Apologies on the delay of the new chapter… life has a way of throwing you a curve ball.
This chapter is dedicated to the regular readers and reviewers that kept checking on the story for the updates. Thank you for your continued persistence… you inspire me to work hard on posting chapters worth the wait.
Special dedication to my late husband: slackdoug09. Thank you for your support and belief that I could write.
Knowing that you loved me unconditionally keeps me going. I will miss you.
Okay, it looks like Hinata and Kankuro will be consummating their relationship. Thanks to those readers who participated in the poll…your feedback was much appreciated.
A sentence in Italics denotes the private thoughts of a character.
Japanese words used:
Naraku – hell, Hades
The quote used in this chapter - "Never regret anything you have done with a sincere affection; nothing is lost that is born of the heart" is by Basil Rathbone.
Chapter is inspired by the song, "Made of Love" by Ferry Corsten.
I'm not sure when the next update will be...it's dependent on how much spare time I have to devote to my writing.
Disclaimer: Yeah, Yeah…I don't own Naruto or the characters. I don't make a red cent off my fan fiction. I do this out of luv for the craft. Enjoy, beautiful people, enjoy.
Chapter 22 – Destiny deals her hand
Amber eyes stared at the pair, not bothering to conceal the shock in their depths before the Hokage finally murmured in censure, "You do realize that what you two are suggesting is tantamount to treason, hn?"
"Well, what do you suggest we do? Let the bastard drag her off to kami knows where and rap…" yelled Temari outraged, only to be abruptly cut off by her husband's hand over her mouth.
Shikamaru cleared his throat and interjected, "Lady Hokage…what my beloved wife is trying to say is that we feel that Hinata-san's situation is tenuous at best and I don't feel that the protection of the Aburame Clan will be sufficient, especially when her betrothed is released from the hospital and insists on taking her from the village."
Tsunade closed her eyes and let out a tired, frustrated sigh.
"While I appreciate the precariousness of Lady Hinata's position, we still can't allow her to leave the village without a plausible reason." Countered the older blonde, reaching up to rub her eyelids to alleviate the tiredness she was suddenly feeling.
The Hokage cracked one eye open when she heard the softly uttered curse, peering through her fingers in time to see the Nara give his wife an aggrieved look and nursing an injured hand.
"A diplomatic mission! I mean, that's a good reason to have Hinata Hyuuga leave the village, right?" exclaimed Temari in a rush, her eyes staring back at the Hokage with a hopeful gleam.
Tsunade open both eyes to silently contemplate the pair eagerly watching her before she finally took her hand away from her face with another drawn out sigh and gestured them out with a wave of her hand.
"Go. I need some time to reflect on this but I will send a messenger once I come to a decision regarding this matter. Is this acceptable to you both?" Replied Tsunade wearily.
"Wha? No! We need to make a plan now!"
"Yes. We can wait for your decision."
Blonde brows slashed down in impatience at the couple's simultaneous responses.
"Well, which is it?" countered the Hokage with a low growl of exasperation.
Shikamaru quickly grabbed Temari by her elbow and tugged her towards the door.
"We will wait for the messenger. Thank you for your time, Hokage." Replied Shikamaru, dragging his visibly protesting wife out of the office.
"Why the hell did you do that?" hissed out the fan wielder in a low whisper as they walked down the hallway and away from the Hokage's office.
Shikamaru abruptly stopped and wrapped one arm around her shoulders, pulling her close.
"We are not helping Kankuro or Hinata if we push the Hokage." Murmured Shikamaru bluntly into Temari's ear and gave her cheek a light kiss before unlooping his arm and dropping it down to capture her hand with his own.
Temari felt her cheeks burn with the gentle rebuke even as she felt her husband start to walk once more down the hallway.
"I'm sorry, Shika…it's just that…I hate waiting. I just worry that we may miss out on our opportunity to help them." Admitted the fan wielder with a gusty sigh.
"There is more than one way to outmaneuver this man. We just need to keep working on alternative plans until we hear back from the Hokage. If she is unable to assist us, then we change our plans to suit the new circumstances." Replied Shikamaru quietly, giving her hand a gentle squeeze.
Temari smiled for the first time since leaving the Hokage's office.
There was something to be said about being married to a genius.
