I am amazing; I amaze myself. 9 months to write this? And they accuse me of minimality?! A jest, surely. (Okay, H.H., cease in talking like the pope).

Dear readers, you are the reason I updated, and I am...(sorry? abashed? shameful? doesn't matter results are the same)-

- A nod to She-x and tiny(dot)coco(dot)chan (sorry I butchered your name, the dots wouldn't show!), heehee, for reminding me to update. an elephant never forgets! (I have no idea why I just wrote that, it doesn't mean anything.)

First Loss


I follow my footprints home - the ones I had made when I had rushed from my house this morning. The pattern in the prints seem to have a deeper meaning - the left skid mark could mean happiness, trailing off of those lines that my sandals had scratched...

I laugh, the sound eerie in the waning forest. It's not as if I'm frightened, I think instinctively, but then again, I draw my arms closer to my body all the same. I laughed because I was over-inspecting signs of the future.

Dragging my foot across the footprints, I erase them. My prints don't have a place, here, in this wilderness, where Sasuke feigned to kill himself.

I shake it off, or I pretend to. But his eyes, when his clone had evaporated, all but sink themselves into my mind.

I turn in the middle of erasing the footprints and sprint back home.

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

The sun waxes the fastest around six-thirty and seven. At six-thirty, all you can see is the echo of the sun refracting among the top-most branches of the trees. There's no vision of the great sun himself; he's in hiding, playing a well-kept game of hide-and-seek, peekaboo, find-the-missing-piece.

It's only in ten minutes do you finally see the entity, peeking over the farthest-flung blade of grass over by the horizon. He rests, straddling the earth between footsteps of night and day, before racing with the moon to rise. The sun wins nearly all of the time, climbing with the grace of the most seasoned sailors, as if on a mast, where the sky is the top-most sail.

And then he rises, and you can't think of how you imagine the night, when the sun is impossibly there, filling every corner of the world.

I smile.

And then I remember what ensued the day before, and immediately thoughts of him invade my mind.

Damn memory.

I trudge across the hall into the kitchen. From this vantage point I can see Hiashi outside, practicing already. He's chopping a treetrunk into bits with his palms.

I finish the daily portion of bread and meander out into the porch, where sunlight spills onto the well-worn bonds of wood.

No training until noon, I think, rather melancholically, and sit with my arms wrapped tightly around my knees. I'll make myself scarce in five minutes, because Hiashi is going to come here, as he does regularly every day, to check if I'm gone.

Something red catches my eye. A picture sticks out just underneath the grass rug underneath my feet. I stoop down, my fingers momentarily shaking. It's Sasuke. He left this.

He's safe there, nestled in the photo of Team 7.

Naruto, on the right, in the belief that Sasuke, his teammate, is a taciturn ninja who is both brave and adept in fighting.

Sakura, next to Sasuke, who believes with every fibre of her being that being a kunoichi is her world and that Sasuke is her sun.

Kakashi, behind him, who has in possesion the same powers as Sasuke does, and understands, ultimately, how to train him in its arts.

Of course, in their eyes, Sasuke comes clean. It isn't to say, however, that he is not above taking the headband of another team's member, and continually rallying on said member of another team. Oh, no. In their eyes, Sasuke is perfect.

Maybe a little quiet, and a bit too much the strong and the silent, but perfect all the same. In their eyes, Sasuke can do no wrong.

I push the picture back where it had remained unhidden for who-knew-how-long it had been there.

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

Somehow, during the day, the image returns unbidden to me, during lunch, during training, as I return back home. His picture stays with me. I can't erase his eyes as I toss and turn in the bed.

The next morning I wake up and rush to the porch. The picture is gone.

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

Somewhere in my mind it clicks that the third time is the charm. Today is the third day he hasn't talked to me, seen me. I inch through breakfast and training and as I'm there, alone, walking out of the grounds my shoulder bumps, and it's like that first time I bumped into him in the crowd. I look and I already know.

Somehow, somewhere.

I guess third time's the charm for him, too.

