notes; not exactly my favorite thing i've ever written but i love hinata and it's kind of like a character study of her, so.

here you stand

Hinata watches her mother die.

It is a slow process, one that took a year and seventy-six days. She sits by her mother's sickbed, handing her napkins to cough into, pretending they are not red when she tosses them into the waste basket. She holds her mother's hand and endures the squeezing, giving her a smile.

(Hinata never frowned at her mother, never cried or lost composure, and she was proud of herself for doing so, but maybe a little bit sad, too.)

Her mother died on a Wednesday morning, early. Hinata's father had been with her but had not alerted anyone until Hinata entered the room to say good-bye before leaving to school. She saw her father's hand on her mother's pale face, endlessly gentle, and she knew in that moment that her mother was not sleeping. It was not the stillness of the room, or the look on her father's face, but the look on her mothers. She looked peaceful.

The funeral was a small affair, much different to that of other Hyuuga funerals. Her mother hadn't wanted anything big, and so there wasn't. Hiashi did everything his wife asked of him, and this was his last gift to her. A small funeral, buried in the ground, and that was that.

When she returns to school, nobody asks why she was missing, nobody asks why she looks sad, or acts quieter than usual. Iruka-sensei offers his condolences, naturally, but the rest of her class moves on as if nothing has happened, and eventually, Hinata does too.

She remembers being small, running from home and Ko and her father. Her mother was just beginning to get ill and Hanabi had just beaten her sparring. Her pride hurt and her whole body ached, and when she ran headlong into an older boy, Hinata wanted the earth to open up and swallow her.

"I—I am sorry," she stutters, holding her hands to her chest and bowing.

The boys pick on her, pulling her arm in a tight grip and dragging her into the school yard to their left, pushing her into the trees.

"You probably think you're better than us, don't you?" The ponytailed one states, arms crossed over his chest. Hinata feels her throat constrict and tears sting her eyes, the events of the day pressing down heavily on her. She should never have run from Ko, what had she been thinking?

"N-n-no," she shakes her head, keeping her eyes on the ground, hands still pressed to her chest. "I'm sorry—"

"She's Neji's cousin," the larger one behind the ponytailed one states, pointing at her eyes. Hinata blinks and her heart beat quickens when they begin to surround her. Where was Neji when she needed him? He could probably take these boys out for her, or talk to them or—or—

She is shoved to the ground, head pushed down. "Apologize like you mean it," the other one snaps, laughter and mocking in his voice.

Hinata apologizes again immediately, tears dripping onto the ground beneath her each time they shove her head down farther. It stains the dirt a darker brown. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry—"

"Hey!" A voice snaps and the hand on her head is removed.

Peeking up at the newcomer, she spots spiky blonde hair and bright blue eyes, scars on his cheeks that remind her of the whiskers of the cat Neji, Hanabi and herself had found. "Why don't you pick on someone your own size!" The boy snaps, putting his hands together.

A seal, her mind supplies for her. He looks about her age, and she is immediately glad that he is here and that he knows ninjutsu. Her heart swells with relief—

-and quickly deflates when the boys attack him, pummeling him into the dirt. She watches his feet twitch each time he is hit in the face, each time one of the older boys lands a blow.

The ponytailed one that is not fighting the boy looks at her, sneering. "So—"

"Lady Hinata!" Ko calls, racing toward her. The boys take one look at him and immediately run off in the opposite direction, leaving Hinata and the boy alone. She begins to walk toward him, but Ko is there in seconds, snatching her hand and looking for injuries. "Are you alright?"

She nods, brows furrowed when she takes in the bloodied look of her savior. There are two teeth on the ground beside him, and she feels awful. This happened because of her. "Ko, that boy—"

"We must go, Lady Hinata. And we mustn't associate with him."

She remembers the way he looked on the ground; small and unintimidating. He looked sad and lonely.

He looked how she felt on the inside.

