I still don't own Naruto.
Thanks for all the great feedback. Here's another chapter, for all of you!
knock 'em down, kid
Anko yawned, stretching her arms over her head, lab-coat rustling as she straightened; she flashed her reflection a smile, inspecting herself on the blade of an abandoned scalpel, and made her way over to the stone table, in the centre of the room. Behind it stood Kakashi, arms crossed over his chest, eyes fixed on the body below — tracing the contours of the face with his eyes, absently wondering what it could be like to have a daughter — and such a pretty one, too — and have her ripped so cruelly away from them. The lab-rat cleared her throat, then, startling him from his thoughts; he looked upwards, plastering a smile across his face — although it was hidden by the white surgical mask he was wearing — and waved lazily.
"Hello, Anko," he murmured, before gesturing towards the body, "I guess it's about time you worked your magic."
She rolled her eyes, slipping her fingers into the pocket of her coat, withdrawing a tape recorder; she placed it next to her mouth, clicked it on, and then ducked forwards, beginning to slowly cut away the dead girl's dress — and it was quite a nice dress, in a sense. Designer, probably. She seemed like the type of girl who liked things to be designer; expensive, high-class and beautiful, just as he imagined she would have been, for the boy who just so happened to be dating her.
"The victim, identified as Yamanaka Ino, appears to be sixteen years old, at most," Anko's voice cut across his thoughts, and he stuck his hands into his pockets, watching as she moved closer to the body, eyes on the other's eyelids, lifting them upwards, "Sixteen years old, female, blonde hair, blue eyes — probably a real catch, when she was less…"
She trailed off, floundering helplessly.
"Dead?" Kakashi offered.
Anko raised an eyebrow.
"Yes — less dead," she paused, before continuing, "Time of death, I would guess, was at around midnight, last night — but you'd know that, I suppose. Cause of death…"
She stopped, then, peeling back the victim's clothes, revealing raw, red scratches and cuts, all across her upper torso. Her fingers ghosted across the wounds, angry, bright red — and she winced, brow furrowing, as she imagined the amount of pain the girl would have felt. Each cut was jagged, each one more awful than the next — judging from how ruined and ripped her clothing had been, the attacker must have slashed out randomly; the wounds zigzagged all across her body.
She lifted her eyes from the dead girl, gazing at Kakashi.
"It would seem, I suppose, that the attacker approached the victim with some sort of blade, and slashed numerous times at her chest, hands, arms and, finally, neck. If I were to just take an estimate, right here and now, I'd say there were… next to thirty, possibly more, cuts, each varying in length, width and depth."
She took a step backwards, pressing her hands together, eyes flicking up to meet Kakashi's. "If you were to ask for my opinion, I'm going to say that the cuts were made with a razor blade — most likely a straight razor, due to the fact that the attacker had to be easily able to swing the blade, backwards and forwards, relatively quickly. However, that's just a theory — and, as likely as it is to be true, there's also every chance that the wounds could have been made from a scalpel."
"…more likely to be the first option," Kakashi replied, placing a thumb against the surgical mask, pressing down on his lip, as he thought, "If you look at the different angles of each cut, it's hardly methodical. The killer was messy, but swift — clean, in a way, but completely filthy at the same time. He pulled back his arm with some force," at this, Kakashi pulled back his own arm, demonstrating, "And pushed forwards. Then, he continued slashing, cutting, hacking — arm back, arm forwards — within a matter of moments. The kill wasn't methodical, no — but I'm willing to be that this murderer was."
Anko's smile was mocking.
"Oh? And why's that?"
"Because the bastard left absolutely no fingerprints," Kakashi returned her smile, but his eyes were dark and dangerous, "That's why."
"And you've examined every piece of evidence, then?" Anko asked, resting her head on one hand and gazing across the table, leaning over the dead body — she was curious, as usual; while she didn't mind her job, she'd always loved Kakashi's job more; it was just so thrilling, in her opinion. He could look into lives, because of a death — he could see things about a person that others might never see — and each death, to her, was almost like a storybook; she often forced Kakashi to join her downstairs, in their breaks, and just talk. To explain to her every single little link in a puzzle.
Sometimes, she could actually help out on a case.
"Yeah," Kakashi nodded once, frowning slightly. "Asuma's heading back down to the crime scene in a bit, but we've looked everywhere; when we're done here, I'm heading back to take a glance at her phone, see if anything of any use was left on there — texts or calls to unknown numbers; you know the drill. The killer must have been wearing gloves, as there are no prints — and the only blood in the room is hers. The only message he left for us was a photograph, on which the killer had disfigured all the features of every face, bar one girl — Hyuuga Hinata, a friend of the victim's; although, by her own words, not a close friend. But none of this really gives us anything — singling out Hinata might label her the next victim; or, likewise, it could just be meaningless — something to throw us off the killer's scent."
"He scribbled across the photo?" She blinked, raising an eyebrow. "Ignoring the death — the crime committed — if someone were to scribble across a face on a photograph, what would that say to you?"
He sighed, drawing a hand across his face, shrugging a shoulder absently. "It could say anything. Scribbling across faces could equal hatred towards those people — anger, rage, jealousy, spite; any negative feeling, really. Leaving one face perfect gives the impression that that person is better than the others; that they've been singled out — a message, I guess you could say—"
"—which could mean — for one reason or another — that the message hasn't been left for you; for the police…" Anko cut across, a smile playing across her lips as she prompted Kakashi forwards; it was the answer he'd been searching for, she was sure of that. In a manner quite characteristic for Kakashi, he'd approached the case in one way — the wrong way — and, as such, had found himself completely stumped.
