Disclaimer Here.

Authoress' Note:

Sorry.

You should probably read the previous chapters so you know why this story is even on your alert list. And then I apologize again because there's so much for you to read. I like the way I format it? But I'll space out the big paragraphs so people don't cry. LOL.


White pupiless irises laced with a lavender tint gazed up at the ceiling unseeing.

Uchiha Sasuke. Uchiha. Uchiha Hina…ta.

Her mouth could barely pronounce the name, so foreign it was to her. She had been awake for at least an hour and had woken from what she had hoped to be a dream. She couldn't even grasp the idea. Her mind could barely touch upon the thought. Perhaps this was the reason why she had felt so apprehensive and unsure of Uchiha Sasuke's return to Konoha. Perhaps this was the way in which she would finally be supplanted of her rightful place as successor.

Did they think she did not know?

Why else had Hanabi been left, her forehead unmarked for 15 years? Why else had she been requested again and again to meet with her father and the Elders to discuss her future as a Hyuuga?

Her whole life leading up to this point, they had been watching her. Watching with the famous Byakugan eyes that could read emotion like a book, watching and waiting for her to fall, watching for her flaws, her mistakes, her ineptitudes. And they had found them. Easily.

Yet had she not tried hard enough? Had she not broken every bone in her body as most shinobi have, sweat from every pore, endured every pain and humiliation directed at her? Had she not shown her intelligence and strength no matter how modest they may be? Had she not proven herself?

Tears came unwillingly to her eyes and slid quickly across her temples into her pillow. She dared not make a sound, wary of any Hyuuga in the vicinity that might hear her in her teary exhibition of weakness. She clutched at her blankets, indignation vibrating throughout her in being forced into this position. Had she not done enough to prove herself worthy of the Hyuuga?

Yet, she bitterly berated herself, you have always known, Hinata. You always expected that something like this would happen.

She had kept her tears in check for so long, that it seemed as if twenty years of absolute wretchedness and desolation poured now from her eyes. She had not even cried when she overheard her own father practically disown her in front of her new sensei. She had endured and a small optimistic mote inside of her had suggested that perhaps the Elders and her father would see that. See that she had endured their disdain and disregard for so many years as to finally accept her for who she was.

It was then in this moment of painful reminiscence that she noted her first revelation.

Neji had known.

His awkwardness that morning told Hinata that he had known or had overheard this engagement to Uchiha Sasuke. He had known when he had declined their customary morning tea; he had known when he had directed her into this very room, telling her to stay calm. Hinata was overcome with misery at the betrayal. Tears fell faster and she turned to her side as cold tears fell into her ears uncomfortably.

And Uchiha Sasuke. He had been looking for her. Looking to speak to her, looking to meet his fiancé. She found she could find little commiseration with the man who must have been faced with the contract immediately upon his return yet she felt a certain amount of guilt and sorrow for their unfortunate state of affairs. She sighed. She could not be angry with him. She could not even be angry with Neji. She only mourned the powerlessness of it all. She let out a soft moan into her pillow and pressed her closed eyes deeper into the fabric to dry them.

"Hinata-sama?"

"J-just Hinata, Neji," she stammered weakly, bringing her face from her pillow and turning around and sitting up.

"You missed your induction ceremony. Your senpai gave me this. It's your mask."

He held out the mask, pristine white, with an upside down, red triangular shape on its forehead and red markings around its eyes. The nose of the mask was somewhat elongated to form a beak. The Crane.

Hinata accepted the mask and placed it on her bedside table with barely a glance. Until yesterday, becoming an ANBU has been everything she had strived towards. It would have been a stepping stone to respect among the Hyuuga. It would have established herself as a capable ninja as well as a capable leader. Now, it couldn't have meant any less than it did right then.

She clutched at her hands, staring at them forlornly and Neji stood uncomfortably watching her.

"I'm sorry, Hinata. I would have warned you but I could not."

"Iie. There is nothing to forgive. This shall be my fate, my own cage."

Neji flinched involuntarily and unfamiliar pity shone from his pale eyes. Hinata dared not look at them. How often had she received the same gaze, the same look that told her once again that she had failed?

"Do not blame yourself. You have improved exponentially over the past years. It is the arrogance of the Elders that do not see this. Your father, I am sure, has seen your improvement."

Hinata did not reply, only letting her long hair cover her misty eyes. Neji stood a moment longer before turning back.

"I wish I could provide more comfort but… as you know, the circumstances with this contract…I only hope that you will come…to accept despite your heart's protest."

"Thank you, Neji-nii-san," she whispered softly, tears falling profusely from her eyes.