Neji, one day after the death of his father, gives her the most venomous look Hinata has ever received, and she doesn't understand why.

Each time she attempts to ask, to approach him, Neji turns his back to her and leaves, or he glares, or he ignores her completely. She asks her mother about it on one of her last days.

It takes her mother a while to get through it, but Hinata knows that it has something to do with his father's death.

After that she attempts to speak to him more, goes out of her way to bring him food after training, or to join him, but each and every attempt at reconciliation is turned down, and Hinata gives up, weary and sad.

(It is not until years later that he will apologize, that he will tell her everything. It is not until years later that they are truly friends, but it is well worth the wait.)

Inuzuka Kiba. Aburame Shino.

She knows who Kurenai is, but the other two are only vague faces she remembers from seeing in her classes. She knows more about Kiba than she does about Shino, since Kiba was a bit of a troublemaker, but aside from that, her team is new and unknown and absolutely terrifying.

Kiba shouts that he will be the best ninja ever, his dog barking and yipping. Shino murmurs that he is a bug user, and hopes that it does not displease anyone. Kurenai tells them that she is a genjutsu master, and Hinata cannot get through her first sentence without stuttering, which annoys Kiba.

"What the hell? Just spit it out," he drawls, leaning back on the grass of training field 11. Kurenai shoots him a dark look, and Hinata directs her gaze to the ground, face and eyes burning.

"I-I-I'm so-s-sorry," she mutters, pressing her fingers together. "M-my n-n-name is Hi-Hinata Hyuuga," she takes a deep breath, trying to remember what Ko had taught her about stuttering. Don't think about what others are going to say, imagine them all in their underwear! Or—or if that is not, um, sorry Lord Hiashi, um, imagine they are all logs? Yes, logs. Imagine you are practicing a speech in front of logs. It'll help.

She looks up, takes another deep breath. "I a-am Hyuuga Hinata, and I want to be strong like my father, and kind like my m-mother."

Kurenai wears the prettiest smile when Hinata meets her sensei's eyes. Kiba looks bored, and she can't tell what Shino is thinking, but it is the little puppy, Aka…maru? That comes down from Kiba's head, scratching the boy with his claws, and making his way to where she is sitting. He licks at her fingers and yips until she picks him up.

Looking at her new team, she notes that Kiba is now smiling and Shino's shoulders have lost some of their tension.

"Alright," Kurenai-sensei begins, clapping her hands together. "You guys are Team Eight."

Her chest aches. Her arms, legs, head, they all feel as though she has been beaten repeatedly. Stepped on and kicked and punched. It does not occur to her before Neji's hand stops, inches away from her, the jounin-sensei's holding him still, that she has been beaten, and as she falls, eyes sliding to the people standing above, watching the match, she wonders if any of them care.

She wonders if Neji cares.

Her hair is shoulder length when Kiba asks, "So you're letting your hair grow out?"

Truth be told, she hadn't really noticed its length, and when she had it'd just been a fleeting thought, one that was quickly pushed away.

"It's nice," Shino comments, while Kiba scrutinizes her, face pushing close to hers.

"Hmm…yeah, yeah Hinata you look cute with long hair!" He grins when she flushes, and Hinata begins to tug at the strands, twirling them nervously around her fingers.

"You think so?"

"Sure," Kiba shrugs, Shino nodding behind him. "You're a babe regardless though. With a wink, he moves away from Shino's swat, cracking his knuckles. "So? Let's start this training."

Pushing her hair behind her, Hinata charges forward.

She is moving before she knows what she is doing, but when the realization hits her, seconds before the lands the first hit, Hinata does not regret it.

Her fist smashes the earth, and Pain jumps away from her, breath leaving him. Hinata does not look at Naruto there, lying on the ground with metal poles protruding from his body. Instead, she keeps her eyes on Pain, watches him for any hint of movement, for any sign of attack.

Hinata is proud of herself in the moments that follow (it feels like hours, years, before she is taken down). She is proud of her words, not halting or quiet, but strong and loud enough for Naruto to hear.

