READ THIS FIRST:

First off, I'M SO SORRY FOR THE LONG WAIT! MY COMPUTER HAD A BAD HARDRIVE AND ALL MY FILES FOR THE STORIES I WAS WORKING ON WERE ON IT, SO I WAS FORCED TO WAIT OVER A YEAR UNTIL I WAS ABLE TO GET IT FIXED! IT PAINED ME TO BE AWAY FOR SO LONG, AND I'M SURE SOME OF YOU WERE GREATLY FRUSTRATED AS WELL, BUT THANKS TO THOSE OF YOU WHO HUNG IN THERE AND PMED ME YOUR SUPPORT, I AM BACK WITH A NEW CHAPTER! I'M SO SORRY AGAIN! *bows deeply* PLEASE ACCEPT MY HUMBLEST APOLOGIES AND ENJOY!

OK, YOU MAY NOW PROCEDE OR READ THIS CHAPTER'S EXPLANATION BELOW.

Alright! We've reached a milestone here, which I think is cause for celebration. This is my first story to reach over a hundred reviews (though hopefully not my last)! I'm so excited. I'm hoping before it's all said and done it'll have close to at least three-hundred or more. Um, am I setting my sights too high?

I've been struggling and debating for what seems like an eternity trying to figure out how to connect the pieces of the three main characters in conflict's memories while not straying too far from the original plan and still making the events organized and easy to follow. I finally came up with this idea, which is something that seems so obvious it's almost embarrassing. So this following chapter will be composed of nothing but flashbacks, which will explain how the past fully connects to the events happening now. That way I won't have to worry about chopping up the rest of the story or having a bunch of randomly placed flashbacks.

Anyway, thank you to everyone who's helped me reach this point and I hope to continue to hear from all of you. The support received is something extraordinary to me. And I'll never get tired of reading all your reviews. They're my inspiration for writing, and in life. So...let's continue to strive to new heights together, ok?

P.S. Oh, before I forget...some of you may recall that I did a poll a while back in regards to a GaaxHina side pairing, which overwhelmingly one-out over those who voted against it. But since so many of you have continued to send your opinions after the poll closed, I have decided on a compromise, since it seems quite a few of you seem hesitant.

I am going to do another story separate from this one that will include GaaxHina as one of the main pairings. This is because I don't want to lose the support of those who have stated that they like the original love-triangle I had for this story better. So all you GaaxHina lovers out there, you now have something to look forward to. The new story will be a SasuxHinaxGaa triangle and hopefully it'll be posted pretty soon after this. So stay tuned! And thanks again!

Unfortunately I really jumped the gun with this chapter! Sasuke was not supposed to remember Hinata until a few chapters down the road, and having him do so now is premature, due to my planning for how I want everything to go. Therefore, the ending of this chapter is slightly altered. And Sasuke's still got an attitude, because well, it's necessary. It'll eventually get better, I promise!


Chapter Eleven:

Past Condemnation

The demon studied the Hyuga's blanched face carefully, tails slowly swishing back and forth. "Yes...I know it must be very hard for you to accept. You humans are such fragile creatures after all. But the fact that I'm standing here should be proof enough," the large cat grinned widely.

"H-How...?" was all the Hyuga managed to utter in response.

"Hmm..." the giant feline sat back on its haunches, before slowly relaxing into a more comfortable position, lying on its stomach, paws crossed in front of it neatly. "Well you see, it all started during my first sealing..."

The Hyuga slowly sat, preparing herself to listen to the monster creature's tale. "After the Ten-Tails was split up and we first began to roam free, we were captured by a man named Hashirama Senju, your village's First Hokage. He then used us as bribes, giving us to several of the other villages as gifts to usher them into negotiating peace treaties. I was given to Kumogakure, better known as the Village Hidden in the Clouds." the creature stated, its lips painted into a thin line resembling a scornful frown and the long forked tail flickering slowly.

"T-Then h-how did you end back up in the Hidden Leaf Village?" Hinata found herself asking, a small frown on her full lips as her brow furrowed in deep thought and confusion.

"After the Hokage's death however, the villages control over the beasts started to slip, thus the need for human vessels to contain our immense power and keep us from causing havoc. It took them many years to discover a suitable human to seal me into. Finally, a young girl by the name of Yugito Nii was chosen to serve as my vessel. But the sealing ritual didn't go as expected, they misjudged the power of the seal used to contain me and it was not enough to completely break the flow of my chakra, only sever it. ...Only a fraction of my power was extracted and placed within her, therefore she gained some of my abilities, but was not an actual Jinchuuriki."

"A f-fraction? So...a person can have powers l-like a Jinchuuriki ...b-but not be one? T-Then h-how are you...?"

The Nibi shook its large head, "I was not sealed completely. Still, it was enough to drain a good portion of my chakra, enough that I needed to actually rest to regain my spiritual energy. I cast a genjustu over the humans to make them think I had been fully sealed, then fled, looking for somewhere safe to recover. Eventually I came to a distant land, way south of the Hidden Cloud Village, where ninja were scarcely heard of called Tsukigakure, believed to have been founded in honor of the legendary maiden, Tsukina the moon goddess."

Hinata's eyes widened. She vaguely recalled her mother telling her of such a legend when she was small. The moon goddess was said to be a kind-hearted, beautiful woman born of moon dust. She had all the powers of a deity and all the mysterious charm of a wood nymph. She hardly appeared to mortals anymore, but when she did, it was said to bring peace, fortune, and miracles.

It was also said that she would shine her light down on earth to help guide those lost and alone in the dark to safety. As a young child Hinata had often thought that she sounded like her mother, and came to see her as a sort of guardian angel.

