"The White Nights describes the few weeks around the summer solstice during which sunsets are late, sunrises are early and darkness is never complete. The sun does not set until late at night, and twilight lasts much longer."

"Focus. "

She sat up straight but felt nothing. The fan the last class brought in due to the faulty air conditioner buzzed listlessly, its propellers aiming nowhere. The light was off. The room was bleak against the bright slivers of light cutting through the window shades. The tall figure stood in front of her with an order on his lips, his profile merely a splash of darkness against the light. The deep voice ordered again:

"Focus. "

Hinata was not sure how.

"I don't know how…to. "

Hinata was sitting in the middle of the empty classroom. All other chairs and desks had been pushed aside in a messy circle, encasing her. Kakashi stood within the perimeters of the circle, pacing around.

"Teacher, is this—? "

Something flashed through her mind. A typical scene she had seen before in movies and dramas on TV. Kakashi wasn't chanting or holding a pendulum but this seemed pretty much like what he was trying to do. He seemed to require effort on her part though and that was what threw her off.

"…hypnosis? "

Hinata murmured the question, unaware that she'd spoken aloud. She felt dizzy—Kakashi's profile was speaking to her but his voice seemed rather far away. Her head drooped slightly, her posture slumping over the chair.

"Does rather seem bogus, doesn't it? You can call it that if you want to Hinata, but I am not going to be wielding a pocket watch—it's a different sort of hypnosis than what you'd probably be expecting. "

Kakashi drew near Hinata. She was still stiffly seated, her legs tucked behind the legs of her chair. Her head was swimming full of questions, most of which she discarded immediately because it sounded stupid. She faintly detected the scent of cologne, not greatly unlike the one her father used to wear. This shook her up so bad she could hardly sit still.

When he bent down and got on his knees she panicked and shuffled.

"No, you stay. On your chair, that's a good girl. "

He did not reach out and pat her, but ordered with his eyes.

"Look into my eyes. "

She complied, thinking to herself how odd it was that she never realized this about her literature teacher:

Kakashi was odd-eyed.

"You're probably wondering—why haven't we tried this ages ago if this was all it took? "

Hinata tried to shake her head but she could not move her body. This was different from Shikamaru's shadow lock. She knew perfectly well that she could move. She just couldn't.

"They underestimated Hiashi, I'm afraid. "

He cupped her face and held it up so that it was level with his own.

"Or rather, they overestimated Konoha's …peculiarities."

Something turned. The last thing she remembered was how his eyes—or rather, eye—whirled in a pretty dizzy pattern. For a moment she thought Kakashi was winking at her.

"Your parents gave up so much for you. Even their marriage. Their position. "

Hinata's bleary eyes did not respond. Her head was still up but her mind was a thousand years away, exploring those memories she wasn't supposed to have—up till now. Kakashi was still talking but the words slipped her mind. Slipping into unconsciousness.

"Divorce—ridiculous. Not even close. I'm sure you'd be glad to know your parents are definitely, not divorced…though you won't remember any of this, I'm afraid. "

Hinata finally collapsed, her whole body going limp. Kakashi slipped his open palm beneath the back of her head before it hit the metal rim of the chair.

"Iruka was right. We never should've messed with this. One Madara was enough. "

He thought of his childhood days, back when Hyuuga Hiashi and Hyuuga Hizashi both occupied the Hyuuga residence. And the scandals that had arisen within that family. That family had its share of unwarranted trouble.

"I wonder who it was that finally collapsed under the pressure. "

There was no turning back now. Whatever the elders had planned for the poor girl, could not be reversed.

She was a part of Konoha now.

White Nights: Summer Solstice

Chapter 5- Beauty of Oblivion

(Session#5– Pendulum)

(Konoha High- Hyuuga sector)

"What do you exactly want Gaara? "

Neji wanted no more of this. The more he drifted from his usual entourage, the more trouble he seemed to head-butt into. He was sick of it all. To add insult to injury, Gaara wasn't even responding properly anymore. The kid seemed to be mulling things over in his serious maroon head, something that tipped Neji's cup of exasperation over, causing it to spill over.

"Shit. See? I ask you a question and you just stand there with that expression on your face. You've wasted enough of my time. Really, I'm leaving. "

"I only want to see the Inuzukas crash and burn. "

Gaara snapped.

