Before the Dawn

Disclaimer: Rumour has it that Masashi Kishimoto collects doujinshi... I can only assume he doesn't mind amateurish authors borrowing his characters.

Warning: One swear word. (...I think I'll stop the warnings for the next chapters.)

Author's note: You must be pretty tired of my apologies by now... I'm still sorry. I travel a lot during my vacations, and don't have an Internet connection everywhere I go... I hope you can forgive me, and most of all, that the chapter won't disappoint you. My greatest thanks to Midnight Mourner, Iggy and misusu for taking the time to review!

Anonymous reviews:

Iggy: Wow, that's a huge compliment... There are still a lot of clichés in my story, but I like to twist them to make them look original. What I like about vampires is the fact that there're a thousand ways to exploit the myth.

misusu: Merci pour ton rappel à l'ordre ! XD Pas de souci, je m'occupe des deux versions. J'espère que le seizième chapitre t'a plu.

Summary: With the help of the vampire child Moegi, Naruto crosses the forest and discovers a hidden manor in its heart. There, he finds his classmate Hinata, but the imminent apparition of the one Moegi calls a "monster" leads her to flee and leave Naruto behind. He is unexpectedly saved by Sasuke, who barely escapes from the monster afterwards. Those events only make Naruto more determined to uncover the truth.

This chapter was beta-read by brumal. Glad to hear my writing sounds less foreign! I don't think it will lose much of its "unique" quality, everyone has a different style anyway, and mine is definitely influenced by French literature. I'm just happy it's easier to read. Thanks a lot, love!

Another Path

Little child who just couldn't see
The pressure from her so called friends
Was simply too much
(Sonata Arctica: Sing in Silence)

Like most children his age, Naruto had never liked being shut away for an hour, listening to subjects that didn't interest him in the slightest, with no future prospect aside from going to another room for the same routine to repeat itself, and so on and so forth until 5p.m. That would be junior high school.

The only fun part of the day so far had been his arrival. For the first time in two years, the boy was on time and had used the door. Quite an achievement, which had triggered a commotion almost worse than those his usual arrivals made.

Naruto had swept in like a whirlwind with a broad grin, greeted the class with a resounding "hello", and come face to face with a line of round eyes and dropping jaws. Absolute silence. Iruka had looked between heart attack and tears of joy. An interesting combination: round, teary eyes, a gaping mouth with trembling lips and a Japanese book dropped on the floor.

Naruto had raised an eyebrow, blinked thrice, and burst out laughing:

"Oh man," he had managed, "just look at your faces!"

That broke the spell. Sardonic retorts and indignant stammering flew from all sides, and two students pounced on him. The ones he had stolen lunches from the previous day.

That had made him all the livelier, and the boy had defended himself vigorously until Iruka succeeded in separating them, with great difficulty. You can't steal Chouji Akimichi and Kiba Inuzuka's lunches and get away with it... Naruto considered himself fortunate that Kiba hadn't managed to usher his dog in the school that day. In the end, the three of them had gotten off with a warning, and class had started without another incident. Of course Naruto had gotten about fifteen bruises and two lumps at recess.

The teen yawned and rubbed at his still aching jaw. Not such a bad morning, even though he could have done without the fight. Not that the fighting itself was a big bother to him. Naruto was used to being hit and knew no better way to let off steam. But this time, the dispute had prevented him from talking to Hinata...

His head resting on his crossed arms, Naruto glanced over at her. His classmate was sitting two seats and a row further, looking nervously in his direction. When their eyes met, she blushed up to the ears, a frightened look all over her face, and stared down at her crossed hands. Her head sunk between her shoulders in a vain attempt to disappear into her thick overcoat.

At her reaction, Naruto couldn't help but feel a twinge of sorrow. Was Hinata really a vampire? She certainly didn't look like one... As far as he could judge, she was nothing but an excessively shy girl. A kind one, no doubt, since she lent her things to anyone who asked. Or maybe she just lacked the willpower to refuse anything... She was withdrawn, doleful even, and a little weird, but not shady enough to pass for a monster.

Naruto kept staring suspiciously at her out of the corner of his eyes. When he had arrived this morning, he had gotten a glimpse of her expression, a mix of deep relief and fear. The boy wasn't sure why... As for him, he had been glad to find her at school. At least the vampires hadn't done anything to her...

