Chapter 4

Naruto and company exited his new house and started toward Ichiraku's. It really annoyed him that he couldn't hold Hinata's hand. He was going to have a hard time getting used to these new restrictions on their relationship. Perhaps a good helping of ramen would make him feel better.

"Finally! I've been dreaming of a good bowl of Ichiraku ramen for years!" Instant noodles were alright and there was plenty of good food in the west, but nothing beat Ichiraku ramen.

Postponing her questions about Naruto's house, Ino steered her interrogation toward new grounds, "So Naruto, you were telling us about you and Hinata."

"What's there to tell? Hinata's great and the best girlfriend ever!"

This was hardly a satisfactory explanation for Kiba. "What do mean 'What's there to tell'?! Just how did a ramen junky like you manage to land a hot babe like Hinata!?"

"Yeah, I thought you'd never get a clue! You just wouldn't take no for an answer and were completely oblivious to poor Hinata," Sakura reminisced.

Laughing Kiba readily recalled, "You never learned no matter how times she clobbered you. Most people would have gotten a clue after the first beating, but you just wouldn't give it up."

"Ahah, yeah I was a complete idiot wasn't I. I knew you didn't like me, I just-"

"Wait I didn't mean-"

Naruto waved it off, "Back then I'd decided I needed a girlfriend. You were smart and pretty and popular so I thought you'd make a good girlfriend. Even when you rejected me, I just thought I needed to work harder and keep trying. Then we were placed on the same team and I saw that as another opportunity to prove myself to you. I'm sorry I was such a pain in the neck."

Sakura was taken aback, "You mean to tell me all that time you didn't actually have any real feelings for me and I was just some PRIZE to be won?!"

Somehow things hadn't changed and Naruto once again found himself edging a bit too close to a pummeling, "No, no! That's not what-"

Well acquainted with Sakura's temper, Ino decided to preemptively restrain Sakura by getting between her and Naruto, "Get out of my way Ino-pig!" Trying to get around Ino, "How could you play with my feelings like that!?"

As Naruto started backing away making exaggerated placation gestures. Hinata decided a little intervention was needed. Placing a hand on Sakura's shoulder, "Sakura, he never meant to hurt your feelings. Besides, you never really liked Naruto that way anyhow? And you're still good friends despite it all right?"

This turn of events instantly caught Ino's attention. She hadn't realized just how smooth Hinata could be. Ino considered it a good move to simply identify the competition. However, Hinata had gracefully managed to ask Sakura if she actually had romantic feelings for Naruto while subtly suggesting that they were simply good friends all in the space of a few seconds and while playing the peace maker. Ino wondered whether Hinata had done all this intentionally or if she was just naturally good at it. If Hinata was so good, why hadn't she gotten together with Naruto earlier? Everyone knew how badly she had it for him even before they left. This was the sort of question that really intrigued Ino.

While Ino contemplated this turn of events, Naruto took his chance to avoid a beating and quickly agreed, "Yeah, Yeah! I never wanted to hurt you or anything!"

Largely placated, Sakura realized just how conflicted her emotions were over her favorite idiot, "You're still a giant BAKA!" With that established the group resumed their course toward Ichiraku's. It was true she never really had romantic feelings for Naruto. However, he was one of her closest friends and his unannounced departure came as a hard blow. Sasuke never really paid any attention to her. At least Naruto made her feel wanted and he was always eager to help. Things went from bad to horrible when Sasuke defected to the Sound. Maybe if Naruto had been there he could have convinced Sasuke to stay. Maybe he could still find a way to save him. She'd have to tell him soon, but they deserved peace of mind for a few days didn't they? Maybe she should have given him chance after all? Hinata looked so happy with him and what had her feelings for Sasuke ever brought her but pain.

Capitalizing on the break in the storm, Ino asked Hinata, "So why did you two wait a year and a half to get together?"

"A-ano … well …." The question brought back all sorts of embarrassing memories such as her inability to confess to Naruto. Hinata was still sensitive about that. She was rather reluctant to talk those memories. "W-we were still getting to know Nee-chan … a-and work-"

Ino was nothing if not persistent, "Don't tell me he was obsessing over Sakura that whole time?!"

"I wasn't obsessing!" yelled Naruto considerably louder than he had intended. He was rapidly becoming uncomfortable with the direction the conversation was taking.