"Especially Inuzuka Kiba. "

His grasp on the plastic handles tightened as his shoulders caved in. It nearly looked as if he was holding back and purging at the same time. His icy blue eyes remained humorless. There was some pleasure in vocalizing his, say, ambition. It's been such a long time since Gaara was able to wish out loud like that.

Neji just shook his head—the dome keeper kid was way out of league. Did none of Temari and Kankuro's common sense manage to reach Gaara? Perhaps there was only so much of it in the Subaku gene, not enough for some to trickle down to the third child. Nevertheless.

"Those guys who did that to you, they're not Kiba. Nor were they acting upon Kiba's orders. So why bear such a grudge on the guy? "

"He's the head isn't he? Break the head and the rest will follow. That's why I need you. "

"Wow. I can't bring myself to even acknowledge that. "

Neji grimaced.

"Honestly. It sounds like you're joking. Hell, I might get in trouble just for listening to you this long. "

An idea flickered in his mind, something that nearly made him laugh.

"Is this a test of some sort that you neutrals cooked up? That's it ain't it? "

Neji shot the dome keeper kid a smile that was nearly a smirk because he frankly believed Gaara's grudge could not run that deep. Look at Shikamaru. Look at Temari. Damn it, look at me—he thought—we're all sick but we're not that sick in the mind.

Gaara eventually sighed.

"The only reason I'm bothering to ask, is because I really need your help. You're laughing right now. You're treating my proposals like some joke. I don't care. Not at the moment. All I care about is how I can make you help me. "

Gaara eyed the clock hanging on the wall. They did not have much time. There was so little time.

"What would I have to do to make you trust me? "—he asked.

After this question, Neji was now much more relaxed, not even bothering to take this seriously. This encounter had reached the zenith of its moment and now it all felt like a script, a well timed joke. And Gaara had managed to pull it off with such a serious face—he even had the student council badge! Neji almost felt good.

"Hell. You do something about Hinata and Sasuke. You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours. "

He scoffed even as he said it.

"See you around kid. "

Neji's gait was slightly more light-hearted as he changed his stance and got ready to flit. For the first time in weeks he felt like cavorting with his old pals, the student council, Yurie, Ryuha and all that. He could even stand to look at Hinata, if Sasuke was not nearby. Something had lifted his mind, but he could not place what.

Gaara watched the lanky Hyuuga selected walk away.

"Is that all it took? "

(Konoha High Freshmen Building Level 3)

Their eyes met.

Kiba flinched inwardly but did not move from his spot. He felt the eyes of his fellow Inuzukas bore into his back—the nape of his neck was tingling from all the unnecessary attention.

It's been such a long time since they had run into each other like that. For once, it was not because Sasuke was wandering off while Kiba remained at school, searching for his crazy best friend who kept cutting classes. For once it was Kiba who'd taken much time off school while Sasuke remained, cavorting with the enemy.

Hyuuga Hinata wasn't even a naiveté anymore. Where was the excuse?

"…hey. "

Kiba grunted at Sasuke, his uneasiness apparent. The other Inuzukas grudgingly acknowledged their head selected, almost as if they had not been planning mutiny of a sort. Sasuke did not even seem to care as he strode into the room. He moved to the back of the room where he kept his old things stashed since he began as a freshman. This freshmen rec. room was a commonplace hangout for the Uchiha line, and Sasuke himself had often occupied its spaces while spending time with Kiba and the rest of his pack. That was old news now.

The fact that Sasuke was ignoring them riled up the Inuzukas, but surprisingly, Kiba remained calm. He nearly anticipated hostility, had gotten used to it. Of course Sasuke was going to act like an ass, what did he expect?

What he had not expected was the way Sasuke suddenly approached him after his rummage through the old lockers, almost as if they were still friends. That knocked him over like nothing else.

The Uchiha selected gestured at the Inuzuka selected to follow him and led him towards the corner of the room, partially shrouded by the empty bookcase. Many pairs of lime eyes followed them, their curiosity palpable. Kiba only followed due to curiosity. Sasuke turned towards Kiba and pushed something into his hands. He did not even bother to lower his voice—which was understandable as the Inuzukas had all dog ears regarding their hearing abilities.

