A/N: My PC and I suffered another breakdown. But this time, it's different. I got myself a Mac for Christmas. So it won't happen again. Sorry, Hinata6 and Echo Uchiha for not being able to return your messages; I will review your story though, Hinata6, and respond there. I can no longer access certain parts of my account - for some stupid reason I've constantly been pestering the Admins about ... - and I can only publish new stories and upload documents through my Gmail account with Google Docs and other attributes. So I apologize for my lack of activity!

This entire fic - planned for approximately 25-30 chapters, is dedicated to fairheartstrife, who was kind enough to help my friend Ross in his time of need. Hope she likes it ...

. . . . .

"STARS AND BOULEVARDS"
A SasuHina story
FRIGHTYMARE

Disclaimer: Naruto © Masashi Kishimoto
Song Inspirations: Good To You – Marianas Trench feat. Kate Voegele
Haunted – Taylor Swift
Stars and Boulevards - Augustana

. . . . .

Waiting

In brass ripples of liquid gold, the rising sun crawled apprehensively above the edge of the frosty horizon, trailing the thin train of its glowing gown over the snow-blanketed evergreens of Konohagakure no Sato. Fuchsia flares exploded across the bronze sky, painting the world in a series of fireworks and blazing glory. Schoolgirl glitter and fairy-tale sparkles shone dimly on the surface of the icy sidewalks and snowy meadows.

Hyuuga Hinata lifted a hand to her eyes, shielding the lavender-white treasures of her clan from the blinding light of the sunrise. She voluntarily closed her eyes the second the sky erupted ablaze, embers and crimsons skyrocketing across the village in a welcome to the morning.

For the sun to shine so brightly even in the coldest of winters was truly a miracle. It vaguely reminded Hinata of a certain blond boy by the name of Uzumaki Naruto, her sole inspiration for everything she'd ever conspired and acquired. She owed him so much, and yet, she wished it were the other way around.

The mere thought of Naruto sent painful, prickling sensations to her heart. She could not pretend she didn't know why: she loved someone who could never reciprocate her feelings, for his heart already belonged to another. Sighing, Hinata turned her back completely on the warm sky and began her tread through the snowy sidewalk.

Her hands were shoved deep into the pockets of her coat, a black knitted scarf ravelled loosely twice around her neck. The biting chill drew the colour from her cheeks and numbed her unprotected nose until it was a faint red colour reminiscent of Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.

She glanced down the road ahead of her; the streets of Konoha were already bustling with all the enthusiastic activity of the usual charismatic villagers. Hinata regarded the spectacle with fond eyes. What would it be like, she couldn't help but wonder, when the fallout struck? Things would never be the same, but that would never change. Things couldn't stay the same for long, no matter what.

In this case, what happened to be an impending war that only few knew of. The possibility that any of the other ninja villages would declare war on Konohagakure for taking in and recuperating a missing-nin – Uchiha Sasuke – was high, and the chances only climbed with each passing day. The only assurance Konoha had in the war was its enormously renowned military capability and its dependable alliance with Sunagakure, which had held fast and strong to this day.

Nineteen years old, Sabaku no Gaara continued to retain the all-time record of youngest shinobi to have risen to Kage. Hinata pursed her lips absent-mindedly, mentally reminding herself to ask after Gaara the next time she spoke with Naruto or perhaps Shikamaru and Temari. Being shy, introverted and of noble heritage, Hinata received less time to spend with her friends and acquaintances than any normal girl of eighteen.

She was startled from her thoughts when a hand tapped her on the shoulder. "Miss?"

Whirling around, Hinata came face-to-face with Hatake Kakashi. "K-Kakashi-sensei!"

A lone black eye scrutinized her sharply, scrunching in a warm smile as he nodded his head and extended a hand. "You dropped this," he told her simply, referring to the proffered mitten in his palm below. "About a block earlier, too."

"Oh," Hinata said dumbly, retrieving the mitten from Kakashi's open hand and stuffing it vehemently into her coat. "Thank you, Kakashi-sensei. I-I didn't realize."

