S'up y'all! I have a lil favor to ask of you... PLEASE go and vote in the poll on my homepage. It's about what I'm going to work on in the future so far as updating/new stories. For instance, if you really wanted me to update Prodigals sooner, you should go and vote for that in my poll. Savvy? Excellent! And without further ado...


"I Wish"


Sometimes I just wish I had never been born.

Naruto knew at once that he was dreaming.

Konoha had been reduced to a smoking pile of debris and human bodies. Thick, dark smoke spiraled into the sky, devoid of birds. He felt something squish under his foot – a human something. The corpses of those he cherished most were strewn about him, twisted into grotesque positions. His hands, though, were unusually clean. That was the Kyuubi's normal spin on it: destruction of his beloved hometown and precious people by his own hands, blah, blah, blah…

HELLO, KIT.

What do you want?

A tall man had appeared next to him, the near-perfect likeness of Namikaze Minato, the Yondaime Hokage and his father – except for the inch-long claws, the black and scarlet jacket, the deep red eye-slits of a demon, the bloody-sunset hair, the sneer of contempt. The Yondaime's broken mirror twin. What he could have been…

You going soft? This is slightly more bearable than usual.

OH, QUITE THE CONTRARY, YOU SEE. Yondaime leered at him. I WAS THINKING ABOUT A COMMENT YOU MADE EARLIER TODAY…

Yeah? What comment might that be?

"Sometimes I just wish I had never been born!"

Naruto flinched. Earlier that day, a young woman, maybe 17, had appeared in his office, seeking asylum. With a blackened left eye, a dislocated shoulder, a forearm with multiple fractures and a physical examination, it was clear enough that she had been in an abusive situation. Her name was Yumi. She said her uncle had beaten her for as long as she could remember; her older cousin had been beaten to death by his own father. The reason? After her uncle's wife had died in the Kyuubi's attack, the man had spiraled into an intense depression and moved to Tsuchi, intent on never setting foot in Konoha again. His condition was worsened by the death of his brother, which not only took another family member from him but left his niece in his care. That was what caused him to start beating his son and niece.

Naruto had immediately granted her all the protection Konoha had to offer, and set her up to live with Uzuki Yugao. The former ANBU, now jounin, often took in cases like this because she had also lived a harsh life and because she knew how to take care of herself if the woman turned out to be a spy.

This event had, of course, ruined the rest of his day; when his secretary, Moegi, suggested he go home – he was not being productive at all, and his wife was known to calm his moods – he had immediately grasped at the chance. Unfortunately, Hinata being her perceptive self, she had seen through his fake grin straight away and, in his upset state, he had yelled at her, sparking an argument in which he had wished that he was never born. That argument drove his youngest daughter to tears. Feeling doubly worse, he had holed himself up in his office, refusing any calls and appointments and trying – futilely – to get something done. It hadn't worked. In fact, he knew he must still be in his office right now, drooling all over his paperwork as he dreamed, because he hadn't even gone home that night. He was still too upset with himself to face his family.

But was the Kyuubi's spin on his latest nightmare, then? He heard a sob.

A woman with long, dirty, blood-matted hair was clinging to a body on the ground, a man who looked to be around her age. Her chapped, split lips sprinkled his face with tiny little kisses as she mumbled for him to wake up, please, please wake up…

Naruto realized the man was Shikamaru. He averted his eyes.

OH NO, DON'T LOOK AWAY JUST YET. DON'T YOU WANT TO KNOW WHO HIS LOVER IS?

Naruto felt his head being pulled him, an invisible force making him stare without fail at the pathetic sight. Suddenly, the woman's head shot up, staring directly at the jinchuuriki and his bijuu. Naruto felt his heart stop.

Even with the blood, the bruises, the tear tracks, and the dirt stains, it was still Hinata. Hinata was attached to the dead body of Shikamaru, her lover. That look – that look! That self-hatred. Naruto felt physically sick, but the Kyuubi wouldn't let him retch; his gaze was locked on that of the shimmering pearls of Hyuuga Hinata – she wasn't an Uzumaki here.

What is this? He asked, after several minutes of horrific silence had gone by. The wind tousled the unrecognizable hair of Hinata gently, but her gaze on him did not let up, nor could he look away from her. A small corner of his mind acknowledged the three whisker marks on either of her cheeks…

WELL, YOU WERE NEVER BORN! THE YONDAIME NEEDED SOMEBODY TO SEAL ME IN TO.

You don't mean…

OH YES! BUT I DO SO HATE STORIES THAT START AT THE END… LET'S START AT THE BEGINNING.

-

.twenty years previous.

-

"You can't be serious!" Minato yelled at the white-eyed man. His companion did not budge.

"You think I would joke about this – that I could joke about this? No."

"You will ruin your child's life by doing this! Don't you have any idea of the implications of your actions…?" accused the Yondaime, his yell receding into a deathly whisper. "Do you care at all for your wife? Your future child?"

Sandaime watched silently.

Hiashi flinched at those words. "Of course I do," he said, voice weakening just a bit. "But this was Himitsu's idea."

"She suggested this?" Minato was appalled. If Kushina hadn't miscarried, would she have done the same? Naruto, privy to all the thoughts of all parties involved, hovered near the door, feeling halfway skeptical of this situation but halfway sickened. His Hinata was going to be – no. He would not complete that thought.

"Sarutobi, talk him out of this nonsense! Hiashi-kun… you're my best friend, despite that huge stick lodged in your ass… please, please, reconsider… for the one who would've been my godchild…"

"I have tried to do much the same with Himitsu… but she will not see reason. It is her firm belief that if a high-standing member of the village is not willing to give up his own child, how can anyone else be expected to do so?"

"Even at the cost of her own offspring? Does she not realized how miserable this little boy or girl will be?"

"It's a girl. Her name will be Hinata."

-

.five years post-sealing.

-

Three people were sitting quietly but contently in the grand Hyuuga gardens. Naruto recognized two of them: Hiashi and Hinata.

He couldn't drink in enough of her – he always longed for a better picture of Hinata when she was younger. All of those years he had spent chasing after Sakura had made him blind to his future wife, so while she remembered just about everything involving him, he could barely remember anything about her.

A simple (yet clearly expensive) lilac kimono was wrapped around her tiny, delicate body, complete with a butterfly pattern in a myriad of blues and a butter-yellow obi. Her hair was still in that super-short cut that she'd had until age 13. Three whisker-like tattoos adorned either of her cheeks – that made him shudder a bit. So it was true.