His frown deepened. On the other hand, that made Hinata all the more suspicious. There was definitely a link between her and the vampires. Whatever it was she was hiding, Naruto was determined to find out.

The teen's attention shifted to the clock above the desk before which Genma stood, teaching physics. 12:18a.m. In twelve minutes it would be lunch break. Naruto smiled. That would be his best chance to take Hinata aside. He would just have to make his move before Kiba invited her to eat with him. That idiot might think this morning's lesson hadn't been enough and that Naruto was asking for more, the boy thought bitterly. Always complications... Not that it would ever be enough to stop him.

At two to noon, his bag already propped up on his back, Naruto was all set. He used his chair as a starting block and stared at Hinata, who was taking notes feverishly. One minute went by, Genma dismissed the class. The hubbub of kids putting their things away, and at last, the bell...

Naruto was off like a shot. He reached Hinata's table, grasped her wrist, picked up the remaining pencil bag with his free hand, and took the whole lot with him as he raced to the door. A faint cry of protest reached his ears, but he paid no heed to it. The boy crossed the corridor at top speed, amused by the difficulty his classmate had to keep up. He got to the stairs, hurtled down them and took Hinata off with him towards the disused part of the building: the basement.

The teen eventually stopped next to an old, out of order coffee machine knocked over against a dirty wall. The smell of dampness was in the room, and lengths of piping stuck out of the walls. It was obvious that this junk room was in great need of cleaning up. All Naruto needed to know, however, was that it was quiet.

He turned to Hinata with an apologetic smile, a little hesitant:

"Hum... Okay, sorry if that was a little abrupt. But we need to talk..."

She wasn't listening. Red as a beetroot, her eyes were glued to his hand, which had yet to let go of her wrist.

"Oops, sorry," Naruto apologized and let go at once. "Err... Here!" he added as he handed her the pencil bag he had picked up in his haste.

Her cheeks still burning, Hinata accepted the bag with a stuttered "thank you." She held it close to her chest and lowered her head in what looked suspiciously like an attempt to hide inside. She looked torn between saying something and fleeing, and that made Naruto feel slightly guilty. He didn't fancy much the idea of interrogating a classmate... And looking back, she was one of the few who never picked quarrels with him. But still...

He thought of Sasuke, and his determination came back. Hinata might have something to do with him. She was Naruto's only chance to learn more. He was about to break the awkward silence that had settled, when Hinata finally decided to speak:

"You..." she stammered. "Is that where you eat, usually?"

"Well... sometimes," Naruto answered uneasily, "when the weather is rotten or to avoid quarrels, I eat here... But I'd rather go outdoors."

The teen broke off. He wasn't used to broach this kind of topic, the peculiar situation was making him lose assurance, and he wouldn't get any answers like that. He shook himself and looked straight at Hinata:

"Hinata, you..."

However, something in his expression seemed to scare her and she suddenly turned round, ready to take flight. Naruto's instant reaction was to reach out his hand and hold her back by the collar, which made her cry out in alarm. He choked back a scream, frozen with terror.

The turned up collar had uncovered the girl's neck. When she had made a half turn to avoid strangulation, the left side of her throat had been exposed. There were two repulsive scars on the spot. You could make out two small holes of about the same shape, strangely made, like someone had taken several attempts to perfect them. The skin around them looked red and flabby, like it had been sucked, chewed on several times. Several times...

Slowly, he let go of her, and Hinata slapped a hand over her collar to hide the marks again. However, she didn't try to flee. She was looking at him anxiously over her hand, like a criminal caught red-handed, waiting for the verdict. Naruto gave no reaction. His thoughts were frozen in his brain. He saw the scars, and had no idea what to make of them. He didn't want to make anything of them.

Lips quivering, Hinata forced herself to take a breath:


"What did they do to you?" Naruto cut her off in a breathless voice. He had no clue whether or not he wanted an answer to that. "What do they do to you?"

Hinata started. "That... It's not what you think..." she said in a weak voice.

"I saw you there!" Naruto took a step back and pointed an accusing finger at her. "At that manor! And those marks... You..."