"Clearly." Kakashi surprised Hinata by falling into her step, his fists in the pockets of his pants as he loped along easily at her side. "Been thinking hard about something, Hinata?"

She did not miss the glance he sent her way from the corner of his lone eye. She smiled wryly and inclined her head in a slow, uncertain nod. She wasn't sure if he was asking for an elaborate summary of her thoughts or whether he was merely striking up a conversation to pass the time, and so she failed to voice an answer.

"Could it be – about Naruto?" Kakashi demanded, striding one step ahead and twisting back around to sweep down and face her with a comically ominous expression. "Or perhaps about Christmas – gifts for Naruto? Maybe about fighting the war – with Naruto?"

A blush crept up Hinata's neck; she was ultimately indebted to scarves forever. Grateful to the gods that Kakashi was seemingly oblivious to her embarrassment, she exclaimed, "N-No! I wasn't thinking about Naruto … not everything I think has to b-be about Naruto-kun-!"

Kakashi chortled at her evident discomfit and his mask stretched into a languid, pleasant smile. "Alright. I believe you. Then what were you thinking about, Hinata? Do tell."

She frowned at his inconspicuous mockery. Determined to prove him wrong, she lied, "I was thinking about where I was headed. W-What else?"

"But of course," Kakashi drawled, his words strained and shaky from withholding another chuckle. "What else?" When his snarky remark was met with childishly adamant silence, he sighed melodramatically and asked, "Where are you headed, Hinata?"

Hinata's frown straightened into a taut, grim line. Face drawn with fresh seriousness, she said, "To the Hokage's tower. I r-received a summons from Tsunade-sama e-earlier this morning."

"Ah," Kakashi said gravely, tilting his head back in a gesture of realization and comprehension. "I see, I see. I actually have an idea what all that might be about. You see, the war is coming."

Hinata nodded.

Kakashi cocked his head to the side with a slight shake. "I don't think you quite understand. I mean, it's definitely coming. We received word from Sunagakure no Sato shortly after midnight."

Hinata's head snapped up faster than she thought possible, sending a bolt of sudden pain coursing down her neck. She instantly regretted the swift movement, but she ignored it, gasping, "S-So this is really – really the …"

"The Fourth Shinobi World War," Kakashi said bleakly. "I was twelve when the Third Shinobi World War struck. My teammate – Uchiha Obito – was one of many who were killed. He gave me my Sharingan, you know."

"I-I'm sorry," Hinata whispered. "I never knew."

"No one really does," Kakashi said, lazily cheerful. "But then again, no one thinks to ask."

Hinata, for lack of a response to his statement, replied in reference to an earlier one. "You s-said, Kakashi-sensei, that you might know why Tsunade-sama w-wanted to see me?"

Kakashi shrugged lightly. "Ah, actually, all I know is that she's been summoning Chunins and Jounins from all over the village since news of the war came to Konoha. She's had everyone running about on odd jobs and missions; I've been appointed to lead Naruto, Sakura and Sai down to patrol the plain by Iwagakure for hostages or bandits."

"Sai," Hinata repeated with a slight inquiry in her tone. "S-Sai-san? What about Uchiha-san?"

"Uchiha-san? You mean Sasuke, don't you?" Kakashi smirked. "He's only been around a half a week. You don't really expect Tsunade-sama to allow him to fight in the war, do you?"

As Hinata deliberated in silence, Kakashi clicked his tongue and glanced behind his shoulder at the enormous, glimmering building of the Konoha Hospital.

"Besides," the Jounin added with a half-lidded eyes, "he's still unfit to fight, and will be for a while, I'm sure. Especially in his state, I'm not so positive he'll be recovering soon."

Hinata didn't press for information: it was of no use or to no purpose, for she had never been one to pick up gossip or genuinely care about the Uchiha. She knew only what Naruto and Sakura had been able to reveal – that Sasuke had been found by Genma, Raido and Aoba a few five or six kilometres from the village gates. The Tokubetsu Jounin squad had proceeded to carry him – kindly disregarding his traitor status – back to Konoha and request Tsunade for immediate medical attention.

