The Logical Conclusion

The Logical Conclusion

Standard Disclaimers Apply


A/N: It's been a rather long time since I updated this story. I had everything planned out, a long chapter waiting to be uploaded and then, my computer crashed.

It affected me so much, all those lost files, that I hadn't been able to really get back to writing my old stories for a while there. However, I do still love the pairing SasuHina and NejiHina and all your wonderful and encouraging reviews made me tackle this project on again. Hopefully, it's something that you will still enjoy reading.

Also I need help. If you are willing to be a beta-reader for me then please drop me a line. I need someone who is preferably well versed in the Naruto Universe since I am way behind on it, and who is also good with grammar and punctuation since I sometimes tend to overlook some things. Also, someone who won't mind discussing plot situations etc… Interested parties please Email me at my yahoo account which is: scentedcandles(underscore)hm(at)yahoo(dot)com. You can also see my E-mail address in my account here on the site. Thank you! Remember, that scentecandleshm(at)yahoo(dot)com


Chapter Eight:

Shikamaru was laid out in the expansive Nara backyard, under a tree on a small hill that overlooked the grazing ground of the deer that his family was so well known for breeding. For the moment, he was content. That was the good thing about going on B-ranked missions – you were allowed time-off afterwards, whether you needed it or not.

He hoped though, that the next mission he and his team of genins would be assigned was a D-rank. Something about weeding lawns or finding lost cats…baby-sitting was acceptable too.

In the meantime, Shikamaru was all about relaxing.

"Nara-sensei!"

Oh no, please no.

Not now.

"NARA-SENSEI!"

The unmistakably high-pitched tone of Miyazawa's voice made Shikamaru's muscles tense in wary apprehension at what was to come. He ignored it. Reality was all about perception anyway, right? So if he refused to acknowledge that it was Miyazawa's voice he'd heard, that would mean she wasn't really there…right?

"Shika-kun, your students are here to visit."

Shikamaru twitched. So they got his mother in one ruining his quality time too? He should have known.

"Shjka-kun…" his mother repeated again, this time emphasizing her point by nudging him (none too gently in his opinion) in the head with the toe of her shoes. "Oi Shikamaru, greet your students properly, they came a long way from town to see you."

"Hai okaasan," Shikamaru muttered with a put upon sigh as he sat up and turned to face his students. Daisuke was missing and he waited for Suzume to tell him why.

When his mother was out of earshot, Miyazawa Suzume shot him a reproachful look. "Nara-sensei, you're still living in your parent's home? Lazy…"

Shikamaru's eyebrow twitched but he ignored the impulse to point out that ANBU captain Hyuuga Neji lived at home too, in the Hyuuga estate. Instead, in the interest of saving time, he asked, "So what's this all about? And where's Daisuke?"

"We went with Daisuke to the emergency room at the hospital because he over-ate again. We ran into Shizune-san there and she recognized us as your students. She asked us to give you this!" Miyazawa produced a scroll and handed it over to Shikamaru.

Shikamaru raised an eyebrow and dispelled the seal before opening the missive and reading its contents. When he was done, he rolled it up again and stood up.

There went his rest days.

Crap.


Hinata was already at the Hokage's office when Shikamaru arrived. She'd run into Shizune on her way out of the hospital and had been informed that she had been called in by the Hokage for a meeting. Shikamaru raised an eyebrow at her, silently asking if she knew what the purpose of the meeting was, but Hinata just shrugged lightly indicating that she herself had no idea.

Tsunade watched the exchange surreptitiously. She was pleased to note that the two of them were close enough to be able to communicate nonverbally, using only simple gestures. It took a level of intimate understanding of another person before one could correctly read their body's cues. It would make their uncertain assignment easier to handle, or so she hoped.

"Take a seat Nara, we're still waiting for two others before we begin."

Shikamaru shrugged, heeding the Godaime's words and settling himself beside Hinata on the sofa. The Hokage went back to reading whatever paper she was examining, ignoring her subordinates completely.

