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Chapter Four

Friends


It was a pleasant nap.

So pleasant Hinata groaned when she awoke. The bed crinkled as she rolled against it, giving an unfamiliar feel that shook her into alert. She wasn't in her bed. She wasn't even in her home. Hinata was in a hospital, the place sick people and tired doctors despised entering. But then why were there ANBU? And why were her ankles shackled to the bed?

The room was burning bright. ANBU glared at her with cloaked eyes; the chains weighted on her like an invisible body. Why did her chest hurt so much? It shouldn't be this hard to breathe.

The nurse was at her side now, telling her to calm down and do just that- breathe. Didn't she know she was trying? Didn't the villagers know she was trying?

No, Hinata realized, it shouldn't be this hard to breathe.

Sakura was at her side when she woke up again. It wasn't so bright, whether that was from the change of day or change of blinds, Hinata didn't know. There was something off in Sakura's voice. It was the way she tried so hard to be soothing; it was unfitting for the strong girl. Why couldn't she just tell her why she was there?

Hinata blinked with long lashes, picking up every parting of lips and diversion of eyes. Piecing together broken fragments of Sakura's answer, her face dropped.

"I-I attack-attacked t-the..."

'No, no, no,' Sakura was repeating.

Almost. That was the word she was using.

"D-d-did I h-hurt anyone?"

Beneath her sheets Hinata was visibly trembling. Tears were threatening to break free. A hand went over her cool skin, "No Hinata. No one was harmed."

She breathed out in relief.

"B-but how... who stopped me?"

Sakura was doing that eye diversion thing again. Hinata was patient while she struggled with an answer. When she did, neither female knew what to say.

"Sasuke?"

"Aa."

Her gaze lifted to the ceilling.

"M-May I see him?"

Sakura frowned at this, looking more like herself already.

"I don't think you're healthy enough to see him, and he's not allowed in here."

"When I'm better, may I see him then?"

"I know you wanna ask him why he saved you, but Tsunade already-"

"No," Her voice was soft but serious, "I'd like to thank him."

Sakura pulled her hand away.

"You don't owe him anything, Hinata. You have to get better for your trip. "

"Trip?"

Tsunade was sending her to the Land of Lightning once Naruto returned from his mission. He was to help her control the Seven-Tails to prevent events like this from occurring again. She was now a security risk. That explained the ANBU.

Hinata was sitting now, body tensed at the multiple people.

"Sakura... would you mind if I had some time alone?"

"Sure."

She heard the shuffling of multiple pairs of feet and the clicking of a door.

It was night, Hinata knew that now. She also knew she was on the verge of crying. It angered her to watch the first drop fall; she used her knuckles to push it away. When the second tear fell she rubbed her eye, pretending it didn't exist.

They wouldn't stop coming. Her hands rubbed away obsessively. They were laughing at her, telling her how weak she was. She rubbed harder. Her face was growing red and swollen from the abuse. Giving up, she settled on resting her head in her hands and crying into her palms.

Leaning against the door, Sakura listened in silence.


Sasuke removed the last of the white bandages from his hand. Under the distasteful ceiling lights, he held it to his face. His hands clinched and unclinched in gripping motions. After a week, all of the pain and most of the scarring had disappeared. He kept the bandages on the floor as he stood to peer out of the window. Every face made his blood spike. He promised himself not to be so judgmental. Itachi wouldn't have approved, and that's why Sasuke remained in the first place. He wanted to open his eyes. He wanted to see why his brother loved the village so much.

He wanted to understand.

Wanted to understand why people like Naruto fought for it and Hinata could never hate it. But, in all honesty, it was hard. Hating was a reflex for him and forbidding his body from doing so was becoming increasingly difficult. His mind flickered between the Hokage and himself a few days prior.

"So you sent her off with that idiot?"

He hadn't seen her in the few days since the incident. It was only logical.

"You don't need to concern yourself in the business of Hinata Hyuuga."

