Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.

AGE REMINDER: Rookie Nine—18, Neji, Tenten, Lee—19, Kankuro—20, Temari—21


Chapter XXXIII


"Sorrow makes us all children again – destroys all differences of intellect. The wisest know nothing."

Ralph Waldo Emerson

"It's quite ironic that in life, the person that brings out the best in you and makes you strong is actually your weakness."


Itachi had come to a fork in the road. They were almost to the port; all they had to do was travel through one of two different pathways. The main pathway, the usual one, was safe and easy to travel on, but it was surrounded on both sides by human villages.

Or, rather…

It was surrounded on both sides by decimated human villages. This would normally not be much of a problem for Itachi, but he knew that Hinata would be a different matter. He seriously doubted that she would react well to seeing so many of her race's villages burnt to the ground, the humans obviously slaughtered as well.

He wanted to avoid it altogether, but that left only one pathway to take, one that made him uncomfortable.

A small cave system ran between their current location and the port that would take them to Kiri. It would be a quicker route, and it was devoid of slaughtered humans, but…

He didn't think Hinata would like that route either.

"Itachi?" Hinata asked with concern, noticing that he had paused walking for a brief moment, almost as if he was indecisive about something. "What is it?"

"Nothing." He easily schooled his expression back to normal. "Let's go—we're just about there."

With that, he began leading them toward the cave entrance.

As they entered the cave, Hinata didn't say anything, didn't question him whatsoever.

Although, she deeply wanted to, and it was only because he seemed strangely tense for some reason. In fact, he had seemed tense since the last time she asked him if something was wrong. Of course, she didn't ask, simply because she trusted him wholeheartedly. If there was something she needed to know, he would tell her.

She was sure of that.

However, it didn't stop her from worrying as they made their way through the dark and damp tunnels of the cave, their footsteps being the only noise between them. She didn't even keep pace next to him, either. Of course, she didn't know where to go, so that was the main reason why she stayed a step or two behind him. The other reason was that it gave her a chance to observe him in the quiet of the cave.

She hated that no matter how long she observed him, she couldn't figure out what was bothering him. And it only seemed to get worse the further in they went.

Itachi couldn't understand it. He couldn't sense any demons nearby, and yet…he kept sensing danger. It was driving him insane, and it didn't intensify until they were almost out. What is it coming from?

All too soon, they came across a large opening in the cave system just before the exit. That's when it hit him, and by then, it was too late.

Hinata was absolutely shocked when she heard her mate curse under his breath. With wide eyes, she opened her mouth to speak and only got as far as the first syllable of his name before his hand clamped over her mouth. If it was possible, her eyes widened even further, but since she couldn't speak, she only looked at him, brows pursing together in inquiry.

He wasn't looking at her, however; instead, his gaze was focused alertly on the scene in front of him.

Once again, she could do nothing but watch as he slipped off his cloak and quickly covered her with it before pulling her tightly against him. All the while, she had no idea what was going on. Why was he acting this way? Why was he acting almost…afraid?

Gulping, she turned to where he was looking so intensely, her eyes squinting through the darkness, trying to see what had Itachi so on edge.

Wait… She was starting to see it. What is that? No, it wasn't a 'that', because there were more than just one. In fact, whatever they were, they practically took up the entire cavern that she and Itachi were just outside of. Demons?

These creatures had to be demons; there simply wasn't another name for them. Hinata didn't think she could even properly describe these creatures, for that's really what they were. They almost appeared human in form, but they didn't wear clothes, and their skin looked to be a sickly grey color. Also, none of them seemed to have any body hair at all, and this was just what she could make out so far.

It seemed like the horde of creatures were sleeping…during the day, which reminded her of bats, though they didn't look like bats. Animalistic, yes. Bats? No.

So, what were they?

"Kaiju," came the soft whisper from the man next to her. It was so inaudible that she almost didn't hear it. "Neither human nor demon, yet a mix of both. They feast on human flesh, and if they smell so much as an ounce of human scent on you, you're dead."

Hinata gulped in fear, understanding why he had thrown his cloak over her and kept her close to him. His scent was already on her due to the mating, but he wasn't taking any chances—he was eliminating whatever human scent she carried, which meant that these creatures were enough to worry him.

And that worried her.

Hand still clamped over his mate's mouth, Itachi assessed the current situation, debating the best course of action. They could head back, of course, but the way back was going to be a lot longer than going forward toward the nearby exit. If they did head back the way they came, there was a strong risk that the Kaiju would still come after them, and the creatures would have more of an opportunity to ambush them that way.

On the other hand, if they managed to quietly walk around the horde of Kaiju, there was still a chance that they would attack, but being so close to the cave exit meant that safety would be a lot closer, too.

As long as he kept Hinata cloaked with his demon scent, the Kaiju would, in theory, not notice their presence. Hopefully, they wouldn't even bother to wake up. After all, the Kaiju would only wake up if they were interested in a nearby scent, and only if that scent was human, or rather, food.

He knew that there was a chance that he'd regret it later, but as of the current moment, the best option seemed to lay in front of them. He had to lead Hinata around the Kaiju horde silently and without her even breathing in their direction. It would not be easy.

Decision made, Itachi finally faced his mate, only to see her staring horrified at the creatures before them—creatures she had never even imagined could exist, yet there they were. White eyes met red ones as if she were plainly asking, what do we do?

Itachi answered her by speaking almost silently in her ear. "We're going around them." He hesitated, seeing the absolute fear in her eyes. "Be as silent as possible, and don't let them smell you."

She nodded, her shaky resolve gradually strengthening.

Calloused fingers grazed her cheek, his eyes softening and hardening intermittently. "I will not let them hurt you. Stay by me the entire time."

Nodding again, Hinata grasped onto his hand firmly, tightening his cloak around her body. It was her own silent way of letting him know that she trusted him.

His mouth twitched upward for the briefest of seconds before his demeanor became as emotionless as when she had first met him. The only difference was that, before, he had threatened her life, and now, he was protecting it.

With slow and steady steps, Itachi led her into the large cavern, moving around the first couple groups of sleeping Kaiju. Taking the path nearest the wall, Itachi was able to place Hinata between the wall and himself, his own feet occasionally brushing against some of the creatures, causing them to stir before falling raptly asleep.

Hinata's grip on her mate's hand tightened absently the more she was able to see these creatures up close. Their eyes were closed, but it wasn't necessarily because they were asleep; it was because where their eyelids would be, there were instead deeply inlaid scars, so deep that it was doubtful the creatures even had eyeballs.

Besides that, Hinata couldn't tell which ones were male or female, or maybe they were genderless. Also, it didn't look like their bodies contained anything more than skin and bones; they were living skeletons.

Itachi literally pulled her from her thoughts when his hand yanked her forward after she had almost stepped on one of the creatures. His red eyes glared back at her in warning, to which she bit her lip shamefully.

He merely looked forward again, his eyes constantly sweeping their surroundings, ensuring the best path possible. So far so good.

Just a couple yards away was the cave exit, sunshine streaming through, tempting Hinata, and anywhere the sun touched, the Kaiju seemed to avoid. Did they have a sensitivity to light? Perhaps, but she couldn't afford to dwell on it at the moment; especially if it might distract her.

Glancing to her side, she watched the closest Kaiju to them, seeing it stir in its sleep before sitting up when Itachi had brushed by it. It sniffed the air curiously, smelling Itachi, before instantly becoming disinterested.