Hinata had begun to slouch and stare at the road one foot in front of her. That's when she noticed herself putting her forefingers together in an old nervous habit. She wondered at how easily the old habits returned. Straightening her posture she looked over at Naruto which brought a smile to both their faces. Speaking in a more confident voice, "We had a lot of things to work through first."

Smirking, Ino continued, "Like Naruto's obsession wi-"

Sakura had let her friend go long enough, "INO! Give them a break!"

Shino was happy to simply observe, but like Ino, Kiba wanted details. The possibility of embarrassing Naruto in front of Hinata was an added bonus, "I bet Hinata is just covering for Naruto and he's as oblivious as ever."

"It wasn't like that Kiba!" Hinata protested.

"Then Naruto can tell us what it was like," Ino Countered.

The group had entered a noisy street filled with shops, street side vendors, and midday shoppers. Fortune once again smiled on Naruto and he was saved from responding to Ino as Konohamaru sprung out of the crowd, "Naruto-niichan! Sexy No Jutsu!" and immediately transformed into shockingly gorgeous brunette clad in nothing more than a few thin wisps of moister. "Naruto-kun please don't stare. It's so embarrassing," said the vixen in a silky voice before disappearing in a cloud of smoke.

"How was that? Pretty good huh?" asked prankster's apprentice, eager for approval.

It would not be an understatement to say that the show brought the busy street to a complete halt. Everyone from the shoppers to the stall owners simply looked on in a silent daze waiting for the blond shinobi to respond. Kiba simply stared, his thoughts irretrievably derailed while Shino turned his shocked face toward Naruto, both eyebrows well above his sunglasses. Sakura and Ino stood frozen in stunned silence. Udon and Moegi simply waited for Naruto's evaluation.

While Hinata was becoming much better at taking the foolery that seemed to track Naruto in stride, this was simply over the top. "N-Naruto," Hinata sputtered in a soft squeak, trying to regain control of her mind while nervously petting Akamaru.

"Ahahaha!" With one hand behind his head, Naruto approached his pupil, "That was pretty good Konohamaru! However, we're too old to be doing such things anymore." Leaning toward Konohamaru and whispering, "And you're embarrassing me in front of Hinata, but don't worry I've got even better jutsus now."

Recovering from her shock first, Ino whispered her thoughts to Sakura, "I guess he hasn't just matured physically."

Konohamaru thought he had heard wrong, "You mean Sakura right?" Naruto shook his head no. Konohamaru had a puzzled expression on his face and looked between Hinata, Naruto, and Sakrua several times. "Ah, you've finally given up on the violent ogre woman!" Naruto would have stopped Konohamaru from saying such a dangerous thing if he had seen it coming. Instead, he decided to get out of the way.

Inner Sakura went from stunned silence to murderous instantly "WHY THAT LITTLE PUNK! I'LL SHOW HIM VIOLENT!" raged Inner Sakura. Konohamaru had just enough time for his brain to register the peril he was in. Taking three quick strides to Konohamaru, Sakura smiled sweetly, "So I'm a violent ogre woman eh?" She then grabbed his shoulders and brought her need crashing into his gut. With a look of sweet satisfaction, Sakura watched the noisy genin crumple to the ground, gasping for air. Moegi and Udon quickly hid behind Naruto for protection.

Hinata knew how physical Sakura could be from all the stories Naruto had told her, but that had not really prepared her for the real thing, "Was that really necessary? He's just a kid." Still, she occasionally found herself jealous of the pink hair kunoichi's strength and self confidence.

Gesturing at Hinata, Sakura waved it off. "Ah, he'll be fine in a couple minutes."

Turning to face an apprehensive Naruto, Sakura smiled, "You don't think I'm violent do you?"

"O-of course not Sakura-chan!" Naruto thought best for his health not to give her a hard time. Besides, he was hungry and did not want to make a bigger scene. Now was the time to placate Sakura. Pushing her buttons would just get between him and his ramen. With the exception of her enemies, Sakura would never seriously hurt anyone anyhow.

Satisfied that Konohamaru just had the wind forcefully knocked out of him, Hinata helped him too his feet. Udon and Moegi moved to support their leader who was still a bit unstable on his feet. Looking over at Sakura, Udon whispered, "She sure is scary." Moegi was star struck, "One day I want to be strong like Sakura!"