He closed his eyes tightly, opened them again, and his face set in a hostile, defiant expression:

"You're a vampire, aren't you?" he asked in a quieter tone. But he could feel his forehead breaking sweat.

Hinata's eyes widened in a look of alarm: "I... No..."

"Then what does that mean?" Naruto asked without dropping his guard.

She lowered her eyes, unable to hold his glare. A feeling of guilt crept over Naruto, but he ignored it. There was no turning back. He had to know.

"I am not a vampire..." Hinata said at last in a tiny voice. "They... they can't go out... in the daylight..."

Naruto frowned.

"But you know them?" he pointed out carefully.


She raised her eyes to meet his, like she feared he would hit her. The idea didn't even cross his mind.

"Then, what were you doing there? This manor is their lair! Do they... force you to go?" he asked, still tense.

"No!" Hinata answered immediately. "No... They..."

She broke off.

"I... am not allowed to tell anyone..."

"Why?" Naruto asked, offended. "You don't trust me?"

Considering they'd hardly ever talked during the two years they'd spent in the same class, that was a ridiculous question. Hinata, however, seemed to view things differently:

"Of course I do..." she stuttered, looking away to hide her dark blush. "But I..."

"Tell me the truth!" Naruto demanded. "Or else, Sakura-chan will..."

He was unable to complete his sentence. Her first day at the hospital was still fresh in his memory. He had seen the gradual restoration of Sakura's strength. If she were to fully recover, only to be brought straight back to this vegetable-like state, or killed, by Sasuke or any other vampire, Naruto would never forgive himself.

"Sakura...?" Hinata repeated.

Her expression was different. She studied his face and the worry that was written all over it. All of a sudden, she looked hurt. But also moved. And guilty.

"Yes... I heard of what happened to her. I'm sorry..." she whispered, bowing her head.

"Tell me what you know," Naruto insisted. "There are things I have to learn."

His classmate hesitated. She seemed to think hard as she looked back at him. At last, she nodded slowly.


Naruto felt himself relax a little. The sudden relief woke his stomach, and its rumble distracted the boy's attention.

"Uh-oh..." he mumbled, remembering that he had failed to bring a lunchbox with him that day. "On the other hand, I'm starving... You have anything to eat?"

"You... didn't bring anything?" she asked, startled.

"Well... I forgot." Naruto answered evasively.

In the end, they found themselves sitting next to each other on an old, termite-infested desk and sharing Hinata's lunch. The girl seemed to turn redder with every passing second. Naruto was too focused on the food to notice.

"S-So..." Hinata finally asked as she nervously played with her thumbs. "What do you want to know...?"

"Hm..." Naruto pondered, his mouth full. "For shtarters, how did you crosh the foresht to the manor? Did a vampire help you?"

"N-no... There's another path..."

The boy choked.

"Wha... What?" he exclaimed, his mouth hanging open. "But... how do you know that?"


"No, wait!" he cut her off. "First off, what were you doing there? When I saw you... I think you were looking for something. What could you be searching in that... What is this place anyway?"

That question seemed to bring Hinata straight back to her former worry. She anxiously looked round, as if to make sure that no one was peeping at them, then turned to Naruto with a pleading look on her pale face:

"Naruto-kun, please..."

A surge of shyness made her lower her gaze, but she forced herself to go on:

"You have to promise me... to never tell anyone. Alright?"

Naruto looked back at her, unsure.

"But why? If you know where the vampires' lair is, that means we can stop them."

"No, you mustn't!" she said immediately, finding enough courage in herself to look him in the eye.

"What the hell do you mean, "I mustn't"?" he parroted, flabbergasted. "Vampires kill people! They feed on blood!"

"I know..." Hinata stammered. "But they are... Some of them are..."

She couldn't find her words. She bit down on her lips, ashamed of herself, and looked back up at him:

"I can explain, Naruto-kun... I promise I will..." she said, still red in the face. But her tone was earnest. "But promise me you won't tell anyone... Please..."

Naruto hesitated. He was not even sure Hinata herself wasn't a vampire... She claimed that they could only go out at night, but it could be a lie. Could he trust her?

'It would be better if I could at least check whether or not she's a vampire...'

He remembered something in a flash. When Sasuke had touched him... The sole memory made him shudder. His whole body was freezing. An inhuman cold, that of a lifeless body...