"I think I did something stupid. "

Kiba's mouth dropped. They both heard snorts and someone's mouth being plugged up mid-swear. The Inuzuka selected flipped a desk over, silencing the whispers.

"…that's all you have to say? "

"Please. "

That word. That was another whammer.

Kiba had not heard Sasuke say that word in such a long time. He hadn't seen this one coming. Didn't his former best friend realize it was him who wished to say please? He'd rather lose some respect from his peers and find out what's been going on in that head of Sasuke's than keep face and endure.

Nevertheless, Sasuke mouthed the rest of his words, shielding himself from curious eyes. They've done this loads of time, mouth reading. And Kiba understood. But not completely—why did Sasuke trust him with this all of a sudden?

He did not have time to ask because the doors to the rec. room blasted open, noisily announcing the arrival of yet another unexpected presence.

"…Itachi? "

Kiba frowned.

"What is he doing h—"

Without a word the former Uchiha selected lunged out and grabbed hold of Sasuke's neck.

With his brother's neck in his grasp he violently twisted his body towards the ground behind his back, forcing Sasuke down. A few chairs and desks were knocked over in his path and the floor vibrated. Most of the Inuzukas sprung backwards on top of the desks like wounded cats. Kiba himself took a step back, watching the former Uchiha selected taking down the current Uchiha selected—who the fuck was he supposed to vouch for? Considering everything, he froze.

Itachi provided him with a simple solution, his hand crushing his brother's neck in a vise-like grip, his eyes never leaving Sasuke's face:

"Out. And guard the hallways. "

Kiba met Sasuke's eyes for a moment. His former best friend half-heartedly raised two of his fingers and jerked them towards the door, his teeth bared. Kiba rushed out with the package Sasuke gave him tucked under his arm, leading the other Inuzukas. His heart was racing—even after all that shit he was following orders. Funny. Did this affirm his cowardice, his penchant to stoop? Was Nahoko right? Did Miharu actually strike a chord in him somewhere? Or, god forbid, were the other Inuzukas right about him?

Well fuck them—they were still following his orders too anyways. His eyes lit up and his heart pounded—he felt like hunting.

With the Inuzukas gone, Itachi turned his full attention towards his little brother. His little brother was in so much trouble, and the bastard did not seem to realize that at all.

"So it seems you have no respect for the elder committee or your line whatsoever. "

He informed Sasuke's neck. From far away, there were sounds of footsteps and hushed arguments.

"School's…no place for violence. Brother. "

Sasuke muttered, aware of the irony dripping from his words. Stooped over the sprawled form, Itachi loosened his grasp then tightened it again. Sasuke had the decency to gasp.

"We let too many things slide. Contrary to what you might be thinking Sasuke, it's not because the elders have that great a need for you. More so it was an act of compliance, one that we're direly regretting at the moment. I see now it was better to chuck all hopes for something new and just maintain what we have. In any case, we have a situation. "

After his short speech, Itachi raised his free hand and motioned for one of his entourage to approach. A pale shaky Haruno—not quite unlike Lee, Sasuke thought—shuffled forward with chains in his hands. Even in his state—slammed onto the floor like some misbehaving dog—he thought this was an insult. A Haruno coming to chain him? In a hoarse voice he swore from the ground:

"Oh fuck y—"

"Sasuke—! "

At that exact moment, the doors to the room flew open and Shikamaru tumbled in, having engaged in an uncharacteristic half-fleet half-sprint down the stairs. He threw out his hand and the chains flew out of the Haruno boy's hands.

Having collected his breath, he announced wearily:

"This is neither the time nor place. We're at school. "

He contemplated using the shadow lock on the two Uchihas, but went against the idea. Taking away the chains had been enough to piss Itachi off. Standing up with his heel against Sasuke's neck, the former Uchiha selected eyed the wall, ignoring the watcher. Shikamaru raised his free hand nevertheless, motioning he came in peace.

"Will you comply? "

At the watcher's words, Itachi eyed the floating chains with contempt. Shikamaru read displeasure in the former selected's tight lips.

"Itachi-san—this is not aimed at you. "

The watcher felt a bout of his laziness coming on—really, Itachi could not be more wrong. They've known each other for quite a while so why was his reading way off? Did the former Uchiha selected honestly think this lazy watcher was picking a fight? Or taking sides? Itachi should give him more credit.