Hinata recalled experiencing bafflement and mild suspicion upon initially hearing the details. She hadn't failed to notice the doubt reflecting in Naruto's eyes, either. Hesitant and in the dark of Uchiha Sasuke's true feelings, she knew that Naruto was also wondering whether Sasuke was merely planning to stay for the duration of his recovery, before leaving again. As far as she knew, he had been discovered in an absolutely shattered state, barely able to even hold himself upright.

So she only nodded absent-mindedly in response to Kakashi as the enormous shadow of the Hokage's tower loomed over them, swallowing the pair as they approached the winding staircase. As she mounted the first step, Hinata paused, realizing Kakashi was not following her.

"A-Aren't you going in?" she asked.

"No, that was never my intention," Kakashi said lethargically. "I merely intended to escort a pretty young lady halfway across the village in case she encountered any dangers."

Hinata giggled and flushed faintly. "Thank you v-very m-much, Kakashi-sensei. If it weren't for you, I don't know how I would have ever m-made it."

With a bow, salute and a flourish, Kakashi vanished in a cloud of smoke, leaving Hinata alone on the bottom step. As she made her way slowly up the staircase, she contemplated what Kakashi had said. Kakashi's teammate had been killed during the previous Shinobi World War. It made her slightly uneasy to think that Naruto would be with Kakashi for the Fourth Shinobi World War, which was rumoured to be even more riotous and dangerously epic than ever before.

Would Naruto befall an untimely death out by Iwagakure, while she was taking on 'odd jobs and missions' for Tsunade? It seemed as though she would have to wait for her answers. What would she do without Naruto around, whether he was alive out there or not? He still wasn't here.

And so it was that Hinata was in a somewhat desolate mood as she knocked on Tsunade's office door.

"Wait one second." The lofty voice of Tsunade froze Hinata in her position, feet rooted to the space inches away from the closed door. Tsunade held an immense power over her subordinates, but especially over Hinata. She had always wished she could possess the courage to ask Tsunade to personally train her the way Ino and Sakura had had the courage to, but she had never been quite able to.

The door swung open with a creak as a short, dark-haired woman clad in black welcomed Hinata into the room with a sweeping gesture of the arm. Hinata forced a smile for Shizune, the Fifth Hokage's assistant, as she passed and faced Tsunade behind her desk.

The busty blonde turned amber-honey eyes on Hinata fondly, inclining her head in a curt greeting. "Thanks for coming, Hinata."

"W-What is it you called me for, Tsunade-s-sama?" Hinata asked, her voice trembling slightly more than usual.

"One moment, Hinata," Shizune interrupted. "We're just waiting on someone else."

With a puzzled nod, Hinata turned to stare curiously at the door, slightly ajar, waiting for someone – anyone – to walk through it at any second. However, she was kept in suspense for much longer than she would have liked – five entire, unendurable minutes, to be precise.

Another thing to wait for – how Hinata hated to have to wait.

The fifth minute was almost past. Hinata was mentally counting the seconds in her mind, for lack of anything better to do in the time. Tsunade busied herself with taking shots from the cap of a sake bottle, whilst Shizune's gaze darted anxiously from her Hokage to the door as she tapped impatient fingers on the arm of her chair.

As much as Hinata disliked waiting, she instantly regretted her unspoken wish for the dreadful silence to end. It all happened in a matter of seconds: the door was flung violently back, so violently in fact, that it practically strained its hinges. Shizune leapt a questionable foot in the air off of her seat and Tsunade's head snapped irately up from her paperwork.

Hinata, completely horrified by the display of force preceding the visitor's entrance, watched in sheer bewilderment as a figure bounded through the open doorway with admirable enthusiasm. Hinata was able to recognize the familiar face immediately. With hair darker and even more violet than her own, dull brown eyes and an overbearing coat the shade of peanut-beige, the second proctor of her first trial at the Chunin Exams was still as unmistakeably similar to the Mitarashi Anko that Hinata remembered.