While Konohamaru recovered, Naruto and Hinata chatted with the three genin and gave them a quick overview of their time away. The rest of the group milled about street, looking at what the street venders were offering, and chatting with each other.

Noticing Ebisu as he entered the street a fair distance away, Hinata asked, "Is Ebisu-san looking for you?"

Konohamaru confirmed her guess and boasted, "Yeah, but we ditched him hours ago."

Hinata smiled and pointed up the street, "Well, isn't that him heading this way?"

Konohamaru swore, "Don't tell him you saw us."

Naruto grabbed Konohamaru by the collar and yanked him to a halt before the three genin could tear off in a mad dash. "Don't make such a commotion. He hasn't noticed us yet. Go through that shop and I'll distract him for you."

Naruto created three kage bunshin, transformed them into the three genin, and sent them strolling toward Ebisu. Hopefully, they'd keep him busy for several minutes before he figured out they were just bunshin.

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With the departure of the Naruto's Konoha chapter of little hellions, the group made their way to Ichiraku's without any further interruptions.

As the ramen stand came into sight, Naruto grabbed Hinata's hand, eliciting a bright smile from her, and rushed the last fifty yards. Before Kiba could stop him Akamaru had abandoned his side and run after Hinata.

"Akamaru!" yelled Kiba, in a half hearted attempt reign in his dog.

From the outside, Ichiraku's looked nearly the same as years previous with, perhaps, a bit of aging. Fortunately, they had arrived somewhat before the midday rush and there were enough stools for everyone. Naruto and Hinata took their seats and Naruto's stomach loudly anticipated his favorite food. Akamaru responded with two quick barks.

Hinata giggled and scratched his head. "Akamaru sit." Akamaru happily obeyed. "You're suuuch a good boy aren't you?"

At the same time Naruto was trying to get Teuchi's (the owner) attention. "Oi, jichan."

He was preparing for the midday rush, "One second, I just need to finish with these noodles."

Before Naruto responded, Ayame came out from the back, "Can I help you?"

Grinning Naruto replied, "Yeah, I'll have my usual and, uh, Hinata what would you like."

With a confused look on her face Ayame began, "I'm sorry, what is your …." Naruto was considerably larger than she remembered and wasn't wearing his trademark orange jumpsuit. However, very few people had whisker marks adorning their checks and her look of confusion quickly transformed into one of fond recognition, "Na-Naruto!? Is that you?"

"Ya, we just got back last night and I'm dying for a decent bowl of ramen!"

"You've grown so much I almost didn't recognize you! Stand up and let me have a good look! Father, Naruto's back!"

"Yes, I heard. Welcome back Naruto. When you stopped coming by a few years ago we started to worry. Ayame wanted to storm the Hoka-"

"Father!"

Laughing, Teuchi continued, "Anyhow, your previous teacher, Iruka, told us that you had gone on some secret mission and wouldn't be back for a few years, but that you were safe. Your ramen will be ready in just a minute. What would your friend like?"

"I'll have some miso ramen, vegetables, and some dango. Oh, and do you have something for Akamaru."

"Yeah, we have some meat scraps he can have."

Joining Naruto and Hinata, Sakura, Ino, Shino, and Kiba sat down and ordered as well.

While they waited for their orders, Naruto and Hinata happily told their friends a couple abbreviated stories from their time away while dodging a couple of the more personal questions from Ino. There was certainly no shortage of things to tell.

When their ramen arrived, Naruto's friends waited with eager anticipation to see what he would do. While Naruto found this attention somewhat odd, he was hungry and just wrote it off. He was about to happily fall upon his delicious meal like a half starved slavering fox demon. However, just before wolfing down his meal in a few swift gulps, Naruto noticed just the slightest hint of disapproval in Hinata's expression and restrained himself. Instead he brought a large portion of noodles to his mouth and rapidly consumed them in what could almost be called a dignified manner.

The two roommates were stunned. "What have you done to him!?" cried Sakura. Shocked, Ino blurted, "Unbelievable! She's actually managed to train him!"

Hinata didn't expect such a commotion over Naruto's eating habits. She certainly didn't expect to be given so much credit for it. "I-I d-didn't do…"

Naruto didn't see what the big deal was. Looking between his friends he asked, "What?"

