Title: Alpha Female

Author: 8sword

Date: 4.18.10

Summary: Hinata knows the feeling of loving people and having that love disapproved of by others.

Author's Notes: Hebi, Hawk, and Hinata all start with H. Considering there's two languages going on there, I'm sure it's sheer coincidence, but still. Maybe the universe is trying to tell us something.

Disclaimer: Masashi Kishimoto owns Naruto.


Hinata never questions Sasuke's friendship with the members of Team Hebi.

Other people do. She remembers, when Sasuke first returned to Konoha, Sakura glared at the red-haired kunoichi with such poison that it crackled like a Chidori in her green eyes. And Naruto, whom Hinata had never seen hate anyone, watched Suigetsu where he slouched over Sasuke's shoulders with a crease at the corners of his blue eyes and a hunching of his shoulders, like he was worried he wasn't good enough.

She knows that feeling, the feeling of inadequacy. So she understands Naruto and Sakura, and she understands the muttering resentment of the other members of the Rookie Nine, all of them so loyal to Naruto and Sakura, when they mutter that it makes sense that Sasuke should be allowed to stay, but the other three aren't even Konoha nin, just maniacs who will keep the past raw and bloody instead of letting it scar over.

But Hinata also knows the feeling of loving people and having that love disapproved of by others.

She can remember quietly watching Naruto from behind trees and stuttering greetings to him in the street, all the while feeling the burning disapproval and mutters from the villagers around them.

She can remember, on her first day as part of a genin cell, terrified that her new teammates would be disgusted by her weakness, finding herself giggling at Kiba's loud antics and talking, for the first time without stuttering, to kind Shino, while the other genin glared daggers at Kiba or sidled uncomfortably away from Shino.

She can remember coming home from a special girls-only shopping trip with Kurenai wearing the pretty pair of earrings Kurenai had bought her after convincing her to get her ears pierced, and how her father silently took in her new appearance and never acknowledged Kurenai when he encountered her after that.

So in those early days, when Hinata sees Sasuke with his almost omnipresent entourage of foreign-nin, she does not ignore them like almost everyone else. She greets them with the same shy courtesy she gives everyone and thinks of them with sympathy and, later, she thinks of them with laughter.

Because one day, when she happens to see them from across the street as she walks toward the training ground with Shino and Kiba, the four of them are walking in near single-file. Sasuke walks at the front, the big orange-haired ninja trailing him, and the two others, the kunoichi and the water-nin with the teeth like Kiba's, arguing loudly with each other, bring up the rear.

They remind her of ducklings following a Mama Duck.

The thought makes her squeak with laughter.

She claps her hand over her mouth immediately, eyes widening at her own rudeness. Quickly, she averts her eyes, but not before she meets Sasuke's, flicking to hers.

His dark eyes narrow the tiniest bit, his brows digging down in a frown so slight it could have been one of Neji's.

Then he looks away and tells the kunoichi and water-nin to shut up.

His annoyed tone reminds her of Shikamaru dealing with Ino and Chouji. Or Shino dealing with Kiba and Naruto. Or Neji-nii-san dealing with Lee and Gai-sensei.

Her smile grows wider behind her hands.


The first time Sasuke notices the Hyuuga girl, he is walking through the village with Team Taka, formerly Hebi.

Flanked discreetly by a pair of ANBU agents, the group of four is answering a summons from the Godaime. Sasuke hopes–if hope is the right word for such a dispassionate emotion, perhaps it is something more like expects–that the Hokage's intention for this meeting is to release them from ANBU custody and allow him to return to his clan compound and, hopefully, active duty. He has no plans for reviving his tired, treacherous clan, only for sinking into a cycle of missions that will turn so endlessly it will give him no time to think.

He is watching the silhouettes of Karin and Suigetsu's shadows clench fists at each other while they walk, thinking not quite idly of what he will do if Tsunade puts him back on a team with Naruto and Sakura, when he feels the weight of eyes on him and hears a faint sound that takes him a full minute to recognize.