He hadn't even thought to consider that the killer might have left a message—
Kakashi froze, hand still pressed against his chin, eyes meeting Anko's.
—for someone else.
"It's a message for Hyuuga Hinata."
Everyone has their own way of escaping.
It was true — Neji, for example, played the piano when he was troubled; you could easily tell, because his fingers seemed to dance across the keys, but his brow furrowed and, no matter how many times you called his name, he didn't hear you. He just kept playing, lost in the music — thoughts disappearing, I guessed, as the notes faded away into the air. I could faintly hear the notes of Fur Elise, as I lay sprawled across my bed, schoolbag beside me, trying to forget the world. I used to think my means of coping — of escaping, I suppose, because that's how I cope — was drawing, but I hadn't picked up a pencil and a sketch pad since I was eleven.
Back then, I'd spend all my time at the back of the class, doodling away. I used to be good at it, really, when I did it often — but I hadn't done it since; I never had the time anymore, nor the patience — actually, I've never understood how I managed to spend all that time on so much detail; looking at all of the little things, instead of simply seeing the big picture. It took so long to create so little; but it used to be rewarding.
I pressed my fingers against my forehead, dragging downwards, attempting to work away my frown and forget everything — not that it really worked; every time I tried to think of something different, of something safe, my eyes strayed back to my schoolbag, and my thoughts returned to the photograph. I frowned, closed my eyes, attempted to think of anything else — of school, of Naruto, of assembly and Kiba and Ino — but then, sure enough, my thoughts spiralled quickly to Uchiha Sasuke, to his touch, to the photographs and—
I could barely stop myself from shuddering. Unable to help myself any longer, I turned onto my stomach and stretched a hand out for my bag, snatching the strap up off the floor and swinging the rucksack — still heavy with school books — onto my bed. It was unclipped within a matter of seconds, and I emptied the contents out onto my duvet, flinging the empty bag aside before sorting through books and pens and scraps of paper — some with notes scrawled across, some blank — until I found the photographs, all neatly tied together with a piece of string Naruto'd found for me, when I'd finally calmed down.
Already, as my fingers brushed against the photographs, I felt my heart begin to thud.
I let the photographs fall apart, splaying them across my bed, fingers searching through the photographs — but for what? I wasn't sure. I found myself gazing at a sea of innocent, eight-year-old smiles — and I guess, no matter how sinister it all was, I ended up feeling a little bit nostalgic; I smiled, brushing my thumb across one of the many old photos. Just as I was gazing at them, the door swung open and a brief gust of wind scattered the photographs across my bed; I hastened to gather them up, as Hanabi peered around the doorway, clutching in her hands our tiny black cat, as she stared at me.
"…what're you doing?" She asked, one hand resting upon the cat's forehead — Hanabi called him Shuuhei, but pretty much all of the rest of the family simply named him Shuu, because Shuuhei just seemed so big, for such a tiny cat.
Shuu let out a pitiful mewl — he'd never liked the way Hanabi held him, one arm scooped up beneath his stomach, the other barely supporting his lower back. The poor cat looked like a rag doll. I scooped up the final photographs, placing them face down in a pile, before tucking them beneath my pillow; then, with a rushed, "Nothing, Hanabi," I straightened, slipping off the bed to steal Shuu away from her.
Hanabi frowned at me.
"You know dad doesn't like it when we keep secrets," she announced, folding her arms across her chest. "I'm not going to lie to him."
"Just don't bring it up, Hanabi," I replied, with a small smile, "If he doesn't ask, don't tell — promise?"
My sister stared at me for a fraction of a second longer, as if waiting for me to cave in — after all, it was something I'd usually do. Usually, if I had a secret, Hanabi would manage to make me spill everything, and then, within a few weeks, father would know; and, of course, the entire exchange would usually end up with a lecture to the tune of Neji's piano, where my cousin sat in the opposite room, away from everyone. When Hanabi finally realised I wasn't going to give in anytime soon, she sighed, pinched the bridge of her nose, and flapped a hand at me. "Whatever; it's dinner, anyway. Put that cat down and hurry up."
With that, my sister disappeared back around the door and out of sight — I waited until I heard her footsteps disappear down the stairs, before placing Shuu gingerly upon my bed and scooping up the photographs. I found the piece of string I'd used previously and re-tied the photographs, before searching for a new hiding place. As I searched, the cat slid of my bed, arching his back as he wandered absently across the room, slipping out of the open door — Hanabi had left it open, after she'd gone. I ignored him, however, finally settling on a satisfying hiding place; the empty shoe-box at the bottom of my wardrobe, complete with a pair of black school-shoes I'd never worn once. I tucked the photographs beneath the shoes, shut the box and then heaped a pile of clothes upon the hiding place.
I was so satisfied with my handiwork, that I barely heard the footsteps as a final person snuck into my room.
A hand clasped my shoulder, and the squeak flew out of my mouth before I could say another word; in response, my mind immediately flew back to when I was much younger, and my father had forced me to take those karate classes (which I'd promptly given up after a year in highschool, and realising that not even karate could save me from the nasty people within it). I twisted my body, gripped the stranger's wrist, and was ready to bodily twist him over my shoulder — although, in retrospect, I would never have been able to pull off such a bold move; I would have no doubt injured myself more than him — when a second hand closed upon my own, and the stranger let out an amused chuckle.
"N—Neji!" I replied, before letting out a nervous little giggle, turning around to face my cousin.
