A/N: Updated August 2017: I reserve the right to overhaul my fics every 3 years or so - for more please see notes at the end.
"You must Believe in Spring" is a song by Michael Legrande. The chapter titles are other titles by the composer
You Must Believe in Spring
Chapter One: Rain must fall
Friday, March 20th, 10:56 PM Konoha Standard Time
Yugakure, Land of Steam
Rain pelted against the thick glass of the hotel window, making it impossible to see much beyond the courtyard below. The onset of the storm was sudden and fierce, as it spiraled out of an atmospheric anomaly and erased what had been a cloudless first day of spring.
He was grateful.
He much preferred the torrential harsh power of the thunderstorm to the cloyingly perfect weather that it replaced. It reminded him too much of another time and another place with her.
He leaned his forehead against the cold glass, and felt the tiny reverberations of the thunder against his skin and the burn of the memory underneath it. He doubted that he would live long enough to ever forget; then again, in his line of work, he probably wouldn't live long enough to do a fair number of things.
Closing his eyes for just a fraction of a second, he slowed his breathing and let the storm overtake his senses.
Laughter echoed in the depths of his memory.
"Hurry!" the voice danced in his ears, "Or you'll be soaked!" A small hand grabbed his wrist with surprising force and hauled him behind her. "Might as well warm up," she sighed pulling him into the tiny bohemian bistro and waved to the girl behind the counter. Before he could protest, they were seated in front of a fire eating tomato soup with grilled cheese. "Not gourmet," she tilted her head and smiled at him, "but it'll get the job done." He had smirked and nodded while she laughed. That was how they always were – he was quiet and dark; she was laughter and light.
His eyes snapped open as lighting struck close and the air pulsated with energy from the storm. He bit off a silent curse as he shoved away from the window.
There was no use remembering these kinds of things.
They were done.
She was gone.
He had work to do.
As if in response to his redirection of thought, his phone vibrated next to his laptop.
"I just heard back from HQ," the man on the other man began without preamble. "The storm system is far more extensive than they originally believed it to be. All flights out of Yugakure were cancelled, and it is a busy time of year for them. The soonest we could get you on is Sunday morning."
He made a scoffing sort of sound.
"I can get there under my own power before then."
"Oh, easily," he agreed pleasantly. "But that would hardly work for your cover, or that paper trail we've gone through the trouble of creating and maintaining, now would it? By the way…," the sound of shuffling papers filtered over the phone. "The storm system has taken down quite a few networks. It will take our guys some time to restore a secure enough connection to support the encrypted files. Work offline until you hear from me."
"That should about do it, Sasuke. Briefing has been moved to Monday. I'll see you then, 7:00 AM. Sharp."
"Hn." He half smirked and half snorted before adding "And what time will you be there, Old Man?"
"What? Sorry - bad connection – must be the storm. See you Monday."
The perfectly clear connection was severed, leaving Sasuke to grimace into nothing but dead air.
Punctuality was as much an Uchiha trademark as his piercing eyes and signature smirk. Sasuke didn't like to wait, and he didn't like to keep others waiting. That made being on a team with Kakashi particularly frustrating.
He sank on his bed and took a few, meditative breaths while pinching the bridge of his nose between his thumb and middle finger. He had traveled extensively in a short amount of time, and was understandably fatigued. His gaze drifted to his carry-on where his mission scroll was sealed away. As much as he would like to simply surrender to sleep, he estimated his report would take no less than an hour to complete. With grim determination, he resumed his work – he owed it to his comrades.
The next morning, the aftermath of the storm was widespread. There was little to no true damage done, but city crews were already out and removing fallen branches.
The streets surrounding the hotel were littered with cherry blossoms blown by the storm. Yet a small grove of trees sheltered by hotel still stubbornly held their blooms.
And he couldn't help but smirk at the tenacity of spring.
8:32 PM Suna Time/11:32PM KST
Suna, Dancing Wind Restaurant
"I have to say, my dear," Master Sarutobi said, sitting back at the table with a wistful smile, "that even I could not have guessed how incredibly well you would've adapted to Suna. You are a remarkable young lady, Ms. Haruno – excuse me! Dr. Haruno."
"Thank you, sir," Sakura tucked a piece of hair behind her ear. "That means quite a lot coming from you."
