"What do you want for your birthday?" Temari asked her brother.
Kankuro just shook his head at her. "The usual will be fine." He didn't even bother to look up from Karasu as he worked on the puppets joints.
A snort was her only response. "I'm sick of buying you facial paint and poisons. Isn't there anything else you want?"
"Subscription to the new Icha Icha magazine?" The young man scowled down at his work, his expression easing as the small pieces finally started to move properly. "I hear it's quite a sight to see."
Temari thoughtfully waited for him to look up from what he was doing before whacking him over the head. "Pervert."
Kankuro rubbed the back of his head with a grimace. "If you don't want to know, don't ask then. Silly woman."
Baki walked over to them. "Kankuro, you're on active sentry duty tonight."
Groans met that announcement. "I thought Tsusuzki was on tonight with what's-his-face?" Kankuro groused, he couldn't work on his puppets while on duty.
"He's down with a training accident. He'll live, but he's out cold." Baki told him with a stern expression at Temari.
"Training accident?" Kankuro looked intrigued. "Wasn't he supposed to be training with you today, Temari?"
His sister just nodded, keeping her mouth shut.
The puppeteer sighed and shook his head. "Temari, we're not supposed to destroy our own ninja."
Baki nodded, although knowing Tsuzuki it was probably not all Temari's fault. The man was a hot head with a mouth that got him in a lot of trouble most of the time.
"Hey!" Kankuro glanced up with a wicked gleam in his dark eyes. "I know what you can do for my birthday, take sentry duty for me!"
Temari hopped down from her perch beside him, sauntering away as she waved at them both. "Face paints and poison it is! Ta!"
Baki listened to Kankuro's dark mutterings with half an ear. Something was niggling at the back of his mind. "You're birthday's coming up?"
Kankuro nodded. "Yah."
"Nineteen?" Baki asked, almost hopefully.
The puppeteer rolled his eyes. "Twenty, Baki. I thought you kept up with shit like that. Not like you to forget anything."
Baki held still as his mind raced. No, it wasn't like him to forget things. He had a mind for organization and details. So what was it about Kankuro's twentieth birthday that had him so uneasy?
Tsunade didn't like paperwork. Everyone knew it and so on days that she had to buckle down with the loads of parchments and scrolls, they all tried to avoid her. Shizune often requested hazard pay since she had to be there on those days.
So it was that the Hokage was alone with her assistant as she pulled distractedly at her hair. "Where am I going to find the extra funds to pay for the repairs to the Academy?"
Shizune didn't say anything. She knew that it was bad. The village had recovered from the attack orchestrated by Orochimaru five years ago, but it had taken almost their entire treasury. The current missions were helping to keep the payroll going for the ninjas as well as general operating expenses. But the Academy buildings needed to be updated.
The school always took a lot of beating each year as they trained ninjas, not librarians. They'd even had to close the top floor, making the classes even more crowded.
"Wait!" Tsunade crowed, holding up a sheet of parchment that looked like it hadn't been opened in at least a decade. "This is a rather large sum of money. Just sitting there. What's it for?"
Shizune grabbed the sheet, scanning it quickly and then starting over from the beginning as her eyes widened at the amounts involved.
Tsunade was tearing through the remaining papers to see if any of them explained about that mysterious treasury deposit.
"This says the money is 'in trust' and can't be touched ...until, wait this date is only two weeks away!" Shizune whistled. "The original deposit is huge, but the interest is staggering."
"But it doesn't explain why it can't be touched until then, or what it was originally intended for." Tsunade grumbled, not finding anything to explain the details of whatever deal had been put in place.
"It was deposited seventeen years ago, that's an odd number. Monetary deals are usually made for round numbers, like 10 or 20. Seventeen? Sounds more like an age than a time limit." Shizune was reading much more slowly this time. "It says that in two weeks if the deal is not completed, the monies go into forfeiture."
"To us or to someone else?" Tsunade asked, getting more and more annoyed. "Do we have to pay that amount out on that date, and if we don't what happens? Wait! Shizune, where are you going?"
"To get someone from the elder council. We need answers and all this took place seventeen years ago, neither of us was here then."
Tsunade scowled. "I was just about to suggest that!" Then at Shizune's disbelieving and long suffering sigh, "I was! Now get going!"
There were three Hyuugas who walked around on pincushions in their own home. Neji, Hinata, and Hanabi avoided the clan elders at all costs. With their Byakugan bloodline limits, this wasn't as hard as it sounded though. Still, the old crows were sneaky.