"You're late again, Anko," Tsunade sighed, ignoring Shizune's deep breaths as the petite assistant attempted to desperately compose her panicked heart. "I'm beginning to think you're taking after Kakashi's ways."

"Shizune-san, Tsunade-sama, Hinata-chan," Anko said, smiling cheerfully as she addressed each female occupant of the room in turn. "Sorry, Hokage-sama. I was delayed. Maito Gai dumped Rock Lee on us down at the hospital just as I was heading out. I couldn't refuse."

"Lee?" Tsunade, Shizune and Hinata repeated in unison, glancing up in mild surprise. All were concerned for the lovably hyperactive, determined and motivational teenager. Tsunade and Shizune, having dealt with his surgery as of when he was a mere thirteen-year-old, knew how fragile certain fragments of his resolve could be when faced with injury.

Anko pulled a serious, grim face as she nodded, her pale eyes sympathetic. "Aye. Lee was drunk. He must have hurt himself, I'm supposing."

"Lee was intoxicated into inflicting bodily harm upon himself?" Shizune asked, her eyes wavering with worry. "That sounds very unlike him. Are you sure, Anko?"

With another bob of her head, Anko's eyebrows drew into a slight, unhappy scowl. "This isn't the first time it's happened either, Shizune. Gai came to request rehabilitation for Lee. I don't think the hospital accepted the proposition, but Gai wouldn't have even considered it if he hadn't thought it would be best for Lee."

"I agree," Tsunade remarked gravely, her face drawn and pale. "Whatever in the world would possess Rock Lee to lose such control?"

Hinata blanched before Anko answered, already knowing the reason.

"Tenten's left him for Neji once again," Anko sighed.

Tsunade raised an eyebrow and scoffed. "Honestly, this back-and-forth cycle that Maito Gai's team circulates in must drive him crazy. I mean, Tenten is the one in the middle, so obviously she's feeling self-revolved around whatever she does. And Neji's always been predisposed with his own personal goals and problems that he's never seemed to give it much of his attention. But Lee's always been affected, one way or the other, and only Gai can see it."

"Poor Lee," Shizune murmured, casting her eyes down to her feet. "Do you think he'll be alright, Anko?"

With a small smile in Shizune's direction, Anko said, "I'm sure of it. Things have a way of working themselves out, Shizune. I wouldn't worry too much about it if I were you. Now, let's leave Maito Gai's team in their own situations and deal with the one I'm here for."

"That," Tsunade smirked, "is possibly the wisest comment I've heard, Anko. Hinata, come over here. Stand beside Anko."

Hinata obeyed, anticipation and slight wariness etched into her expression as she took her place by Anko's side directly in front of Tsunade's desk.

"Hinata, Anko – the war has been declared. We're officially a village of defence as of now. Genma has reported early movement from Iwagakure and a ship that left the Mizukage's harbour at three in the morning."

Neither Hinata nor Anko expressed any surprise. Both had already been told the news: although the concept of actually being caught up in war at the young age of nineteen still unnerved Hinata slightly. She couldn't help but feel quite horrified that Kakashi's teammate had been a victim of war at thirteen.

"Hinata, I would have liked to have you fight for the village, but I've also been presented with an alternative for your uses. Anko has a proposition for you, since everyone in this room is quite aware of your heart condition."

Precisely a year ago, Hinata had returned from her first S-class mission with a severely impacted heart. Kiba and Akamaru had been forced to stop in at three consecutive villages on the homebound trip to attend to the needs of her failing heart. When they'd arrived home, Tsunade had been able to acutely mend the damage, though Hinata's cardio activity could never be the same.

With a swallow and a concise nod, Hinata waited to hear the proposal with trembling hands. She intertwined her fingers together, forming a conjoined fist that sent unusually cold, prickling sensations coursing up her arms.

