She had always thought that a woman in love was one of the scariest creatures in the world. One, because they would always rationalize that anything they did for love was forgivable because it was, well, 'for love'. And two, whatever they did for love would always be in the extremes. It was her mother who taught her this, once upon a time. She didn't understand why she didn't remember this fact when she first fell in love with a boy named Uzumaki Naruto. But then again, what would a girl of eight know about love?

Maybe nothing?

Maybe everything…

Did it even matter?

But she hadn't been scary as a woman in love. She hadn't tried anything daring and blamed it on her feelings. And she had never been extreme. The most extreme she had ever done in her life was tell him she loved him. She had never expected an answer from him. Maybe her timing had been off. Maybe he never had an answer. Maybe she didn't even need one. Maybe she had already known.

Or maybe she had never really cared. Telling him how she felt had been enough for her. Years of loving him from afar had finally caught up to her.

And so when Haruno Sakura became Uzumaki Sakura on the eighteenth of May when they were twenty-tree, seven years after the war, everything came into perspective.

It was strange how one word, one look, one smile, could change someone's life three-hundred-sixty degrees. She had spent her life running after him, desperately trying to catch up, to walk beside, and to overtake. Somewhere along the way she had stumbled and fallen flat on her face. Sometimes she thought she had tried too hard. Most of the time she thought she hadn't tried hard enough.

But of course, as with many things in this world, life went on for her. It did little for her self-esteem, though. There was no mistaking it; she was happy for Naruto and Sakura. Naruto deserved happiness after all he had been through. But every time she thought about it, she would ask herself: "What about me?"

What about her? What about the Hyuuga heir that was not the Hyuuga heir? What about the Hyuuga who thought that by trying her best, she would gain?

She didn't really know. After the war and the treaty signed between the five Villages and the five countries for the Allied Nations, most of the shinobi had been experiencing post-war blues; they didn't have much of an idea what to do with themselves.

Of course, the occasional mission came and went. They concerned mostly D rank to B rank missions but gone were the tasks that involved politics and schemes between hidden villages.

And Hinata found purpose in many different things, most of the time in the Academy as a teacher.

She found solace in teaching – in feeling, if not loved, then at least needed. A teaching job was something she had asked from Tsunade-sama herself, and something she was given. The Hokage never asked her for reasons why she wanted the job. Hinata thought the woman already knew. Or maybe she, too, didn't care.

At twenty-one, Team Kurenai had fallen apart almost naturally. Aburame Shino had started training as the Heir of his clan when his father thought he had gotten too old for clan affairs. At first Shino had made time in the weekends to meet up with Hinata, but that was until his marriage was arranged to a woman from a fellow insect whisperer from the Grass. Although she had always believed Shino to be somewhat indifferent when it came to women, he had shown quite an interest to his betrothed, especially since the woman knew of a certain breed of arachnids that didn't live in the Land of Fire. The woman having a very pretty face did not hurt as well. And weekends with Shino were no more.

And then there was Kiba.

The Inuzuka had been sent off to the Earth country for research by the age of twenty-three. He was more than happy to study about another species of canines and their breeding habits in Iwa.

He had been gone for two years.

And Hinata… Hinata was alone.

There was no Shino. There was no Kiba. And there was no Naruto.

Only Hinata.

That was, until she turned twenty-five, when Inuzuka Kiba came home to Konoha with Akamaru, and two small puppies tucked under his arms.

Inuzuka Kiba had always been rough around the edges. But after two years of not seeing him, Hinata thought he had… changed. Wilder. Stronger. More of a man than a boy.

He had grown taller. Bulkier. That mess of dark hair on his head had grown relatively, enough to brush the collar of his animal-skin jacket, enough to cover those sharp eyes of his and frame the defining red marks on his cheeks. Hinata wondered how one could change so much but still seem the same to her eyes, especially when he smiled.

He smiled like he always did, like he was smirking. As if he knew a secret no one else knew. He would show off his canines with a lopsided grin, two of his forefingers saluting from the outer end of his eyebrow.

He did just that when he barged in on her in one of her classes that day, as if disrupting classes came naturally for him. He had a big box of candy under one arm. The children went wild over him. It was his plan. He dropped the box in one corner of the room and took the opportunity to approach Hinata with the children distracted.