The word is ridiculous even in his mind. It annoys him. He glances toward the sound with a displeased expression and sees the Inuzuka and Aburame from his genin class on the opposite side of the street. They are looking at him guardedly; he can sense the Aburame's scrutiny even behind the dark glasses, but it is the protectiveness of their stances that had Sasuke's eyes sloping past them to the wide-eyed girl them.

Her face is crinkled in an expression that, despite the hand covering her mouth, he easily recognizes from being on cells with Naruto and Suigetsu.

She is laughing at them.

Sasuke is not used to being laughed at. Not by someone who isn't an idiot, i.e., Naruto.

It is the sort of thing that that sticks in his mind, trivial but unpleasant, like food stuck in his teeth, and he tells Suigetsu and Karin to shut up.

Although he is not looking at her anymore but instead, determinedly, at the Hokage tower looming in front of him, he can sense that the Hyuuga's smile widens instead of vanishing.


The Uchiha compound is not very far from the Hyuuga compound. There is only so much room in one village for such large clans, after all.

After Tsunade clears Sasuke and lets the other Team Hebi members go free, too, Sasuke returns to the Uchiha compound. It is strange for Hinata, glancing out her window at night, to see the streets that have laid empty and quiet for years to be now glowing with light from their dusty street lanterns.

The tallest member of Team Taka–Juugo, she learns his name to be from Naruto-kun, who actually gets along with him quite well–has chosen to stay in Konoha, and Sasuke has permitted him to stay in a small house at the corner of the Uchiha compound.

The other two ninja, Karin and Suigetsu, leave, but never for long. Each of them show up in the village at random intervals for random periods, sometimes together, sometimes not. The only common factor to their visits is that they always come back to Sasuke as though he is still their squad leader, someone to whom they need to report.

Except that squad members don't blush and get nosebleeds every time they look at their squad leader, the way Karin usually does, or try to decapitate him with a giant sword while laughing, the way Suigetsu always does.

When Karin and Suigetsu do visit, the former Team Taka often spars in the streets past nightfall, blurring and glinting and glowing with chakra. Hinata watches them, at first because sometimes Naruto spars with them, and later simply because they are fascinating to watch. The smears and streaks of color as they duck and flash past each other in the streets make her think of the rainbow bridges she had imagined at Tanabata festivals as a little girl, enraptured by the idea of a glowing bridge that would let the shepherd and the princess meet.

One night, she falls asleep in her window seat watching them.

She wakes up, in the midnight darkness, to a pair of black eyes regarding her.

"You have nothing better to do than watch," Sasuke says.

She blinks at him, confused by the superfluity of his statement. And by the fact that he is there at all, lounging across from her on her window seat.

Then she understands that the statement is not a statement at all.

"Th…they won't mind?" Her eyes flick to the lamp-lit streets with the foreign-nin's lunging shadows.

The look he gives her says that whether they mind is none of his concern.

She crawls to her feet, feeling the blood travel back down to her numbed toes. "Yes, please."

He leads her to the empty, light-pooled Uchiha compound streets, and they spar.


She wants to wait for the wedding until Karin returns. The red-haired kunoichi has been gone for the longest period ever, six months, and it makes Hinata wonder uncomfortably if the kunoichi found out somehow, despite their discretion, about her and Sasuke's relationship.

She shouldn't feel guilty about anything, Shino assures her. But should is not Hinata's strong suit anymore. Her engagement to the last Uchiha, the disgrace of which, in her father's eyes, only marrying Naruto could have surpassed, is proof of that.

It is just that it feels cruel to marry Sasuke without Karin's knowledge. Hinata remembers the feeling of watching someone you love marrying someone else. She remembers that one of the only solaces, as a beaming Sakura floated down the aisle to a grinning Naruto, was knowing that if it had really been meant to be between her and Naruto-kun, she would have done something at the wedding to stop it. She was present and there and had the opportunity to let fate nudge her forward if that was where destiny meant for her to be.

It makes a difference. Whether it was fate or not, just justification of her own spinelessness or not, to be able to look back and say, nothing happened, so it just wasn't meant to be, was a comfort, like the soothing herbal salve she makes for her teammates and the other members of the Rookie Nine.

Hinata does not explain this to Sasuke. She only says quietly, "Let's wait, please." He regards her silently for a moment, at the end of which he says, "Hn," and she smiles shyly, and they wait.