"I have no intentions to fight. And even if you wanted a good fight—"

Shikamaru whipped the chains out of his shadow's grasp and tossed it onto the floor.

"It's obvious you'd win. But really. Must you? It's only the rules. "

Itachi eyed the watcher with cool contempt. He wanted something but that wasn't important. What he needed to do was take care of this incredibly irritating problem his little brother had set off; a pile of someone else's shit that needed cleaning up. Having disturbed the peace Konoha High was least of his troubles.

"Then I'll just take my brother with me. I expect you'll honor at least that much, Nara. "

Itachi spread his palm at the watcher with a wry expression. His fingers twitched, motioning the watcher to fetch.

Sasuke had his eyes closed, not even bothering to watch anymore. He was uncomfortable with the situation. It felt like a déjà vu—same guy putting his neck on the line. The same guy who never seemed to like him that much. Sasuke wouldn't have been surprised if the guy secretly harbored hatred, given the circumstances.

But Shikamaru remained adamant.

"Not in chains, you can't. There are eyes. "

He silently closed the door behind his back with his shadow and locked it.

"You've already caused a big fuss among students, naivetés and knowns alike. Kids here, they get bored easily. They need distraction and you've given them one just by showing up. "

His shadow flared.

"You can't drag him out in chains. "

"Sasuke here has done something. Something that I would rather not say right here. Negotiations are in process and I need him back at the Uchiha residence. This instant. "

The Haruno boy piped up.

"But cousin said—"

Itachi shot the Haruno boy such a steely look that he shut up immediately, meek and worried.

"I know what has been said. But I'm not dragging Sasuke there right away—that is no solution at all. "

The Haruno boy lowered his eyes. His movements were so reminiscent of Lee's that Sasuke snorted. Itachi glanced at his little brother's upturned lips with a dry expression.

"Enough with your antics—this ends now. "

He swooped down, scooping up Sasuke by his collar. Sasuke pulled back, squatting on the floor.

At the sound of ripping fabric, Shikamaru placed himself directly in front of the door, his hand involuntarily placed near his wound. They all sensed more commotion outside—there were those Inuzukas, and Ryuha, Naruto and Sai, all in tow. Kankuro had also found his way down the hall and was now knocking on the door, asking for directions.

"Tell them to disperse. There's too much of us here. "

"You sure? But don't you need help? "

"Just do as I say. "

Shikamaru snapped, a cold sweat coating his forehead. God forbid he had to challenge Itachi. One Uchiha selected was enough—he felt drained at the thought of clashing with another.

"Move Nara. Or I'll make myself a new exit. "

His eyes locked on Sasuke, Itachi gestured at Shikamaru to move aside.

"And I thought you were such a stickler for rules. "

Sasuke almost seemed to taunt his older brother in his hoarse voice, patting the ripped seams of his shirt. Itachi's hand momentarily flew up to the scar on his forehead.

"Bet I can make you another one of those, brother. "

(Konoha High- Sophomore Homeroom)

Hinata floated between reality and dreams. Or so she could not place where she was at exactly, but she imagined it to be one she'd never been at before.

"There's one other factor. The land. "

"It's the land. There is something about this village."

"Haven't you ever wondered why we're encased in this small sliver of land? "

"Our powers are strongest when contained within Konoha, especially the regions of No Man's Land. Does not mean we lose everything when we're away. Both lines just want the full advantage in battle. "

She woke up screaming, almost certain she had died. Her eyes flickered open and her scream was stopped short by the sight of Inuzuka Kiba's hostile face, only centimeters from her own. Her scream returned in vengeance.

"Shut up. I'm here on business—I'm not going do anything. "

He plugged her mouth, nearly knocking her unconscious in his haste to stop her ghastly noise. To his surprise she bit his calloused hand. Not that hard, but still. He pushed her vehemently against the back of her chair, knocking the wind out of her for a moment. In the maddening thud of his blood pumping in his ears, he nearly punched her ghostly Hyuuga face right then and there.

But then, there were things to be done. Orders and pleas to be followed and gratified. He paused.

"Look. I hate you. "

Hinata's lavender eyes flickered open at the words, her mouth set in a tight line. Was Kiba humoring her? The Inuzuka selected's hatred was evident, so why say it?

