headed out through the swinging door. It wasn't often that Chouji got excited about hockey, but this was clearly one of those moments. Just as he touched down on the ice, the Nara turned back to snag a hockey stick off the bench before he glided out and Hinata followed quietly.

It was a serene sort of feeling that hit her. The arena was slightly smaller than Leaf, but it was large still. But without the crowds, it held an aged aura to it, tranquil and elegant. Then again, it was the oldest arena in the league and it resided in her hometown. The feeling was more likely to be nostalgia, she figured. After all, she had attended a handful of Neji's games from their time here. Scanning the seats, Hinata could still pinpoint the seat she always sat in. It was tucked up high, but just before the balcony sections.

While the two boys tested the ice, she smiled to herself. That seat, the one behind hers. That was where she had met her first Sabaku. Gaara had been so adamant on resting his broken leg, in a white cast, upon the top of her seat. She'd politely asked him to remove it and after an awkward exchange of words, he agreed. At the time she had no idea who he was, but guessed he was an injured player from the opposing team. The crutches and the suit easily gave it away.

"Hinata," Shikamaru interrupted her thoughts and motioned her over.

"S-sorry." She skated over, wiping the reminiscent smile off her face.

"Right, okay," he murmured, looking around to orient himself again as she joined them. "This arena is old, and there are some things you should know about before tonight's game," he explained. Hinata and Chouji both nodded their acknowledgement. "Most of the boards have been replaced except for the ones behind the nets." Shikamaru skated over and knocked the hockey stick in emphasis. "Even if the pucks are frozen, they still have a tendency to spring back when they hit the back board. Be careful." Kumo knows how to use these boards to their advantage."

The third string goalie reached into his pocket and pulled out two frozen pucks. One was dropped down before he batted it off the ice, pelting it into the boards. Hinata had almost thought he was going the fan on the puck all together and miss because of how inattentive his gaze appeared to be, but she squeaked and stepped back when the rubber disk ricocheted off and flew back past where they stood.

"The boards have been inspected and deemed to be within regulation, but the backlash from the rest of the league has forced Kumo to agree on renovations for next season," he stated. "But since we're still playing with old boards until they change them, I thought you should know." Sighing, he frowned and looked around, "Yea, be careful because Kumo knows how dump the puck and regain possession really fast."

Chouji clucked his tongue and nodded. "Got it." Hinata then feverishly added her own nod to express her understanding. She knew Shikamaru was doing this for her benefit alone. Chouji had played in the arena before, so she took care to listen intently.

"And lastly," he said before leading them to the side boards. "Last week, Killerbee sent one of Kiri's players into the board." Kneeling down to the ice, he ran a hand over the spot. "It's barely there and took me awhile to figure out, but there's a little indentation."

Both the other goalies followed his movements and knelt down as well. Chouji ran his hand over the dip once Shikamaru moved aside. While they fussed over the dent, Hinata calculated its position in relationship to her. It was on the end she would defend for two of the three periods. It would be to her right when she was in goal and was approximately halfway into her defensive zone from the blueline.

She turned back to look down at her teammates. "You're saying that if… If Kumo dumps the puck f-from their end, it could hit the dent and change direction…" she trailed off, making her way between the boys to get a better look at what could have surprised her in the game had Shikamaru not drawn her attention to it.

The lazy genius nodded, smirking in achievement that she figured out the implications of a miniscule dimple in the boards. "Instead of going smoothly to the back of the net, it may redirect… and judging from the angle of the dent, it's going straight to your net." He leaned back beside the notch and visually measured the angle to confirm his musings. "Yep, if it bounces off here," he paused to point, "it's going square into your net."

Sometime after going over the kinks in the rink, Hinata had been ushered off to suit up in her full equipment for the team's practice. Everything had gone as it usually went. There were drills, exercises, game plans, and the like. The top line had shown up to shined the entire way through, just like Hinata knew they would shine for that night's game. Neji had complimented her and told her it was time to show Kumo what they were missing out on when they let two Hyuuga slipped through their grasps. Naruto had apologized about the shaving cream in the skate bit, but then amended it a second later, citing that that was how the Heat rewarded a well played game. Then Kiba butt in and told her it was all Naruto's idea and if she felt compelled to retaliate then all credit went to Naruto, including the canister of shaving cream they'd used. Then there was a shove, and then another, then a curse and the girl laughed lightly and skated off.