His face breaks her heart, the desperation and the agony. Hinata doesn't know if the stricken look on his face is for her, but she imagines it. She imagines he notices her now, and she does not know how she feels about that.

She fights and moves and speaks until she can't any longer, and when Pain stabs her, the metal rod sliding into her body, almost painlessly, Hinata allows herself to close her eyes.

"Brave," Kurenai tells her after it is all done, hand resting over her swollen stomach. "I'm so proud of you, do you know that?"

Hinata smiles, rinsing a plate off in the sink; Team Eight had been over for dinner, and the two boys of her team had slipped out when it came to cleaning up, though Shino at least looked apologetic for it. Hinata didn't mind doing the dishes, though, and she was glad to have time alone with her sensei.

"Father told me it was 'reckless and foolish,' though he didn't look half as angry as I thought he would." She murmurs, casting her sensei a look over her shoulder.

The look Kurenai wears is one Hinata is familiar with. A mixture is disdain and annoyance is something she has come to associate Kurenai with when she brought up her father. "He's an idiot. You're the reason Naruto isn't dead, the reason the world hasn't fallen into some sort of peril. He should be praising your every step, kissing your damn feet, not reprimanding you."

She wouldn't go that far, but Hinata would like a little praise for it. She understands that her father is worried about losing an heir, what with Hanabi being reckless and obnoxious at the best of times, and she knows that deep down he was scared to lose her, but Hinata had wanted to cry when he'd reprimanded her.

"It doesn't matter," Hinata shrugs, emptying the sink and watching the water drain, soap subs sticking to the walls of the sink.

"And what did Naruto say to you afterwards?" Kurenai asks with a sly grin, eyebrow rising. She rests her chin in her palm, and Hinata feels her shoulders sag. Tears sting at her eyes and her chin trembles and she hates herself for it. She is a strong shinobi and she absolutely should not be getting upset over something as stupid as a boy not talking to her. Even if she had confessed to him, had poured her heart out to him and nearly died for him.

No, she presses down on the thoughts, smothering them before they can multiply. I didn't do it for recognition. I did it because there was no one else and it was the only thing I could do. I did it because he is my friend and I love him, even if he doesn't love me back.

"Oh," Kurenai says quietly. Hinata's hands dig into the ledge of the sink, knuckles white. A chair scrapes away from the table, and soft footsteps approach Hinata. Kurenai slides a hand along Hinata's shoulders, pulling her around and hugging her tight, despite the large bulge that is her belly. "I'm sorry, sweetie. I didn't know."

Clutching Kurenai's shoulders, Hinata thinks that it is times like this she wishes she had her mother.

"Shino," Kiba begins, voice muffled from where his face is pressed into the pillow. Hinata jerks a bit, more awake than a few moments ago. Around them, the sleeping Allied Forces snore and mumble in their sleep, finally able to rest without the thought of an attack. Just over Kiba's shoulder, Hinata sees Neji pressed between his two teammates, and she is relieved once again that he is alive. "If you don't removing your freezing feet from my shin I will punch you in the face."

Grumbling, Shino shifts behind her, knees curling up and pressing into the back of hers. Hinata tightens her hold on his hand pulled to her chest and snuggles closer to Kiba, glad that he and Akamaru had decided to stay with them instead of going off with his mother and sister. If they hadn't, Hinata and Shino would surely have frozen. "Shh, boys," she mumbles, smiling when Kiba puts an arm across her and Akamaru huffs at their feet. "People are trying to sleep."

She loves them, she really does. Kiba smiles, mouth pressing against her temple, while Shino's eyelashes flutter against her neck. She loves them and is so incredibly happy she didn't lose them or any of their friends in this war.

A ways away, Naruto, Sakura and Sasuke are propped up against each other, Sasuke's hands bound in chakra chains, but all looking comfortable and peaceful. Sakura and Sasuke are asleep, the former holding both her teammate's hands, head resting against Sasuke's shoulder. Hinata feels her heart warm at the sight; hoping things turn out well for them.