"He caught me in the bath house!" Neji grumbled, picking at his food. "It's a sad day when a man can't relax taking a hot bath."
"You fell asleep again, didn't you." Taunted young Hanabi, who was trying to look younger than her 13 years. Not that she was vain, but the last time she'd been caught by one of the clan elders, they'd started talking about how grown up she looked and maybe they needed to find her a husband soon.
Hinata blushed and looked up in defense of their cousin. "Neji-kun trains too hard, i..it's no wonder he fell aa...asleep again."
"It's Elder Misyu that's the worst, he gives me the creeps." Hanabi shuddered.
Both Neji and Hinata shot each other troubled looks. "He ...doesn't try ...hh...e, I mean, well ...he ..."
"He doesn't try to touch you, does he?" Neji asked, his eyes narrowed on his youngest cousin.
Hanabi blew them both a raspberry and laughed. "Hardly, I'd kick his ass if he did."
Hinata laughed, knowing her baby sister, she probably would too.
"No, he doesn't do that. But he's the one that interferes the worst. And if he thinks I'm doing anything out of line, eating one too many rice balls or something stupid, he tattles to Dad." Hanabi pouted. "And last week he mentioned that I should be concentrating on finding a husband since it was clear I was useless as an heir."
Again, Neji and Hinata's eyes met in alarm. Hinata was the eldest and the true heir, but she'd been set aside by her father in favor of Hanabi. And they all knew that Elder Misyu had been one of the big proponents behind that move. Now he was making noises about Hanabi not being fit to lead? This wasn't good.
"Dad listens to Misyu too much!" Hinata hissed, not stammering once.
Neji nodded. "It was different when your mother was alive, Hinata. From what I remember, Kioshi didn't get along with Misyu much and kept him from having too much influence. Then after she died, it all changed. Hiashi changed too."
Hinata nodded, she didn't remember much. She'd only been five when her mother died. But she did remember her scent and her kind eyes.
Hanabi was staring down at her food and Hinata felt bad for her little sister. Hanabi had never had the chance to meet their mother who had died falling off a cliffside while caught in a sudden storm shortly after her birth.
There were rumors, of course. Rumors that Hiashi had done away with a difficult wife who gave him only daughters. Or that she'd committed suicide to escape a cheating husband. Or that she'd been meeting a lover and he'd killed her rather than let her break off their affair. It went on and on. Hinata listened to none of it. In her mind it had been an accident, a tragic accident and that was all. She had to believe that.
Suddenly Hanabi looked up, almost jumping up and down in her seat in excitement. "I know! I have the answer to all our problems. Neji won't get pushed around anymore and Hinata and I won't have to worry about getting married off at a moments notice!"
Neji looked skeptical, but Hinata (who really was worried about sudden marriages since she'd just turned eighteen) leaned forward eagerly. "What?"
"Marry off our dad!" She crowed.
Neji grimaced and rolled his eyes as Hinata heaved a deep sigh. "Oh Hanabi ..."
"No! I'm serious! All I ever hear is about how different father was when mother was alive. Well, we find him a new wife so he'll be happy again. If he's happy and busy getting busy if you know what I mean ..."
Neji groaned. "No, and you'd better not know what you mean either!"
Hope bloomed in Hinata's chest. "It's worth a shot though, isn't it?" She grabbed Neji's hand and he looked startled at her excitement. "If he's happy he won't have time to be making us miserable! It's a pretty theory and we won't know if it'll work until we try!"
The nineteen year old shinobi pushed his long dark hair behind one ear as he thought it all over carefully. "Just because he's happy, doesn't mean he'll go out of his way to make us happy." He didn't say that it went against everything within him to think about trying to make his Uncle Hiashi happy anyway.
"No, listen." Hanabi told them, tapping one finger against her lips as she concentrated. "If he's tied up with his new love, he won't be listening to the stupid elders as much. And it's the elder council pushing Neji to find a bride."
The shinobi in question grimaced at that reminder. He'd been fending off subtle hints for years. Lately the hints hadn't been so subtle and he thought an out and out demand would be coming soon. He had nothing against marriage, but he wanted it to be on his terms, not theirs.
"Hinata's eighteen. Frankly I thought Dad, or at least Misyu, would have married her off years ago. She's old enough to almost be a spinster." Hanabi shrugged. "They're already making noises at me about it."