Sasuke's motives, as usual, are not one-headed in nature. He himself could care less whether Karin knows about, or attends, his wedding to Hinata. What he does care about is that Hyuuga Hiashi, who disowned Hinata as soon as she announced–murmured may be the more appropriate word–her engagement to Sasuke, has scheduled a diplomatic trip to Sand Country for the day on which their wedding was originally going to take place.

Pushing back the date means foiling Hyuuga Hiashi's plan of avoiding and snubbing their marriage altogether.

When he was a twelve-year-old leaving the empty Uchiha compound for his teammates' raucous antics on the training fields, Sasuke sometimes wondered what his father would say if he saw him associating with Naruto. Fugaku would disapprove, he knew, and back then when he was twelve, before he knew the truth about his father's treachery, it had bothered him that he was disobeying his father's wishes.

Now, he takes a dark pleasure from doing exactly what his father wouldn't want.

He also takes it from doing exactly what people who remind him of his father wouldn't want.

Sasuke looks forward to making so much noise at the wedding celebration that it will shake the Hyuuga compound's foundations.


Karin comes, she mashes her lips together and turns as red as her hair but says nothing, and Hinata and Sasuke are married. Sasuke allows–encourages, really, if the quirk of the eyebrow Hinata watches him quirk subtly at Suigetsu is any indication–sake to be served to Lee for some reason that she cannot imagine. That she would not like to imagine, really, considering that Lee's intoxication results in the destruction of one of the Uchiha compound's houses, a roaring crash of wood and brick and glass that Kakashi-sensei comments is a strange beginning to a marriage between two such quiet people.

Hinata, at the head of the table in her stiff wedding ensemble, watches them all like a princess figurine from within her snow globe. Kurenai's daughter toddles across the floor, cheered on by an adoring audience of Kurenai, Shizune, and Sakura's mother. Sakura herself is lecturing Tsunade, who sits with several bottles of sake in front of her, as Naruto whines on the other side of her to give up on Baa-chan and come and dance with him, Sakura-chaaan. Chouji is eating, and Shikamaru is sticking stubbornly to Chouji's side, slouching out of sight of Ino and Temari, who are both craning their necks from the dance floor, looking for him. Kiba makes fun of both of them, barking laughter with Akamaru. Suigetsu is dancing–or maybe sparring? It is difficult to tell–with Anko; Karin is leaning against the wall, glaring at nothing; and Juugo and Shino stand at opposite ends of the room, Juugo with a bird nestled surreptitiously at his shoulder and Shino with the look of concentration on his face that lets Hinata know he is concentrating on something his insects are informing him.

It was foolish, perhaps, to think that marrying would always be able to make her feel less alone.


Moving into the Uchiha compound as the new matriarch means seeing even more of Team Hebi. More similarities between them and Team 7 drift to the surface. The way Sasuke's lips might curve up the smallest millimeter, a satisfied arrogance glinting in his eyes, every time he dodges Suigetsu's blade, is like his expression when he evades a set of Naruto's shadow clones. The weary way he ignores Karin's clear crush and speaks to her in a business-like manner is the same way he addressed Sakura when they were genin. And when he is with Juugo, on the rare occasions that the large, quiet ninja speaks, he listens with his hands folded in front of his mouth, staring intently into space, the way he had once listened when Kakashi was still his sensei.

They were not exactly the same.

But they were close. Close enough for Hinata to understand that, despite all the differences, and despite how much Konoha's population denied it, the members of Team Hebi were as much Sasuke's friends as Team 7 had ever been.

That is why, in her new home, Hinata keeps her mouth shut about the things that leave her a little displeased.

She doesn't say anything when the birds that like to perch on Juugo's shoulder leave presents behind on the main house's polished nightingale floor when he visits.

(But she doesn't have to. After the first few times, she sees Sasuke's eyes notice it, and, although she never hears him speak to Juugo about it, it never happens again.)

She doesn't say anything when, lying in bed next to Sasuke at night, her acute Byakugan senses feel Karin's tracking chakra faintly monitoring their bedroom.

