A/N Wow, it has been such a long time. My sincerest apologies. We're getting near the end, I suspect maybe four or five more chapters. But I have a lot planned for the last chapters and Hinata's character is really going to be developing and improving (hopefully) a lot in their time at Sound... So tell me your thoughts please! On a lighter note I have a tumblr! I'll probably start accepting prompts! The links on my profile. If any of you have tumblr, pm me or something and I'll follow you!
A quiet and rhythmic slicing sound thrummed in Hinata's ears as she slowly rouse to consciousness. Her body twisted and squirmed a little as the first touches of coherence reached her. Her finger tips splayed across the warm sheets, she cracked open one white eye.
The room was dark. Almost hauntingly so. Sheets of inky shadows pooled in from the open window, threaded carefully with the dull glow of the moon and stars. It was early morning or early night depending on your point of view.
She blinked repeatedly to focus her blurry vision. Staring upwards at the cracked ceiling of the inn room, she became aware of the lack of the presence that was supposed to be next to her.
She jolted upwards, her shadowy hair falling over her shoulders and down her back like a curtain of the night sky. Pearl eyes darted around the room in search of her dusky eyed comrade and her heart accelerated when her gaze landed on the dark figure sitting by the window.
The blade in his hand glinted.
She stared at Sasuke for a long moment, and for a frozen minute she wondered what exactly he was doing there. Sharpening his glistening katana by the window, his entire form blending in with the trails of inky shadows. The only colour was his scarlet eyes, that were looking straight at her, with such intensity she felt her stomach curl with fear.
She wasn't familiar with the red flames of his Sharingan. But looking into the crimson stare that even the strongest shinobi would not dare to meet sent a poignant dread sizzling in her system.
He blinked, allowing her a small relief from the burning intensity of his eyes. She rose from the bed slowly, setting her feet on the cold ground. He continued to watch her with that emotionless gaze that was steadily growing in magnitude. She padded across the room towards him, her form sliding in and out of the shadows.
She stopped in front of him, adjacent to the open window where the breeze billowed in. Her hands were balled into tight fists as she held the fabric of her nightshirt. "What are you doing?" Hinata's voice was so soft she wondered if he heard it.
Of course he did, he always heard her. "Sharpening my Kusanagi."
The stillness of the early morning darkness seemed to coat the air around them. Hinata bit her lip, a new and deeper emotion settled across her face as she leaned forward. Her face just inches from his, she could feel his breath across her cheeks. She timidly raised her hand forward, poking one finger against his forehead. "Why is your Sharingan on?"
She felt him freeze underneath her gesture, her finger still poking his forehead innocently. He looked at her and for a hazy moment she thought he was going to use his Sharingan on her. His bottom lip parted and her jaw stiffened.
"W-what?" She stammered, the soft whiteness of her eyes looking almost celestial in the dim lighting. Her finger was still suspended, gently poking his smooth forehead. She felt him tense beneath their connection and a slow, building fear seeped into her system as she looked deep into the unpredictable blackness of his eyes.
She started to pull away and his hand shot forward to snatch her smaller one. He held it for a moment, directly in front of their faces before he moved their joined hands to the side so he could lean his forehead against hers. "What are you?"
He could hear the maddening dance of her heart against her chest and how ragged her breathing was. Her pale eyes widened as stared at him, trying earnestly to decipher the emotion hidden within his.
Hinata had always admired and maybe even envied his self-restraint and his self-repressed emotions. He was controlled, silent and cold. And though he was right in front of her, he felt as though he was miles away.
His cool breath trickled across her cheeks and billowed down her throat sending tiny pricks of ice shooting through her body. His hands holding hers flexed as he continued to watch her, as though he had no idea who she was.
He held her there for a while, lulling in the intriguing presence of Hinata as her heart raced. He could almost smell the worry mixed lightly with fear from her as she pleaded at him with her eyes to tell her what was going on.
He moved their joined hands away at first, carefully plucking out her pale fist and controlling it with the mastery of a renown puppeteer. He brought her finger close to their face and then tapped it against her forehead. Identical to the same gesture she done before. Identical to the same gesture his brother had done before.
Her lips thinned into an unsure and broken line. She looked conflicted, anxious and confused as she searched for a reason. "Do you not like when I do that or…?" Hinata's soft tone trailed off as her breathing accelerated.
