At least she wasn't alone. She glanced sidelong at Shino and Kiba, one beside her and the other across the table, and smiled softly. They had only recently returned from a mission; this was the first time Hinata had seen them in weeks. When they weren't on missions, they saw each other fairly regularly. She supposed one never really outgrew one's Genin team.
Kiba shifted, slouching in his chair, tugging at the black required uniform he so rarely wore. Even he couldn't get away with his normal mesh-and-jacket, though. Not at a dinner this politically charged.
Across the table, Shino gave Kiba a very slight frown. Hinata smothered her smile, knowing the man was trying to get Kiba to straighten up and sit properly. Shino never had quite dropped all of the habits of being field-leader to their Genin team, even though they weren't really a team anymore.
Though, she supposed with a sigh, the truth was that Kiba and Shino were still paired together more often than not. They had even become part of the running joke: There were a few teams you could count on in Konoha. Genma and Raidou, Ibiki and Anko, Shino and Kiba, and Kakashi and his pornography.
Her father would be horrified if he knew she knew that joke. Hinata smiled privately.
"Hey," Kiba murmured, his foot kicking hers under the table. "How much longer do you think we have to stay?"
Hinata glanced around, judging how far along the meal was, how relaxed the emissaries from the other countries were, and the time. "Another hour, most likely."
Shino gave him a warning look.
Kiba looked at Shino, innocently wounded. "I'm bored. And you're not keeping me busy."
Hinata smiled and glanced at Shino, expecting the same bland expression he normally wore when Kiba started to act like he was three. Instead, she saw his earlobes turn rosy. Not very--not enough for most people to notice. But she knew him a bit better than most people. Hinata's eyes narrowed. Something was going on.
"You're a Jounin of Konoha, and can act like one," Shino murmured back, movements clear and precise as he cut the last few bites of his food.
Kiba leaned forward, stretching rudely across the table to snatch Shino's roll from his plate. He sprawled back in his chair again, determined to make it seem comfortable even though Hinata knew it wasn't.
The man on Kiba's other side shot him an annoyed look, but Kiba ignored it, taking a large bite from Shino's roll.
Hinata's gaze flashed assessingly between her two best friends.
It wasn't that they were acting differently, exactly. In fact, they were doing precisely what she would expect from them. And yet . . . something had changed.
Kiba's eyes lingered fractionally too long on Shino. No, that wasn't it. He would have stared, just as blunt and daring as he was now. But before, he would have dared . . . would have dared Shino to reprimand him for being rude, Hinata supposed. Not that Shino would, beyond a look, but--
There was no look. Hinata stared at Shino, who was staring at his plate, earlobes still vaguely pink. Tiny movements of his head gave away his eyes, glancing from his food to Kiba and back again.
Kiba was still staring. Still daring. He took another bite of roll, a grin beginning to break out as Shino didn't do anything.
Something had changed. It was as if someone had switched the lamp and the clock on her nightstand. Something different, yet the same, and too subtle to pick up easily.
Hinata continued to stare between them.
In the corner, the orchestra began to warm up.
"Oh, thank the gods," Kiba said emphatically, head dropping back. "I thought I was never going to escape from this chair."
"You say that every time you have to stay still," Shino grumbled from the other side of the table.
"And I mean it every time I have to stay still," Kiba shot back with a wolfish grin.
Shino didn't meet the other man's gaze. Hinata looked at him closely.
"Hinata-chan, dance?" Kiba pleaded.
"Of course," she answered automatically, too polite to ever say no. Not that she would--not to Kiba, anyway.
He pulled her up and out of her chair far faster than was proper, not so much escorting as sweeping her to the dance floor. "Kiba," she laughed, caught up in the whirl of strong arms, "the music hasn't started yet!"
"I suppose you think we should wait until it does," he pretended to grumble, a smile winking in his eyes.
Hinata played along. "It would seem a little silly to dance without it."
Kiba sighed heavily and inclined his head in a bow, making even that proper motion somehow rakish. "If you insist."