As soon as Hinata passed the creature, it's movements were enough to make her edge closer to Itachi, if only to avoid shuddering at how…creepy it was.

Although, as soon as Hinata was no longer paying attention to it, the creature crawled across the floor, looking for a better sleeping position. Moving blindly, one of its gnarled hands happened to graze just under her cloak, brushing against her skin. If she had been walking just slightly faster, the touch would've been avoided.

Unfortunately, the touch was enough to spike the creature's curiosity again as it lifted its hand to its nose, sniffing and making low sounds deep in its throat. The sounds grew louder until it finally threw its head back and let out a hoarse, high-pitched scream, head snapping in Hinata's direction.

Itachi had turned at the noise, jaw clenching in realization before another curse escaped his lips. Before his mate had time to blink, he had grasped her hand tightly, urging her toward him just before they began to run toward the exit.

Hinata looked around with fear-widened eyes, seeing that one-by-one, the creatures were awakening, having been alerted to the nearby food source. "Itachi!" she cried out just before, as one, they surged toward them both, crawling on all fours like the creatures they were.

"Damn it," Using his grip on her hand, he pushed her ahead of him, while his other hand retrieved his sword, using it to slice through the first row of Kaiju. "Run to the exit." Seeing her hesitate, his red eyes blazed, commas spinning threateningly. "Now, Hinata."

Jumping at his tone, she turned on her heel to begin running toward the cave exit, knowing Itachi would protect her from behind. However, she still had to deal with the Kaiju blocking her up ahead. Ignoring her initial fear at the sight of the creatures crawling towards her at a fast rate, she plunged forward, attacking the first one that came at her.

They were not very strong, but they were proving to be very fast. Knowing that she couldn't stay in one place to fight them, she continued running toward the exit, defending and attacking when she had to. Almost there!

Seconds from touching the incoming rays of sun, she caught a movement out of the corner of her eye. A single Kaiju was in mid-air, coming straight toward her, her breath hitching in response. Blood splattered in a line across the cave wall just before a black blur appeared between her and the creature. A bloody sword lowered as Itachi's unoccupied hand wrapped around the Kaiju's throat.

A slanting cut appeared on the creature's body, almost dividing the body in half, only being held together by Itachi's grip on its neck. With disgust and too much force, Itachi threw the body to the side, making it crash into an incoming group of hungry Kaiju.

Not wasting any more time, Hinata sprinted out of the cave entrance, relishing the sun on her skin. For a moment, it blinded her, which was long enough for to run directly into a hard surface, falling back on her behind with a quiet grunt.

Looking up, she was shocked to see that the surface she had run into was actually a tall body, a very…blue body. Kisame?

The shark demon looked down at her with a raised brow. "Thought I sensed you two nearby. Are you having problems, or did you get lost?" He even chuckled, showing his obvious amusement.

Hinata stood rapidly, grasping onto his cloak in panic. "Itachi and the Kaiju—"

"Kaiju, huh?" he repeated, his amused grin faltering into something more serious. "Is he in the cave?"

Hinata nodded, her eyes pleading with him to help.

Kisame turned behind him, calling out to someone she didn't see. "Deidara, get over here!"

A taller blonde entered her line of sight, his one visible eye looking her over curiously. "What do you want? And who's this?"

"This is Itachi's mate. Take her to the boat, while I go help out my partner."

"Okay…" the blonde looked confused as he and the girl watched Kisame disappear into the cave. Afterward, he looked down at her, brow raised. "So, you're Itachi's mate, hm?"

Still shaken, she managed to answer him. "I'm Hinata."

"The deity. Yeah, I heard about you. Come on, the dock is over here."

"But, Itachi—"

The blonde laughed. "If you're worried about him, then you obviously have no idea what he's truly capable of. Uchiha demons like him are assholes, but they're powerful assholes. Now, get moving, so I can introduce you to my partner, hm?"

It was disorienting to see these demons so calm, considering the horde of Kaiju she just had to fight through. Did nothing bother them? Were they so powerful that creatures like the Kaiju were laughable? Hinata was starting to think so, and strangely, the thought managed to calm her nerves.

If the demons that surrounded her thought of the Kaiju as a waste of energy, then what could she possibly have to worry about when being protected by these invincible demons? As long as they didn't turn on her, she'd be the safest person in the world.

The demon named Deidara led her over to the pier, where a small boat was docked, waiting for them, it seemed.

"So, are you hungry?" he asked uncertainly, helping her onto the boat deck.

She watched him in suspicious surprise. "I'm okay,"

Catching onto her look, he stared at her with a wry glare. "Look, don't flatter yourself into thinking that I care about you out of the kindness of my heart. There are only a few demons that I would never want to piss off, and you happen to be mated to one, which means that if I don't want my ass kicked, I gotta be nice to you, alright?"

"I understand…" she murmured, still unsure about how to act around this odd demon.

"Okay, so do you want to eat? Are you thirsty? Maybe you're tired? I could show you where the beds are. I'm not really sure what to do with a human, other than kill 'em, but…" His eyes brightened. "Oh, do you want to blow something up? That always makes me feel better, mhm."

Unable to help herself, and not exactly understanding why, she giggled. This demon was as outgoing as Naruto, which was a comfort to her in this land of demons. If only more demons were more like this one.

He grasped onto her arm excitedly. "Come on, I'll introduce you to Sasori!"

Seconds later, Hinata found herself being dragged below deck into a darkness that Deidara, like all demons, could navigate easily. A light shone up ahead, coming from a small room that the blonde was running toward, his grip on her wrist never lessening. "Heh, heh. Hey, Sasori, my man, look who I got!" he announced after barging into the room.

Red hair and a boyish face turned at the commotion, his expression unnervingly blank.

Hinata's eyes took in the young demon before her, noting his lax posture as he sat on a stool next to a table, on which different puppetry tools were laid out. His wild red hair reminded her so much of Gaara, though his demeanor was much colder. Unconsciously, she edged toward the demon next to her, somewhat hiding behind him.

"A deity?" Sasori droned, clearly uninterested.

Smiling widely, Deidara spread his arms. "Not just any deity, but Itachi's mate! Looks like she's going to Kiri with us."

"And where is Itachi?" Sasori murmured, glancing over the white-eyed deity with assessing eyes. "I doubt he would leave his mate with us for long."

"He and Kisame are busy, I guess, but they'll be here soon enough." Then, he nudged her with an elbow. "Don't be rude; introduce yourself."

"Oh!" Hinata finally mustered up the courage to step around the blonde demon, setting her soft gaze on the red-haired demon. "My name is Hinata. It's nice to meet you, Sasori."

His bored gaze turned back to his table of tools. "Which deity are you?"

"I'm sorry?" her brows furrowed to match her misunderstanding tone.

"Are you the one with abnormal strength, or the healer, or perhaps you can read minds?"

"Oh, I'm the healer." She answered, briefly wondering if the deities' powers were common knowledge amongst demons.

He merely grunted in acknowledgement. "Good to know." He paused, head slightly lifted alertly. "Itachi and Kisame are back. He's probably looking for her, Deidara."

"Yeah, yeah," Deidara waved off his words. "You guys are no fun. I'll take her up."

Hinata followed behind the blonde with her normal serenity, though inwardly, she was impatient to see Itachi and make sure that he was okay. They had barely made it onto the deck when Hinata spied her mate up ahead, resulting in her sprinting around Deidara and straight towards the dark-haired demon.