Neji silently cursed as the snow flurries increased and began to hamper their progress up the narrow trail.
"How much further, Ryu-san?" asked the Hyuuga Genius politely, while trying to stop himself from grinding his teeth in frustration.
"Hyuuga-san… if the snow slows down tonight then we should be able to retrieve Komiko and be back by the morning… If it doesn't…well…" broke off Ryu with a shrug.
"We'll be stuck until the snow stops." Finished Neji grimly.
"Ryu-san…we may need to think about our options… Is there someone else we can go to for help?" asked the silver eyed shinobi squinting into the distance.
"Komiko is the finest mid wife in this area but there is a monk up at the monastery who is a gifted healer…" replied the inn keeper hesitantly.
Neji was reluctant to go to that place to ask for help for his cousin but knew that he would do whatever was needed to ensure the safe delivery of Hoshiko's baby… even if he had to petition the devil himself for assistance.
"If the weather continues to worsen on the way to collect the midwife, then we will turn back and heads towards the monastery." Responded Neji with a tired sigh.
"Hyuuga-san… the head monk is not known for his generosity. He will charge you a hefty sum for the healer's services." Countered Ryu nervously as he glanced around the surrounding area and watched the snow rapidly blanket the landscape.
"It's okay….Ryu-san. I am aware that the head monk will be displeased to see me. I am sure, however, that Shino is not going to be upset over the expense if it means his first born is delivered safely." Replied Neji with a small smile.
The other man nodded with a smile of his own, feeling a small measure of relief over their plans as they continued up the treacherous trail towards the home of the midwife.
Kikai hummed and bristled under their host's skin in reaction to the hoarse screaming coming from the parched lips of the petite young woman.
"Keep pushing, Lady Aburame. You are doing well." Encouraged the elderly woman.
"Isn't there something you can do for her?" returned Shino, his kikai now hissing a warning as his wife's belly hardened and he felt the contraction ripple out under his hand.
"The tea will lessen the pain of her labor but there is nothing I can do about your wife's exhaustion. If she starts showing signs of distress, we may need to seek the assistance of a healer from the monastery to deliver the child." Admitted the old woman as she watched the brunette struggling weakly.
Shino frowned thoughtfully as he watched his wife's delicate hand grip onto his own, her nails digging into the flesh of his palm.
The dark circles beginning to form under her luminescent eyes were proof that her labor was starting to take a physical toll.
He was worried. She was strong in many ways but it was clear to him that she was beginning to feel fatigued as her labor progressed from the afternoon into the evening.
And there was the issue of the weather…
"No…you. You…deliver…my…baby." Gasped Hoshiko, reaching out and grasping hold of the elderly woman's hand.
Shino watched the old woman give them both a look of alarm, saw the fear in her eyes and quickly understood the reason for it.
She was worried that she was too old but Hoshiko was understandably upset over a healer from the monastery assisting.
"I will bring our child into the world. Show me what I need to do." Countered Shino quietly, coming to a decision.
"But…Obaasan…it's not appropriate for a male to do this sort of thing…" stuttered Ayame, hovering near the door as her eyes darted nervously over to the man sliding carefully off the bed.
The old woman watched the man stroll into the bathroom without a backward glance before shaking her head in chagrin.
"Eh, It will be as he says. I am too old to argue with stubborn males who do as they please…especially ones with dangerous little beetles at their command. Now... go get the birthing stool from the closet in my room, fresh towels and more hot water. We have a baby to deliver." Returned the woman with a wide smile.
The Lady Hokage was having a bad day.
She stood in the entrance of the hospital room and surveyed the damage in silence for a few moments before casting her gaze over to the man sitting in the bed and quipped, "I take it the food was not to your satisfaction?"
The man countered with a derisive sneer, "Is that what you call that slop?"
"Considering it took me six hours to remove a Suna battle puppet from your broken, mangled flesh and patch you back up, I'm amazed that you can eat anything remotely resembling solid food, Kurisagi-san." Returned Tsunade coolly, walking into the room and picking up the clipboard hanging from the edge of the bed rail.
"The bastard got lucky."
Amber eyes glanced up from the chart and stared balefully at the gaunt man swathed neck to hips in bandages.