Hinata only smiled, not daring to look around. She knew her father was likely watching the whole scene, could practically feel his eyes boring into the back of her skull. One of the drawbacks of being part of the Hyuuga family was that etiquette was of utmost importance. This, however, was one place she refused to bend. Kiba was her friend, and she didn't care how much her father disliked the Inuzuka clan, she wasn't going to change their friendship. She would curtail romantic relations, and she would marry who her family chose to strengthen the Byugan, but she was most certainly not going to stop seeing Kiba.
She sighed, following the rather depressing line of thought. Then she shook her head and smiled, looking up at Kiba--and when had he gotten so tall? It seemed like everyone around her had shot up lately, so she was constantly looking at shoulders and collarbones.
It didn't help that most of the people she knew were men.
"How are you, Kiba? Any new love interests?" she asked, feeling her cheeks warm. Eighteen, and she still couldn't keep from blushing at the question. She didn't really want to, either. She liked hearing about Kiba's exploits--things that would horrify her father, if he knew she was hearing them. Part of the reason he told her about them was because of her blush.
If she couldn't have a love life of her own, she enjoyed living vicariously through Kiba's.
Kiba smiled slowly, gaze elsewhere. "Oh, one," he said, smile growing.
Hinata waited, but when no new information was forthcoming she prodded, "And?"
His gaze snapped back, and his smile turned rueful. "Not here. Too many ears."
Hinata's eyebrows didn't rise, because she was too good a ninja, but they would have liked to. "I see." An illicit affair. Even better. Her mind spun, trying to imagine who it could be.
One of the strict clans, she guessed. One with bloodline limits or family jutsus. Her own clan, maybe--her eyes darted around the room, trying to decide who was of the right age and personality--or--who else was formal? Everyone was more formal than the Inuzukas. Maybe--
Then the music started, and Kiba whirled her into a highly energetic and racy version of what they were supposed to be dancing. Hinata laughed and slapped his shoulder lightly, knowing she should chide him for his scandalous behavior but not really wanting to. She caught sight of people as they danced, saw appalled faces of some dignitaries and the laughing smiles of others. Shino stood at the table, leaning against the chair Kiba had occupied, arms folded over his stomach. His eyes never left them.
"What are you doing tomorrow?" Hinata asked when the music slowed and Kiba was forced to follow suit.
Some of his energy burned off, he smiled in a more relaxed manner and shrugged. "Having lunch with you?"
Hinata smiled. "I can't do lunch, but breakfast?"
Kiba made a face. "Before ten?"
She laughed and tapped one finger on his shoulder. "Yes. Before ten."
"The things I do for you," Kiba groaned, then smiled and winked. "Shino, too?"
"Of course." The very idea that Shino wouldn't be invited was ridiculous, and the fact that Kiba had even bothered to check was a bit odd.
The music began to taper off, and Kiba led her back to the tables and Shino, who was watching them as they approached. Hinata could feel his chakra, the tiny ebbs and flows that most people couldn't sense at all. They said the kikaichuu ate chakra, and it was true, but they gave off a little of their own as well, if one knew what to feel for.
Shino's chakra was all directed at Kiba.
Hinata glanced at the man beside her curiously, and realized his chakra--normally wild and flaring in whatever direction his attention flitted to--was aimed right back at Shino.
"Good evening, Hinata-san," Shino said formally, as if he hadn't already greeted her before they'd sat down to dinner.
"Good evening, Shino-san," she returned with a slight bow. Manners were far too drilled into each of them for either to forget.
"Breakfast tomorrow at some hour the gods never intended," Kiba announced cheerfully. He reached past Shino, chest brushing arm to snag a glass of water from the table. When he straightened, he didn't bother shifting away.
Hinata watched them both. Shino didn't move either, leaving the distance between the two men close but not touching.
Teammates often stood near each other. Supporting one who was tired, or just so accustomed to watching each other's blind spots that it became habit.