He raised an eyebrow, letting go of me to tuck his hands into his pockets — he was dressed in a shirt and suit combination, his tie hanging loosely across his shoulders; he was barely two years older than me, but, despite everything my father had said to stop him, he'd left school early. After a year as a mechanic, and returning home covered in dirt and grime, he'd finally found himself enough money to buy his own piano — and, as a result, he'd begun to tutor others; he wrote music for a living, at the moment, and worked in the library every weekday evening, to Saturday morning. Still, despite his calloused fingers and his dirty nails, he was the same person he'd been since he was little.
Stoic and intelligent — stubborn, and sometimes a little bit cold — with a wicked sense of humour, that generally consisted of scaring me at every given opportunity. Well, that might have been a slight exaggeration, but Neji did have a knack when it came to making me jump — his footsteps were entirely silent, possibly because of the fact that he didn't give up karate, when my father had forced us to take it together.
He'd been much better at it than me.
"You scared me." I barely managed to stop myself from stuttering, as I took a step backwards, folding my arms defensively across my chest — I realised my shoulders were tense and my back was rigid, and I gave myself a moment to relax, letting out a small sigh of relief.
Neji's eyebrow rose higher, and his gaze moved briefly across to the photographs and my hiding place — then he shrugged, rolled his eyes, and turned away. "If you want to talk, I'm here," he announced blankly, before moving towards the exit — he glanced back over his shoulder only once, with another shrug, "You ought to hurry up. Hiashi dislikes it when we're late for dinner. It's family time, or something."
"You know, you can call him u—uncle, if you want to," I said, following him, making sure to close my bedroom door as we left my room; he took the stairs two at a time, heading downwards, and I followed at a slower pace. "It's not a sign of weakness, honestly."
"Trust me," Neji replied, his voice humourless, "It most certainly is."
I had to resist the urge to roll my eyes, pausing briefly on the stairs — Neji strode on ahead, without glancing back, passing along the hallway and into the dining room. I made to follow him, but, just as I was about to, something brushed against my legs — something soft. Furry. Still, it took me by surprise, and I clamped my hands across my mouth, muffling the squeak; my eyes flickered downwards, following Shuu as he snuck down the hallway, before disappearing into the living room. I wasn't sure why, but I followed him; and my fingers were trembling as I moved them from my face, crossing my hands over my chest.
I was scared.
But… why? I couldn't understand; the photographs were upstairs, hidden from sight, and I was fine — my exchange with Uchiha Sasuke had been safely pushed to the back of my mind. The feeling of his touch, his gaze, his smirk — all of it had been hidden away, just like the photos, and—
I entered the living room and my body instantly grew cold, the hairs on my neck prickling on end; the entire room felt cold, despite the fact that the temperature hadn't dropped, and I felt myself trembling.
Oh so scared.
A soft mewl cut across my thoughts.
I looked up, eyes instantly meeting that of my cat's; and I felt myself relax, if only for a fraction of a second. He was sat upon the windowsill, glassy green eyes staring at me, wide and unblinking as its tail twitched back and forth; other than that movement, the cat was entirely motionless. The curtains of the window were wide open. There was only darkness beyond it — a heavy blackness, which nothing distinguishable could be seen in; only shapes and blurs and shadows. I placed a hand upon my chest, letting my face fall back into a smile.
"…Shuu, you almost had me scared there—"
I cut off.
Two pairs of eyes were blinking at me.
Glassy, grassy green — the eyes of cat, of an animal — and then dark, dark eyes, like black holes, shining, glistening, in the dim living room light.
I stood frozen in horror, in terror, eyes wide, mouth slipping open — and then the stranger smiled; a curved, wicked smile; white teeth gleaming in the darkness, abnormally bright, like blots of paint in the darkness. I couldn't help myself — as my heart thumped and my head pounded and the cat's tail twitched left, right, left, right, left, and those awful teeth and that awful mouth smiled and smiled and smiled—
The noise shocked even me, but I just stood there, this high-pitched shriek escaping my lips before I could do anything else; my hands trembled by my sides, but my eyes never left those dark, dark eyes. They were unblinking, awful, terrible — but they never looked away, and they trapped me, and I was scared, oh so scared.
Arms circled around my shoulders and the eyes were blocked from view by a broad chest; the smell of conditioner — watermelon, Neji's favourite, although he'd never admit it — filled the air, and hair tickled my cheeks, as I was pushed forcefully forwards, eyes still wide, wide, wide, unblinking, pressed against his chest. Distantly, I heard the sound of soothing whispers, but I ignored them — absently, I realised I was still screaming. The sound was muffled now, but it still escaped my lips, on and on and on, like a siren; I could feel Hanabi's fingers brushing against my hair, and she was speaking, voice close to tears, obviously worried about me. And then Neji was shoved away, and new arms replaced his. A stronger, broader chest. Calloused fingers, brushing my cheeks.
My father gripped my chin, gently moving my head so that I was gazing at him. His face, usually stern, brow usually furrowed in concentration, the epitome of all things serious, was unusually blank. There was something like fear dancing behind his eyes, but it hurt to think that he was scared — that my father, the man who used to chase the bogeymen from my wardrobe when I was six and a half, was scared. It hurt.
It scared me.
I realised I'd stopped screaming, and he offered me a troubled grimace — it was supposed to be a smile, I figured, but the worry and fear and everything had twisted it into something which made me want to burst into tears. "What's gotten into you, Hinata?" He murmured, voice grave, tinged with that same cold fear that tore me up so completely. "That was…"
He trailed off.
Sometimes, it seemed even the great Hyuuga Hiashi could be lost for words.