The third person was a heavily-pregnant woman Naruto took to be Hinata's mother. That notion was quickly dispelled when Hiashi said her name.

"Kimiko, I have to go to my meeting now," said the regal clan head gently. The woman looked so heartbroken that he almost missed the fleeting terror in Hinata's eyes as her father rose and started to move away.

"T-tou-sama, may I please accompany you?" asked little Hinata as she stood and curtsied prettily. She was very graceful for a mere five years.

Hiashi smiled down at her. "No, Hinata-chan. This is a meeting which I would not attend if I could at all help it."

"A meeting on the seal," murmured Kimiko, looking down. He did not respond.

"I will likely not be finished until dinnertime," Hiashi continued with a small sigh. "Hinata, spend some time with your stepmother before you train this afternoon, alright?" He had seen her apprehension around Kimiko and attributed it to Hinata being uncomfortable. She had never known a mother before. Perhaps it was lasting a little longer than was natural, but she was a shy girl. He was confident that she would come around soon.

Hiashi turned and soon disappeared around a corner. Kimiko turned to Hinata, face expressionless.

"Kimiko-sama, m-may I p-please go?"

"No." Hinata flinched at her voice.

"B-b-but –"

"Come here. Hiashi said you're to spend time with me, did he not?"

Shaking violently, she made her way over to Kimiko with her head bowed, not daring to look up.

"You killed my parents, and you can't even look me in the face?! How dare you exist, scum!"

Naruto leapt at the pregnant woman, uncaring at her condition, ready to stop her at all costs - but he was outside the bubble, and therefore powerless as she struck the five-year-old hard across the face. Hinata stifled her whimper and curled up into a little ball as Kimiko approached her and began to kick her violently. Despite her weight and ungainly size, she did not tire in her task. Naruto felt his intense rage grow white-hot, unable to do anything.

"What are you doing?!"

Hiashi rushed out – but it wasn't him, Naruto realized. It was Hizashi. The Kyuubi told him that he had not been killed because an ANBU of Konoha, not Hiashi, had killed the Cloud intruder who had attempted to capture Hinata, thus absolving the Hyuuga Clan of the need to make amends to Kumogakure. The ANBU were always stationed near the Hyuuga Estate at night, because of Hinata's… special circumstance.

He could see the thoughts running through the man's mind – he was mostly indifferent toward Hinata, but this… He knew she was not the Kyuubi, merely its container; he only felt so indifferent because of all her Main House advantages, but now –

"Get away from her!"

"Servant, why do you hinder me?" hissed Kimiko angrily, glaring down at Hinata. The child was close to hyperventilating. "You are stepping far outside your bounds!"

"You are attacking the future leader of this clan. Your child will never rule, despite what you may think. And once my brother finds out about this, you will find yourself divorced and soon to be without a child."

The scene shifted; it was one month later. Hinata looked at her younger brother, captivated. Hiashi smiled down at her, a loving smile. Hizashi watched from the sidelines. None of them noticed – or if they did, they paid no attention – to the violently thrashing and screaming Kimiko, yelling for her son. Hinata sidled over to her uncle quietly.

"Thank you for saving me, Hizashi-ojisan."

-

.seven years post-sealing.

-

Hinata was not your average seven-year-old Hyuuga. For one, she had already had 59 assassination attempts on her life since she'd been born, not counting the 20-some before she had even been born. Also, she was very well-liked among the Branch House. She was very kind to all of them, no exceptions, and she, too, had a seal, though she didn't understand its significance.

Thirdly, she almost never ventured outside the compound, for when she did, people tended to corner her and beat her. Sometimes ANBU intervened. A few times, it was the Hokage himself. People continued the practice anyway. Hinata, a shy girl to begin with, became extremely withdrawn if she even set one foot outside the compound because of this third condition. She was, ironically, at her most free when she was enclosed in the walls of the Hyuuga.

It was not always her choice, however, if she wanted to go out or not. A Main family member sneeringly told her to go and get him some peaches from the marketplace. The proper response as heir to the Main Family would have been to tell him that there were Branch Family members to do that for him, but Hinata did not want to shove any work on her only friends, the people of the Branch. She instead she set out alone, on quick, silent feet. Many years of hiding from people had given her the skills of a master thief.

She quickly grabbed five of the soft, orange fruit when the owner of the stall wasn't looking, and dropped some bills on her table in place of the pilfered peaches. Backtracking quickly, she didn't notice the observant former ninja who began to follow her. She was halfway home when he called her out.

"You!"

-

Shikaku had not particularly wanted to come to the market. He had particularly wanted to take a long nap, but Yoshino was having none of that. When he had met his friend Chouza, he had hoped that his marketplace experience would become a little more bearable, but it seemed, he thought gloomily as he watched a shouting mob form, that this was not to be the case.

"Yo, Tenchi-san," he drawled, getting the attention of an older bystander whom he knew. "What exactly is going on here?"

"They've got the Kyuubi cornered! We've finally got it this time!" he said with a quiet sort of manic glee, eyes lighting up.

Chouza frowned. The Kyuubi was sealed inside that little Hyuuga girl. So what exactly did he mean…?

"Oh, shit," Shikaku said suddenly. "Chou, clear a path, wouldja?"

"AKIMICHI COMIN' THROUGH!" yelled the tall, heavy man as he led the way to the center of the crowd, where a small ring of jeering villagers had formed. One man in particular – a former ninja who had lost his field abilities after having suffered the loss of an arm in the Kyuubi attack – was kicking something, something small that was trembling all over.

"What are you doing?" asked Shikaku as he placed a hand on the man's shoulder. Hinata had not uncurled from her fetal position. Naruto's heart was pounding loudly in his ears – he wanted nothing more than to hurt this man – he remembered him from his own childhood, it had been bad enough then – but this, this was an unforgiveable act –

"I am punishing the demon! I am merely doing what everyone else in this village wants to do!"

"I don't want to beat a defenseless child," murmured Shikaku coldly as his grip on the man tightened. "We'll be taking her, I think."

At that moment, Hinata turned her head up and coughed blood into her palm. Chouza pushed past her assaulter and picked up the little girl, who shied away from his touch. The man was glaring furiously at them, but knew better than to attack; they were known as very skilled ninja. The crowd cleared away, muttering restlessly.

"Shall we take her to your house, Shika? Your mother's a medic."