After a good laugh Kiba couldn't help but give Naruto a hard time, "Maybe I should ask Hinata for tips on training Akamaru! She sure did a great job with you!"

Naruto hadn't noticed Ino's comment, but couldn't miss Kiba's dig. "Hey! It's not like I was some unruly dog that needed to be trained!" In a more subdued voice, "Hina-chan and Neechan just helped a little with table manners and stuff."

"It is quite normal for people to mature through their teenage years. It has been three years," Observed Shino.

Naruto's ego was still fairly sensitive when it came to social aptitude and he immediately latched onto Shino's suggestion. "Yeah yeah! What Shino said! I've just matured!"

"Yeah, I'm sure that's it," Sakura allowed. The two roommates and Ayame, who had been watching as well, dissolved into fits of giggles.

Naruto was about to return his ramen when Hinata placed a hand on his shoulder. Turning him toward her she fed him one of her dango, "You need some variety." This elicited a reinvigorated burst of giggles from the other girls and riotous laughter from Kiba. Neither Hinata nor Naruto cared. Naruto found it hard to refuse Hinata anything and Hinata couldn't help her practical side or her nurturing instinct.

It was a good minute or two before Sakura, Ino, and Kiba could start eating for all the laughter. Naruto largely restricted himself to yes and no answers between breaths and refilling his mouth with ramen. Hinata, not having the staggering appetite of her boyfriend, answered most of the questions for the both of them. After a half hour, everyone had largely finished their lunch and they were nibbling what was left. That is with the exception of Naruto. He had thoroughly cleaned eight bowls of ramen and was stuffed.

Shikamaru was relieved to find his friends at Ichiraku's. He didn't like having to hunt people down. Approaching his girlfriend, he spoke her name and placed a hand on her shoulder, "We're needed over at Intelligence."

Ino was enjoying herself too much, "I'm not done with my lunch yet. I'm sure it can wait a bit."

Naruto greeted his lazy friend, "Hey Shikamaru, how's it going?"

"Not bad, but I'd prefer to be getting work done instead of running all over Konoha looking for Ino."

Smiling, Naruto said, "We were hungry."

"Yeah, I walked all the way to your house only to find no one was home. Then I had to walk all the way here."

Naruto was glad he didn't have to look much to find them, "Oh, good thing you found us so quickly. How'd you know we'd be here." Ino sighed. Naruto obviously didn't remember how good Shikamaru was at figuring things out.

Shino answered for Shikamaru, "He probably stopped by your house first and then came by here after seeing that no one was home. It is lunch time and he probably knew you got in late. Given your well known love for Ichiraku ramen and enormous appetite, this was the next logical place to look." A slight nod from Shikamaru confirmed Shino's speculations.

Shikamaru was just too lazy to fuss with Ino and decided to get right to the point, "Ino there's plenty of time for you learn the inner secrets of Naruto and Hinata's relationship. They aren't going anywhere for at least a couple months."

In an irritated voice, Ino conceded, "Fine. What could be so important that I can't even finish my lunch?"

Shikamaru didn't want to listen to an irritated Ino on their way to Intelligence Corp's either, "Something to do with some visitors from the west." Having worked with her for years, Shikamaru knew just how to bait the blond. Ino found foreign visitors fascinating and people from the west were some of the most foreign foreigners in Konoha.

Ino took her dango and got up from her stool, "Naruto, Hinata, it was nice visiting you. I'll see you two later. I still expect a tour of your house." Sharing her remaining dango with Shikamaru, who probably skipped lunch out of laziness, she waved good bye to her friends and left.

Hinata figured it was probably a good time to head back to Naruto's house. "Shall we get supplies for the house and head back?" The rest of the group concurred.

Naruto pulled out Gama-chan, his frog wallet, and started to dig through it when Sakura stopped him. "I'll pay for you two."

Hinata protested, "We can't accept-," but Sakura cut her off, "It's no problem. You guys can pay next time. Besides seeing you two is worth every yen."

Naruto acquiesced and put away Gama-chan, "Okay … but I'm paying next time!"

While Sakura paid, Naruto thanked Teuchi and gave Ayame a hug bringing a slight blush to her face.