The Nibi continued thoughtfully, "I rested peacefully, until being spotted and recaptured. Ninja from the closest village, which was the Hidden Mist Village, were brought to help reseal me. This time, a young orphaned girl was chosen to be my container. After being successfully sealed into her body, she was taken back to the Mist Village, where ninja could properly monitor her in case she somehow lost control or the seal began to unravel. There, a merchant and his wife took pity on her and decided to raise her as their own. She was given the name 'Hikari' do to her pure nature, and grew into a kind-spirited girl. You remind me of her in many ways; your appearance is almost identical to Hikari's at your age," Nekomata purred, its dark-rimmed eyes crinkled nostalgically.

The Hyuga's eyes widened, and she blushed lightly. She had already guessed as much. She didn't really look like anyone else in her family, so of course she must've inherited most of her traits from her mother.

Then another thought dawned on her, "M-My mother was your old vessel? B-But I w-was told she came from the Leaf Village..."

Nekomata closed its eyes, and began again, "Over time, her parents began traveling, and eventually their travels led them to the Hidden Leaf Village, where they decided to settle down and raise their small family. Hikari was enrolled in the local ninja academy, and graduated shortly afterwards. She was placed on a ninja team with two other genin, both were considered to be unusually gifted shinobi for their age and both came from the same clan. Do you know which clan that was?"

Hinata slowly shook her head; her pale eyes looked too large to fit in her head they were so wide, and she looked as if she were in a trance, listening to the monster cat."It was the Hyuga clan. You see, your mother was placed on a team with Hizashi and Hiashi Hyuga, where she eventually grew to fall in love with the arrogant Hiashi, who she later married. She wasn't originally from Konoha, so no one knew about me, including the Hokage."

The Nibi paused to look at the Hyuga's face, and it grinned happily seeing realization beginning to settle in over her features. "Now do you see where this is going? You were born a few years later, but I remained within your mother until after her death."

Suddenly, it was as if everything made sense. Why her father had always been so cold to her after her mother's death, why the clan shunned her. She felt her chest tighten as her eyes watered unbearably, "...Why d-didn't my f-father ever tell me?" Hinata whimpered, now on the verge of tears as she stared down at her lap. She bit her lip as she tried to repress the quiet sobs desperately attempting to escape her throat. "W-Why...?" she broke down into quiet tears, whimpering every so often.

The Nibi studied her and closed its eyes, smiling sadly. "Hinata...you see your mother loved you dearly, and was willing to do anything to protect you, even at the cost of her own life. Giving birth greatly weakens the seal of a female Jinchuuriki, and in some cases can even be fatal for both mother and child. Having you nearly sent her into a coma, and it took her a great deal of time to recuperate. It was then she discovered that she would most likely not survive her next childbirth. She had the Hokage place a seal on you to transfer my chakra into you when she died so that the Hyuga clan would not be able to use my powers to harm the village, knowing that you would one day lead the clan."

"B-But how did she know to s-seal you within me, and that I wouldn't l-lose control."

The cat purred lightly, placing its head down on its massive paws. "She trusted that with me guiding you in her place, you would grow compassionate and strong and would not become hungry for power. You see she had found out about me at an early age once she'd entered the ninja academy, and we formed a close bond. I gave her my power whenever she needed it and she was able to summon and control large amounts of my chakra at will, making her a very powerful kunoichi and drawing that...bastard's eyes to her." She growled causing the whole ground to shake and Hinata to jump in fear as she felt the spike in chakra and the huge cat's eyes gleamed murderously.

"I told her not to tell him about me but she insisted, saying he ought to know the truth, and that she loved and trusted him. Humph! And look what he did to her? Used her to bear his children and then sacrificed her after he got what he wanted." The cat's lips curled back angrily. "Your father reacted just as I had expected he would, deciding to use my abilities to benefit the Hyuga clan and make it even stronger, treating Hikari like a tool to be used for the clan. He forced her into telling him everything she knew...how my chakra worked, how she could fuse together with me into her ultimate form... That was all he really wanted her for—her power. "

The tears were streaming down the Hyuga's cheeks freely now, as a small flashback from her childhood came into her mind at the Nibi's words.

The young girl was clutching her father's robes tightly, tears streamed down her pale cheeks as she watched the casket being brought into the cold, damp ground. Rubbing at her reddened eyes with the back of a small hand, she looked up to her father, "O-Outosan..." she hiccupped softly, "do you think k-kaasan's watching u-us l-like the moon?"

The Hyuga leader stared down at his young daughter with pale eyes as cold as ice, frowning tightly, he pulled the edge of his traditional black robes from her small fingers, giving her a contemptuous, scornful gaze. "Dry your eyes; tears are a sign of weakness. And if you are ever to be a proper shinobi you must eliminate such useless emotions from your heart."

Hinata did her best to cover her mournful expression; but the more she tried, the harder it seemed and, in the end she gazed down hopelessly, feeling as if a large piece had just been ripped from her heart.

Her father continued to study his offspring. She was nothing like him and it was hard for him to believe she could truly be his daughter, the heiress of the clan. "...Truly, you are your mother's child; you even have the same bleeding heart." He scowled as he said this, obviously not seeing this as a positive trait. "Wipe your eyes and say your last goodbyes, we are leaving soon." She bowed, still sniffling, squeaking out an obedient answer before turning her gaze back to the spot the casket was now buried in, feeling her eyes become moist all over again.

He looked too, feeling only a small pang that quickly vanished as he glanced back down at his daughter, who stood meekly beside him, her head bowed low."Hinata...one day you will learn to harness the power you have been bestowed, and when you do, maybe I will acknowledge you as something more than a failure." he told her.

"And now...the Akatsuki is after the same thing." The cat snarled. "That's why they've brought you here...they figured out that the chakra they extracted before was not enough, and traced the rest back to you. I'm sure they hope that by pushing you to the limit, you'll be forced to call upon my powers and when we fuse together is when they will perform the extraction ceremony."