Not that I really wanted to speak — I didn't have the right words, anyway; but I opened my mouth to reassure him that I was alright, and instantly let out a choked sob. Above me, I heard him sigh, a soft, resigned noise, but he pressed my head against his chest anyway; I felt the tears sliding down my face before I could stop myself. I don't know how long we stood there, quiet, as Neji stood silent behind me and Hanabi pressed her hands against her chest. I don't know how long we stood there, my heartbeat fluttering, my tears flowing — oh so painfully and dreadfully scared — but I know that that was the beginning.
When I looked at the window again, the eyes were gone.
And only Shuu gazed back at me, wide, glassy green eyes, tail swinging backwards and forwards — every swing, every look, every whisker-twitched reminding of the stranger from only moments ago.
That was when I realised the game had begun.
Dinner was eaten in near silence.
I was too shaken up to really join in with any of the conversation, choosing instead to gaze blankly at my plate, knife and fork abandoned on the table. My hands never once moved from my lap. Every now and then, Hanabi would shoot me a nervous glance, biting her lip, looking as if she wanted to say something — no doubt ask what had started me off screaming like that, and I highly doubted I'd be able to tell her the truth — but she was silenced by one look from our father. Neji was avoiding my gaze entirely.
Eventually, my father seemed unable to take it any longer, resting his knife and fork gently upon the table, folding his arms as he stared at me. I could feel his eyes tracing every contour of my face, scrutinizing me so carefully that I felt almost as though he were looking through me. He waited for a moment, until the silence grew almost stifling — and that was when I realised both Neji and Hanabi had frozen in a similar fashion —, before finally speaking.
"…would you care to explain, Hinata, what that was all about?"
His voice was carefully measure, almost entirely calm — but there was a slight wobble on my name, and, when I tried to catch his eye, I saw he wasn't looking quite at me. He was looking in my direction, yes, but he seemed to be looking through me, a misty look glazing his eyes over, as if he were reminiscing; no doubt of the days when I was younger. Of the days when a nightmare could be solved by chanting the special words, which made the monsters vanish — when a single switching on of a light got rid of every bad thing in the room.
Where eyes didn't stare in at you from the darkness.
I barely managed to suppress my shudder, and that was when I remembered my father was waiting for an answer — I tried not to look too sheepish, as I shrugged a shoulder. "I… I guess I thought I s—saw something outside."
Hiashi narrowed his eyes.
"A… a face," I admitted, wondering, absently, if it would have been better to keep my mouth closed, "But it was n—nothing. I promise. What with the entire… I—Ino thing, my nerves have been a bit f—frazzled and I guess I'm… I…"
I trailed off.
My throat all of a sudden felt red hot and I knew I was close to tears. I pushed my chair backwards, standing up abruptly, china upon the table clattering as I moved. My father barely flinched. Hanabi, however, let out a barely suppressed squeak, and Neji's eyes narrowed — he grew rigid, tense; a position I recognised from our karate lessons. He was readying himself to strike. To leap heroically up after me.
I wouldn't give him the chance.
"I'm going for a walk," I announced, gaze fixing with my father's — I waited for a moment, just to see his tiny nod, before whirling away, hair cutting through the air as I moved hastily away from the table. I heard Neji stand — heard my father's clear, cool voice cut through the air, calling him back, and they spoke in hushed tones; then I waited no longer, snapping out of my hesitation. I picked my jacket up — slung carelessly across the floor after I'd returned home from school — and made my way out of the front door.
The night air was cold, brisk and sharp. It hit me suddenly, as I wasn't ready for it; I waited for a moment, getting used to the new temperature, before beginning to walk steadily away from my house — if I knew my father and cousin well enough, I would have five minutes or less before the door opened after me, and one of them began to follow.
And, for some reason, I didn't want them following.
If I had been less scared — if my heart had not been racing from the aftershock of the earlier event — I doubt I would have even left the house on my own. I would have retreated to my bedroom, sat on my bed and emptied to busy myself, until I was no longer thinking of those dark, frightful eyes; I might have glanced, every few seconds, at the hiding place of those photographs, but I wouldn't — I definitely wouldn't — have left my home. You're taught from a very young age that home equals safety, and it's a very difficult thought to get rid of; but then and there, home was the last place I wanted to be.
Because home meant talking — it meant that questions would come thick and fast, and I would be expected to answer; and if I didn't answer, they'd be all the more worried. Either way, I'd be forced to accept that there was something wrong; that there was truth to Sasuke's words, and that, in reality, I'd be safest if I stuck with him. But I couldn't do such a thing; the way he'd touch me—
Absently, my fingers brushed across my cheek, mimicking his movements from before.
—it had scared me.
I sighed, hugging my arms around my chest; my pace slowed a little, as I realised there was no need to rush on ahead. Either way, Neji would no doubt end up throwing an arm around my shoulder at some point and leading me back home — but I had yet to hear the sound of his footsteps. Not that I really minded, to be honest; I enjoyed the silence. It was easier for me to think. But it was dark — already so dark, and the dim streetlamps offered little light — and I was growing cold; I knew I'd have to return home sooner rather than later, otherwise my mind would surely begin to play tricks on me.
A shadowy figure staggered in front of me — gazed at me with deep, dark eyes — and I froze.
Just like before.
I would surely have screamed then and there, had the other not let out a low groan, stepping forwards slightly into the light. Upon closer inspection, his eyes weren't at all that dark — they were, in fact, turquoise, the colour of stormy seas — and a shadow had simply been cast across his face, tricking me entirely. I placed a hand upon my chest, letting out a little sigh of relief; but that relief was cut short as the stranger gripped my wrist firmly, tilting his head.