"Yes. No." The Uchiha snapped coldly, a confronted expression gracing his features. "Maybe." Sasuke sighed, retracting back from her to stand against the dusty backdrop of the light leaking in the window. Specks of dust filtered through the silvery air making him look almost ethereal. But little about Sasuke was angelic. He was dark, cursed and devoid of light. And yet Hinata seemed to be drawn to him like a gluttonous moth to the flicker of light amidst blackness.
He was still holding her finger against his forehead, and marvelled at the fragility and softness of her hands which were also her weapon of choice. "I like it," he shrugged, almost as though it was the most frivolous matter in the world. But it wasn't, Hinata realised, from the searing intensity burning in his eyes. It mattered. And she had no idea why. His hands dropped from hers and her finger was left there: suspending in air poking his smooth chalky forehead.
She poked it again, unsure of why she was blushing so madly. "Why?" Hinata murmured as she dropped her hand.
His fiery eyes slowly bled into their usual inky darkness and his gaze flickered back to the window. The sun was setting. "Maybe I'll tell you sometime." He thought, rubbing his jaw. "It's almost dusk, we should get moving if we want to make it to Sound by morning."
The Chinatsu village was small, and covered almost entirely in a careful scattering of petals from the scented trees and flowers that lined the narrow streets. Dusk seemed to ignite the lively side of the village, as its inhabitants pooled onto its streets setting up stalls and stands. The lanterns were lit and their golden glow was warm and the velvety music almost made Hinata forget this wasn't a holiday but a mission.
They had been walking side by side, their shoulders and hands occasionally brushing against each other as they exchanged secretive glances. Sasuke had watched the wonderment and childish-awe expression on Hinata's face with mild intrigue before he had leaned in close. So that his lips moved against her ear as he whispered something about a weaponry stand.
She nodded politely, watching the shadowy Uchiha disappear into the crowds before she moved on. The pretty music beating in her ears as she gazed upwards at the night sky and enjoyed the smell of fresh cooking.
Her chaotic mind flat lining for once, as she admired the quaint village festival. She wasn't sure what they were celebrating.
"Life maybe," a woman answered.
Hinata paused for a moment, before a small smile blossomed. She drew a little closer to the woman's stall. It was reasonably small but was filled with the most extraordinary gems all incrusted in delicate necklaces and pretty rings.
Hinata's tentative hands reached forward to brush against the jewellery with unusual feminine delight. "Your jewellery is all so beautiful." Hinata admired softly, her long fingers tapping against the price tags. And so very expensive, she noted biting her lip as she withdrew her hand slowly.
The woman beamed. "And so very rare, my dear. And also expensive, but a pretty woman deserves pretty things. Don't you agree?" The light-haired woman allured smoothly. Leaning further over her stand to fix Hinata with a stare with a level of intensity that unnerved her.
"I-I," Hinata stammered, unsure of how to answer the question. She took an attentive step backwards, but the woman seemed unfazed.
The older woman's green eyes sharpened into catlike slits, though her friendly smile didn't falter. "You're not from around here," she gathered. "Perhaps you're on a vacation, perhaps you have a travel companion who might so kindly purchase you one?"
"I - no." Hinata fumbled, her lips tumbling over the words as meek embarrassment touched every corner of her face.
The green-eyed woman's smile tightened, and she moved closer to Hinata. So close Hinata could smell her rosewater perfume. The woman plucked a white gold ring from its box and presented it humbly to Hinata. "This, my dear, is one of my most precious possessions. These are real white and red diamonds encased in a delicate platinum band."
She held up to Hinata. Her movements exaggerated and bold as her sly smile widened. "This would go so lovely with your eyes, do you have a boyfriend to buy it for you?"
A strained fluttery laugh ripped through Hinata's full lips and she shook her head desperately, before she paused. Did she have a boyfriend? And if not, what exactly was Sasuke? He was many things, but at the same time he was someone who invaded her person space often, he liked teasing and irritating her. He also protected her.
"Well no," Hinata mumbled, her eyes downcast as she tried not to blush further. However, there was the side of Sasuke that was distant and empty to Hinata. The side she couldn't penetrate or even understand no matter how hard she tried. The cold, dark and unwelcoming side that seemed constantly torn on whether to kiss or kill her.
The woman let out a smooth sanguine laugh. "It's so unusual for such a lovely thing like you travel alone without a boyfriend or travel companion." She mused lyrically, growing curiosity filtering through her voice. She leaned closer to Hinata, fair hair spilling over her shoulders as her eyes widened. "So very unusual," she repeated quietly before she tilted her head.