He smies at me beneath that cold exterior; it's not an illusion.

The half-smile that runs from the center of his mouth to his left cheek is too haughty to be defined as anything other than a smirk. Of course he knows, I think, with a touch of desperation. He must know of my reactions; the instantaneous contraction of my jaw muscles; the way my mouth slackens and my tongue traces the front of my teeth - a sure indication that I am lost in thought; my eyes, never leaving his; my grip, suddenly weak; my cheeks, my neck, my knees that will collapse -

It seems as though he knows of my shortcomings, and smiles all the same - the half-smile that gradually grows to both sides of his mouth.

I get that all in an instance.

My front teeth sink into my bottom lip. Arrogant, arrogant. He doesn't need to guess at my minute reflexes; they are there all the same, right on cue as if he's staging a play. As Kurenai says when she becomes furious, a lesser ninja would scream in frustration. It feels as if I am very nearing that point...

The weapons in my grip clatter onto the ground but I don't bend to pick them up. Doing that will break the look between us, the glare ensuing from my eyes, the lackadaisical air of his.

All of a sudden, my gaze sharpens. The thought, the idea, that comes to mind is too impossible, yet ingenious all the same - just as Kurenai had once otherwise said, a soft and smart answer turns away all adversity.

I begin to realize the implications of those words.

And it is then that I smile. Right at him; if he had seen the microexpressions that had flitted across my face earlier, he will not miss this. I had never smiled like this in my life before.

It is a chilling smile, one devoid of all emotion except for the cold hard challenge in my eyes. The smile reaches the apples of my cheeks; I begin to reveal my teeth in a grin. Feral, and totally cool, and badass.

I push back all inhibitions, all precautions Hiashi had methodically strucutred around my brain, and I smile, give it my all in that smile, and slowly walk away, back turning, traces of that smile left on my face and my set shoulders and the pounding of my feet. It was all there, I think dazedly. It had been in me that whole time. Gosh, I must be an unbalanced individual. I think, if quiet, unassuming Hinata Hyuuga had that stored inside of her, then she had been a monster.

The weapons, I don't think, matter anymore, if I am granted this one modicum of dignity and victory.

I don't want to go home today. I want to go and have a blast, celebrate for all it's worth - this feeling of happiness, satiety, of - aarrghhh.

"Hello," he says, swinging into step next to me.

"Must you follow me everywhere?" I growl back.

"Your stutter is gone," he notes.

"It tends to, when around people who have brain capacity far lower than average." I laugh at myself inside. Who knew.

He doesn't respond; at least, his expressions fails to falter. "That's nice."

"It's not," I say. And then, abruptly; "W-why are you following me?" And I don't want a short, biting-off answer, I wish. I want the reason why you have been hounding me these last weeks.

"I guess I just...fell into you," he answers.

The reply knocks my breath away before I can attempt to respond. So I just say nothing, stay silent, my two hands nervously rubbing against each other.

"You can't fall into people," is my reply after my lungs clear. "People won't let you fall into their lives."

He turns to look at me. I look away.

"You did," he says, pointedly.

"By force," I mutter.

"It doesn't matter," he attempts to steer the conversation.

"It does," I argue.

He stops completely; my feet imitate his before I can control them. And then they're stuck, and I can't move them myself.

"Give me back my headband," I say.

He doesn't move, or appear to. With a flick of his wrist the headband lands in my hands. Stunned, I catch them; I hadn't caught the movement. My feet suddenly move again, and I stagger backwards. Away from him. To freedom.

"Now give it to me."

I blink. "Give what?" The headband is now tight across my fingers. I won't be letting go anytime soon. Be it an arm-wrestling match, be it persuasion. I won't let go.

"Give you," he whispers.

He catches me before I can fall, and then he bends down and his lips lightly brush my temple.

Not a too-romantic ending, I hope, but an ending all the same to this short story that I somehow managed to drag out.

I hope this chapter makes up for the wait; it certainly wrote itself. Parts of it simply flowed. It elated me :)

bookishly yours,

PS. There...might be an epilogue?