You may or may not have noticed, but I've changed my penname. Don't ask why. Maybe I was in a muse-y mood.
Okay. Just want to clarify something. I said it in the first chapter, but I just wanted to clarify that I'm not a teenage pedo (LOL). The characters are NOT 12 in this. They're all 17, except for Tenten, Neji, etc., who are 18. I'm not following the typical Naruto Academy thing. I just still wanted them to be shinobi, so I don't quite think it's different enough to be AU.
I'm late again. By, like, four months. (Or is it five?) I'm sorry. It's hard to keep up. In fact, I'm thinking of deleting my 'Muse' story—it isn't getting anywhere and not even a hoard of newborn plot bunnies can revive it. Maybe after this I'll only do one-shots. :D
I got Kingdom Hearts 358/2 days! I can TOTALLY understand the Axel/Roxas fandom now. They'd be adorable together—and this coming from a girl who ISN'T into shonen-ai. But for those two---I GIVE MY FULL SUPPORT! _ *fangirl 'KYAA'*
Disclaimer: If I did own Naruto…I don't know what I'd do. Definitely not homework, though.
A cool breeze ruffled her skirts. Hinata crossed her legs tightly, letting her gaze wander over Konoha's rooftops. Many years ago, she had followed Naruto to this site, hiding clumsily in the shadows and watching him make an alarming transition from a hyperactive dunderhead to a thoughtful-looking future-Hokage. He'd known the charm of the place—it's ability to settle one's thoughts—before anyone else.
She adopted the site as her own. He'd never have to know.
Gaara was getting much better. His demon had injured him, but now it was healing him as well—the worst of the damage had healed and Tsunade had even allowed him to walk around his room.
She shuddered. She loved Gaara, but it was stupid to deny that he really sometimes made her wonder.
It wasn't fear. She'd gotten past fear the first time they'd shared a lunch. No. It was a strange apprehension—and she only felt it when he threw her one of his intense, relentless stares. Even with Hyuuga eyes, she could not tell what he was thinking, and that in itself bothered her.
And lately he was so restless. He was not made to be concealed behind white walls—he'd never even known serious injury before this. Sabaku no Gaara never broke a nail, let alone ruptured an organ. The nurses and doctors had expressly told him not to do anything that might possibly exert him. The last time she'd stopped by to check in on him, he'd been doing upside-down push-ups on one hand, just as 'light practice' before he got back on the field.
To add insult to injury, the Hyuuga's annual formal was to be held in two weeks. In short, all of the big names in Konoha would be gathered. The adults and teenagers would be separated, in hopes of initiating natural conversations and possibly promoting romantic relationships to strengthen ties between different groups. Every year, Hinata had busied herself in the corner, stirring her glass in her hand, while the other clan children chatted and looked mostly bored. It had never been a pleasant experience, but at least Hiashi-sama was not likely to parade her around or dictate her dress.
Or perhaps he didn't because he knew that Hanabi would take care of the job in her place.
She hadn't seen Sasuke for a while either. He'd come to her three days ago to, in his own way, apologize. He'd cocked his head to one side, asked about Gaara, told her that he wasn't giving up— not completely—but that he'd try to stay out of their way.
She'd been disappointed with herself for still being angry. While he spoke, she'd kept her eyes on the ground and her hands fisted at her sides, and when he paused, finally spat, Are you finished? and marched off. She wondered, briefly, whether she'd hurt him, and then decided that he'd deserved it. At least they were even now.
Something moved on the building beside her. Hinata hopped to her feet and tossed a shuriken. It embedded itself into the brick of the adjacent building, thrown as a threat rather than with the intent to kill.
Hanabi jumped out, hands held up in surrender. "Watch it!"
A badly-timed gust of wind breezed by, lifting her skirt. She flushed and tried to force it down with her fists while Hanabi wheezed with laughter.
"I'd think you'd use your Byakugan. Geez, makes me wonder," she said, sighing melodramatically, "Why the Hokage wants to see a dork like you."
"She wants to see me?" Hinata'd only spoken to the Hokage once, and that was to ask about the village's medical program.
Hanabi shrugged. "We've been looking everywhere for you. She's at the compound."
Eyes wide, Hinata leapt off of the roof, landed nimbly on her feet, and ran as fast as her legs could take her to the compound.