Green eyes narrowed like a feral cat, all-seeing and secretive as she watched Hinata shuffle awkwardly in front of her. Her sandal toeing the ground as her unease grew. She couldn't seem to form the words of goodbye under the woman's stare. The Hyuuga tried to smile politely.
"You know," the fair-haired lady began, eyeing the bustling street for a long moment. "The Chinatsu village is often dangerous at night. Especially for such a pretty girl like yourself." She smiled sadly but it didn't reach her eyes. "If you would like you could come stay-"
Cold pale fingers suddenly touch the curve of her waist, lightly at first, and then they proceed to walk across her back until they dug into the material and roughly jerked her against them.
Wide pale eyes snapped around to look at the dark-haired nin's side profile. He wasn't looking at her. His ever dark eyes were trained forward, fixing the jeweller with a cold, unflinching stare. His lips were pressed into a thin line and his hold on Hinata tightened as her mouth parted confusedly. "I see you've met my wife."
A flurry of confronted emotions fluttered across the silvery pools of her eyes as she stared at him. Unsure of why exactly he was acting like this, with his hands flexing and tightening their grip across the material of her shirt. Straining it so hard she feared it might tear.
Her rose stained lips parted in askance when he shot her a cold, unmoving glower. She bit back a reply and quickly looked away, their proximity was stifling as was the sudden glass-thin tension. The woman was staring at her, green flames burning behind the surface of her eyes.
Hinata didn't understand why exactly Sasuke was doing this - holding her possessively and lying. However, she wasn't foolish and the corners of her lips twirled upwards appreciatively to smile at her husband. Sometimes Sasuke's actions were erratic and a little inane, but he never did anything on a whim. There was always a reason, no matter how insignificant. She opted to play along smoothly than face the wraith of Sasuke later. She couldn't deny the fact she was more than happy to feel his reassuring presence beside her. The jeweller was unnerving.
"Wife." The fair-haired woman stated, almost disbelievingly so. Her catlike eyes slid over to rest on Hinata with unflinching disdain. "I thought you said you didn't have a boyfriend." She recalled coyly, trying to smile but failing.
Sasuke looked over to her too. Fixing her with an unreadable expression as though he, too, was interested in the answer.
Hinata's cheeks burned pale red and she was almost worried her hair would catch fire with the heat her face was radiating. Her mouth fumbled over the words, constructing them into awkward sentences with long pause and little conviction. "W-well…that's because he's my husband!" Hinata said lamely throwing Sasuke a hopeful glance.
He ignored her and looked away, scowling.
"I see…how lovely." Feral green eyes smouldered beneath smoky lashes as she painted a cold smile onto her face. The stall owner step back, glancing down at the little, blue velvet box still in her hand. "Does that mean you'll be taking the ring?"
Thinly hidden horror and surprise shaped Hinata's expression. He refused to meet her gaze as he fished out several notes from his pockets and drop them on the counter before he snatched the little velvet box. He nodded briefly to the woman before he turned around, only pausing to seize Hinata's wrist and tug her after him.
Her lips parted but she doesn't protest against his ministrations. She allowed him to lead her into the middle of the crowd. The glittering lights and faces blurring into one continuous strike of colour as he moved faster. Weaving in and out of laughing couples and gatherings of rambunctious youths who claimed the games were rigged and that the night was still young.
The noise settled somewhat into a lyrical lull as he stopped outside a dimly lit bistro. The windows were large and clouded and a steady stream of sweet smells and what sounded like cheesy violin playing filtered out. Hinata paused, taking in the pretty structure with a delicate smile. It looked like a very old and very romantic building.
"What about here." Sasuke stated blankly.
It was barely a question so Hinata didn't answer it but took to smiling as she spied every tables inside had a clear vase with a different colour rose in each. She couldn't help but chuckle at the outlandish scenario. Basically holding Uchiha Sasuke's hand outside a romantic restaurant in a tiny village in the middle of Sound was the last thing she ever dreamt of happening. But here they were.
Without another word he walked them inside, loosening his hold. The usher smiled cutely at the couple complementing how nice they looked together and quickly stopped talking when she though she saw a flicker of crimson behind the dark-haired man's eyes. She led them silently to a table and quickly scurried away into the back kitchen. Only about bursting to gush out to her fellow waitresses about arrival of the most gorgeous man she'd ever seen.