(Eventually Sasuke wants to know why she refuses to do anything at night, and when her eyes, activating with their tell-tale blood vessels, slide to the window behind him, he makes a "hn" of irritation and claps his hands in a genjutsu seal that will cloak the room and befuddle Karin's chakra. Then he lowers his head to hers.)


Sasuke does not mind Juugo because Juugo is the only one in the whole damned village except that bastard Neji who addresses his wife correctly, as "Hinata-sama," instead of the intimate "Hinata" that should belong only to Sasuke and which everyone else in the village seems to use instead, except Naruto and his stupid "Hinata-chyaaan!"

"Hinata-sama," the giant says on one of the many days that he accompanies Hinata into the garden in the center of the main house. "The shiso is beginning to wilt."

Somehow, without Sasuke being quite able to discern when or why, the foreign ninja has attached himself to Hinata, trailing her like an obedient dog, carrying shovels or trowels and speaking quietly with her as they kneel in front of piles of earth, waiting for his birds to fly off and return with beakfuls of seeds that they drop into their laps.

Sasuke has reservations about leaving Juugo alone with his wife, not because of concerns of fidelity but because he knows that Juugo's bloodlust and curse seal can hit at any moment. He knows that he would kill the giant ninja if he harmed Hinata in one of these states, and he knows that Juugo knows it, too, but he does not know if that will be enough to stop him if he enters one of his rages.

He is on the brink of acting on this knowledge and banning Juugo from the house when Sasuke is not present, when, as Sasuke watches them kneeling near the koi pond, he sees Juugo's shoulders stiffen. He begins to shake.

Sasuke streaks through the doors, as fast as his Chidori.

But he is still too slow to do anything. When he stops behind Juugo, grabbing his arms, the curse seals on Juugo's skin are already fading and coiling back into invisibility. Sasuke looks, in some amazement, as Hinata, whose Byakugan veins are fading from around her eyes as she lowers her arm perfunctorily back to her shovel, as though this is something that happens every day.

"I'm fine," Juugo says, looking up at Sasuke with something almost like a smile.

Sasuke feels slightly like smiling himself. He represses it, of course, settling with eyeing Hinata impassively as she gives him a smile and presses her soil-covered hand to the white bandages around his calves, leaving behind a brown handprint. He retaliates by tipping the sack of potting soil beside her over with his foot, sending the soil cascading into the lap of her kimono. She looks down at it with dismay, and Sasuke smirks.

Then he goes back inside.


Hinata appreciates Juugo's quiet presence and the new herbs that his birds have brought to her for planting. He is very knowledgeable about all of their uses, if not their names, and when they are not on missions, they have begun to catalogue the uses of the new ones. Tsunade-sama is impressed by a few of them, and she directs them to begin growing a wider stock to begin supplying ninja cells.

Juugo says nothing, but Hinata knows from the new set of his shoulders that he feels more comfortable now, living in this village, that he has contributed something.

He contributes even more when, about half a year after the wedding, Hinata wakes up one morning with swimming nausea.

Sasuke is crouched beside her as she heaves over the toilet, holding her hair back at the nape of her neck in a clamped fist the tightness of which, she can sense from the sweat slickening it, is not from callousness but from silent anxiety. He has just come back from a mission and smells of ozone and sweat, odors that treat her stomach more kindly than the smell of the fish that she was grilling for breakfast did.

He looks up when Juugo's quiet footsteps pad toward them. "Something for her stomach," he tells the tall ninja.

There is the sound of Juugo's feet retreating, and Sasuke adjusts his grip on her hair. They both know what this sudden morning nausea means, and Hinata wishes that she could stop retching for long enough to look at him so that she can try to figure out whether he is pleased or not.

Juugo returns with a sprig of purple edged leaves steeping in a steaming mug. Sasuke holds it to Hinata's lips for her, and just the clean, fresh scent of its steam as it wafts up to her nose is enough to relieve some of the nausea.

But the gentleness of Sasuke's hand as it sweeps through her sweaty bangs, pulling them away from her flushed forehead, relieves her even more. She nuzzles her cheek into his wrist.