"It would be true not matter who said it," his eyes twinkled merrily. "I know a thing or two about your teacher – I feel quite confident in saying that whatever success you currently enjoy, it is the result of tireless effort and dedication. Would you not agree, Neji?"
"How could anyone not?"
Sakura shot him a sweet smile as Master Sarutobi took a long draw from his pipe and exhaled happily.
"I am thankful that Lady Hyūga thought to invite an old man such as myself to accompany her on her visit this new hospital – it is quite a stunning facility. You and Neji here have been working at this for – what – six? Eight months now?"
"It was a year ago that Dr. Haruno kindly agreed to step in as acting chief medic until we got the hospital well under way," Neji answered smoothly. "We have both traveled back and forth to Konoha since then, but she has spent the last six months in Suna."
"As my roommate never lets me forget," Sakura grinned. "By the time I get back to Konoha, my side of the apartment might very well be a greenhouse."
"I don't know that I would put anything past Ms. Yamanaka," the old man chuckled warmly. "She has a singular determination in all things. Ah, Yori. Did you escort Lady Hyūga back to her room?"
Yori gave a single nod.
"Was she alright?" Sakura asked, concerned. "Sounds like your flight caught part of that storm system that is moving across from here to the Land of Fire. Even a few hours later and the flight would've been canceled."
Yori murmured something, but either the ambient noise of the cheerful restaurant, or the high collar of his med-nin uniform prevented her from understanding him.
"He says she was simply fatigued. If she is unwell in the morning, we will postpone the tour."
"I doubt that will be necessary," Neji's lips tilted into something reminiscent of a smile. "Hinata is exceedingly fond of you, Master Sarutobi. I doubt anything less grave than mortal illness would prevent her from keeping her appointment tomorrow."
"Just as you say," he smiled kindly. "Well then," he lifted his glass. "To your excellent work, Dr. Haruno, to your foresight, Neji, and to Hinata's good health."
"Cheers," they chorused, and spun the rest of the evening away in good will and laughter.
11:25 PM KST
Konoha, Hyūga Residence
Hyūga Hanabi sat on the edge of her bed, her mobile pressed to her ear, her words rapid and earnest with concern.
"But are you feeling alright? I know how you hate to fly, and to be caught in this storm! Kō has been glued to the weather channel and watching the radar since the minute your flight took off."
"I'm fine, Hanabi," Hinata laughed gently. "Just a little tired from the journey."
"Just a little tired," Hanabi repeated, clearly unconvinced.
"Well, I can't say my opinion on flying has changed," she admitted ruefully. "But I can say that both Neji and I will be back in time for your birthday."
"Maybe my newest set of bruises will have healed by then," she muttered. "I bet Neji will figure out my new techniques from studying their pattern or something equally as annoying and prodigy-like. I have to get in the last of this round of special training before he comes home."
"Perhaps it is a good thing he has been back and forth to Suna so much," Hinata's voice held the promise of a smile.
"I wish that Tokuma was back from his mission. Then I could really put some of my strategies to the test. Have we heard anything from him?"
"Not yet," Hinata sighed. "But he said he would try to be back for the Solstice and your ceremony."
"Do you ever wonder what it would be like to just have normal birthdays?" Hanabi laid back on her bed, curling on her side with a favorite pillow.
"I don't mind, really," Hanabi stared up at her ceiling, "But it can be a little...daunting."
"I'd venture that this particular birthday's customs are daunting by anyone's standards," Hinata said dryly. "But I am certain you will be exceptional, just the same."
Hanabi's smile was gentle.
"Thanks, Sis. Get some sleep, okay? I can practically hear the yawns you probably meditated out of your voice."
"Alright," her chuckle was good-natured. "You, too."
"Love you, Hinata."
"I love you, too, Hanabi."
11:37 PM KST
Konoha, Hyūga Residence
The storm showed no signs of letting up. Hyūga Hiashi flicked his eyes out of the large window and then back to his paperwork with little interest. He had several things to finish before he could rest this evening.
The Hyūga family owned one of the two largest medical research corporations in the Allied Shinobi Nations. Their research hospital was the best in the Land of Fire, and the one they'd recently acquired in Suna was rapidly becoming just as recognized.
The only company that could rival Hyūga Enterprises was Uchiha Industries. The latest issue of Konoha CEO laid on his desk, open to the article touting the genius of the head of UI: the enigmatic and elusive Uchiha Sasuke.
He sat back, his elbows on the arm rests of his chair, rolling a pen between the first three fingers of both hands.