Hinata suddenly felt dizzy, "W-Whaaat?!" She knew that extracting a demon spirit from someone would almost surely kill them.

"Listen Hinata, I just might have a way for us to survive, but we must work fast. We're running out of time," the Nibi hissed. "But you have to trust me; otherwise it'll all be useless. Can you do that?" it asked, licking its lips.

Hinata stared blankly. Could she? Everything was happening so fast...how could she ever possibly pull herself together in time? But if she didn't...she'd be killed. There was no other option, she decided—she would have to put her faith in the Nibi.

The Hyuga heiress nodded firmly. "Y-Yes, I do. I...I trust you."

"Excellent," the large cat purred, "You've made the right choice kitten." And in the blink of an eye, the same woman from before was standing before her, grinning toothily, "From this moment on, we will start to prepare for the Akatsuki's ritual, and I will train you in how to channel my chakra properly without becoming consumed by it. When the time for the extraction comes, we will be ready..."


The fifth Hokage frowned as she stared at the young man in front of her. The blank onyx eyes remained impassive, his facial expression reading calm as he waited for the woman to begin speaking. "So, how long have your eyes been like this?"

"I'm afraid I don't know what you mean, Hokage-sama."

"It's alright, Itachi. I know all about your real assignment. You don't have to pretend anymore. I forced those old buzzards on the council to show me the files."

If the elder Uchiha was surprised by this information he hid it well, simply closing his eyes in deep contemplation. "I see..."

"But don't worry. Everything's being taken care of. Those fools forget that I hold all the chips in this game." she assured him, "Once I bypass the council's decision as I intend to, I can begin doing tests on your eyes and see about getting your missing-nin status reversed."

A small, wry smirk graced the Uchiha's lips, "That's unnecessary Hokage-sama. There's no need to burden yourself with such trivial matters."

The Hokage's amber eyes widened, unable to believe what she was hearing, "What do you mean 'trivial'? Are you saying that you don't care if your name gets cleared or not? Don't you get it? You'll finally be a free man, Itachi!" she stood up from her desk and leaned forward to look the Uchiha straight in the eyes.

"Perhaps, but regardless of whether or not I am pardoned by the village, what's been done already cannot be erased. My eyesight is simply the price paid for my sins."

"Itachi, acting under the orders of your superiors does not make you a criminal, nor does it make you responsible for the things you did during your time away from Konoha. If anything, your actions undoubtedly saved this village, and your sacrifice should be honored."

"Your cause is noble, Hokage-sama, and I am very grateful, but we both know the truth. With my eyesight as it is, my career as a shinobi is coming to a close. There is no more use for me now; I have served my purpose, and am contented to remain as I am now, peacefully resting here. It matters not under what ranking I fall."

The Hokage placed both hands on her hips, huffing in exasperation. "You Uchiha truly are a stubborn breed, I'll give you that." she declared, "But...I've already decided what actions to take in the matter, regardless of your apathetic attitude and your satisfaction to remain trapped. This was my way of giving you a chance to hear the plan before it's put into action."

The Uchiha couldn't help but let a hollow chuckle escape his lips at this. "I admire your persistence, Hokage-sama. I suppose I have no choice but to comply then."

The Hokage looked quite pleased at hearing this, sitting back down and pulling her chair back up to the desk again. She daintily smoothed a few creases from her shirt and neatly laced her hands together in front of her, her demeanor seeming to have changed completely. "Good. Then after I bypass the council's decision like I intend to, I'll start examining your eyes at the soonest possible convenience. Of course... there are still quite a few things I'd like to ask you but, for now, tell me this— after all this time, what made you hold on to your alliance with Konoha? Surely, the thought of double-crossing the village must have passed through your mind." The legendary kunoichi drummed on her desk with her fingernails as she awaited an answer.

A thin smirk graced the Uchiha's lips, and for a brief moment, his dull eyes flickered almost nostalgically. "...No. I would never betray the village— I made a promise."

The teenage boy stared up at the sky in deep contemplation. The day had finally arrived... The final assignment he would carry out as a shinobi of the Leaf. He had known what he was expected to do for some time now, and he also knew the consequences of going against his superior's orders. He knew he couldn't risk it. Not with the stakes as high as they were.

"Itachi-kun!" a young voice called out, breaking through his train of thought. Without turning, he already knew who had called to him, and a small, sad smile pulled at his lips.

If only there was another way... but that was all wistful wishing at this point.

He turned to greet the child as she ran to meet him, dressed in her training clothes from the academy. "Hello Hinata-chan," he greeted politely, smiling down at her usual cheerfulness. He vaguely noted that his younger brother wasn't with her, and thought to question this.

Ever since meeting her father, he had permitted her to walk home with Sasuke on occasion, Itachi sometimes picking them up when he wasn't away on a mission.

"Where is my otouto?" he asked, a small flicker of curiosity in his voice. She looked down at her sandaled feet, shuffling them to and fro.

"H-He's staying after. He...g-got in another f-fight with N-Naruto-kun..." she replied nervously, biting her lip.

A thin smile formed on the Uchiha's lips and he nodded in understanding. His brother had taken up a fierce rivalry with the academy's troublemaker, the small Jinchuuriki boy, Uzumaki Naruto.

Often he would come home with small scrapes and bruises, glaring fiercely and muttering about an annoying blond "dobe", to which his mother would simply chuckle, and his brother would smirk.

Itachi thought this was good for Sasuke, keeping him on his toes and distracting him from his constant disappointment, at not being able to train with his older brother.

He didn't notice that she was studying him carefully, her innocent eyes gleaming, "What's wrong Itachi-kun?" she asked, taking him by surprise slightly, though his face remained calm.

"What do you mean?" he asked kindly, kneeling so that he was on eye-level with the young child.

"Your eyes...look so sad..." she whispered frowning, lightly reaching out a small hand to touch his face.

