FIVE YEARS LATER:
"You're late." The red-head's gruff voice stopped her at the door to his office.
The kunoichi gave a sly half-smile, the top half of her face hidden by her dual masks. One of dark cloth, the other of a bone skull.
"Only by a week." The young woman leaned against the doorway, the very picture of insolence. "And I sent a message."
The Suna Kazekage snorted and looked up, the dark circles under his eyes more pronounced. "Some message. 'Alive'. One word."
Kaji didn't move, just nodded. "Short and to the point."
Gaara stared at his young wife, his nostrils flared slightly. His jade-pale eyes narrowed. "You're hurt." It was a statement, not a question.
The kunoichi gave the smallest of frowns. "You're guessing."
"You're not moving." The red-headed leader of Suna snapped. "You don't stand still well."
"Thus I must be hurt if I'm standing still?" Kaji clucked her tongue at him like a mother chicken, mocking him. "Gaara-coon, I'm fine." She used the old term she'd gifted him with when she'd been much younger.
The jade-pale eyes blinked slowly, his expression flat and giving away nothing. Finally his lips tilted down. "That's not a denial." He sighed and sat back. She couldn't be too badly injured, in fact, she looked perfect to him. Even after five years of marriage to the most insufferable, bratty, hot-tempered, prickly, and sneaky woman known to exist. Perfect.
Kaji straightened up and walked slowly into the room.
Gaara eyed her carefully, but she moved with her usual grace. Not a hitch in her step, no signs of a bandage, nothing. "Poison?" He guessed.
The young woman choked, smiled and shook her head.
Seven year-old Katsuro moved through the complicated kata, the sublime moves of the Gentle Fist technique in action. Mostly.
"You're dragging your left arm." Jishin snorted and made a rude sound.
The young male frowned slightly, then shrugged. "I didn't get hit."
"We're supposed to use the kunai to block the senbon. Not avoid them altogether. Show off."
The young scion of the Hyuuga clan leader didn't react to his cousin's words as he completed his moves, none of the senbon having touched him. "We're not supposed to do anything." He commented dryly. "We. Are not in the same class."
Jishin made a face at him. "I'm better at fighting than you are. Iruka-sensei said so."
"Liar." Katsuro muttered and grabbed a towel from the bench in the Hyuuga courtyard. "You don't start at the Academy for another year."
The little girl stuck her tongue out at him. "And you've only been in classes for three months. Acting all high and mighty! And Iruka-sensei said I was a stronger fighter than you!"
The Hyuuga matriarch turned the corner and took one look at the altercation between cousins. "Oh little sugar britches, none of that now. And I think poor Iruka's exact words were that he was glad he didn't have to take on both of you at one time."
Neji, who had been watching quietly from the side of the courtyard, shook his head. "The Academy accepted Katsuro early because of his maturity level."
Jishin's face went red, but she held back. Barely. Though her slender body was fairly shaking with energy and she did stomp her foot twice on the ground.
Anko laughed and ruffled her daughter's dark hair, earning a glare. "And while you are a great little fighter my tsutodoku, you did cause some damage during the initial exams when you ...didn't get your way. It's not your technique that keeps you at home this year. It's your temper."
"Tsutodoku?" Little Katsuro snorted in amusement, then had to dodge as several lethally sharp senbon embedded themselves in the ground where he'd been standing not seconds before.
Neji straightened up and looked at the needle-like weapons and rolled his eyes.
Anko clapped even while shaking her head. "I thought your father forbid you from carrying those outside of training?"
"You really are a poisonous and irritating climbing vine!" Katsuro smoothed his long hair down, trying to look like he was the more mature. "Tsutodoku!"
Jishin looked down at her feet, shifted her weight, and then looked up challengingly at her mother. "You never does what Papa says either." Then she took off running.
Neji smiled. "And people discount fate? You have a daughter who ...acts just like you."
Anko chuckled dryly and said some words that had Katsuro's eyes going wide.