Directing her gaze toward Naruto, she takes in the tears in his clothing, the mess of his body and face and hair. She doesn't realize he is awake until her eyes rise to his.

His blue eyes, tired but still very alive and bright meet hers, crinkling at the edges in what she realizes a few seconds later is a smile.

Kiba mumbles against her forehead, breath wet and hot, and Shino accidentally gropes her breast, but none of these things process, because Naruto is mouthing something at her that looks vaguely like thank you.

Blushing slightly, Hinata smiles back, eyes sliding shut as sinks into the embrace of her team, feeling really, really happy for the first time in a long time.

She is praised when she returns home by her family for being a leader. Her sister is her biggest fan, grinning and always asking to spar with her and not Neji. Their cousin seems put off, annoyed, not used to not being Hanabi's favorite, but Hinata is just glad that she can be a role model for her sister.

(Anyone who says Hinata must be jealous of her sister is wrong. Hinata has never been jealous of her little sister's talent, or the way her father seems to love her more. Hinata knows that it is a bigger burden for her sister, being the favorite, and she feels bad that Hanabi didn't have as much time with their mother as Hinata did.

And she loves Hanabi for being different, for being reckless and wild and beautiful.)

Sasuke Uchiha stops her in the market district, looking very put out and very tired. Hinata can see Sakura a few stands away, picking through some fruit, but Naruto is nowhere to be found. "Hinata."

"Um," she pushes hair behind her ear, bowing her head slightly. "S-Sasuke. I hope you are getting back into the-the swing of things?"

"Yes," he nods, shoving his hands in his pockets. She knows that he has tried to kill her friends on a few occasions, that he had turned against the village and even tried to destroy it, but he does not seem intimidating right now, just annoyed. Is she the reason he's annoyed?

"Hey, leave my sister alone you—"

Hinata immediately reaches out, smacking her hand over her sister's mouth. Hanabi attempts to bite her, but Hinata pinches her nose closed. "Sorry about her, she is um—"

"Hn," he grunts, looking away from the sisters. Hinata feels her face heat up. Aren't the two of them on the same genin team? She really thinks they should get along better. "Anyway, I wanted to know if Naruto talked to you yet."

Surprised, Hinata's eyebrows rise. She hasn't spoken to Naruto since the first day she had gotten back to the village, and it was only so he could hug and thank her for 'knocking some sense into him' as he put it. Come to think of it, she hasn't really seen him around much. She wonders why she hasn't noticed that, and then feels glad because it means she's moving on, slowly. "No, he hasn't. Why, is he going to?"

Sasuke tips his head back, eyes falling shut and lips curling in a sneer. Behind him, Sakura glances around until she finds the three of them, then begins to make her way over. "Of course he didn't. Dobe," he growls under his breath, straightening out when Sakura reaches his side, fingers brushing his. Hinata smiles at the two of them, returning Sakura's greeting,

While Sakura asks Hanabi about her training, Hinata comes up with different reasons why Naruto would want to talk to her. He'd already thanked her (though she hadn't expected that), but what else could it be? The hopeful part of her thinks maybe he'll admit his feelings for her, but the rational, bigger part of her mind guesses it's probably something that has nothing to do with their feelings. She doesn't want to get her hopes up, so she settles on the latter reason.

Eventually, the four of them part ways, Hanabi and Hinata going off in the opposite direction of them. Hinata tries to ignore the look Sasuke gives her, and attempts to answer her sister's questions. "I-I don't know Hanabi. Stop pestering me!" She laughs, swinging her bag of groceries at her sister. "Now go, you're probably late for meeting with father and I need to bring these by Kiba's."

Sighing dramatically, Hanabi begins to stalk away. "You know, one of these days you're gonna regret babying that loser!"

"Good-bye, Hanabi!"