Through the cage of her mask, her lavender eyes had searched for the last member of Konoha's top line, Uchiha Sasuke. She never found him, or knew why she had looked to begin with. He had been there for the practice. The dark-haired boy really had a way of making himself scarce when he wanted, even against her abnormally observant eyes.

Hinata had shrugged it off and retreated back to her hotel room for the rest of the afternoon. Some rest and relaxation was in order before the game. Also, some much needed encouragement was in order, too. So while she sat on her bed, the phone pressed against her ear rang before there was a click, shuffling sounds, and a "hello?"

"Hi," Hinata answered, her lips turning into a warm smile.

"Hinata?" Ino voiced before two other voices in the background piped up. The two other girls scrambled around Ino's bedroom, coming to sit beside the platinum blonde and leaning in as if they could join the conversation so easily.


"HINATAAAA!!" the girls cheered enthusiastically. The voices muddled and merged incomprehensibly.

"Wait!" Temari howled, forehead creased irritably. "We can't all talk to her at once."

"Janken," TenTen said, holding out her fist for the game of 'rock, paper, scissors'. Ino nodded and put the phone down on the bed.

On the phone, Hinata smiled and waited for her friends to battle for the right to talk to her. She waited patiently as the three proceeded. They chanted and then she heard Temari groan, assuming her former team captain had lost the first round. Seconds later, there was a familiar chant before the phone was picked up off the bed and she heard a voice greet her cheerily.

"I won!" Ino declared, "the power of best friends, eh?" She laughed.

"Mmhm," Hinata replied, expressing a bit of her own laughter as well. "I miss you all."

"Yea… Well, we miss you, too," Ino answered. "Say, do you like it playing with the stinky boys? 'Cause if you don't, you can always come ba-"

"Be quiet, Oinkers!" TenTen interrupted and Temari laughed in the background.

"Oh, c'mon!" The platinum blonde chastised, glowering at her brunette friend. "How much fun could Hina have with those stinky boys?"

The phone was then ripped away and the next voice Hinata heard was TenTen's. "They are treating you well, right?" she queried, genuine curiosity in her voice. "I mean, if they're not treating you right, I'll give Neji an earful-" TenTen was cut off, much like she had done earlier.

"I'll castrate-" Ino spoke violently before she was wacked over her head by chuckling Temari.

"Yamanaka, I realize your dislike for the male species on account of whoever your last boyfriend was, but I think Hinata can handle herself," the oldest of the three jeered, earning a malicious glance from the other blonde.

"Yea," Hinata spoke into the receiver quietly, nodding to no one. "I can handle myself and everything is fine."

"Really?" TenTen asked, moving to turn on the speaker function so everyone could hear. "So the guys are treating you well?"

"Yes, even Sasuke," she replied. Hinata chose to leave out the shaving cream prank just in case Ino or TenTen decided retribution was in order. Temari, she figured, would likely just laugh and tell Hinata to join the fun. "He and everyone else have been very nice, actually." The Hyuuga smiled, though they couldn't see.

"Really?" Temari repeated, her eyebrows rising in surprise. "So, I don't have to give my brothers a call with instructions to terminate? Not even Uchiha?"

Hinata thought it over briefly before answering, "Nope. H-he actually helped me with my literature paper last night."

"No way," Ino pushed her way to the phone, sky blue eyes zeroed in the device inquisitively, like she would be able to discern the truth in her friend's voice simply by nearing the speaker. The truth? She probably could.

The older girls shot each other knowing glances, teeth gleaming in wide smiles. The brunette latched onto Ino's long pony tail and pulled her back from the phone, forcing a pained yelp and curse from her. Then they both leaned into the phone.

"You don't, uh…" TenTen started, but couldn't finish when she found herself laughing a little.

"Don't what?" Hinata asked innocently.

"Like Uchiha Sasuke, do ya?" Temari finished.

At that, Ino bolted upright and tried to push her way through. She was easily held off by the two Konoha High girls dubbed the 'Tank sisters' for their strength and rough play. They held her mouth and motioned her to be quiet. They all knew that if there was any hope of hearing a confession of the shy girl, they needed silence. Ino's eyes darted bitterly between her two friends while her hands formed into two very offending gestures.