"No!" Neji and Hinata yelled together, then the young man coughed and looked away. "Tch. Fine. But how do we go about effecting this 'miracle'?"
Hanabi ran to her school bag to find some paper. "First, we need to make a list of all the available women we know."
Leaf Elder Takao read over the parchment very carefully, several times. This only served to make Tsunade angry at his slow pace.
"Well?" Tsunade demanded, poking at the back of the paper while Shizune winced at her Hokage's impatience. "What does it all mean? Is this our money or what? Can we use it or do we pay it out?"
The council elder sighed. "Patience my dear. There's more to this than meets the eye."
"How so?" The blond woman leaned forward, almost threateningly. She hated dealing with the elder council, and it showed.
"I don't recall all the details. But this was part of a private agreement between one of our leading clans and the Kazekage of Suna." The elder said slowly, as if still trying to remember everything.
"Gaara?" The Hokage drew back in shock.
Shizune snorted as the elder clucked his tongue at Tsunade. "Hardly, my dear Hokage. The Fourth Kazekage was in charge seventeen years ago. Gaara wasn't quite yet born as I remember. If you want to know more, you'll need to approach the Hyuugas."
Tsunade stopped cold, taking back the piece of parchment thoughtfully. "The Hyuugas are the clan in question?"
"Some sort of betrothal I believe. I'm afraid I don't really remember, it's been so long and nothing came out of it. Right after this Gaara was born and Suna became more and more reclusive." He paused thoughtfully. "I'm not sure about the forfeiture mentioned or the monies involved. The amount is being held 'in trust' within the village treasury, but it's not ours. At least I don't believe so. You need to ask Hyuuga Hiashi."
"I will." Tsunade assured the elder. "But I wonder about the engagement. Were Hiashi's children even born then?"
"The Lady Hinata is about eighteen, I believe." The elder speculated. "I know one of my friends actually approached Hiashi about a possible betrothal with his grandson, and was rebuffed. I remember my friend venting about it, wondering why the Hyuugas weren't marrying her off. Thought there might be something wrong with the girl."
Shizune shook her head. "I know her entire team has passed their physicals each year with flying colors. Nothing wrong physically. And other than some extreme shyness, nothing registers as being mentally wrong either. We take care of our ninjas." She said proudly.
"Maybe they didn't betroth her because she's already spoken for." Tsunade said, lifting up the recently found parchment.
Elder Takao shook his head. "I don't know. But I'd be eager to find out. Keep me informed of what you find at the Hyuugas." He told her cooly.
"What are you doing?" Gaara demanded, his arms crossed as he stared at the shambles of his private library.
Baki didn't even look up as he scanned the tags attached to various scrolls. "You inherited your father's library and records when you took office as Kazekage, yah?"
Gaara nodded, but then shook his head as he realized Baki wasn't looking up and didn't see his response. "Care to tell me what you're looking for?"
"That's just it. I'm not really sure." Baki said, finally glancing up at the current Kazekage with an apologetic look. "I wasn't a confidant of your father, but ...but I have this feeling ..."
"Oh by all means, tear apart my library looking for something you don't know exists because you have a feeling?" Gaara's voice dripped with disdain.
Baki sighed, but kept going through the various scrolls, tossing them aside as he reached for the next bunch.
"Do you know how much I'm going to have to pay for all this mess?" Gaara intoned. "It's hard to find a good assistant when you have the reputation that I do. It's been over a year since the Akatsuki took the Shukaku from me, but some people never forget."
"Pay?" Baki looked up, startled. "Pay. Payment. Money. That's it! Something about forfeiting a lot of money. Your father ...what was it he said?"
Gaara blinked, intrigued despite himself. "We're still rebuilding our forces after the Akatsuki wiped out a lot of our guards, are you saying we owe someone else? We're working on a shoestring as it is."
Baki was muttering to himself. "We were ...talking. What were we talking about? Damn it!"
"Us." Gaara interrupted. "Kankuro, Temari and myself were the only things you had in common with the Kazekage. That I know of, anyway."
"Good. Yes. We were watching you train. No, not you. When he watched you, he didn't talk. So it must have been your siblings. I remember it has something to do with Kankuro's twentieth birthday. And ..."
"And ...what?" Gaara asked as the other man fell quiet.
Baki sighed. "No, I've lost the train of thought. Damn it!"
Hanabi held up the list a bit proudly. "Alright. Now we need to prioritize."