Kiba's new apartment is in one of the last districts to be rebuilt after Pain's attack.

She knocks on his door several times before he answers, pulling it open with a toothbrush in his mouth and clad in only his boxers. Hinata flushes and attempts to scowl at the same time, which makes Kiba laugh.

She walks into the apartment, stopping when Akamaru jumps up on her, knocking her back against the wall. Kiba watches from the doorway of the bathroom, still laughing, and Hinata struggles to keep the groceries safe while keeping her chin up, submitting to dog kisses. "A-Akamaru! You big goof," she laughs, pushing his muzzle away and kissing its side.

"Aww, Hinata, why don't I ever get kisses?" Kiba whines from the doorway, moving away to spit in the sink. He comes out seconds later, still pouting, "C'mon, just one?"

Narrowing her eyes at him, she heads into the small kitchenette, intent on putting the groceries away. She doesn't miss the way his face falls for a moment and the way his grin quickly replaces it, a little dimmer than usual. "So, what's shakin'?"

"Nothing," Hinata replies. Things have been slow in the last few weeks, and there haven't been many missions to go around. "I'm considering volunteering at the Academy."

She is met with silence. Turning, Hinata laughs at the look on her friend's face, a mixture between horror and awe. "You poor thing. Who brainwashed you into doing something crazy like that?"

"I thought about it all by myself, thank you very much," she says snippily, raising her chin. "And I think it will be a good learning experience."

"I think it'll be a waste of damn time, but hey whatever floats your boat, y'know?"

No, she doesn't, but Hinata snorts and shakes her head, turning back to the cupboards and putting away the ramen she'd bought him.

Silence settles over them, and while it isn't uncomfortable exactly, she can feel Kiba's eyes on her, following each movement. He's been looking at her a lot more since the war ended. At first she had thought it was because summer had arrived and she'd taken to not wearing her sweater everywhere, but it was getting cool again and she brought out her sweater once more and he still stared.

She'd asked Shino about it one day, but the Aburame wouldn't say anything about it.

Hinata has a vague notion of why he does this, why he acts the way he does toward her lately. It makes her stomach clench, not flutter, and her throat clog up. The last thing she wants to do is hurt someone, especially someone she loves, but…

(A sick part of her wonders if Kiba feels the way she has for so long, pining after someone who is in love with someone else.)

"Hinata," he murmurs from behind her. She barely represses the urge to jump away, not realizing he'd gotten so close.

"K-Kiba?" She asks, feeling his warmth through her sweater. She closes her eyes and takes a breath. "What is it?"

She turns slowly and is immediately boxed in by his arms on either side of her. Her heart pounds and sweat begins beading at her hairline. Please don't say what I think you're going to say.

He doesn't say anything. Kiba leans forward instead, and kisses her.

This is not her first kiss. Her first kiss had been on a mission two years ago with a man twice her age who she didn't know. She had been bait and he had moved too quickly for her to register. It wasn't part of the plans, and Kiba and Shino had both beaten the man within an inch of his life.

Kiba's kiss is infinitely better, even if his lips are chapped. His mouth moves against her own and Hinata doesn't know what to do. Does she push him away, or kiss him back? This could very well ruin her relationship with him, and she doesn't want that, not at all. But she doesn't like him like this, and she knows that going along with this would only hurt him.

In the end, it is Kiba who pulls away, mouth red. She wonders if hers looks the same. His face is neutral, blank, and Hinata for once cannot read him.

Eventually, the corner of his lips quirks up into something like a grimace, "I should have…I guess there was no point of that, huh? Not when I'm competing against him."

Hinata feels her chin tremble and tears sting at her eyes. She's hurt him anyway. Her heart breaks and Hinata wishes she could love him the way he wants, but she can't and he must know that.

He shrugs and steps away from her, tilting her chin up for a moment. "Don't cry, okay? And don't let this change anything, or I'll beat you up. I don't have any problems beating you up, Hinata—hey no crying!" He looks panicked, eyes wide, and Hinata presses her hands to her face.