She understood Neji's words. It was the Elders who pulled the strings in their Clan politics. As her weaknesses revealed themselves as she grew older and especially during the Chuunin Exams, the Elders began to express doubts as to her suitability to the position of Heiress. She could do nothing but train harder and do her very best. It was during these times that she had relied so heavily on Naruto's strength and courage and her own nindou to never give up, never take back a promise.

Neji nodded once before leaving. As he left he caught sight of his uncle standing beside the door. He bowed silently, his face unreadable except for his eyes, a familiar manifestation of anger as he walked pass his uncle.

Hinata began to stand, looking down at her loose cotton pants and shirt.

"I didn't have the chance yesterday to congratulate you on your induction into the ANBU."

Hinata did not look up, instead she only pulled her chin deeper into her chest so that she could not see her father.

"A-arigatou, Otou-san."

Hiashi's gaze carried over his daughter's subdued form as he noticed her slight stammer and downward gaze.

"I know it comes as a shock. However, this engagement has been in act since you and Uchiha were seven," Hiashi said, moving towards Hinata's desk and eyeing the various objects on it. It had been years since he had last entered her room. The walls were a pale yellow and there occupied a few pieces of art, calligraphy and oshibana. On her desk was a lamp, a few pictures of her team and friends and her katana. He lifted it, placing it in the palm of his hand, measuring the balance and make of the katana.

"These have been made lighter since I last held an ANBU issue katana."

She only nodded in reply, her hands drawing together to be held in front of her.

Hiashi placed the katana back down. He sighed, and motioned for Hinata to step forward. Lifting a hand, he pulled her chin to gaze penetratingly at her face. She had a deep bruise on her left cheekbone and her soft eyes glimmered with unshed tears.

"You are crying?"

Hinata made a face and turned to the side. It was impossible not to cry when she was on the verge of tears again and her father had to point it out. Her father's hands left her chin and drifted down to her hand to lift it up.

"It has been a long time since you and I have had a conversation consisting of more than Clan matters, daughter," he sighed, "It may have been wiser to have told you of the contract earlier. "

He turned her hand and his bright pale eyes stared down at the pale plains and creases of her palm. Scars etched her fingers and one thin shiny scar ran from her pinky finger to her wrist. Hyuuga saw many things.

With experience and wisdom, they could observe people and their intentions from just their eyes. They could read actions and emotions and experiences from how a person moved, spoke, acted and from their hands. With eyes that could see everything, it was hard not to notice even the minutest of details.

Hiashi saw the hard work written into Hinata's palm. The calluses that dotted her fingers told of her adeptness with kunai and shuriken. The long straight fingers and the hardened tips from the constant chakra release in Jyuuken told him that she was as surely a Hyuuga as he was. But most of all, the way that hand shook and clasped before pulling away told him that she was no longer twelve, no longer the daughter he had been so callous towards.

"I was never to be the Heiress, was I?"

"No," he answered, gazing at his daughter who still stood, her face turned away.

"And Hanabi. She will take my place?"

"Naturally."

Hinata gave him a wavering smile before turning from him completely.

"Did…Did I not try hard enough?" whispered Hinata, her voice breaking as she broke into silent tears again.

"No. You were not strong enough," Hiashi stated simply.

"When I became a Chuunin. When I became a Jounin. Yesterday. Was that not enough?"

"It was by then too late. The contract was signed when you were seven years of age. I stopped training you personally when you turned seven."

Hinata's normally tranquil and cheery face contorted with emotion.

And my fate sealed. Here I was, hoping for change, working to change. Pathetic.

Hiashi stood indifferent to the soft gasps of his crying daughter.

"Am I s-some kind of p-pedigree? Ch-chattel for you to give out?"

The unnatural bitterness in Hinata's voice momentarily shocked Hiashi.

"It is your duty."

Hinata turned towards him, sharp furrowed brow so similar to his own. It was her nose and lips that were like her mother's.

"You are of the noble house of Hyuuga. Your blood is the blood of the thousands of Hyuuga before you and I. They all did their duty. You will do yours."

There was a fierce moment when a look of piercing rebellion crossed Hinata's face. But all her strength crumpled into herself as she looked upon her father's face. She fell back onto her bed, lethargic and dizzy.

"I can't…I can't do this."

"You will."

There was a tone of command in Hiashi's deep baritone voice.

Hinata gripped at her bed sheets. Could she refuse and run away, disgraced and disowned as a Hyuuga? How could she possibly live as anything else but a Hyuuga though, everything about her and her life identified her as a Hyuuga. Did she have the ability to let herself die because she did not marry Uchiha Sasuke?

The last glimmering rays of twilight peeked over the western horizon into her room, casting long shadows against her wall. Her father looked down at her, his expression cruelly impassive. All she had hoped for, all she had worked towards had flown out her heart never to be regained. Her nose stung but she would not cry again.