Itachi's gaze immediately went to her as she ran toward him, both of their eyes glancing over each other for any injuries.

While Hinata didn't see that he had any injuries, she couldn't help but ask as soon as she was in front of him. "Are you hurt?"

He shook his head.

"And…those creatures?"

"It's taken care of." He answered blankly before looking over her shoulder at the blonde demon. "Deidara, get Sasori."

"Hm? Why?" he asked, though one look from Itachi and he was already heading back down the stairs. "Okay, okay, I'm going!"

Kisame sighed. "Since we're all here, I'll get the boat going. Be back soon,"

Finally, when it was just the two of them, Itachi looked at her again, his hand moving to automatically stroke her cheek with a fondness he didn't seem too keen on showing around the others. "You fought well."

Smiling softly, she leaned into his hand. "I had a good teacher."

The corner of his mouth tilted upward at her comment before he easily bent down to touch his lips to hers.

Sighing into his kiss, Hinata leaned in for more, only to hear him pull back and chuckle.

"We'll continue this later," he whispered before directing her attention to the shark demon returning, along with the other two demons coming up the stairs from below deck.

"What's this about?" Sasori was the first to ask when their group had formed a small circle.

Kisame met Sasori's gaze with a question of his own. "Did either of you know that there was a cave full of Kaiju not even half a mile from here?"

"Kaiju?" Sasori slowly repeated.

Deidara rubbed the back of his head. "I know there's a cave system with a tunnel that leads to here—is that the one you're talking about?"

"Yes," Itachi intoned. "It obviously hasn't been used in a while, since there are now Kaiju inhabiting it."

"How many?"

Itachi looked at brown-eyed poison demon. "A horde."

Kisame suddenly chuckled. "Not anymore, though. It's empty now that Itachi and I took care of it. But, still…" his grin disappeared. "For the Kaiju to be this far away from Oto is strange, to say the least."

Something seemed to click in Deidara's mind as his eyes brightened. "Wait a minute, that's why you handed her off to me," he mentioned, looking at Kisame before turning his surprised expression toward Itachi. "The Kaiju are nothing to us, but you took a human in there, amidst a horde of human-hungry Kaiju?" he snorted before mumbling beneath his breath. "Some mate you are."

A glare from Itachi silenced him, letting him know that he heard his remark. Just as quickly, however, the Uchiha glanced over the group before settling a condescending glare back onto the only blonde there. "The Kaiju may be weak against demons, but they are also difficult to sense; that is, until we're already upon them. Usually this would not be a problem, but because Hinata was with me, it quickly became a problem, so that not even my own scent could cover her completely."

"Hm," Deidara grunted. "Kakuzu and Hidan didn't do their job very well."

"Not that it matters anymore." Sasori added in a drawl. "The Kaiju that were in that cave are obviously no longer there, though I will send a message to Lord Madara informing him of the creatures' movements."

"Heh," Kisame smirked suddenly, pinning his stare on Hinata, who had been very quiet during their whole discussion. "You're lucky, deity. From now on, you'll be the most protected human in all these lands."

Sasori nodded his agreement. "Not many humans can boast about being protected by the most elite of demons."

Deidara snorted his dry amusement. "Not many can boast about being mated to a demon like Itachi, either. As if that's not enough, she also has the protection of the demon leader, hmph."

Itachi turned his gaze to his mate, his eyes softening automatically as red met white. "Lucky, indeed."

Hinata could only smile shakily in response.

Two figures stood solemnly in the middle of a quiet courtyard, surrounded by trees. Despite the mid-afternoon sun, it seemed so dark in the grassy clearing, as if the sun's rays had a difficult time penetrating it.

Still, the two figures stood resolutely side-by-side, neither having spoken since they arrived. It was possible that an hour passed before one figure clenched her hands into fists, red lips forming into a snarl, accentuating her gritted teeth. "I never thought…that one deity's absence could create so much havoc."

Spiky, white hair moved as an older male face turned to his companion, his expression showing nothing of what he inwardly felt. "Hinata was our healer, so of course her absence would unsettle us."

Exhaling sharply, the woman turned her gaze downward, her scowl sharpening. "Unsettle us? It damn near crippled us!"


She ignored the patriarch. "Was this what Itachi Uchiha had planned? Damn it…What was I thinking by sending them out there to retrieve Hinata? What a stupid idea. Because of me, Asuma is dead and now…" she paused, staring morosely at the grave just in front of her. "We've lost Anko, too…"

"Stop it, Tsunade." Jiraiya's brows lowered into a frown, his tone of voice sharp and authoritative. "I was part of that decision, as well, along with the village leader. And in case you forgot, that entire team, Asuma and Anko included, volunteered for that mission, fought for it. They knew what was at risk."

Biting her lip to the point where she was almost drawing blood, Tsunade relaxed her clenched fists. "Tell that to Kurenai…"

Elsewhere, Kakashi walked toward another grave, his right arm in a sling and his other arm cradling a bouquet of flowers. During the duration of his walk, he had kept his face lowered in thought, but upon noticing that he wasn't alone at the grave, he looked upward. Ahead of him, he saw Kurenai crouched down in front of the grave, flowers already placed at the base of the stone.

Facing her back, Kakashi stared in uncertainty.

"Shouldn't you be resting, Kakashi?" Kurenai murmured quietly, refusing to look over at him.

Kakashi's one visible eye crinkled, signifying his hidden smile, though it was obviously strained. "I think I'm rested enough to be walking around. Not to mention, Shizune gets a bit suffocating after a while." He even chuckled lowly, rubbing the back of his head, though his humor was lost on the grieving woman.

Despite not looking over at the gray-haired man once, Kurenai mentioned the flowers he carried. "Are those for Asuma?"

"And Anko, yes." Seeing her lack of further communication, Kakashi walked forward, placing half of the bouquet next to the other flowers that were already there. "Have you gone to see Anko's grave yet? I know you two were good friends."

She shook her head. "I will later. Are you planning to continue the mission?"

"Perhaps," he murmured indifferently, shrugging. "Shikamaru wants revenge, that's for sure." Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Kurenai's own red orbs widening. "I have a feeling he's already thinking up a strategy to defeat the demons that killed Asuma."

"He'll get himself killed." She whispered, feeling worry and concern grip her heart, knowing how much Shikamaru meant to her dead lover.

"Asuma was a father to him. Perhaps…you two could talk. You both need someone who will understand each other's pain."

Awaking from her nap, Temari rolled over on her bed, immediately taking notice of the person missing from her side. Sitting up quickly, she ignored how mussed her hair must have looked, or how red-rimmed her eyes must appear, and instead, focused her attention on the edge of her bed. There sat a hunched-over Shikamaru, his eyes closed and fingertips touching each other.

"Shika?" Temari whispered, inquiring. Crawling towards him, she stopped at his back, wrapping her arms around him. "Have you slept?"

"I will later." He replied, breaking his hands apart and staring with dead eyes out beyond the balcony.

She saw his lie and instead of fighting him on it, as she normally would, she leaned forward to place a kiss against his neck before getting off the bed. She changed hurriedly, constantly glancing over at her boyfriend. "I'm going to get some food. I'll be right back."

He didn't respond as she left the room, though Temari was surprised to see who was standing outside her door. "Miss Kurenai?"

Crimson eyes met hers briefly before staring at the bedroom door. "Is Shikamaru in there? I'd like to speak to him."