"I don't believe luck had anything to do with it. What do you sell, Kurisagi-san?" murmured the Hokage with more than a hint of sarcasm in her tone as she deftly changed the topic, flicking the pages over before scribbling some notes onto the chart.
"I'm a dry goods merchant." Replied the man, with a sly smirk.
"You won't be able to lift anything heavy for six to eight weeks. You are still recovering from the operation." Murmured the hokage, putting the chart down.
"So, you will be releasing me then?" asked Kurisagi, not bothering to conceal his delight.
Amber eyes narrowed thoughtfully.
There was something about this man that stunk worse than the reviews for Jiraiya's latest novel.
It wasn't just how quickly he was healing…there was also the question of his occupation.
It took someone highly skilled in the ninja arts to do that much damage to a Suna puppet nin of Kankuro-san's caliber. There was also the question of the poison used. It took time and experience to craft such a fast acting agent.
There was no way in naraku that his man made his living as a merchant.
"I need to draw some blood and run a few tests to ensure that the poison is finally out of your body but if you continue to make improvement, I can safely release you at the end of the week, early next week at the latest." Replied the Hokage reluctantly.
Tsunade felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up and suppressed the shiver that threatened to crawl down her spine when the man's smile widened into a feral smirk and he murmured, "I am looking forward to it."
Yes, there was something definitely rotten about this man.
"I will send a nurse to fetch you more food and draw the blood for the tests as well as get someone in here to clean this filth up. Don't give me a good reason to strap you down on that bed and force feed you." Returned the Hokage with a warning glare before she turned on her heel and stalked out of the injured man's room.
Tsunade would bet her prized bottle of aged sake that the test results would provide her with some much needed answers.
Naruto braced himself against the trunk of the large cypress tree he was currently perched in and gave the air a tentative sniff.
"You smell it too, don't you…Akamaru." Murmured the blonde as the large white dog let out a low rolling growl.
"What's the problem?" asked Sakura, her concern showing in her green eyes.
"You need to bundle up. The snow is falling heavily on the other side of the mountain." Returned Naruto with a frown as pulled his back pack off his shoulders and dropped it onto the branch.
"Shouldn't we stop for the night? It's going to be hard to track them down if the weather is getting worse." Countered the medic nin, opening her pack to pull out the heavier cloak.
Akamaru barked twice and shook his large shaggy head in the negative.
"Why do I get the feeling that my suggestion just got vetoed?" groused Sakura, shooting the nin dog a dirty look.
"I agree with him. We need to keep going despite the bad weather. What if Shino's baby decides that it wants to come tonight? We can't delay." Argued Naruto, not bothering to hide his concern.
Sakura felt two sets of eyes watching her expectantly and felt her exhaustion being replaced with resignation.
"How fast can we get there without me running the risk of breaking my neck?" asked the medic nin with a slight smile.
Naruto shot Sakura a grateful look as he reached inside his cloak and pulled out a soldier pill.
"We can get there in four hours but you're going to have a rough ride." Replied Naruto apologetically.
"You owe me a trip to the onsen for this." Countered Sakura with a scowl as she straddled the large dog once more.
"I can deal with that, Sakura. We should probably get going…Shino and his wife are waiting for us." Murmured Naruto with a relieved smile before popping the soldier pill into Akamaru's mouth.
Neji briefly glanced over his shoulder at the shrouded figure following behind them at a discreet distance.
"You have nothing to fear from me, healer. There is no need for you to remain behind us in this weather." Bit out the Hyuuga genius in frustration.
"You can't really blame the monk, Hyuuga-san. You were quite…persuasive in garnering the head monk's co-operation." Murmured Ryu with a lopsided smile.
"I apologize. I am not usually one to give way to my emotions like that. Obtaining medical care for my pregnant cousin was my main concern." Admitted Neji out loud, feeling his anger rise once more.
The man may be a holy father but he had no right to refer to Hoshiko's baby as an abomination to god and man, just because the father was an Aburame.
"The lady Hoshiko…is…going…to have…her baby?" asked a voice hesitantly.
"Yes. Her water broke late this afternoon." Replied Neji, turning his head in time to see the monk hasten his pace to join them.