With a baby on the way, Hinata finds it more difficult to ignore Karin's sideways glares and malevolent chakra. There is a protectiveness curling around her, warping her perception like a genjutsu, turning everything around her, from the kunai that Sasuke has a tendency to hide under the sofa cushions and mattresses to the pair of black pants she has that are just slightly tight around the waist, into a threat to the baby growing inside her.

Karin, whose red eyes flick more and more often to Hinata's rounding abdomen, is the threat Hinata worries about most, and mostly because Karin has not yet taken any action that proves any malice on her part. Hinata is stubborn, refuses to bring up her concern to Sasuke without any proof that his former teammate might be plotting because…maybe she isn't. Maybe it is just the pregnancy hormones talking.

She shares this with Kiba and Shino as they wait for Kurenai to bring their mission assignment.

"When female sand beetles prepare to lay their offspring, they produce hormones which make them attack any male beetle who approaches," says Shino in his slow, deliberate way. "Otherwise the males would feed on the eggs."

"What, so Sasuke's gonna eat her kid?" demanded Kiba with a snort. "Listen here, Hinata, forget all that beetle stuff. This thing you've got going on with Karin, it happens in packs all the time. The beta bitch gets uppity, and the alpha female has to remind her who's boss. So just remind her who's boss."

Hinata does not see herself as a "boss," but she clenches her hands in determination and invites Karin to spar with her at the training field the next day. Karin, as suspicious as Hinata is double-motived, but, if her grin is anything to go by, eager to thrash her weak rival's butt, agrees.

It is forbidden, but in their spar, Hinata uses the doujutsu. Her Gentle Fist comes to close to Karin's head that a few strands of her blood-red hair shoot out straight, crackling with the power.

Hinata realizes that, if he were still acknowledging her existence, her father probably would not mind her using doujutsu on this foreign nin.

He might even, in fact, approve.

The thought is enough to bring Hinata's arm back to her side, her feet stepping back.

Karin's red eyes, behind her glasses, are wide, her pupils dilated.

"That – " A few strands of Karin's hair fall suddenly to the ground, neatly sliced. "That would have killed me!"

"But I didn't let it," Hinata says quietly. She lowers her arm and steps back, letting the double meaning sink into the silence.

Something changes in Karin's chakra and face as she looks at Hinata. It is something like defeat, something like grudging admiration, and something like loneliness.

Hinata understands that, too. She pulls her coat back on. "Do you want to get some dango?"


When Sasuke comes back from his week-long mission, it is to the sight of Hinata sitting on the garden veranda with Karin and Sakura on either side of her. They are arguing over the best way to check the baby's chakra circulation, and Hinata sits tranquilly between them, her hands over her stomach, ready to protect the baby if anyone's fist gets too chakra-charged.

He is surprised, and more than slightly suspicious, to see Karin taking an interest in the baby. His bafflement grows when, as Sakura rises to leave, Karin gives Hinata an arm to help her up and fusses with brushing stray birdseeds from her pants. This can only be part of some plot, he thinks with annoyance, and keeps his eyes carefully peeled for the next few days, staying close to Hinata's side.

But Hinata, who seems as baffled as he is (he cannot be entirely sure, she is sometimes hard to read, with her quietness and blank eyes) by Karin's sudden friendliness, also seems unalarmed, and she and Karin go together to train or shop for baby supplies or the other unimportant things females do.

Sasuke is not sure how to feel about the developing relationship. Surprise is certainly the dominant emotion, although he would never admit it. Karin, while perhaps not losing to Sakura in the stubbornness department, certainly made up for that by being far creepier. He had never felt like Sakura was raping him in her mind when she looked at him. Sometimes he feels like Hinata does, but that is a pleasant prospect and often results in him daydreaming for a few seconds. Karin, at worst, he expected to have to kill because she wouldn't stop going after his wife, and, at best, to have to lop off one of her limbs.

But it has not come to that, and he supposes he should feel grateful.

Except that Karin's new and improved, non-homicidal personality is still too clingy. Not to him anymore, but to Hinata. Now she and Juugo both follow her around like baby ducklings, and Sasuke can feel a childish sort of jealousy inside him like the one he can remember feeling whenever his mother was playing with his cousins and being kind to them when her attention should have been reserved for him.