"Hai," came the strangled reply.

A hand rested on her shoulder, a quick, hard kiss on her forehead.

A small memory came unbidden to her mind, a conversation she had once had with Neji during a break from training.

"The Hyuuga, Hinata…with the Jyuuken, it's a double edged sword. I can't feel anything in my pointer finger anymore and I didn't really notice or care. Naturally, the constant chakra would wear away at my sensory nerves there.

That's what I thought. But then I think about the Elders and your father and all the other older Hyuuga. After years of use, most probably, they can't feel anything at all. Not with their hands, with the Kaiten, possibly not anything. We may be gifted with extraordinary sight but we lose our sense of touch. The worst part is…I think that when we lose our sense to feel, first it's physically and then emotionally. That's how the Elder's work, that…that is what we'll become, Hinata."

She had denied this. She had told Neji to keep faith, to believe and to hope. What had she known? She had been kept in the dark for thirteen years. Neji knew from the beginning what it truly meant to be a Hyuuga. He understood the fate of all the Hyuuga.

That is how the Hyuuga work. That is how Hyuuga Hiashi, though he can see Hinata's tears, cannot feel them as he wipes them away.


The moment Sasuke entered the Uchiha district he realized something was amiss. Nothing was visibly wrong. No lights were on. The two ANBU were still trailing him.

Entering his house, he immediately recognized that it had been searched.

"It will be routine. Sorry, they didn't clean it up. But…it gives you something to do."

"Tch."

Sasuke kicked a closet door close before entering his room, ignoring the blonde Hokage.

"So…an arranged marriage with a Hyuuga. The heiress Hyuuga Hinata, no less."

Sasuke threw the mattress down particularly hard against the floorboards. Tsunade smirked.

" Furious? But hadn't you always wanted to revive your clan?"

" Not. This. Way," said Sasuke through gritted teeth. Tsunade raised an arched eyebrow and leaned against the wall, watching Sasuke kick things up from the floor to catch and replace.

" What? Uchiha Sasuke wanted rose petals and romance?"

" Get off these premises," he replied, throwing drawers haphazardly back into his desk.

" You have an appointment tomorrow morning. Miss it and my ANBU will have your head on a platter for me by lunch."

" Really, the threats are not necessary and neither are the ANBU," replied Sasuke.

" But really, it's much more fun."

Sasuke flicked a sharpened pencil at the Hokage. The shadow clone disappeared with a puff of smoke.

"Do that again, the Godaime really will have your head on a platter," said a deep, quiet voice from outside Sasuke's window.

"And we will have that."

A masked ANBU appeared in Sasuke's room and picked up the pencil from the floor and the remaining writing utensils on the desk.

"But how will I write my letters to Kabuto?" asked Sasuke with biting sarcasm.

"Do you really want to have that in the records?"

"What I want is to be left alone," replied Sasuke, throwing a pillow onto the bed before exhaling violently.

The ANBU was already gone, somewhere out in the courtyard from what Sasuke sensed.

Sasuke gritted his teeth as he stalked around his bedroom, picking up various objects from the floor.

He should have died a shinobi's death. Any death.

Anything that could end this aimless life.

He stopped suddenly, nihilistic thoughts still ringing in his head and a half opened package in his shaking hands.

Sasuke stared bewildered at his twitching hands before piercing pain rocketed throughout his body, paralyzing him. It took everything not to cry out in agony. He didn't want ANBU and he definitely didn't want the Hokage knowing.

Sasuke tried to breathe but his chest, his lungs didn't want to obey. Sweat poured from his forehead as Sasuke struggled to regain movement, the pain slowly subsiding into a numb tingling.

He stumbled towards the bathroom, involuntarily activated Sharingan making his room seem to move in slow motion. A quick look in the mirror and Sasuke froze, gasping for air, ribs hurting as Sasuke inhaled deeper and deeper.

"Itachi."

"Sasuke."

"You're dead."

"No. It is you who are dead. Or dying rather."

A smirk, an infuriatingly familiar glint in his eye and then his tongue shot out to wrap around Sasuke's throat. A sinister rasping laugh.

"I thought you were rid of nightmares, Sasuke-kun."

"Oro…chimaru."

Sasuke choked as wet muscle gripped tighter and slid around his neck.

"Sasuke-kun, aren't you happy being home?"

"Dead," gasped Sasuke as he clawed at the tongue. His eyes were narrowed. Yellow. A snake's. The purple tattoos around his eyes sharper than ever, the pale sickly skin encasing pure evil and malice.

"You're going insane, Sasuke-kun. If I'm dead, how is it that you are choking?"

Sasuke grabbed at anything sharp on and around the sink.

Orochimaru still sneered at him from the mirror, that inhumanly long tongue still sliding tighter around his own neck.