"I apologize, Hyuuga-sama. I was not aware that it was Lady Hoshiko who needed my services. We should hurry." Muttered the monk with a ruddy blush to his cheeks as he fell in step with the two men.
"I was under the distinct impression that the monks did not converse with my cousin." Countered Neji with a frown as they continued carefully down the hill through the steadily falling snow.
"Lady Hoshiko helped out in the apothecary…and we became friends." Returned the monk with a shy smile.
"I am glad to hear that she had a friend in that place." Muttered Neji grudgingly.
"You seemed relieved by this. Why?" countered the monk quietly.
"I was responsible for getting her banned in the first place." stated the brunette bluntly.
"I was under the impression from the Lady Hoshiko that you were following orders. You weren't to know that this was going to happen, correct?" returned the monk quietly.
"No, I was not. I had been told that my cousin had committed suicide by the Clan, only to find out that it was a lie and she was still very much alive. I stole her chance at happiness once. I won't do so a second time…not when I know she can have a better life with the Aburame." Returned Neji gravely.
"Your cousin has already forgiven you. You now need to forgive yourself." Murmured the monk sagely with a nod.
"You make it sound so simple but it is not." Countered Neji with a frown.
The monk smiled and murmured, "It is. You could have done what your Clan leader requested but this time you chose not to…why?"
"I am required to do many things that I don't like in my duties for my village and clan but there are some things…" replied the Hyuuga cryptically.
"Ahh, I see. There are limits to what you will do for your clan and village. I don't believe that is a bad thing. A man without a conscience for what is right and wrong is no better than the beasts in the forest. There are times it is best to walk away from a situation than have to endure living with the guilt of your actions." Murmured the monk with a sage nod.
Neji's pale eyes widened at the man's response before he muttered, "It sounds like you have been in a similar situation, healer."
"I was not always a holy man, Hyuuga-san." countered the monk with a small smile.
Neji returned the older man's smile with a small one of his own, feeling relief course through his veins.
"I know I will be punished when I return but I will welcome the pain rather than have my cousin and her baby's blood on my hands." admitted the Hyuuga genius quietly.
"Never regret anything you have done with a sincere affection; nothing is lost that is born of the heart." intoned the healer quietly with a small nod of his head.
Neji felt a lump lodge itself firmly in his throat at the man's sage words of advice.
The monk was right. He should have no regrets for what he did.
Kankuro let out a low curse as the chakra string snapped and the battle puppet's arm dropped uselessly back to its side.
It was no good. He was still weak from the poison.
"You should take a break. The Hokage will be upset if she finds you have exhausted yourself." Murmured a voice from the doorway.
The puppet nin glanced up to find Kiba standing at the entrance of his hospital room.
"How's princess?" returned Kankuro as he leaned forward and tugged the puppet over and began to wrap it up in its bandages.
"She's gone back to the Aburame compound to rest."
"Good. I don't want her to see me like this." Grumbled Kankuro under his breath, cursing once more as he felt the sweat pooling on his temple.
"Do I need to consider forcibly restraining you as well…Kankuro-san?" asked a feminine voice archly.
"I don't think that will do much good, Hokage-sama. I would still find a way to do as I please despite your methods of ensuring my recovery." Returned the Puppet nin with a hint of a smirk to his firm lips.
Kankuro watched as Kiba stepped aside with a slight bow to allow the blonde woman into his room.
"Hn,typical…stubborn man." Muttered Tsunade under her breath as she picked up his chart.
"Being stubborn helps me to survive in the desert, Hokage." returned Kankuro, not bothering to hide his smirk as he continued to carefully wrap the bandages about Karasu's form.
"Being stubborn also kept you alive…you are recovering well but it's going to be a few weeks before you can swing that puppet around like you're accustomed to doing." Countered Tsunade with a frown as returned the chart back to the base of the bed.
"I don't have a few weeks to sit around on my ass and do nothing." Bit back Kankuro with a forbidding frown of his own.
"I'm not surprised to hear that…baka but you are still too weak to be doing strenuous activity." Grumbled the hokage as she walked over and grabbed one of Kankuro's wrist, feeling the pulse beat rapidly beneath her fingertips.
"It can't be helped. There is someone precious to me that I need to protect." bit out the puppet wielder, grimacing as the hokage squeezed harder on his wrist.
