Author's Note: Thanks to everyone that left their thoughts on the last few stories. I'm sorry, but this one may take a while to complete because I'm currently busy with applications for grad school. Please bear with me. As usual… I do not own Naruto.
Naruto walked through the front gate of the Hyuuga compound and took a moment to admire the serene, midday beauty of the grounds. Every plant was maintained to a certain specification; every leaf meticulously trimmed to a desired length, every shade of flower color balanced to be aesthetically acceptable. The stone pathways that meandered through the front gardens were washed daily to a white finish, and even the sturdy wooden doors of the gate he had just passed through were kept immaculate, without a single sign of mildew or rot.
Despite his appreciation for the dedication such maintenance must have required, Naruto felt deep revulsion boil up. The Hyuuga estate represented its clan in microcosm – nothing less than perfection was expected. Conformity was not just appreciated, it was demanded, and any plant or stone that did not fit within the grand design was disposed of.
Naruto had just returned from an A-class mission several hours ago when he had received a summons from Hyuuga Hiashi, the Head of the Hyuuga clan, and father of Naruto's fiancée, Hinata. It would be the first time Naruto and Hiashi spoke to one another in three months, when Naruto had flatly declared that Hinata would be his bride with or without the consent of the Hyuuga clan. Hiashi had relented in a stiff and formal letter of acquiescence sent several days later, but the air between them remained tense.
"Uzumaki-san," a tall woman wearing the black robes of a Branch Family member called from the front entrance, "Please come in, Hiashi-sama has been expecting you." The Jounin returned her bow, and followed her into the main compound. The inside was dim and poorly lit, with only a few lamps to provide illumination. It felt more like a prison than the home of Konoha's most powerful clan. It was no wonder Hinata did not look upon her home with much fondness. Thinking of his fiancée made Naruto smile. Having just received the rank of Jounin a few weeks ago, Hinata had been charged with overseeing the instruction of Konoha's youth at the Academy. Her serene personality combined with her vast knowledge of shinobi academia made her the perfect choice for the job, as Iruka and the other teachers were quick to confirm.
"Hiashi-sama is in his study," the tall woman commented softly, gesturing at the shoji doors. Naruto nodded and gave the woman a smile.
"Thank you…um…" he trailed off, not knowing the woman's name.
"Izanami," the woman replied smoothly.
"Izanami-san! Thank you," he continued brightly. Izanami bowed once, then turned and walked off, her footsteps absolutely silent. Naruto glanced at her retreating form. Her lithe grace and talent for stealth immediately pegged her as a well-trained shinobi. Shrugging to himself, Naruto slid the shoji apart and walked in. Hiashi sat in the seiza position directly in front of him, preparing what appeared to be green tea.
"Ah, Uzumaki-san," Hiashi said coolly, "It's good to see you. I trust your last mission was not a problem."
"Please, it's 'Naruto,'" the blonde Jounin replied with a grin, "We're about to become family after all. And no, tracking down some Chuunin-level criminal could hardly be considered a problem."
"Indeed," Hiashi replied, "Why don't you have a seat, Naruto? Can I offer you tea?" Naruto sprawled himself out in front of Hiashi on the tatami mat, relishing the look of irritation that flashed across the older man's face.
"No thanks, Hiashi-san, I'm fine. Listen, I'm supposed to meet up with Hinata for dinner tonight and I'd like to get back to clean up. Is there something you wanted to talk about?" Hiashi smiled tolerantly at him.
"Always in a rush, aren't we, Naruto? Please, take a moment of your day and bear with this old man."
"As future Hokage, I'm a firm believer in proper decorum," Naruto replied with another grin, "Since you asked so nicely, I'm more than happy to hear you out."
"I thank you," Hiashi said patiently, "Naruto, do you know how far back the Hyuuga clan's history reaches?" Naruto gave him a nonchalant shrug.
"Konoha was founded almost two hundred years ago, Naruto… From the First Hokage to Tsunade-sama, exactly one hundred and sixty seven years have elapsed. That's almost three generations, Naruto," Hiashi smiled softly, "The Hyuuga clan existed one hundred years before the founding of Konoha."
"Wow, that's absolutely fascinating, Hiashi-san," Naruto replied gravely, "I had no idea." There was a defiant sparkle in his eye.
"Did you know that the Uzumaki clan has existed for about three months now? That's almost one hundred days!"
"Naruto!" Hiashi nearly shouted, his temper fraying, "Do you not understand what I'm trying to tell you? Hinata comes from a clan that has tradition stronger and more enduring than the village it helped to found. Not only that, she is the first daughter of its current leader. Do you honestly expect that she can simply walk away from it all? She has obligations and duties that cannot simply be abandoned!"
"Why not?" Naruto asked coldly, "You abandoned her without a second thought. When she didn't show the cruelty and ruthlessness expected of a Hyuuga, you cast her out of her own home, and practically disowned her."
"You… you have no idea about the circumstances…" Hiashi whispered in a pained voice, "You cannot know the decision I was faced with."