"Yeah, I'm not sure what the hospital will do."

Shikaku looked at the girl in his friend's sure, steady arms. She was holding her body rigidly, as if she expected them to attack her at any second. He sighed. All because his wife had wanted him to go the market…

Ten minutes later, his wife and mother were fussing over the little girl, who looked quite uncomfortable.

"Oh, you poor dear!" squealed Yoshino as Hinata winced painfully. Even though she was healing abnormally fast, it still hurt.

"I cannot believe the nerve of some people," hissed Nara Meiko angrily. "Beating up on a child…"

Nara Shikamaru watched warily from the doorway. At least this girl kept his mother and grandmother from bothering him, which meant he could go and look at some clouds.

"Shika-chan, come out here please," called his mother sweetly, almost on cue. "I want you to meet our guest!" He grumbled a low 'troublesome' so that neither woman would hear it and approached the fair Hyuuga.

He shuffled closer and the girl locked eyes with him. Naruto could hear his thoughts – wow, what a cute girl. A strange feeling began to flow through the blonde.

"Well? Introduce yourself!"

"…I'm Nara Shikamaru."

"H-Hyuuga Hinata," she mumbled very quietly, averting her big, pale eyes from him. There was a knock on the door.

"Hokage-sama."

"Shikaku-kun," said the old man kindly. "I understand that Hinata-chan is here with you?"

The scarred man nodded. "Yeah, some of the villagers got a hold of her in the market." He didn't outright accuse Hinata's ANBU guards of negligence, but the suggestion was there. Sarutobi frowned.

"Hm, so I've heard. Well, I've brought her uncle around, seeing as Hiashi-kun is out town."

Unnoticed by Yoshino or Meiko, Hinata had slipped out of her chair and scampered to the Hokage's side. Sarutobi looked down at her with a warm smile and patted her hair in a grandfatherly fashion. "Are you alright?"

"Yes, they took good care of me," she replied without a stutter. It seemed she was very comfortable around him.

"Your uncle will take you back home now, alright?" Hizashi appeared in the doorway and bowed to the Nara family. Hinata looked at him, biting her lip. "Hizashi-ojisan, I can't go back! Elder Takaharu will be very displeased if I didn't get the things he asked for –"

"Was Elder Takaharu the one who asked you to leave the compound, Hinata-hime? You know there are others to do that sort of work for him."

"But that's not fair, he asked me to."

Hizashi was frowning. This girl's inability to understand clan dynamics was annoying him. But she looked so earnest…

"Come along, Hinata-hime. Your father should be arriving at the Gates soon. Would you like to go and meet him?"

"Oh, yes please, oji-san!" She grabbed his hand eagerly as he led the way out, the Hokage following behind after wishing them a pleasant afternoon.

Shikamaru watched Hinata leave quietly. His mother and grandmother were watching him amusedly.

"So what do you think of Hinata-chan, Shika-chan?" asked his mother slyly. He ignored the little butterflies in his stomach and shrugged.

"She's pretty weird. Can I go take a nap now?"

-

.eight years post-sealing.

-

Oh, the Academy days, thought Naruto grimly. Those were some of the best – and the worst – times in his life. While physical punishments were not often used by the teachers nor did bullies take it on themselves to beat him, the taunts and jeers of the other children were by far worse. The mental anguish he had felt during this time had far outweighed physical difficulties, which the Kyuubi healed overnight anyway.

It was different for Hinata.

Having been sheltered in the Hyuuga compound for most of her life, she didn't have the visual recognition that he had had, especially because she usually kept her head down, hiding her whiskers and because her looks were not very loud in the first place, unlike his. People mostly ignored her, with which she was just dandy. She didn't like being the center of attention. How unlike him.

Naruto figured he should've felt jealous. After all, her experiences here seemed much more mild than his own. But he just couldn't do it. He could only be grateful that she was spared what he himself had gone through at that tender age. Well, he had started when he was six – the Sandaime had nowhere else to put him – but that was beside the point.

Yet, he thought as he observed her, there was a flash of hurt in her eyes every time Iruka-sensei accidentally forgot to call out her name. He had never not been noticed – and to see things from Hinata's perspective, where she was almost never noticed – was chilling. It was a slow, painful death. His guilt of ignorance intensified; how had Hinata felt when he had never paid a whit of attention to her?

As Hinata sat under the large oak tree in the corner of the courtyard, she unwrapped her bento box, packed especially for her by Mizumi-san and began to munch on her onigiri silently. She was longing to be noticed by somebody – but her shy nature would not allow her to approach anyone. So instead she sat alone.

"Hey, Hinata-san."

She looked up, wide-eyed. Shikamaru was standing next to her, a bored look on his face. "Mind if we sit here?" At that point, she noticed a large boy behind Shikamaru with little swirls on his cheeks, carrying a large bento in one hand and an open bag of chips in the other. Hinata nodded and looked away. Shikamaru immediately reclined in the shade and shut his eyes.

"I'm Akimichi Chouji, by the way," said the large boy amiably. "I think you've met my dad."

"Akimichi Ch-chouza-san?"

"Yep, that's him. He told us about the day Shikaku-oji saved you."

Hinata's reply was cut off by a loud, female voice. "Oi! Shika! Chouji! What are you doing over here?"

A tall, slender blonde girl with strange, opaque blue eyes had jogged over to the three dining ninja-in-training. She flicked her hair over her shoulder imperiously, surveying Shikamaru and Chouji with the air of a queen and not seeing the small girl hunched into the tree defensively.

"Nothing, Ino-chan. We're just eating lunch," said Chouji. Shikamaru did not even respond.

"Hey, lazy bum! I'm talking!"

There was an incomprehensible mumble.

"I'm about to hit you, Shikamaru!"

He turned over, facing Hinata. She could tell that he was not actually sleeping; there was also a rather sour look etched across his face. Ino, ready to make good on her promise of pain, stepped around Chouji with her foot raised menacingly.

"P-p-please d-don't!" Hinata cried suddenly, startling the blonde, who nearly tipped over with an unladylike squawk.

"Who're you?" asked Ino belligerently as she righted herself. Hinata shrank down again, all of her courage gone. "I-I-I…"

"You?"

"Her name's Hyuuga Hinata, she's the heiress to the Hyuuga clan," Shikamaru snapped at Ino. She looked taken aback.

