The sunlight streamed in through the window blinds, falling across the bed in golden bars. Hinata's eyes slowly fluttered open and she shifted into a sitting position. Rubbing her eyes, she stretched, glancing at her clock on the bedside table.
It read 6:15.
Hinata had 45 minutes to get to the studio.
"Oh, crap!" Hinata jumped out of bed. Unfortunately her feet got tangled in the sheets, sending her face first into the carpeted floor. A dull throb started building in Hinata's cheek, but there was no time for that.
She raced to her closet and pulled out some clothes for herself. She carried them with her into the bathroom and hopped in the shower. Her hands were shaking as they worked trough her hair. How could she be so stupid? She had never been late to anything before! Except perhaps for that rehearsal with Sakura's band when she had been fired, but looking back on it, she didn't feel too bad about it, even when Sakura blew up in her face. Suddenly that threatening voice on the phone came back to her. She couldn't suppress the shiver that ran through her body. What would he do to her if she was late, whoever he was?
After rubbing the towel over her hair quickly and throwing on her clothes, Hinata rushed into the kitchen. 6:21 the clock read. Not too bad, but if she wanted to make it in time she would still have to hustle.
Hinata swept her keys off of the kitchen counter. Should she skip breakfast? Her hand was hovering just over the door handle when her stomach let out a fierce, audible growl. No, probably not, then.
Hinata threw open the pantry door and peered in. The light bulb had gone out two days ago and she still hadn't gotten around to replacing it. She stood in the semi-darkness and rooted around the sparse shelves. Something quick, something simple, something quick, something simple… Her hand fell on a bag of half eaten bread. She looked at it, contemplating. Just bread? I'd rather have toast, but there's no time.
She pulled out a slice of bread and headed for the door again. Holding her breakfast between her teeth, Hinata picked up her guitar, which she had left by the door last night, and headed out into the hall.
Several of her neighbors were waiting for the elevator. Mrs. Takinawa was waiting among them and smiled and waved when she saw Hinata. Mrs. Takinawa was a sweet older woman who lived in the apartment next to Hinata's with her husband and two kids. The Takinawas had been a great help to Hinata when she first moved in and still checked up on her from time to time. "Good morning, Hinata dear. Heading out so early?"
Hinata pulled the bread from her mouth. "Good morning, Mrs. Takinawa. Yes I am." She waved politely and rushed past the small crowd and headed for the stairs. She didn't have time to wait and the stairs would be faster.
Flying down the staircase, Hinata's feet were like blurs. She wasn't even entirely sure whether her feet were touching the ground. Ever since she was child Hinata had hated being late. It always made her feel like she was letting someone down.
Finally she made it into the parking garage and to her car. Piling inside she pulled out of the parking garage and drove down the street. The dashboard clock read 6:27. I hope I make it.
After getting lost inside the enormous music studio Hinata finally found room 718. Hinata glanced at her watched. And right on time. Cautiously, she grabbed the handle and swung the door open.
The room inside was more wonderful than Hinata had imagined. The walls and carpet were decorated in shades of cool blue. She had only ever read about the equipment that was set up around the room. It was so expensive that Hinata had never imagined she would ever get the change to use it. The room itself was large, open and…empty.
Where was everyone? Hinata pushed the door open further. No, she had been wrong, the room wasn't empty. She spotted a boy standing in front of the sound table, his back turned to her. His dark raven hair was gelled into soft spikes at the back of his head, making his already pale skin look even more startlingly white. Long, slender fingers were working at the equipment, adjusting sliders and turning knobs. Though she tried not to look, Hinata couldn't help but notice his muscular arms and the strong back through his t-shirt.
Something was nagging at Hinata. Somehow this boy seemed familiar. You've seen him before, the feeling seemed to be telling her. Ok, but where from? Hinata tried to remember but there was nothing.
Behind her the door clicked closed. The boy was still at work on the soundboard, concentrated on his fingers. Maybe he didn't hear me come in, Hinata thought. As casually as she could manage, Hinata cleared her throat, loud enough for him to hear.
The boy still didn't move. Hinata waited, awkwardly, uncomfortably shifting from one foot to the other. "Um, hello?" she called. "I—I'm here."
Finally the boy stopped what he was doing and lifted his head. Hinata had to force herself not to look away when he turned a pair of familiar black eyes on her. Now Hinata remembered him.
It was the boy from the audition, the one who had been so angry to see her playing for a spot in the band. That day he had looked at her with eyes filled with so much fierce anger and hatered that she had expected him to literally throw her out on the street.