"No," Naruto barked angrily, "I can't, and I don't want to know! I don't care about your circumstances or your decisions… you abandoned your daughter!"
"Damn you!" Hiashi snarled, "What do you know of the torment I faced making that decision? The conflict?"
"I wouldn't have been tormented," Naruto replied calmly, "I wouldn't have been conflicted. Do you know why? Because I would never do that to my child!" He bellowed the last part at the top of his lungs, orange chakra visibly swirling around his body. Hiashi stood up and backed away, fully aware of the limitless power at Naruto's disposal thanks to the Kyuubi sealed away within him. Hiashi braced himself for the worst, as he regarded the now red eyed glare of the Jounin standing before him.
The shoji door behind them flew open and Izanami, flanked by two other Branch Family members, aimed a kunai at Naruto, her Byakugan blood limit fully activated. Naruto didn't even spare them a glance as he continued his face-off with Hiashi.
"You will stand down, and come with us immediately," Izanami commanded.
"Call them off, Hiashi-san," Naruto practically growled, "Call them off or they will be hurt."
"It's okay, Izanami," Hiashi said calmly, "Return to your duties."
"My duty is to protect you, Hiashi-sama," the tall Hyuuga woman countered firmly. Hiashi gave her a fierce glare, and she bowed her head.
"As you wish, Hiashi-sama." She gave Naruto a wary glance, and slid the shoji door shut.
Hiashi fleetingly wondered if he had passed up his best opportunity to regain control of his daughter. If Naruto had been killed in the struggle, he could have claimed self-defense, citing the instability of the fox demon. But two realizations made him quickly dismiss the idea. The first being that ever since defeating Akatsuki as well as Orochimaru's Sound Village, Naruto had experienced an unprecedented surge of popularity in Konoha. The second of course had to do with the fact that it was highly improbable anyone in Konoha or any of the other ninja villages was capable of defeating Naruto, much less killing him.
For his part, Naruto had learned to control the primal rage of Kyuubi's power with surprising precision. Giving Hiashi a grin that bared his sizable fangs, the blonde shinobi released the surrounding Kyuubi chakra and quickly reverted to his normal appearance. With a raised eyebrow, Naruto gave Hiashi a wordless invitation to respond. The Head of the Hyuuga clan sighed, and shrugged tiredly.
"No, I suppose you would never consider doing such a thing to your child," Hiashi murmured softly, "And neither would Hinata… but then, she never was a true Hyuuga."
"You're damn right she wasn't," Naruto crowed with immeasurable pride, "She's an Uzumaki through and through!" Hiashi smiled wanly at the other's declaration before seating himself once more. Resignedly, he poured himself a cup of tea and took a long sip. Putting the steaming beverage down, he looked up Naruto, regret painfully obvious in his white eyes.
"In the thirty years I have served as Head of the Hyuuga clan, I have not once let my family down...In the twenty years I have served as a father, I have nothing but failure to show for my efforts. I lost Hinata a long time ago, Naruto…Be sure to take good care of her."
"I don't go back on my word," Naruto replied evenly, "And Hinata is not the kind of person you can lose. Just because you've had nothing but failure up until now, doesn't mean you can't turn things around. Hinata understands that better than anyone."
"You are far more wise than others give you credit for, Naruto," Hiashi said grudgingly, "You may make a decent Hokage yet."
"And you can be a better father than you give yourself credit for, Hiashi-san," Naruto said with a bow, "I look forward to seeing you at our wedding." Hiashi nodded, a thoughtful expression on his face, and Naruto slipped out of the room.
"Are you unharmed, Hiashi-sama?" Inazami asked from beyond the shoji door. Hiashi smiled tightly.
"I'm fine, Izanami. Please step in for a moment." The woman slid the doors apart and stepped in, a hesitant expression on her face.
"I apologize if I overstepped my authority, Hiashi-sama…"
"Do not trouble yourself with that," he replied with a dismissive gesture, "I would like you to read the contents of this envelope for me."
"Apparently, Uzumaki-san left us a letter before he left. Please oblige me, and read it aloud."
"Very well, Hiashi-sama," Izanami said with a puzzled expression. Wordlessly, she opened the envelope which was sealed with the crest of an orange fox chasing its tail. She pulled out the letter and began to read.
"Assessment of wedding ceremony expenses: The following are considered the responsibility of the bride's family…" She trailed off with a gasp, and began to read silently to herself, a blush quickly starting to form on her porcelain features. Hiashi suppressed a chuckle.
"Aloud, if you please, Izanami-kun."
"Uh, yes of course, Hiashi-sama…"
The list included estimates for renting and decorating an appropriate space for the wedding ceremony and reception, catering food for nearly six hundred people, fitting and purchasing a bride and groom's kimono, as well as the requisite clothing for bride's maids and groom's men.
"In closing," Izanami read aloud, her discomfort obvious, "You'll be paying for everything, Hiashi-san! But what's money between family, right dad? Sincerely, your beloved son-in-law, Uzumaki Naruto, Future Hokage." Izanami trembled with a mixture of outrage and disbelief as she put the letter down. Hiashi was silent for a terribly long time, his face betraying nothing.