"Kay, so-o-o-o-ry! Hey, Hinata-chan, I'm Yamanaka Ino! Sorry about earlier, these two make me lose my temper so easily!"

Hinata was still curling into herself, obviously wary of the new presence, and one she had provoked herself. Ino frowned down at her.

"Another shy one, eh? Could I ask you a question?"

Hinata nodded shakily.

"Do you happen to think that Sasuke-kun is cute?" The bluenette blinked at the question, honestly surprised.

"Um… no. Not really," she answered quite honestly. He reminded her too much of her cousin for her to care for him in any other way than platonic. Shikamaru and Chouji were staring at her, mouths agape.

Ino grinned widely. "Great! Let's be friends!"

-

.nine years post-sealing.

-

"Hiashi, we cannot wait any longer. Tenshiro-kun is your second-born; you know the rules. He's nearing his fifth birthday, for Kage's sake!"

The usually stoic man flinched. But he knew he could never win against this council. They knew if he didn't curse his only son, the Branch Family would become restless and agitated, prone to rioting. And they would do anything to keep the Branch placated – never quite happy, but not exactly angry, either. Keep them content. Breads and circuses and the like.

"Give me more time," he tried to say without begging. They weren't having it. "Please. He's my only son – and Hinata –" Hiashi broke off, unable to continue.

The questioning elder's face softened slightly. Of course, the demon brat was next in line to rule. Of course, Hiashi had major apprehension regarding her. Of course! …or so he thought. If Elder Hakuzo had his way, his own son would be next in line. Sealing Tenshiro was just the beginning…

It wouldn't hurt to give Hiashi a few more days to agonize. His decision would be meaningless in the end anyway.

"You have one week."

There was another scene shift – it was only a few days later, rather than years.

Hiashi was sitting in his study, head in his hands. The entire debacle was tearing him apart – how could he subject his sweet daughter of his beloved first wife to such torture? After all she had been through these first nine years? It was bad enough… but Tenshiro… Tenshiro was his son, his little clone. Hizashi was to Neji as he was to Tenshiro. Gods… what had his own parents been through? Laws had been even stricter back then, so they hadn't even had a choice. What if – no. There was no time for that sort of thing right now.

Someone knocked on his study door.

"Enter." Hiashi gave himself a mental pat on the back. No hint of his insecurities and indecision enter his voice.

"Hello, chichi," said Hinata quietly, bowing low. She didn't flinch when he looked at her with heavy eyes, because she knew what was on his mind.

"I want you to give me the seal," Hinata said at once, looking straight into his Byakugan without a hint of fear.

"What?!"

"I heard you talking to the Elders. And I want you to give me the Curse Seal."

"Hinata, you have no idea what you're asking – you're so young, I will decide – you simply can't understand –"

"I understand perfectly! I understand every trial I've ever gone through, I understand all the pain I've experienced! And I understand that sparing my brother as much as I possibly can before he absolutely has to means so much more to me than a bit more suffering on my part."

He looked back at her wide-eyed, shocked into silence for a long moment.

"I will do anything to protect my baby brother, even at the cost of my own happiness."

Hiashi noted with absent pride that she had not stuttered once in his presence. "Come here, my daughter. Come sit on my lap for a moment."

It was the one moment of weakness he allowed himself, cradling Hinata in his arms so gently. And it was over so quickly.

"You are a more selfless person than I will ever be," he said into her hair, so he wouldn't have to look her directly in the eye and confront his own weaknesses. Then Hiashi let her down from his lap, kissed her on the forehead, and set off immediately to tell the elders of the new development.

Hizashi, who had been watching from afar, privately thought that he would've preferred his niece to be his older sister.

-

.twelve years post-sealing.

-

She had passed.

Hinata put her forehead protector on, covering the pure white cloth that was in turn covering something more sinister. She caught Shikamaru gazing at her from across the room surreptitiously, and smiled at him. He flushed a bit and looked away, no doubt muttering 'troublesome' under his breath. His behavior had been so strange as of late.

Her gaze then slid to her teammates. One was fawning over the other dotingly. She had never outright expressed her dislike of Sakura-san - that sort of thing could get her beaten or even killed – but she had never particularly liked to the pink-haired girl. The same was true of Uchiha Sasuke, her other teammate, but in his case, at least she could understand why his personality was so unbearable. Oh well. At least one of them was competent.

A tall, broad-shouldered man with a beard who she recognized as Asuma-san – she had become very intimately acquainted with the Sarutobi clan, especially when her father was out of town – waved to her as took Shikamaru, Chouji, and Ino out of the classroom. Five minutes later, a curvy, dark-haired woman with strange red eyes did the same for Kiba, Shino, and Tsuya, a girl with whom Hinata had many troubles. The rest of the class trickled out as their jounin came to collect them. Soon, only she and her teammates were left in the classroom as even Iruka-sensei apologetically stepped out. Uncomfortable silence engulfed them, broken every so often by Sakura attempting to converse with her crush unsuccessfully.

A few hours later, Hinata heard the soft pads of quiet human footsteps, and the door slid open. She had known jounin could be odd, but this was just ridiculous…

A blur of images passed the blonde in his dream-world: Hinata, Sasuke, and Sakura meeting Kakashi – there was no prank to greet him this time – and passing the bell test, except Sasuke was the one tied to the log; D-rank after D-rank, until finally Sakura snapped, and begged for a C-rank mission, the infamous mission to Wave with Tazuna, which weakened the seal; the Chuunin Selection Exam where nobody had encouraged the other teams to be fearless, and their numbers had been cut down significantly; Orochimaru marked Sasuke and Hinata, again lowering the strength of the Kyuubi's containment; there no were preliminary matches, because Ibiki had taken out so many teams during the written test; the day of the tournament…

Lee fought against Gaara and lost, more violently than the first time, in Naruto's world. Temari beat Tenten again; Sasuke cut down Kiba in the dog boy's arrogance. Sakura beat Tsuyu by the skin of her teeth, and Hinata fought Neji and won; Kankurou, who had beaten Shino, forfeit his round against her, as did Temari against Gaara. Sakura was simply too exhausted to fight Sasuke, not that her psyche could've handled it. Gaara and Sasuke fought, starting the Invasion.