But she was surprised to see how calm he looked, as though he had never been angry before in his life. Today there was only a touch of annoyance in his strikingly handsome face. Strikingly handsome? Hinata pushed the fleeting thought away.
The boy only looked at her for a moment, a fleeting glance to size her up, before flicking up briefly to look at the clock above Hinata's head. He turned back to his work. "You're late." His deep voice annoyed, yet unsurprised.
Hinata's head snapped up to check the clock. The hands had just ticked to 7:01. Hinata turned back to him in disbelief. "I'm sorry, but I was here—"
"I told you to be here 7 o'clock sharp. You're late. Not really starting off on the best foot are you?" he told his soundboard.
Hinata gawked at him, mouth hanging slightly open. Was this guy serious? Wait, she thought, he told me…?
"You're the one I talked to on the phone?" He threw her a look over his shoulder, as if to say, 'really?' Hinata could feel her face heat up and she looked away. How was she supposed to know? Great, now I feel like an idiot.
The boy turned around once again and ignored her. A silence fell over them and Hinata fidgeted nervously. So…now what?
Maybe I can try talking to him again. Hinata was about to ask him where the others were when something occurred to her. She still didn't know his name. Though White Flag Down was one of her favorite bands, she had never really been interested in learning about the personal lives of its members. The music had been more important to her. But if there was one thing she had learned from Hiashi it was to never strike up a conversation before introducing yourself.
"Um, my name is Hinata. Hinata Hyuga."
"I know who you are."
Oh…well, alright then. Silence fell again as Hinata waited for him to offer up his name. He never did.
"So…what's your name?" she asked politely. The boy stopped and turned suddenly to look at her. His eyes looked uncomprehending as they focused on her. Hinata shrunk back as they narrowed in suspicion. Warily, the boy said, "Sasuke Uchiha."
"It's a pleasure to meet you Uchiha-san."
"Listen," he snapped. The sudden change in demeanor made her jump. "I'm not happy that you're here. In fact I would prefer it if you weren't." He certainly doesn't beat around the bush does he? Hinata thought. "Unfortunately, you are. And although I really hate to admit it, you are the best guitarist we've found, so it looks like you'll be sticking around for a while." As he spoke he turned on Hinata, forcing her to turn and back away as he advanced. "So let's settle a few ground rules." The edge of the soundboard was now digging roughly into her back and Sasuke was speaking directly to her face.
He began ticking off fingers. "One; do not speak to me unless absolutely necessary. Especially when I'm working. Two; I call all of the shots around here so don't get any big ideas. Three; If it belongs to me, don't touch it," He thought for a second, "also don't touch me, period. Four; if you do anything to screw up our image or our chances to make it big, or if you make any major mistakes…you're out. Got it? Follow these rules, and we'll get along fine."
At this point Hinata could count each of his individual eye lashes he was so close. She nodded, and with a sarcastic smile, he pulled away and returned to the soundboard as though nothing had happened.
Quickly she scurried to the other side of the room where the air seemed warmer and less tense (if not intense). This guy seriously has some issues. What was Kurenai thinking. What was Hinata thinking, still standing in the same room as him. This band was her dream, and it was her chance to prove to her father and to herself that she could make it in the music industry. But was all of that worth putting up with an egotistical maniac?
At the soundboard, Sasuke was still intent on his work, fingers flying over switches, completely ignoring her.
No, no it was not worth it. But it wasn't too late. Nothing had been signed and her cell phone was just sitting in her pocket. Kurenai would understand.
Hinata pulled the phone from her pocket and began heading for the door when it opened and a masked face popped into the room. "well hello you two," Kakashi said, "getting along I see." Sasuke grunted and Hinata just stood there, unsure if she should answer. "Perfect", the manager quipped. He held the door as the other three band members filed in, closely followed by Kurenai.
Hinata was so relieved. Now she could tell Kurenai in person. No way, no how was she going to allow herself to be bullied by Sasuke Uchiha. Hinata would simply take Kurenai outside and explain—
The thin stack of papers in Kurenai's perfectly manicured hands stopped her thought dead.
"Hey Hinata!" Naruto waved and ran over, unabashedly putting an arm around her shoulders. "You'll never guess what came in today."
"W-w-what?" She blushed, embarrassed by her weakness.
The blood that had filled her cheeks a second ago instantly drained away. "My contract?"
"Yeah, isn't it fantastic?" Kurenai gushed. "Kakashi made sure it got here as soon as possible. You can sign right now! Aren't you excited? I'm so excited!"