I didn't pull my hand away — not at first. I took a moment to see if I recognised him. Dark, red hair, which fell across his forehead and into his eyes, ever so slightly messy and just a tad too long; he had pale skin, which gleamed beneath the moonlight, so bright that it almost hurt my eyes. He was sweating heavily and, from his dishevelled breathing, I assumed he must have been running. His eyes — which were quite pretty, I decided, upon a second glance — were ringed with shadows, as if he hadn't slept in some time, and, looking briefly down, his white shirt was ruffled, messy, stained with spots of red—
He was bleeding.
My eyes met his again, and he grimaced weakly. My mouth opened and closed as I gaped helplessly; and I watched in disbelief as his eyes rolled upwards and he fell against me, knocking us both to the ground. My back hit the concrete and I let out a little squeak — he bounced against me, letting out another low groan before falling completely silent, still.
Behind me, footsteps approached.
I glanced up, Neji staring back at me, face white, eyes wide, "…Hinata? What happened?"
"C—call an ambulance!"
My voice felt too high. I didn't feel like myself. Lying there, that broken boy bleeding onto me, I felt very much like someone else — as if I were gazing down at myself through the eyes of anyone else and thinking, 'Oh, how truly bizarre this all is.' I only faintly heard Neji's footsteps disappear, as he ran back towards the house, having not picked up his phone — not that I could blame him, as I'd left mine in my schoolbag.
Honestly, I didn't think I was going to need it.
I glanced down at red hair and pale skin — I watched as his chest rose and fell quickly, too quickly, as if his heart were beating too fast; beating so fast that it would eventually run out. I placed my hand on his, squeezed once, bit my lip and willed Neji to hurry up.
Looking back, he surely would have been the second victim in that twisted little game, had he not bumped into me. That was the day I met a survivor, all red hair and pale skin and smoky eyes — and a beautiful will to live, that could not be vanquished by anyone. Bleeding across the ground and my shirt, staining my school blouse red, that was the day I met a fighter — perhaps one of the strongest, scariest people I would ever meet.
That was the day I met Gaara.
The knife in his hand was slippery, stained dark red with blood. He pressed his back against the wall, glancing once around the corner — and he saw her, so pretty, pretty, eyes wide with fear, clutching the bastard he had gutted; or, at least, attempted to gut, except the mouse had been stronger than he had anticipated.
Faster than he anticipated.
"Run, little mouse," he whispered, and his voice was strained. "Or the farmer's wife shall cut off your tail with a carving knife."
With that, he tucked the knife into his coat pocket and left.
The ambulance came not soon after Neji called it.
There was a blur of flashing blue-and-red, the screech of sirens, and then he was being bundled onto a stretcher, as I clutched his hand desperately; then I was knelt beside him, inside the ambulance, and we were being rushed away towards the hospital. It was all, in reality, a blur of white for me — the white of the inside of the ambulance easily mingled with the white-washed walls of the hospital, and the white covers of the bed the red-headed stranger lay upon. One second, I was holding his hand, in the darkness.
The next second, everything was so bright it made my eyes sting.
As the doctors worked to save him — to stitch that awful wound, blossoming petals like a deadly crimson flower —, I stood in the waiting area outside, gazing blankly at the glass panels which separated us. Two different lives, separated simply by a feeble piece of glass — within seconds, only what seemed like minutes early, that stranger had shattered that wall of glass so easily. And now there I was, stood outside like a lost puppy, wanting nothing more than for a man I'd never met before to get better.
The doctor — an elderly man, a few years older than my father, with faded hair and a wrinkled, kindly face — left the room, mopping the blood from his hands with a piece of white cloth. He crossed over to me, plastering a smile across his face, his eyes betraying the worry within; but he held his hand out, pressed it comfortingly against my shoulder, eyes creased into a gentle smile. "Your boyfriend will be fine," he told me, and I didn't correct him. "He's going to be unconscious for a while, but you're welcome to sit with him, if you wish."
I nodded mutely.
"I'll send a nurse by in a little while, then," he finished, with a final nod, before turning away, leaving the door wide open.
I waited for him to disappear, before walking over to the door. I couldn't help but hesitate in the doorway; the boy — I hadn't learnt his name, yet, at that period of time — was asleep, and I felt as though it wasn't something he did often. His arms lay by his sides — his right hand would twitch every now and then, and he would flinch as he did so, a grimace flickering briefly across his face, before he fell back into calm. I stayed where I was, for a moment longer; after all, this was a complete stranger. I was a complete stranger.
But, even then, I had the feeling that we wouldn't be strangers for much longer.
That's why despite not knowing who he was or where he'd come from, I walked across the room, sat by his side, and held his hand.
I don't know how long I sat there for, but the hours seemed long and slow, as I watched his chest rise and fall beneath the thin white blanket. Neji walked in once, placed a hand on my shoulder, said something in a low, soft voice — "you were in shock, everything's okay now, I promise." — before leaving again; he was briefly followed by my father, who simply stood by the wall, arms crossed, gazing at me from a distance. Hanabi entered once, but she swayed where she stood, leaving just as quickly as she came.
And all the while, I simply gazed at his hand in mine, feeling awfully numb. His hand felt too cold, too limp, like he was already dead — but the doctor had said… And he was sleeping, I was sure of that, his chest rising and falling, rising and falling, one, two — one, two — one, two—
A familiar voice cut across my thoughts and my head jerked upwards; I gazed beneath dark lashes at the newcomer, a frown flitting briefly across my face, before letting my stare drop back to his hand.
Uchiha Sasuke stood in the doorway, arms folded across his chest, face perfectly blank, and, sat there in that chair, I suddenly felt small. My voice felt tiny — my shoulders hunched slightly and I felt myself droop. All of a sudden, that hand in mine was extremely interesting; and my eyes took in every single detail, in those few seconds of tense silence, as I felt Sasuke scrutinizing me. It felt hot — burning hot, like his gaze was scolding me, hurting more than I thought a simple look could — and electric. One glance upwards and my eyes met his, and I shuddered.