Sarutobi still died. But Jiraiya was there to help, as was Tsunade, who was convinced to visit Konoha one last time by Shizune and happened upon this last battle by mistake. Team 10 had been training fiercely since they had lost in the Forest, and worked alongside their fathers against the Invasion. The still injured Kiba and Shino worked with their parents as well. Sakura, Tenten, Tsuyu, and Lee were still in the hospital. But Neji and Hinata worked in a tandem, a force to be reckoned with despite her cousin's injuries. Sasuke was still attempting to take Shukaku down by himself when the two Hyuuga intervened. Together, the three of them got Gaara to wake up, and as soon as he did, Temari hefted him over her shoulder and took off, Kankurou close behind.

Hinata had followed them and extended the hand of friendship. She understood the life of a demon container. Gaara got off of Temari's back and stumbled over to her. They clasped hands. The contact somehow seemed very intimate – it was different from the relationship he had fostered with Gaara.

Soon, Sasuke was taking off from the Leaf Village. Hinata, Shikamaru, Chouji, Neji, Kiba, and Shino took off on the Retrieval Mission. Sakura had asked her teammate to bring Sasuke back. Hinata promised nothing, only that she would try.

She ended up killing him.

The look Sakura gave her in the hospital – right outside the ER, where Neji was being operated on – made her sigh. Hatred. She knew hatred so well, now…

Kakashi was noticeably colder toward her as well. That was to be expected, she supposed; Sasuke was his prime student, his very favorite. Hinata retreated to the Hyuuga compound with most of her free time; she rarely went on missions with the team with whom she had come to be so close.

But the consequence of the distance with Team 7 was a closer friendship with her cousin, her brother, Kiba, Shino, and Team 10. She latched on to them with reckless abandon, and they cared for her just as deeply. But especially Shikamaru. Shikamaru was her best friend, the one she shared everything with. And she was the only one besides Chouji that he had any patience, which was tantamount to declaring them soul mates, in Naruto's irritated opinion.

-

.sixteen years post-sealing.

-

Hinata hummed softly, enjoying the fresh summer breeze as it caressed her face. Solo missions were her favorite – she didn't have to deal with either the loathing of those who hated her or the worry for the ones she cared about. It had become her sort-of specialty.

The downside of a solo mission was that they were often longer than team missions, and she was away from home longer than she would have liked. Hinata waved to Izumo and Kotetsu, the two chuunin currently on guard duty at the gate. Feeling buoyant, she decided to stop by training ground 10 to see if Shikamaru was there. They would usually go out to eat after a mission, either his, hers, or, rarely, theirs.

She approached quietly, knowing that he might be napping – ducking out from behind a tree, she straightened up with a smile on her face –

"Shika – ma…ru…?"

He was locking lips with Haruno Sakura.

She ran for it.

She ran and ran, as fast as her legs would carry her. She ran until she collapsed, breathless, crying so hard there was no sound. Why did this hurt so much? Why? Shikamaru was just her friend, only her friend… why did this feel like a betrayal? Thick, glittering tears rolled down her face. Naruto wanted to tear Shikamaru apart with his bare hands. What the hell was that dumbass thinking? With considerably less venom, he wondered if Hinata was doomed to have her love life stunted by Sakura in every lifetime…

"Hinata? What's wrong?"

Neji's hand on her shoulder was a lifeline. She turned around swiftly and buried her head in his chest, soaking up what little comfort he knew how to give. He patted her back awkwardly, unsure of himself. Soon her breath began to even out until her face was free of new tears, only the tracks of the old remaining.

"D-domo arigatou," she stuttered tenuously, still on the brink of crying. "N-nii-san."

"What happened?" he demanded. No one was going to get away with hurting his cousin like this. Not nobody, not no how.

"I don't want to talk about it," she choked out, sobbing a bit more.

"Your presence is requested at the Main House," he said, looking her over with a critical eye. "Can you handle it?"

Nothing else could crush her anymore, she decided suddenly. The greatest betrayal had already been done. What could make it worse?

"Alright."

The scene shifted – Hinata was in a room, on her knees in front of a group of old men with silver eyes and varying degrees of graying hair.

"…are to be banished from the compound permanently."

Hiashi and Tenshiro, watching from the sidelines, both stood up, furious.

"Hakuzo, how dare you be so presumptuous," hissed Hiashi. "To banish my firstborn? I am still the leader of this clan, and I have final say over who is banished." Tenshiro merely clenched his fists, knowing that speaking out against someone like Hakuzo unless you were clan head was suicide.

"There is another option," purred Hakuzo suddenly. "If she would consent to marry into the clan – to a specific clansman of my choosing, that is – the sentence could be revoked…"

"And who might you have lined up to marry my daughter?"

"Enter, my son."

Hyuuga Hattori. An infamous heartbreaker and suspected on charges of sexual harassment from several kunoichi. He liked power, he liked domination. That was probably where the allure of the kunoichi came in – they were the strongest of women. The downside was that a ninja had protection by the Hokage, and the current Hokage did not like her kunoichi being molested. The only things he had going for him were his father's high status and his good looks. But Hinata had to fight back her gag reflex just to look at him.

"Absolutely not," she said quietly, before her father spoke. "I would rather leave the compound forever and live on the streets than be your wife."

There was a collective intake of shocked breath. Hinata braced herself for the pain. She saw her father look away, hands over Tenshiro's eyes, as Hakuzo formed the seals. There was a moment of pain – then she was floating. It was an out-of-body experience. That chakra was leaking out of her, angry-red, like a fresh wound.

"Tell you what, Hakuzo-chan," murmured "Hinata" sweetly. "Don't fuck with me, and I won't kill your son!"

In a flash, she was across the room, new claws digging into the skin of Hattori's throat. "Stay the fuck away from me and my immediate family, got it? And if you fuck with Neji, I will hunt you down in the night and make you scream for death." She wrinkled her nose distastefully at the smell of urine. Hattori had just wet himself. Throwing him to the side like a rag doll, she strode back to her room to collect her few valuable belongings. Finally, she was leaving this hellhole…

Naruto watched her carefully. The Kyuubi was not taking over her body, as he had expected it to. This was different from his times under the influence of the demon, so to speak – it looked like Hinata was in full control of her faculties.

I'VE ALWAYS LIKED OUR VIXEN, NARUTO-KUN. MUCH MORE THAN I LIKE YOU, AT ANY RATE. I DECIDED TO PLAY WITH HER A LITTLE MORE THAN I DID YOU. WITH YOU… WITH YOU, I JUST LET YOU HAVE IT ALL, KNOWING YOUR MIND COULDN'T HANDLE IT… YOUR FEAR AT MY ABSOLUTE POWER WAS SO DELICIOUS… BUT IT WILL BE EVEN MORE SO WHEN SHE KNOWS THE POWER SHE UNDERSTANDS SO LITTLE ABOUT…

Leave her alone! She doesn't deserve this!