Naruto gulped. He had touched a corpse, once. A dog's. Several years ago, back in middle school, he had hid himself in a trashcan all afternoon to escape a group of teenagers. When he had finally decided to get out of his hiding place, long after nightfall, he had walked back to the orphanage. On his way there, he had found a tall dog lying on the sidewalk with a bloody throat, stone dead. As fascinated as he was terrified, the child had touched the animal's breast, to make sure he was really dead. The vampire's touch had been similar...

He grabbed Hinata's hand, making her turn a bright red. Naruto waited for a bit, and heaved a sigh of relief. Her skin was warm.

"Okay," he smiled and let go of her hand. "I promise I won't tell anyone, but only if you tell me everything you know in exchange."

Her blush had yet to disappear. After one last moment of hesitation, Hinata nodded once.

The school's bell chose this moment to ring, announcing the impending resumption of classes. Naruto started, then let out a resounding swear, on the verge of pulling out his hair. Somebody up there had to really hate him... Just when he was going to learn the truth, this happened...


Naruto gave Hinata a weary look:

"I bet you're against skipping?"

She started.

"I... Yes."

Naruto nodded, then leant his elbows on his knees and wedged his head between his fists with a deep sigh.

"I'm cursed..." he mumbled, pulling a face.

"Don't say that..." Hinata said in a feeble attempt to comfort him, seemingly amused by his reactions.

She pondered a bit, and then slid down the desk, disturbing two termites that went running for cover in their holes. She dusted herself clumsily before turning to Naruto:

"I will... think about it," she promised, willing herself to look him in the eye. "And I'll tell you everything I can... Don't worry, alright?"

Naruto stared back at her without changing his position, and nodded.

"Okay..." he said, and sprang after her off the desk. "But you'd better not duck out of it!" he warned her.

Hinata shook her head:

"I won't... I promise."

March was nearing and as a result, the days were getting longer. That evening, the sun started going down the horizon shortly after six hours and a half, sending its last rosy rays directly through a window on the first floor of a great manor on the edge of Konoha. One of them struck the nib of a writing pen and, reflected, blinded its owner.

Hinata Hyuuga rubbed at her aching eye, and raised her eyes to her window and the orangey sky. Twilight already... She looked back at her homework and sighed, feeling a growing feeling of despondency. She wasn't done yet... However, she couldn't encroach upon her time spent in the second manor, or she wouldn't be able to sleep long enough. And Hinata knew for a fact that reducing her hours' sleep was never a solution. All it did was exhaust her even more...

The young girl stood up, crestfallen. She could try to wake up earlier the next morning... Last time, she hadn't heard the alarm clock, but next time she would be fine. She would try, anyway... But first, she had to go to the second manor.

Hinata left her things as they were on her desk to resume her work the next morning, went to fetch some notes in her closet, and put them in her bag. She then slipped its straps round her shoulders, went out and locked her door. Afterwards she went silently down the stairs and crossed the Hyuuga manor's living room.

She eventually reached the dojo, took her shoes off and resumed walking with them in her hands. She counted eleven tatami and lifted the twelfth slightly, unveiling a hidden trapdoor underneath. With greater efforts, Hinata lifted it too, let her shoes through the opening, then stepped into it herself before closing the door on her. The tatami slid back into place as the trapdoor shut, and the young girl was left in the dark.

Hinata took no heed of it, and rummaged through the side pocket of her bag for a small match box, then groped for the candle supply near the trapdoor. Her fingers eventually felt a wooden shelf to her left, and the six lined up boxes containing about twenty candles each. Hinata grabbed one and laid it down next to her to strike a match, which diffused a dim light in the tunnel. She spotted the candle left on the floor and lit it, then blew out the match and threw it in one of the small boxes provided on the shelf to her right.

Stone stairs going down into the darkness appeared under the candle's glow. Hinata put her shoes back on the best she could with one hand before she went down the tunnel, candle in hand, its light guiding her in the dark.

Hinata went on in the half-light for several minutes, until she emerged onto a red carpet stretching on the floor of a long corridor. Someone else had already lit the candelabras along the walls, the young girl noticed. She blew her candle and kept walking, keeping it with her for a later use.