Shiho walked into the house, turning the page on her book as she stopped in the hallway. Eyes never left the page as she awkwardly slid first one arm, then the other, out of her jacket. Moving the book from one hand to the other to keep from interrupting the flow of the information.
Without looking up the honey-blonde put her jacket on the coat rack. It slid off onto the floor. Because there was already a heavy tweed coat hanging there.
Blue eyes blinked for a moment, staring at her jacket on the floor, then up to the coat. "Damn it." She muttered under her breath.
Shiho closed her book reluctantly and looked back at her door, wondering if she'd made too much noise coming inside. Could she get away?
She looked back at the end of the hallway, to the open doorway to the living room. Akamaru was looking at her, his tongue lolling out of his mouth. Her blue eyes narrowed on the nin-dog, the canine looked like he was laughing at her.
At least with Akamau here, her husband was home too.
"Is someone there?" The falsely sweet voice made Shiho cringe.
The cryptologist sighed, took a deep breath to steady her nerves. "It's just me. Hello Grandmother Tayama."
Shiho wished she had something important going on at work, something to call her away. She entered the living room and smiled at her husband's grandmother. There was no sign of Kiba.
"I thought you weren't visiting for another two months?"
Kiba's grandmother looked smug and stared at Shiho for a long moment, making the younger woman distinctly uncomfortable. "You pregnant yet?"
Shiho sighed and looked around. Where the hell was Kiba?
Harusame tied the headband protector and positioned the symbol of Suna right in the middle of her forehead. She grinned at her reflection in the mirror.
Then she scowled. Hm. No. Harusame tilted her head and firmed her jawline, making her lips into a straight line. Better.
Kochi knocked on the bathroom door. "Are you ready yet?"
"Almost." Harusame straightened up and gave a sneer that she'd one of the jounin use. It looked pretty cool actually. But she was having trouble keeping it in place.
"You're taking too long!" Kochi turned and leaned his back against the bathroom door, knocking it with his elbow. "The guards told Daddy that she was back and I want to see her."
Harusame wiped her expression clear and stared into the mirror. Maybe she should smile. Something to put people off, make them think she was a piece of fluff instead of a fully graduated genin.
Kochi sighed, banging the back of his head against the door lightly this time. "If you see her, you can ask her to talk to Uncle Gaara about giving you higher ranked missions." It was a flat-out bribe to make his older sister move faster.
The young jinchuuriki gave a small squeal as the bathroom door he was leaning on was pulled open and he barely managed keep from falling down by grabbing the sides of the doorway. He looked up into his sister's face. "What'd you do that for?"
"You do know he's not really our uncle." Harusame pushed her little brother forward.
"He said I could call him that." Kochi pouted slightly, then ran to keep up with his older sister as she hurried out the door. He waved to his mother on the way out.
"Coat." Kimiko called out sweetly.
Harusame ignored the order, but Kochi ran back inside and grinned as he grabbed the light coat she was holding for him. Not that it got cold, but it was protection from the elements. Such as sand, sun and wind.
Sakura looked down at the squirming bundle of energy and laughed.
Temari scowled. "It's not funny."
The pink-haired medic tried to still her smile, but was failing. "How did he get the ...uhm, why did he?" She pointed at her nose.
The four and a half-year old Aburame tornado that was her child wiggled out of Temari's lap and ran across the room to the door. "No shots! No shots!"
"Don't worry, I locked it after the last visit where we had to chase him for half an hour." Sakura smiled, then hurried to keep the door closed as little Shindai unlocked the door.
Temari smiled weakly. "That doesn't work anymore." She explained with a tired shrug.
Sakura scooped up the little boy, who arched his back and pushed against her with his baby arms. "No shots, I promise!"
The little boy stopped and glared at the pink-haired woman. "Pwomise?"
"Promise." Sakura handed Shindai back to his mother. "Now. How did he get the toy up his nose in the first place?"
Temari sighed. "He's seen his father's kikai come in and out of his body, and he wanted to be like Shino and his grandfather." She frowned sharply. "It doesn't help when Shibi gets a kick out of feeding him sweets all the time either. He's got enough energy without sugar as it is."