Hinata had a chalk in her right hand. She was in the middle of writing tomorrow's assignment just before Kiba came to disturb her. She was a bit annoyed but couldn't help but be happy at the sight of him. Two years away from the village did him good; it could have been the water at Iwa. She wouldn't know. He was tanner, for some weird reason. It suited him.

"I heard," was what he said. No preambles as he propped his hip against Hinata's desk.

Hinata swallowed hard as she tried not to stare at him. It was a hard task. He had the most tantalizing gaze. Searching. Curiously searching her face. He reminded Hinata of a wolf. It seemed he had turned more animal than human while she wasn't paying attention. He could probably smell her unease. She finally managed to look away.

"Welcome back, Kiba," was what she said, busying herself with arranging the chalk on the blackboard ledge in one straight line. "You look… "


"You look… well."

That had him laughing. "Really? I met with Ino earlier. She said I look like something a cat dragged in. I was insulted."

Hinata couldn't help but smile at what he said. Trust the man to have a dog's pride. "Ino's tongue is as sharp as your bite. But I bet she was trying to compliment you. You look… good." She finally decided to face him again, and she wasn't surprised to find him staring at her with those eyes of his.

"And you," he said. "You look sad."

She was not taken aback by what he said. He and Shino, they were probably the only ones who could see through her like she was made out of nothing. She shrugged. "I feel absolutely fine. Thank you."

He was not convinced. "I left the Leaf three months before they got married, so I never really got to catch up on you. It must have hurt a lot."

Hinata winced. Trust Kiba to charge in tactfully with questions that normal people wouldn't be able to ask so easily. "Only for a while." A few months or so. "He's happy. She's happy. They deserve each other."

"And what do you deserve?" he asked, crossing his arms over his chest. The smirk was gone. The light in his eyes was gone.

"What do you want from me?" Hinata asked after a long silence. She could head the children laughing happily in the corner of the classroom, all of them still fussing over the sweets Kiba brought over.

The smile was back on his lips. "I don't want anything from you, Hinata. I just wanted to see you is all. To see if you're well."

"I'm well," Hinata snapped. When she realized she had just raised her voice at Kiba, she took a small step back, shook her head. "I'm sorry."

Kiba was still watching her, and the arms crossed over his chest loosened and fell on his lap. "I brought back two pups," he said suddenly. "A male and a female. Cutest little things you've ever seen."

This sudden change of conversation surprised Hinata. Kiba seldom talked about his nin dogs. "Whose pups are they?"

"Akamaru's. The mother was a beauty, one of the strongest in Iwa's nin-ken. She bore a litter of four, two months ago. We decided to split the pups." Kiba cocked his head to the right, gestured with a hand uncaringly. "Unfortunately, one of ours gave birth to her own, and Hana's got her hands full. The nursery's packed."

Hinata knew where this was going. She did not grow up with this man until they were promoted to Jounin for nothing. He was going to ask her something she was not going to be able to refuse. He always did, ever since they were children. Train with him when she wasn't feeling up to it. Take Akamaru for a walk. Those kinds of things. He did his best to push her out of her comfort zone. He was about to do so again, right now.

"Take one in for me," Kiba suddenly declared simply as if he were announcing something about the weather.

In past circumstances, she would have cowered in a corner, stuttered an excuse and get dragged into it anyway. But things have changed. Sure, she might still get dragged into whatever Kiba was tried to trick her into, but she might as well do it with pride.

She raised her chin up and met Kiba's gaze. "Because they have nowhere to go, I will say yes. And how about the other pup?"

"It stays with me. Unless, of course, you want both?" Kiba's eyebrows rose but a centimeter.

He was teasing her again. He didn't change one bit when it came to his playfulness. Ever the child.

He wanted her to baby-sit two dogs. Her father never even allowed her to have a pet hamster. Her father never allowed her much of anything. She'd had enough and right after Naruto and Sakura's wedding, she'd had enough restraining and wanted out. She had gotten a small apartment at the other side of the village, away from the Hyuuga estate. Hanabi had been so mad at her. Neji was furious. And her father… well… her father was as indifferent as ever.