The article glossed over the circumstances precipitating Sasuke's premature inheritance, although that year the papers had been full of the news that Uchiha Fugaku and Mikoto had been found murdered, ostensibly at the hands of their son Itachi.
Uchiha Sasuke, the second son, and widely considered to be the last of his clan, inherited the entire company. It had been held in trust for him until he could finish his education, but Sasuke had made quite a name for himself in the short years that he had been in charge, and Uchiha Industries was as solvent as ever.
Hiashi leaned back in his chair and looked up at the ceiling. There was mutual respect between Hyūga Enterprises and Uchiha Industries, but there was no love there. They were competition – healthy competition, but competition nonetheless.
He found his gaze resting on the same photo it so often did. He reached for the frame, absently, taking in the details he had long ago committed to permanent memory. The photo itself was unremarkable, if not endearing; a kind looking woman with shining dark hair held a bundle of a baby, while a small girl looked shyly to the camera between the woman and himself. He allowed his finger to trace the curve of her cheek.
It had been a long time since her illness had taken her from their lives.
His focus trailed to the small girl in the middle. She was so like the woman in the picture - so like her mother.
Hiashi sighed deeply.
He was not an unkind man, but he was the leader of his clan and his business – and neither position afforded him the luxury of weakness or indecision. He had long known that his elder daughter did not have the disposition to lead in a cutthroat business world. She was far too kind and gentle, and would be bullied and undercut and shut out before she even began. No. The business would go to Hanabi when the time came.
That wasn't to say that Hinata wasn't an heiress in her own right. She assumed her mother's role as Clan Mother, and would continue in that role even after her sister became the heir.
Still, he wanted to be certain she was taken care of. Protected. And to Hyūga Hiashi, that meant Hinata should marry.
And Hiashi was considering Uchiha Sasuke as a candidate – something he had once proposed to his wife, who surprised him by emphatically disagreeing.
"Imagine what that could mean for the families if our companies combined," he had argued.
"Imagine what that could mean for your daughter if she was forced to do something only for her family's company."
That had been the line that had won her argument, followed by the gentle admonishment of "She deserves better than that, Hiashi."
Hiashi couldn't agree more: Hinata deserved the best. She deserved everything. The companies aside, he saw multiple reasons the match would be beneficial to both parties.
As an Uchiha, Sasuke shared their world of traditions and societal obligations. He would understand how to navigate the social complexities and would undoubtedly allow Hinata to continue on in her clan position. Moreover, his wife would be expected to become the Uchiha Clan Mother. Hinata was very likely the only person in Konoha with the experience to revive that position effectively.
Then there was the matter of their individual wealth. As the only member remaining of his family, he could only benefit from having a wife with no need of his fortune, and their respective legacies could pass on to the next generation untouched. Ironically, as both had inheritances, both parties could be certain that neither party was seeking marriage simply for financial gain.
However, Hiashi's most important reason was astonishingly simplisic.
In their own way, they were both alone.
The Uchiha had lost all family and inherited all of the obligations. He did not participate socially, and was distanced from the other Noble Clans.
Conversely, Hinata had extensive family as well as a bevy of obligations, but those closest to her – her sister and her cousin – also had their own duties to perform.
The role of a Clan Mother demanded constant consideration of others – something that came to Hinata with preternatural ease.
And because of that, she would never be a priority – she would never allow herself to be.
Hiashi was incredibly proud of his daughter; it just wasn't his way to say such things.
He had to show her by making sure she was cared for.
The knock on his door was respectfully muted.
"Sorry to bother you," Kō bowed politely. "But we just heard from Neji. Lady Hyūga has retired for the evening, and is fatigued but well."
"Thank you, Kō. That will be all."
Kō exited as unobtrusively as he entered, leaving Hiashi to watch between the rivulets of water running down the window as the storm streaked across the Konoha skies.
Silence settled thickly over the room, filling the spaces between doubts and obligations, until all that remained were the concerns of a father for his elder child.
His wife continued to gaze quietly from the picture frame now reflected in the thick glass and darkening skies.
"I'm sorry," he closed his eyes, his voice heavy and resigned. "But I think I need to consider my original idea again. You understand. Things have changed, now. It will be for the best." It was some moments later before he tucked his concerns back in the corners of his heart, and allowed the rest of the world to reenter his reality.