His eyes were so dark.
He tilted his head, then, still looking straight at me — and I found that I couldn't look away. "…I didn't expect to see you here," he said, and there was something a little extra in his voice, that I couldn't quite make out — an emotion which almost very nearly cut through his usual monotone; something I couldn't quite understand…
It sounded like jealousy.
And all of a sudden, I felt the need to explain myself.
"I, ah… I was going for a w—walk, when he… came out of nowhere! And he was bleeding, like someone had s—stabbed him; and earlier, there was a face, at the window, and he was looking, and oh God, he was stabbed and it was awful," I let out a sob, then; a guttural sound, which tore from my throat, startling both myself and the boy stood in the doorway — Sasuke shifted, ever so slightly, but didn't move to comfort me. "He was stabbed. He could have d—died. His blood — his blood has stained my shirt, and he could have died, but he didn't, and oh my God, those eyes, they were t—terrible—"
He cleared his throat, interrupting my hysteria and startling me into silence.
"—why are you telling me this?"
I froze, eyes wide, confused. "…what?"
Sasuke gazed at me and his expression was scarily, terribly blank; his eyes captured mine once again, and I was struck by just how dark they were. How I felt as though they were swallowing me. Trapping me. Understanding me. "I offered you my help. I came to you — I tried to help you — but you ran away, before I could do anything."
Anger boiled up inside me, and my rage spilled over before I could do anything to stop myself. "You t—touched me!"
At that, Sasuke smirked.
"You make it sound like I did something wrong."
I floundered for a second, unsure of how I could respond — because a little part of me, which I only barely managed to silence, was agreeing. Because it had felt nice, looking back; that touch, his eyes, those lips — it had all been so thrilling, so naughty; it had made me feel like I'd finally grown up, like I wasn't just a bigger version of the eight year old girl who smiled back at me from those photographs. It made me feel dangerous.
It was exciting.
So I simply stayed silent, letting my gaze fall back to the ground, as Sasuke let out a little triumphant snort. Silence reigned over the room for a moment longer, before he spoke again, his voice teasing.
"His name is Gaara, if you wanted to know."
I blinked, looking up then. "Do you know him?"
"Yeah," Sasuke nodded once, his stare switching briefly across to Gaara; and I looked across then, as well, as the red-head slept silently. "He's not from around here — his family lives in Sunagakure."
I frowned, "If he has family, why aren't they here?"
He glanced briefly at me, an amused smirk flickering across his features. "Because they don't give a shit, Hinata — and they never will. That's why he's here, and they're still there. Because they don't care."
I fell silent.
But the silence didn't last for long, and I bit my lip. "Is he… is he a p—part of all this?"
Sasuke raised an eyebrow. "Good question."
"Do you have an answer?"
And he smiled — a genuine, sad smile.
"Do you want my help, Hinata?"
I nodded one.
"Then trust me."
Sasuke left only a few moments later. That was the only time I moved from Gaara's side, waiting until Sasuke's footsteps faded before leaping out of my chair, crossing out into the hall and leaning against the window, eyes trained on the darkness — dimly lit by a few choice lamps — outside. Beside me, Hanabi raised an eyebrow; both Neji and my father had moved downstairs, to get drinks, and no doubt discuss the events of that night — I ignored her, however, eyes narrowing as I waited patiently.
A car pulled up.
It was sleek and black, a sports car, with tinted black windows and only two seats. One of the doors slid open and a man stepped out of the car, dressed in a suit as black as the darkness about him. I narrowed my eyes. It was difficult to make out any real details, but he looked expensive — as expensive as his car, no doubt. His hair was tied back; it fell to his mid-back, inky black, threads of darkness spiralling down his tailored suit. He reached into his suit pocket, pulling an object out and holding it near to his face, cupping a hand about it — from the flicker of amber and the wisps of curling smoke, the object could only be a lighter and cigarette, and he placed the lighter back into his pocket. Then he stood for a while, one arm crossed over his chest, the other holding his cigarette, waiting in silence.
I only realised he had to be waiting for Sasuke when the other left the hospital, appearing in the clearing directly below my window. He looked about once, before spotting the stranger; his posture became rigid, tense, and he shoved his hands into his pockets, crossing over to the other with his head lowered and his shoulders hunched. He said not a word as he entered the car, nodding curtly once before disappearing with a slam of the door.
The stranger stayed where he was, silently smoking, moving his free hand up to cup the cigarette. His head tilted upwards and I saw that he was gazing at the sky, watching the stars, no doubt; then his head moved and it seemed he was looking directly at me. I was quite certain he couldn't have spotted me — after all, he was quite a distance away, and it was dark outside.
But then he waved.
He moved his free hand from his face, raising it into the air in a lazy wave. I let out a little squeak of surprise and practically launched myself backwards, making Hanabi jump up, moving towards me almost instantly, her concern — "Hinata, are you alright? What happened?" — slurring with my fright.
I didn't respond.
In fact, I mustered up the courage to pull myself to my feet, gazing out into the darkness; but the stranger, Sasuke and the black car had vanished into the inky black, as if they were never there to begin with. I let my hand fall against my chest, offering Hanabi a sheepish smile. "I, ah, didn't mean to scare you."
Hanabi scowled, thwacking me once on my arm. "You did, though, sister."
I winced, my smile turning tentative. "…sorry."