Hinata swallowed hard. "I… have a yard. It's spacious and… there are two apple trees. Two. One for each of them. For… um… shade. And um… maybe a place to play around."

Kiba let out a victorious laugh, and without warning, he was pounding on one of Hinata's shoulders. Had he always had such big hands? She didn't know. Kiba hadn't been keen at touching and being touched. He was always so… guarded with proximity, a trait the Inuzuka clan had in general.

Hinata rubbed her shoulder tenderly and watched Kiba wipe his nose cheekily with a thumb and for a moment, she caught a glimpse of the Kiba ten years ago. Boyish. Brash. Head-strong. He had always been very sure of himself. His confidence was still there, if not multiplied tenfold.

Hinata looked over to her students all now sitting on the floor with their own handful of candies, each had separated into their respective circle of friends, exchanging the tiny cards that came along with the sweets. They had fallen into quiet conversations between themselves. Kiba followed her gaze, stuffing his hands into his pockets.

"This suits you. Teaching, I mean. It always struck me that you'd be great with kids," he said, letting his gaze linger on the blackboard, then on the far wall peppered with dozens and dozens of sketchbook papers plastered, showcasing the student's drawings.

Hinata picked at her sleeve unconsciously, shrugging. "I love it. I think I've finally found something I could actually be good at."

Kiba's eyes were instantly on her, sharp and inquiring. "You've always had the potential to be good at many things. You were just too timid to consider even trying it out. I'm kind of shocked you found the nerve to ask Tsunade-sama for this job."

Hinata bit her lower lip. He was not trying to ridicule her, she knew. She was aware that what he was saying was true. He just knew her all too well, and was blunt enough to say it. Shino would have kept it to himself. He was always the quiet supporter who stood behind her. Kiba had always been the voice for the both of them. God, she suddenly missed them both. She smiled. "I'm glad you're back. Will you be staying for good?"

Kiba nodded absently. "Yeah. I'm actually back to taking missions by tomorrow."

Hinata blinked. "Aren't you going to rest? You've just gotten back."

Kiba gave her a cheeky grin. "I don't need rest. You know me."

She did know him. All too well. She gestured at him weakly. "I live on the eastern outskirts. My house is hard to find, so if you want I can drop by the Inuzuka compound and we can walk the two pups together back to – "

"That won't be necessary," Kiba cut her off.

"What, why?" Hinata asked, suddenly alert. She had a bad feeling about this. And she was right. Because before she knew what was happening, Kiba had raised his hand to his mouth and whistled between his fingers.

Her students' heads shot up at the sudden sound, and after a few seconds of silence, two puppies as small as how Akamaru had been when they were still genin came hurtling into the classroom as if being chased by rabid wolves. One had black fur, as black as night, and the other one was as white as snow. Hinata could only suppose that the white one took after Akamaru, and the black one must most definitely take after the mother.

The children went wild again. One moment they were busy trading cards and eating candy, and the next they were crowding around the two nin-ken as if it were the first time they had ever seen dogs.

Hinata's hand was instantly on her mouth as the two pups barked happily at the attention, and she could only shake her head helplessly as her students and the nin-ken started chasing each other around the room, as if their class wasn't already out of control as it was.

"The white one's the female. The black one's the male. Little beauties, aren't they?" Kiba asked as he grinned widely, looking like a proud parent watching his children. When Hinata didn't say anything, Kiba leaned down to peer at her face closely. "Are you sure about this?"

Hinata turned to face him. She jumped back when the tip of her nose brushed against his cheek, and she felt her face burn slightly. "I am," she said, fighting the urge to stutter. She wished he would step back a few inches away from her. She was not used to Kiba this close; he had always been the kind to protect his personal space. She could not believe two years could change someone so much. She couldn't even tell if the change was a good thing or a bad one. If anything, it was making her very, very uncomfortable.

Kiba whistled between his teeth as he nodded, and much to Hinata's relief he leaned back and once again crossed his arms over his chest. "They're a handful."

Hinata wiped her cheek with the back of her hand, eyed the pups that were now enjoying tummy rubs from her students. "I can handle them," she said weakly. She doubted she sounded convincing. She didn't even know if this was just pride talking. Or maybe she was just too desperate not to seem like she was being dragged into something she didn't want to do.

