I'm so sorry! Life's been getting in the way and I stopped feeling the itch to write. But I've begun to feel super encouraged recently to finish this story! Once again, thank you all for such wonderful reviews (over 50 now, ftw!); we've still got a ways to go before we reach the end, but it's there, so please be patient with me!

Also, I hope this chapter finally clears the curiosity that's been plaguing all of you! Enjoy!

THERE IS MILD SWEARING. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto. And Santa didn't bring me Itachi either.

OoOoOoO

"You sure you'll be fine by yourself?" Sakura asked, unsure. Hinata smiled back. "Please don't worry about me. I will be fine."

"Ok, I'll message you tonight! Bye Hinata!" Sakura called as Hinata stepped onto the sidewalk. A chorus of goodbyes directed at Hinata rose from the rest of the girls behind her.

Sakura had invited Hinata over again at the end of the week to make up for her missing out on the first time and she couldn't say no. After the first movie though, she managed to convince the others she should be heading home.

Waving back at everyone, she paid attention to her steps as she continued down the street; the sun was shining today and the air felt so good that she just wanted to walk all the way home; she'd rather not be holed up at home too soon since she had plenty of time before her father came home.

She even managed to hum a nearly silent tune to herself as she skipped, heart elated. Every time she spent time with them, she felt so light. All of them – at school too, with Naruto and Kiba and Suigetsu and everyone too.

Looking around at the area she was in to see no one was watching, she stepped up onto the raised curb side and kept her arms outstretched to her side for balance, feeling giddy. She loved this feeling so much – this lightness.

Looking across the street, she saw someone who nearly made her fall down; even if he was wearing a hat, there was no mistaking Sasuke. He was…just sitting on a swing of an empty park, ignoring the stares he got from passing strangers. Hinata got down and began to walk across to him, thinking she should at least say hello.

"Hi."

"Hm."

She stood in front of him and flinched back when he saw the blank stare in his eyes as he glanced at the newcomer, shifting his attention back to the ground shortly after confirming.

She sat down on the swing beside him, swinging slowly herself and rather curious; this was just too strange for him.

Wondering what he was doing there, he seemed to read her mind because after a minute, he said "Finished cleaning the classrooms."

She nodded, even though he wasn't looking, and they continued to sit in silence, swaying.

It was a little park, only the swing set and a slide. The sand was nearly gone from the pit they were built in and there were no children playing on them. Hinata could only guess they went for a bigger and better playground.

"I…used to come here a lot…" Sasuke spoke up, trying to formulate the right words.

"As a kid…my brother took me here; I never liked it, I always wanted to go to the bigger one behind the elementary school. I called this 'the baby park' but…I never left. He was always there, pushing me so high on the swings, standing at the end of the slide to catch me, carrying me on his back when I got too tired.

"We went to the bigger park one time, and there were so many kids there…they recognized him. They loved him, looked up to him…I never knew that. And that time was the first afternoon I never got to talk with him. Those kids just swarmed him.

"I still call this place 'the baby park' but it's a place with just me and him. I yelled at one lady who was passing one time. I started hating crowds after going to that bigger park, because everyone would be there to talk to him; only him."

Hinata waited as he lapsed into a short silence.

"But I never hated him for it; he was my idol." Hinata only nodded again.

"…He's…kinda like you, in some ways…" Sasuke started again, looking at her. She stared back.

"You both love history; he collected old books he found from garage sales. You can both see through the bullshit that people put up; no fooling either of you. And…" he trailed off, gathering his thoughts. Hinata held her breath, afraid of scaring the moment away.

"And you both…have a knack of forgetting yourselves…everyone else just seems to be more important than you."

Hinata was silent, thinking. His brother...was this the same person in those photos? And when she mentioned loving history, was that who his father was talking about as well? It was confusing and a little overwhelming. The lightness she felt from before had begun to feel weighted, sagging on her shoulders again.

"Are…are you sure you're Sasuke?" she asked carefully, studying his face. This boy in front of her was very different from the one she came to know recently.

He sighed. "I don't know anymore. The 'me' from last week would've gone straight home after detention. But I saw this park and…I just started to remember so much."

Hinata nodded. They continued to sway in silence for a little longer; then Sasuke spoke up again.

"I've been wanting to say that for a while now; to you at least."

"Me?"

Sasuke nodded stiffly, shifting his attention to the sand. "I figured you of all people would get this kind of stuff; you would understand."

"…I don't know if I entirely do" Hinata confessed. "This is something bigger than me. You should mention this to your brother."

Sasuke scoffed. "If he were alive, I wouldn't be having this conversation."

Shock struck Hinata like a lightning bolt; she could only guess the absence of the older boy in the photos was just a phase of growing up, but…

"I'm sorry" she said, now knowing why he thought she'd understand. Truth be told, she still didn't really.

"Hm…you're curious, aren't you?"

"I-what?" Hinata sputtered.

"You're curious about what happened." Sasuke deduced from her facial expression. Hinata turned her head away.

"It's really none of my concern."

"Fine" Sasuke replied and sat back in his swing.

3…2…1…

"Hypothetically speaking…"

Sasuke smirked. Bingo.

"…how much would you have told me?"

"I think my exact words would've been 'tell me what happened to your family and I'll tell you what happened to mine.' Something like that."

"I see…so you want a trade?"

"Yeah."

"I don't think my end of the bargain will live up to your expectation."

"I don't care; I want to know."

"…Fine. But you go first."

"Fine."

By this time, the two had twisted the chains of their swings so they were facing each other.

Sasuke's eyes flew to her sleeve, where a purple bruise was peeking out from the cuff. Hinata pulled the sleeve back to cover it.

"Wait – I want to change; tell me why you have those bruises." Sasuke declared.