Hanabi hadn't been lying. Ignoring formalities, Hinata activated her Byakugan in the Hyuuga compound and searched out for the Hokage. She found her in the drawing room, lounging lazily on a pillow while her father sat, knees together, sipped his tea, and looked generally furious.
She burst into the room and immediately dropped to her knees in a bow.
"Hokage-sama!" she said quickly, "Excuse me for being late—"
The Hokage raised an eyebrow and looked down at the kunoichi. "It's only been five minutes, kid. Get up."
"Yes, Hokage-sama!" She jumped manically to her feet, realized that she was looking down at her elder, and sat down like her father instead.
"I have a mission for you," Tsunade said simply. Hinata jolted.
"Hokage-sama," she said softly, "I'm still in the Academy—"
"—An unfortunate complication," Tsunade finished. "I'm ignoring it. You're relatively strong, but we'll fix that soon" (Here, Hinata flinched) "But for this particular mission, I need you."
She'd never felt so honored. Briefly, she caught her father's eye. His face remained emotionless, but the way he took a too-long sip and closed his eyes told her that he was proud.
"Thank you, Hokage-sama."
Tsunade didn't smile. "What I am about to tell you must never be repeated outside of these walls. Do you understand?"
"Then," Tsunade said, "Listen carefully. The Kazekage has been killed." Ignoring Hinata's horrified expression, she continued, "I have operatives investigating right now, and we're still looking for the culprit. Now, the people are in a bit of havoc right now. Suna doesn't do well in transitory stages. We need for Sabaku-san to head back there, now, and claim leadership."
Hinata froze just as Hiashi began to cough up his tea.
"The Shuukaku?" Hiashi hissed, "That boy, lead a nation? Excuse me for saying this, Tsunade-sama, but have you lost your mind? Did you not see the match?"
Tsunade nodded coolly. "Yes, I did. And what I learned from it is that Sabaku-san is devilishly strong, calculating, and still compassionate enough to sacrifice himself for something, or someone, he loves." She turned her gaze to Hinata. "It is rather obvious that this someone is your daughter."
Hinata began to tremble in spite of herself. "So, I'm just supposed to convince Gaara to…go home?"
She'd wanted this before, right? To go to Suna with him. To see a new world before her. Was this a blessing? Or a curse?
Tsunade shook her head. "You're supposed to escort him home. I'll have a few Anbu trailing you, though I'm sure you can take care of yourselves."
"And when I get there?"
Tsunade pulled a scroll from somewhere inside her kimono. "You return immediately. Here are the mission details. Do not tell him that I've ordered you to do this, do you understand? He already knows about the Kazekage."
She handed her the scroll. Hinata grasped it tightly. "He's hurt, though."
Tsunade rolled her eyes. "He's been in that hospital for a month. I healed up the last of it this morning. We're releasing him tonight."
They sat in silence for a potent minute, and then Hinata finally sighed. "I'll do it."
Hiashi nodded, "Of course she will."
Tsunade stood. "This should come as an honor, Hiashi. The only person I've sent out on a mission pre-graduation is your nephew."
Hiashi took a slow sip. "The Hyuuga household never disappoints." He looked at Hinata pointedly. "Begin packing, Hinata."
"O-of course," Hinata said. Bowing once, she turned to the Hokage once more and asked. "He's still in the hospital?"
"Then I'm going to see him first. Excuse me, otou-san, Hokage-sama."
"Gaara's being released today?" Ino's smile could rival Naruto's in width. "That's awesome!"
Hinata nodded, unsmilingly. "But he has to go back to Suna."
Her friend's face immediately dropped. "Wait. Why?"
Hinata shrugged, and then reaching into her pocket, withdrew a small wad of cash. "I'd like the lilies today."
Ino nodded once, and then disappeared into the jungle of flowers that was the Yamanaka shop. At first, she'd insisted on giving Hinata the flowers for free ("We're friends after all, right?), but caved in easily enough when Hinata insisted ("Gotta keep the business going somehow, I guess.") It was a little strange to give someone like Gaara flowers, but at the same time, also strangely befitting. He'd given her that glass rose, after all.
"When is he leaving?" Ino slammed a vase full of pure-white lilies onto the counter, and then handed Hinata her change. It was a wonder she didn't break it every time.
