For the Good of the Village: Final

Ch 23 I Know

FLASHBACK, PATH TO SUNA

The sun was merciless, easily over a hundred and thirty degrees during its peak. The quartet decided to travel at night to ensure a more efficient use of time and energy. Camping during the day was hard to endure but smart considering it assisted to reserve energy and prevent heat injuries. Sasuke kept to himself unless it was to go over the map with Shikamaru. They discussed what would be the best plan of action once they arrived with Suna's outer patrol. Hinata assisted Naruto setting up camp. They chatted, catching up again, simply sharing sideways glances and smiles.

"Are you nervous?" Naruto asked her, peeking through an opening in a make shift canopy that was held down by rope and stakes. "You know I'm here for you, right?"

Hinata hid her face under her bangs, chewing her lip and refolding the little blanket she had brought for Kensura with the stitching 'Hyuuga' written on it. All sorts of little child knick knacks lined a bag that she and her family had to give to the newest member of the clan; baby rattles, pacifier, combs, brushes, and even a scroll with a handmade rocker that used to belong to Neji when he was a child. A dainty parasol rested against the wall that she had used during her travel in the day to protect her delicate skin from the sun. Naruto and Hinata had been joined at the hip the entire time. Hinata listened to Naruto's grandiose stories non-stop, enjoying each one even though she was sure he was embellishing here and there. Now, alone with Sasuke and Shikamaru off talking about routes and meeting points, Naruto and Hinata had made it a point to share little affectionate touches and invitations to each other's personal space.

Hinata shifted a little closer to him, her fingers hooking around his arm when he leaned into her when she stared in the direction of where her cousin, wife, and their child were. "I know, Naruto-kun."

She could see he studied her little movements, see her minor quirks of emotional distress. While Naruto's feelings were not only on his sleeve but glaring, she tried to keep her's kept under wraps. She was sure she knew what she needed to do with this whole mess between Naruto and Sasuke. She didn't really want to think any more of it. Everything had changed, things were different, and above all, she was about to come face to face with someone who has given her some life altering injuries when they were just genins, just children, and, yet, still family.

"Do you remember what I told you when I was in the hospital, Naruto-kun? When I couldn't see and in the hospital bed?" Hinata asked, her fingers touching the side of her eyes with her fingertips.

Naruto was right there, taking the other side of her face so she could look up at him. He felt those wounds, too, she mused, seeing the hard pinch of his brows. "You told me thank you for not killing your nii-san."

Hinata nodded, closing her eyes and saw what must have been a reflective memory in Naruto's blue, blue eyes. While she was thanking him, she knew it took everything in his heart and soul to not want to go back and correct his decision despite her thanks.

"Do you remember what you asked me back then, Hinata-chan?"

"Hai," She looked away, unable to keep staring at the emotions stirring in those eyes that were filled with so much worry, anger, hate and fear resurfacing. "I asked if you thought I would have been a good mommy."

Hinata's hands strayed to her belly, her bottom lip quivering, the ghosts of her past haunting her still from that day, those pain filled weeks, and the day Kurenai came to her with Tsunade, shaking her head and saying, "Hinata, I'm sorry. We have some bad news..."

Sasuke pushed the sheet aside, seeing Hinata and Naruto close, half holding each other and gazing at each other with raw emotion and pain. Hinata shied away but Naruto refused to let her go, holding onto her and pulling her possessively close.

"We're good, Sasuke. You can go." Naruto nuzzled Hinata's cheek, giving her a smooch while looking at Sasuke cheekily.

Sasuke said nothing, only keeping his hard onyx gaze on Hinata. She couldn't meet his eyes, looking away and fidgeting with the hem of her sleeves.

"Come with me, Hinata. We need to talk."

"Say what you've got to say, Sasuke. We're all friends here." Naruto pushed, keeping Hinata at his side.

Sasuke shook his head, pulling the cloth flap away as he exited.

"Naruto-kun, I should go hear what he has to say." Hinata un-threaded his fingers from her hand, touching his face with her hands. "I won't be long."

Before Naruto could object, Hinata grabbed her parasol and headed out of the tent.

xxx

Shikamaru greeted Naruto when he left the tent with a troublesome lift of his chin. Naruto smiled, full sunny and bright smile like the world was right, things that were good were plentiful, and everything that happened for a reason would have nothing but good consequences if you worked hard enough. Maybe that was the reason why things had worked as they had? He hadn't worked hard enough. Everything was troublesome, he knew it. He could see it as plain as day, as much as the sun was bright, water was wet, ice was cold, and shinobi were masters at lies, everything was simply troublesome.

Like love.