Without any further comment, Kurenai entered the room at the same time that Temari left towards the dining area.

To say that Shikamaru was somewhat surprised to see Kurenai sit next to him would've been an understatement. He honestly hadn't seen her since the day he brought his dead teacher back to the village. Pain-filled eyes stared at the woman next to him before turning away in shame. "Kurenai, I…I'm so sorry. If I had only…been older and more prepared, Asuma wouldn't have—"

A manicured hand grasped his chin, forcefully turning the boy's face toward her own. "That's enough, Shikamaru. What happened, happened. Asuma would not wish this for you, and I…do not wish this for you, either…especially since I will need you now more than ever."

Brows furrowed as he watched her, confusion settling in, despite his genius.

Smiling sadly, Kurenai grabbed one of his hands and placed it against her lower stomach. "Asuma is not as gone as you think."

"You mean…" he trailed off, eyes widened as it all clicked into place.

She nodded. "You see? Hinata, Asuma, Anko….I can't lose you, too."

Eyes moistened before tears spilled down his cheeks, his head bowing as a sob forced its way out of his mouth. Kurenai smiled softly as she pulled the young man against her, comforting him like a mother would her own son.

From the doorway, Temari watched, a sad smile of her own beginning to form. For the first time since Asuma's death, she felt grateful and relieved, seeing the love of her life finally shed his pain and grief in tears.

Thank you, Miss Kurenai…

"I see…" Gaara nodded his head before glancing beyond the rooftop, his gaze focusing on the distant forest. The small group before him was momentarily silent after having explained to the redhead all that occurred on their mission. Arms crossed over his chest and face devoid of emotion, Gaara returned his gaze to his closest friend there. "You did not fail, Naruto."

The blonde squeezed his eyes shut, turning his head away to hide his pain. "We lost two of our teachers, and Hinata is still out there somewhere. How is that not a failure?"

Sasuke sighed under his breath, closing his eyes briefly as he leaned against the rooftop door. "Are you giving up?"

"Hell no!" he yelled back at his best friend, not noticing the slight smirk on the Uchiha's face. "I think we should regroup and get back out there, and not come back until we have Hinata!"

A distance away from the redhead and the Uchiha, Neji stood, keeping his white-eyed gaze on Naruto. "I agree. We've learned that Hinata was close to where we were, and while it was vague, it will give us a place to start. Needless to say, Naruto, I'm in."

While Naruto grinned, the other two half-demons scowled at the Hyuga. Sasuke was the one to voice his thoughts, smirking menacingly as he did so. "Sorry. No room for traitors on this mission."

Grin disappearing, Naruto looked between Neji and his best friend confusingly. "Eh? Traitor?"

Neji scowled at the dark-haired man. "I'm going. If anyone's going to bring Hinata back, it'll be her guardian, not her…sparring buddy." He then turned his scowl on Gaara. "Or her confidant."

It was no surprise to see the two glare even more heatedly at the Hyuga, each one silently debating how best to kill him.

Neji's voice became a snarl. "You two are more traitors than I am, sending her off to her death."

"What is going?!" Naruto cried out, obviously feeling left out.

"Weren't you there?" Sasuke's smirk returned. "Hinata's obviously not dead. In fact," the smirk disappeared as he leveled a meaningful stare at Gaara. "She might even be mated to him."

"Mated?" Neji hissed, unknowing of the term, but liking it no less.

A flicker of surprise crossed the sand half-demon's face. "Hinata is…his mate?" Worry overtook from there.

Sasuke sighed again. "It's a possibility, but I couldn't be too sure. My trust in demons is not exactly something to brag about."

"But it is a possibility."

"A very rare possibility, one I don't think Itachi would do. I'll explain the details later."

At this point, Naruto yelled out in frustration. "What are you guys talking about?! I don't get any of this!"

"It doesn't matter." Sasuke quickly answered him, his black eyes swimming with hidden emotions. "Personally, I don't think we should pursue Hinata. The chances of us rescuing her and coming out alive are slim."

"What?" Naruto looked baffled. "How can you say that? I'm not going to abandon her, Sasuke, and plus…I don't see what you're complaining about, considering we'll end up coming face-to-face with your brother, which is what I thought you wanted!"

Well, Naruto had him there, Sasuke realized. He couldn't refuse that without seeming suspicious, and not to mention, he really did want to face off against his loathed brother.

Naruto smiled victoriously, seeing that his best friend was in, so he turned to the last one there who had yet to agree. "You'll come, too, right Gaara?"

"I…" he muttered, staring at his blonde friend, trying to think of anything to dissuade Naruto's goal. However, there was no excuse he could give him without giving away the truth of Hinata's "kidnapping". He was stuck.

Naruto started to beg. "Come on, Gaara! We can't do this without you, and you're someone I trust who will always have my back, and most importantly…Hinata's your friend, and we never abandon our friends!"

Cursing in his mind, Gaara eventually nodded his agreement. "Fine, but if we're going to pursue this mission of rescuing Hinata, then we need to approach Lady Tsunade about it."

Smirking with excitement, Naruto pounded a fist into his hand. "Yeah, and this time…we'll bring Hinata back!"

Itachi learned something very interesting about his mate, the possibility of which never occurred to him before. After all, it was her first time being on a boat, or rather, being on the sea, so how was he or Hinata supposed to know that she was prone to seasickness?

Either way, they both discovered it soon after the boat departed for Kiri. Hinata had been at the forefront of the deck, marveling at the heavy mist that surrounded them and the utter tranquility of the sea when it happened. Both of Itachi's eyebrows rose when Hinata suddenly hunched over, cradling her stomach, and then leaned over the boat to release the contents of her stomach.

"I'm…I'm so sorry," she had muttered in embarrassment after recovering from her first bout of nausea. "I don't—" All too soon, another bout of nausea led her to lean over the boat's edge for what would not likely be the last time.

After realizing that his mate was seasick, Itachi carried her below deck, laying her down upon a private cot. Kneeling down to her level, he rested his palm against her forehead, watching her closed eyes and listening to her quick breaths. "Can't you heal this?"

Hinata opened her eyes half-way at hearing him speak, a small smile tiredly gracing her features. "I'm working on it,"

It was then he realized that her hand had been hovering over her stomach for the past few minutes. So, he grunted. "It won't take long before we arrive in Kiri. Until then, do you need anything?"

Though he was good at hiding it, she could see the concern in his eyes, and it made her smile even more. "Lay with me?"

He immediately stood and turned halfway around, making her smile falter. Then, his cloak fell from his body only to be placed over her before he joined her on the cot, pulling her against his chest with a greediness that she was growing quite fond of. "Go to sleep, Hinata."

"Feel better?" Itachi asked as soon as they reached the land of Kiri, their feet once again on solid ground.

"Mhm!" Hinata smiled widely, her nausea no longer present, though she was starting to feel hungry. She ignored that bodily urge, and instead focused on something much more interesting, and that was this new land of Kiri.

The island was bigger, and yet smaller, than she expected. She could see the sea surrounding the entire island, which made it feel small, but the crowded populace of demons made the island appear bigger at the same time. Overall, the experience was overwhelming, especially since she remembered that the island of Kiri was a place never visited by humans—did it always belong to the demons?

From the port, she watched the bustle of demons, all of them walking or running in and out of the buildings that lined both sides of the island. A single dirt road took up the middle of the island, reminding her of something very human. "It's like a village, except for demons."