Shikamaru turned to Hinata, his voice pitched so that Hinata was the only one to hear him. "You seem better rested. I assume everything is going alright for you at work?"

"There haven't been a lot of emergencies lately. How did your mission go?"

"Fine, I guess. Daisuke is at the hospital. Too much food again, I swear…"

"Poor dear, I remember he was brought in a few weeks ago due to the same condition."

Shikamaru rolled his eyes wryly. "You'd think with the number of stomachaches he suffers, he'd learn a bit of self control…so far it's still not working, but I'm not giving up hope."

Hinata smiled. Shikamaru's tone was exasperated, but there was an underlying tone of fondness that he couldn't quite hide. No matter how much he complained about his charges, everyone knew how much he cared for his team.

"Hey, how're you holding up?" he asked, still thinking about Ino's worries over their Hyuuga friends

"Huh? What do you mean by that Shika-kun?"

"Ino's worried about you."

"Ino-san is very sweet to worry about me, but I'm fine Shikamaru-kun," Hinata assured him. "Neji-niisan just got back from his mission. Lee-kun was brought to the hospital, but when I dropped by, Sakura was already there tending to him."

"Well at least something good came out of it."

Hinata smiled. "Niisan said more or less the same thing."

"How's Neji? He got off unscathed?"

Hinata sighed and looked at the watch on her wrist. "No. Niisan has been injured as well. I'm supposed to meet with him later so I can tend to his injuries. I hope we finish with this meeting soon." She wanted to go home and see Neji.

"Well, it's got to start first before we finish," Shikamaru said. He too, wanted to go home. He sighed. "You know, we should all get together to visit Lee tomorrow, if we can."

"That would be really nice. I hope Chouji, Kiba and Shino come back to the village soon. It's been so long already."

"It has been a while since all of us got together, hasn't it?"

"Yes," Hinata agreed. Too long.


Neji told Hinata a highly abridged version of the mission he had with Lee. He knew she worried about him and his particular mission had been a little difficult to accomplish. The document he and Lee had been sent to retrieve had been surprisingly well guarded not only by several high ranking shinobis from the Hidden Grass that the daimyo had hired but also by several well trained samurais. It had been rather bloody and Neji had incurred several gashes and bruises and his ANBU uniform had borne the taints of blood from himself and his enemies as well as several burns due to a fire juutsu he was barely able to avoid.

"I'm glad you're alright," Hinata said as she dabbed antiseptic on a particular nasty wound near his ANBU tattoo. She frowned - it had started to get infected. He'd already had a bath and cleaned his wounds but she wasn't about to take any chances.

Hinata was confident in Neji's abilities as a shinobi. But after so many missions without appropriate recuperation time, she was starting to get worried about him. He was pushing himself too hard. She rested her forehead on his arm, feeling the warmth of his skin against hers.

"I apologize for having worried you," Neji's quiet voice barely disturbed the silence. "I will take better care of myself next time, I promise."

Hinata smiled a little, though she knew he couldn't see. Neji did always know what she was thinking. She set about applying medicinal herbs to his wounds.

The calming scent of the cream made Neji relax. That was one of the good things about Hinata's herbs. They didn't smell quite as pungent as others did. He watched the play of shadows across her skin as she worked and noticed that she looked a little worn. "Hinata-sama…"

"Hai?"

"You haven't been getting much sleep, have you Hinata-sama?"

"Neither have you," Hinata said back as she touched a fingertip to the lavender shadows beneath Neji's eyes. There was a small gash on his cheek, not deep enough to scar, but the sight of it tore at Hinata. "You've been over working yourself. I worry that something bad would happen to you…"

Neji felt that warm flow of Hinata's chakra and felt the flesh knit together almost instantaneously, the skin tingling a little from the accelerated healing. He caught Hinata's hand in his and gave it a gentle squeeze. "I already promised you I won't go on a mission for a while, remember? Don't worry about me."

"I can't help it. It's what I do."