"You Hyuugas ruin everything. If it weren't for you, we'd be—"


Hinata managed to retort. Kiba halted mid-speech, more taken aback than he was mad. She was surprised at herself. She normally hated confrontation—so why was she talking back? She must be still half-asleep.

"…you'd then just find some other thing. To hate. You just like trouble. You Inuzukas just like trouble. "

Kiba looked as if he wanted to kill her. She still went on as if she had a death wish. Common sense screamed at her to back off—to pretend to faint or something. Another part of her however—a relatively new part of her—murmured right back: but why not?

"I think that's why you were friends. With…Sasuke. "

He laughed harshly.

"It's a g, good thing for you… that Kakashi's outside. "

He mimicked her stammering.

Hinata withered into her seat. Something vital had changed with this boy and she could not place what. Her first impression of Inuzuka Kiba had been a mixture of fear and dread, but she had also detected mirth and energy vibrating from his smirking self. The maroon headed boy was, yes, a danger to her being an Inuzuka and all, but he was someone who enjoyed life. It had been a feeling not unlike one she detected from young pranksters who took cruel joy in tormenting insects. Now the mirth part was gone and anger had taken its place.

Not too unlike Neji.

"Sasuke told me to give you this—"

He shook the package like he would shake a pack of dog food at his pet.

"Like the good messenger that I am—but since we're talking face to face, I'll have my say. "

He drew nearer and she froze, wondering if her literature teacher standing outside the door was really reliable. He was supposedly a neutral, and she understood that trouble in school was not tolerated…but he was different from Shikamaru. It was felt odd that Kakashi allowed Kiba, a selected from the opposite line, to meet Hinata face to face, alone. Especially when she'd been unconscious after the hypnosis thing that he'd done to her. What exactly had he done anyways?

"You know nothing. "

He spat the words into her face, his eyes flickering in and out. She might have thought the color of his eyes were pretty had it not been for all this.

"How much do you think you just know about Sasuke anyways? Or about us? Or about Konoha? You think you know anything at all? "

"I don't. But…I don't think you do either. "

She stammered and thought she was being stupid because this got him really mad.

"You think I don't? "

His eyes flickered downwards and flared.

"…so that's the key? "

"W…what? "

Kiba's hand reached out, and for a crazy moment, she thought he was going to cup her face. Instead, he fished out the key she'd been wearing on her neck from under her collar.

That key pissed him off to no end. At the end of that trial, Sasuke had given the key to his crawl to this faux-naïveté girl. This drew Haruno over the edge because a crawl was a selected's most intimate storage area, a place one could call his/her own. It was a token meant for someone like your fiancée, not an idiot girl from the enemy lines. She probably did not realize the importance of the key at all. She knew nothing.

"You do realize, that you have no place having this? "

He breathed at her, his lemon lime eyes glinting with an ugly light. Afraid he would touch her if she looked away, she stared right back into his eyes.

His face was too close. And he held the key like he would take it away.

Hinata recalled Sasuke's face, the way his dark eyes clouded over or cleared up, the way she could read his emotions when he was near like that. The image of him begging her to leave Konoha was imprinted forever in her mind. Even from the beginning, she'd never been sickened by his presence, whether or not he was too near or too far away. She'd been afraid from time to time yes, but never sickened.

She was sickened now, sick of being nauseated by the color maroon and lime.

"W—…? "

Kiba was momentarily blasted from his spot, blasted backwards nearly into the messily stacked desks. The chain on her neck broke and she cried out. Kiba neatly accomplished a handspring and avoided crashing but was thrown off by the sudden attack. Flabbergasted at the unexpected assault, he stared at Hinata from the floor, his body crouching.

Her lavender eyes were lined with those god-awful veins, typical of the Hyuugas. But he'd never seen it on her before. The veins dissipated as soon as he noticed it. She looked stricken as if it was her that had been attacked and not him. It was only after he sniffed out that metallic and familiar scent in the air that Kiba realized there was something wet on his face.

His nose was bleeding.

Not much, but it was definitely his blood.

"Oh my god—I'm, I'm sorry! "

She offered him this ridiculous apology before sagging into the chair again, unconscious.