As she walked, the girl thought about her conversation with Naruto on lunch break, and went pink. It had been a while since they last talked... He didn't come to class often, and the few times he did, he hardly ever spoke to her... Hinata shook her head to clear her mind of these thoughts. This was a serious matter; she had no time to waste on ulterior motives.

She bit her lip. She had no idea whether or not she felt in her right to tell Naruto what he wanted to know. Telling her classmate might even put him in danger... Of course, he was just worried about Sakura (at that thought she felt a pang of anguish) and the other victims; but could he understand...?

Hinata frowned, reprimanding herself immediately for that thought. Of course he could understand! It was Naruto. He wouldn't necessarily approve of the way she dealt with the matter, she thought, not without anxiety, but he would understand her reasons, she was sure of it... At least, he would definitely get that the extermination of vampires wasn't an option. It was too cruel...

Once again, Hinata shook her head. That wasn't the issue here. How would Naruto react when he learnt the truth? More importantly, how would her family react if they found out she had talked? She had no right to reveal their secrets, she knew that... How could she be so rash...?

'He will protect me.'

She started. That thought had come to her naturally...

"No..." Hinata whispered to herself.

She must not think like that. She knew very well that he was the reason why she was less rebuffed lately. The reason why she had more liberties, was treated almost the way the heir of the Hyuuga clan should be... They all feared him. Even she was afraid of him. Less than before, no doubt, but deep in herself, she still felt the fear of the first days... And she wanted no privilege gained from terror. She aspired to be worthy of her rank. Yet now she was about to betray her family...

'I'm doing this for Naruto-kun...' Hinata thought, trying to reassure herself. 'This isn't a betrayal... He won't tell anyone; I know he won't...'

This wasn't enough to make the guilt go away. She resumed walking with her head hanging low, dark thoughts plaguing her.

Thirty minutes later, she went by several openings to stairs meant for the servants before picking one to her right. She relit her candle on a nearby candelabra and started the ascent of the stone stairs.

She got to an oak door around which two chains of garlic and wild rose trees were arranged. Hinata paid no attention to them and went through the door without difficulty. She emerged into a small, sumptuously ornate room in an archaic style, with rich curtains to the windows and ancient portraits on the walls.

Hinata went to put her half-melted candle on a free candelabra and got out of the room through a nearby door. She came face to face with a tall man, whose long silver hair standing on end askew made look even taller, dressed all in black with a mask hiding half his face. His left eye was also hidden from view by a blindfold that matched his clothes. As soon as he saw Hinata, his right eye shut in a friendly curve, which made the young girl guess he was smiling.

"Good evening, Hinata-sama," he greeted politely.

"Oh... Good evening, Kakashi-san," she answered with a slight bow.

"You're still wearing that overcoat," the man noticed in a detached tone. "I truly think it is a shame... I don't mean to criticize your taste in clothes, but with your permission, I would say that something lighter would show you in a more flattering light."

Very aware of what he implied, Hinata blushed darkly and tried her best to find a polite enough objection, but someone else got there first:

"Kakashi, unless you really want the renegade to run you through, I'd advise you to refrain from eying Hinata up," a sharp voice warned.

Said man turned to the newcomer with an apparent lack of concern:

"I simply meant for Hinata-sama to become aware of her appeal and not to be ashamed of revealing it. That has nothing to do with me. She is still way too young to interest me, anyway. Unlike someone else I know... Isn't that right, Kurenai?" he added in a jovial tone.

The young woman he had just spoken to was half a head shorter than him, with long wavy black hair, pale skin and piercing red eyes. She remained impassive and sent the man a disapproving look.

"Don't expect me to thank you for changing me thirty years ago," she bit back. "And I think Hinata can manage without the advice of a pervert."

Kakashi sighed and pulled out of his pocket a small orange book, whose back cover and title lead to suppose a not quite kosher content, as if to support Kurenai's insult with evidence, and immediately buried himself in reading, mumbling something along the lines of "how ungrateful..."

Hinata felt her cheeks burn harder and thought it wiser not to comment. Instead she turned to bow at the vampire woman:

"Good evening, Kurenai-san."

Kurenai returned her greeting with a smile. Hinata smiled back, and an idea crossed her mind. Could she tell the two vampires about what she would soon have to reveal to Naruto? They might be able to advise her...