Outside the small hut in Hinata's private garden, there was only silence and the slight pitter-patter of rain. Neji had opted to wait for her there instead of at home. The water formed an insulating liquid barrier around them that seemed to separate the two of them from the rest of the world.

Hinata finished tending to Neji and went to put her supplies away. When she turned back to him, she saw that he was in the process of donning on his shirt. Hinata watched him, thinking how odd it was that seeing him get dressed seemed much more intimate to her than when she'd been bandaging his wounds.

Neji sensed her perusal and turned his head. "Hinata-sama?"

She managed to give him a small smile. "Would you like some tea niisan? It should help you relax. Its still raining and you shouldn't get your bandages wet.

Neji stared at Hinata for a long time before nodding. "Saa. Arigato."

OOO

"Tadaima," Kakashi said as he appeared in a puff of smoke in the living room of the house he shared with Kurenai.

"Okaeri," came his wife's reply. "I'm in the kitchen."

Kakashi padded over to the kitchen and kissed the top of his daughter's head. "Hi angel, did you miss papa?"

Kaoru giggled up at him from her baby-chair.

"I saw Sasuke with Sakura today."

"What else is new?"

"They just got out of a meeting with Tsunade-sama. Hinata and Shikamaru were in there with them," Kakashi informed his wife as he bent down to kiss her cheek.

Kurenai inclined her head slightly so that their lips met. She pulled back when Kakashi would have deepened the kiss. "That's an odd collection of people. Were there any problems with Sasuke's seal? Is he okay? What about Hinata and Sakura?

"They're fine," Kakashi said with a wave of his hand as if dispelling his wife's worries. "The Hokage is just sending them on an escort mission."

"Oh. I wonder why them?" Kurenai looked thoughtful. "Escort missions don't usually need two specialist medic-nins. So then what did Tsunade-sama want with you?"

"You mean, aside from my young, taut, virile body?"

Kurenai glared.

Kakashi's eyes crinkled in amusement. "You know how graduation for genins is coming up? She asked me to take on a team again."

"Yes, you've mentioned that before. Did you decide to take on the job?"

"That's the thing," Kakashi said with an amused laugh. "I couldn't really say no to it now. Especially when I heard who the members were going to be…"


Sakura still couldn't quite believe that she was being sent out on a mission. It had been a rather long time since she'd done something not medical related and she was looking forward to working with Hinata as well. Perhaps the mission would bring them closer. It would be nice to have a female confidant.

Another thing that Sakura liked about the mission was that she would be working with Sasuke! And without Naruto too! Not that she disliked Naruto, they were all friends and were a great team, but when those two worked together, they usually got into competitive fights which left Sakura to mediate between them. With Hinata and Shikamaru as her teammates, she was free to spend more quality time with Sasuke during the mission!

She smiled just thinking of it.

She went and collected the files about Lee's case and double checked how the tests went. So far so good, he was on his way to recovery if he didn't push himself too hard too fast. That was the difficult part, keeping him in bed long enough for his body to heal.

Sakura heaved a sigh and smiled softly, thinking fondly of the young and awkward boy Lee had been the first time she'd seen him. Even then, he'd been all passion and fire and unshakable faith.

"You know someone else can take over his case for you. You haven't had a proper rest in a while and you have a mission coming up to prepare for, right?" an elder medic said.

"It's okay. I have a vested interest on this one," Sakura answered as she turned to head for Lee's roo

"Oh. Boyfriend then?" one of the nurses teased.

"No," Sakura said with a shake of her head. "A good friend though; a very good friend…"


Sakura was tending to Lee – she'd taken it upon herself to personally make sure he was healing up nicely – when the door opened to admit Shikamaru and Neji inside. She smiled at them in greeting, hiding her surprise.

Shikamaru raised his hand in a lazy greeting while Neji nodded politely.

Lee sat up in bed to welcome them and uttered his usual enthusiastic ramblings, making Neji wince and Shikamaru sigh in irritation. "You're too noisy."