"I am guessing the person you are referring to is Lady Hinata Hyuuga, hn?" returned the woman in a deceptively casual tone of voice, her amber eyes not missing the dull flush of red staining the injured man's unpainted face.
"I am. I would lie down my life for her." stated Kankuro bluntly, his dark eyes returning the Hokage's steady gaze.
Tsunade stared at the Suna nin in silence before quietly replying, "Her father has already chosen another for her."
"The Hyuuga Clan chose badly. I am confident that I am a better choice of suitor and I know for a fact that she doesn't love the man." countered Kankuro with a smug upturn of his lips.
A blonde eyebrow shot up into the older woman's hairline.
"Not all matches are for political reasons and those that are, are rarely love matches, Kankuro-san." countered the Hokage, not bothering to hide the skepticism from her voice.
"She deserves better and I am not going to disappoint her like that clan of hers. I plan to claim what is mine." replied Kankuro bluntly, his dark green eyes making contact with the Hokage's own amber gaze.
Tsunade took in the militant gleam in the injured man's eyes before slowly nodding, a sly smile sliding onto her full lips.
"If you insist on speeding up your recovery time, I will supervise."
"Koibito…I'm sorry. I…can't…push…anymore…I'm…too…tired."
"Aburame-san…the labor - it's too much for your wife. If we don't deliver your child soon…I fear we may lose them both." Muttered the elderly woman in a quiet undertone.
Shino felt the blood drain from his face as he took in the pale countenance of his wife's face.
The old woman was right.
"Is there anything more we can do?" asked Shino in a low voice as his hand reached up to tenderly cup Hoshiko's cheek.
"We're doing our best. All we can do is wait and hope she can dilate more on her own." Replied the old woman with a tired sigh.
The low drone of kikai beetles punctuated the sense of despondency Shino was feeling.
What they needed was a midwife.
"I can't lose her…" murmured Shino hoarsely, feeling his heart clench tightly.
"Obaasan…we can't wait for the midwife. We need to do something for her now."
Two sets of eyes, one old and wizened and the other covered by glasses, turned in unison to find Ayame standing in the doorway, her concern plainly displayed on her face.
"You're right, Ayame. Go get the knife, more hot water and towels as well as the sewing kit." Replied the old woman finally with a sharp nod of her head before returning her gaze back to the couple on the bed.
The hum of kikai filled the room as Shino shifted and countered, "What do you plan on doing?"
"She's not big enough, so we are going to make a small cut." Returned the old woman grimly.
"No. I'm not going to allow you to cut her." Murmured Shino, his hive now visibly bristling under the surface.
"If I am to save her life then I have no choice." Countered the elderly woman bluntly, unsurprised to see a swarm appear directly behind the couple on the bed.
"SHINOOOO!" screamed Hoshiko, her white knuckles clawing at her outspread knees as she braced herself for another contraction.
"Aburame-san…I know you are not happy with this choice but we need to do make a decision and soon." Muttered the old woman, her eyes on the struggling woman.
"Wait! You can't go in there!"
Shino's eyes moved to the closed door, his kikai humming and bristling once more as the commotion outside the room got louder.
"Bug Freak, call off these little chakra suckers of yours you have guarding the door or I'll be forced to drown them." Growled a familiar voice from the other side.
Relief momentarily washed over the kikai wielder's face before he gave an imperceptible nod of his head and countered, "It depends…did you bring a medic nin with you?"
"I brought one of Konoha's best as well as a message from your father. So…are you going to let me in or do you want Sakura to make a new door? I would decide quickly, Bug Freak…your wife's screaming is making her antsy." Replied the voice cheerfully through the door.
The elderly woman held her breath as she watched the silent man in the bed before she finally heard the distant hum of the retreating swarm and the heavy paneled door open to reveal a tall blonde shinobi standing next to a scowling young pink haired woman rubbing her bottom with one hand.
"You owe me big time, Naruto…one weekend at the onsen isn't going to cut it after that trip." Grumbled Sakura as she pushed past her old team mate and hurried over to the bed.
The pink haired medic nin's green eyes sharply shifted to the man who quietly uttered her name.
"I appreciate you getting here as quickly as you did. I will be happy to pay for you to stay at the onsen for two weeks." Murmured Shino.