She jumped again when she felt something heavy land on top of her head. She looked up to see Kiba's hand resting on her head, fingers kneading through her hair. "I know you can. I wouldn't ask you if I didn't think you could."

She dropped her eyes back to the floor, waited for him to remove his hand. He didn't. Instead, said hand traveled down to her shoulder, which he squeezed gently. She bit her lip as she watched those fingers so familiarly resting on the sleeve of her jacket. "I… don't have anything to feed them…" she said lamely. Her gaze shifted to the set of large feet Kiba had planted right next to hers. How had he gotten this big anyway? Did Iwa feed him things that didn't grow in Konoha?

"I'll take care of everything. What time do you get off work?"

"Uh… in two hours. Why?"

"Two hours, eh? Got it," was what he said.

Hinata looked up hastily. "What are you planning?"

"I'll get everything ready before you get home. You don't have to worry about anything." And finally the hand he had on her shoulder left. He started rolling up the sleeves of his jacket.

Hinata swallowed hard. She looked over to the puppies, right now drowning in attention from her students, then looked back at Kiba's confident face. "Y-you can't."

"Why can't I?" Kiba asked, a bit surprised.

Hinata swallowed hard. "You don't know where I live. You can wait after I finish work and – "

Kiba suddenly leaned forward, and much to her horror, nuzzled his nose at the crook of her neck, inhaling deeply.

Hinata backed away, scandalized, knocking a couple of erasers from the blackboard ledge. "W-what are you doing?" she demanded.

Kiba's mouth broke into a cocky grin, flashing his sharp teeth at her mockingly. "Your scent's changed a bit in the two years we haven't met. You used to reek of tea and cream daifuku."

Hinata felt a shiver run down her spine and hurriedly bent down to pick up her fallen things. "And your point is?" she murmured.

"Right now you smell of freshly mowed grass and chamomile. I think I can find your house without even trying."

Her head shot up to look at him.

His grin broadened. "With my eyes closed."

She knew she had bitten more than she could chew. It had always been so with Kiba anyway. Only now she did not have Shino to balance everything out between them. She hugged the erasers to her chest before standing up. She made sure to keep her face hidden with the curtain of her hair. "Th-their names. What are their names?" she asked.

She heard Kiba laugh quietly as he straightened beside her. Hinata couldn't help but look up at him, and was not surprised when she saw him getting ready to leave. He was always the free spirit; coming and going as he pleased. She had almost forgotten how it used to annoy her, his randomness. She wondered when she had lost her tolerance when it came to his personality.

"Their names? They don't have any. Yet." He turned back to her, reached out, patted Hinata's head roughly. "But I'm sure you can handle that by yourself, right?"

That was when Hinata started to panic. Taking care of them was one thing, but naming them… ? Naming them was like… like getting a pet on your own accord. And she was not good when it came to pets. Not really. Not at all.

"I c-c-can't name them…!" she tried to protest.

But it was too late. Kiba had already whistled to get the two pups' attention, and the next moment, he was breezing out her classroom with them on his heel. Her students crowded after them, letting out very sad goodbyes as they left.

And Hinata was lost in her own panic attack. She hurriedly pulled open her desk drawer and procured a paper bag from under the many, many scrolls she had in there. It had been two years since she had hyperventilated but she had always had a paper bag handy.

Just in case.

She was glad she had one right now.

She had expected maybe a leash on each apple tree she had in her lawn. And maybe two water bowls and food dishes for each pup. She was shocked when she found her whole front and back yard surrounded by a meter tall fence made of sturdy-looking wood. The moment she had stepped through the barrier she was not used to seeing around her house, she noticed two large kennels on each side of her fenced-in front yard, sandwiching the two tall trees in the middle. Thinking that the pups were probably somewhere lurking in her now confined house, she hurriedly closed the gate behind her and half-expected to have the nin-ken pop out of the kennels to attack her.