OH. WOULD YOU RATHER SHE MARRY HATTORI, THEN? I, AT LEAST, WOULD KILL HER MORE QUICKLY THAN HE WOULD… A SLOW DEATH OF ADULTERTY AND DOMESTIC ABUSE…

Shut up!

With a sepulchral chuckle, the demon's presence faded into his mind, leaving the blonde steaming mad.

When the visions started again, Hinata was at Ino's house, eating silently despite the loud chatter of the room two other occupants. Ino's mother had died a few years back, so it was just her and her father running things now; however, they didn't let the memory of her impeded their work. If anything, they seemed to work harder to honor her memory.

The doorbell rang. "I'll get it! It's probably one of my many admirers…" said Ino with a toss of her platinum blonde head. Hinata managed a weak smile as the blonde skipped away from the table, knowing that she had been trying to cheer her up. Stifling her sigh, she took her plate to the sink, rinsed it, and placed it in the dishwasher. Her ears perked up as Ino answered the door.

"Hey, Shika!"

Without a second thought, Hinata raced upstairs to the bedroom she was currently sharing with Ino and flung the window open, shooting out like a bullet.

"That's weird, I could've sworn she was just here…" said Ino with a frown. "Dad, did Hinata go upstairs?"

"Yeah, she seemed in a hurry after you answered the door," said Inoichi. "Maybe she wanted to avoid a certain someone…?"

Shikamaru didn't answer. Naruto felt a horrible sort of vindication. He deserved what he was feeling, putting Hinata through what he had.

"I'll keep looking, then."

-

.seventeen years post-sealing.

-

Hinata sighed as she exited Hokage Tower. Her mission had been long and bloody, and now all she wanted was to go home to her apartment and shower. The Akatsuki were becoming an increasingly problematic cult. With the combined effort of Team 10 and Kakashi, they had taken down two of them - Hidan and Kakuzu. Sakura, along with Chiyo of the Sand, had killed Akasuna no Sasori, and she, along with Kiba and Shino, had killed Deidara. A little-known ex-Kiri ninja had killed Kisame – Suigetsu or something. Jiraiya-sama, working with the leader of Rain village, had killed Konan and seriously wounded Pein.

The biggest players were still in the game, though – Pein and Itachi. Tobi was there, but he was an unknown. Zetsu the Cannibal had special skills, but not really the power to be a heavy-hitter. Besides, the sheer number of people devoted to their cause was enough to cause major concern… especially since they were after her… and Gaara… he had just barely escaped death after the extraction of Shukaku. He was still asserting to the Suna Council that he could rule successfully over Sunagakure, leaving a major ally of theirs wrapped up in political nonsense.

She had progressed much in her year outside of the compound, now being a well-respected jounin among the ninja, and one of the Hokage's favorites. People were finally starting to see past the perceived persona of the Kyuubi incarnate, to just – her. Simply Hinata. Life was much better than it had ever been…

Except for the fact that her best friend no longer talked to her – avoided her like the plague, in fact. And that he had hooked up with her worst enemy in the village. And that she really, really, really, really, really liked him.

Yep, everything was just peachy.

Hinata slipped into her apartment with a sigh and immediately headed for the bathroom; a shower was long overdue. She took her time underneath the hot water, meticulously cleaning every inch of skin until she felt cleansed. Clad in only a towel, she intended to go to the kitchen for a quick snack before changing while she dried. Before she got far, she froze.

"We need to talk."

Shikamaru sat at her kitchen table, tracing patterns in the wood with his finger.

"What do you think you're doing – breaking into my apartment, completely unannounced –"

They were yelling at each other, and Sakura had kissed him, not he her, and he'd missed her terribly, and she'd missed him, too, and suddenly they were so achingly close, lips almost brushing… that led to kissing, and kissing led to other things…

This isn't my Hinata, Naruto had to keep reminding himself. This isn't my Hinata. It's the Kyuubi's Hinata. It isn't her, it isn't it isn't! He screwed his eyes shut and put his hands over his ears, but that wouldn't stop the Kyuubi from tormenting him. Gasps and moans leaked into his head like poison.

AREN'T THEY ENJOYING THEMSELVES!

SHUT UP! ShutupshutupshutupshutupSHUTUP!

God, it was finally over. Naruto felt like retching. Not only did he not have Hinata in this world, he had none of his children either, he realized with a pang. His throat choked with simultaneous pride at the thought of them, and utter fear and loneliness at the thought that they just… weren't. He really was alone. Just like it had been when he was a child –

AT LEAST YOU HAVE ME…YOU'VE ALWAYS HAD ME…

Naruto decided not to listen. It was the first good decision he'd made all day.

Things were going faster now, and as they got faster, Hinata's life got worse and worse. Sakura and Tsuyu, the two other girls in Hinata's graduating class, playing cruel pranks on her, retribution for Sasuke – Ino, breaking off their friendship because of her secret affection for Shikamaru – Hiashi, dying in her arms on the first mission they had gone on together – Tenshiro, being branded with the curse seal with Hakuzo smirking victoriously in the background – her stay in jail, punishment for killing the foolish old man – Hattori, bribing the guards to drug her and let him in so he could have his way with her – Kiba and Shino, killed by Itachi – the Akatsuki's army swarming the village, killing left and right, ninja or civilian, innocent or guilty – finally, the penultimate scene, Hinata's collapsing sanity as she looked upon Shikamaru's cold, gutted body –

Naruto felt the familiar surge and bile rose in his throat as the red chakra Hinata had become so familiar with in the past few years engulfed her body. The guttural roar issued from her mouth built up the sick pit in his stomach. She tore down houses, ripped people in two with her bare hands, clawing out eyes, throats, any body part of any person she could reach –

It was done. Not a soul survived in the village save for her, friend or enemy. Her shaking legs collapsed under her and she curled up into a ball, shuddering, but not a single tear could breach her eye. She was far past crying. Crawling over to Shikamaru's body, she assumed in the pose in which he had first seen this Hinata, kissing Shikamaru's face lovingly, stroking his cheek, begging for him to wake up. He didn't this time, either. And when she looked up at him again, her skin stained red, and he finally understood the full depth of this story – her story – it made the heartbreak so much worse…

-

All of this faded away, like the bad nightmare that it was. Naruto woke up with a shock. The document he had been planning to sign into law was now covered in drool and completely useless. Sighing, he made a note to have a new copy made tomorrow. He sat up in desk. He looked around. No distractions from this. None at all. He wanted to go home so badly, wanted to see the faces of his children, hold Hinata tight. But after the spectacle he had made of himself earlier that day, would she have any patience for him?