Itachi rose a brow at her observation, quietly agreeing. "Akatsuki is the home for demons, but Kiri…is more like a marketplace, a center of constant activity." He glanced at her, seeing the wonder and apprehension in her eyes. "You've never seen this many demons." He stated, seeing her unconsciously edge closer to him.

She shook her head, a tremor raking through her. "This is…really dangerous for me, isn't it?"

"Just don't wander away from me, and it'll be fine." He almost wanted to smirk at how she gripped onto his arm for dear life, hugging her body close to his while her eyes stayed wide open, taking in all that Kiri had to offer.

A loud laugh resounded behind them causing for Hinata to jump and turn to face the blue-skinned demon walking toward them, and just behind him were the other two demons she had recently become acquainted with—Sasori and Deidara.

Kisame walked right up to Hinata and ruffled her hair playfully. "I've seen leaches with looser grips than that. You're not scared, are ya, deity?"

She blushed just before an elbow nudged her from her side.

Deidara smirked down at her, clearly amused by the whole situation. "There's only hundreds of human-hating demons here—what's there to be scared of?" He watched her gulp and it only made him and Kisame laugh louder.

Sasori walked up to them, interrupting their laughter before settling his bored gaze on Itachi's mate. "It's like I said earlier, you're being protected by the most elite of demons; it would be foolish to be afraid of the weaklings that reside here."

And she was Itachi's mate, for Goddess' sake! Taking a deep breath, Hinata loosened her hold on Itachi, her body visibly relaxing thanks to Sasori's words and her own realization. Once the fear had left her, she smiled gratefully at the redhead. "You're right, Sasori. Thank you."

He merely blinked back at her, seeming unsure how to respond to gratitude, since no one (human or demon) had ever thanked him for anything, nor had he ever thanked anyone either. This surely had to be some sort of human custom, and it made his eyes narrow, not knowing how to handle such a comment.

The deity didn't seem to mind, since her attention soon turned to Itachi, as if waiting for him to lead the way. Kisame, actually, turned out to be the one who started walking forward, since Kiri was more of a home to him than Akatsuki.

"We'll stay for as long as you want." Itachi mentioned as he began to follow after Kisame with Deidara and Sasori flanking him and Hinata on either side.

"R-Really?" Hinata asked in surprise and excitement.

He nodded once. "Kiri mimics a human village in many ways, but don't forget for one moment that you are surrounded by demons, protected though you may be. Do you understand?"

"Yes, I promise not to wander off."


"Hey, Itachi," Kisame called back to him. "I forgot to tell you that I already set up a place for you two to stay at while you're here."


"At the far end of the island, really isolated." He shrugged with an amused smile. "Now that you're mated to a human, you probably won't want to stay where most of the demons stay. I'm protecting the demon populace this way. You got a human in the middle of a bunch of demons, some too stupid to sense you on her. Keeping you isolated from the majority of the island will hopefully prevent a lot of deaths."

Deidara folded his arms behind his head as they walked and listened to Kisame. After the shark demon finished, the blonde muttered in a dry tone. "If the demons are too stupid to sense that, then maybe they deserve to die."

Sasori sighed unnoticeably. "I would have to agree with Deidara on that point, though his lack of tact is unsurprising."

"What the hell does that mean, Sasori?"

Hinata couldn't help but giggle, enjoying how their quarreling reminded her of how Sasuke and Naruto always acted back at the temple. It managed to make her miss her old home a little less.

However, her giggles ceased as soon as they began walking through the "demon village". She supposed that, normally, other demons wouldn't have glanced twice their way if it weren't for her presence among them. Every single demon they passed would stop as if they had run into a pole, stopping to stare at the human in the middle of four elite demons—four of the leader's favorites.

Hinata watched as they stared at her, but none dared to do anything more than stare, though she figured that was because her mate was right next to her, and no demon seemed to want to anger her mate. In fact, she had yet to meet a demon that wasn't absolutely petrified of Itachi.

It made her wonder what he had done in the past to promote such a wariness in those around him. She knew her mate was powerful, but the way the demons were acting around him made her wonder just how powerful he really was. Perhaps she had been more than lucky to have escaped his clutches all those years ago.

Should she be afraid of her mate's power? Should she be more cautious around him, suspicious of his temperament? Was she a fool for placing her life and soul at his mercy?

A gentle touch smoothed over the small of her back before tugging her close against his side, even though his gaze remained straight ahead. Whether it was a touch of comfort or reassurance, it managed to help her relax and stop looking at the gawking demons that lined the road upon which they walked.

It also helped her to remember that no matter how terrifyingly powerful he was, he was still hers.

Hinata didn't know she had expectations about their temporary living quarters until she finally saw it. While she had been camping out in the wilderness for a couple weeks now, she couldn't help feeling a tiny twinge of disappointment when she set eyes on the seaside shack that Kisame had set up for them. She was sure that it had character, but from the outside, it looked like it was going to crumble if the slightest breeze rushed passed it.

It made her bite her lip in uncertainty, though when she looked passed Itachi's skeptical gaze and focused on Kisame's expectant expression, she smiled gratefully. "Thank you, Kisame. It…It looks great."

Itachi gave her a narrowed gaze, something close to a glare, as if through looks alone, he could call her a liar. He and Hinata both knew that the place was nothing to brag about. It didn't look very big either.

Kisame laughed, not noticing Hinata's lie or Itachi's look of repulsion. "Go look inside and get settled in. I'll see you two later,"

As soon as he left, Hinata hesitantly walked toward the shack—err, house to do exactly as Kisame had suggested. So, with Itachi trailing her, Hinata approached the run-down place, taking the two steps up to the porch and opened the front door. As it creaked open, the curtain-less windows allowed enough light in so that they could see their surroundings.

There were no other doors except the one she entered from, but the windows were plenty. In the exact center of the shack/house, a fire pit lay, stones built around it to make it easier to manage. To her immediate left was something resembling a kitchen, and to her right was a small table, low to the ground, indicating that chairs would be nonsensical.

Finally, the back edge of the house was actually a platform, where she assumed their bedding would go. Turning back around to face Itachi, Hinata managed to glance outside, only to see that the porch provided a generous view of the sea. "It's…actually kind of cute." She smiled genuinely.

"It's a shelter and it's private." He remarked, settling his soft red eyes on her moon-like orbs. "It'll do for now."

She laughed breathily before eagerly setting up their bed and doing what cleaning she could. Meanwhile, Itachi had gone to collect firewood, knowing how cold it would get once the sun would set. Despite the unattractiveness of the place, he was grateful that it would be insulated enough to protect his sensitive mate from the cold, as well as private enough so that he could have her all to himself, despite the rest of the crowded island.

It wouldn't be until later that Hinata would contemplate how she would never take a roof for granted again.

An hour or so had passed before Hinata's stomach growled, informing her yet again that she needed to eat. It was then that she realized that she and Itachi hadn't eaten since that morning, and while she was sure that Itachi could go days without food, she knew that her human body would not be very happy if she made that same decision.

With a sigh, she scanned the cupboards for anything edible and only came up with some cooking utensils and pans, but no food. Itachi also hadn't tried to hunt since that incident in Iwa, so they had eaten nothing but whatever vegetation they had passed during their travels. That meant that they would need to restock on supplies, and if possible, she needed some clothes…badly.

Her mate had oh-so-lovingly destroyed her only nightgown and every other bit of clothing besides the gown she currently wore, and it was already fraying from just a couple weeks out in the wilderness. So, yes, she definitely needed some new clothes, and she wasn't desperate enough to start wearing Itachi's.