Hinata sat down in front of him. She could feel him staring at her but refused to meet his dusky eyes and reached forward to gently pluck their rose from the crystal glass. Her cheeks fanned at the softness of the petals. It was the most striking colour. Warm yellow with brilliant red tips. It looked hand-painted. Her smile grew and her eyes softened as she twirled the flower beneath her fingertips. "So are you going to tell me about what you were doing at the jewellery stand?"
"She was going to either kill you or kidnap you."
"That 'jewellery stall' owner is a high profiled madam of the local brothel. She lures and capture young girls travelling without companions and forces them to work for her." His face was the picture of indifference. He watched the slow, growing horror crawl across Hinata's face. She leaned forward, her mouth fumbling in her hurry.
"You're not in Konoha anymore, Hinata. This is Sound. Things like that happen every day."
"But Sasuke we have to do something. We have to-" her voice had risen a few trembling octaves and several people turned around to look.
"You can't save everyone, Hinata. So stop trying."
Hinata paused, looking away and biting her lip. For some distinct reason she felt like he was referring to something else entirely.
The silence dragged on for a while, and the tension eased into a more friendly one as Hinata silently ate her meal and Sasuke poked begrudgingly at his with derision. Hinata watched, musing over the harsh lines of his face as he glowered down at his plate.
"So, what do we do now?" Hinata's voice was delicate and fragile as white eyes stared out the open door to the starry night. The breeze was warm and calming but somehow she felt ice prickles skitter across her skin, as though something was about to happen.
He leaned back, watching her languidly as inky spikes fell into his eyes. "We'll need to leave soon if we want to arrive in the city by morning."
She didn't reply, she simply took to playing with the ends of hair. Refusing to allow any emotions to seep across her face.
"We're going to travel through the forest. It's the fastest way…but it's also the most dangerous. Gangs and thieves have their hideouts there and pray on passing civilians and shinobi." The corners of his lips curled upwards, almost in excitement.
She frowned and looked away.
"Don't make such a face princess. I'll protect you." He smirked, arrogance dripping from his voice.
Ice painted eyes narrowed at him. "I don't need protection," she said quietly. He almost chuckled at her pretty face set in all sharp lines.
"Whatever." He allowed, shrugging. "We need to travel fast and silently. The last thing we need is to attract attention." He ran his hand along his jaw, pausing briefly. "When we arrive on the fringes of Sound we'll need to think of henges. We can't be seen in our normal appearance. White eyes label you as a Hyuuga. And me," something harrowing glinted across his eyes.
The tip of her tongue touched her lip as she contemplated asking what exactly he meant by that. She didn't think anyone knew what exactly Sasuke did in his dark years under Orochimaru's tutelage. A slow shiver ran along her spine.
"We should get going."
Sasuke eyed her. "I'm not finished eating."
She stood up slowly, her eyes narrowing. "Don't lie, you hate natto."
He simply shrugged, his blank expression unwavering. "But you don't."
Her lips parted and she stared at him. Unsure of how to feel about Sasuke being thoughful. She blushed and looked away to hide the smile creeping across her face. "M-maybe we can pack them and eat them on the way."
"I don't really care."
After what seemed like a small eternity of travelling, Hinata looked up. Hemmed by long thin branches were millions of glittering lights scattered across the night sky. The absence of the moon crept across Hinata's sense of foreboding as a wind caught the ends of her hair carrying scents and smells of things that caused a pang of fear to rip across her chest.
The forest of Sound was unwelcoming and macabre. Everything underneath the thin veil of light looked colourless and cavernous. The gnarled branches looked the colour of bleached bones as they reached for her with every movement. Hinata thought they swayed and moved more than they should as though it was not the harrowing wind that gave them life.
Even her own eyes lacked their usual astral pigment and were painted the colour of a spectral ghost. Transparent and unfamiliar.
Sasuke had told her, a little over an hour ago, that it was highly unusually that they had yet to encounter someone. Forests like these, dense with little light even during daylight, was perfect for concealing criminals and thieves. And perfect for stalking civilians and other shinobi while maintaining cover.
Hinata was almost certain that she was being hunted. But she brushed the thought away, Sasuke would sense if they were being watched. And if he didn't, she doubted there was any shinobi alive who could rival him in a fight. But that didn't stop her imagining or worrying. Conjuring up images that were streaked with blood and laced with screams that only the wind would answer.
Hinata's gasp was dry and jagged as she stumbled forward. A branch had snagged her shirt, tearing it in one clean line as she attempted to continuing on her journey. She halted detaching the gnarled wooden fingers from her shirt and wincing slightly at the drop of blood that clung to her fingers. She'd been foolish.