A sharp edge and then a deep slice. Sasuke gasped as the illusion disappeared, replaced with a deep gash on his own neck, dangerously close to his carotid artery.

He was vomiting before he knew it. Coughing and pressing hard against his neck and his nausea, Sasuke slid down onto the floor, still grasping at that sharp edge.

Glancing down, he saw the weapon that saved him. An innocent glass frame encasing blue pressed petals. He looked at it vaguely, wondering why he had never thrown away such a ridiculous gift from a fangirl. He slid off the rest of the packaging and stared at the petals that spelled his name and the blood that had now blemished it.

His eyesight turned blurry and he fainted, unconcious and his curse seal pulsing on his shoulder.


Heavy footfalls were never heard in the Hyuuga compound but no one obstructed Hinata as she ran through, ignoring the whispering relatives and pulling on her black cloak. Reaching the east gate, she wrote her name with furious strokes into the Hyuuga ANBU logbook, ignoring the staring young Hyuuga male and the brazen glance he gave to her forehead. News travelled fast in her house.

She mustered a dismissive look worthy of her father, and tossed back her long black hair, before pulling on her mask.

She stepped forward, readying herself for transport to the ANBU headquarters.

A small, damp hand touched lightly on her forearm and Hinata stopped, gazing at Hanabi.

"What?"

Hanabi nearly recoiled, never having been addressed like that by her soft-spoken sister. Hinata exhaled slowly, sliding off her mask before repeating: "What is it, Hanabi?"

"Father…Father has told me."

Hinata saw the surreptitious shiver in Hanabi's lips as she voiced this and felt her heart break. The girl's eyes immediately became sterner as she realised she had been caught unmasked, but Hinata placed a cool palm on her cheek.

"You are the new heiress."

Hanabi unconciously leaned into Hinata's palm, unused to the intimacy.

"I…never expected…"

"Surely you knew, Hanabi, why you were unsealed for so long?"

"I wondered…I thought, perhaps, it would be soon, when you became the clan head."

Her eyes were large and Hinata noticed with some pain the numerous bruises all along her arms, her neck. If she had not been a shinobi…If she had not been raised in exactly the same way, she would have killed whoever did that to her little sister.

Hinata gripped Hanabi to her, kissing her on her unmarked, pale forehead.

"I would have stopped them if it were to be done."

Hanabi smiled, one of the rare times Hinata ever saw her do so, but in an instant it had wisped away.

"I'm…I'm frightened."

"I know."

"You do? I don't…I don't want Father…"

"He won't know. He does not see."

Hanabi gazed confusedly at Hinata, not understanding her.

"What is to happen to…"

"Me?" and Hinata nearly blushed at how her voice broke. She smiled before walking back through the gate.

"I have to report to my first day at ANBU and get my first duty. I'm very late. I would never have been excused at all if it were not for my status and the amount of Hyuuga in the ANBU."

Hinata waved her fingers slightly before sliding on her mask and disappearing into obscurity.


Authoress' Corner of Self-Pity

Hello people.

Here's something extra I wanted to add but ultimately decided against for some cliffhanger action (Well, gee, Michelle, it's not really cliffhanger-y now is it?) Oh wait...YES IT IS! Muhaha. Let's all play the guessing game after this:

Uzuki Yugao studied Hinata behind her paperwork, violet eyes taking in the healing bruise on Hinata's cheek, the swollen red eyes and overall nervous demeanor.

"I trust you received your mask?"

Hinata gazed steadily back at her, pulling her shoulders back despite the wound from earlier and nodded once.

"Hai."

Yugao grinned in approval of Hinata's sudden change.

"Good. As for missions…Head back outside, on the wall next to the door is the mission roster. We tend to give new ANBU simple duties for the moment. That means patrolling, guarding, investigative missions, reconnaissance. After completing a certain amount of these, the hours add up and you get your first mission that will most likely involve a kill and some good ol' life threatening danger. I will check on you regularly so do not ever take it in the head that you can slack off. When I do call you in, it'll either be to see how you are going, brief you on a mission or god forbid, if you have stuffed up. Now…luckily, you didn't have a mission today so check the roster. For now, get out. Remember, ANBU do not have any room for mistakes."

So…here we are. Is this story still interesting you? I'm sorry it took like a year to post the next chapter. This is my final year before university so…if I do want to do Arts/Law, I'll need all the studying I can get. Haha…yeah, that's my excuse.

Ugh. My eardrum burst yesterday night, lots of yummy ear fluid.

Umm...what else? Well thanks for the continued support. I'm really sorry it took this long. I actually had this ready for a while. But I didn't think it up to scratch. Now you can tell me if it's up to scratch. I'll get started on the next chapter soon then. Toodles.