"Please take the estimate to Ryota. He will need to make an appropriation from the clan treasury."
"Hiashi-sama! You actually plan to pay for the entire wedding?"
"The Hyuuga clan is Konoha's oldest and most powerful family, Izanami-kun. Hinata's dowry will easily handle the expenses." Hiashi smiled slightly, "Besides, it is tradition for the bride's family to handle wedding expenses."
Hinata regarded the Council Elders wearily. She had been summoned from the Academy for what she had assumed was an important clan meeting. But upon arriving at the Main Family compound, she was ushered into a small meeting room with only the Council present. The eldest member, Kanaye, exchanged whispers with the leader of the council, Katsuro. The other Elders stared at Hinata, their contempt for her evident despite their blank faces.
"Hinata-sama," Katsuro said sternly, "Do you know why you have been summoned today?"
"I do not know, Katsuro-san," she replied softly, "I do hope it was important enough to merit taking me away from my duties."
"Impudence!" Kanaye snarled, "Do not play stupid with us, Hinata-sama! You know the reason!"
"It is about your upcoming marriage," Katsuro said in a more even tone of voice, "Hinata-sama, you cannot simply walk away from the Hyuuga clan. Too much is at stake to be so careless. Our clan must maintain the purity of its bloodline… As the first daughter of Hiashi-sama, you should understand this more than anyone else."
"I do understand," Hinata replied in a low voice, "Better than anyone here, but I have never agreed with our clan's customs of prejudice and intolerance."
"Whether you agree with the mandates of our clan or not, you are still bound by them, Hinata-sama," Kanaye barked, "You know what the penalty is for leaving."
"You will not place the Cursed Seal on any of my children," Hinata said with a steel in her voice none on the Council had ever heard before. Katsuro, gave her a tired sigh, and nodded to the other Elders.
"It is clear Hinata-sama is beyond reasoning. I move that we forbid her marriage immediately."
"Your motion is vetoed," a cold voice murmured from the entrance of the meeting room. The Elders gave a start of surprise. Hiashi stood at the entrance, flanked by Hanabi and Neji. A tense silence descended upon the meeting room as Hiashi and the others walked in.
"Katsuro-san," Hiashi inquired mildly, "What is going on? Why has my daughter been taken away from her duties at the Academy, and why was I not invited to be present for her interview with the Council?"
"Your daughter is an adult now, Hiashi-sama," one of the Elders replied harshly, "She can speak for herself without hiding behind you."
"She is indeed an adult," Hiashi replied calmly, "And as such, she doesn't need to put up with your condescension any longer."
"Hiashi-sama!" Kanaye growled, "Do you realize what you are saying?"
"Do you?" Hiashi replied with a scowl, "Hinata is my daughter, not the Council's. I will decide whether she can or cannot get married."
"She is a Hyuuga!" Kanaye snarled, "She has a duty to her clan above all else."
"She is my child," Hiashi replied softly, "I have a duty to her above all else…A duty I have neglected for the last twenty years of her life. For thirty years, I have done things according to your counsel without fail. In this one thing, I will decide for myself the appropriate course of action."
"If she marries Uzumaki Naruto, we must place the Cursed Seal upon her and her offspring," Katsuro commented in a matter-of-fact tone of voice. Neji snarled angrily, and stepped in front of Hinata, assuming the Gentle Fist stance. Hanabi also moved in front of her older sister, a determined expression on her face. Hiashi smiled at the agitated men in front of him.
"If we were having this conversation five years ago, I would have been inclined to agree with you. However, since then, Uzumaki Naruto has proven himself to be the strongest shinobi in Konoha, and possibly the world. Who better to protect our clan's secrets… or my daughter? Hinata too, has grown considerably in talent and ability. She is strong. Of that, there is no doubt in my mind." Hinata turned to stare at her father with disbelief.
"Then, Father… does this mean?"
"Go in peace, daughter. Life as a Hyuuga was not meant for you." Hinata held back her tears in front of the Elders, but managed to bow once and then gave her father an extremely undignified embrace. Hiashi stiffened up reflexively, but did not push her away.
"Thank you, Father," she said softly, "I will do my best."
"You always did," he murmured back softly. He nodded at Neji and Hanabi, who put their hands softly on Hinata's shoulders and walked with her out of the meeting room. Hiashi turned to face the infuriated Elders, a neutral expression on his face.
"If that is all the clan business we have for today, I suggest we adjourn."
"This is far from over, Hiashi-sama," Katsuro warned softly, "The Council is not to be taken lightly."
"Neither am I," Hiashi replied in a cold voice, "Do not interfere with my family."
"We, will do what must be done to ensure the clan's survival," Kanaye growled back with a sneer.
"Then I believe our goals are mutual," Hiashi stated calmly, "Good day, gentlemen." Hiashi bowed once, and walked out of the room without a backward glance.
"You are unhurt, Hiashi-sama?"
"Yes Izanami, thank you."
"Did the meeting go as you hoped it would?"
"I don't know," Hiashi said thoughtfully, "This wedding has become a troublesome affair."