Of course she would, because she was Hinata – his Hinata. The one he had grown up with, gotten to know, married, started a family with… the wonderful, beautiful, amazing Uzumaki Hinata. And he knew that she would almost always have patience to hear a few more of his excuses.

Yelling to his ANBU guards that he would be out of the office for a while, he took out of the window at speeds that had yet to be matched by anyone else on the planet currently. In seconds he was back at home, slipping in through the kitchen window and landing on all fours. He went to see the children first.

All eight of the Uzumaki kids had the Byakugan from their mother and tattoo-like whiskers from their father. Dark-haired Iruka was the oldest and the unofficial leader, followed by tall, blonde Tsunade, then slender, sometimes-bossy Hotaru, then quiet Naoki, followed by the hyperactive, redheaded twins, Toshi and Kushina. Kyo was next. And he was special. Kyo was the only one who didn't have the Byakugan. Kyo's thick, burnt-orange hair with subtle scarlet streaks was shaggy and wild. His eyes shifted between mauve and scarlet, depending on his mood. The whisker-marks on his cheeks were darker and more defined on him than on any other of the children. And – he was like Shino in this regard – he was very protective of those close to him, though he didn't say it aloud.

Kyo was also a very light sleeper, and Naruto had to be careful not to wake him. The final room was his own; their youngest, Tsukiko, still slept in an ornate crib near their bedside, a gift from some person of import or another. Tsukiko had most of her father's attention these days, not only being the youngest but also because she was essentially a mini-Hinata. He smoothed the pad of his thumb over her cheek before frowning. The person he wanted to see was not here. Of course, there were certain places he could check.

The highest room in the house – technically the attic, but really a well-kept storage space; Hinata sometimes went up there to rifle through old photos. No. Sometimes when she couldn't sleep, she'd have a cup of tea in the sunroom, which had a lovely view of the garden… no. And if she wasn't there, there was only one place left.

The garden itself. Their beautiful, sprawling green-space did not have the geometric precision of the Hyuuga's, but it was more lush and natural looking. Hinata was sprawled out on the grass, gaze lost in the moon. She hummed a song to herself of her own creation, stopping abruptly in the middle.

"Welcome home," she said quietly. He flinched.

"Hinata – I –"

"What is wrong? Please, please, tell me, Naruto! We agreed. We agreed right at the start of it all."

"No secrets, no secrets, I know!"

"Then why won't you tell me what's been bothering you?"

He took a deep breath. "Can I ask you something? And you'll answer me with complete and utter honesty?"

"Of course!" she looked offended that he had to ask for her truthfulness. He walked over to her and took her hands in his, looking deep in her eyes. She waited impatiently, hoping to get to the bottom of his strange behavior earlier that day.

"Have you or would you ever consider a relationship with Nara Shikamaru?"

Hinata started at him. Then she laughed – she laughed so hard that no sound came out of her while a few silent tears streamed down her face. "A-are you s-s-serious? Me and Shikamaru? I don't think there's a more worst-matched pair in Konoha! I mean, honestly! You actually thought that –"

The rest of her incredulous stuttering was halted by Naruto's lips on hers. This assault was heated and possessive and relentless, making her gasp and lean into the action. They were occupied for several minutes until the need for air broke them apart. Naruto closed his eyes and leaned his forehead on hers gently.

"Did you… really think that I … that I would…" She was out of breath and had realized he was serious; she sounded hurt by his implication.

"No! I mean, I – well, I was having this dream, and –"

"You based your assumptions of my martial shortcomings on a dream that you had?"

"It wasn't just any dream! It was one of his dreams… do you remember when I said earlier today that I wished I was never born?"

"Yes," she replied with a shudder. "Please don't make me imagine something like that. The fact that you would wish for something like that…"

"Well, the Kyuubi took it to heart of course," he said, ignoring her request. "My dream… my dream was what if I hadn't been born? Who would my tou-san seal the Kyuubi into? And the answer… the answer was you."

He went on to explain everything that had happened in detail – except for the worst bits about her, near the end… he decided he would hold those with him forever. Nobody else would bear that awfulness with him. She leaned against him silently through his narration, only rubbing his back or running her fingers through his hair.

"…wow. He's nothing if not thorough."

He turned to look at her. "How can you say that to me?! That dream – that dream is one of the most horrible things I've ever seen in my life! Just the thought of you as – as it… makes me stomach turn… you can't imagine what the real thing is like…"

The Kyuubi saw everything Naruto saw; thus, its illusions were tailored to fit his mind. It picked up every nuance and habit of Hinata's so that dream-Hinata was a perfect replica of the real thing, thus making its illusions all the more deadly.

"Maybe he was trying to do you a favor."

"What?"

"Have you ever seen that old movie, It's a Wonderful Life? Well, he wishes the same thing you did, and the next thing he knows, he's never been born! Except he exists physically in that world, and goes around to meet people including his wife and nobody recognizes him. By the end, he sees the goodness of his life. So maybe he was just reminding you – or perhaps this was an unintentional side effect of the infliction of mental anguish – that you have many things in your life to be grateful for, and that many, many people would not exist today if not for you. Your eight children for one example."

"I know… when I saw you and Shikamaru – when you were –"

"When that harlot in your dream that took on my form was having sex with Shikamaru?"

He laughed outright, some of the gloom clearing from his face. "Hinata, you are so weird and at the same time so wonderful. And yes. When I realized that, in that realm, there was no Iruka or Tsunade or Hotaru or Naoki or twins or Kyo or Tsukiko… god, the way I felt was alone. Alone like back then …"

"You're not," she whispered with sudden intensity. Hinata leaned in and embraced him tightly. "You're not anymore. You've got me and the children and Sasuke and Sakura and –"

"I don't need a list, love," he said, burying his nose in her neck. He breathed in deeply as her grip loosened and she slid her arms up to rest around his neck. They sat silently together for a long moment, before a new emotion had replaced Naruto's utter relief.