Sakura grinned. "My son drew whiskers on his face last week." She offered lightly, talking about her two year old. "In permanent marker, of course. Naruto is still grinning about it."
Kiba walked into his house smiling, carrying the groceries. "I got the type of sugar you like, Gigi."
In the living room, Shiho sat still as a statue, her back not touching the chair she was sitting in. Tense.
The elderly woman smiled beatifically. "I'm so glad, though I am shocked that you were out of it in the first place. How can you serve a good tea without it?" Her voice was pleasant, but dripping with venom as she glared at her grandson's wife. "A properly run home would never be out of the basics in case of visitors."
Shiho refused to rise to the bait. "I hope you had a pleasant journey, Grandmother Tayama." She used the word 'grandmother' because she knew it irritated the other woman. Kiba's grandmother didn't accept her as his wife, and probably wouldn't until she got pregnant.
"It is a lovely home you have here, Kiba my darling." The older woman cooed as her grandson brought her a cup of tea. Then frowned as he handed the second cup to his wife and kissed her. "I thought you would sit and have tea with me."
"I will, just don't have three hands." Kiba whistled as he went back into the kitchen and got a third cup, bringing it back to sit with his ladies.
Grandmother Tayama frowned. "You should have a tea service, a tray. Then you wouldn't have to make several trips." It was obvious that she felt the lack to be Shiho's when she turned and glared at the cryptologist.
Kiba shrugged, completely oblivious to any undercurrents.
"But after the tour of your new house, I am left wondering ...where is the nursery?" The elderly woman looked patently worried and sad.
Shiho pasted on a fake smile. "We have an extra room upstairs we can convert." She firmed her voice. "When it becomes necessary."
Kiba's grandmother sighed and put down her tea cup. "Have you consulted a medic on this ...problem you're having?"
This was a bit much, even for the Inuzuka. "Grandmother!"
"I'm sorry my dear boy, but this lack of a great-grandchild is disturbing." The older woman sighed dramatically.
Shiho sat back and thought about it for a second, then decided to throw fuel on the fire. "You already have a great-grandchild." Long pause, "and another on the way."
Kiba sucked in a harsh breath, his dark eyes flying from his wife's face to that of his grandmother. The older woman's face went white, then flushed almost a solid red.
"That hussy! Is she pregnant again?!"
Shiho smiled and sipped her tea. Akamaru laid down and put his paws over his nose. Kiba closed his own eyes with a shudder.
Grandmother Tayama gritted her teeth. "Have they bothered to get married this time at least?"
Shiho shook her head negatively, throwing her sister-by-marriage to the wolves.
Anko stalked into her husband's library and smiled to see him poring over some dull old treatise. She slid up behind him, running her hands down his strong back and moving his hair from his neck. Leaning down, she placed a kiss on the skin she just bared.
Hiashi closed his eyes and sighed. "You want something."
"Always." Anko nearly purred. "But it's nothing I need to seduce you for."
The Hyuuga turned and let her settle herself in his lap, pushing aside his work for the moment. He knew his wife and if he tried to tell her he was busy, she would make his life a living hell. "It's not a seduction if I'm willing."
Anko paused and gave him a long look. "Want to play captive and rescuer later, kingfisher?"
Hiashi ran his hand down her spine. "No. Last time you offered you wanted me to play the captive. No way are you tying me up."
"Aw." Pouted the kunoichi. "So proud, so strong, so manly ..."
Hiahsi pulled back, suspicious. "What have you done?"
"Katashi wants the mission to the Waterfall Village."
Hiashi pushed his wife's hands away from him, turning stern. "That's an A ranked mission, with a lot of unknowns."
"He made chuunin." Anko leaned in and snapped at her husband with her teeth, giving him pause because he knew she could actually do damage.
"Less than five months ago." Hiashi sighed. "The Hokage wants to send a jounin team, and I agree with her."
Anko cocked her head to one side. "So if we aren't going to play rescuer tonight, how about we play hostage and torture master?"