With another sigh, she approached the Uchiha demon. "Itachi? I need to get supplies." She waited until he was giving her his full attention before she continued with a blush tempting her cheeks. "We'll need some ingredients for dinner, and…I was hoping to get new clothes, but I don't know where—"

"It may not be exactly like a human marketplace, but Kiri is similar to it. There's a demon who can make you a few outfits, and some others who will have most of the ingredients you might need. We can go now if you're ready."

Her eyes brightened and she couldn't withhold her smile of happiness. "I'm ready,"

At that point, the door to the house had opened, the rusty hinges creaking in protest, and a familiar shark demon entered, smiling toothily at the pair. "I see you're settled in."

Itachi stood, Hinata joining him soon after. "What is it, Kisame?"

The blue demon revealed some type of rolled parchment in his hand, his smile flattening into something that wasn't amusement. "A note from the leader," he explained before tossing it to his partner, who caught it easily and began reading its contents.

"I see," he muttered, rolling it back up before meeting Hinata's eyes. "I have to meet with Sasori, but I'll take you into town as soon as I'm back."

"What does she need to go to town for?" Kisame questioned.

Since Itachi didn't seem to want to answer, Hinata did. "I just need to get some supplies."

"Oh, well, me and Deidara will take you. It's not like we have anything better to do."

"You will?" Hinata asked, hiding her skepticism beneath a humored smile.

"If Itachi doesn't mind,"

Both turned to the Uchiha in question, who glared at his partner, showing his reluctance to agree. He was about to adamantly refuse until Hinata placed her hand on his arm, drawing his attention to her look of pleading. With a roll of his eyes, he agreed. "Fine, but," he turned a warning glare back onto Kisame. "If you don't protect her according to my standards, then your plan to protect Kiri's residents will be for naught."

Not giving Kisame a chance to reply, Hinata leaned up on her toes to kiss her mate's cheek. "Thank you," she murmured before running out the door with Kisame in tow.

Deidara spread a piece of material in front of him, fingering the texture as if he were about to purchase it. "Hm," A hand suddenly landed on his shoulder before a fanged mouth appeared next to his ear.

"It's not your color."

"Shut up, Kisame, I'm just looking. Are you telling me you're not bored, too?"

"I'm not that bored."

"Hn. Is she done yet?"

Kisame looked over his shoulder at the dark-haired deity, who seemed uncomfortable with the demon that measured and prodded her, throwing different materials over her arms. It was actually kind of amusing to watch, especially since the girl was having trouble determining what gender the demon was.

The demon tailor was a hunched creature with a voice that was neither feminine nor masculine, but something completely neutral, and the baggy clothing it wore didn't help either. Kisame knew that the demon was male, but didn't feel like letting Hinata in on that information just yet.

Remembering Deidara's earlier question, Kisame answered him before trudging over to the two. "They're finishing up."

When the demon tailor had finished with his measurements, he turned to Kisame. "You can tell Itachi that the clothes will be ready in two or three days."

"Your work and time is appreciated." Came Kisame's absent reply.

The demon merely smiled maliciously. "It would not be wise of me to go against an Uchiha demon, so I will not go against his mate either."

"Good choice,"

"Kisame?" Hinata questioned softly. "I'm ready to go."

"Let's go then," he nodded before calling over to Deidara.

The blonde rushed over as they exited the tailor's "shop", and then the three immediately embarked on gathering the other supplies that Hinata needed. But it was while Hinata was gathering her ingredients that something occurred to her. No matter what she grabbed, no money was ever exchanged between her and the demons.

Some of the demons just gave her the ingredients, but with others, Kisame had to "kindly" inform them that she was mated to Itachi Uchiha, and they would hand over the ingredients, their gazes fearfully turning away from the deity, almost begging her to leave.

"Do demons not exchange any type of currency?" she asked as they wandered from one stand to another.

Kisame kept walking ahead, but Deidara stayed next to her, smiling wryly as he answered. "Our world's monetary system doesn't really exist; at least, not in the way it does for humans."

"What do you mean?"

He shrugged. "Humans have this weird obsession with economies and trade arrangements and whatnot. Personally, I never understood it. We demons are much more simple. Every now and then, we'll trade, but mostly…"


He smirked at her. "We take what we want when we want it."

She furrowed her brows, not liking such a prospect. "And the demons you take it from…don't mind?"

He shrugged again. "Not if they want to live." Then, he laughed as he nudged her. "It's a demon-kill-demon world, and you're right in the middle of it. But don't worry, we'll do the taking for you, since you obviously don't get too much of a kick out of it."

"Um…thank you?" Honestly, she had no idea how else to reply to that, and she figured anything other than a "thank you" would be lost on a demon like Deidara.

He only laughed more.

Kisame turned back to her at that point. "The only thing you have left to get is meat right? What kind did you want?"

"Um, definitely fish, though I don't know what kind yet."

"Fish?" Kisame asked, making his disbelief and doubt plain for her to see.

She tilted her head curiously. "What's wrong?"

He snorted. "Nothing, but good luck getting Itachi to eat it."

Her curiosity morphed into confusion. "What do you mean?"

"Itachi hates seafood. Back when we were first partnered together, and it was my turn to hunt, I brought back a nice big tuna, only to find out that he doesn't eat it—never liked the stuff, I guess."

"Oh, I…" her voice grew softer and quieter. "I didn't know that."

It was apparently Deidara's turn to look confused as he eyed the girl next to him. "So you mated a guy you don't even know, hm?"

"I…" she glanced between the two before settling her gaze on the ground. How could I not know that about Itachi? Or, rather, why don't I know that?

Ignorant to her inner dilemma, Kisame mentioned that he would find one of Itachi's preferred meats for her while the blonde stayed behind to guard her.

Hinata kept her gaze on the ground, her thoughts elsewhere. She'd known Itachi for over ten years, and yet she was beginning to realize how little she really knew about him. Was Deidara right? Had she mated someone she barely even knew?

Unfortunately, those thoughts refused to leave her be as they walked back to the seaside shack. Not once did she speak or look up until the crowds of demons thinned out and they were encroaching upon the end of the marketplace. It was only when Kisame and Deidara came to an immediate stop that Hinata finally looked up, noticing that a large group of demons had stationed themselves on the road, blocking the three from going any further.

Each of their gazes seemed rooted on Hinata, leering at her the way a predator leers at its soon-to-be prey.

Kisame and Deidara looked tired and irritated.

"So this is the Uchiha's mate," one the demons began to taunt.

"What a weak little thing."

"Itachi really lowered his standards with this one."

"Doesn't speak too highly of him, does it?"

"Nope, Itachi is dragging the Uchiha name through the mud by mating with a filthy human."

Kisame snorted, sharp teeth showing between his lips, one hand gripping around the hilt of his sword. "They get brave when Itachi isn't around."

"Yeah," Deidara agreed, his hand absentmindedly reaching into the small bag at his hip. "They look obstinate, too. I'll take care of 'em."

"Ha! Like I'll let you have all the fun."

What they weren't paying attention to was the deity behind them—the same demure deity who was becoming silently enraged by what the demons were saying. It was not so much what they were saying about her, as it was what they were saying about Itachi.

She supposed that if she were to focus rationally on her emotions, she would realize that she was not in control of herself, or rather, her emotions. She would also realize that it was possibly a part of being mated—this irrational fury that came when one's mate was being put in danger, verbal or otherwise.