He smiled gently, placing his larger hand on top of hers. "Nothing escapes you does it Hinata-chan?" he placed his other hand on top of her small head and softly stroked the short hair, "I'll be gone away on a mission starting today." he told her, fighting back a smile as she pouted up at him, her large eyes glistening.

"W-When will you be back?" she asked softly.

He closed his eyes with a soft sigh, "I don't know."

Even without looking, he could imagine the crestfallen look on her round face, and the thought of the words he didn't speak made the heaviness in his chest that much worse. 'I'm sorry little one, but I have to leave you behind. I doubt our paths will ever cross again, though it's probably for the best they don't.'

He heard her gasp quietly, and when he looked up at her face again, he wasn't too surprised to see liquid welled up at the corners of her innocent eyes, threatening to spill over.

If it had been any other time he would've patted her head in pride at her bravery as she tried her best not to let her emotions escape, though it was painfully obvious how she felt underneath.

His hand still placed over the one on his cheek, he gently lifted his other to brush his thumb over the corners of her eyes, wiping away the barely trickling liquid. "It's alright Hinata-hime." he murmured comfortingly.

She looked up at him through her long lashes, a few stray drops hanging from them, and before he could blink she had latched herself securely to his body, clinging to him as if for dear life. He held her in silence as he felt her smaller form shuddering, the sobs she refused to release racking her shoulders heavily.

He continued to whisper words of comfort in her ear as she let out everything she was feeling at the moment. After twenty more minutes of silent shudders, she slowly squirmed her way from his arms, her face flushed brightly in embarrassment and her large eyes puffy and red.

Wet trails lingered on her round cheeks, and her nose was a light pink as she sniffled cutely. "G-Gomen..." she whispered, to the point of being barely audible. But the Uchiha heard all the same, and placed a comforting hand atop her little head.

"It's alright, there's no need to apologize. I'm the one that should be apologizing for having to leave you." he told her calmly.

"N-No!" she shook her head vigorously, her reddened eyes wide with shock. "I...I know i-it's y-your duty. O-one day...I'll b-be able to go on missions too," she smiled brightly up at him, despite her sorrow a few minutes earlier.

Itachi stared at her blankly, his face not portraying any of the turmoil and anguish he was experiencing inside. Oh, how he wished he could stay. What he would give not to have to leave his brother and the little Hyuga heiress he'd grown so fond of behind.

But deep down he knew there was no room for thoughts like these at a time like this. He had agreed to take on this assignment and he couldn't back out now. The weight of the entire village literally rested on his shoulders. He wasn't just doing this to eliminate a threat; he was doing it for them, to give them a better future.

"Hinata...I wouldn't wish a burden such as mine on anyone, least of all you." he spoke so solemnly, that for a minute, a cold chill ran up her spine and her blood seemed to have frozen in her veins. Then, he sighed, shaking his head lightly, his eyes closing again in deep contemplation. "I sincerely hope you won't be forced to become as cold-hearted and selfish as I am."

Hinata couldn't help the choked gasp as the words stung painfully at her heart. Itachi...selfish and cold-hearted? How could he ever think such a thing! He was undoubtedly one of the least selfish people she had ever known, and he had no idea how much his strength inspired her to do better.

"N-No..." she shook her head back and forth almost violently, fresh tears starting to sting at her already swollen eyes. "Y-you're wrong, Itachi-kun. Y-y-you're wrong..." she sniffled. "Y-you're not s-selfish a-at all...I...think you're a-an amazingly k-kind person, s-so please...d-don't say t-things t-that hurt so much in h-here..." she placed a hand on her chest right over where her heart was located, looking up at him with tears shimmering in her pale orbs sadly.

Itachi stared back, the fierce amount of emotion he felt almost enough to make him crack completely. They stayed in a heavy silence, before the Uchiha prodigy spoke up, "Hinata...I ask that you pardon me for placing such a heavy on you, but if there's time left for one last request, there's something I'd like you to do for me."

She wiped at her now extremely puffy eyes with the back of her shirt sleeve, sniffling dryly. "W-What is it, I-Itachi-kun?"

"Take care of yourself and Sasuke. Make sure that he stays focused and out of trouble." he said, and she shivered at the amount of seriousness in his eyes before nodding.

"Y-Yes!"

His eyes seemed to be focused on something distant as he continued to speak in the cold, monotonous tone she'd only heard him use once since they'd met. "...While I'm being selfish and pushing these requests on you... I want you to keep striving for your goals, and never lose sight of your light."

She swallowed hard, but agreed all the same. If there was one thing she'd learned since meeting Sasuke and Itachi, it was how to be passionate about making her goals a reality.

"The final thing I want you to remember...is that you don't have to forgive me, but forgive everything else."

She blinked at him curiously, her brow furrowed in confusion. "I-Itachi-kun?"

He stood up abruptly, gazing off toward the direction of the Uchiha compounds before glancing back down at her. "I have to go now. But don't forget what I've told you." he eyed her sternly for the first time.

She looked to him hesitantly, not liking this strange behavior he was showing."I..." the words faded, not knowing what to say.

"You may not understand everything I've said now, but I'm sure you will one day." He patted her head fondly, for what he knew would possibly be the last time.

The thought made his gaze soften ever so slightly as a tender look replaced the steely one for a second. However it quickly returned before the Hyuga could notice this.

He turned away from her, knowing that the moment he left, everything in both their lives would be changed forever. He was just about to leave, when he felt a light tug at his wrist, and looked down to see Hinata looking up at him with big doe-eyes. "I-Itachi-kun...y-you w-won't forget me, right?" she asked desperately, not knowing if she could stand to hear the answer.

She stared down at the ground, and he at her head, before she felt herself being lifted up suddenly. She squeaked in surprise, placing both hands against the firm chest as a warm blush settled on her cheeks.