Hiashi shuddered. "I will not change my mind on this. No. Besides, it is ultimately not my decision who goes on missions. That's up the Hokage's office."
"So you have no say in the matter, trout?" Anko purred.
Suspicious, Hiashi shook his head.
Anko smiled and leaned in, biting his ear before whispering. "So you don't mind that I asked Tsunade and she agreed that it would be a good experience and is sending Katashi along with those jounin?"
The Hyuuga gritted his teeth and pushed Anko away far enough to look into her laughing face. "Like I said, I didn't need to seduce you for this. Think of it as a bonus."
Inuzuka Namika giggled and jumped on top of the puppy that outweighed her by a good twenty-five pounds.
Tsume grinned, watching her first grandchild with an indulgent eye. Another nin-dog came up and picked up the fun-loving two-year old by the seat of her pants and carried her back to her mother. Wherein the child sat up, grinned, and ran into the kennel again to repeat the game that she and the nin-dogs seemed to love so much.
"You're sure? It's a boy this time?" Tsume watched as Namika slipped in some mud and fell hard onto her bottom, but the young Inuzuka scrambled back up and kept going without a single tear.
"I'm going to name him Genji." Hana grinned, her hand on her belly that was barely showing.
Tsume grunted, and by not arguing she was approving of the name. Then she took a deep breath. "That guy of yours, he handling it better this time around?"
Hana shrugged, smiling. "He hasn't disappeared." She said, both women recalling the near panic Sai had gone through during the first pregnancy. "He still has his apartment though. Doesn't think I know."
Tsume chuckled. "Your father would go 'hunting' for ages when I was first pregnant. Scared him so much. Still he handled it better than Sai."
The Inuzuka heir gave her mother a long look. "Give him a break, emotions and caring are all new to him. He's come a long way in five years. So what if he keeps an apartment for when it gets to be too much. He rarely goes there anymore. It's almost like a storage unit now."
"Marriage?" Tsume broached the touchy subject.
Hana shook her head. "He's fine with how we are right now, and so am I. Frankly, I tried marriage. Don't want another. And didn't you get enough of all that ceremony crap from the first time I got married, not to mention Kiba's?"
Tsume groaned and nodded. "Rinako is planning something small and intimate. If Lee had his way, the whole world would be invited."
Hana laughed. "Can't believe Lee finally proposed. That boy has some strange ideas about what constitutes a 'proper' engagement."
The Inuzuka clan leader shrugged. "Lee is all that is proper. Sai doesn't give a shit about anything proper. And Shiho is clueless, she's proper only when she remembers to be proper."
Hana laughed. "Heaven help the Inuzuka clan."
There was a yip of distress from one of the nin-dogs and both women watched as little Namika apologized for pulling on a tail to keep her balance. The dogs immediately forgave the toddler.
Hinata looked up and smiled gently at her husband. Her smile broadened as she realized he wasn't alone.
"Mama!" Nowaki grinned, missing some teeth. "We ..."
"Were practicing!" Ryusei finished the sentence for his twin brother. "Daddy let us ..."
"We won!" Crowed the seven-year old Nowaki.
"Two against one." Kankuro laughed.
Hinata smiled. "It's never two against one, not against a puppeteer." She grinned gently at her boys. "Where is your sister?"
The puppet master frowned. "She sneezed twice and Hiashi wouldn't let her come with us this morning. It's not like she had a fever. He made me feel like I was a horrible father for even thinking about bringing her along."
Surprised, Hinata shook her head. Little Mirina had been a total shock to the entire Hyuuga clan. One look at his new granddaughter and the impossible happened. Hiashi became putty in her hands. One glance at the newborn had been enough to know she wasn't destined to use the Byakugan. Not with her dark violet eyes. Other than that she was the spitting image of her mother.
"Here's some money for the machines." Kankuro searched through his pockets, coming up with some change. "I promised you one drink a piece."
"Two!" Bounced Nowaki on the balls of his feet.
"Three!" Ryusei upped the ante.