"You got to be kidding me…"

Kiba swore as a droplet of blood stained his shirt. He was briefly furious with himself for not being able to dodge the simple attack, but then again, who would have expected the former naiveté to strike out at the current Inuzuka selected? This was ridiculous—what had Kakashi been doing with her during those so-called sessions of theirs?

The door to the classroom opened up and a prematurely silver head poked into the room, clucking.

"You did say all you were going to do was deliver something. What did you do to tick her off? "

"If you have eyes, you can see she attacked me, not vice versa. "

Kiba growled. Kakashi ignored the impertinence and entered the room, lifting Hinata up from her chair. Her mouth was open and it looked like she was in a deep sleep. She did not look capable of hurting a fly, he noticed with a dry smile.

"I believe I gave you more than enough time. I need to take her somewhere now. "

Kiba glared at the unconscious girl.

"Don't I at least get to give her a nosebleed? An eye for an eye as we say? "

Kakashi paused and looked back wryly at the Inuzuka selected. A girl's voice rang out from outside the classroom, urging Kakashi to hurry.

"No time. "

With Hinata in his arms, Kakashi walked out of the room, fast-paced. He had half a mind to flit, but decided against it—she might wake up screaming again.

"It seems Itachi has arrived. I believe our 'current' watcher needs our presence. "

(Konoha High Freshman Building)

"I'm not leaving. I'm not going back. "

Sasuke announced plainly, both his hands behind his back as if Itachi would grab them and pull. He shifted toward the rear so that he was completely backed up into the tumble of chairs on the floor. Looping one of his legs into the intertwined legs of a chair, he kicked so that it flew propelled from his leg to its destination—Itachi's head.

With a swerve of his head the former selected ducked the chair and looked up, only to find his brother giving him the finger.

"Fuck the chains and fuck you too. "

Leaving a wide berth, Itachi flew at Sasuke his eyes flaming red.

The door crashed open for the third time, a strong gust of wind gushing over them all. Sasuke spat out inhaled dust and squinted at the entrance. Itachi's fist had only grazed him; the full blow had gone to the wall behind. A golden haired form stood behind the cloud of dust that seemed to jump off her body. A final gust of wind got rid of excess debris and two more forms emerged.

At the sight of Temari and Kakashi with Hinata in tow, Shikamaru breathed out a sigh of relief and declared:

"Here's your damn solution. You go in peace Sasuke or we turn this girl over to the Uchiha line."

Sasuke's eyes widened.

Shikamaru, a neutral, threatening him? Or was it a bargain? Then again, Sasuke wasn't sure himself whether he was purely on the side of Uhicha anymore. It would've been nice if he had the choice. Again, the same 'what ifs'.

"…you don't have it in you. "

Kakashi stepped forward, and Sasuke blinked at the limp figure in the former watcher's arms.

"Hinata attacked the Inuzuka selected. She's not a naiveté anymore so the naiveté rule does not apply. We have every right to punish her, you realize. "

At this, Shikamaru locked eyes with Temari, who quietly shook her head, indicating it was better not to interfere. Sasuke tried to digest this information, with Itachi quietly taking in the whole scene, his anger gone.

"You lie—how could she attack Kiba if she's unconscious like that? "

"Since the witness is in your line, you can ask Kiba himself. It would be best if you go in peace for now. "

"What gives you the authority? "

"In neutral ground, we're the highest authority. "

Temari reminded him curtly.

"Highly unusual, but we're giving you a choice. What will it be? "

Sasuke took one look at Hinata, who did not look disturbed but merely asleep. Punishment for instigating a fight was rough—especially one conducted at a selected. He should know.

He took off his ripped shirt and tossed it to the floor, glowering at Kakashi the whole time.

"...I'm not walking out in a ruined shirt. See. People will talk. "

At this, Temari contemplated running over to the school supplies closet, but Shikamaru began to unbutton his shirt. They were about the same size anyways. It was best to get both Uchihas out of school grounds as fast as they could, he figured.

When he got it off, he walked over to Sasuke and handed him the shirt. Sasuke took it without a word and put it on, choosing to ignore the visible wound that traced the contours of the watcher's bare shoulder. Kakashi and Temari stepped back and made way, and the two Uchihas casually walked out of the room with their entourage in tow as if they've never been in a fight. Only the green name tag of a junior he sported on his chest indicated that anything out of the ordinary had happened.