How she absolutely abhorred waiting. The pause in which it took for Tsunade to leaf through files and smoothly withdraw a full, typed report seemed to last for more than what happened to be a few mere seconds.

"How would you," Tsunade said slowly, her voice as thick and prickly sweet as sugary honey on sour candy, "like to be a volunteer at the Konoha Hospital for the duration of the war? We'll need extra hands on duty as more and more shinobi are dispatched for this war, and aside from the clear Byakugan, you possess excellent chakra control, extensive knowledge of the circulatory and tenketsu system as well as the basics of medicine and herbs."

Her amber brown eyes, as warm as they were hard, quickly conveyed to Hinata that in reality, she had no choice. Perhaps the choice would present itself later.

And, unable to summon the courage to speak her wish, Hinata attempted to convey a response with her own imploring eyes, trying to persuade the Hokage to allow her to fight, for she believed she could, and she was willing to die for her village. If anything had brought her to where she was today, it was Naruto's revelations on never running away, and never giving up.

Tsunade, correctly reading her pleads, shook her head forlornly. "I'm very sorry, Hinata, but I'm afraid I don't trust myself enough to let you fight. I really don't want to lose you. You're a valuable kunoichi and you have potential for a future. Don't ask me to let you throw it all away on a war that might not even last a third of a decade."

With a shaky sigh, Hinata's fingers slipped out of each other and fell miserably to her sides in the realization that she was out of options. She was truly thankful to Tsunade for looking out for her, for caring; not many Kages, she knew, would give a damn about their ninjas' futures and potential. For they were soldiers of fortune, and that should have been it, right?

"I-I understand, Tsunade-sama. I'm sorry."

Tsunade licked her lips and smiled. "Don't be. I admire your resolve, Hinata. But I honestly do believe you'll be a fantastic contribution to the Hospital. Do consider it, won't you?"

Here it was. This was the choice.

And as much as Hinata knew it was not what she wanted, she would rather be of some use to the war than of none at all. And so she made the decision, "I'll do it."

Anko grinned and clapped Hinata fiercely on the back. "Great! Thanks, Hinata! I know you really don't want to, but it means a lot that you will!"

"It's really n-no problem at all, Anko-sempai. When do I start?"

"Well, how about right now?" Shizune suggested. "After all, you did mention Rock Lee's in a tough spot, didn't you?" It was clear that the short, dark-haired woman still carried the earlier concern for Lee on her mind.

"I did, but he's being taken care of by Ugai," Anko explained. "You're welcome to visit his room anytime, Hinata … The two of you are friends, right?"

Hinata nodded without hesitation. She nursed a soft spot for Rock Lee; he had always been a character she admired nearly as much as Naruto and pitied almost as much, too. Tenten and Neji were always hurting him, never quite aware and never to be reasoned with. "I-I'd like to see him very much," she said truthfully.

"Great; then we'll be on our way. We'll find a job or two for you while we're down there. I'm sure there's something we can fill your time with before the fractured and bleeding victims of war come pouring in."

Leaving Hinata and Shizune with dreadfully intense images lingering in their usually uncorrupted minds, Anko waved to the Hokage and bid a salute before grabbing Hinata's elbow and leading her unintentionally roughly down the narrow corridor.

"You'll love it at the hospital, Hinata," Anko assured her. "The staff members are all terrific. Some of the patients are moody bastards, but they do give you something good to yap off about on coffee breaks. Just ignore those sorts of patients."

Hinata replied only with a slightly bemused, uncertain nod.

"I'll give you some time, then, to grab some of your things."

Her head jolted up, and once more the joints in her neck cringed. "M-My things?"

"Yeah. You'll be staying at the Hospital. You already live so far away, and the shifts that run are twenty-four to forty-eight hours long, varying between nights, evenings and days. I seriously don't think you want to be scurrying around the village at three a.m."

With little mental debate needed for her decision, Hinata nodded again, "I'll run home and get my s-stuff and … meet you at the h-hospital?"

"That'll be fine." Anko paused as soon as the pair stood in the centre of the village. "Well, run along then. I'll be waiting for you in the hospital lobby, alright?"