Still, something was different. Hinata stared between them, frustrated. She could almost pin it--almost--
For an instant she knew what it was, and then Shino stepped forward, eyes flickering over her shoulder. She turned to look and saw her father making his way toward her, a scowl on his face. Hinata sighed. No doubt he was unhappy with her reckless dancing, especially now that the engagement had been announced.
"Would you care to dance?" Shino asked solemnly.
Hinata turned grateful eyes on him, and nodded.
Shino escorted her out to the floor before her father could get close enough to call to her.
"Thank you," she murmured, placing her hand properly in his.
Shino nodded almost imperceptibly. "I heard about the announcement."
Hinata didn't cringe. "I've known since I was fourteen, and they didn't make Hanabi heir," she said softly. "They ran all the tests to make sure we wouldn't pass on any genes that aren't fit last week," she said.
Shino was studiously quiet. Then, finally, "But--Neji?"
"He has the strongest gift," Hinata murmured. They danced, silence comfortable between them. "At least we get along," Hinata mused. "They could have tried to engage me to someone like Akira, and that would have been disastrous." She never had liked the man, though it was well known that he had a strong bloodline. "Or the Uchiha!" she said, the thought just occurring to her. "I couldn't have stood that."
"They wouldn't have betrothed the Hyuuga heir to a man who committed his crimes," Shino said lowly.
"Well, n-no, but they could have betrothed me if Hanabi had been made heir," Hinata returned.
Shino stared at her, the possibility obviously not having occurred to him. "Was it that close?" he asked finally.
Hinata only nodded. "An-and they kept Sasuke alive so they could regain the Uchiha lines, so . . ."
She felt Shino tense under her hands, the outrage for her held in careful check along powerful muscles. But he only 'ha-rumphed,' and said nothing else.
Hinata watched the people on the edge of the dance floor whirl by, little bits of color here and there breaking up the ninja dress-black. There was a flash of orange--the Hokage poking Kakashi in the chest with a book, obviously angry--and a burst of pink. Sakura was here, then. That was nice. Then Kiba, still in black but somehow obvious. Her father, black and white and gray, wearing the formal robes of a politician instead of the shirt and pants marking ninja.
"How did your mission go?" Hinata asked, just to say something.
The tension that had left Shino as they danced returned full-force. "Fine," he said, voice oddly blank.
Hinata looked up at him. "Shino? What's wrong?"
She saw the tiniest movement of his head, and turned to follow his gaze.
Kiba was sprawled in a chair, talking companionably with a female shinobi.
The tension in Shino's arms grew further. Hinata could feel little bursts of chakra as the kikaichuu shifted inside him.
She turned, looking at Shino, trying to gauge his response. "Nothing's wrong," he said quietly, though she doubted his words.
"Was he hurt?" she asked, though she'd just finished dancing with him and his movements had seemed as sure and smooth as ever.
"Of course not," Shino said, glancing at her. "Why would you think that?"
She didn't bother answering his question, mind flitting quickly through what information she had. Of course something was wrong. It explained perfectly the odd tension riding between the men all night long.
Then the dance took them past where Kiba lounged, and she saw the man glance up. Shino's back was turned, and Kiba's gaze followed him intently.
Far more intently than it should have.
Black eyes shifted, and slitted pupils relaxed as he saw Hinata. He smiled ruefully.
And suddenly, Hinata knew.
The strange tension between them. Standing too close, like teammates--or lovers. Kiba had adored Shino forever, and Shino had been just oblivious, too caught up in the strictures of his clan--
And now Kiba was in a relationship and couldn't talk about it--
Hinata's eyes widened. Her mouth opened slightly, and she took a deep breath to steady her suddenly tilting world.
Shino looked at her questioningly, and it just burst forth.