"She won't make it."

"And you know this how? Did she tell you?"

"She told Naruto, but you probably know that."

He shook his head and reappeared with one of those condescending grins. "So quick to get her out of the village. What a good Hokage of you, trying to appease the other villages by shipping her out."

Tsunade visibly darkened and struggled not to jump over the table. A small part of her was impressed with him managing to fit the pieces together. The other part of her, however, was pissed.

"Hinata Hyuuga has been ordered to remain in the village by her family. With their support and my own, she's not going anywhere. Learn not to speak of thing you don't understand, Uchiha."

It wasn't a good conversation, but it ended in early release for 'saving' the village.

If early release was what you could call it. He lived in a provided apartment, which was undoubtedly better than a prison cell, but was expected to be on call at any moment.

Sasuke slipped into habit quickly. He awoke, trained, walked around, ate and was occasionally summoned to the Hokage's tower for trivial tasks. The villagers avoided him like the plague. That wasn't surprising. What did surprise him was the Rookie 9. He didn't socialize much in the old days, but he still assumed they'd acknowledge his existence. Even the former fan girls nodded and looked away when catching sight of him. With the blonde and Jinchūriki gone, Sasuke was truly alone.

He realized in the four weeks of their absent that 'alone' was truly a terrible word.


Naruto patted Hinata's back, effectively jerking the girl forward.

"It's alright Hinata-chan, I know you'll get it next time."

She failed at trying to match the hope in his eyes.

"A-ah."

As secretly predicted by everyone, she'd failed Tsunade's order to tame the beast. She'd wasted the Hokage's time, Naruto's time, Konoha's time...

"Even I couldn't kill myself at first. He said all these things that made me think-"

Naruto had been spilling out encouragements since they left. Even though it was kind, Hinata couldn't help but remember this as the first time he kind of annoyed her. They were nearing the gates now.

"Naruto-kun?"

He peered at her, "Yeah?"

"Would you mind reporting to Tsunade-sama? I'd like to rest."

He nodded and, with a smile, agreed.

Hinata was too old to run away, but she still jumped across rooftops to reach home unseen. Her bed welcomed her warmly, free of the judgment soon to face her outside. She wanted to stay there. She didn't want to wake up. She was tired of being feared. She was tired of failing. She was tired of smiling, pretending everything was alright, and ultimately, she was tired in general.

It was mid-morning when Hinata crashed. It was night when knocking woke her up.

She used her palms to push up from the bed, her hair falling off her shoulders absently. The knocking persisted as she she trekked through the one-story house. Her hand extended and twisted the doorknob. She was blinded by the white of snow and five sets of teeth. One of the people held a purple-iced cake up to her face.

In unison, "Happy Late Birthday Hinata!"

Then she did something she'd held in since waking up in chains; Hinata cried.


Sakura. Naruto. Lee. Kiba. Hinabi.

Neji had left the night before, leaving five shinobi sprawled across her home. Kiba and Naruto had somehow passed out in the hallway. Sakura's pink locks shielded her from the cold of the bathroom tiles. Hinabi was snuggled into the bathtub, and Lee's whereabouts remained unknown. Streaming light hit the plate where a cake had existed the day before. Crumbs spilled across the table and all over the floor. Throughout the house tattered remnaints of the night before stained her pristine home. Dishes, trash, confetti, overturned flowerpots and more greeted her that morning.

Hinata had never been happier.

In that moment, tripping over the limbs of her old crush, Hinata knew she made the right choice. Konoha was her home. Nothing would keep her from staying with her family and remaining friends. Somehow, yesterday's failure was turning into a golden opportunity to prove herself.

She reached for the sake bottles nestled between Kiba and Naruto. There were quite a few. She pulled up her hand only to be halted by fingers reaching for her wrist. They aimed horrible and missed entirely. The fingers went back to the floor as Kiba groaned.

"Only you Hinata."

She stared at the back of his head, "Kiba?"