"One." Kankuro handed the boys the change and watched them run off down the hallway making enough noise to mimic an entire herd of cattle.
Hinata laughed. "How did it really go?"
Kankuro shrugged. "They're not puppeteers. Mirina definitely has leanings toward puppetry though, that has been obvious for over a year. But not the boys."
"Neji says they do well with the Gentle Fist, because they can see chakra really well." Hinata smiled, putting away the work on her desk at the hospital so she could head home with her family.
"Surgery go well?" Kankuro asked, genuinely worried.
Hinata nodded. "Genma won't lose any range of motion in that shoulder. It went really well."
"Good, he's a good man." Kankuro grunted with approval, then returned to the original subject. "The boys can use the Gentle Fist, but not the traditional Byakugan. And using their abilities to control chakra? Too dangerous, they have to get close to an opponent to touch them. Yet the Gentle Fist is designed to keep people out being too close to the fighter.
"Then it's a good thing they have a master puppeteer to teach them." Hinata gave her husband a lingering kiss.
Hinata smiled against Kankuro's lips. "We have company again."
"I want ramen for supper." Katsuro said quietly.
Neji shook his head, even as Yugao told him "No."
Jishin made a face. "You just want it because Naruto likes ramen."
Surprised, Neji glanced between the two children. Where had they run into Naruto?
Yugao shrugged. "He was a guest at the Academy yesterday. Made a big impression."
Neji nodded, it made better sense now. "He's the front-runner for Hokage when Tsunade steps down in a year or two."
"He eats ramen, a lot!" Katsuro mentioned, with a slight air of hero worship. "And he's really, really strong."
The Hyuuga clan leader sighed and wondered about the ironies in life. He glanced at his beautiful wife. "Yugao, you craved ramen while you were carrying him too."
The former ANBU kunoichi smiled and nodded. "I did at that. Still, Lord Hiashi doesn't care for ramen and it will not be what we eat for supper."
Jishin pouted slightly, then nodded at Katsuro.
The young male Hyuuga nodded back at his cousin. Where there was a will, there was a way.
Shino made his son tilt his head up and then shook his head. "No more shoving things up your nose."
Shindai nodded and then ran off down the hallway with a squeal as he saw one of his many cousins come in the door.
Temari smiled and shook her head. They were at the Aburame main house for supper, not their own house. Better that Shindai's excess energy should be run off over here than at home. Less to fix that way.
Shino cleared his throat.
His wife's smile faded. "Out with it."
The Aburame heir shrugged. "You remember my cousin who died a few months ago?"
Temari nodded solemnly, she did remember. It had been really sad, the young man hadn't been someone she knew well, but he had seemed nice enough. "A mission that shouldn't have been ranked a "C" if I remember right."
Shino nodded. "Apparently his girlfriend was expecting."
Temari nodded. "I knew that, it was very sad. Shibi offered her a place to stay on Aburame land, right?" She knew her husband's clan took care of their own.
"Of course." Shino said, since that was a given. "But she has, well the mid-wives say the child will be an Aburame candidate for a hive."
The young blonde kunoichi smiled happily. "Congratulations. His family must be thrilled."
Shino shook his head, "His mother died young and his father can't take care of a newborn like that. Temari, they've asked us to take the child."
That made her stop. Her teal eyes widened. "Us? As in the clan? Or us ...as in you and me? Wait. What about the mother?"
Shino shook his head. "Apparently she is rather young and wants to start over, feels like being the mother of a hive-bearing Aburame is too much." He paused a long moment before continuing. "How would you feel about adopting? Giving Shindai a little sister or brother?"
Temari stared at her husband for a second, then grinned full out.
Shino nodded at her, pleased.
Hiashi finally rolled up the last parchment and looked at the clock. He grunted. Even with Anko's ...interruption ... he grinned, he had managed to clear his desk in good time. Perhaps he could find some time to train with his daughter before dinner. Jishin was coming along nicely, even if she was too impulsive.
A slight sound from the doorway had the Hyuuga male look up.