When the Uchiha presence could not be detected within school, Shikamaru turned towards Kakashi.

Hinata was still unaware, unmoving.

"…did she really attack Inuzuka Kiba, or were you bluffing? "

"That was coincidence. I only unlocked her chakra so she'd lose consciousness for a while—she'd never experienced this before so she'd probably in shock. All according to plan. "

Shikamaru waved his hand shaking his lowered head. Losing his shirt hadn't been a part of the plan, per se.

"Nothing's according to plan—all improvising. Pulling rabbits out of someone's ass. "

Kakashi's lips formed a tight smile at this comeback. It was an apt description of their jobs.

Shikamaru slumped against the wall. Kakashi studied his protegee quietly.

"You should not be out and about. Not yet. "

Temari crossed her arms and lowered her head. Shikamaru faked a yawn and smiled.

"I'm the watcher right now, aren't I? If I'm not here, who'd do it for me? "

Surprisingly, Kakashi did not smile back.

"Do you want me to? "

He was being sincere, and for once, he was not acting on an elder's order. This was all him. Of course, the elders would not allow him to make such a decision on his own—but he could damn well campaign for it. He knew how this worked—he knew a watcher was a watcher one way or the other. It was only because Kakashi knew too much that the elders did not want him to participate actively no more. He knew too much to be classified a neutral.

But he was the former watcher.

"I did make a promise. "

A vicious glow lighted his eyes for a moment as Shikamaru stood up and straightened his back.

"Actually, no thanks. "

On the way out, he took Temari's hand in his palm and took her along, the presence of Shizuka palpable in his anger.

"But thanks. "

(Hyuuga Residence)

"Hinata honey—are you okay? "

The kind voice stirred her and she opened her eyes, nearly sneezing at the long drape of hair that grazed her cheek and nose. Hyuuga Yurie was perched on a stool, looking over her. She pushed back her mane of hair and tucked it behind her ears as she smiled down at Hinata who kept blinking. The world was a shade too bright after that curtain of hair was gone.

"She's awake guys—! "

Yurie jumped off her stool and exited the room the same time Ryuha entered it, balancing a tray with a cup of cocoa on it. His bright easy smile reminded Hinata of how safe she used to feel, how a little boring she used to be before all this blew up.

"How …did I get here? "

Ryuha paused. Choosing not to address that question directly, he placed the tray on the drawer beside the bed. Dragging the stool Yurie sat on with his leg; he plopped down next to the bed and sighed, rubbing his palms.

"I know this is a mixed bag of a news and all but…I thought it'd be best if you heard it from your own kin. "

He waited purposefully until Hinata had taken a sip of her cocoa.

"I think people are using you to control Uchiha Sasuke. "

She threw back her blanket at that all prepared to leap out of bed. He quickly intercepted the mug that was in danger of pouring scalding hot drink all over the bed sheet.

"Look—Hinata, this ain't bad news exactly. This way, I expect the Uchiha kid would behave a little. Think that'll get him in less trouble, no?"

Hinata shook her head.

"No one's …going to use me! "

She's had enough of that.

"Hey, woah—wait! I didn't mean it like that. "

Ryuha cringed, waiting for her to calm down while he himself drank the mug of cocoa.

"I can fend for myself. "

She wasn't entirely sure if that was true, but there was a kernel of truth to her assessments. She did assault an Inuzuka and survive, didn't she? That wasn't a dream, wasn't it? It felt like she had been asleep for ages, not just a few hours or a day but months and years.

The pendulum had been set in motion and something was swinging into place.

"I'm not a naiveté anymore. "

(BLsugs's words on WNSS)

I might've made a lot of mistakes with this chapter…but there's so much loose ends I need to tie up. Again, sorry about the late update. I'll try to be faster with the next one.

Just adding something extra: in the last chapter, Shikamaru went to Kakashi for advice. Opening up Hinata's chakra hole, temporarily driving her unconscious and using her as a bargain tool was the plan they came up with in order to have some authority over Sasuke, who seems to be a little too free and about nowadays.

By the way. Just a fun question/trivia regarding my story. We all know that in the anime, Hyuuga Hiashi is Hinata's father. But jump to session 1 in my story and you'll find Hiashi is Neji's father.

Might be a mistake on my part.

Or it might be intentional.

Bear with me!