He worked that night as he did every night – until he was certain he was too tired to dream – before surrendering to peaceful oblivion of sleep.
9:31 PM Suna Time/12:32 AM KST
Suna, Trigram Apartments
Assured that Master Sarutobi's chauffer knew where to take him and his medic, Neji and Sakura bid the former ASF director a good evening, and headed home.
"Thanks for walking me home," Sakura pulled her key out of her pocket.
"Hardly a trouble, considering your current apartment is two floors below mine."
"Well, then thank you for sharing your walk home to our hospital subsidized housing."
Neji's smile was small and fond.
"You are welcome. Will we see you during the tour tomorrow?"
"Should be an admin-only day," she nodded. "I've backed off to let the staff run the hospital while I am there to help them. Hinata said that she wanted to be there early to take a look at the medicinal gardens. Do you think that is still the case?"
"I am sure that it is."
"Good – I can't wait to see her face when she sees how much everything has grown!"
"I am sure that she will be very pleased." His eyes traveled over her face, and when it appeared that he might say something else, he simply rested a hand on her shoulder and said:
"Get some rest."
"Thanks," she smiled. "I think I will."
And by rest, she decided to treat herself to a rare bubble bath.
The storms had just reached Suna by the time she slid into her bath with a contented sigh. She scooped up a handful of bubbles and blew them into the air, playfully.
She could hear his deep, sedate laughter as she blew bubbles in the park. "What," she asked, green eyes sparkling as she adjusted her seat on the picnic blanket. "Didn't you like doing this as a kid? Think of it as inner-child therapy." She chirped as she dipped the bubble wand back into the bottle for another round.
Arms reached around her and held her wrists as she moved. Arms that brought their faces closer together as he peered over her shoulder from his seat on the blanket, and positioned her to lean against his chest. Arms that brought the wand just next to her cheek so he could blow the bubbles into the lazy wind. She looked at him over her shoulder and stared into his endless ebony eyes and his trademark smirk.
"Not bad," he said quietly – almost too quietly to be heard over her thumping heart. She swallowed nervously as their faces inched closer together, bodies turning to face one another. Absently, she noted he smoothly took the bubble paraphernalia from her hands and guided them to clasp behind his neck before kissing her tenderly, his own hand at her waist.
Her eyes snapped open. Where did that come from?!
She squeezed her eyes shut, took a deep breath and sank under the water and bubbles, letting the warmth wash over her until her pulse rang deafeningly in her ears. She stayed until her lungs burned with the need to breathe, focusing only on calming her heartbeat.
When she rose out of the water, she brushed the bubbles, soap, and tears from her eyes. He was gone, now. He had been for a long time. She had almost returned to Suna permanently after graduation, but at the last minute accepted a job working for his competitor. The chance of seeing him anywhere other than the tabloids was slim to none. She just had to keep reminding herself that she was over it all – that she had moved on.
If she kept saying it, she might even begin to believe it.
She sank into the bath water, determined to relax. Nothing – not even the memory of Uchiha Sasuke was going to take this rare moment of rest from her. She owed herself that much, at the very least.
She made it a whole fifteen seconds before sighing in resignation. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath and slipped into the familiar meditation.
Sakura let the warmth of the bath and the cadence of her pulse take her far, far away until the memories faded and her heart was at peace.
Saturday, March 21st 2:04 AM ST/5:04 KST
Suna, The Kazekage Palace
The hours between sunset and sunrise can be bitingly cold in the desert – something that had long deterred any kind of serious nightlife in Suna. All resources were conserved here, and the city lights had largely given way to the vast sea of stars overhead.
The assassin considered himself lucky that there was no moon, as it would have seriously hampered his efforts. Not that his target would be an easy one, regardless of the phase of the moon or the light in the sky; but there was a reason he had been sent rather than one of the others.
With a few more concealment jutsus, he was ready.
In a few more hours, he would be finished here.
And the Kazekage would be dead.
To anyone that might be returning to this work, you may notice a few key changes.
There is a reason I usually write the beginnings to my stories last. When I began this story, I initially intended for Konoha to be a city in our modern world, with no ties to the canon universe. This story has evolved greatly over the last two years, as did my AU. That is the problem with work that is both serially written and published. I felt it was important to make the initial chapters consistent with the style and characterization that I worked so hard to establish.
Please see the note on my profile page for more information, should you be interested.
As always, I thank you for reading.
With a grateful heart,