"Settle down, will you?" Neji said as he sat down on the chair by Lee's bed. "Save your strength for Ten-Ten and the others. They're supposed to show up here soon to visit you. Gai-sensei been here yet?"

Lee's smile twinkled. "Hai, Gai-sensei is the best!" Tears ran down his cheek as he went on to deliver an impassioned speech about love, the power of youth and perseverance.

"You're almost as noisy as Ino and that's saying something," Shikamaru told Lee with an exasperated shake of his head.

"I don't think he heard you," Neji commented, "He's too far gone."

Sakura blinked. They were friends? All three of them? Who'd have thought that such unlikely companions could become good friends?

In the background, Lee was still going strong in his speech about the expectations of people from him, the magnificent green beast of Konoha.

"Maybe I should use my shadow manipulation technique to shut him up, huh?"

Sakura gave Shikamaru a "Don't you dare' look that prompted him to raise both hands in a gesture of appeasement. "I was only kidding… well, half kidding anyway…"

"Lee-kun, you should settle back down in bed. You're aggravating your injuries and that's not good for you at all…" Sakura said, watching as Lee seemed to bounce around the walls in his excitement. It seemed that trying to curb his enthusiasm was easier said than done.

"Don't worry Sakura! I'm a genius at hard work and my body can take a whole lot more punishment than this and still keep moving!" Lee declared, seemingly prepared to do jumping jacks to prove it too.

Eight flying projectiles whizzed into the room and embedded themselves into the wall with solid sounding thunks. "That should hold you," Ten-Ten said smugly as she walked in and smiled at a stunned Lee who was pinned to the wall by the sleeves of his hospital gown thanks to Ten-Ten's kunais.

Shikamaru let out an impressed whistle. The kunais had gone through to the hilt. "Nice…"

Ten-Ten smirked at him and saluted as she went to retrieve her kunais from the wall. "He wasn't giving you much trouble was he, Sakura?"

Sakura still couldn't quite still her heart from the surprise of the flying projectiles whizzing by her. For a moment, she'd thought they would hit Lee. She'd heard that Ten-Ten was an expert marksman but she'd never before quite witnessed the extent of the kunoichi's skills. "Uh…no, no he wasn't…"

Hinata followed Ten-Ten inside, carrying a large basket filled with food. "Hello Lee-kun," she said bowing in greeting. "Sakura-san, nice to see you!"

"Hi Hinata…"

Lee stopped bickering with Ten-Ten to offer Hinata a wide smile and a thank you for visiting before resuming protesting Ten-Ten's use of the kunai to still him.

"Well you were bouncing off the walls again, suits you right!"

"You're so mean Ten-Ten!" Lee said when he was freed. "Great aim though."

"You should be resting you know, the sooner you get well the sooner you get out of here. You should be ashamed. Sakura is working so hard to help you heal up; you should do your part too!"

Sakura smiled and shook her head, "It was no trouble. Lee's a friend." She wasn't sure but she thought she heard Shikamaru mutter 'And therein lay the problem' and share a smirk with Neji. Feeling flustered, she finished Lee's examination and smiled at him. "Everything seems to be in order. You just need to really rest up because your tore a few muscles and that needs time to heal naturally. Healing jutsus can only get you so far."

Lee nodded and thanked her.

"We're very thankful for Sakura-san's care of Lee," Hinata said, smiling in her direction.

"Well, you help take care of someone very important to me too," Sakura said with a soft smile. "I'll see you later then," she said with a nod as she turned to leave, the sound of their cheerful conversation making something twist uncomfortably at the pit of her stomach. It made her queasy and she made to open the door to get out only to have it open from the other side.

Ino was standing there, with a huge flower arrangement in her arms and a big smile on her face; a smile, which faltered a bit at the sight of Sakura in front of her.

Sakura felt like she was a kid again, standing across from Ino and throwing that ribbon – their friendship – back in Ino's face.