Shikamru jerked his thumb in the direction Hinata had run off to talk to Sasuke. They were talking about twenty feet away in whispers, Sasuke and her looking at each other, him even pulling her close, speaking into her ear. It didn't seem romantic or even affectionate, but it definitely made Hinata stiffen and look about as if someone has just stepped over her grave.

See? Troublesome.

Women, in general, were troublesome, especially blondes. Ino, Temari, Tsunade, and almost every woman he had ever met...except Shiho. She knew everything that Shikamaru tried to do to be with Temari after Neji had been rescued by the Sabaku family. She helped him get the missions, help with messages, and even been there when he came back to help him find ways of expressing his love for his troublesome Sand Princess.

When Temari had told him that to keep the peace between Suna and Konoha that her and Neji were going to marry he couldn't believe it. Every time they saw each other before then felt like magic. She rarely mentioned Neji and the rest of the time was just the two of them speaking of family, where he was going to raise their children on his land. While he couldn't make her a respectable woman he could make her a decent wife. The beatings he received after those snarky remarks were impressive but he could tell she was holding back. Then they would kiss. He had grown taller, taller than her and she, in return, had filled out, becoming a woman with curves, longer blonde hair, and fuller lips and larger defiant eyes. He knew she was extremely annoyed that he was so tender with her, so worried to make her a woman more than just mind, spirit, but in body.

She had wanted that connection with him and he her, but there was just that...troublesome something that made him hold back. What was it? He didn't know but something told him that if he crossed that line there would be hell to pay, and not just from her brothers. Then it came and went, his chance to be bold, to be dominant and demanding. He didn't throw caution to the wind and then fate, as Neji would put it, took over.

She asked him to stop coming over.

Shiho had explained that Temari, specifically, had demanded that he no longer come over. He knew why. He asked Shiho to intercept any messages that could help him get to Temari and she agreed. When she went to go see him later that night, she had done so sneaking a copy of a scroll to him, one in the Suna's council member's own hand, about Temari and Neji getting married.

The date of the event had passed, two days from the time he read the letter. He dropped the letter, dropped to his knees, and hung his head low against the wall. Shiho pulled him to her shoulder and let him cry.

"I hope you don't make the same mistake I did, Naruto." Shikamaru caught the canteen Naruto had tossed him, tilting his head in the direction where Hinata and Sasuke were talking.

"Which mistake? I've got quite a few." Naruto chuckled at his own admission.

"If you love her, don't let her go. Fight for her with everything you've got. Even if it's troublesome."

"Yeah," Naruto wiped his lips after taking a swig of his own canteen. "I'd do everything in my power to keep her, Shikamaru."

Shikamaru felt a shift in the air, a humming of power that surpassed his own ability to measure such raw chakra. It had come and gone in a second. He looked over to Naruto and could see some of it still lingering, vibrating the air around Naruto's fist that he had clenched. Swallowing hard, he was sure whatever happens in Suna would be troublesome. Very troublesome.

Sasuke and Hinata headed back. Sasuke was already pointing towards Naruto and Shikamaru before they could say anything or ask anything. "We're closing up camp. We need to keep moving, now."

"What's going on? It's still sun up." Shikamaru inquired, flicking his chin towards Hinata. Naruto was looking at them both trying to keep up with the quick witted thoughts of the two Jounins.

Naruto had barely looked at Sasuke. His eyes were on Hinata. Eyes, once soft and endearing, were now focused, disturbed, and a little angry.

"Hinata-chan? What's wrong?"

Naruto was walking right up to her, ready to take her hand and hold it, but she just walked past him, almost ignoring him. Realizing she either didn't hear him or straight up dismissed him, he grabbed her hand, hard, and turned her to look at him. Worried and confused, Shikamaru could see Naruto couldn't think of what to ask why she was being like this. Even he was baffled by it.

"Uzumaki-san, could you not talk to me. Something has been brought to my attention and you're in the way." Hinata twisted her hand out of Naruto's grasp, equally as hard, and put herself right next to Sasuke's side in a gesture of obedience or submission. At least, this is what Shikamaru would call it from where he stood.

Naruto was already gathering chakra in his fist, ready to pummel into Sasuke with everything he had. Even Shikamaru felt a twinge of rage for his shinobi brethren, knowing what it feels like to have another man take the woman he loved.

Hinata stood between Naruto and Sasuke, taking the full glare of Naruto's rage.

This dulled Naruto's anger into dumbfounded awe. "Hinata...but I love you."

"I know," Her voice wasn't soft, sensitive, or even gentle. It was distant, acknowledging, and, yet, regretful. Hinata shook her head, turning her pretty lavender eyes towards Sasuke and resting her dainty hand on his arm. "Sasuke-sama, when you are ready."

And without another word, Sasuke and Hinata started back on the path towards Suna with Naruto and Shikamaru looking on as if they had just witnessed a horrible tragedy.