She turned her head, just in time to see the Uchiha heir looking deeply into her eyes, causing her face to darken considerably. He placed his forehead against hers softly, never wanting to let go. "No... never." he said at last, and Hinata gasped as she felt a warm tingling sensation on her forehead as he gave her a chaste kiss before putting her back on her feet.

He turned away from her once again, his figure stiff as he walked toward the Uchiha district without a second glance in her direction. Hinata stood frozen in place, unable to move.

Her hand was placed in the spot his lips had been and her cheeks were a flaming red in color. A soft wind rustled her hair as she gazed dazedly after his retreating back. 'Itachi-kun...'

:~XoXoXoX~:

Konoha: Several hours earlier…

The black-haired woman kept a stern face as she walked through the village, all the while inwardly preparing herself as she continued toward her destination. She walked through the crowded main streets of the village, always lively and bustling with business.

Every so often someone would call out to her in friendly greeting, or a group of children would dart by chasing after their ball or a runaway pet. She easily used her skills in concentration to tune out her surroundings, though her senses remained on high alert as she braced herself for what lie ahead.

She sighed, blankly watching a young boy snatch a piece of fruit from the cart of a grocery vender while the man's back was turned, only to trip and stumble over a stray rock, losing his balance and dropping the fruit in the process.

At this point the vender had turned around, only to spot the bumbling little thief, and was swiftly approaching the boy, his expression clearly livid.

He proceeded to lift the scruffy little boy up by the front of his shirt, while he cringed away in fear. The jonin sighed, approaching the man.

She didn't like to get involved with civilian issues, but settling minor disputes and maintaining balance and order in the village was part of a shinobi's job too, right?

"Tryin' to get away without payin', eh?" he sneered at the child, eyes narrowed. "You know what we do with thieves around here, sonny?"

The boy gave a shaky gulp, his eyes wide with fear, "B-But…I was just trying to get something to eat for my little sister…w-we're orphans and—"

"I don't care what your excuse is," the man literally spat. "I don't tolerate thieves, no matter who they are!"

"I—"

"Shut it you little punk!" the man raised his free hand as if ready to swing, and the boy closed his eyes, preparing for the hit. But instead all he felt was air.

He opened his eyes with a gasp to see the man's fist caught in the grip of an unfamiliar dark-haired woman with piercing red eyes and a tight-lipped expression aimed toward his assailant.

"W-Wha…?!" the man gaped, looking just as surprised as he was and loosening his grip enough for the boy to wiggle free, which he did quickly, falling with a short "oomph" and scooting backward further out of the man's reach.

"Surely, with as much fruit as your cart sells throughout the course of a day, one melon wouldn't be too hefty a loss?" she spoke, her voice sounding low and dark, causing the man to cringe visibly.

Sweat began trickling at the back of his neck as she fixed him with her sharp gaze and he tried to come up with a plausible excuse to defend himself, "B-But anyone who doesn't pay is a thief. And by stealing from my cart, they're weakening the economy of the village's venders. If everyone were allowed to take what they wanted without paying, there'd be no profit to be made at all!"

Kurenai shot the man an exasperated look, clearly not impressed by his dramatic display. "Fine, then. If this child has truly offended you so much I'll pay you back however much was stolen, and you can go about your business sensibly. However, if I ever see you attempt to strike this child or any other citizen without proper cause, I'll report it to the Hokage and let her decide what should be done with you, understood?"

The man grunted, snatching the coins she handed him before walking off, muttering bitterly under his breath. She watched him leave before her gaze fell back on the small child, who was still cowering on the ground, wide eyes focused directly on her. "A-Are you g-gonna turn me into the H-Hokage?" he asked fearfully, his round orbs desperate and pleading.

She gave him a small, reassuring smile, sighing softly. "No... I don't see any reason to since I don't think you're really a threat." She offered him a hand, and he took it slowly. He dusted himself off, and she handed him the fruit that he had dropped in his haste. "But tell me...why did you go through so much trouble for one piece of fruit? Surely you must have some other means of obtaining food then by stealing."

The boy stared down at his feet, unable to meet her calm gaze, and swallowed hard, a warm blush covering his dirty cheeks. "Um...w-well the thing is...me and my sister live at the orphanage. B-But...they don't give us very much to eat, a-and sometimes we have to go hungry. I just w-wanted to make sure she had enough to eat, since she's been sick lately..." he trailed off, still not meeting the woman's gentle gaze.

"Ah, so you're trying to provide for your sister." she nodded calmly, "That must be very hard, especially for someone as young as yourself."

"Y-Yeah...when I get older, I'm gonna join the ninja academy and become a ninja, then we'll be able to buy everything we need!" he exclaimed.

Kurenai smiled at the little boy, sensing that he had a strong will and a pure heart. Something suddenly caught her eye, and she glanced to the side to see a small figure hunched behind a corner, peeking at them nervously.

"N-nii-san?" a tiny voice whispered, though the boy seemed to hear it anyway, and his face instantly perked up.

"Nana-chan?" he asked, looking around, finally spotting the person hiding behind a nearby wall. "It's ok, you can come out," he grinned, holding out his hand.

Kurenai watched as a small girl slowly stepped out of the corner. She was considerably smaller than most children her age, with dull green eyes and dirty, brown hair, looking extremely thin and frail. She ran over to them, grasping onto the boy's hand as if for dear life. "What are you doing here Nana-chan? I thought I told you to wait for me back at the orphanage," he questioned.

She stared at the ground, a small frown on her pale face as she mumbled, "I...I got scared when you didn't come back...so I snuck o-out to come look for you. But then I saw that mean man grab you and hid behind the wall. I'm s-sorry I didn't help you!"

He patted her head, still grinning. "It's ok, Nana-chan. I'm not mad; I wouldn't want you to get hurt for me anyway. Besides, this nice lady helped me out, so I'm fine."