Thus it is that on days after Hinata has had a mission and manages to get home before Karin or Juugo can intercept her that Sasuke is most affectionate, if such a word can ever describe him. The phenomenon of Sasuke being affectionate consists principally of him waiting expressionlessly at the door for her, pulling her inside as soon as she gets there, sealing the door behind them with a multitude of jutsus so that none of their friends can come in, and monopolizing her completely to himself on the couch, his head in her lap.

"Misanthropy," she pronounces one day, like a med-nin with a patient, when he does this. Her voice is so soft and unobtrusive amidst her stroking and idle murmurs about the events of the day that it takes Sasuke a moment to register and to open one eyelid with the proper amount of displeasure.

But she giggles as though his ire is some form of indignation, like he's a pouting child. He lets out a sigh to convey his unhappiness with this again and rolls over so that she can sift through the hair at the nape of his neck.

"A misanthropic cat," she diagnoses now, and he growls into her waist.

It only makes her laugh harder.


Karin likes to pat Hinata's stomach, which is now very distended, and talk baby-talk to the baby inside. "Who's going to be big and bwave and cut Suigetsu's head off? Who is? You are! You are!"

This makes Hinata twitch, a little, in a Sasuke-like way, but Juugo usually rescues her by arriving and changing the subject to something slightly less psychologically scarring for an unborn child, like talk about what color Karin thinks the baby's room should be ("Red. Don't even think about purple!")

She lets Karin touch her stomach because she can sense that Karin needs this, as some validation of their new and tentative friendship. Sakura touches it, too, at check-ups. But Hinata does not like for anyone else to touch. Part of this may be because she sees Suigetsu watching her sometimes, not with overt glares the way Karin did, but with smirks that bare his teeth as his eyes focus on her waist.

The rest of Team Hebi have become like members of the Rookie Nine to her, but Suigetsu, she still cannot warm up to.

The water nin, for all that his teeth aren't so different from Kiba's, unnerves her with the abruptness, often unsuitedness, of his grins. Dislike does not usually bubble up in her, but did when, as she was telling Sasuke about how one of the academy children lost his leg in a training accident, Suigetsu's face broke into that cruel grin. It bubbled up in her like something foul, and she felt her Byakugan activating before she even knew it.

She deactivated it just as quickly, of course, turning away, and not letting them activate again even when she heard Suigetsu make a little "heh" sound. Sasuke said nothing, and perhaps it made her angry, a bit, but more angry at herself than him because she knew that if she had a problem with something, she should be brave enough to take action herself.

For all that Suigetsu is the only one of Team Hebi who calls her "Hinata-chan" like the other members of the Rookie Nine, she senses that he is the one who dislikes her the most, for taking Sasuke away.

Juugo wants someone to stop him, Karin wants someone to love her, but Suigetsu wants Sasuke. Sasuke with his long-seated problem with his brother like Suigetsu's, with his simultaneous fascination and hatred of Orochimaru like Sasuke's, with his pursuit of a member of Akatsuki who was always too powerful for him to beat like Sasuke's. Suigetsu is not so different from Naruto in the way he clings to a person with whom he feels he shares so much.

The water-ninja's purple eyes hold a taunting gleam on the (frequent) occasions when he appears in their kitchen at breakfast, right behind Sasuke, with his sword tip to her husband's throat.

The first time that Suigetsu appeared and did that, Hinata shrieked and activated her Byakugan. But Sasuke ducked Suigetsu as easily as if he were one of Naruto's ineffective bucket-of-water tricks, and came to inform her flatly that this was just something Suigetsu did, that he was psychotic, and that she should not let herself be concerned by it.

Hinata does indeed think that Suigetsu is psychotic, but because she sees how Sasuke seems pleased when he can dodge Suigetsu, she doesn't say anything.

She only purses her lips, and this seems to egg Suigetsu on.

She does not say anything when he does it to Sasuke the next day, or the next day, or any of the days for months after that.

And she does not say anything when she turns around from making breakfast one day after her daughter, Miko, has been born and sees the six-month-old baby sitting in her high chair with Suigetsu's holed sword encircling her neck.