"I-" she caught herself. Running her tongue over her lip, her eyes flickered from his shadowy form. She looked downwards, at the slowly coursing river of fog that bled along the forest floor. Weaving in and out of trees like a silvery serpent. It was almost the colour of Otousan's eyes…She was distracted.
He closed the distance, leaping onto her branch where he took to staring at her. His inky bangs hung over his face concealing much of his expression. She had no idea what he was thinking.
His shadow fell over her and reflectively she took a step back - before she stopped herself. Looking up to meet his oblique gaze that always evoked something inside her she could never quite pinpoint. She bit her lip before she moved closer, her movements awkward and slow. Standing just inches from him, their shoes flush and their breath fluttering across each other's cheeks. She thought she saw his jaw stiffen.
His eyes narrowed as he stared down at the dark-haired girl before him. Her lips were curving up prettily in that smile she always kept for him, and her inky hair curled around her arms and waist like shadows. A pale hand reached forward to tuck them behind her ear. She smelled of lavender and vanilla.
She reached upwards and found his lips among the darkness of the forest. His whole form became rigid for a moment, but she pressed herself closer to him. Her fingers knotting into his hair, she felt a shiver ripple along his spine. She pulled him closer.
"Stop," he breathed. "Apologising." His voice was heady and carried none of the conviction his kisses did. Pale hands curled around her, anchoring her waist to him as his lips brushed against her cheeks, leaving searing imprints of his mouth.
She pulled back slightly, to see his expression. It just as dark and vindictive as she had imagined. The burning ebony embers of his eyes smouldered as he watched her pull back, sliding her fingers down to wrap around his neck. "I'm scared."
"Everything." Hinata inhaled.
She paused for a moment. Her eyebrows knitting before her lips released a giggle. Vague, it was such a ridiculous thing for Sasuke to complain about. She never understood his motives or his thoughts. And what little he gave away would keep Hinata up all night trying to decipher.
She noticed him giving her a strange look. Perplexed and annoyed of the fact someone was laughing at him. She smiled up, nestling her face in the inviting crook of his neck. Hiding her burning cheeks and what felt like a goofy expression. "I'm sorry-" she felt him tense underneath her. She bit back another laugh. "I'm worried I'll fail."
"Are you beginning to regret your decision?"
"N-no! Of course not." Hinata winced slightly at how rushed and shaky her voice sounded. She tilted her head sideways to peek upwards at him. He was looking at her from beneath long, sooty eyelashes. "I want to do this. I have to do this. I don't want to put any of my family in danger anymore."
Hinata was aware of how much she was putting on the line. But this was no longer just about her. She refused to be hidden in Sand, stowed in a protective castle like the princess Sasuke so often mocked. This was her problem, and it was her right as a heiress to do everything in her power to protect her clan.
"You won't fail,"
"How do you know?"
"Because I'm never wrong Hinata." A slow smug smirk twisted around his mouth.
It was then, as Hinata angled her face sideways to capture his awaiting lips that everything faded to black.
First, Hinata became vaguely aware of the darkness draining away, secondly she realised something was touching her. It was wet and cold, and her whole body felt stiff and icy.
She could also taste a cold, metallic tang trickling from her lips to her chin. Blood.
She roused slowly, smoky eyelashes flickering open to reveal bleary white eyes. She looked up to see glimpses of moving clouds and stars overhead through the thick forest canopy.
She was laying on her back on the forest floor. Grimy rotted leaves licked her arms and stained her clothes, as the cool ground chilled her body to the bone. She had no idea how long she was knocked out for, or why.
A strained groan escaped through her blooded lips as she attempted to push herself up using her elbows. Everything was sore and stiff and the dull throbbing in her head only increased with every movement.
She snapped a hand along her face, catching the tendrils of blood that ebbed from her mouth and the marks of dirt that was clinging stubbornly to her skin. She pulled her hand forward to stare at the mixture of blood speckled with mud with confused and wide eyes. She bit her lip, feeling another drip of blood ooze out.
A low crack of dried twigs and undergrowth pierced the silence and Hinata looked up to meet the unflinching stare of a blade. It glinted beneath the moonlight, almost winking at her. Very different from its wielder whose expression was emotionless beneath the shadows his face slid in and out of.
"Who are you?" He asked, flexing his grip on the hilt of his sword.
"Hinata," she breathed.