Before Hinata had taken two steps away from Anko, the woman spoke up again.

"Oh, and Hinata?" Anko shot her a thumbs-up, accompanied with an impish grin. "We'll probably rope in more volunteers, too. But as for now, you're our first recruit. Most of the other villages will be off fighting in the war, so for now, just do the best you can, alright?"

Somehow, Anko's encouraging words did not breach Hinata's frown. In fact, all she had managed to accomplish with two enthused sentences was remind Hinata that Naruto was off, away from her, without her, fighting in the war.

Just waiting: waiting for word on the lives of those she was being forced to depend upon now, waiting for the return of those she loved, possibly to die at any given moment, with the slightest stroke of misfortune, with the most blunt of accidents.

And there was nothing she could do about it.

. . . . .

Hiashi had not been pleased to hear of Hinata's volunteer work, but he, too, knew it was best for his daughter not to take part in the physicality and dangers of a world war. Hanabi had been kind enough to lend a hand in the packing of a bag, and Hinata had even spotted Neji as she crossed the courtyard of the compound on her way out, he being seemingly oblivious to Rock Lee's condition, and she did not mention it.

Hinata had brought only the bare necessities – toiletries, hair accessories, clothing and essential undergarments, a few of her favourite novels to pass the time and a fat wallet brimming with her father's generosity – at least a year's worth of absolute spending money, for simple indulgences and impulse-shopping. Although the amount and thought was completely extravagant, Hinata could not help but feel selfishly pleased with the attention her father now gave her.

She kept gentle fingers resting tentatively on the strap of her black bag drooping off of her shoulder, as she leaned against the glass door of the Konoha Hospital's main entrance, pushing it open. The indoor heat blew into Hinata's face with relaxing warmth. Cheeks painted rosy, she took small, ginger strides as she scanned the lobby for her supervisor.

Anko did not appear for another four to five minutes, though Hinata had no idea – and no interest – in who was to blame, for she might or might not have been early. She wouldn't have known either way; she wasn't one to constantly check the time. It made her feel as though her life was slipping by, in her own twisted, anxious reasoning.

"Sorry I'm late," Anko said airily. "I've just been to see Kakashi, Naruto, Sakura and Sai off at the village gates. They left with all of the other platoons Tsunade-sama dispatched for guerrilla warfare, too. It was quite a sight."

Not for the first time, Hinata took note of the dip and rise of Anko's emotion in her own mention of Kakashi's name: the fluctuation of tone and suppressed significance might have been a figment of Hinata's imagination, but whether it was or whether it wasn't, it remained as none of her business.

"U-Um … is there someplace I could put my things?" Hinata inquired, indicating her black bag.

Anko gave a start, grinning meekly as she admitted, "I completely forgot. Follow me and I'll take you up to the fourth floor. The fourth floor and up is mostly where our vacant rooms are. So far, only a few rooms on the fourth floor are occupied – and only by our most recent of patients, and none on the fifth or sixth. But I'm sure they'll be filled rather quickly, with the onslaught of the war and such."

Again, the war. Again, the mention of potential injuries and death. Again, the queasy feeling circling the insides of Hinata's stomach.

Four flights of stairs might have been a gruelling trip for anyone of average physical capabilities, but for kunoichis who had been trained for fitness and endurance, the exercise was almost effortless. Hinata was secretly relieved that Anko had not insisted they take the private elevators. She suffered from acute claustrophobia and nausea in elevators.

"So I managed to speak with some of the old bats around the hospital," Anko declared, grimacing from the memory, "and none of them seemed to require any precise help. The ladies in the cafeteria said they wouldn't mind your help, but only at lunchtime and dinnertime, as a server and line-cook."

"I can do that," Hinata told herself aloud, hoping she sounded as confident as she did in her mind.

"Great," said an easily-convinced Anko. "And when it's not lunch or dinner, you'll be working around as a nurse's aide. Alright?"