"Only you would clean up after your own surprise party."

By the time he sat up he saw the warm smile on her lips. He grinned back, frozen to do anything but.

"I'd argue but something tells me you wouldn't listen."

They went around the house in silent mode, which proved incredibly more difficult for Kiba. He bit back laughs at the drools and expressions of his unconscious friends. Still, his grin remained. They had accomplished their goal- make Hinata happy. Who knew Naruto and Sakura could come up with a good idea?

Hinata was over the sink, letting a small stream of water wash over some dirty plates. Kiba came beside her to set more in the sink. The movement made his hand brush hers, and the feel of her skin ignited that familiar flame.

"Hinabi told me you're back in the family."

She smiled at him, "Aa."

"You two seem better."

"I noticed that too. She's a lot happier than before."

He picked up her cleaned plates and dried them as she continued washing.

"Was she ever unhappy?"

"Aa, at first. When she found out what I did to stay in the family."

He stopped his actions and stepped closer in concern. "What did you have to do?"

She was hesitant to answer. "I-I have to ask to leave the village. The elders don't want me to be a shinobi anymore. I have to stay here until my-my husband asks me to-"

"Husband!"

Someone in the house groaned. Hinata tensed before peering at Kiba with pleading eyes.

"Sorry I just- don't you think that's a little crazy?"

"I-It's sort of common."

He slumped in defeat. "Who is it?"

"No one yet. The elders are gonna look for suitors and then decide." Hinata kept her eyes to the sink, suddenly embarrassed at the whole situation.

"I have an idea." Kiba took her by the shoulders so she was facing him. "I'm gonna buy you the biggest, ugliest jacket I can find and give you a Kakashi mask. That way no one can see how pretty you really are."

Both taken back, the former partners smiled before darting eyes. They heard the bathroom door open as the rest of the group slowly rolled awake.


Sasuke didn't wake up with friends. Thanks to his faulty heating system, he woke up cold. He really hated Tsunade. Unfortunately it was just as cold outside. He was shaking the snow from his body when a blur of blonde caught his eye. So Naruto was back in town.

Sasuke followed it until he spotted the blonde standing on the stoop of white, one-story home. Next to him was a familiar pink-haired shinobi and an enthusiastic Rock Lee. Sasuke moved out of the open to conceal himself. The three were dischoveled at best, with exhaustion circles under their eyes. A fourth head emerged from the property with a toothy grin. Kiba Inuzuka.

Sasuke couldn't see who was in the house, but saw the exchange of words between them before the group left. They stuck together while yawning and talking amongst each other. Looking at them reminded Sasuke of the old days. The Rookie 9 had grown, but not as much as they'd like to think.

Curiousity took the better of him.

He stood at the stoop deliberating if he was bored enough to find out the cause of commotion. Hinabi threw open the door suddenly, "Kiba! You-"

Sasuke stood stupidifed while the girl eyed him curiously.

"He left."

The look she gave was one Sasuke always gave Naruto. "Thank you", she deadpanned, "that was insightful."

"Uchiha-san?"

The opened door gave him sight of Hinata's head emerging from the far end of the living room. She put down the plates in her hands and went to the door.

"Have you had breakfast?"

Hinabi asked what he was thinking, "What?"

Her hands did some fidgeting thing. "I was thinking if you-you hadn't eaten yet you could join us."

"No."

Hinata ignored her sister and stepped closer. Instinctually, Sasuke took a step back and nearly stumbled off the step. Hinabi chuckled.

"It's just that I haven't had a chance to thank you for s-stoping me..."

"Stop."

Four white eyes waited for Sasuke to continue. His voice had a unique ability to demand attention.

"There's only one way you can thank me."

"..."

"Pervert."

"Hinabi!"

"I meant a spar."

He saw a blushing Hinata, eyes pointed at the ground, and an apprehensive Hinabi.

"Why me?" It was barely audible.

"You're a Jinchuriki."