"I-I'm sorry, Kiba—"

"No, no, no," he mutters, hands fluttering around her. It just makes her cry harder, because now he is comforting her when he is the one who is hurt. "Stop, hey, it's not a big deal, okay? I wouldn't actually beat you up, you know!"

She lets out a noise—half sob, half laugh—and Akamaru presses his face against her thigh, a low whine rising from his chest. Kiba lets out a similar noise. "Shino said I shouldn't have—listen Hinata, I'm sorry. Please, please stop crying."

She hiccups, wiping at her face with the sleeve of her coat. "Sorry, Kiba. I'm sorry," she whispers, taking in a few shaking breaths until she feels calm enough. "I really am."

"No worries," he laughs, rubbing the back of his neck. "I'm sorry too…that probably freaked you out."

"It-," she pauses, unsure if she should say anything. Then, "It did, a bit. But…but you deserve better than someone who doesn't l-love you the way you want, Kiba. And there will be someone who can kiss you back, and love you back the way you need one day."

He flushes, turning away from her. "Y-yeah. Thanks."

Hinata tries to smile.

She is in the process of pulling her shirt off to get ready for bed when a noise outside her open window alerts her to someone outside. It could, of course, just be Hanabi, but Hinata's hands immediately reverse their descent, bringing her shirt back down to her hips. "Hello?" She calls quietly, making her way to the window.

As she is leaning out the window, a face comes down at the same time. The two of them knock heads, her spy's forehead against her nose, and the blood flow from it is immediate. "Oh-!"

A similar cry goes up in the air as her spy falls to the ground outside her window, having been propped up overtop it. She spots blonde hair and tanned skin, and flushes from embarrassment. What was Naruto doing outside her bedroom window?

Keeping her hand to her nose, Hinata looks down at Naruto, watching him rub his neck. "Shit, man—oh, Hinata! Um. You're bleeding?" You'rebleeding, shit, shit, shit, teme's gonna chidori the hell outta me, here," in a rush, he digs into his pocket, pulling out a bundle of napkins with Ichiraku's insignia on it, eyes wide and panicked, face pale.

"Ah…" Hinata reaches for the napkins with a nod, removing her hand from her nose and pressing the napkins there instead. Her fingers are sticky and slick with blood, and she uses one of the remaining napkins to wipe her hand off. "Would you like to…come in?" She asks the blonde boy who is still sitting on the ground beneath her window. It would probably much better if he did come in, in case anyone took a shortcut outside her window and saw him. At least in her room she could shut the blinds.

Naruto nods, standing and stretching his arms up to the sky. "Sorry about that," he chuckles, still looking vaguely concerned. Hinata is ashamed to admit this is not the first bloody nose he has given her, though he certainly does not know this.

He crawls through her window, using the crook of her elbow so he doesn't lose his balance. "So…to what do I owe the um, pleasure?" She asks quietly, voice nasally. He slips off his shoes and places them on the window sill, gaze darting around her room.

It is very her, Hinata has made sure. Most rooms in the compound aside from Hanabi's room (which is disgusting, and Hinata loves her sister, really, but the girl is a slob) are white and Spartan, but Hinata had been convinced by Ino to do something with it, and the girls of the Konoha Twelve had spent a weekend in her room redecorating.

Purple walls with white accents and pictures of her friends and family litter the walls, and Hinata loves it very much, not feeling an ounce of embarrassment of having Naruto see it.

"I actually…I was looking for you earlier today and," he trails off, scratching his head. His gaze is directed at something behind her, eyes narrowed slightly. "Hey, is that us?"