The young girl pursued her lips. As a rule, she was supposed to talk to her father Hiashi Hyuuga, the chief of the clan, first... But she knew he would disapprove of her decision, and her faith in Naruto's word would be but a pitiful excuse for him. Hinata felt a pang of anguish. Why hadn't she simply refused to answer to Naruto's inquiries, then?

She blushed. Of course, she knew the answer... But she was well aware of the fact that her reason would not satisfy her father more than the rest, most likely even less...


Hinata started upon hearing her name and turned to Kakashi, who was staring at her over his book with an intrigued look:


"It would seem that your mind was elsewhere," the vampire said, throwing himself back into reading. "I just asked you if you had any idea who that small blond human I saw at the manor the other night could be?"

Calling Hinata's reaction "surprise" would have been an understatement. Positively flabbergasted, all she could do was stare at the vampire with her mouth hanging open until the power of speech came back to her.

"You... you knew?" she whispered in a breathless voice. "You saw Naruto-kun?"

"Let's say we ran into each other," the vampire answered and turned a page. "I'm afraid I gave him quite a fright. If he was your guest, I'm deeply sorry."

He raised his one eye from the book and looked deeply into Hinata's pale ones:

"But I have my doubts about that."

"You..." Hinata hesitated. "Were you the one who...?"

"'Helped him escape'?" the vampire suggested. "No... Sasuke did."

The shock turned the young human's eyes into saucers: "Sa-Sasuke?"

"Yes," Kakashi said, his eye gazing skywards with a pensive look. "That doesn't sound much like him, does it? And it looks like you weren't the one who asked him to..."

"What sounds strange to me is that a human succeeded in reaching this manor, and I don't see how you can talk about it so lightly, Kakashi!" Kurenai pointed out.

Lost in her thoughts, Hinata wasn't listening anymore. Sasuke did that? He had helped Naruto escape from the manor, right before... But why?

The young girl was puzzled, but strangely relieved at the same time. The mystery of how Naruto had managed to get out alive was solved, and she was glad that Sasuke had helped him... and survived. Still, even though Sasuke wasn't the most spiteful person she knew, and certainly not the most cowardly, he wasn't the type to risk his life easily, especially for a human he barely knew... In any case, she hadn't expected that from him at all. Maybe she had underestimated him?

That thought made her smile. If Sasuke proved himself capable of empathy for humans, it was a good sign.

"Naruto, you say?" Kakashi repeated, his mind taken up with thoughts of its own.

Hinata was therefore reminded of his presence and, encouraged by what he had just told her, she made up her mind to tell him the truth:

"He's my classmate..." she clarified. "I don't know how he found the manor, but he saw me there... and took me for a vampire," she added uneasily. "He wants to know the truth. And I promised... to tell him..."

She broke off anxiously, but Kakashi did nothing more than stare at her with a raised eyebrow. Kurenai's reaction was different:

"You... What on earth were you thinking, Hinata?" she exclaimed, with less reproach than worry in her voice. "You can't disclose this secret to anyone! What would your father say if..."

"It sounds like this boy already knows a lot," Kakashi pointed out, his focus back on his book. "All he needs to do is reveal the existence of the manor and Hinata's involvement, and all that will be left for the Konoha authorities will be to interrogate the Hyuuga. They might even find the secret passage, and then..."

"That's enough, Kakashi!" Kurenai cut him off. "What do you suggest we do? Kill the child?"

"No!" Hinata exclaimed in a fit of panic.

"I think we can dismiss this solution right away," Kakashi concluded, smiling at her. "Personally, I'd be curious to meet this boy... He did manage to cross the forest, after all. I wonder how he could find us so easily and come out in one piece..."

He seemed to ponder for a moment, and then turned back towards Hinata:

"Why don't you invite him over?" he suggested. "It would be easier to explain the situation to him if he sees what the manor holds with his own eyes, don't you agree? And considering he has come this far already, I don't think he would be against the idea."

"In... Invite him?" Hinata parroted incredulously. How could Kakashi make this suggestion in such a light tone?

"You must be joking!" Kurenai waxed indignant, hardly able to contain her anger any longer. "Make a human child come here? This is madness! Before he can make three steps in the manor, there won't be a drop of blood left in him!"