And Kurenai watched as the little girl seemed to notice her presence for the first time, "O-Oh! Sorry miss...thank you for helping my brother." she bowed shyly.

"It's no problem, and you're welcome." She chuckled softly.

"C'mon Nana-chan, we need to get back before they notice we're gone." The boy said. "Thanks again for all your help, miss." He said, smiling gratefully up at the woman one more time before leading his sister home.

She watched them go off together, hand in hand, and couldn't help the small smile that curved her lips. No matter how tough she was as a kunoichi, she had secretly always had a soft spot for children. That was probably the main reason why she became a teacher and why the Hokage had asked her specifically to do this…task. She sighed yet again, thinking back to the conversation they'd had earlier.

"Kurenai, I need you to go to the Hyuga compound and explain the situation to the clan head. My patience is already running thin and I don't have the energy to deal with that man now." The Hokage growled, slowly massaging her temples. "As Hinata's mentor maybe you could speak to him on terms even someone as terse as him could understand."

The raven-haired woman's eyes narrowed sharply as she assessed the situation, knowing what the Hokage was implying. She nodded slowly, already perceiving what she had to do. "Understood," she replied.

Even before the young Hyuga heiress had graduated the academy, Hiashi had already instructed her to oversee his daughter's training regimen. And so, Kurenai had worked with Hinata rigorously, never hesitating to scold the girl whenever she faltered or didn't perform to the best of her abilities.

Despite this, Kurenai did genuinely care for the Hyuga heiress, and only pushed her to such extremes because she knew that improving was the only way for Hinata to gain the respect of her father and the clan.

A leader needed to be able to show that they were capable of providing for and protecting their people and Hinata would have to learn many things before she was ready to fulfill her duties as heiress. And even though most underestimated the Hyuga and thought she was much too weak and soft-hearted, she possessed a power far greater than even the Hokage's if used correctly.

Her eyes glazed over as she stopped in front of the compound's entrance, her muscles tensing slightly as she stepped in. It was exactly as it had been the last time, she noted, walking until she found the house she was looking for.

She knocked twice, and the door was opened to reveal a meek looking man, a Branch family member, she decided, before stating her business. He nodded, ushering her in as he went to seek out the head of clan.

She was led to a paper door, where she bowed to the branch member as he departed, knocking once on the door and kneeling before it in respect. "Come in,"

She stood and entered into the room, noting the traditional design of the room's interior, as expected from the Hyuga. At a table near the center of the sparsely decorated, Hyuga Hiashi kneeled on a tatami mat, sipping his afternoon tea calmly. He eyed her intently as his pale eyes landed on her, and nodding courteously for her to join him, "Ah, Kurenai-san. To what do I owe the pleasure?"

"Hiashi-san," she bowed before being seated on the mat across from him at the table. "I've come on important business by request of the Hokage herself." she told him bluntly, knowing it was best to be straightforward.

He nodded once curtly, a thoughtful look taking over his stern features as he had a branch servant summoned to bring the jonin a cup of steaming hot tea. She accepted the drink politely, staring into the dark liquid of her mug.

"Oh? Has it something to do with my elder daughter perhaps? I hope she hasn't been causing Hokage-sama any trouble. She's always been a rather impertinent child, I'm afraid."

Kurenai's sharp crimson eyes stared straight into the Hyuga leader's eyes at the disdainful words, as she barely managed to suppress the urge to lash out at the man's unsympathetic attitude toward his own daughter's situation.

She knew how hard Hinata had been trying to improve her skills in the hopes of gaining recognition from her peers and especially to catch her father's eyes. Yet still the man refused to even grant her that small reprieve, always turning a blind eye to her achievements in favor of picking at every flaw he found instead.

"Hiashi-san, your daughter, Hinata, has been missing for nearly forty-eight hours, and it's believed to be the work of one of the village's enemies. Possibly a foe dangerous enough to rival Orochimaru himself." Kurenai spoke through pursed lips, her eyes hardened as she focused on the impassive face of the older man before her. He calmly took another sip of steaming tea, placing the cup back down on the table and looking thoughtful.

"And how does the Hokage know it's not simply a ruse of my daughter's to draw attention. As needy and desperate to please as she is, it's not beyond the realm of possibility, Kurenai-san."

The jonin struggled to keep her temper under control as her irritation at this clearly apathetic man reached an all time high.

"Evidence of a struggle involving Hinata was found shortly after her disappearance, and an enemy spy has been apprehended. He's currently being interrogated by Ibiki-san, but we believe it's someone else who used the diversion to take Hinata in the confusion."

"And who, might I ask, would find my worthless daughter a suitable captive? Unless they were trying to exploit some secret of the Byakugan, and then I suppose her weakness would be a momentous stroke of luck."

"Hiashi-san, do you not understand the severity of the situation? Your daughter has been taken prisoner. Tsunade-sama believes it could very well be the work of Akatsuki, though their motives remain as much a mystery as always. This matter is in no way to be taken lightly. You and I both know the most likely reason for Hinata's abduction, and it is in no way relating solely to the abilities of the Byakugan this time." Kurenai's eyes were as cold as they'd ever been, like darkly glittering rubies.

"That would be the very least of the village's problems at this point. A team of ANBU and some of the finest tracking squads Konoha has available have been dispersed to search for clues and possibly track down any news of a holding location, or even her actual whereabouts. The Hokage has declared a low-level state of emergency for the time being, though she hasn't publically announced anything for fear of worrying the civilians. But she's thinking of contacting some of the village's allies to be on the lookout for suspicious movement near the borders just in case." She finished, making sure to give the gravity of the situation time to sink in.