"Um… no?" Hinata answered with uncertainty, but her cheeks were burning as hot as the sun itself. She swallowed hard and tried to calm herself. "I… I d-don't…" she added passively, a little unsure of what it was to like someone to begin with. "No… I w-wouldn't…"

Ino fell back on the floor and raised her arms in the air victoriously. "She's too good for that jerk," she whispered harshly, "Stop putting thoughts in her head." Internally, the blonde made a note to email Gaara. Not that there appeared to be anything substantial between him and Hinata though, he was just the only guy she approved for their little Hina. Everyone was just too blind to see how perfect they were for each other, she was certain.

"Are you sure?" Temari continued to interrogate the Hyuuga as TenTen shuffled over to Ino.

The brunette leaned down beside her friend's ear, whispering, "Just admit that no one else can tame the Uchiha Sasuke. I bet you she's already got him wrapped around her little finger without realizing it."

"Ew," Ino said curtly, poking TenTen in the forehead roughly. "Dirty thoughts. Dirty, dirty, dirty thoughts."

TenTen laughed and leaned away to avoid further abuse. "You know how Hinata is…" She snickered and Ino glared icily.

For now the arena was silent and undisturbed. Hinata knew better. In a couple hours, the crowds would come, signalling the commencement of her second game in the league. She couldn't say she was completely ready for it, but would deny that she wasn't ready. Any uncertainty seemed to be remedied by her friends. Their encouragement and support was enough to elicit the smile on her features as Hinata sat on a crate down the hall from the visitor's dressing room, in an open space. Her legs were folded beneath her.

Inuzuka Kiba sat to her left and Aburame Shino stood across from them. Kiba had three pucks, juggling them in the air while Shino ran the stopwatch that had been forced on him. Hinata's earlier juggling matched ignited a drive in him to gauge his own dexterity in relation to their goaltenders. The girl merely sat and watched, enjoying the company of new friends she never thought she would have. She admired Kiba's determination and ferocity, and Shino's calm, collected, and stoic nature.

"Have I broken her record from yesterday yet?" Kiba inquired, dark eyes intently watching each puck fly up and then fall back down. Hinata smiled, looking over for Shino's answer.

The bug-loving hockey player smirked behind the high collar of his jacket. He shook his head before speaking, "not even close."

"Seriously?" he questioned incredulously, followed by a hushed curse.

"Add to that that Hinata was juggling more than three items. You're a long way off of her record," Shino added with subtle humour in the back of his voice. The girl's smile grew and she attempted to stifle her laugh.

Then a puck shot across and Shino sidestepped to dodge the item. One of his eyebrows rose behind the lens of his dark glasses.

"How far off am I now?" Kiba asked, teeth gleaming in a sadistic smile. One puck was held idly and prepared to be blasted along with its counterpart when the moment came.

"Now you're down to two items, much less than Hinata," Shino taunted and then ducked the incoming rubber.

"Oh yea?" Kiba's eyes flashed and he got up off the crate, stomping over to his teammate. "I'll show you who'll be down a few items if you get my drift, bug-boy."

Shino remained unperturbed as the brunette stalked up to him. Their eyes met levelly and Hinata leaned forward in her seat to curiously watch the heated exchange of glares, though she easily saw the playful way in which the corner of Kiba's lips turned upward.

"What's this?" a voice interrupted, floating from the other side of the open space as the male walked up to the group of Heat players. "You two going to beat each other up already? Well, can't say I'd complain. It'd save me the trouble later on."

"Heh." Kiba turned on his large feet to face their latest rival. "Omoi," he seethed with disdain, "Careful there, you'll be eating your own words soon enough."

Shino had to resist the urge to roll his eyes. Every confrontation with the opposition, Kiba always found himself inclined to boast and get riled up. Shino wouldn't normally complain or be bothered by it at all, but the way Hinata's lips quivered told him something was up and it was time to end Kiba's charade. But sooner than he could jump in, a dark-haired girl sat herself down beside the Hyuuga heiress.

"Hinata!" She exclaimed, slinging an arm around the petite girl's shoulders. "Long time, no see."