"Too late; now tell me." Hinata demanded.

Sasuke heaved a heavy sigh. "Fine. My brother and I liked to go hiking on weekends. I was 8 and he was 13 at the time. Our parents would drop us off at the park and pick us up later."

Sasuke's voice got softer as he recalled the memory. "It was midafternoon when he smelled a fire; people camp all the time there so we didn't pay attention to it. And it turned out to be a forest fire. It spread quickly; I think it took about an hour for the fire to block off the trail we were on, so we ran off-trail when we finally noticed.

"We weren't the only ones either; we managed to spot three other hikers that were also running. They said they heard a helicopter and we ran for a hill; they spotted us and lowered down their lifelines. Two of the other hikers went up first, and then the other one and I grabbed the next lifelines.

"My brother strapped me in and I remember, as I was going up, I could see how much of the fire had spread; it was so close and…I saw the trees collapsing. I think I knew at that moment…what would happen to him.

"Before we could lower the lifeline, the trees fell and…that was the last time I saw my brother."

"I'm sorry" Hinata said again, shivering at the thought of losing someone like that.

"I just…sort of separated from everyone after that. My classmates, my parents…even now, when they all praise me, I don't feel anything. It should be my brother still, that has all the fans; I don't want any of it, I'm not as special as him…he deserves all of it."

"So you didn't want to take his place?"

"…I didn't want to take it in the first place. But every time a teacher came up to me and told me about him being in their class before, or someone else told me about how much they admired him, it sort of pushed this cast on me; I had to fill his shoes so no one would be disappointed with me and with what he could have been. It sucked, really; no one can be him, and no one can reach his level."

"What was his name?"

"Itachi."

"Mm, it's a nice name."

Sasuke looked straight at her again. "And your story?"

Hinata looked down. "Dad took the whole family for a vacation. The airport over-booked their plane by two people by mistake, so Dad took me and we got on a plane that detoured. Our plane made it, theirs never did."

Sasuke blinked. "That's it?"

"What did you think it was going to be?"

"Some massacre or something like that."

"It was just a plane crash; I told you my end of the bargain wouldn't be big"

"…well, your whole family died except for your dad. Bu you're not looking very sad right now; I kinda pegged you as a weepy type."

"You know, I thought I'd never get over it, but I've had to tell the story so many times that…I guess I just eventually did get over it. It stopped being surreal to me."

"So in the cemetery…is that really them?"

"It took almost a year, but Dad managed to get all their bodies back. Only then did we hold a funeral for them all."

A buzz from her jacket pocket snapped Hinata out of the conversation and she flipped it open to see the new message she had received. A cold wave of dread filled her when she read the time. She had stayed behind too long!

I need to get home; I can't call for a ride, it'll make a scene…maybe, if I hurry I can make it!

She stood up from her swing. "Sorry, but I have to get going."

Sasuke stood up after her, checking the time on his watch. "I need to get home too. We walk the same way, right?"

That was true; his house was farther than hers, but they were on the same route. Hinata stiffly nodded and the two left the tiny park.

Hinata's mind was a whirl of possible situations and how she could change them to her advantage if she needed to. Kurenai's probably waiting at by the door, hopefully I'll get there in time…

The entire walk, while Hinata went through the turmoil on her head, Sasuke was feeling light and open; it was true he never mentioned anything about his brother's death to anyone before. The counsellors that he was advised to go to when he was younger never helped him clear his head as much as just telling Hinata outright and straight. All the things he wanted to say he practiced in his head while serving his detention and had initially wanted to say it all on Monday, when in the cemetery, but her showing up at the park seemed like the right moment.

She had already made a fool out of him three times; publicly slapping him, making him laugh, reducing him to the child he'd left behind with his emotions years ago. It was refreshing to catch up with all the chaos he hid behind a mask. Of course, he still had some pride left in him and would have to go back to his 'regular' self but he allowed himself to feel light for the moment.

He noticed Hinata walking very quickly, seeming to rush to get home, and as they turned the next corner, she had gone up a huge driveway and led to an even huger house.

"Um, you don't have to walk up with me" Hinata mentioned uneasily as she noticed Sasuke was still by her side.

"Whatever; just let me" Sasuke snapped back.

Hinata bit her lip and quickened her pace even more as she flew up the steps and checked her pockets for her key.

Just as she was about to insert it into the lock though, the white double doors flew open and Hinata's stomach seemed to drop to her knees as she saw her father standing there, her mistress close behind.

"You're late" he stated, not looking at her but rather curiously at her companion.

"I'm sorry Father." Hinata apologised, giving a slight bow.

"And this is?" he asked, still looking at Sasuke.

"A classmate, he was walking with me."

Sasuke straightened, remembering how formal Hinata had been around his parents; but he didn't even get an introduction out before Hinata's father stepped aside and let Hinata in.

"Sorry" she mouthed silently as she stepped over the threshold.

She turned and waved to him, beginning to say goodbye, but the door slammed shut.

Sasuke had caught it. He caught the look of listlessness in her eyes that she had on the day he had attacked her. On the day he hurt her.

Everything clicked.

Sasuke just stood there, eyes wide, as he realized the reason for Hinata's wounds was her father.

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A cliff-hanger ending! Ok, not really, but I'd say I'm pretty evil for leaving it right there, eh?

I incorporated everything I wanted in this chapter, but I don't think I made it flow very well, so sorry for a crappy chapter!

Basically, I wanted to establish the inner guilt and confusion that stuck with Sasuke since Itachi's death and the reaction of people around him and the friendship Hinata develops with Sasuke, enough so that a further relationship can possibly happen.

I hope everyone's not too disappointed with me! You guys really do make my day and I'll finish this for you all! So kindly drop a review!