Hinata giggled. "Can you even spell prioritize?"
Her sister just shot her a death glare and continued unabated. "Who goes on top of the list?"
Neji pulled the list from her and read it over carefully. "Wait. I thought we decided not to put Anko up here?"
Hanabi huffed. "You decided. I think she's cool."
Neji rolled his eyes. "It's not what you think of them, it's what Hiashi will think of them. Somehow I don't see him with crazy snake-woman."
Sensing Hanabi's pout and Neji's stubbornness, Hinata stepped forward. "Le...let's keep her on the list ...bu..but move her ...d..down a bit. Not a fi..first choice. Alright?"
Neji looked disgusted, but nodded while Hanabi made a note by Anko's name.
"What about Kurenei?" Hanabi then asked. "She's really pretty and she's sooo nice to her little boy."
Hinata looked thoughtful for a moment as she reflected on her former sensei. "It might be a bit soon for her."
"It's been almost three years." Neji pointed out reluctantly. "I say move her up the list a bit. Although she may be a bit young for him."
Hanabi made the appropriate notation. "Shizune?"
Neji shrugged. "She's organized, but a stickler for schedules."
Hinata smiled a bit as she thought of the Hokage's overworked assistant. "Dad likes schedules too, maybe it gives them something in common."
"Yugao." Neji brought up.
Hanabi pulled a face. "She's way too young. You only brought her up so you can meet her."
"No I didn't!" He said too loudly, proving the lie by his reaction.
Hinata stepped in once more in order to keep the peace. "Put her down lower on the list. S..she is rather pretty, though." She said to appease Neji, who was still frowning deeply.
"Namiashi Ayame." Hinata then asked, bringing up the next name on the list. "She's Raido's older sister and she's been widowed about five years now."
Neji shrugged, not really having an opinion either way. "Does she have children?"
"Four, I believe." Hinata told them.
"I say move her down the list then. That's an awful lot of step-brothers and sisters." Hanabi said, making a note without waiting for the other's agreement.
"Inuzuka Hana." Hinata said in her quiet voice. "She's really pretty and really nice."
"Too young." Neji said again. "What about her mother though, she's closer to Hiashi's age."
Hinata shook her head. "Tsume scares me." She said, recalling the rather tough looking woman who was her teammate's mother. "Although her dog is rather nice."
"Mid-list then." Hanabi announced, her pencil flying as she made more notes. "Most people scare Hinata, so that shouldn't lose her any points."
Neji looked over her shoulder. "It looks like Shizune is in the lead right now. I say we start there."
The two girls nodded.
"Now, what do we do next?" The young man asked.
They all fell silent, as none of them had a clue what to do next.
If Lord Hyuuga Hiashi was puzzled by the unexpected visit by the Fifth Hokage, he didn't show it as he offered her formal greetings. He then greeted Shizune with equal grace and dignity, that showed not one iota of his private thoughts. Hiashi was the epitome of a ninja, nothing escaped his gaze and nothing could be read from his face.
Tsunade and Shizune returned the greetings, making small talk before getting down to the business at hand.
Hiashi read over the parchment, but again not letting anything of his thoughts be seen through his reactions.
"A private matter." He finally spoke up. "How does this concern the Hokage's office?"
"Did the Third Hokage know the details of this ...agreement?" Tsunade asked cooly.
Hiashi reluctantly nodded.
"It is a betrothal then?" Shizune asked bluntly.
Hiashi nodded, then shook his head. The first sign that this matter troubled him even slightly.
"I am the Hokage of this village. This is an agreement between one of my clans and a clan in another village." Tsunade stared at Hiashi as if daring him to deny her words. "I need to know what this parchment is all about. It is necessary to the smooth operations of this village."
"How?" Hiashi sat back, obviously reluctant to speak on the subject.
"I won't know until I know what this paper details." She pointed at him accusingly. "You're obstructing me from doing my job properly."
Shizune kept a straight face at that remark, though she wasn't quite sure how.
"That's circular reasoning." He pointed out, but shrugged as he capitulated. "Fine. What do you want to know?"
"Everything." Tsunade pointed out, smug that he'd given in.
"Seventeen years ago I was approached by the Kazekage of Suna. We were allies then, but new ones. The Great War wasn't that long before that time. It was an uneasy alliance at best."
Tsunade interrupted, making Shizune groan at her rudeness. "I don't need a history lesson."