"I don't see how-"
"Hinata what?" He seethed. He took a step closer, the tip of the blade brushed across the junction of her throat. He felt her quiver underneath the contact and a wry smile expanded across his thin lips exposing rows of tobacco stained teeth.
In one fluid sweep, she snapped her foot against his ankles. Unbalancing him, she jumped upwards planting a single burst of chakra to his chest she back peddled away. A hand instinctively clutching her pulsating forehead.
He wheezed, coughing up a clot of his blood from his mouth before he moved after her. Swinging his sword upwards, he snarled after her. "What are you?"
"A kunoichi." Hinata murmured back as she blocked a blow from his sword with her forearm and aimed a hit of her own. It didn't land and his second slash caught the material of her shirt and sliced her abdomen.
Careful to hide the bulging veins veiling her eyes, Hinata peeked through her bangs as backed away from the maddening slashes of the assailant's weapon. He sliced it through the air relentlessly, catching her arms and the ends of her hair as she jerked downwards to avoid a blow to her face.
A hushed cuss loomed across her frowning lips as she felt her back hit the trunk of a tree. The damp moss peppered the air and slimed against her sticky skin while the branches that jutted down clawed at her back. She was trapped, and there was a blade heading straight for her chest.
There was no time to cry for help, to even formulate a strategy. Fumbling hands clapped around the edges of the glinting blade, its serrated corners slicing through her palms as she pushed it away from her heart.
He pushed against her efforts, the blade quivering in both their clutches. His head hung low as his hot breath warmed her cheeks. His face was contorted into a maniacal expression. The whites of his eyes were bloodshot and his yellowed teeth bared. "As I said, who are you?" He wheezed. The remnants from her previous blow to his chest was still evident in his laboured breathing and the constant stream of blood that painted his lips and chin red.
"I don't," she rasped, "see how that's of any relevance." The words rattled up her throat like shards of glass. Her quivering fingers, stained with blood, flexed along the sword as her eyes snapped shut as she pushed forward. The edges of the blade splitting the skin of her hands.
Colourless eyes sharpened as with one rough shove, she threw the blade off her. It landed several feet away on a mossy bank by an old tree and she aimed a quick kick to his abdomen before she ran.
Weaving through the thick forest, her breath was a light fog before her lips as she pushed her legs harder, and harder until there the only noise was the snap of branches beneath her footing.
A cold wind moved silently through the leaves and undergrowth and chilled Hinata's exposed skin. She clamped down on her lip as thorns snagged in her bulky attire as she slipped through narrow gaps between gnarled trees. Fog lapped at her knees and seemed to only increase in density as she pushed on, ignoring the ache in her side and how heavy her legs felt. Blood dripped from her fingers.
Hinata dove behind a twisted willow trunk just off the trail. The sky above darkened with each jagged breath as her heart slammed against her chest. She gulped at the air, trying to swallow back the biting dryness that stole her words. Somewhere, in the drifting mist and shadows, movement flared and a branch snapped. Hinata pressed her back against the gnarled bark, wooden ridges stabbing into her skin.
Shakily, she raised her fingers to her face and a pale light glowed from her eyes as veins blossomed against her temple. Her field of vision increased, and she diligently searched the perimeter for any oncoming attackers. There was several bodies laying on the forest floor. All dead with incisions of a katana across their chests. There was other chakra signatures dotting across the forest, some wounded and others fleeing. However, her main focus was finding Sasuke.
Starry pale eyes stared blankly forward, unseeing to her nearby surroundings as searched through the furthest corners of her range for a chakra, a body - anything - that would indicate the Uchiha.
Her heart was still thrumming so loudly in her ears she easily missed the sharp crack of a branch overhead.
She continued her search, her pulse only quickening when no signs of Sasuke cropped up.
Where was he?
A few stray leaves floated down from the lightly rustling canopy ahead.
She chewed on her full lower lip, her anxiety sparking. She had no idea where she was or where he was. Or even how they ended up in this suddenly situation. She just wanted Sasuke to be okay. She just wanted to find him.
A shadow fell over her form, casting Hinata in a long, cold darkness. She froze.
She was surrounded by a group of shinobi, all wearing dusky colours. Some had their faces covered with masks. There was one kunoichi who had a missing tooth and a long scar that went from her forehead to her cheek. She was smiling.
"Looking for someone?" The kunoichi inquired calmly. The woman tossed her brown hair over her shoulder.
"I-" Hinata's words sounded as fragile and delicate as she abruptly felt.