Turning, Hinata realizes that yes; there is a picture of the two of them on her wall. It is one of the newer ones, hung alongside the picture of she, Kiba, and Shino after the war in their matching vests, and it is her favorite picture. They are both caught off guard, completely unaware of Sakura snapping the photo. He is peeking over her shoulders as she attempts to win a fish at the festival Konoha had hosted after the war. She hadn't even known he was there, and he had wandered away after she'd won the fish, giving her a smile and a thumbs up. Thinking back, she hadthought he seemed weird that night…

"Um, yes. It's from the—"

'The festival, yeah, I remember. You won that red and blue fish, right?"

"Yes," she nods, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. He moves past her to study the photo, a small smile on his face.

"It's a really nice picture, eh?"

She nods, pulling the napkins away from her nose to see if the bleeding has stopped. Thankfully, it has, and now all she needs to do is get to the washroom without anyone seeing and asking what happened.

Naruto turns back around and winces, taking in her bloodied nose. It doesn't feel broken, but it does smart a little when she raises a hand to touch it. "I'm fine," she smiles when she notices the stricken look on his face. "I've had worse," she adds, then immediately regrets it when his face falls, darkening.

"Yeah," he nods sagely, gaze not wavering from hers. "You have." He makes his way toward her slowly, as if he's trying not to scare her away. Hinata doesn't really understand what is happening here, why he is acting so different. Was something in the water? First Sasuke comes up out of the blue to speak with her, then Kiba and now Naruto? Hinata feels dizzy and tired.

"I never thanked you for that did I?" He murmurs, closer now than before, just a few inches between their chests. Her breathing is irregular due to her clogged nostrils, but it is even worse with him this close, him this serious.

"You…you never had to," she murmurs, hands clasped tightly behind her back, worrying the thin napkins. "That's not why I did it."

He purses his lips, reaching up to run a hand through his hair. "It doesn't matter I…should have said something. I should have thanked you or shit," he laughs quietly, eyes rising to meet hers. "I kept saying I would talk to you, but things got so messed up so quickly and I just never got the chance, so I'm doing it now, and not just because the teme yelled at me, or anything—"

Hinata winces, realizing why Sasuke had gone out of his way to talk to her today. She hadn't known he would have that in him, and feels a bit of gratitude toward the Uchiha. Naruto takes her wince the wrong way, however, and raises his hands to her shoulders, "No, Hinata, that's—it came out wrong."

She lifts her own shaking hand and presses her hand tightly to his. "I understand, Naruto."

Eyes searching hers, Naruto nods eventually, not removing his hands from her shoulders. His smile slowly returns, shy and small and something that sends heat everywhere in Hinata's body.

"I'm going to make it up to you, alright?" He darts forward and presses his dry, chapped lips against her cheek, before pulling away completely. BY the time Hinata regains her composure, he is at the window, sandals back on. "Ichiraku's around eight tomorrow," he says, one hand getting ready to pull him out the window. It takes a moment, but she nods, tugging on the ends of her hair.

"Okay," Naruto grins, saluting her and vaulting out the window. In moments he is gone.

Hinata, flushed and grinning stupidly, spins around to meet Neji and Hanabi's annoyed and amused looks, respectively. Their eyebrows raise at her bloody nose, and Hanabi shakes her head, pressing a hand to her forehead while Neji darts into the room, eyes dark and looking for someone to blame. "Lady Hinata—"

"Oh Neji," she murmurs, putting an arm around both he and her sister. "You're so silly."

"Is she drunk?" Hanabi asks, only to have her nostrils pinched shut for the second time that day.


"So," Kiba says, foot on Naruto's chest, Akamaru's snarling face near his crotch, and Shino standing at his head, staring down intimidatingly. "If you hurt her—"

"You'll castrate me," Naruto whines, attempting to push against Kiba's foot. "C'mon, guys! I'm a good guy—"

Shino snorts.

"—and I really like her, so you have nothing to worry about!"

Kiba scowls, but removes his foot and calls Akamaru off. "You better keep your word."

Hinata rounds the corner of Training Ground 17 a few minutes later, beaming at the four of them. "Oh, Naruto you're all sweaty. Have you already started?"