The Hokage said not to say anything. This is my first mission.
"I'm not sure." She trusted Ino, but she could be a bit of a motor-mouth.
"Oh," Ino leaned into the counter, brushing a bang from her eyes. "Well, you know. If you don't have much time left, you should definitely make the most of what you do have left. Do something fun together. Show him how much you really care." She fluttered her eyes suggestively.
Hinata looked at her blankly for a moment, gasped, and clapped a hand over her mouth. "Ino," she whispered, "I-I don't think I want to try that just yet—"
Ino laughed. "Oh, Hina-chan. Gutter-brain—I wasn't talking about that." She reached into her apron and pulled out a small, square package. When Hinata made a terrified expression, she laughed even harder and handed it to her.
"It's 'silence'. When you're together, you're constantly going to be watched. This'll make sure that even ANBU can't tell what you're up to. It's a powder—I got it from our trip to Kumo. It's even better when you throw it with a smoke-bomb."
Hinata nodded and tucked the package into her shirt. "Thanks."
Ino grinned and then waved her away. "Go knock 'im dead, Hinata-chan."
There was no need to use a henge to visit Gaara today. It was one advantage of the Hokage's mission—Hiashi-sama had been oddly lenient with her all afternoon. It was nice to just be able to walk through the hospital doors as herself.
She knocked on his door, waiting for his usual low, lazy response.
Instead, he opened it.
Their eyes met.
He was fully dressed, gourd included, and looked just about ready to step out. His siblings must have brought him a different set of clothes, because his scrubs (what they had provided for him after he'd insisted against the hospital gown) had been folded neatly in the corner and he was wearing a black-and-red, high-collared, sleeveless top and…were those sweatpants?
"The Hokage herself healed me this morning."
He undid the last three buttons of his vest to show her the wound. Where there had once been five gaping holes were now a series of thin, barely-perceptible scars. It was a professional job, typical of Tsunade, with minimal scarring. Had the wound been any lighter, there wouldn't have been any sign of it at all.
She hugged him. "You're better, then."
He didn't return the gesture for a moment, and then slowly, almost awkwardly, held her back. She noticed, and bit her lip, aware that something was very wrong—he usually pounced on her.
She pulled away. "Are you sure you're alright?"
He looked down at her briefly, and his gaze was distant. She'd known him by his pointed, penetrating stare—where had that gone?
"Quite sure," he said. He pushed past her and into the hall. "I'm checking out."
Hinata fumbled. "But—Tsunade said to wait until the evening!"
He furrowed his brow. "I'm leaving, Hinata."
She frowned. Why is he being like this? Just the night before, she'd had to pry him off of her. She activated her Byakugan silently, searching the area for any unwanted spies, and found none.
It was then that she spotted an almost imperceptible trail of chakra flowing back into Gaara's gourd. Sand. The stream was tiny, only a few grains thick—without her Byakugan on, she would have never seen it—but it was definitely there. She followed the trail through the window and outside, her vision only taking her as far as the hospital gate.
She turned back to Gaara again. He was silently signing himself out, and the nurse was allowing him to leave, surprisingly. His brow was still furrowed, as though he were trying to comprehend something that simply didn't make sense. Probably watching something or someone, using some age-old technique only he could get away with to gather intel. Intel on what, though?
He finished signing, and then motioned once to her. Slowly, she ambled over, giving him a wary look. She waited until they were outside the hospital doors before raising an eyebrow.
"What's the sand for?"
He didn't seem too surprised that she'd figured him out—if he was, he certainly didn't show it. "I received an…interesting message today."
Her brow hiked further up. "Oh?"
He nodded. "It appears my people want me back. And it seems your Hokage is not loath to let me go."
She blushed. How had he figured it out already? Tsunade would be furious with her once she found out Gaara already knew the plan.
"They know that you're strong, Gaara," she said softly, "Maybe they're just acknowledging that."
His face was as stolid as stone, and twice as unreadable. "My father was the Kazekage before this man—who left no heirs. I suppose you know how Sunakagure's political system works?"
Hinata nodded—at the Academy, they'd studied the other village's histories and governments in an attempt to wipe away ignorance and improve diplomacy. "Patrilineal heritage—if they find you worthy. So, basically, they want you to go and just…do something to prove yourself? D-Don't you have an older brother?"