"W-What exactly will I have to do?" Hinata questioned, only half-listening as she surveyed the fourth floor corridors. Anko had been right: it was still quite empty, save for several emergency patients.

"Well, I've only discussed it with one of the nurses, but she's willing to take you on. None of our veteran nurses or medics has admitted to needing an aide, so she was the only one. You see, she was only officially certified last weekend."

"Oh," Hinata said plainly, feeling slightly insecure and pointless.

"Don't worry; you know her!" Anko laughed. "It's Yamanaka Ino. She's recognized as Tsunade-sama and Sakura's trainee, so you can drop that silly look on your face. She knows a lot more than she lets on, really. She's a very sweet girl."

"Ino-chan?" Hinata said, a small smile warming her features as the mental image of her friend crept into mind. "I-I was expecting her to join her team in the war…"

"Oh, no. Shikamaru's leading his genin team on a sabotage mission and Choji has been recruited to a group of shinobi heading out to join the Suna forces."

"Ino has only been working for two full shifts since she was hired, so she's only got a roll list of a few patients."

"A few?"

"Be thankful it's only a few," Anko warned. "When the injured ninjas start pouring in, you'll be praying there were more volunteers."

"Won't there be?" Hinata asked, suddenly fretful. She envisioned herself scurrying around the hospital like an overworked mouse, grabbing coffee here and there to keep her eyes open as her list of duties grew with every second. Although she knew it to be mere imagination in her usual panicked states, she couldn't help but feel like this one could actually be spot-on.

"Definitely. Don't sweat it. I've already got Tsunade calling in summons for at least ten to fifteen others around the village who aren't going to be fighting in the war and could probably take some time off to lend a hand around here."

Hinata refrained herself from exclaiming with joy, instead sighing with relief. Checking patients, working beneath Ino, and helping out in the cafeteria at lunch and dinner. She was confident she could juggle the three duties effectively, being her efficiently organized and competent self, but was doubtful she could handle any more.

"A-All right, if that's all, then I'm sure there'll be no problems," Hinata agreed. She was deprived of a reply: Anko paused outside a door labelled 402.

"Here. This room is empty. There are no keys for any rooms, for keep your valuables someplace safe. Also," Anko added, "Ino's your neighbour. Room 401, that's hers. I'll bet she's inside right now; why don't you go check in with her?"

Hinata nodded gratefully and thanked Anko as she watched the violet-haired kunoichi's retreating figure vanish down the corridor. She didn't bother to delicately unpack her belongings; Hinata simply tossed the black bag onto the windowsill and discarded her coat and scarf onto the chair reserved for room visitors.

In the space of two minutes, Hinata had turned on her heel and shut the door of her room behind her, softly rapping her knuckles on the wood of Ino's room in one fell motion. And she had little to wait – thankfully – before the knob was rattled vehemently and turned, swinging open the door to reveal the blue-eyed blonde.

"Hinata-chan!" Ino exclaimed enthusiastically, slender arms leaping up to seize Hinata's neck in a tight embrace. "I'm so excited you're my aide and not some snobby little medic-trainee…"

As Ino rambled hopelessly on, Hinata scanned the room over her friend's shoulder. Ino had wasted no time in making herself at home: there were posters, photographs and flowers adorning the room, bathing the area in a heavenly aroma of orchids and peach blossoms. Hinata breathed in the scent as she gently unhooked Ino's arms from her shoulders.

"Well, tell m-me what to do and I'll get on it," Hinata smiled encouragingly, pleased to see Ino straighten considerably and tuck a strand of hair professionally behind one ear.

"Right, then." Scooping her clipboard neatly off the edge of her nightstand, icy eyes scrutinized the list carefully. "I've got a few things you'd certainly be up to." As she examined her duties, Ino's stare suddenly froze mid-scan and rivetingly raised itself to Hinata. In an eerily calm voice, Ino dramatically inhaled and whispered, "I know exactly the thing."

"Ino…" Hinata began warningly, unsure whether or not she trusted Ino in this melodramatically inspired state.