"You--you and K--"
His eyes widened--even with the glasses, she could tell--and suddenly he was spinning her so fast she had to work to keep her feet going, and couldn't complete the sentence. A moment later they were in the hall, and Shino had her pressed against the cool wall, his hand clamped over her mouth. "Shhh," he whispered imploringly. "Hinata, please--"
She couldn't stop the words, though, and kept babbling, some small part of her mind grateful for the palm that kept her words from being understood.
Then Kiba was there, looking like he'd run the whole way though Hinata was sure he hadn't, as that would have attracted undue attention.
"Hinata-chan, shh!" Kiba said, one hand patting the air placatingly and a finger to his lips in demonstration.
"Hinata, no one knows," Shino whispered urgently, body pressed so close she knew they would look terribly illicit, should anyone come upon them. "Please, Hinata, please be quiet," Shino continued in a tone both pleading and ordering.
Hinata fell silent, staring at them out of very wide eyes. Shino removed his hand slowly.
Hinata swallowed. Then she swallowed again, gaze flickering between the two men. They weren't paying any attention to each other now, both fixated on her. "When--?" she said softly.
They glanced at each other. Shino's earlobes pinkened again. Kiba answered. "This last mission. Just a few days ago--we only got back night before last, and it was just the night before that--"
Hinata straightened, slapping Kiba hard. "And you didn't tell me?" she hissed, angry and pleased and incredibly confused.
"I haven't seen you until now!" Kiba almost-yelped, only it stayed quiet.
"That's not an excuse!" Hinata hissed. "You should have told me!" Then she jumped to her toes and grabbed Kiba in a hug, scandal be damned. He laughed softly and hugged her back, then let her go when she pulled away. Hinata turned and hugged Shino as well, ignoring the fact that he barely returned it, stiff and uncertain. He wasn't good with the physical--which brought her full circle.
They were lovers. Or at least seeing each other. She pushed away from them, looking from one to the other. "Who knows?"
"Just you," Shino said, voice full of meaning.
Hinata looked at him, almost wincing. "You haven't told your clan?"
He shook his head, a fractional movement.
"But you're going to?"
He glanced at Kiba. Kiba ruffled a hand through his hair, and wouldn't return the gaze. Silence stretched.
Hinata winced again. "Your father's not going to like this, is he?" she asked softly. She could only imagine how her own father would react if she told him she was in love with another woman. It was officially frowned upon for ninja to dally with the same sex--war and missions took too many lives, they needed all the babies they could get. Still, most ninja looked the opposite way when it happened.
Ninja with bloodline limits or family traits--such as the Aburame clan--however . . .
"Hinata-chan, we've only had sex once," Kiba said with a lopsided smile. "Announcing it to people is a bit premature." But there was hurt in his eyes.
The Inuzukas were far more informal than any of the other clans, despite their clan abilities.
"Do you have to tell her that?" Shino muttered. The tops of his ears had gone red, too.
"What?" Kiba whispered, utterly confused.
"That we--you know--once?"
"You'd rather I tell her we did it more?" Kiba scoffed, obviously not grasping what Shino was really getting at. Kiba turned to Hinata and said solemnly, "I'm sorry, it was dozens of times. All the way home he kept grabbing me and pulling me into the bushes--"
Hinata hid her face, trying not to giggle in both shock and enjoyment. Shino's nose had gone pink.
"Kiba!" he hissed, teeth clamped together. Hinata didn't think she'd ever seen him so upset.
"What are you freaking out about?" Kiba hissed back.
"Don't talk about any of it," Hinata said from between her fingers, still laughing. "You're embarrassing him."
Kiba looked at her, then back at Shino, light dawning. "Oh. Sorry." He smiled sheepishly.
Shino's jaw muscle stood tightly against his skin. He opened his mouth to say something, but just then a footstep in the doorway hushed them all. They looked up as one.
Neji stood there, chakra tightly leashed, eyes fixing anywhere but on them. Eventually, though, they settled on Hinata. "Your father was looking for you," he said quietly, formal and stiff. They'd lived together since her father had taken him in, though, and she recognized the painful formality for what it was--discomfort. Since the announcement, neither seemed to know how to act around the other.