Six and-a-half pairs of eyes watched her expectantly, some friendlier than others. This morning someone would have had to hold Hinata back to keep her from signing. But after her one-on-one with Sasuke just minutes ago, his barbed, unwelcoming words had drudged up some doubts. She snuck a quick look in his direction. Dark, impatient eyes sent her looking quickly the other way. Still, there was no way she could flat-out refuse, not with everyone watching her and not when Kurenai looked so hopeful and excited.
"Kurenai," Hinata tried to sound casual as she beckoned her manager. The slight squeak gave her away. "D-do you mind if I looked over that with you first…um, over here?"
"Sure sweetie! Give us a minute, would you?" She waved Kakashi and the boys off to the other side of the studio as she practically skipped over to Hinata standing in the corner. Hinata tried not to cover her face in embarrassment.
Kurenai wasted no time. "So I've looked over it already, and although I'm not exactly an expert on contracts, this all looks pretty good." Hinata only half listened. She sent nervous glances at the band members over Kurenai's shoulder. To her surprise, Shikamaru's head was resting on a table, eyes closed as he slept. Gaara leaned against the door frame, glaring menacing holes into an empty corner. The ice in his gaze made Hinata feel small and uneasy. Then there was Kakashi, curled up in rolling chair, giggling into the pages of a small orange-bound book. That made her uneasy in a different way. And Naruto. The skin of Hinata's arms seemed to prickle whenever she looked at him. Naruto was talking and nudging Sasuke in the ribs with his elbow. Sasuke still hadn't turned around. It was a rag-tag team. They barely seemed to fit together. How was she supposed to find a place among them?
Kurenai didn't notice Hinata's analytical eyes as she continued to go over the contract. Her voice became more serious and professional as she poured over the document. "…the pay is decent. In fact its more than decent; playing one show will get you more than you could have made in a month. This is however only a temporary contract and only lasts for about two years, but after that a renewed contract will allow you to stay on indefinitely if you choose. So how does that sound?"
Whatever attention Hinata had given to the group of lounging boys was automatically snapped back onto Kurenai. "Two years?!" Hinata whispered harshly. The panicked hiss in her voice shocked Kurenai and Hinata waited a moment to calm her thundering heart. "Kurenai, are you sure that this is a good idea? I mean maybe this isn't the right place for me. We could always just…wait and see if an opening becomes available somewhere else."
Kurenai stared at Hinata like she had suggested a career change to pro-wrestling. "What are you talking about? I thought this was what you wanted."
"It—it is but…" She glanced back at the boys.
Not everything got passed Kurenai. Tucking the contract under one arm, Kurenai placed her hands on Hinata's arms, rubbing them in a comforting, motherly motion. Hinata hadn't even realized she was feeling cold.
"Sweetie I know you're scared, but I promise this won't be like last time. Everything will work out." Kurenai's words ran over her like warm water, relaxing her muscles and calming her fluttering heart. "I have watched you work so hard these past few years, trying to achieve your dream and now you're here. But don't back down now have confidence in yourself! I have a really good feeling about these guys."
Hinata stood there in Kurenai's arms, unsure of how to tell her that she didn't quite share the same feeling about the members of White Flag Down. She wanted to tell Kurenai that it wasn't a lack of confidence holding her back either. It was more a fear of being eaten alive by the razor-edged Uchiha. But how could she say that?
Hinata looked into Kurenai's warm and gentle face, gazing down at her like a mother would her child. She wanted nothing more than to throw her arms around Kurenai, bury her face in her shoulder and cry. If it hadn't been for the other five people waiting for them, she might have.
"Okay. Yeah you're right, I can do this. So where's that contract?" Hinata's half-hearted smile was far outshone by the huge grin on her manager's face. If she couldn't do this just for herself, then she would do it for Kurenai as well. Everything would work out.
Taking the contract from Kurenai's outstretched hand Hinata quickly signed the paper before she could change her mind. With the pressure of everyone watching, her hand shook slightly and the last few letters of her name came out looking wavy, but she did it.
Kurenai stood behind her, a supporting hand on her back as the others crowded around her in congratulations. She received hugs and hearty slaps on the shoulder from Kakashi and Naruto, a brisk handshake from Shikamaru and even an acknowledging nod from Gaara. It was a warmer welcome than she had expected and for a moment she forgot why she was so nervous in the first place. They didn't seem so bad after all.
In the spaces between the bodies around her, Hinata could see Sasuke still leaning against the soundboard. He made no move to join the group and she highly doubted he would say "congratulations." The look on his face could have cracked diamonds. But just as she was about to look away, the corner of his twitched up in a mean, sarcastic smirk, and the gleam in his eyes said something was coming. Hinata felt her stomach plummet with the sensation that she was about to be fed to the sharks.