While these demons hadn't made any intentions of physically harming her, especially with two elite demons nearby, they were taking great care to injure her simply through words alone. And, damn it, it was working.

"Hear that, human? Because of you, Itachi's reputation will be worse than pathetic."

"'Cause any demon that beds down with a human is scum."

"A disgrace,"

They were pushing her, jabbing her for weak spots, trying to unravel her resolve.

"You've made him weak."

"Hell, a human child could probably take him on and win now."

"That's how pathetic he's become."

It was making her angrier by the second.

"Are you listening, mate of Itachi Uchiha?" They sneered his name.

"What have you to say for yourself for ruining the respect of one of the elite?"

"For destroying what reputation he has left?"

That's it.



No more.



Both Kisame and Deidara stood completely still in shock as they witnessed the unbelievable scene in front of them. One moment, they were listening half-heartedly to the insults that were being thrown around, though they were more focused on who was going to kill them off to really take too much notice and care about it.

To their immense surprise, Hinata apparently cared…a lot. This was made apparent when in the midst of their insults, Hinata had rushed between the two demons and straight toward the group of demons who had made it their goal to pester her in any way they could.

Kisame guessed that she didn't take those insults too well, seeing as she was in the middle of the group of demons, obviously trying to kill them. And, frankly, she was doing a fairly good job of it.

She had yet to kill any of them, but she had caught them all by surprise, taking that opportunity to severely injure and incapacitate them, using the style she had learned from the very demon they had been insulting not a moment prior. It was poetic justice at its finest, though Hinata didn't see it that way.

Her anger had clouded her so much that she couldn't focus on anything other than hurting them for the things they had said. It was baffling how little control she had over herself—frightening, really. But she couldn't stop, and that was perhaps even more baffling.

This fury that engulfed her being was so unlike her…so unlike a healing deity. It felt…wrong. So wrong that it finally made her pause, allowing one demon to dart forward to attack her.

The attack, of course, never came. Breathing heavily and still in a fighting position, she stared at the blue demon in front of her, or rather, his back, while knowing that Deidara was behind her, staving off whatever demons were left.

It was over rather quickly after that. One swipe of Kisame's sword and the small group of demons were no longer. In any other situation, Deidara would've complained, but he was too astounded to do that at the moment.

"Well, so much for preventing any deaths," Kisame muttered grumpily, taking a glance over his shoulder at the girl he protected.

Closing her eyes and releasing a shaky breath, Hinata eventually stared down at the bodies around her, her anger dissipating gradually. Despite that, her voice remained soft. "Just as my mate defends me, so I will defend my mate." Even if the emotions invoked are against my will.

After disposing of the demons, Kisame and Deidara had their first real look at the human girl they had been guarding all day, and though they wouldn't admit it, they now had more than an ounce of respect for her, and perhaps… she was the perfect match for their comrade, after all.

"She's deserving of her title as Itachi Uchiha's mate." Kisame murmured, out of earshot of Hinata.

Deidara smirked in agreement. "Mm. I think I'm starting to like that little deity."

"Let's get her back to Itachi, shall we?"

When Itachi finally arrived back at the shack, it shouldn't have surprised him to see Kisame and Deidara there, as well, and he really wanted to doubt that they were there just to keep his mate company. Before he could even enter the house fully, Deidara had rushed at him, glancing over his shoulder. "You didn't bring Sasori with you? Whatever, I'll go get him and be right back. Don't wanna miss dinner, yeah!"

"Dinner?" Itachi murmured, seeing Hinata already cooking and Kisame kneeling at the small table…setting it for a meal?

He caught Hinata's welcoming smile, but she had turned back to cooking before he could fully assess why her smile seemed off. In fact, her whole posture seemed off, almost depressingly pensive.

Kisame interrupted his train of thought, calling his attention back to the small table. "Your mate was kind enough to invite us all for dinner. Hospitality must be a human custom, cause I'm never invited for dinner."

"I see," Itachi sighed wearily, not wishing to argue, and instead chose to sit at the table with his partner.

Not too long after, Deidara dragged a petulant-looking Sasori into the house, and Hinata greeted him before announcing that dinner was ready. Needless to say, it was incredibly odd to see a deity sitting at a table surrounded by some of the strongest demons alive, all of them eating somewhat amiably and having actual conversations.

Of course, Deidara took that moment to retell to Itachi and Sasori what happened at the marketplace. Hinata blushed and kept her gaze lowered to the table as the blonde recounted, with exaggeration, how the little deity had full-on attacked a group of demons, even managing to "knock them on their asses" before they knew what hit them, literally.

Sasori seemed bored, but Itachi couldn't stop staring at his mate, inwardly—proud?—at what his timid mate had done, and all because she felt the need to defend him. Perhaps he was more dumbfounded, for charging into a battle with demons without thinking was not something that Hinata would normally do.

She didn't seem too proud of it, either, which made him wonder if that was why she seemed so emotionally off at the moment. She avoided his gaze, but was more than willing to look at the others, and she even somehow managed to involve Sasori in conversation. Although, that was simply because the two had found something they had in common—antidotes and poisons.

Hinata knew her medicines as well as Sasori knew his poisons, and it appeared they were comparing certain plants that could be used as both a poison and a medicine.

"Have you ever used Monkshood?" Sasori asked blandly, arms resting on the table signaling that he had already finished eating.

Hinata's eyes narrowed in thought before brightening in remembrance. "Oh, yes, I've used it a couple times on certain patients."

"To kill them? Monkshood is completely toxic, causing death within three hours."

"That's true," Hinata argued softly. "But when mixed a certain way, it's perfect as a painkiller. It's the same for Yew trees, which are also toxic, but medicinally, they can also treat certain diseases and infections."

Sasori raised a brow, the corner of his mouth twitching upward. "I've used the toxin in Yew trees many times, but never as a medicine, only for a poison that will kill within twenty-four hours."

Hinata smiled. "It's taken a lot of experimentation, but it never surprises me how something so poisonous can also be the way to save a person's life from a serious illness."

"Hm, conversely, I have learned how to turn something once deemed harmless into a very fatal neurotoxin. Would you know how to do that?"

She actually giggled. "Probably not, seeing as I seek to heal people, rather than harm them."

He grunted. "Sounds boring and artless." When she giggled again, he couldn't help the small smirk forming on his usually frowning lips. It was rare that he ever came upon someone, demon or human, that knew the medical field as well as he did. He supposed that she wasn't as much of a nuisance as he thought she would be; in fact, she actually knew how to converse intellectually, unlike his partner.


Hinata was refreshing.

Later that night, Itachi lounged on their bed, supporting his body with one arm upright, elbow digging into the cushion. He lounged and watched his mate peacefully go through her nightly ablutions. In the midst of brushing her hair, he had to mention, "I sensed your anger earlier."

With her back to him, she stiffened.

"I could tell that you were angry, though I didn't know the source until Deidara retold the events at dinner." He paused, watching as she stayed so still. "You're not the reckless type, Hinata, nor are you hot-blooded. What happened?"

Her head lowered before she finally stood up and walked toward their bed, her gaze still averted from his. She didn't end up speaking until she had sat just across from her mate, her legs folded beneath her. "I don't know what happened, exactly. I never thought I was quick to anger, but the more they insulted you, the angrier I became until I just…snapped."