Hinata doesn't say anything. What she does is blur forward.


The surge of chakra from downstairs is immediately discernible to Sasuke. He blurs down the stairs, kunai materializing between his fingers.

The scene that greets him is the last thing he could have expected.

Suigetsu is slumped against the wall, his eyes squinting up, and blood streaming down his chin.

Hinata stands above him, her chest heaving and white Byakugan eyes glinting angrily.

Juugo and Karin crash through the paper doors.

"What happened?" shrieks the red-haired woman, immediately at Hinata's side. Juugo places himself perpendicular to her, guarding both Hinata and the baby.

Hinata does not say anything. She lowers her arm, picks up Miko, and moves in the same fluid motion to the stove, using her free arm to tip the breakfast fish from the pan onto the plates. She is trembling, slightly.

"…bitch," wheezes Suigetsu.

Sasuke, seeing for the first time (and realizing that family life has dulled him if he has only just now observed it) the gigantic sword lodged in their ceiling, realizes what must have happened.

Karin must have realized as well, for she screeches, "You IDIOT! What the hell were you doing? If you touched a hair on her head, I'll cut your idiot balls off –"

"Geeze." Suigetsu turns his head, swiping the blood from his mouth with one eye still squeezed shut, like a wink. "She's as a big a bitch on the inside as you are, Karin."

Karin screeches, Juugo relaxes a little, and Sasuke ignores them all. There is a fear inside him, suddenly, that his former teammates have gone too far, and Hinata will not be able to handle it, that she will leave.

Maybe she senses his discomfort, for she turns to him. Her eyes are still diamond-hard, like the edges of a kunai. "I know how to kill," is all she says, simply.

A smile touches Sasuke's lips.


But there is no need for them to worry about killing. From that day on, Suigetsu doesn't try anything. He doesn't change much, aside from limiting his mock-murdering to outside the house. But this step in itself forces him to assume a new way of announcing his presence in the house. It is usually in the form of a gleeful "Hinata-chaaan" and some sort of water managing to put itself in her path. She sidesteps it, and he complains, the same way he complains when Sasuke dodges his sword during training: with a grin and a purely pleased expression.

Somehow the attempted traps become a tradition, and then, before she knows it, Hinata has found herself to be a member of this ragtag family that Sasuke has gathered.

Ragtag, yes. Murderous, yes. And not necessarily sane?

Yet there is something warming beyond belief to sit at summer festivals and have people who melt away from Sakura and Ino to come talk to her instead. Like Karin, who throws herself down beside Hinata complaining about that Temari bitch and saying doesn't Hinata think her kimono is the sluttiest fucking thing she's ever seen? Like Juugo, who plays with Miko-chan, humming and distracting her to make sure that she doesn't pick up any of Karin's obscenities. Like Suigetsu, who sneaks up, cackling, the width of his toothy grin a sure sign that he has carried out his intended goal of baiting Naruto, as sure a sign as the blonde who is stomping after him, shouting, as Sakura yells after him to shut up, he's going to wake up the baby.

Like Sasuke, whose appearance behind her none of them notice until he sets the goldfish in the plastic bag down at Miko's chubby feet and folds himself neatly beside Hinata.

In the lantern-lit summer dusk, it is easy to see her father's disapproving white eyes. They are bright against the settling darkness as he passes them with the other Hyuuga retainers and settles in a spot not far away to observe the fireworks with Yondaime and the village elders.

But Juugo's bulk is so big, especially when joined by Akamaru, who has padded over with Kiba to joke with her and bait Karin, that Hinata does not see him any more after that first accidental meeting of eyes.

Sasuke tells her that night, as they lie in bed with the sound of cicadas rustling just outside their open window and the more distant sounds of Suigetsu challenging Naruto and Lee to a drinking contest with him and Karin, that he can picture what his father's face would look like if he saw the people living in the Uchiha compound now.

She rolls onto her side to regard him. He lies on his back, one arm beneath his head, watching her. She shifts closer, her cheek against the subtle swell of muscle at his shoulder, silently prompting him to continue.

He smirks and turns his eyes to the window, where the sound of shouts filter in.

Just like her father's did tonight, he says.

Hinata smiles.