She braced herself for a good minute. When she was sure that nothing was coming out of the kennels, she let out a sigh of relief and allowed herself to look around her. Her house was relatively small; a one-storey house made of redwood, a living room-kitchen with two small rooms and an adjoining toilet and bath. She had gotten the place for cheap when she got a promotion as jounin teacher. She had picked it because of the possibility of making a garden out of the broad outdoors. Of course, as expected, five years had already passed but the dream of a garden had remained just that; a dream. Everything just flew out the window after Naruto.

Before Naruto. After Naruto. When had she started defining the happenings in her life like this anyway?

She slowly made her way towards her front door and screamed bloody murder when Kiba suddenly dropped from the roof in front of her. He landed on all fours and grinned up at her mischievously.

Hinata fought the urge to faint then and there. "Wh-what were you doing up there?"

"Waiting for you," Kiba said as he stood up and straightened his jacket. "You said two hours. You're late."

Hinata gaped at him in disbelief, gesturing at the fence that wasn't there this morning. "How on earth did you do this?" There weren't any signs of dirt or sweat on him at all.

Kiba shrugged. "Yamato-san lent me a hand. It took him about, what, two seconds? Waiting for you was the hard part. How as work?"

Hinata blinked at him, dazed that he could ask such a normal question after having renovated her house without asking for her permission. She frowned. "It took me forever to calm my class after you left…" she accused.

Kiba scratched his mane of dark hair, at the very least having the decency to look apologetic. "Ah, sorry about that. I had to admit, I guess suddenly bringing them there was a bit of overkill."

Hinata bit her lower lip before sighing. Water under the bridge. And this was Kiba. There was no use in getting mad at him when he was obviously apologizing. She reached past him to stuff the key to her front door. "It's all right." She pushed the door open, then looked up at Kiba. He was watching her warily. "Where are they?"

"Still at my house," he said carefully. "They need their shots and Hana's taking care of it. I'll bring them over tonight. If that's okay."

Hinata felt her left eye twitch involuntarily. Now he asks her after building a fence and two kennels in her property. Given she had agreed to take them in, but she didn't expect it to seem so… permanent. Maybe until the Inuzuka nursery opened up to hold them? But… not this. She gave her lawn a once-over before shaking her head. "Of course it's okay. You know I can't say no to you." It had always been like that since they were young. So maybe nothing's changed, really. She hesitated before gesturing at him. "Would you like to come in?"

Kiba blinked, looking evidently surprised at the invitation. His sharp eyes flickered to her hand on the doorknob, then at her face. He smiled and answered her invitation with a question. "What names are you planning on giving them?"

Hinata jumped slightly at the question. She had run a few names through her head on the way home but couldn't think of anything remotely original and suiting for them. She coughed. "Shio and Koshio."

Kiba was laughing instantly. "Salt and Pepper?"

Hinata's hand tightened around the doorknob, insulted. "It was the only thing I could come up with."

Kiba shook his head. "No. I like it. Shio and Koshio it is." And after saying this, he pushed past Hinata and into her living room without so much as saying 'boo'.

"Hey…! Wait!" Hinata hurried after him.

She found him rummaging through her refrigerator.

"Wow, you still keep things neat and tidy," he said, procuring a carton of milk, surprisingly checking the label for its expiration date.

Hinata deposited her bag on the lone couch in her living room and stood rod-straight in the middle of her floor rug. She was readying herself to reprimand Kiba if he ever decided to drink straight from the carton. That was why she was surprised when he walked over to the sink and plucked a glass from her open cupboard.

Hinata watched him move and marveled at how… tall he had become. Now that she was able to look at him without worrying about fainting, she could now see that he was a good head and shoulders taller than she was. And while most Inuzukas valued speed more than strength, it was strange to see him gain muscle mass in places she hadn't thought he could gain.

His back was broader, and his leg muscles were evident on his fairly snug pants.

Kiba took this opportunity to face her, milk in mid-pour. "You smell agitated."

Hinata jumped, feeling her face growing warm. Although she was sure that it had nothing to do with the fact that she had been ogling his backside. "Stop smelling me," she ordered.

Kiba grinned. "I can't help it. I can smell you a mile away. And I mean that as a compliment."

Strangely enough, it sounded like a compliment. She didn't even know why she was getting flustered. Looking away, she said, "You've grown."