Gaara scoffed. It was the most emotion he'd really shown in the past ten minutes. "Kankuro rejected it immediately. He is not suited for leadership."
Hinata crossed her arms, fingering the small package of silence through her shirt. "Are you?"
He didn't answer for a moment, and once more, she berated herself. What if he was offended? Did he think she was questioning his ability to lead?
And then he smiled. It was sarcastic and far from genuine, but at least it was soft, not the hard, slightly manic ones he usually gave.
"I've been asking myself that question."
"But you want to try." A fact, not a question.
He paused again. "Of course."
She sighed. Might as well be frank with him. Standing on tiptoe, she whispered to him, "I'm coming with you."
He blinked pronouncedly, but somehow understood her need to be secretive and raised his brow instead of making a scene.
"I told you before I wanted to go to Suna," she defended feebly. Somehow, her fingers had managed to twiddle with each other again. She frowned, clenched her hands into fists, and put them behind her back. It had taken her years to break that habit—there was no way she was going to let it resurface.
Gaara nodded. "Your timing is impeccable."
"I'll be getting ready," she informed him, daring him to object. "We should leave soon. You don't want to keep them waiting."
A smirk quirked at the corners of his lips. "Yes. I don't."
On her previous pseudo-missions with Kurenai, Hinata always packed light.
Weapons pouch. Check. Canteen. Check. Seals and scrolls. Check. One extra set of clothing. Maybe toiletries, if the trip was going to be long.
But this was a real mission, even if she had to pretend that it wasn't. In that case, what was she to bring? If she met Gaara with just her typical pack, he'd suspect. She'd have to come loaded, like she was a girlfriend on vacation, not a shinobi at work. She'd packed and repacked about four times.
Giving up, she shoved random changes of clothing into a grey, nondescript duffel bag (bought at a civilian store the night before, as the Hyuuga household would never hold something quite so mundane) and zipped it up before she could change her mind. Her pouch would stay at her hip where it belonged, even if it was strapped around a dress.
She wished Neji-nii was home. He'd have been so proud of her for following in his footsteps.
Hauling the duffel bag onto her shoulder, she knelt forward at Hiashi-sama's office and quietly requested entrance. He granted it, his shadow lobbing up and down through the paper door.
"I'm leaving now, otou-sama," she said simply.
"Do your mission well, Hinata," was all he said in reply.
Hinata didn't miss the tiny quirk of his lips, though, when he said that. The 'Be Safe' that had not been voiced. She smiled widely, and then, correcting herself, adopted a calmer façade.
"We'll be taking a car?"
Hinata stared, incredulous, at the shiny black Mercedes that was parked right outside of the Sand sibling's apartment. She could count on her hands the number of times she'd ever ridden in a car—shinobi ran. And while cars were convenient, they weren't exactly stealthy.
Kankuro looked at her like she was an insect. "No shit, Sherlock."
His older sister responded before she could even blink with a solid slap on the back of his head. He yowled and rubbed the back of his head.
"Sorry," Temari said, shooting her brother a disgusted look, "Kankuro's an idiot."
Hinata smiled. Temari was nice, strong, and beautiful—a lethal combination. She carried herself like she didn't care what others thought, with her shoulders thrown back in a strange backward-slouch. Her entire body was stringed with muscles, yet somehow she managed to still be feminine and curvy. It was hard not to feel at least slightly insufficient around her.
Gaara brushed her arm gently, and she looked up. A chauffeur was holding the door open. Tsunade was really sticking her neck out for these guys—future diplomacy with Suna was vital.
They piled inside, Gaara first, then Hinata, Temari, and Kankuro.
"Two hours to Suna," the driver announced. Hinata bit back a gasp—on foot, it usually took about two days.
"Understood," Temari said, sounding bored, "Can we just go, already?"
With a grunt and a nod, the chauffeur agreed. The car lurched forward, leaving Hinata's stomach far, far behind.
Ino-chan, when I get back, I will have too much to tell you.
A/N: I'm running way low on steam for this story. I think I'll try my best to wrap it up in two chapters or so. *Le sigh.* I don't read over my chappies before I post, so if you find any errors/ inconsistencies, just me now, ne? 3