The Hyuga leader studied the sharply defiant look of the woman before him, his jaw clenching tightly before he spoke, "Kurenai-san...you've looked after my daughter for all these years, no matter how much of a hindrance she was, and I appreciate that. But if you're in anyway implying what I think you are, I believe that this time, you may be overstepping your boundaries."

Kurenai rose at this, her ruby eyes blazing, "Overstepping boundaries! Hiashi-san, this isn't "simply about the clan anymore. It's about doing what's right for Hinata, and the village. I've been compliant all this time and risked my position as a shinobi of this village in the process, all for the sake of satisfying your personal agenda and keeping Hinata safe. But now I refuse to stand by and let you use Hinata as a pawn anymore! Can't you see it's your daughter who's truly been suffering all this time?! When are you going to put your own interests aside in favor of doing what's best for her?

"Isn't it time you started paying attention to Hinata and actively guiding her? If you want her to be a strong heiress that's capable of one day leading this clan to a better, more promising future, it's your job to encourage and support her. Living with such a curse and not even being told of it...how can you call yourself a father?!" Kurenai felt all her frustration and outrage at the situation pouring out in one heart-felt speech.

She watched as the man visibly drew back, clearly not expecting this reaction from the normally obedient jonin.

"Kurenai-san," the Hyuga leader stated through clenched teeth. "Hinata's condition, in its severity, was one I swore to her mother to protect at any cost. My methods might not always have been for the best in terms of Hinata's mental and emotional wellbeing, but make no mistake that everything I did, I did with the thought of protecting this village from further travesty in mind. Even if it meant subjecting my daughter to the harshest and most sheltered upbringing possible." He stood slowly, his face once again emotionless. "Now if you'll excuse me, I believe this discussion is over."

Neither had noticed the young boy whose presence had been concealed in the hall time as he stood silently with his back pressed against the cool wood, his mouth wide open with astonishment. 'No…way…n-no way. I have to find Hanabi!' he scrambled away from the wall and stumbled down the hall to find his friend, who he figured would probably be training somewhere on the grounds.


The young Uchiha pumped chakra into his fist, cleanly slicing through the boulder as the strike made contact with the rock. Seconds later, it completely crumbled into pieces, and Sasuke panted slightly, slouching down against a tree after releasing some of his pent-up frustration.

Lately, he'd been having dreams. Probably more than he'd ever had before in his life. Visions of his last battle with Itachi, memories of the times when the clan was still alive, and a hauntingly familiar girl whose face was always hidden in shadow flashed through his mind all but constantly.

It was obvious his subconscious had been trying to tell him something, and the perplexing thoughts were beginning to get to him. Sure, there were times when frustration caused by feelings of inadequacy, loneliness, and bitterness caused him to lash out in blind fury, but somehow, this time was different.

He was thinking of the past more than he should be at this point, and as much as he knew now in comparison to before, so many unsolved new questions were weighing in his head. As he sat in deep meditation, hoping to uncover something significant and find the source of his inner turmoil, he felt something cold and wet hit his head. Tilting his eyes upward, he looked at the slightly overcast sky and the clouds stretched across its boundaries, barely visible through the forest treetops.

It seemed to have grown dark suddenly, as if clouds had completely enveloped the sun, and he was instantly struck with a very ominous feeling that made his gut wrench in apprehension, something he hadn't felt in a while.

A very distinctive memory unexpectedly came to mind, and he found himself thinking back to his childhood, during the first week after his clan had been murdered.

It had only been three days since the tragedy of the Uchiha clan massacre, and Konoha was still reeling in shock. The thought that an entire clan, one of the most powerful families of elite ninja in the village, could be all but wiped out in one night, was astounding.

And the ominous truth that the perpetrator had been one of their own, an incredibly gifted young shinobi with a promising future, was even more unbelievable. No one seemed to be able to come up with a clear motive, and on the day of the grouped funerals, a large mass of both citizens and shinobi alike had gathered to mourn the loss.

Everyone had stood solemnly, heads bowed in respect and backs straight as they paid their final tributes to the souls of those lost in the mass slaughtering. Near the very front, closest to the row of pictures of the departed and candles, the Hokage stood watching over the ceremony, a young boy beside him, head bowed and dark bangs falling in his face.

The Hokage knew that no one in the village was suffering more than him. Physically, the boy had only suffered minor injuries at best, he had a few bruises on his arms and legs and there was a piece of gauze held in place by bandages on his left cheek where he'd had a deep cut. But mentally and emotionally, he'd been deeply traumatized, the loss of his entire family in half a night devastating him to the core.

The young Uchiha could barely keep his knees from knocking together and giving out under him as the funeral proceeded and they lit each candle one by one in honor of each life lost, all people he'd known well and held so dear, all family.

Aunts, uncles, cousins, parents... a bitter taste rose in the back of his throat as they lit the two candles closest to the pictures of his parents. Throughout the entire procession, he'd been continuously wiping at his eyes with the back of his sleeve, desperately trying to erase the evidence of any liquid having ever been there, afraid such an act of emotion would be shameful to their memories and everyone watching.

He bit down on his bottom lips to keep any sound from escaping his mouth, closing his eyes tightly and clenching his fists. The Hokage glanced down at the boy, noticing his tensed body language, his eyes softening into a look of sympathy for this poor boy, who was now all alone. "Sasuke," he called quietly.

The boy's eyes instantly shot open, his round orbs wide and his expression that of a terrified and cornered wild animal. "H-Huh?" he looked up to meet eyes with the Hokage, wincing at the old man's kind look and turning away in shame.

"It's alright to mourn them." he looked down at the boy through the brim of his wide hat and placed a comforting hand on his black-clothed shoulder. "No matter how strong we are, we're all capable of feeling the same pain. When you weep the village weeps with you. And even though I know you're still filled with pain and loneliness, just know that everyone will always be here whenever you need someone to listen, including myself." Sasuke hesitantly looked up as the older man pulled him closer in a condoling hug.