"Look at her eyes, don't they look like…what are they called?" A man commented, leaning forward to whisper to the woman.
"Hyuuga eyes." Someone else clarified.
"Lovely," the kunoichi said. Her lips twisted upwards. "How perfectly convenient we stumbled upon her." With nod, two men began to slink towards Hinata.
"We won't hurt you…much." She giggled, her cackles echoing through the small moonlit clearing. She sauntered forward in a slow, almost lazy stalk. "I'll apologise to your friend when we find him."
Hinata pressed herself further into the trunk, her breath hitching.
It was there when the atmosphere suddenly plummeted. It was not from the thick ocean of fog licking their knees, or the murky cloud that blotted out the moonlight. It was something far more insidious. A cold feeling that curled along each of their spines and caught their breath.
The group of shinobi felt their faces bleached of colour as an additional presence appeared beside the lone Hyuuga. Hinata's own features frozen in a mask of shock as she watched the waves of rage roll off the figure beside her.
"Don't move," he said quietly. His posture was relaxed and his lips were pressed in a solemn line. But the blade in his hand, however, promised a different emotion entirely.
No one moved.
Even the Uchiha's dark-haired companion obeyed him without resistance as she fixed him with a white eyed stare he refused to meet. His blood-lit eyes were focused exclusively on the brown-haired kunoichi.
"U-Uchiha Sasuke," she stammered.
Hinata watched the slow realisation creep across their faces. A cold sickening dread hung in their blank eyed stares. For a moment, Hinata thought one of the assailants were going to pass out.
"W-we didn't know. We wouldn't have if we knew… p-please." The kunoichi stepped back, holding her hands up as a clear glaze coated her eyes. Her bottom lip trembled along with her hands. Her knees buckled.
Sasuke remained silent. He tilted his head as something flickered within the flame coloured depths of his eyes.
"We'll go! We'll leave. W-we won't talk. J-just please." Her cry was jagged and hoarse. "Please have mercy S-Sasuke."
The Uchiha's upper lip quirked.
Hinata tore her gaze away from the crumbling woman towards Sasuke. His crimson eyes briefly met hers before he disappeared in front of her, promptly slitting each of the bandit's throats without spilling a drop of blood on his black attire.
He frowned a little, as he flecked the warm blood off his katana. It hit the ground in even taps. Hinata's lips parted, as she choked back a gasp of horror. "S-Sasuke!"
He turned to her, watching her frozen expression with unreadable charcoal eyes. Her full bottom lip parted as her white stare took in the blood-soaked clearing. His jaw stiffened as he embedding his blade in the soft ground before he moved towards her. His stride slow and calm as he stopped just an inch from her stunned form. He met her eyes briefly before he looked towards the bed shinobi.
"Are you wounded?" he murmured.
Her focus remained on the slumped body of the kunoichi several feet from her. "They said they wouldn't tell anyone. They said…" her breathy voice trailed off as she turned to face him fully.
He remained silent, a perfect look of indifference shaping his sharp features. His cheek twitched.
"Sasuke." Hinata pressed.
"They had to die," he finally said. Burning peeked at her through thick lashes. "It was either them or you. I chose them." His jaw clenched as he took in her injuries. "I'll always choose them."
A shallow crease formed above her brows.
"My presence can't be known here, Hinata. I don't have many friends here. And no one can find out about our bond - they'll exploit it. They'll hurt me through you." He moved closer to her, brushing an errant strand of hair from her cheeks. His touch was icy and sent a shiver along her spine. "I'm selfish Hinata. This is what I am. This is what I'll always be. I'm not ever going to be like Naruto or Kiba." His tone dropped in warning.
He dropped his hand from her cheek, black flames whirling beneath the depths of his eyes. He turned to walk away from her. Waves of fury rolling off his tense posture.
"I don't want you to be like Naruto or Kiba!" Hinata cried loudly before she could catch herself.
He fixed her with an unreadable stare, before he turned and made towards the edges of the clearing. Reclaiming his blade in one clean swipe. "We have to keep moving," he said flatly, before he paused, turning around to look at her. He added softly: "Let me see your wounds."
Most places looked breathtaking at dawn, and Hinata was happy to admit that Sound was no different. They approached the city limits just as dawn ripped across the seams of the sky. Dusty pinks and soft blues painting over the dark purples of the night sky.
Hinata smiled gently as the sun rolled across the sky. She welcomed the early morning warmth as she stepped into a pool of sunlight.