Neji glanced at Kiba and Shino, still huddled close to her, and smiled very slightly. "I didn't think you'd want him to find you, ah, like this."
She glanced at her friends, and understood what Neji hadn't said. Her father would be furious if he found her standing so intimately close to two other men. She sighed, and gave Neji a small, hesitant smile of her own. "Thank you."
He nodded formally and stepped away, not quite through the door. Both guarding and waiting, she realized. Hinata glanced back at Kiba and Shino, who had put some distance between themselves and her. They stood like a small triangle, Hinata the peak. "We can talk about this tomorrow," she said, trying to sound casual. "At breakfast."
Kiba nodded. Shino tugged the edges of his sleeves farther over his wrists and said nothing, which meant she'd see him in the morning.
Hinata moved toward the doorway, saw Neji head away even before she got there, and sighed.
She appreciated that Neji was uncomfortable around her--understood it, since she was uncomfortable around him, now--but avoiding each other wasn't going to make things better.
"You could do better than him," Kiba said, frowning behind his sunglasses.
Hinata frowned, then smoothed the expression out. "Kiba, I don't want to talk about this with you." Not when he was pointing out only the bad about Neji.
"He's an emotionless piece of fencewood!" Kiba yelped.
Hinata looked at Shino pleadingly.
"Kiba," he said simply.
Kiba sighed heavily and fell silent. "You could fight it," he muttered after a minute.
"I don't want to fight it," Hinata said, quietly but firmly. "I know it seems repugnant to you, but this is my life and I'm happy with it. Neji and I get along, and I know we'll make a fine team." She looked at him, willing him to understand.
Kiba wouldn't meet her gaze.
"Tell me about the other night," Hinata said, adroitly changing the subject. "How did you realize--?" She stopped, knowing they would understand, not wanting to give too much away sitting outside at the little restaurant. Ninja had good hearing.
Shino's ears turned pink. Kiba grinned slowly, though he still didn't look over. "I was going to seduce our mark. I did seduce our mark, actually, and he," Kiba jerked his head toward Shino, "got all upset about it."
"You let him tie you to the bed," Shino muttered.
"I wasn't tied," Kiba said, leaning half across the table and speaking confidentially to Hinata. "It was just wrapped around the bedpost. There were no knots."
Hinata knew her cheeks were bright pink. She smiled and bit her lip.
Kiba grinned, eyes sparkling wickedly. Hinata leaned forward, knowing just from his expression that he was about to tell her things he really shouldn't mention.
"The mark thought I was damned sexy. Then he passed out--we drugged him--and Shino comes bursting in. I pointed out the dildo, and Shino just lost it--"
"Dildo?" Hinata squeaked, face burning and hands clapped over her mouth.
"That's right." Kiba grinned, flashing canines. "He wanted to use it--"
"Kiba," Shino growled.
Kiba glanced over his bare shoulder, still grinning. "See? Just talking about it gets him bothered--"
"Kiba!" Shino snapped.
"So bothered that when we got into the hall he kissed me--"
Hinata's eyes flashed to Shino and, from behind her hands, she said, "You made the first move?"
Shino's ears got pinker. "He was petting himself," he growled.
"If I pet myself now, will you do it again?" Kiba asked slyly. He leaned back, resting in the corner made by the rail and his chair. One arm drifted lazily along the iron fence, the fingers of his other hand skimming over an exposed collarbone.
Hinata felt her face turn even more red, and she squeaked.
Shino refused to look up. "Stop it. You're making a scene."
"But I think Hinata wants to know what happened--"
Hinata squeaked again, unsure if she should agree or be mortified.
"Kiba!" Shino snapped.
Kiba laughed and dropped his hand. "Ah, well. I have to go anyway." He stood, shoving his chair back with a screech of legs over concrete. He leaned over the table and--very inappropriately--kissed Hinata on the cheek.
"Where are you going?" she asked, alarmed.