My little sister looked as if she wanted to continue speaking; her expression turned serious, if only for a second, as she gazed at me — and then she shook her head, snapping her mouth shut. "I'm… I'm not going to ask," she muttered, rubbing her forehead absently as she flapped one hand at me to leave, "I'm not even going to ask."
For a second, I was saddened by how world weary my sister suddenly seemed — scared of how her shoulders slumped and her hair swung in front of her face as she sat down, as if she were folding in on herself. I suddenly felt very guilty, and I offered her a final little smile before turning back to the door; without looking back, I headed into Gaara's room, moving instantly towards my seat. There, I sat down, gazing absently at the floor, tapping one foot as I tried to sort out my thoughts — thoughts of family, of Sasuke, of that mysterious man, of the killer, of Ino and the events of last night — of everything that had happened.
A groan cut through my thoughts and my head snapped upwards.
Half-lidded, turquoise eyes stared blankly back at me, before widening once with recognition, and I felt a smile split across my face. I watched as Gaara began to pull himself up into a comfortable sitting position, before letting out a dull hiss of pain and falling back onto his pillow — my smile flickered, then, and I moved forwards instantly, despite not really being able to do anything. I clutched his hand, biting my lip.
"You were stabbed," I said, "So don't move — the doctors spent ages m—making you, ah, better, so don't move."
He didn't reply.
Just looked at me.
I realised I hadn't introduced myself, and I immediately flushed a deep shade of red. "I'm Hyuuga Hinata," I continued, and I bowed my head instantly — it was a habit I'd never managed to quite get rid of. "I was the one who found you last night. Or, I g—guess, you sort of found me, but that doesn't matter."
For a few minutes, I thought he wasn't going to talk at all — just stare at me — but then he tilted his head, eyes flickering briefly around the room before meeting mine again. "…where am I?"
"A hospital," I replied.
"Right," he let out a broken chuckle, which quickly turned into a round of rattling coughs, "Silly question."
I had to resist the urge to giggle, purely because I was certain that if I did so, I'd quickly turn hysterical; instead, I placed my hand over my mouth, sucked in a deep breath, and then let my hand drop down to my side. Gaara's eyes were curious as he looked at me, and I shrugged a shoulder, smiling feebly, "It's a habit."
He nodded once and then there was silence again.
Of course, as expected, I was the one who attempted to break that silence.
"Where are you staying?" I paused, reconsidering my question, "Rather, I meant, where are you staying, so I can contact someone — anyone — to pick you up? You can't… you can't stay here all night, right? Your parents would get worried."
The last line was a bet, and I had thrown it out there; I wanted to confirm Sasuke's words. I still didn't quite trust the other, so I wanted to confirm he was telling the truth, before stepping any further into a partnership — relationship? — with him. Gaara's expression turned dangerously blank; his entire face was still, but his hand — which I hadn't realised I was still clutching — tightened in mine, clenching into a fist. His eyes were stormy. In the light, they looked as grey as the waves of a tossing, turning sea, and, almost instinctively, I bit my lip, waiting for his response.
"He won't worry."
A father, then, I grasped from those three words.
"He never does," Gaara's voice changed slightly, the littlest bit of bitterness threading through his soft monotone — he wasn't looking at me, staring instead fixedly at the wall opposite. "None of them do."
I squeezed his hand, and, almost reluctantly, he turned to face me. "That doesn't change anything," I said, and my voice was gentle. "I still need an address. Someone you can stay with. Anyone."
"What about you?"
"You," Gaara replied patiently. "What about you?"
I blushed bright red, moving one hand in front of my face, waiting until I was certain I wouldn't let out a high-pitched, nervous squeak before speaking, "Y—you can't! We're complete strangers! That would be impractical and p—potentially dangerous, for both of us — you don't even know who I am."
"You're Hyuuga Hinata," and his voice was still oh so patient, "And you haven't let go of my hand since you arrived."
With another flush of beetroot red, I realised he was right.
So instead of arguing immediately, I simply opened and closed my mouth, attempting to think of the correct words to say. I'd given barely any information out to this stranger, but he was acting as if he'd always known me — and, in the same way, I had acted so familiarly around him, as well, grasping his hand and sitting with him as he slept. Even looking back now, I still can't remember why I did it — why the urge, that feeling, came over me, and I felt as though I had to sit with him, to see that he survived.
He let out a deep, throaty chuckle, then, closing his eyes and shaking his head once. "I was joking. If you can find a pen and some paper, then I'll write down that address for you."
I didn't realise my heart was beating so quickly, until I placed my hand on my chest, face relaxing as relief washed over me. I nodded once in his direction, before letting go of his hand, moving across to his bedside table to search for paper. There was none in the first drawer, but a scrap in the second drawer, and I found that I only needed a pen; absently, I checked under the bed — back at home, I was constantly dropping things, only to find that they rolled underneath my bed, as if my bed had some sort of gravitational pull.
There was one pen there, getting slightly dusty, and I snatched it up, before holding out both my pen and paper for him to use, with a triumphant smile. He rolled his eyes, took the stationery away from me, and scribbling down an address in a messy, slanting scrawl — then he handed it back to me, slumping down into the bed as if the effort of it all was far too much for him.
I smiled gratefully. "We'll drop you off now, if you want."
He raised an eyebrow — or, rather, I realised, that was what he would have been doing if he had any eyebrows. "Should I really be moving?"
My smile faltered.
Gaara shook his head, the smallest of smiles flickering across his face, as he swept aside the blanket. Some part of my brain registered the fact that he was lacking a shirt, bandages across his lower torso — and that he looked good without a shirt, especially with the bandages. I think he caught me staring, because there came that eyebrow-raise again, and then he gestured for me to move forwards. I crossed around the bed, until I was stood in front of him — then he slung his arm around my neck, heaving himself upwards. He wasn't wearing any shoes, just baggy pyjama bottoms — I was certain he'd be wearing a hospital gown, but, for a reason unknown to me, he wasn't.