His brows furrowed, red eyes softening at the look of confusion, trepidation, and shame that contorted her delicate features.

She shook her head. "I couldn't think rationally at all—I had no control." Then, finally, she met his gaze. "Was it like this for you?" she referred to the Iwa and Kaiju incidents where she had been in danger and he had reacted as her mate.

He gave a brief nod before answering. "Yes," Absently admiring how demure and regal she looked, he continued in a smooth, almost hypnotizing tone. "Although the intent to kill is nothing new for a demon, I imagine that for you, it was uncomfortable. A healing deity is not meant for such emotions, nor does she carry any impulses to harm, even in self-defense."

"So, it was because of the mate connection." She half-questioned. "I mean, I know that their insults would've angered me regardless, simply because I love you, but…"

"The intensity of it was derived from the connection, the instinctive need to defend and protect. It was that intensity that made you lose control, and you lost control even further because you are not familiar with those kinds of emotions."

She smiled weakly. "I was not prepared for it, and I guess that's because not many healing deities have ever mated a demon."

He almost smiled. "You're the only one. In fact, you're not just the only deity to have ever mated a demon, but also the only human to have done so. It's only expected that you would not be prepared for it."

Smile still barely hanging onto her lips, she reached forward to take one his hands between her own, settling the weight on her lap, her gaze focused on tracing the lines of his palm. "I don't regret it, but…I also didn't like feeling those emotions either."

"It's done for a reason, Hinata." He mentioned, seeing her eyes settle on him in wonder, so he elaborated. "The intent to kill, protect, and defend become automatic instincts between mates, and it's done that way to protect not just the mate, but the connection."

Her brows pinched together. "I don't understand."

He continued. "According to legend, being mated to someone tended to become a vulnerability for both parties involved. If one were to get injured or die, the one left behind would suffer with a fate ten times worse; at least, until the one left behind died as well, rejoining their mate in the afterlife."

Her eyes widened slightly as pain clenched at her chest.

"That is why we lose control when one of us is being attacked, physically or verbally. Our mated bond requires our constant protection, which can be a vulnerability in and of itself."

"You mean, I…" she leaned forward, grasping his hand tighter between her own two hands. "I've become a vulnerability to you…and you allowed it."

He simply watched her silently, taking note of the emotions passing over her face and through their connection.

Love abounded in her heart, but her only outward way of showing it was by laying down next to him, wrapping her arms around his torso, and burying her face in his bare chest.

With a tender look she didn't see, he pulled her closer before leaning down to inhale the scent that carried from her hair.

The moment was spoiled when she tensed again, a sudden question forming from her lips. "Is it true that you don't like fish?"

Confusion settled in him as he looked down at the top her head with only a raised brow to signify such confusion. He almost wanted to ask her to repeat the question, even though he had heard it clearly. But the way she was tensing in his arms made him realize that something was bothering her. "What's wrong?"

"Is it true?" she persisted quietly.

Still confused, he answered. "Seafood never appealed to me, so yes, it's true. Now, tell me what's wrong."

She physically withdrew into herself, hiding her face from his view, her words becoming muffled against his skin. "It's just…I didn't know that you didn't like fish. Kisame had to tell me. I'm your mate, and I don't even know what your favorite foods are, or what you hate or don't like. I don't know when your birthday is or even how old you are." I chained my soul to yours, and I know barely anything about you.

It suddenly occurred to Itachi that the same was true for him; though, the only reason he cared was because it seemed important to Hinata. Eventually, he smirked, trailing his hand down to her thigh before steadily moving back upward, inching her gown up in the process. "In that case," he quickly pulled her until she was laying underneath him. "What would you like to know first? My dislikes, or perhaps," he nuzzled her neck. "We can go over my likes first."

"I—" her breath hitched when his fingers passed over her stomach in a teasing manner. "I don't think you're taking this seriously."

"Hinata," he backed away until their gazes met. "I never understood why you humans placed such importance on birthdays—demons do not celebrate them. I remember that yours is on December twenty-seventh, and that you are only eighteen years of age. As for me, I was born on the ninth of June, and though I'm not certain, I believe I am two hundred and twenty-one years old. Does that answer your question?"

"Two—" she sputtered, disbelieving. "Two hundred?!"

He chuckled in amusement. "Am I too old for you?"

Almost too quietly for him to hear, she whispered. "Humans would call you a cradle-robber."

"Cradle-robber?" he question, obviously unfamiliar with the term.

"It's a phrase amongst humans…They would say that you being with me is like you robbing the cradle…"

He saw her embarrassed blush and he immediately understood what the phrase meant, which was why he leaned down to brush his lips against her face. "Have I robbed your cradle, Hinata?"

A shiver worked its way up and down her spine at those words that fell from his mouth, words that didn't seem innocent in any way. Gulping, she tried not to moan when his mouth began to work on her neck. "You've stolen a lot of things from me."

He nipped at her delicate skin, murmuring huskily. "Nothing you weren't willing to give. Does my age really bother you that much?"

"Um, it is a little disconcerting that you're t-two hundred and three years older than me…practically two centuries…"

He sighed in frustration, flipping them until she was lying on top of him, at which point he cupped her face in his palm. "It's a little too late to be concerned about that now that I have you. It is true that I've never liked seafood, and as for my favorite meal, the one you made tonight was probably it." He smiled slightly at her furious blush. "My age is obviously still bothering you, but you need to understand that age is not as important to demons as it is to humans.

"Humans are measured by experience, how many battles they've fought and won. To be honest, age doesn't matter to those who can live forever, though, there's only been one demon to surpass one-thousand years…and that's Madara Uchiha." His knuckles caressed her skin as he continued to explain. "To a human, I have lived the equivalent to two of their lifetimes, but to a demon, I am still quite young. Do you understand?"

Hinata nodded. "I think so…It's just strange for me to comprehend." She paused thoughtfully. "Ten years seems like a long time to me," she was obviously referring to the ten years she had been separated from him. "But I suppose to you, ten years can pass by in the blink of an eye."

Itachi reverted his gaze to the ceiling. "One hundred years can pass by in a blur for me, with only battles standing out in my memory. Even then, very few battles are memorable to me." His eyebrows furrowed for a quick second before clearing just as quickly. "However…only once has a duration of about ten years passed by slowly for me." He smirked at her knowingly.

Biting her lip, she bashfully lowered her gaze.

"Does my age still bother you?" he asked, still smirking in amusement.

She shook her head, smiling softly before leaning down to press her lips chastely against his. "Do you have a favorite color?"

"Mm, I've become very fond of white," he ran his fingers through her hair. "And indigo."

Giggling, she brushed loving kisses over his eyes. "Mine is red, I think."

"You're not certain?" he teased, slipping his hands underneath her gown, situating her until she straddled him just right. "Perhaps we should fix that."

Eyes half-lidded with sudden desire, she squirmed, hearing him hiss at the movement. So, of course, she moved her hips in such a way that left her gasping and him growling in response.

He gripped her gown. "Take this off. Now."

Obediently, she removed her gown at the same time that he undressed himself. In heated hurry, she was pressing against him again, moving in experimentation, testing out whatever rhythm would please them both.

Without preamble, he was inside of her, hands gripping her hips as he led her through the new position, both of them seeking to drag out the pleasure for as long as they could.

It wouldn't be until after their joining that both of them would decide that getting to know each other would be a good and pleasurable idea.

A big thank you to my reviewers, and see you next chapter!

Have a great Halloween!