"Ino, what took you so long?" Shikamaru complained from inside the room. He was eating a sandwich that Hinata had brought.

Ino's eyes flickered from Sakura to the room beyond. "Yeah sorry, there was a last minute customer, plus I got Lee these!"

Sakura made to pass Ino by, convinced that the blonde wouldn't possibly want anything to do with her. Not after all these years. Konoha may have been a village, but it was a large one and it had been years since they had last conversed.

"Sakura, thanks for taking care of Lee," Ino said quietly.

Sakura's eyes widened fractionally as she met Ino's gaze. The blonde was smiling a bit. A token of good will, it was. Sakura felt shamed once more at thinking the worst of her friend, no, not a friend any longer but a former one, the years stretching out like a chasm to divide them.

Ino's eyes, her smile, were sincere.

The shame intensified in Sakura. She was always doing that, thinking the worst of Ino and every single time, the blonde had proven her wrong.

"I'm sorry…" Sakura wanted to say. Sorry for ending our friendship, sorry for being a bad person to you, sorry for choosing Sasuke over you, sorry for all the wasted years that I could have been your friend…

Instead of saying this though, all she did was smile back and say "No problem."

And when she left and the door closed behind her, admitting Ino inside, where her friends were, Sakura felt something flutter in her belly. It wasn't the tight queasiness of before but something softer, an unwinding.

She and Ino weren't friends again, not yet…but there, in that small hesitant smile that they had shared, was a maybe that said that perhaps, in time, they could be again.


"The medics are much stricter now that they were before…" Shikamaru commented as they settled down for a picnic on the hospital grounds. It had taken a lot of begging on their part (minus Neji of course) before the nurses allowed them to take Lee out of his room. Not only did they have to beg but there had been forms to sign and identity verifications tests to go through before they were allowed this small excursion.

"It's a good policy." Ten-Ten said. "You know how ninjas have enemies and we're so vulnerable when we're injured or sick. It makes me feel better to know that the hospital is very careful when it comes to admitting people and allowing the access to the patients."

"Shizune-san said that the Hokage-sama spent a lot of time and energy overhauling how the hospital and the medics worked," Hinata chipped in. "It seemed that the previous policies did not meet her standard at all. Now we have laboratories and people working on advancing and exploring different branches of medicine. It's a really exciting time to be a medic."

"Wah Hinata-chan! You're so cute when you get so passionate about your work!" Lee said, tears in his eyes. He gave her two thumbs-up and a big, sparkling smile.

"A-Arigato, Lee-kun…"

"You're freaking her out, Lee." Ten-Ten said with a roll of her eyes.

Lee's eyes got even tearier. "Is that true Hina-chan?"

"Is it me or is his lips trembling?" Shikamaru wondered aloud.

Neji didn't even want to look in that direction.

"O-Of course not Lee-kun!" Hinata appeased. They all knew how Lee could be when he got into his crying jags. To divert an impending disaster, Hinata latched on to the first thing that came to her frantic mind. "Shikamaru-kun! How is Daisuke-kun?"

"Oh Chouji's cousin? What happened?" Lee inquired, leaning forward.

"He was hospitalized yesterday, but he was released later on in the evening. He had an upset stomach because he over-ate…" Shikamaru explained.

"He always overeats! You need to set more boundaries for him Shikamaru. I mean, remember how I tried to regulate Chouji's diet when we were genins?"

Shikamaru did remember. He also remembered quite a lot of evenings spent watching Chouji eat and complain about Ino after she had gone home. He didn't think Ino would appreciate that little tidbit so he decided to keep mum instead and simply grunted.

The girls went on to discuss the pros and cons of several diets and what went well with this and that type of exercise regimen. Lee, in typical Lee fashion, joined in with aplomb. Neji occasionally corrected them or offered an opinion here and there.