"It's important to understand the reasoning here." Hiashi pointed out patiently. He wasn't as old as the Sannin, but he did recall her from the time before she'd become a wanderer. He knew her temper to be short, but he did have a lot of respect for her despite that fact, so he held his temper.
"A marriage, between my family and his made sense at the time. Helped to solidify the peace. I didn't know at the time, none of us did, about him infusing his unborn child with the Sand Demon. Gaara wasn't born then, but he was in the womb. The Fourth was playing both sides of the peace fence."
Tsunade gave a short nod, but for once kept her mouth shut.
"I only had Hinata at that time. Neji was two, but he was branch family so the Kazekage showed no interest in him even though he had a daughter. Gaara wasn't born yet, but he did have that middle child, Kankuro."
"The puppeteer?" Shizune asked, although she knew full well that Kankuro was a puppet shinobi.
Hiashi nodded and sighed. "But the boy was only three and Hinata was just one years old. Obviously no marriage could be consummated at the time. So we set a 'dowry' if you will. I set aside a rather large sum of money to be paid to Suna if I rescinded the marriage before it could be consummated. The Kazekage though, if he rescinded the marriage, was to double the amount. Payable to me."
"But what happens if both sides stop the marriage, or if either died first?" Tsunade asked, morbidly curious.
Hiashi sighed. "First, the marriage can't be stopped. Second, if either died of natural causes before the deadline then the money reverts back to the original family. If either dies by murder, then the money is forfeited to the village of the dead one. Third, if both deny the marriage and refuse to consummate it, then the money is donated to the shrines, one here and one in Suna."
Tsunade was getting a headache thinking through all this. "When is this deadline?"
Hiashi smiled sadly. "Two weeks. Kankuro's twentieth birthday."
"Why wait so long? The age of consent is sixteen." Shizune pointed out.
Hiashi shrugged. "I wanted to wait as long as possible, I think I kind of hoped the young man would die a ninja death somewhere along the way. I wasn't terribly thrilled with the whole idea. But I did allow myself to be persuaded. The Fourth Kazekage was a cold man, but a calculating one as well. He made a good argument."
Tsunade shook her head. "I don't see where this betrothal made any sense from his point of view. His son Gaara was about to be born. The Fourth saw his son as Suna's 'Ultimate Weapon'. Why would he go to all this trouble for a marriage he had no interest in seeing through? Especially since canceling the betrothal meant he'd have to forfeit a huge amount of money?"
Shizune spoke up slowly. "He, most likely, thought he'd never have to face this situation. The Fourth had long range plans in place to destroy the Village Hidden in the Leaves. He probably thought the betrothal agreement would eventually be moot. That's why he made the deadline so far in the future. All I can see is that he used this betrothal to make it look like he was taking the peace seriously, leaving him free to plan his betrayal."
Hiashi nodded. "You're probably right. I've been waiting for word from Suna for years now, but nothing."
"Do you think the new Kazekage knows about the agreement?" Tsunade asked quietly.
The elder Hyuuga shrugged. "It was a secret agreement, even at the time." He paused. "I should have sent messages to Suna, to inquire about it all. But I think I've been hoping that the whole matter would simply drop and the money would be split between the two shrines. Then I could look for an annulment."
Tsunade snorted. "You don't have to annul a betrothal. Look, I'll invite the Kazekage to meet with me and we'll all go over the contracts together. There has to be a way out of this without anyone getting hurt."
Hiashi frowned. "There is no way. And it's not a betrothal."
Shizune went cold, she felt as if ice just formed in her veins. "They're already married, aren't they?"
Hiashi nodded. "It's a legal, binding marriage. But they have to consummate it before Kankuro turns twenty."
Gaara stared down at the scrolls in horror. Baki didn't look much better, turning paler as he read. "Oh shit! How do I tell Kankuro about this?" Gaara muttered.
"Don't." Baki said. "Not yet. We organize a trip to the Leaf village, leaving tonight. At top speed we can cut the journey by a day."
"You're right." Gaara breathed. "We need to meet with the Hyuugas. There has to be a way out of this!"
My friends say I treat Kankuro poorly, what do you think? He's fun to torture.
Uhm, yes I have other stories that need updating. YES I'M WORKING ON THEM!
In the meantime, REVIEW PLEASE. And if you have any suggestions about whom to set Hiashi up with, let me know! I know where I'm heading with his plot line, but I'm always open to suggestion.