Kiba could only rub his nose with a thumb. "And you. You haven't grown a centimeter." He nodded towards her, the glass of milk momentarily forgotten. "Your hair's longer. You haven't cut it since I left, have you?"

Hinata's hand unconsciously reached up to touch her hair. This was not true. She hadn't cut her hair since Naruto married Sakura. Of course, she did not feel like she was entitled to tell him that. "You can say that, I guess. It's never really bothered me much. And it's easier to tie it into a bun."

"Hm," Kiba said, leaning forward on her bar counter and eyeing her intently. "It suits you. But then again, short hair wasn't so bad on you, either."

The hand touching her hair dropped to her side, and she busied herself with shuffling her feet uncomfortably. "It's just hair."

"Yeah, but," Kiba snorted before raising the glass of milk to his mouth. "It's your hair. And it's pretty."

Hinata had never been really good at compliments, and she knew that Kiba knew this weakness of hers. He was making fun of her. And because she was Hinata, she couldn't even tell him to cut it out. Kiba was right; she hadn't changed at all since they were young. She tried to cover her blushing face by wiping at her cheek with the back of her hand. She could still feel Kiba's eyes on her, though.

"Hinata," he said, trying to get her attention.

She forced herself to look at him.

He grinned. "Thanks for this. Those pups are grateful you're giving them a home."

Hinata bit her lower lip before saying, "Only until you find a place for them in the Inuzuka compound."

He nodded. "I know. But I'm still glad you're doing this."

She could not help but return his smile. "It's nothing."

Little did she know that she had just been sucked into a whirlpool that would change her life forever.

She was inexperienced when it came to pets, and so she had prepared herself, just in case, of the possible horrors Shio and Koshio could bring her. That was why when it turned out that the two nin-ken pups were perfect angels, she found herself terribly unsettled. Kiba had brought them over before the sun went down, and they had stayed in their respective kennels when she asked nicely for them to retire for the night. She had been exposed to several of Kiba's nin-ken, mostly Akamaru, and she had been fully aware that they were capable of understanding human speech, but she didn't expect for them to listen to people outside of the clan. When she told Kiba this, he had pretended to act insulted because she had assumed that. Of course she had said sorry, and he had brushed away her apology as if it were nothing.

True to his word, they obeyed even without Kiba. And he was seldom around. He came to visit when he could, most of those visits happened after missions and sometimes before them.

And maybe it was because of the presence of Shio and Koshio that she had started spending more time outside, and she had found herself working on the garden she had always wanted during her free time. This was something she thought to be a great opportunity.

As the weeks dragged on, though, she couldn't help but realize the pups grew even faster than her flowers. She had been very concerned about this, since the growth spurt happened when Kiba had been away for a whole month on a mission concerning some of the nin-ken they had donated to the Hidden Grass. She had started thinking that maybe she had made a mistake with their vitamins; there were a lot of them to go around. Or could it be she had miscalculated the grams of feed to be mixed for each one? Kiba did say something concerning the difference between feed for male and female nin dogs…

She had never really gotten to figure the cause of their sudden growth, and by the end of October, they had grown double in size. She did not remember Akamaru growing this big until he had turned a year old, but she had tried to accommodate their increased appetite to play. They were very well-behaved and did as they were told, and so bringing them to the meadow behind her house every day to let them run freely on their own was never a problem for her. She would work in her garden without worry and they would be back before dark, because this was what she told them.

It was one of those lazy evenings on her day-off did Kiba finally come home to the Leaf. He was filthy from the road, and the heavy rucksack was still present on his back. She was sitting on the patio with Shio in front of her, getting her coat brushed when Kiba came jumping over her wooden fence and landing on all fours right on top of her gardenias. She could only sigh in resignation as she watched Kiba trample on her flowers as he straightened up to stand. Then, as if realizing for the first time that he had just murdered her plants, grinned sheepishly while scratching his head. "Yo, sorry about that," he said as Shio gave a happy bark and hurried over to Kiba. Koshio, who had started to show a calmer personality of the two, took Shio's place in front of Hinata to get his own dark coat brushed.

Hinata held back the slight annoyance that threatened to bubble up her gut from the destruction of her precious gardenias. She ran a hand through Koshio's fur. "Welcome home. You look horrible."

