Chapter One

The world blurred past the car window in a whirlwind of colors. Pine green, cerulean blue, blossom pink, they were all there, blending together in a beautiful swirling mass. Hinata was vaguely reminded of her jumbled box of pastels, the one tucked safely in her backpack which was now sitting on her lap.

Hinata sighed and rested her cheek in her hand, letting her eyelids slowly slide closed. It was still fairly early in the morning and Hinata hadn't been able to sleep on the plane. Whether it had been the crying children, the whirring engine or her bundle of nerves and anxiety that had kept her awake, she couldn't be sure. But now, sitting in the speeding car, she couldn't resist the strong pull of sleep, especially when she was surrounded by such soothing colors.

Even when she closed her eyes she could see them, dancing under her eyelids, painting a picture, a lullaby fading to black.

It seemed she had only just touched the swelling blackness when a large hand fell on her shoulder, shaking gently. "Hinata…Hinata, wake up. We're here."

Hinata opened her eyes a crack. How long had she been asleep? Judging by how stiff her body felt and how much higher the sun was, she guessed it had been some time. But still not enough, she thought groggily.

She turned from her slumped, sideways position in her seat to see her older cousin, Neji looking back at her from the driver's seat, his hand still resting on her shoulder. His face was soft as he watched her open her eyes, concerned almost, for whatever reason she couldn't figure out. She craned her neck back, expecting to see her younger sister, Hanabi still in the seat beside her, but it was empty.

"Hinata, did you hear me?" Neji gave her another quick shake, chasing away some of the fog that had settled in Hinata's brain. "I said we're here."

"Yeah, I heard you." Hinata rubbed the sleep out of her eyes. As a second thought, she quickly swiped her hand over her mouth. And sure enough there was a dab of drool in the corner of her mouth. Of course.

"Come on," Neji turned back around and opened the car door. "Hanabi's already checking the place out. Better hurry before she takes the best room."

Hinata grabbed her backpack and stumbled out of the car. It felt so good to stretch her aching muscles. And the warm sun made it feel even better. Throwing her backpack over her shoulder, she looked up to gaze at her new house.

The first thing she noticed was the size. It was…big. At least bigger then their last house had been. Then she looked at the house itself. It looked homey, with wood paneling, a large porch complete with a swinging bench, and bright yellow paint, trimmed in navy blue. It was the kind of house a nice, normal family or a sweet elderly grandmother would live in.

But now Hinata's family was going to live there, and they were neither elderly grandmothers nor a normal family.

Neji came up the walkway behind Hinata and stood beside her, setting down the large suitcase in his hands. "Are you sure you're ok?" he asked.

"Yes, I'm fine," Hinata smiled, repressing the urge to wrap her hands around her cousin's throat. He needed to spend less time worrying about her mental well-being and more time trying to get everyone settled.

Still, Neji stood there, watching her. "I'm just worried about you." He said finally. "I don't want you to think that us moving was your fault. It was an accident."

He had struck a nerve. Hinata's smile wavered for a second before she was able to get it back. But now it was warier than before. She placed a hand on his arm. "Thank you Neji, I appreciate it." I really do, she thought. "But we'd better get these bags inside." She grabbed the suitcase Neji had been carrying and started hauling it up to the house before he could say anything more. She didn't want to talk about what had happened and was relieved when he didn't try to pursue the topic.

The front door was wide open when Hinata dragged the suitcase up the porch steps. "Hanabi, you left the door open!" Hinata yelled up the stairs. She was answered by several thumps and feet thudding across the floor.

Neji came in behind her with the last two suitcases, dropping them off at the foot of the stairs. Hinata left her case next to the others and went to close the door. "That should be it. The moving truck should be here later this afternoon, so we have some time to kill 'till then."

Just above their heads, Hanabi appeared, leaning over the second floor railing to call down to them. "I call this room!" She pointed to an open doorway just down the hall behind her.

"Wait a minute." Neji raced up the stairs and into the room Hanabi had just run into. "No way!" he cried, "That's the biggest room."

"Well I already called it!" There were several loud bangs and feet scampering across carpet as Hanabi and Neji scuffled. Hinata laughed. Her family was very odd at times.

While the other two were upstairs Hinata took a good look around the house.

It was just as she had expected. The rooms were quite large and very open. Just ahead of her, past the entry hall was the kitchen; clean, white linoleum shining in the sun. To the left was the living room with a large stone fireplace acting as the center piece. Just inside, Hinata could see the door to the spare guest bedroom. And at the foot of the stairs was a smaller room. An office, Hinata guessed seeing the oak desk just beyond the door. Her father would probably occupy that room. All of the walls were a bright white, the floors beautiful hardwood. Hinata liked it.

Laughter drifted into the entry from upstairs. Following it, Hinata found Neji and Hanabi still wrestling. "Hinata, save me!" Hanabi cried out through her laughter, Neji hovering over her. Their hands were clasped as the two pretended to grapple.

Hinata laughed at them. "Sorry Hanabi, but my hands are full," she lifted up the backpack in her hands. "Besides, you seem to have it under control."

"Hey!" Hanabi cried out. All three started laughing together.

I think I'm going to like it here.