"Unless he is in good company," Kakashi said, throwing a knowing look at Hinata. She started.

"You mean..."

"Among others, yes, I mean the renegade... Even though I'd advise you to be especially careful with him, if only for the sake of our security," the vampire added with a hint of anxiety. "If your mind isn't at rest in spite of everything, I'll be quite happy to assist him in the protection of your guest. With some luck, Sasuke won't mind giving us a hand..."

"That's not the point, Kakashi!" Kurenai cut him off. "What about the Hyuuga? You don't seriously expect them to approve of a schoolboy running wild in this manor! And Hinata will be blamed! That's just what they were waiting for: any excuse will do to..."

"You are starting to lack cautiousness too, Kurenai," Kakashi warned. "Those aren't the kind of words you can say thoughtlessly, especially inside the manor."

To this, the vampire woman found no retort. She turned her head away, piqued.

"Whatever the case, it seems to me that Hinata-sama wasn't involved in the actual arrival of the boy," Kakashi pointed out. "And there's no doubt that this story will interest the Hyuuga. And, might I add, they'd rather meet this young human before Konoha's police... Moreover, the presence of the renegade can guarantee that no drastic decision will be made regarding Naruto's future."

Hinata's hope was revived as she listened to him. The vampire was right, of course. With everything he had discovered thus far, even if Naruto learnt a little more, the matter remained the same, and called for a solution. To see that the boy met the Hyuuga might be the best way to find one, after all. They could come to an agreement with him so that the secret could be kept, but would be unable to harm him if the "renegade" objected to it...

The young girl stopped her train of thoughts there under a pang of guilt. Could she ask that of him? He was already doing too much...

"Of course, whether he accepts or not is another matter..." Kakashi said and scratched the back of his head, embarrassed.

Hinata drew herself up to her full height, resolute:

"I'll do my best to convince him!" she promised. "Thanks a lot, Kakashi-san!"

With that, she bowed and broke into a trot towards the basement. Kurenai watched her go, still anxious. What Kakashi had said was true, but the Hyuuga would definitely disapprove of the human being drawn here, in the very heart of their experiences... This would be put down to Hinata, and the renegade's presence might not be enough to ensure the boy's safety... And there was more.

"Kakashi..." she whispered to the older vampire, who had gone back to his book.

"Hmm?" he answered distractedly.

"You are planning something, aren't you?" she asked suspiciously.

The vampire took his time to finish his page before deigning to raise his eye and answer:

"To be honest, not really," he admitted. "But I wasn't lying when I said that this boy interested me."

He turned his gaze towards the corridor Hinata had disappeared into.

"Visibly, Hinata-sama cares deeply about him. However, more than anything, I'd like to know more about his relationship with Sasuke... He made it quite clear to me that he had decided to stand apart from humans, except for feeding. It looks like I was wrong."

Kurenai sighed.

"He is your student alright, but I think you're getting too heavily involved in his private life. And even if he were looking for human contact, what difference would that make?"

"That would make all the difference," Kakashi answered without hesitation. "The success of Hinata-sama's experience may depend on it."

The vampire woman's eyes widened.

"You really think she can succeed?" she asked cautiously, but the older vampire could feel the thin hope in her voice. He smiled:

"If it turns out that Sasuke has enough humanity left in him, I think I could start to believe it."

While the two vampires talked, Hinata had reached the manor's basement, and was standing in front of a gigantic wooden double door covered with splinters, with rusted handles. It was half-open. With a deep breath, the young girl pushed the ajar door, which opened with a long creaking.

"You're late," a voice reminded her.

A vampire displaying the appearance of a young boy was leaning against a wall with his arms crossed, staring intensely at her. Hinata gulped, trying hard not to look away. The words sounded more like an observation than a reproach, and the vampire didn't look angry, but his true emotions were hard to read, and even harder to understand. As a result, it was impossible to be sure.

'There's such a deep gap between him and the others...' she thought with a pang of anguish. 'He must be so lonely...'

"I had something important to discuss with Kakashi-san," she explained uneasily.

She could make out the disapproval on the vampire's face straight away, but willed herself to ignore it. When she spoke again, her voice was calm:

"Gaara... I have a favour to ask of you..."