"Hina?" he said, letting an innocent lilt overtake his voice.

"Hmm?"

"This whole day's been made of fail. Let me make it up to you?"

"And how do you propose to do that?" she murmured, entranced by the warmth he provided and the tranquil atmosphere of the summer night. He grinned against her neck and she tensed – was she beginning to predict his changes in mood? There was no way she could've actually seen that grin…

There was a sharp intake of breath from Hinata as Naruto's canines gently scraped her neck. "O-oh!"

"Please allow me to make it up to you," he purred against her ear, nibbling the lobe delicately. He felt her shudder slightly and then pull away – though not too far. He frowned. Didn't she remember that she more she tried to resist what he knew she felt, the harder he was going to try to make her cave?

"N-naruto, the kids!"

"What about them?"

"Kyo will wake up!"

"Soundproofing jutsu do wonders, my love…"

"Tsukiko's in our room!"

"Kyo will watch her."

"But –"

"Pleeeeease. For me?" He looked deep into her eyes, pleading. A bright blush lit her cheeks – he smirked proudly – before she looked away.

"You are such a cheater," she mumbled. His smirk widened into a grin.

"You won't regret it, I pro –"

"Oh, shut up already."

And with that, she kissed him.


Birds were chirping, the sun was shining, and a warm breeze was shifting the sage-green curtains next to her bed. It was morning, and Hinata was alone. It was like this a lot – he had a job to do as Hokage, and that job required very long hours. Usually, though, she woke up enough when he got out of bed to murmur a goodbye and kiss him quickly. Well, he had tired her out, she thought with a blush.

Groaning as she realized that she had overslept and surprised that the kids had not been in to bother her about breakfast yet, Hinata quickly threw on a tanktop, some shorts and her black silk robe over it before heading down to the kitchen. She paused suddenly, the sleepy haze still surrounding her making it difficult to comprehend exactly what she saw.

Tsukiko was cradled in one arm, giggling happily at her father's antics while he attempted to handle a hot frying pan full of bacon and the assault of Toshi and Kushina at the same time. The twins' attack was relentless – Kushina hung onto his arm and aimed for his ribs with her feet, while Toshi was poking tenketsu and pressure points up and down his leg attempting to make him collapse. Naoki was the first to notice her entrance. "Good morning, mother," he said in his quiet way, looking up at her with a shy smile.

"Good morning, Naoki-chan," she said, crossing the room without a sound and dropping a kiss on the crown of his blonde head. The rest of the family finally looked up – most of them were voraciously devouring their breakfast – and greeted her.

"Hello, everybody. Did you all sleep well?" Hinata smiled softly around the table at the varied responses. Noticing a certain member of the table was extra-quiet, she crossed the room and leaned down to talk to him, using the lack of food on his plate as a pretense to speak to him. "I hope Tsukiko didn't keep you up, honey," she said to Kyo as she piled more scrambled eggs on his plate.

"She was fine," he said around a stifled yawn.

"I'm sure," Hinata replied, unconvinced. "Be sure to go to be earl – oof!"

"MORNING, MOM!" yelled Toshi and Kushina together as they hugged her around the waist; the unexpected extra weight had pushed her back to the floor.

"Hello, twins," she said wryly. "Haven't you eaten yet? If you're not careful, all Iruka-kun and Tsunade-chan will get it all."

"That's not fair!"

"They're already bigger than we are!"

They scrambled off of her immediately and shot to their seats, shoveling as much food as they could see onto their plates. Rolling her eyes, Hinata almost missed the second wave – her husband and youngest daughter. Each of them dropped a kiss on either cheek, though one was filled with decidedly more baby slobber.

"Sleep well?" asked Naruto cheekily, eyeing her up and down lasciviously.

"You're so incorrigible," she said with a sign and a bit of a grin. He opened his mouth to reply but was interrupted by the doorbell.

"Why don't you sit down and get some breakfast while I get the door?" suggested Hinata, steering him to one of two empty seats. "I wonder who it could be…"


Shikamaru yawned slowly and meticulously, savoring the brief time he had to be lazy before setting off. Naruto had sent a kage bushin in to say that he was working from home today. All of his paperwork, however, was still at the office, and it was his duty as Chief Strategist, Naruto's secretary had informed him, to bring it to the Rokudaime. Personally, he thought Moegi just wanted more time to spend with her boyfriend, but of course, she had nagged and nagged until he gave in. It was a lot easier that way.

He rang the doorbell hoping that Hinata would answer; he wasn't sure if he could handle Naruto's cheerfulness this morning. As a pair of dreamy Byakugan eyes greeted him to the Uzumaki household – she looked a bit shocked, for some reason – Shikamaru thought that perhaps luck was on his side today. A rare day, then.

"Yo, Hinata. I've got these papers for Naruto, since he'll be working from home today."

"Oh, will he? That's wonderful!" She smiled such a soft, sweet smile that Shikamaru had to look away. That kind of devotion should be outlawed.

Feeling uncomfortable and being the passive-aggressive bastard that he is, Shikamaru turned the feelings of discomfort back on Hinata.

"Look, Hinata, I'm not trying to call you out or anything, but those kinds of thoughts should really stay in the bedroom," he drawled. She gasped and her face flushed.

"Get your mind out of the gutter, Shikamaru!"

Both of them stiffened at once – as soon as she had uttered the name Shikamaru, a whoosh of wind signified Naruto's arrival. He hung over his wife's shoulder, giving a stare that was not the happy-go-lucky Naruto that Shikamaru was well-acquainted with. No, this Naruto was calculating. He swallowed hard. What had he done to provoke a reaction like that?

The blonde wrapped his arms tightly around Hinata's waist and pulled her flush against him and put his chin on top of her head. The whole scene looked intimate, and Shikamaru suddenly felt like an intruder.

"Here's your paperwork," he muttered, tossing the file at Naruto who caught it with ease. "Enjoy."

"Yea. Thanks." The Hokage continued to stare him down. It was a very intimidating experience, despite the fact that they were childhood friends.

"Um. So. I will see you tomorrow. Lord Roku from Tsuchi no Kuni to talk strategy, don't forget."

"Hmm." What was that look trying to tell him? Stay away – from me? My family? Hinata?

No… Naruto couldn't seriously think…

"Well… g'bye, then."

The Uzumakis waved him off, Naruto seeming far too happy that he was leaving and Hinata scolding him for something.

Bah. Him and Hinata? Yeah, he wished…