Well, Shikamaru supposed he really should try and discipline his genins more, but he didn't want to be a strict task master. Every one had their own pace and he didn't want to force them to grow faster than the rate they were comfortable in. His own Jounin instructor had made Shikamaru a believer in individual handling. Asuma had handled Ino, Chouji and Shikamaru differently and they each had benefited from this specialized form of treatment. Shikamaru wanted to impart that to his students.

Still, he supposed a bit of tough love now and again was required. Perhaps if they saw how strict other teachers were, they might show him a little more appreciation? Suzume had been rather annoying lately, what with her reproachful looks as if Shikamaru's very way of life was a sore disappointment to her. It had begun to grate on his nerves.

And too, Shikamaru still didn't know who he was going to leave in charge of them while he went away on the escort mission. In the background, he heard Ino and Hinata asking Lee what sort of physical therapies he was getting while Ten-Ten asked Neji what he was going to do while Lee recuperated.

"Will you go out on solo missions or captain a squad of ANBU?"

Neji answered that he was going to take time off from missions for the meantime. "I have it on very good authority that I was overexerting my self and need time to rest like any normal human being."

"That's true…" Ten-Ten nodded in approval. "Everyone needs time to rest."

Ino smiled. "And by expert opinion I bet you mean Hinata, right?"

Shikamaru grinned suddenly as an idea came to him. "Say Neji, what do you think about taking on my genins? Since Hinata and I are going away on a mission…how about you take charge of them for a little while?"

Neji lifted an eyebrow. "I don't think I'll be very good with instructing children. I have a very low tolerance for insolence and rowdiness."

"Well, they're good kids. And I think they would benefit from your instruction." Shikamaru smiled benignly. "You can be as strict with them as you want. Enforce your rules and make sure they follow them. I mean, I trust you and I know that I'll leave them in capable hands…"

"I'll think it over…"

"You'll be great at it niisan. Remember, you taught me and I improved a lot because of you," Hinata encouraged with a smile.

"Though Neji is a hard-ass perfectionist…" Ten-Ten piped up.

"Perfection should be the ultimate goal of every ninja!" Lee declared passionately, displacing a cup of orange juice and making Ten-Ten jump up with a yelp to avoid getting wet. "Gomen!"

"Don't worry, its fine…" Ten-Ten said.

Ino and Hinata laughed as they tried to mop up the spill. Lee tried to help to but ended up getting juice everywhere. Ten-Ten tried to convince him to stop trying to help while Hinata and Ino continued to laugh. Shikamaru sighed and mumbled about it all being too tiresome and Ino shot him a venomous look and demanded "what did you say?"

Neji smiled, relaxed in the company of his friends. He watched Hinata smile and talk freely, as if without a care in the world and thought about how sad it was that both he and Hinata were more at ease in the company of their friends than with their relatives. He was glad though, that Hinata at least had a group she could run to for support. When the time came that he could no longer stay by her side, he was glad there were others that he could trust to take care of her.

"So Neji, what do you say? You can come meet them and decide for yourself…but I'd really appreciate it if you take them on while I'm gone," Shikamaru said. "I trust you to take good care of them." Which was true, Shikamaru knew Neji did not shirk on his responsibilities and he really was the best person Shikamaru could entrust his students to.

Trust huh? Neji nodded. "Alright, I'll meet with them. Then, we'll see…" The idea though, was growing on him. With Hinata gone, Shikamaru's pupils might serve as a good diversion to keep him occupied. I trust you and the others to take care of Hinata-sama too…please, please when I can no longer do so… please take care of her…

Shikamaru nodded. "Fair enough… thanks."


Sasuke was on his way to the hospital for his 'check-up' which consisted mostly of Hinata looking at his seal and testing to see if it reacted strangely to chakra emissions and if the seal was holding up under various strains and conditions. From a distance, he could make out Sakura's pink hair as she waited for him at the entrance of the hospital.

"You don't need to always wait for me," he told her.

Sakura's cheeks turned a slight rose. "Its okay, I don't mind."