"K-K-Karui," Hinata stammered, even wincing as the name left her lips. "Y-yes… it's b-been awhile…" She tried to roll her shoulders, scoot over, or anything that would get her out of the other girl's grip. To her dismay, she was roughly pulled closer.

"Samui and I heard you had joined the Konoha team," she informed with fake cheer, "We just thought we should come out and well, support you." Karui smiled wide, white teeth shining.

The other girl, Samui, stood behind Omoi. She looked bored with her half-lidded eyes and her hand rested on one hip. Samui was taller than either Karui or Hinata and had blonde hair so light it would match Ino's. Her figure was full and voluptuous; the envy of every girl at Kumo High. Hinata thought, beside her, Sakura would be the blandest girl in all of Konoha despite her vivacious pink hair and sparkling emerald eyes.

The Hyuuga's thoughts showed outwardly as her breaths hastened and there was a quiet whimper of protest when Karui pulled her closer. "We've missed you at school," the dark-haired girl teased, ruffling Hinata's hair unceremoniously. "Won't you come back and visit? Maybe there's a spot for you on Kumo's team here. I'm sure if you sweet talk Killerbee the same way you sweet talked your cousin…" She smirked when Hinata cringed but didn't pull away.

Omoi chuckled at the Hyuuga's reaction. Kiba and Shino shared worried glances. For a second, Kiba had stepped forward but was stopped by a hand on his arm. "Let her handle it," Shino had said in a quiet voice.

"Stop it, Karui. You're going to make her cry," Samui interrupted, tilting her head enough to catch Hinata's light eyes for the briefest moments.

Hinata could barely contain the shudder that reverberated through her entire body. The blonde's eyes were narrowed and cat-like, but not because they were narrowed in anger, but they were naturally like that. It provoked a sense of panic and worry every time she saw them. She'd forgotten what her time in Kumo was like before moving to Konoha. But the memories were more than vivid now, like she'd never left. Hinata closed her eyes and slouched, fighting valiantly against the hot tears threatening to spill with no remorse.

"Oh, c'mon," Karui whined, ruffling the head of indigo hair even more. "It used to take much more to make her cry."

Kiba's hands fisted at his side and he shot Shino a glance that said he was about ready to rip that girl's head off.

"Besides…" Karui started, eyes narrowing sharply in contempt as she looked down on the weak girl in her arms, "it serves her right. She thinks just because she's a Hyuuga, she can do whatever she wants and wiggle her way into anything she wants. It's pathetic."

Hinata tried poorly to push herself out of the girl's hold while letting her curtain of hair hide the tears streaming down her cheeks. Her heart was tight and her chest heavy, like she couldn't find enough air to keep herself alive. Pathetic… It was a word she'd grown accustomed to in her Kumo years, but it hurt so much more this time.

"Shut up!" Kiba bellowed, stepping forward to reach for the quivering girl, but was stopped by Omoi.

"You touch one of my girls and I'll have your head," Omoi cut in, teeth clenched. "I don't care if Karui's got a small rack, but be a man… She's still a girl, so keep your grubby hands to yourself."

"Well, tell that little…" Kiba paused, feverishly thinking of a nasty word. "Uh, … small-rack girl to get her hands off the little mouse!"

Samui rolled her eyes. "Why don't you both stop?" she intruded. "It's clear Konoha has made their decision. Whether or not they realize the mess they've gotten themselves into by allowing her to join is irrelevant. It'll be their downfall in the end."

"I hardly think that's for you to decide," a deep voice pierced the tension.

Samui turned slightly and looked inquisitively into obsidian eyes. "You're right. It's no one's decision to make. I guess you could say fate decided to make Hyuuga Hinata the way she is; a failure."

"Hn." Sasuke smirked and walked up to the girl, unthreatened and with indifference, coming within inches of her. "No, that's for me to decide."

"Right, I forgot. You're an Uchiha." Samui looked onto the sable-haired hockey prodigy with disinterest. She then looked over to her friend before stepping around Sasuke. "I'm going to go find a seat. My back hurts and my shoulders are stiff."

Omoi had chuckled and sauntered after the blonde, mumbling something about stiff shoulders and her excessively sized breasts. The last of the trio, Karui, had given Hinata a derisive pat over her head before she too got up and left the Konoha players to themselves.