Sasuke glanced briefly at Hinata, with her face tilted upwards and her hair looked pale amethyst in the filmy light. He turned, strolling towards the edges of the forest. The trees evened out nearer the city and provided little shelter.
Hinata scurried after him, her cheeks stinging as she bounded out from the fringes of the forest to get her first look of Otogakure. The city was large and sprawling, grey uninviting buildings disappeared into alleys and there was a whole district that looked abandoned. Still, Hinata thought the city was beautiful. Obviously in a different way from the demure beauty of Konoha, and it didn't boast the natural beautiful landscape that Earth did.
She took an attentive step forward only to feel a hand fasten around her waist, holding her gently back. She turned to stare Sasuke with a wide, curious eyes. "Sasuke?"
"We can't go any closer without using henges. No one can know we're here."
She paused, before she nodded slowly. A look of realisation flickered across her eyes but disappeared as quickly as it appeared. She moved her free hand towards her chest as her eyes searched Sasuke's.
"I haven't had much practise with henges," she murmured.
"Try something simple that you can hold with ease. Nothing conspicuous. Mask your chakra also."
Releasing a shaky breath, she straightened herself. A small puff of white smoke bloomed around her before it evaporated into the light breeze.
"What do you think?" Hinata asked awkwardly, her shoe toeing the ground as she looked up at him through fluttering lashes.
Sasuke's expression remained perfectly neutral as he took in the unfamiliar woman before him. Her hair was pale gold and snaked around her arms in soft curls. Her skin looked a little paler and she sported a new thin scar that ran across her forehead. "Ironic," he mused.
She giggled before her face turned serious. "Do you think it will work?"
He rubbed a hand along his jaw, taking in every inch of her new appearance. She was even moulding her face into an unfamiliar expression. It was confident and almost sly. She flashed him a small, coy smile. "Probably," he allowed, smirking at her sudden pout.
"Let's see yours," she challenged, raising a delicate blonde eyebrow.
He raised his fingers to his chest slowly, enjoying the concentrated look burning within her eyes as she tried to memorise every detail of his appearance. He closed his eyes as a cloud of smoke moulded around him.
Dark green eyes sliced into hers, and he almost laughed at her expression.
His skin was several hues darker and was a warm honey tan. His dark emerald eyes were framed by unfamiliar short eyelashes and dark crimson hair curled around his ears and forehead.
"You look…" she trailed off.
Like Gaara. "Nice." Hinata smiled hastily as her hand moved to investigate the new coarseness of his tanned, weathered skin and the feel of his red hair in her hands. She tried to fight back the frown. She never thought she would miss the arrogant Uchiha smirk of his, or the way his eyes looked almost blue in the sunlight or how his dark spikes tickled her cheeks when they were close like this.
"You're a bad liar."
She didn't protest. She was. Two arms tightened around his neck and she leaned in. "I'm taller now," she breathed against his lips.
"But still an idiot," he told her flatly as he smiled against her frown. "And you still blush," he smirked as she eventually pulled back from their kiss. Her cheeks stained red, she slipped from his hold on her waist.
She made a face before she twirled to face the sprawling city. "Where do we start?"
"I know a place in town," was all he said as his hand slipped into hers and he pulled her forward.
The windows were boarded with old newspapers and the glow from the dusty lamps were dim and cast the bar in a sombre murky light. The floors were a dark red and the low lightning helped conceal its dark stains.
Hinata's nose twitched at the smell of heavy smoke. There was no one smoking in the bar, but she suspected there was a lot going on behind the closed black door that was labelled with a brass plate: no entrance.
"He's name's Takeru. He has a scar running along his chest. He's a prominent figure in the human and drug trafficking of Otogakure. He'll know something about the kidnappings. Get his attention - but don't be conspicuous. I'll be sitting in a booth if anything happens."
Hinata ran her tongue over her lips nervously. She wasn't use to wearing lipstick, or sitting alone in a bar circling a finger around the rim of a thin wineglass. She didn't like the feel of blonde curls slipping over her shoulders.
Her eyes flickered upwards, in search of a red-haired man who promised he would be occupying a private booth near one of the windows.
Dark green eyes sliced into hers, and she felt the corners of her lips quirk upwards.
"Excuse me kunoichi-san?" The bartender interrupted politely. She was holding an old silver tray with a fancy cocktail resting on the scratched surface.
Hinata eyed the tray. "Yes?"
"This was sent over by the man at the bar."
Hinata tried to even her breathing as she looked over to see a man dressed in all black with a wry smirk.