Hinabi interjected with spite, "She's not allowed to be a shinobi anymore. Hyuuga orders."

So what Tsunade said was true; Hinata had been reclaimed by her family. She must have given up being a shinobi in order to do so. He was loosing respect for her by the second.

"I'm not telling you to go on a mission, I'm telling you to fight me."

Hinabi narrowed her eyes. "You have to fight me first!"

Hinata opened her mouth to object but Hinabi spoke, "But first I wanna eat."

.

.

.

Hyuugas had this weird glare think that penetrated all objects- without Byakugan. It was rather bothersome, and Hinabi wasn't caring to stop. Her glare followed him as he entered, sat in the living room and waited numbly for this whole food thing to end. She didn't even try to hide it.

"Hinata's birthday was last week."

"..."

"We threw her a surprise party."

"Explains the streamers."

"It's not too late to get her a present."

"I'm sure."

"The least you could do is say Happy Birthday."

"Happy Birthday."

"Not to me, to her."

"Relay the message."

Hinabi folded her arms. Looking at Neji and her made Hinata seem even more of an oddity. The elder sister was currently in the kitchen completing their meal. She spoke up from the other room, completely unaware of the conversation her guests just held.

"You were released early?"

"Aa."

Their was the clanking of moving dishes. She walked out, arms encircling a few large plates of food. Hinabi meet her halfway and the two finished setting up the table. Sasuke kept his eyes off them and focused instead on his surroundings. It was a little living room in a little house. Judging by the exterior there were two rooms, three at most. It was impressively lit; opened windows, streaming light, soft furnishings and an array of potted and suspended plants around the space. It was very much a woman's house.

"How long ago were you released?"

His eyes went to her small face.

"Soon after you and Naruto left... I don't want any." He moved to pick up the plate she had placed before him.

"Just take it. Eating doesn't make you less cool."

He felt a glare direct towards Hinabi. He wondered if her and Naruto hung out. Sasuke looked at Hinata but she was already moving food from the dishes to her plate. He imitated the two, void of enthusiasm. It wasn't bad. He'd tasted worse. He scooped more onto his plate, missing Hinabi's glare.

His eyes went up as the food went in. The girls began talking as if he wasn't there.

"You should see this new move Neji taught me."

"Is he training you now?"

"Yeah well he tries. But Tsunade keeps him busy all the damn time. That woman..."

"You should respect our Hokage."

"Yeah, yeah, save the act for father."

Sasuke caught Hinata's look.

"I can't wait to get a team. I'll be the strongest, no matter who's on it."

"I'm sure you will Hinabi."

"Since you're sparring now can we train? Since, you know, you're alot s-stronger... now..."

Hinata brushed off the awkwardness and possible insult. She smiled, "Maybe later."

The image was awful familiar. The only thing missing was the flick on her forehead. Hinabi was so... obnoxious. Sasuke stiffened at Hinata and the way her eyes lighted at the little one's ramblings. He felt the air turn to cotton at the emotion. Hinabi was oblivious to it, just as Sasuke had been many years ago.

He stood up suddenly, utensils dropping from his hands.

Had he really been such a nuisance to Itachi? Had his brother really just smiled and let it go on?

He saw Hinabi, finally silent and eyebrows twisted in confusion.

"I-"

How Hinata could say so much with so little color, it was insanity. Sasuke couldn't tell if it was pity, false understanding or worry that crossed her mind; but none of that mattered. She searched into his eyes without a blush. She made it feel like they were alone. She made it feel like they were talking. She made his stomach worse.

"I have to go."

Hinata was on her feet but the avenger was quicker. He grabbed his cloak and shut the door on his way out. Two Hyuugas starred at the spot dumbly.

"...That was weird."


AN: I'm glad you guys liked Chapter 3 so much, I took some time writing that ending scene. Compared to, I really hate this chapter. At least you're reviews make me laugh. You guys are kind and really funny.