"Thanks. I stink, too," Kiba said, laughing as he bent down to scratch Shio behind her ears. "They've grown."

"About that," Hinata said uncertainly, giving Koshio an absent-minded pat before standing up to approach Kiba. "I followed your instructions to the tee, but I don't know how they could have grown this huge in a month."

Kiba did not look at all surprised. "Nin ken from Iwa are generally larger than those of Konoha, and to tell you honestly it's also my first time to know that they mature faster than ours. The mother was about a head taller than Akamaru when sitting. Don't worry. I think this is normal."

A bit relieved, she tucked a piece of unruly hair behind an ear. "That's good to hear." Then after a while, asked, "How are you?"

Kiba pushed Shio over and started to rub her belly lovingly. He kept his eyes on Hinata. "Tired, but okay. By the way, I saw Shino earlier. He wanted me to give you this." He reached his hand into his jacket pocket and retrieved a slightly crumpled lavender card. Lavender. It was a color Hinata had never even dared associate with Shino.

She made her way towards Kiba, squatted in front of him and took the card. Somehow she was not surprised to discover it was a wedding invitation. She didn't know why her heart felt like it was sinking as she fingered the velvety card gingerly. It had been a while since she had actually met with Shino. The last time she'd seen him was when he introduced to her his fiancée.

Her name was Aomori Chisato of the Grass. She was a petite, cheerful jounin with a pretty face and a nice smile, and Hinata had thought her to be perfect for Shino. Arranged marriages had become somewhat of a fad between Villages since the treaty, but despite this, Shino and Chisato seemed to have hit it off wonderfully, having a lot in common regarding their jutsu and hobbies. Another plus factor was that Chisato actually thought Shino's weird way of talking 'adorable'.

"You don't look too happy," Kiba said bluntly.

Hinata paused, looked up at him. "I'm happy. Shino must be excited." She returned her gaze back down at the invitation. "So they've set the date."

"Took them long enough. They should have gotten hitched earlier. It would have saved us the entire wait for something so inevitable."

Hinata nodded faintly. "I'm happy."

Kiba raised his eyebrows at her. "I heard you the first time."

Hinata blinked. "What?"

"That you're happy. I heard you the first time. Why is it you seem like you're trying to convince yourself?"

That struck a chord in her. She shook her head. "That's not true. It's just been a while since I've caught up with Shino and Chisato and, you know… "

"Nah, actually I don't know." Kiba's hands rubbing Shio's tummy stopped instantly, causing the dog to whine. "Shino told me you've been avoiding him. For a while now, in fact."

Hinata was genuinely surprised. "Me? Avoid Shino? I'm not avoiding him. Did he tell you that?"

"Yeah. He said that since his engagement, you've stopped meeting up with him in the weekends."

Hinata furrowed her brow. Wasn't it the other way around? Ever since Shino's impending marriage was settled, he had stopped coming over. She had thought it was normal; seeing other women every weekend – even if they were his friends – wouldn't seem proper for a man spoken for. "I wasn't avoiding him."

Kiba smirked. "I'd have believed you one hundred percent, if you hadn't stopped sending me letters when I was away in the Hidden Stone. It was as if you'd cut me off completely. If it hadn't been for Shino, I wouldn't have known you've started teaching."

Hinata could only bite her lower lip. "I was busy."

"Yeah, I heard from almost everyone that you're always busy lately."


"Yeah. Our batch hasn't seen you in almost all the public gatherings in the Leaf. Even Neji's told me you seldom visit your old man. What's up with that?"

Hinata dropped her hands to her side, the invitation still clamped weakly between her fingers. Her dad… She never really found the time to see him. Maybe there just wasn't a good enough excuse to come home just to get a long, long lecture about Hyuuga pride and so and so. "I was… I'm busy…"

Kiba was watching her intently, his nose twitching ever so slightly as if smelling the air around him and trying to be discreet about it. "Hinata."

"What?" she asked quickly, almost sharply as she wrapped her arms around herself self-consciously.

"You can't keep avoiding him forever."

Hinata felt her body shudder involuntarily, and she took a step back. She could have run away into her house had it not been for Koshio who had suddenly appeared behind her, pushing her back in place, as if telling her not to go. She shook her head. "I don't know what you're talking about."