"My nephew blackmailed me into teaching him some new jutsus," Kiba sighed, though a smile danced in his eyes.
Hinata smiled softly. "All right, then. Stay safe."
He just laughed, glanced at Shino, hesitated, then patted the man on the shoulder and headed away.
"That took restraint," Hinata commented. She'd once seen Kiba grab Genma, whip him into a dip, and kiss him--with tongue. Of course, that had been a dare, and Genma had put him through the wall moments later. The point remained--Kiba wasn't afraid of demonstrating affection with women or men in public.
"He's being careful," Shino said softly. "For me."
Hinata nodded. She played with her napkin, unsure how to voice what she needed to say. Kiba was wild; he was part of the Inuzuka, who were known for being rebels. Savages.
Shino was an Aburame. Nearly as formal as her own clan. Civilized beings.
"Shino . . . he's watched you for a long time," she said at last, looking down at her plate. Watermelon rind looked back at her.
"He said so," Shino answered, just as softly as she'd spoken.
She kept playing with her napkin. Finally, she looked up at him. "Are you happy?" she asked wistfully.
Shino smiled--so slight, it was barely visible. "I didn't realize I . . . liked him so much."
Hinata nodded, glad for them. Then her smile faded. "Shino--are you going to tell your family?" Because if he didn't, they'd have to remain in hiding. Kiba didn't hide well.
Shino didn't look at her. "My father wouldn't approve," he said finally.
Hinata nodded. She understood that. Probably far better than Kiba ever could. She loved Kiba--he was excitement in an otherwise predictable life. Shino, though--Shino she could identify with. "Shino . . ." she said softly, sadly.
"I know," he sighed. "I don't know what I'm going to do." He stared at the ground, his face solemn.
Hinata reached carefully across the table, fingers landing delicately on Shino's hand. "Can I help?"
He looked up at her, then shook his head slightly. "I don't think so. But thank you."
They sat in silence for a long moment. "He loves you," Hinata said.
Shino flinched. "I know."
She looked up at him. "Do you love him?"
Shino looked at her, then smiled grimly. "It's early to say. But . . . but I like him. A lot."
Hinata smiled. "You know--whatever happens--you both have my support."
He opened his mouth and a cry interrupted them.
"Hinata! Hinata, Mother's looking for you!"
Hinata sighed and looked up, spotting her sister across the way. She lifted a hand in acknowledgement. "I'll be right there."
"I should go, anyway," Shino said, standing as Hinata did. "Hinata--you and Neji? You're happy?"
She hesitated, then nodded slightly. "We get along well. Any children should be unlike anything anyone's ever seen, with his power and my genetics--" she shrugged, smiling slightly. "It'll be fine."
Shino nodded in return.
"Hinata!" Hanabi yelled.
Hinata shot her little sister a frustrated look. "I'll be right there!"
Shino stood, uncomfortable, uncertain. Hinata waited, wondering what was wrong. After a moment she gave up and stepped forward, wrapping both her arms around his neck, standing on her toes. "I'm so happy for you, whatever happens," she whispered into his ear.
His arms came around her slowly, and he hugged tentatively back. "And if you ever need anything--"
Hinata nodded. She hesitated, then offered another smile. "I certainly never expected our Genin team to end up like it has."
Shino laughed quietly. "No, me neither."
She slanted her sister a look only siblings could give. "I used to think people outgrew their Genin teams," she said, eyes still on Hanabi though her words were directed at Shino.
"Maybe we just grow into them," Shino suggested.
Hinata looked at him, smiling. "Or we grow up inside them." She tipped up onto her toes once more, feathering a kiss across his cheek. "I'd better go."
He nodded. "Stay safe."
She smiled. "I will. Be brave. You can stand up to your father."
He nodded once, hands tucked in his pockets. "Don't let Neji push you around."
Hinata just laughed, then turned and started for home.
She had certainly never expected her Genin team to end up like it had. She was rather glad it did, though.
Back to team eight
Back to the main page