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The walk back to Naruto's house was uneventful. Naruto continued his stories of their time away. Hinata helped with the gaps in his memory and demurred at some of the larger exaggerations made on her behalf. Sakura, Kiba, and Shino were captivated and without Ino there to steer the conversation toward more sensitive topics both Naruto and Hinata felt quite at ease. On the way, they stopped to get supplies for Naruto's new house. Naruto hadn't realized just how much stuff he needed. Just the cleaning supplies were too much for him to carry. Thankfully, there were five of them.

Setting part of his load down, Naruto opened the front door to his house to let everyone in. There was certainly a lot of work to do. Fortunately, he and Hinata knew a plethora of cleaning jutsu.

Naruto carried his supplies inside and put them down on the floor, "Uh … just leave everything on the floor for now I guess."

Everyone left the stuff they were carrying in a big pile and Naruto started the tour. "Well you've already seen this room and the kitchen so why don't we start with the tour with the basement." With that, Naruto began showing his friends around. Sakura wanted to have a better look at the kitchen and the girls spent some time examining it while the guys milled about. Akamaru found everything fascinating and Naruto worried he would mess something up. Aside from running into everyone in his excitement at exploring a new house, he was well behaved. After looking around the basement, Naruto showed them around the second and third floors. He narrowly avoided showing his friends the baby room by going on about how great his parent's bedroom and bath were. Everyone was surprised to learn the house had a rooftop garden.

Still worried about Akamaru, Naruto warned, "Your dog better not dig up my plants."

Kiba didn't seem the least bit concerned, "Yeah, yeah, he hasn't broken anything yet."

Naruto lead them up the spiral staircase and onto the roof. Kiba couldn't help but laugh, "What were you worried about? Akamaru would be doing you a favor by digging up all these weeds."

As Akamaru sprinted from one plant to the next, Naruto shouted, "They're MY weeds dog breath! I don't want some scraggly mutt making a mess for me to clean up."

Shino seemed unusually interested in the garden and was quietly examining some of the plants. Sakura and Hinata loved it and immediately started chatting about how best to fix it up.

After arguing with Kiba a bit more, Naruto noticed Akamaru chewing on some of the weeds and ran over to stop him, "Hey stop eating that fur ball!"

Kiba didn't see what the big deal was. "What do you care? It's just some weed! You're going to get rid of it anyhow."

Naruto felt committed, "Maybe I like that weed!"

Hinata walked over to Akamaru and took the plant from his mouth, "Akamaru stop that."

Sakura had followed her to continue their chat and noticed something familiar about the plant. Bending down to take a closer look, she tried to recall if she'd seen the plant before.

Before Kiba and Naruto resumed their argument, Shino spoke up, "Not all of these plants are weeds. I have identified a couple plants that are fairly rare."

That was when Sakura remembered the plant she was looking at, "Naruto you're forbidden from touching any of these plants without Hinata or myself around." That particular plant was used in certain kinds of healing salves. Tsunade had had to import some from the west a while ago. How did such a plant end up as a weed in a house formally owned by Yondaime? "Some of these plants are hard to get and until we've identified them all I don't want you killing them."

Naruto donned his pouting face, "Who says I'd kill them?"

Shino explained, "It is probably better to leave the plants alone until they are identified. They have survived on their own for years. Waiting a few more days won't hurt them and we can determine how best to care for them during that time. Do you mind if I take some samples?"

"Uh, sure, no problem," he said, rubbing his chin. He would need to get some gardening supplies and a few tools.

The argument between Kiba and Naruto was entirely forgotten. Everyone spent another hour talking about the garden, the various plants, how best to organize and clean everything up, and other domestic stuff.

With the day approaching mid afternoon Shino and Kiba left to do their daily training. Kiba asked Naruto to join them, but Naruto still had a house to clean and reports to write. Shino told Naruto he would help identify the plants and let him know as soon as he had any results. Before leaving, Kiba gave Hinata lung crushing hug that would have earned him a beating from Naruto if Hinata hadn't intervened. Both of her former teammates expressed their heartfelt happiness as having her back and insisted that she tell them before leaving again or at least leave a note. Hinata felt somewhat ashamed at having left with telling them. They had been quite worried.