She knew exactly what he was talking about…

Kiba stood, impressing upon her how tall he had become. He took a step towards her. Koshio shoved Hinata forward with a low growl, and she had to dig her heels on the soft soil beneath her to keep from tumbling against Kiba. "You've changed since they got married. Everyone says so. I think they're right. You're different. You even smell different."

This had Hinata flushing. "I am not different and I don't smell different!"

Kiba shifted his weight from one foot to another, crossing his arms over his chest. "Yeah you do. You smell like a girl who's thinking she's lost everything life had to offer and is just whiling the days away by pretending that she's just fine."

Hinata gasped, unable to process what Kiba was trying to say to her. She did not think she deserved to be attacked like this, even if it was Kiba. She was shaking so bad now that she had unwittingly crumpled Shino's wedding invitation in a fist. Koshio seemed to have sensed unpleasant vibes from her and wisely distanced from her, slinking away hurriedly behind Kiba. The gesture angered Hinata even more. In front of her stood Kiba, Koshio behind him and Shio lounging in front of him and watching Hinata with lazy eyes. It was as if they were ganging up on her.

And she felt even more alone than she had ever felt since she had started taking care of the two pups. She took a deep breath and spoke with a shaky voice, "I'm not pretending. I am fine. This has nothing to do with…" She swallowed hard, then continued. "This has nothing to do with Naruto and Sakura. I'm happy for them. I really am."

"Oh, really? So the moment they got married, you moving out of your clan's compound was just a coincidence? So you just happened to suddenly be too busy to see Shino or write letters to me?"

"That's – "

"Hinata. Stop pushing people away just because Naruto chose someone else. Everything is not about Naruto!"

"Everything was about Naruto!" Hinata suddenly blurted out. She clamped a hand over her mouth, but it was too late. She had said it. She let out a sharp gasp when Kiba grabbed her wrist and yanked the hand covering her mouth away from her face.

"Keep talking," Kiba hissed, his sharp eyes sparkling as he bore down on her, pulling her closer towards him.

Hinata pushed against his chest, suddenly feeling threatened. "I have nothing to say."

"I beg to differ," Kiba growled, his other hand slipping around her waist, as if to make sure she did not run away from him. "You shied away from your friends, your family, because you're afraid of having any contact whatsoever with Naruto, or Sakura for that matter. Why?"

Hinata tried to push him away. He was just too strong for her. "I don't even know why I have to tell you for you to know how much I've loved Naruto! It had been enough for me to just watch him from afar. I knew his feelings for Sakura then, and at one point in my life I thought I had prepared myself in case… in case this happened. But now I know that a hundred years couldn't have prepared me for this."

"He's just a guy. A guy among so many guys out there."

"He was more than that to me, Kiba. You know that…"

She was not kidding when she said Naruto had been her end all and be all. She had grown up under his influence, and in more ways than one, Naruto had been the only beacon she had during her soul-searching. That admiration had, at some point, turned into something more, and she had declared to him but once that she loved him.

It was a confession he had never really acknowledged.

She should have written it off then and there.

She did not realize tears had started pouring down her cheeks until Kiba had pulled her to him, crushing her against his chest so tight she thought her bones would break.

"You're an idiot," he muttered against her ear. "An idiot, damn it."

And Hinata believed him. Because it was true. No wonder Naruto never loved her back.

A/N; Written because I've been reading fanfics that don't give the possibility of these two enough credit. I've always been a NaruHina fan because of Hinata's unconditional love for Naruto, and I just want her to have a break. But there had always been a bad nagging feeling at the back of my mind of the "What if Naruto didn't return her feelings?" theory.

I think I had always been rooting for Hinata more than NaruHina per se, and I do believe she deserves to find happiness, even if it isn't with Naruto. That said, this fanfic was born. This has been in my hard drive for a while now. I don't even know why I decided to upload it now. LOL…

Most probably going to be a two-shot or three-shot. I still have a couple of stories to finish, so I don't know when I'd be able to update. I guess depending on the demand, but I'm prioritizing my GaaIno story.

Anyway, stay tuned for an update… uh… sooon… XD