I snuck a sideways glance at him, just in time to catch him rolling his eyes.
"Walk," he commanded, and we did, like contenders at a children's race, staggering across the room until we were out the door; there, Hanabi blinked, eyes widening as she stood up. I offered her a little smile.
"This is Gaara."
He nodded once, curtly, and Hanabi bit her lip, ducking her head in response. It was an awkward greeting. They sort of suited each other, in that neither quite wanted to look at the other — both, instead, stared expectantly at me; waiting for me to take the first step. Waiting for me to instruct Hanabi; to tell her to go and fetch Neji, because Gaara was much heavier than he looked. Waiting for something — anything — to happen.
But things were already happening — and I wondered if they were happening too fast.
Gaara sat in the backseat, beside me, as we drove towards his chosen address; my father was behind the steering wheel, fingers drumming impatiently upon the dashboard as we waited at a traffic light. We'd left Hanabi and Neji back at the hospital, as there hadn't been enough space to fit everyone into the car — and although Gaara had said he would quite happily wait until last, Neji had insisted upon being the gentleman, ushering a stoic red-head into the car and hushing Hanabi as she began to grumble. We'd driven away pretty smoothly, and there'd been little traffic on the roads; it had been almost like my lucky day.
Minus the entire stabbing thing, I guess.
I snuck a sideways glance at Gaara. He was sat slumped against the window, peering out into the darkness — I could dimly make out his features, reflected back at me from the window, and he seemed tired. The bags beneath his eyes seemed darker. His skin looked paler. He looked deathly ill. In all fairness, I suppose that was pretty natural — he had lost a lot of blood, after all. My gaze turned back to the front and I only just noticed my father gazing at me, staring over his shoulder at me, scrutinizing my movements.
He turned away before I could say anything, eyes flickering up into the mirror to glance at Gaara. "Are you feeling alright?" He murmured, voice abnormally gentle for my usually so strict father — he'd paused in his desktop drumming, as well.
For a moment, I was certain Gaara wouldn't reply.
"…headache," he mumbled. "My head hurts."
"It could be the adrenaline," my father replied, brow furrowing slightly. "After all, you've been through a… traumatic experience. It would only make sense that, especially back then, when you were, ah…"
He trailed off.
"…when you were wounded, adrenaline would have been pumping freely through your body. I suppose that, coupled with any drugs they might have had you hooked up on, when performing any… surgery, or the like, on you — I suppose that may have triggered these headaches." Hiashi faltered, just as the traffic lights flickered into go; the car slid away smoothly, engine purring, as we turned left. "I'm no doctor, but I would recommend some sort of painkiller. I'm no doctor — that's just common sense."
I realised, at that moment, that my father was talking for the sake of talking — talking because he needed to fill the silence — and that worried me, for a moment. I glanced across at Gaara. He nodded once.
"I'll keep your advice in mind."
"If you ever need our help," my father finished, the car beginning to slow down as we pulled up outside what looked like a set of flats. "Then just say — I'd give you our number, but I'm sure Hinata will do that, when she takes you inside."
Gaara looked as if he were going to protest against my help, but I was out of the car quicker than he'd have ever thought. I waited patiently for him to heave himself into a standing position, before hooking his arm around my shoulders; he didn't have to lean so heavily on me, this time, but he was still grateful for the support. He had to feel embarrassed — after all, I'm sure it was against his manly pride to allow help from a girl, especially if that girl had dark hair, bright eyes and was named Hyuuga Hinata. When I held open the door for him, there was almost something like mortification flickering across his face.
Absently, I wondered who this friend was, that he could feel so embarrassed in such a short space of time.
The flat we were heading towards was near the top — number 13, on floor N. We took the elevator, despite the fact that Gaara seemed almost desperate to use the stairs; I think he wanted to prove that he wasn't as weak as he felt, but his hand almost immediately flew to his forehead, and so I ushered him into the elevator, pressing the button for the correct floor and then standing opposite him. My face was a picture of concern.
"This headache — is it something you get often, or is it because of tonight, like my father suggested?" I asked, genuinely curious.
He frowned, briefly, before shrugging.
"I've had them for as long as I can remember."
"You never went to see a doctor?"
Gaara fixed me with a peculiar look — a look I didn't understand then and probably never will understand.
The conversation fell into silence.
For some reason, I found that my heart was beating extra fast, as the elevator rose — and when the doors slid open, and the little button let out a timely ding, I found that my heart was hammering in my chest. As I helped Gaara down the corridor, searching for room number 13 — the last door on the left, next to the glass window —, I found that my breathing grew faster and faster. As I stood outside the door, knocked once, the red-head by my side, I felt as though my heart would burst.
The door slid open.
Blonde hair, blue eyes and a wide, brilliant grin—
—Uzumaki Naruto gazed back at me.
And that was when the pieces began to fall into place.
Wow, thank you very much for the brilliant feedback! This is so much fun to write, and I'm glad you've enjoyed it as much as I've enjoyed writing these first few chapters. At the moment, action's coming relatively regularly, but it's going to begin to slow down — I plan on exploring the events that've happened on the night of Ino's death, and so on, before I bring in the second death.
Just wondering, who do you think will be next to go? After all, it was very nearly Gaara, except I realised I loved him too much — and I think I'll be having a bit more fun with him…
Well, I'll see you at the next chapter! Keep reviewing!