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After Shino and Kiba left, Naruto remembered the gift he had been meaning to give Sakura. Digging through his stuff, he finally found it, "Ah, here it is." It had been over a year since he had managed to produce and acceptable painting of cherry blossoms for Sakura. A great many things had changed since then, but he hoped Sakura would still like it.

"I made this made for you while training at Nee-chan's, I hope you like it," Sakura's expression darkened considerably at the mention of his time away, but he didn't make much of it.

Instead of gratefully accepting the gift as Naruto had hoped, Sakura smacked him across the face. It was no light tap and nearly knocked him off his feet.

Entirely confused and somewhat angry, Naruto yelled, "WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT FOR!?"

Responding to the sudden turn of events Hinata ran to Naruto's side, "Are you okay?" She was stunned at Sakura's actions and didn't really know what to do.

After a couple seconds, Sakura still hadn't responded. She was just standing there with her head bowed. Naruto was about to repeat his question even louder when she turned to face him. Upon seeing her face, his anger instantly drained from him to be replaced with concern and confusion. She was sniffling and her face was streaked with tears. Between sobs, she asked, "Why didn't tell me you were leaving?"

Naruto hadn't thought she would be that upset about it and was too panicked and bewildered to answer. He still couldn't handle crying girls.

Fortunately, Hinata was more composed and answered for him, "We didn't have time before Nee-chan left." Hinata had always been so envious of Sakura. She had never stopped to consider how hard Naruto's absence might be on Sakura.

"He could have left a note or written."

"I'm sorry, it was all very rushed and I didn't really have time to think about it. We weren't allowed to write anyone," Naruto replied, having recovered enough to speak.

Sakura had figured that had been the case, but it hurt nonetheless. She flung herself at Naruto and buried her face in the crook of his neck. "Baka! I missed you so much."

Naruto didn't know what to do so he just stood there and rubbed her back while she cried.

For Naruto, it seems like an eternity, but for Sakura only a moment passed. Still sniffling, "You better not abandon me again."

"Of course, I'm not going to abandon you! You're one of my best friends right?"

Sakura stood back from him and wiped the tears from her eyes, "You promise?"

"I'm sorry I left without telling you. I can't promise that I'll always be able to tell you before I leave, but I promise I'm not going to abandon you."

With that reassurance, Sakura brightened considerably. "Well let me see the painting."

With one hand behind his head and an optimistic smile, Naruto handed her the painting. "I hope you like it. I'm not really all that good at painting and stuff." Hugging Naruto, Sakura said, "I love it! I so glad you're back!" She then turned and embraced Hinata, "Thanks for taking care of the idiot." After collecting her plant cuttings, she left the house to Naruto and Hinata. She still had some work that Tsunade needed her to finish from the previous night and decided to get going before she started crying again.

Turning to Hinata, "So do you have anything else to do today," Naruto inquired.

"Not really."

This brought a large smile to Naruto's face, "Good, then I have you all to myself." He then embraced and softly kissed her.

While Hinata would like nothing more than to continue, she knew they had a lot to do. Disengaging from him, she said, "Okay, we need to get some work done."

Naruto frowned and crossed his arms in a good impression of a five year old. Hinata smiled sweetly at him, "If we're fast enough there will be plenty of time this evening." Motivating him was too easy.

"So where do you want to start!"

"How about the kitchen?" Hinata suggested. "Oh, do you think I can keep some of my things here? I don't have room for it all in my room."

"Sure, no problem," Naruto had more space than he knew what to do with anyhow, "but don't the Hyuga have somewhere to keep all there stuff."

"Yes, but my father says it isn't for frivolous things."

Naruto really hated that man, "Oh, I see." Nevertheless, neither of them wanted to start a fight with her family so soon after returning.

