Title: First Loss
HeavenlyHuntress

--o-o--( ) --o-o--

I've never lost in a game of arm-wrestling before. In all my thirteen scrawny years, I've always managed to look thin and pitiful and when the opponent gets cocky - then, WHAM! Take 'em out.

I've never lost before. Ever.

Which is why, on the first day of training, I ask Kiba-kun to arm-wrestle me. Just to, you know, test the waters of my fellow teammates.

He sets down his yipping dog beside him, and gets a gleam in his eyes.

"Are you sure? You look pretty weak!"

I manage to return the smile. "Try me."

In all of thirteen seconds his hand lies flat on the tree trunk.

"Ouch, Hinata," he complains. "You have a heck of a hard grip."

I just smile innocently back. It's fun letting people know the real you.

--o-o--( ) --o-o--

Kiba winds up letting the whole of Konoha know that I'm some secret arm-wrestling champion and under steroids. I suspect his ego may have been bruised.

As the day passes, I receive so many challenges that Kurenai, my teacher, forces them to a halt.

"Later," she tells them, her lipstick slightly smudged and face red, "Don't hassle Hinata now. It's her first day of training, you know."

Naruto looks both angry and pouty-faced. "But I want to challenge her!"

"Later."

Somehow Naruto gets past her. He strides up to me, excited. "Try me, for a change!" he boasts, rolling up an orange sleeve.

I smile shyly back at him; this time the smile is for real. Naruto. Determined Naruto. His infectious enthusiasm always makes people more happy.

"Okay," I say, placing my hand next to him. Goosebumps roll up my arm.

"Ready, set go!"

He won't back down. That's the first thing I notice, as his arm trembles and his veins protrude. He'll break his arm that way. Not that he seems to care at all.

Thirty seconds of struggling pass. Kiba and Shino and Akamaru crowd around the treetrunk. Even Kurenai stands there, trying not to look interested but failing.

I let him push down on me until my arm is halfway to the bottom. Then I place all my strength in that smooth motion, forcing his hand down.

His arm goes limp.

"Awww, Hinata!"

"Sorry," I apologize. "Good match, Naruto-kun."

He scowls maddeningly. "I'll beat you someday.

Inwardly I smile at his resolve. But no. He'll never beat me.

Because,

I've never lost before. Ever.

--o-o--( ) --o-o--

7:30 PM

I let loose a loud sigh as I collect my kunais, all bent and twisted, from the ground. My stomach aches from hunger; my legs are cramped.

Kiba limps up, carrying his tiny dog. They're both fatigued. All his energy from before is gone.

"Rarww...I didn't know training would be so difficult!"

I voice my agreement, my tone pale and weak in comparison.

He reaches the Ichiraku's ramen stand. "Naruto, Shikamaru, Chouji and I are eating here. Wanna join us?"

I shake my head. Hiashi is expecting me. We exchange goodbyes, and I trudge up the road.

A few moments later a realization stops me dead in tracks. I search my pounch of weapons, then myself.

I'd forgotten my ninja headband.

The impact knocks my breath out. Where could it be? I'd been treasuring it since forever - it's the only sign that I've become stronger.

I take several staggering steps in the direction of the training grounds, praying that it would still be there. If it wasn't...well, I wouldn't know what to do then. I really wouldn't.

The wind roars in my ears, making me all but deaf. The ground is hilly and rocky. I trip three times, each time bringing up a scrape or bruise.

It can't get any worse than this.

As if on cue, the sky opens up and lets loose a flood of raindrops. My vision now impaired, I struggled onwards, berating myself.

A clearing rips open before me. The training grounds. But I can't become relieved now. I've got to -

I reach the tree trunk, a usually bright and airy place. Now the ground is damp and muddy. With my hands I claw on the ground, knowing I must have dropped it while training.

No use. The winds and rain are too powerful. Tears sting my eyes. Maybe tomorrow, I'd have a better chance. It's all I can do. I picture Naruto, in all his raw determination.

I can't be like him. My genes are too different. I decide to give up for today. I turn around, numb with shock.

Suddenly I feel a sharp tap in the back of my shoulder blades. I turn around, wondering if it was a figment of my imagination -

It's not.

Sasuke Uchiha stands there, holding something.

Lightning flashes, and I can see it's a badge. It's scraped and worn now, but I would recognize it anywhere - I'd scrawled a Hinata Hyuuga in the centre of the Konoha mark.

My heart thuds, sputters in disbelief, then stops.

His mouth opens, words come out. I can't hear him in the storm.

He motions forward, his dark hair swirling around him, and walks on without another word.

I follow him, confused, upset, and somehow even more battered.

--o-o--( ) --o-o--

He leads me to a sheltered store, the only one that's open right now. The storekeeper eyes my drenched clothes with distate, until he notices the Uchiha symbol on Sasuke's back.

I grimace slightly as the storekeeper rushes to his aid.

"Anything I can do for you, Uchiha-sama?"

"No," Sasuke motion curtly. "You can leave us." The man dips his head respectfully, and scurries away.

Up until now, I'd never spoken to him before. We were too different - me, the quiet strange girl - him, Mr. Silent and Mysterious. Neji had challenged him a few times, but I'd never exchanged a word with the Uchiha heir.

He peels off his sodden rain jacket and boots. My headband is still in his tight grasp.

Finally he faces me, his dark eyes inscrutable. He opens his mouth. This time, I hear him.

"I'll give this to you on one condition," he says, his voice low with a hint of arrogance, "and that is: if you can beat me at arm-wrestling."

My mouth opens. Words do not come out.

Instead, I push my soaked sleeve up, a sure sign of accepting the challenge.

I've never lost at arm-wrestling before. Ever.


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