"After the ride I had on Akamaru…you have a deal, bug boy but if you want me to deliver this baby…you need to leave. You know how I feel about those beetles of yours." Countered Sakura bluntly, nodding slightly at the large cloud of kikai behind the couple.
Sakura glanced over to find opalescent eyes silently pleading as the brunette woman's body braced for another contraction.
"Naruto…get my pack and ask the inn keeper for a screen. The last thing I need is interference of an insect nature." returned Sakura with resignation, not willing to say no to Shino's wife.
Sakura allowed herself a reluctant smile at the woman's placid features and saw the stubborn glint in her eyes before she finally murmured, "If it makes you feel better having that buzzing noise around, then it shall be as you wish. I'm going to go and quickly wash up then we're going to deliver this baby of yours."
"A friend of yours, Neji-san?" murmured the monk, nodding at the blonde haired man sitting on the front stairs of the inn patting a large white dog, unperturbed by the falling snow.
"Naruto…when did you get here?" asked Neji as his party stopped in front of the shinobi and his canine companion.
"I've never seen a dog that large before…is he friendly?" inquired the monk, not bothering to hide his curiosity.
"We got here three hours ago. Sakura delivered the baby and it sounds pretty healthy judging by the crying we've been hearing. Akamaru is a nin dog and yes, he's very friendly…especially if you offer him some of that dried beef you have in your pocket." Replied Naruto with a wide smile.
The monk's eyes widened in shock at the man's comment.
"How did you…" began the monk in surprise, only to be interrupted by a woman's voice.
"Naruto! I need you to go find these plants."
The Monk glanced up in time to see an exhausted pink haired woman walking towards them with a list in her outstretched hand.
"I am sure I have everything you require in my stock." Countered the monk with a quick incline of his head, touching the wooden basket hanging off one arm.
"Sakura…this is brother Haruki, the head healer from the local monastery. Brother Haruki…this is Sakura Haruno. She's a medic nin from our village." Introduced Neji with a small sweep of his hand.
"Lady Hoshiko…how is she?" asked the monk, not bothering to hide his concern.
"It looks I got here just in time. Both mother and baby are now doing fine but Lady Hoshiko is understandably tired from the labor." Replied Sakura with a wan smile.
"Sakura…did my cousin have a boy or a girl?" asked Neji, now privately relieved that Hoshiko was okay.
"I have a daughter. What is a monk doing here?" Drifted out a low, hoarse voice from inside the inn.
"We were unable to reach the midwife's home because of the snow. Hyuuga-san decided to turn back and petition the monastery for the services of their healer." Answered Ryu nervously as he watched the swarm of black insects precede the man onto the covered deck area.
"There was opposition over this request, I am assuming." Returned Shino calmly, one eyebrow quirked in question as his cloud of kikai hissed in warning.
"There was but I managed to persuade the head monk that it would be in his best interests to assist us." Replied Neji stiffly with a curt nod at the healer.
"It was wise of him to give into our request." concurred the bug wielder with a tilt of his lips before reaching down to pat the large nin dog absently on the head.
"The head monk had no choice. Hyuuga-san was going to push a hole through the main wall of the monastery if the man refused aid." muttered Ryu under his breath.
Naruto fell backwards, laughing out loud.
"It's not like you to lose your cool, Neji." remarked the blonde, still chuckling as he propped himself up on one elbow to smile at the Hyuuga coolly looking back at him with a sable brow arched in inquiry.
"I was provoked."
Neji refused to rise to Naruto's bait and admit that he had lost his temper.
The brunette turned his head with a slight dip of his head and returned gruffly, "I was happy to be of service...Aburame."
"I need to go shopping. You want to tag along, Neji?" chimed in Naruto, getting up with a stretch and a nod of his head towards the village.
"Go with him. We can talk later." murmured Shino, giving the Hyuuga clansman a pat on his shoulder before he stepped back.
Neji gave a small smile and nodded, turning on his heel to follow the blonde man already hoisting himself up on the large white dog.
"Oh, Hyuuga...I don't want my daughter dressed head to toe in orange." drifted out Shino's voice behind Neji.
Neji heard the soft chuckle come out of his lips before he countered, "Don't worry, I will keep an eye on him."