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Hiashi sat patiently in the hospital waiting room. He had arranged to meet with the Hokage that afternoon, but apparently surgery was taking longer than expected. He really disliked that insufferable woman. It was not that she was a terrible hokage in general, but she protected that miserable demon boy like he was her own child. When the boy was growing up, Hiashi could not help learning about all the trouble he caused. It seemed like every week he got into trouble. He even went as far as to deface the Hokage monument! The Kyubi was obviously affecting the kid's behavior. For a long time, Hiashi thought the kid would never amount to anything. This was especially true during his training to become a genin. The kid was simply terrible at everything. That was what Hiashi had been told at least. The chuunin exams proved the kid had at least some skill. The true danger he posed to the village became apparent during the third stage of the exams when he fought Neji. The Kyubi was not completely sealed and the kid was accessing its chakra! It was only a matter of time before the kid succumbed to the demon. He had to be killed for the good of the village before he became too powerful and that damn woman simply refused to listen to reason. Stopping the Kyubi a second time before it killed everyone would probably be impossible. Even worse, there was apparently some group of very powerful shinobi trying to capture the kid and take the Kyubi's power for themselves. She would not even consider sealing the kid while they looked for a method to dispose of the demon. Both the third and fourth Hokages had also wanted the kid to have a chance at a good life. Hiashi could understand that, but he would never have put the well being of the whole village at risk for one kid. Still, he would not have the kid assassinated unless there was no choice. He just hoped it would not be too late by then.

Hiashi waited for over an hour before the Hokage was finally available. He understood that medical procedures were difficult and often ran long than expected. However, it still made him highly irritable. He had important clan business to attend to and did not have time to be sitting around.

The Hokage took him to her private office and Hiashi got to the point without preamble, "I want Hinata removed from the Jonin tests."

Tsunade had not exactly expected it, but was not very surprised by the request either. The man was oppressively heartless. Not wanting another political annoyance, she decided to be diplomatic, "May I ask why you are making this request? Konoha needs all the qualified shinobi it can get."

Hiashi understood the need for more upper rank shinobi, but the good of the clan took precedence. He could not afford for the clan to be seen as week by another terrible performance of his eldest daughter. It was bad enough that he only had two daughters and Neji was more gifted than both of them. At least Hanabi showed potential, "She isn't skilled enough to test for jounin rank."

With such a lack of support from her father, no wonder Hinata was so timid. "It isn't for you to determine who is and who is not qualified to be a jounin. That is why we have the tests." Tsunade's temper was rapidly rising. That man pushed all the wrong buttons.

Hiashi was adamant, "The Hyuga will not allow the weakness of the current heir to be displayed so publically."

Tsunade had had enough. Slamming the desk with her hand, she said with a raised voice, "We need all the qualified shinobi we can get. Hinata will test for jounin. My decision is final!"

Hiashi had not expected so much resistance, but the clan could not afford another major embarrassment. "That is unacceptable. If I have to, I will order her to resign from the shinobi ranks."

Between clenched teeth, Tsunade asked, "You dare to defy the will of the Hokage!?"

"It is within my rights as the head of the Hyuga clan."

"And as a shinobi of the leaf it's Hinata right to leave the clan and not resign," Tsunade smirked. Let the arrogant bastard chew on that.

Hiashi was furious. Such a thing was unthinkable and would be an utter disaster for the clan. Hinata was loyal, but didn't have much sense when it came to her responsibilities as a Hyuga. He could not risk her leaving the clan out of some misplaced sense of loyalty to the village or the Hokage. Maybe there was another way to stop this before it got out of hand. "Perhaps we could have a private test just for Hinata. Her sister, Hanabi, is a genin. If she can't defeat her sister then she certainly can't pass the jounin test." Hiashi did not want to do this, however he was confident in Hanabi's abilities. She was far more gifted that her sister and he had been personally instructing her for years. Hinata, on the other hand, had not practiced juken for years and would not be able to properly utilize her blood limit.

Tsunade found this test somewhat cruel. However, the test was acceptable to her. If Hinata's capabilities were half as good as Naruto seemed to think they were Hanabi did not stand a chance, "Fine. When do you want to do this test?"

The fight was scheduled for two days later and when Hiashi left they were both convinced the verbal battle had gone their way.

:::::Author's Notes:::::

I originally meant to include a fight scene in this chapter, but decided that it could wait. I'm not entirely happy with the chapter. Hopefully, I have caught most of the spelling and grammar mistakes. Nevertheless, I would appreciate any editing readers provide since I do not currently have a beta reader. To make things easy for me, you could copy the text of the chapter, use the "track changes" feature in Microsoft word, and e-mail me (see my profile) the edited document.

Reviews are also welcome. I would particularly like feedback on how true this chapter is to the characters. Feedback on the flow of the story is also very useful. Of course, I appreciate any constructive criticism.

I could use suggestions for chapter titles.

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