"No, no, I've got it. I'm really glad you came along now, Hinata-chan. You can take Uchiha Sasuke off of my back!"

Hinata's eyes widened. "W-What!"

"Yeah, well, since he's only been in Konoha for about a week, he was assigned to me, because I'm a new nurse and the other medics were all clog-full of their own specialty patients. I've only seen him once – Tsunade-sama has him running tests day and night, because his condition is really unstable and weird. I don't even want to know what happened to him out there; he's really bad. Well, as you can guess, he's a big pain in the-"

"I-I'm going to have to-?"

"You just look after him, Hinata-chan; it's no big deal," Ino dismissed, waving her hand breezily. "Just like – you know – taking care of grannies at retirement homes. Like we had to do for community hours in the Ninja Academy when we were younger."

"You said he was a pain," Hinata pointed out, frowning.

"Well, yes." Ino seemed to be regretting her bluntness. " But, um, I'm sure you'll get used to him."

"I thought you l-loved him," said Hinata, a silent question in her tone.

Ino scoffed. "I'm not Sakura, Hinata. I know how to let go and move on." Her expression faltered slightly, eyes distant as an image of Kiba entered both minds. After an awkward pause, Ino added, "Yeah, Sasuke's a real puzzle, to be absolutely honest with you. And sort of mean … I won't lie … But don't forget, Hinata-chan, that that's why you're here!" Ino winked cheekily and waved her clipboard in triumph.

Hinata inwardly pouted. She disliked being taken advantage of, even if it was insignificant and as favours to friends. It still made her feel weak, unappreciated and generally on the short end of the stick. "Y-You'll still be taking care of him, too, right? I-I mean … we'd be alternating between your list of patients, you and I?"

Ino's expression sobered. "Sorry, Hinata-chan … I really need you to take Sasuke completely out of my hands, though. With all of these emergency shinobi ready to come pouring in the doors any day now, I'm going to be even busier than ever. The plain truth is that you might not even see me around very much. Sasuke is a long-term patient, and he'll need a constant caretaker. If I could just get him removed from my rounds … I mean, if I want to get all of my duties done, I don't think I can keep-"

Hinata sighed in surrender and lifted a hand in defeat. "I understand, Ino," she said quietly, her voice dropping with every word. "I'll do it." Ye gads, she was a pushover. Although Hinata knew she possessed the courage and right to disagree with and refuse Ino, she wouldn't, for Ino had sound reasoning and sheer belief in Hinata.

As with Tsunade and Anko. Anyone who sincerely believed in her would be able to hook her into anything without further effort. She owed them greatly, for their faith in her had been able to instil faith in herself. And so Hinata was left with no regrets to her decision as she accepted Uchiha Sasuke's hospital file, medical record and schedule from Ino.

She could hear her own boots resounding with her echoing footfalls as she slowly made her way down the hallway, the very same corridor of the fourth floor she now resided in. Mentally, she counted the numbered rooms as she passed them in search of Room 413.

Her feet dragged somewhat, gradually slowing to a stop as she neared her destination. Standing directly outside Room 413, Hinata couldn't help but feel waves of hesitation leaking over her in layers, one by one. Anxiety, fear, apprehension, discomfort …

Her, Hyuuga Hinata. Left to Uchiha Sasuke and only Uchiha Sasuke for the remainder of his term in the Konoha Hospital. Who knew how long that could be? The prodigy, the traitor, the killer, on the other side of the door she now stood before, with her stupidly weak knees and her suddenly cold feet and her madly shaking hands. What was she thinking? Could shedo this? Really do this?

And once again, she was left with nothing to do but the one she hated most – waiting for her answer.

. . . . .

A/N: Hope all of my regular SasuHina readers enjoyed that, despite the lack of interaction; I tried to compensate for it with the potential mention of prospective interaction. And I really hope fairheartstrife liked it, because she has been a great help in the past month or so, to both my friend and I. Thanks again! :)
Review if you can, :) I'd like to hear you speak out.