They took a slow walk along the village streets. Familiarising themselves with the territory and waiting for their contact to er…make contact. In the small village, word had travelled fast. Many shopkeepers greeted them by name. Hinata found it charming and couldn't stop smiling, Sasuke found Hinata charming and couldn't stop smiling (on the inside). Her childlike enthusiasm was refreshing and enjoyable.
Hinata often found herself drawn to one side by the ladies of the shops while their husbands congratulated Sasuke on his 'fine wife'. It was all a bit too familiar for him. These people didn't even know them at all. He stayed silent for the most part answering, if at all, in monosyllables. By their fifth shop, Sasuke had gained a reputation for being standoffish. Though that didn't stop some women from flirting shamelessly.
Finally, tired of it Sasuke stopped one flirt in her tracks with a cold glare and,
"I don't know. Why don't you ask my wife." He walked to Hinata leaving a fuming girl behind him.
Hinata was universally loved, apart from the women who wanted Sasuke. Old and young, all of the loved her.
'At least she's enjoying this,' Sasuke thought.
And she was but at the same time Hinata was working, trying to find out anything about the Hime. It was going relatively well. The people were eager to volunteer information to her.
They met Nakamura at the public gardens. The climate in Bird country allowed them to have exotic plants and trees. Not to mention the birds themselves. Sasuke wondered why there were any gardens at all.
'It's not like this place isn't already smothered in green'
"Oh, isn't it beautiful Kenji?"
Before Sasuke could answer someone else beat him to it.
"Yes, we take great pride in our greenery here."
"It is certainly greenery worth the pride."
Nakamura smiled and nodded. With the password out of the way he introduced himself with a bow.
"Nakamura Shinji. I am a member of the council here. Very pleased to meet you…?"
Hinata bowed while Sasuke curtly nodded. There was something about this Nakamura character that he didn't like. The way he had his long black hair slicked back from his forehead or maybe the way he walked so gracefully or maybe it was the way he looked at Hinata with that calculating expression. Whatever it was he would be careful around him.
"Kazuo Kenji. My wife Miaka."
"Of course. I have heard that your interest here lies in more than just the scenery?"
"Yes. My wife and I are considering opening a tea shop here." The way he emphasised wife made Nakamura raise a brow slightly. Sasuke had also moved slightly closer to Hinata as if declaring his ownership. Hinata didn't notice or if she did she didn't show it.
"This is such a lovely place, Nakamura-san. I'm sure one of our shops would fit in dine."
"Miaka-san you must take a turn in our onsen. It may be small but our facilities are unmatched. You may find something to your liking."
Yes. That was a good idea. Gossip could be a clue to the Hime's location. "Thank you Nakamura-san. I'll be sure to do that."
"And Kenji-san, I'm sure you'll find something that interests you in the flora. Particularly around the palace."
Sasuke nodded again. Message received.
"I have heard that you Hime is very beautiful. I hope she doesn't mind Kenji being around the palace?"
"No, she always enjoys it when people appreciate the beauties of our country. Aki-hime is indeed very beautiful.
He discreetly handed Hinata a small picture when he took her arm to lead her around the gardens. Not missing the way Sasuke's eye's narrowed.
"She holds the hope of all her people. We here in Bird Country are a peaceful people. Others see what we have and wish to take it away."
He paused to point out a particularly beautiful flower before continuing on.
"Aki-hime has many suitors. She is to be married as soon as she recovers from her sudden malady."
The Konoha nin nodded. An arranged marriage for the sake of peace. Hinata had almost had one too. Her father had seriously considered marrying her to someone of the branch house but in the end it had come to nothing.
Hanabi had made Neji her chief advisor. In reality he was as much a leader of the clan as Hanabi was. So there was peace in the Hyuuga and Hinata was happy for them.
She felt sympathy for the unknown Hime who would have to sacrifice herself for the sake of her country.
"How did she fall ill?" This from Sasuke.
"She was walking in the land surrounding the palace and took a dip in the lake. After that she got worse. Yet I have no doubt that the foreign medicine we have acquired will find her well in no time. Now I must be going. Do pay me a visit when you have the time. It was a pleasure to meet you both."
Nakamura bowed over Hinata's hand as she assured him that it was their pleasure. Sasuke looked on in stony silence.
The silence after Nakamura left was decidedly uncomfortable. Hinata couldn't understand why, they had been getting along quite well just a few hours ago. What had happened?
"…Nakamura-san seems nice."
Sasuke snorted. "Oh? Is that what he is?"
Hinata threw Sasuke a puzzled look but decided not to pursue it. In was in her nature to sooth rather than ruffle and she could tell that going in that direction was ruffle certain.
They walked on in silence. They needed to plan their next course of action now that they had some idea what had happened to the Hime.
"Are you hungry?" Sasuke suddenly asked.
"Er, oh. Yes." It was mid-afternoon and both of them had not eaten all day.
Sasuke turned abruptly and went into the first café he saw. Hinata hurriedly followed behind. Sasuke found a table for away from all the occupied ones and sat down.
A friendly waitress a few years younger than them took their orders.
"Hey, you're the Kuzous right?"
"Kazuo. I'm Miaka and this is Kenji."
"That's the one. My cousin Keigo served you last night. I'll be back soon."
Sasuke paled slightly but didn't show any other reaction.
"We'll both go to the lake tomorrow and after to the onsen."
Hinata nodded. In the mean time they would try and find out more from everyone around them. Their waitress, Ayame was the perfect opportunity. She seemed the talkative type. Hinata relayed all this to Sasuke who agreed
"I heard the Hime was a really nice person. I would have loved to meet her if she was well."
"Miaka, you should know by now that people like that only pretend."
Ayame butted in. "Hime-sama is not like that. She care about the people. She often visit the sick and helps everyone who needs a hand. Everyone is praying for her to get well…"
'What is she? Some kind of saint? I don't buy it, no one can be that nice.' Sasuke turned from Ayame to look at Hinata. 'Except maybe Hinata,' he mused.
"Hey! Are you listening?"
"Huh? Yeah sure. She sounds…nice…"
Hinata stifled a giggle. Hearing Sasuke speak that way was weird to say the least.
Ayame seemed satisfied and left after giving them their food.
"It seems that the people all love their Hime. Who would wish her ill?"
That was what they both wondered as they took their meal.
A/N- Late again but here it is. Had exams and assignments all this past week too. I had this done a long time ago but I wasn't completely satisfied with it. I'm still not but I couldn't delay it any longer.