"…"

"I was tending to Lee earlier and Hinata came to visit. I had no idea Ino and Ten-Ten and Hinata were friends. Neji Hyuuga and Shikamaru were there too." Sakura smiled though it was rather sad at the edges. "I guess its natural for people who grew up together to become friends, right?"

"I guess so…" Sasuke said, though he really didn't have much experience in that department. If anything, Sakura probably knew more about it than he did. What was it that Kakashi had told him?

"You're Emotionally Retarded Sasuke, that's what you are…"

Sasuke made a face. Stupid Hentai Sensei….

There was a pause where both Team 7 members seemed lost in their own thoughts. As always; it was Sakura who tried moved first to bridge the gap.

"Anou…I'm looking forward to our upcoming mission. It's been a while since I've worked with Sasuke-kun on a team. Just like old times."

"Except that Naruto won't be there," Sasuke pointed out.

"Yes, well…I've worked with Naruto a lot without Sasuke-kun so…" Sakura shrugged, losing her train of thought. Sasuke's statement had startled her. "Next time, hopefully we can all go on missions together. The three of us training with Kakashi-sensei has been enjoyable."

Sasuke shrugged. He supposed it had been enjoyable, in its own oddly annoying way, what with Kakashi being a perverted old man and Naruto insisting on Sasuke's homosexuality. Come to think of it…he had been getting a few weird looks from people (men) lately…

Naruto you stupid idiot! Now you've made me paranoid on top of everything else!

"Neh, Sasuke-kun, are you excited to go out on a mission again?"

Sasuke thought about it. Was he excited? The truth was that, he hadn't expected to even be assigned a mission, especially one that would allow him outside of Konoha walls. After all, he had left before hadn't he? Weren't they even a little concerned that he might go and turn traitor again?

But then of course he couldn't really leave, could he? Konoha was the only place he knew where he could get the help he needed to contain the monstrosity Orochimaru had implanted in him, should something go wrong.

Judging from the course of his life so far, Sasuke thought that was very likely.

He didn't even mind that he was to play subordinate to Nara who had been a less than average ninja at the academy when they had both attended. Who would have thought that the lazy kid would be able to attain the rank of Jounin at such a young age? Shit, Neji Hyuuga was an ANBU Captain (though that really wasn't a surprise since everyone had expected the Hyuuga prodigy to be a success).

A lot of people had changed, had matured, and Sasuke couldn't help but be disoriented now and again whenever he saw familiar places and people and realized that things were different…the world had moved on.

He was trying his best to catch up though. He was determined to catch up. Sasuke Uchiha was not a loser. The idea of being left behind did not sit well with him at all. "I'm not sure what I feel about the mission…"

But I'll do my best.

I won't fail.

I've had enough of failure already.

Sasuke and Sakura stopped at a door with fingerprint identification as well as chakra verification. After going through the screening process, the door opened to admit the two of them inside.

Hinata looked up and bowed to Sasuke and Sakura both.

Sasuke saw that the Hokage too was there. That didn't bode well for him. Her presence meant she would most likely drain his chakra before making Hinata examine him. That process was not only tiring but also painful. He was not looking forward to it.

"Sakura, have a hospital beds ready for Uchiha. This session is going to be a little more intense than usual. Come back and fetch him in an hour."

"Uchiha-san, please take of your shirt and stay at the center of the warded circle…" Hinata said, motioning to the space in front of her.

Sasuke sighed, feeling his muscles tense in apprehension at what was to come. When he'd settled himself, the Tsunade approached him, her heels making clicking noises with each step she took.

"Alright then," the Hokage said when she too was inside the circle. "Let's begin."

"Please brace yourself…" Hinata said to Sasuke.

And that was the last thing he was aware of for what seemed to be a very long time.


A/N: Wah! Not much Sasuke-Hinata this chapter but more of him and Hinata interactions to come next! Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed this part. I am so behind on Naruto that this fic of mine is already AU but in any case, I hope you still continue to support it. And please, if anyone is willing to help by being my beta, drop me a line. Thank you. Oh and please, please review.