Deep violet eyes looked at him, framed by long dark lashes in a heart-shaped face. Bee-stung lips gave him a sad smile. The little girl's long dark hair fell straight down her back. In her small white nightgown she looked like a miniature angel.
His look seemed to be all the permission little Mirina needed. She shuffled into the library and Hiashi smiled to see her tiny bunny slippers on her feet. Her ever-present stuffed bunny in her arms.
The tough-as-nails Konoha shinobi leaned down. Mirina smiled at her grandfather. "I was wondering ...could we have ramen for dinner tonight?"
"Yes." The answer was immediate.
Neji entered the room as his uncle nodded. "Of course we can have ramen for dinner."
The clan leader sighed. "You do know that Katsuro and Jishin put her up to this."
Hiashi scooped up his granddaughter and felt her snuggle into his arms. "I don't care."
"I was wondering ...can we get a pony?"
Neji laughed, then choked as he heard his uncle agree. "Kankuro will kill you, if Hinata doesn't first."
Hiashi laughed at his nephew. "Let them try. What is the point of being rich and powerful if you can't make use of it. Now, what should we name the pony?"
Neji sighed. "Heaven help us all when this one grows up. A spoiled master puppeteer. A beautiful one. Damn. Will Konoha even survive?"
"I wasn't poisoned." Kaji yawned. "The caravan was late, storms. Our target didn't arrive on time. We had no choice but to wait."
Gaara eyed her suspiciously. "There's something you're not telling me."
"True." She grinned.
The red-head shook his head. Then sighed. She wouldn't tell him until she was damned well ready. Fine. He cleared his throat. "Mizu and Tei are in Suna. Will be until the end of the month."
"Nice!" Kaji grinned, genuinely pleased. "Michi will enjoy himself. Though Tei broke up with yet another girlfriend."
Gaara shook his head. "Why does he date more guys here in Suna, than in Konoha?"
The kunoichi shrugged. "Michi says he likes they way they grow men out here." She smiled. "I agree."
The Kazekage looked up to find his wife giving him a smoldering look. His pen went down onto the desk. "I'm not getting any more work done today, am I?"
Kaji shook her head, licking her lips slightly.
Gaara's eyes narrowed on her mouth. She laughed. He sneered.
"Have we ever actually had sex here in your office?"
The red-head sighed. "Yes. Many times as a matter of fact." He stood and looked toward the closed door. "Did you lock it?"
"Yes." She crooned. Then waited for him to round the desk and pull her to her feet. His lips found hers and her fingers found the fasteners on his shirt. "Yum."
"You promise you're not injured?" Gaara asked even as his lips traveled down the column of her neck.
"No. Just pregnant."
He grunted, kissed her pulse and then stilled.
Kaji held him as her poor husband stopped moving. "Gaara-coon? Remember the four year plan? Well, we made it five years without a child. But we won't be making six."
The Kazekage felt light-headed, then felt his wife pound him on the back. His breathing started back up again. She pulled back and looked at him in the face.
He pushed her masks off her own face, glaring balefully into her Hyuuga pale eyes.
"I love you."
Gaara's jade-pale eyes narrowed further.
"I'm carrying your baby."
Kaji laughed. "A little boy or girl just like me."
Gaara's lips twitched. "Or like me."
"Oh, no. There's no one else like you." Hanabi leaned in and wrapped her arms around her poor husband. "You're stuck with me and any child we have even if they are just like me. It was your non-courtship, remember? I just liked making things explode."
Gaara nodded and pulled her closer to him, though gently. "And I wouldn't have it any other way. Even though I still appear to be your favorite target."
"Just shows you how much I love you."
Finally. I re-read this at least twice since I last updated, including MMFP? But every time I started the Epilogue it never felt right. I knew some of where I wanted to go. But plot bunnies are cruel and have very sharp teeth. Not an "action" chapter, and no ...not every character was seen though I tried to touch on the main points as much as possible. I do hope you enjoyed, however. This was meant to be a snapshot five years into the future. Just to let people know how things were going. THANK YOU ALL and I'm sorry that I made you wait.