Eventually Neji and Hanabi decided to call a truce. Since they couldn't decide on who should have the bigger room, they all agreed that Hiashi would take it when he arrived. That left three more bedrooms on the top floor for them to choose from. The rooms were about equal in size so there was no more fighting from Neji and Hanabi.

Hinata wandered into each room until she decided on the last one. It was spacious with the same white walls and shiny wood floors as the rest of the house. The closet wasn't huge but Hinata didn't need that much closet space anyway. The one feature that really caught her eye though was the window. It was facing north, which let in the best light for drawing and painting and looked out over the edge of the forest in the backyard.

That was what surprised her the most. She knew that Konoha was known for its trees but she hadn't expected to find an entire forest in her backyard. They also had fewer neighbors than she had anticipated. There weren't many houses around and the ones that were, were spaced out pretty far.

Hinata set her backpack in a corner and began to empty it. First she pulled out her box of pastels, her small paint set and the half full sketch pad she always carried with her. Next came her books, the ones she read on the plane trip. The others would arrive with the movers. Finally she took out three picture frames, each wrapped in clothe to protect the glass. Hinata unwrapped them gently. The first picture was of Neji, Hanabi and herself. All three had their arms around each other, Neji slightly unwillingly, and smiling at the camera. The next was of her father, looking elegant and confident with his head held high. In Hinata's opinion it was the best picture her father had ever taken, because when looked at closely you could just make out his smile. The last picture was by far Hinata's most precious. It was of herself as young girl laughing and smiling in the arms of her mother. They were so happy in that picture and her mother was so beautiful. She hugged the frame to her chest tightly, wishing her mother was with her before setting it down with the others.

Hinata put her empty backpack in the closet and walked downstairs. She found Neji at the door talking with an older man dressed in a mover's uniform. The next two hours were spent sorting their belonging and bringing them inside. The most important task to complete was getting everyone's bed set up. The movers, taking pity on the poor kids stayed to help them. By the time they were finished and the movers had gone, it had started to get dark outside.

Hinata sat at the kitchen table with Hanabi and Neji. They were all too tired to talk over their dinner of toasted sandwiches. It had been a long day and they all needed rest. But Hinata felt fidgety. She looked back and forth between the bland looks on the faces of her sister and cousin. "So," she broke the silence. "When will father be arriving?"

Neji swallowed a bite of his sandwich. "He had some things to clear up with the elders so he would be getting in until late. We'll see him in the morning.

"Oh, I see." Hinata stared down at her plate glumly. "Damage control."

Neji gave her an exasperated look, but he didn't try to deny it.

"I thought you would be picking him up from the airport." Hanabi supplied in an attempt to ease the heavy silence.

"No," Neji said, "he told me not to come for him. He said he would just get a taxi."

"Oh." They all sat there, nibbling at their food. The rest of the dinner was spent in silence.

Hinata emerged from the bathroom and padded back to her room in her pajamas. She closed the door and switched off the light, letting the moon illuminate the walls. It had been a long day and it was well past midnight but Hinata wasn't ready to fall asleep, not quite yet.

Instead she leaned against her window and stared out over the forest.

Hmm…Konoha, huh? It seemed like a nice enough place even though she hadn't met anyone yet. Still she would have preferred to go back home. But Hinata knew she could never go back there. Not after the mess she made.

She vowed to herself that she would try her hardest to make this work, to make sure that her family wouldn't be forced to move again. And she would start now.

Hinata was just about to crawl into bed when she noticed some rustling in the trees outside. Quickly she pressed herself against the wall and peeked out the window.

A figure emerged from the trees, dressed in black. It was hard for Hinata to see but she thought that the person was a boy. His hair was as black as his clothes and he blended in so well with the night. If Hinata hadn't been looking closely, she would have missed him.

He raised his arm and moved it across his mouth as though he were wiping something away. Then two ghostly pale shapes appeared. His hands. He pulled the hood of his black sweatshirt over his head. He took a quick look behind him, making sure no one was looking. Hinata ducked away from the window quickly, then peeked back out when he hadn't seen her. She caught a flash of a pale face with an angular jaw line before the stranger pulled his hood on tighter and took off running down the street at an alarming pace.

Hinata backed away from the window and sat, perplexed, on the edge of her bed. What had just happened? She didn't like the idea that strangers were lurking in the woods behind her new house. Who knew what they were doing in there!

But Hinata only saw the one boy. She waited and watched for others but no one came. Either they were sleeping in the woods or the boy had been alone.

Hinata didn't want to think about the implications, so instead she got into bed and forced herself to sleep.

Hinata was woken to the sound of a car driving away. She checked her bedside clock. It was 2:30 in the morning. Slowly she got out of bed and crept out into the hall.

The front door opened and closed and something heavy was set on the floor. Hinata tiptoed over to the banister and looked down.

Her father was standing just below her in the dark. A heavy suitcase rested at his side. She heard him sigh and watched as he walked into the kitchen and flipped on the light.

Hinata went down a few steps to see him better. Hiashi was sitting at the table reading the note that Neji had left for him. He set the paper down and rubbed his temples. Pressing both hands over his eyes, Hiashi sighed again.

He looks so tired, Hinata thought. It must have been worse than I had expected.

Her father stood from the table and headed to the stairs. Hinata hurried back into her own room before he saw her.

Laying back in bed, she heard the soft whisper of a door closing. Then the house was silent.