Behind the bangs that hung into her eyes, Hinata could see the three sets of feet. It was hard to miss when Sasuke had come. He had an aura she'd never miss, even in a room full of people. It was especially so when he was angry. Hinata pulled the sleeves of her sweater over her hands before she frantically wiped away her tears. She didn't want to be reprimanded any further.

"Get up," Sasuke demanded, ice running through his veins rather than blood. When she didn't move but only sniffled and whimpered, he grabbed her upper arm and pulled her roughly off the crate. She cried out and more tears made themselves known to her as she stumbled backwards. Fortunately, both his strong hands latched onto her arms to prevent her from falling under her weak legs.

The next thing Hinata felt was the cold, hard concrete of the wall press into her back as Sasuke pinned her to the spot. She finally brought her gaze up to meet his. Her cheeks glistened under the poor lighting and were red from the heat of her emotions. Her lips continued to quiver along the shiver running through her body. For a second, Sasuke realized his heart ached to see her like this.

Why couldn't she be strong? Just once, for her own sake…

He composed himself and locked stern eyes on her fragile ones. "Learn how to stand up for yourself, Hyuuga," he blasted, scorn laced in every word. Hinata squeaked her protest when his hand left her arm and slammed into the wall beside her head, making a low smack that echoed down the hall. "You are the Heat's goalie. If you can't stand up for yourself, then how are you to stand up for your team?"

"Sasuke," Shino said with a hint of worry in his normally calm voice. He was ignored. Kiba's expression flashed his displeasure with the situation, but he cringed and turned to look away, hands fisted tightly at his sides. Neither brunette could bear the image of the fearful girl. Kiba half wondered if Sasuke's heart possibly didn't exist.

Unbeknownst to them, the Uchiha had averted his eyes for a fraction of a second, hardly capable of withstanding the feelings ushered through his frame when she looked at him with so much anguish in those exotic eyes of hers. He was not a heartless man. No, he just had a way of disguising the aspects of him that made him human.

"You are our last line of defence out on the ice. You have a whole team relying on you, and…" His voice grew courser, harsher, more bitter with every word he uttered. His hand slammed into the wall once more, causing her to flinch and shrink back. Hinata only wished the wall would open up and swallow her whole, just so she didn't have to deal with any of this terror anymore.

"You can't even stand up for yourself!" Sasuke's jaws were clenched tightly and visible by the way the muscles tensed. His breaths were coming in deep waves, hissing past his teeth. "We trust you to protect the net, to protect the team, and here you can barely defend yourself. Maybe Neji was wrong about you all along! Maybe we all put too much faith in you!"

His face was nearly touching hers by now and she could feel his hot breath upon her skin. She fought to blink away the tears he brought forth, but failed. With her head bowed, she spoke in her soft, quiet voice, "y-you're… r-right." Hinata's chest heaved in long rises and falls as she regained her breaths, soothing the burn in her lungs. "I d-don't… b-belong here."

His features softened at her confession and he stepped away. Hinata took the opportunity to let her legs do as they pleased. She bolted down the hall and disappeared around a corner and into her temporary dressing room.

"Hinata!" Kiba called before running after her a second later.

Shino sighed and leaned against the wall, watching Sasuke quizzically through his spectacles. "Don't you think you overdid it?"

"It had to be done," Sasuke ground out. His own hands were fisted and hidden in his pockets. His dark eyes didn't spare Shino a glance but stared idly at the spot Hinata had been standing.

"But you still overdid it."

"I know," Sasuke conceded, and rather darkly before he started towards the dressing room.

A/N: I've been MIA for a looooong time. I apologize. On the bright side, this is my best semester thus far... Anyway here is the next installment of BtM. This is only half of what I originally had in mind for chapter 12, but it'd be too long and it ended nicely here. I'd like to say I'd get the next chapter out soon, but I've decided to not make anymore promises as I can't keep them with my busy schedule. I'll plead for patience and it's okay if you're mad...

On to business, "tank sisters" was coined by SpammishRice, so thanks to her! Second, akaiichigo did an awesome fanart for this fic. It is the bloody knuckles scene! Please take a look at it. The link is in my profile. I've also started a drabble project at my LiveJournal if you're interested.

Thanks for reading and please leave a review! Have a lovely day! Oh, and thanks for last chapter's reviews! I appreciate them all.