This time when their gazes met, Sasuke didn't try to look away, and before he could stop himself, he had buried his face into the old man's robes and was crying uncontrollably, tears streaming down his face like a torrent as everything he'd held inside the past few days came bursting out.

A few days later, Sasuke sat in class at the academy, only half listening to Iruka-sensei's lecture as Itachi's words resonated inside his head. He remembered with bitterness and betrayal the face of the one he'd once admired and adored so strongly—his brother.

His former idol had now become the man he'd sworn to kill at all costs. His dark eyes narrowed angrily as he thought of him. 'Itachi...' he thought maliciously. 'I will beat you...I will find you and avenge them!'

He was so engrossed in his thoughts he almost hadn't noticed when class ended for lunch and everyone stampeded out of the classroom, with the exception of a few stragglers, including a lazy boy named Nara Shikamaru who'd fallen asleep sometime during the course of the lesson, some loud-mouthed blond boy that was always starting trouble and had to stay behind for being late and goofing off during the lesson, himself and lastly...from the corner of his eye he noticed a timid girl standing in the aisle across from his, her bento box held tightly in both hands and her eyes trained on the ground.

She seemed to be debating with herself over something when she looked up to see him staring right at her. Her face flushed warmly and she gave him a shy smile stepping forward little by little in an attempt to reach him.

He studied her with a blank face, normally he would've gone rushing to her as soon as the lunch bell sounded, grinning from ear to ear and pulling her outside to eat in their special spot, where they sat every day near the playground.

He had noticed her sending him nervous glances several times throughout the course of the class, and it seemed like she'd been about to approach him earlier before class started when his fan club had suddenly came barging in, headed of course by Ino and Sakura.

He'd seen her shortly after the funeral too, when he'd been aimlessly wondering, trying to avoid going back to what should have been a warm and loving home where the porch-lights were always on and his mother's delicious cooking could always be smelt wafting out through the window.

Now it was just a dark place full of nameless shadows and bad memories, somewhere he had no desire to rush back to. She hadn't seen him then, though, as he'd quickly turned a corner in the opposite direction before she could spot him. He was sure she knew; everyone did.

He didn't want to see her face—a look of sorrow and pity like all the others'. He didn't want his only remaining friend to see him suffering. So he'd avoided her for the last day or so, and now, they'd made direct eye contact. And he noticed the look of genuine concern and deeply felt pain on her face.

He felt something in his heart stir, an emotion he couldn't describe, but eased slowly the pain away all the same. For a minute, Sasuke almost crumbled, almost broke down and ran to her, wanting to tell her all his worries, all his nightmares, wanting to share with her the message Itachi had last given him before departing, and ask her for reassurance, some form of comfort.

But he couldn't. He couldn't allow himself to get her involved. She deserved better. It'd probably be best for the both of them if she forgot about him and made new friends. Besides, if he was going to become strong enough to hunt down Itachi, he couldn't let old bonds tie him down.

Having her around, relying on her for comfort, continuing to play together like they used to, before his world shattered, would only make him weak. She would only get in the way of his ultimate goal, probably getting hurt in the process.

He turned away from her abruptly and stood up, gathering his poorly made attempt at a home-cooked lunch. His mother had always prepared all his meals, always adding something extra like tomato slices to the food, as a way of showing a special touch.

Sometimes, if his mother was busy or hadn't bought groceries yet, Hinata would graciously share her own meal with him, giving him half of everything she packed, and allowing him to finish her portion as well when he was still hungry.

But that was all gone. He had managed to burn the rice he'd tried to make, his attempt at curry was a disaster, and he'd eaten the last of the tomatoes from his kitchen late last night.

Now all he had was a piece of crab bread, some pocky he'd been hiding in his room, and a small cup of sweet bean soup he'd bought on his way to school that morning...which had mostly spilled when a fumbling drunk had knocked him down. What was left of it was ice cold.

The only money he had was the remains of his last allowance, which wasn't nearly enough to buy anything decent to last him more than two days, and since he couldn't go on missions, he would have to wait until the Hokage gave him his monthly allowance...which would be in another four more days.

He couldn't rely on anyone else anymore, so starting today he would have to rely only on himself... he exited from the row, trying to avoid making eye contact with the Hyuga heiress who was standing near the bottom of the stairs, apparently waiting for a chance to talk to him.

Her heart quickened as he neared her, and her face was heating up gradually. She opened her mouth, "S-Sasu..." she felt someone brush by, and realizing her head had been bowed.

She glanced up just in time to see the back of a dark shirt with an infamous red and white fan in the middle as it disappeared into the hallway. She stared after him, her eyes large and her expression clearly showing confusion. He hadn't acknowledged her at all...he'd walked past her like she wasn't even there.

She lowered her raised hands, her arms outstretched as she prepared to offer him the bento box she'd made especially for him, having remembered everything he liked to eat and staying up last night until she'd been able to make the food successfully, making especially sure to include fried green tomatoes as he'd liked them so much before the last time she'd brought some.

It was the first time her attempts at making box lunch by herself had actually proved fruitful and she'd wanted him to have it...but maybe he'd only been in a hurry because he was hungry and wanted to find somewhere to eat before all the best spots were taken? Maybe she could still give it to him if she went now?

But for the rest of the lunch period...and the rest of day, he had avoided her, leaving the young heiress thoroughly confused and quite down.

She had tried again for many days after that, with all the same results. Each day she brought him lunch, in the hope that she might finally get the chance to ask him what was wrong and offer it to him.

One day, she had managed to stand squarely between him and the door, so that the only way out of the classroom was directly by her. He had shot her an annoyed look, trying to side-step her as always, but Hinata had stood firm.

After several minutes of exasperation, Sasuke had finally lowered his eyes so he was glaring up at her through bangs that hadn't had a decent trim in over a month, making him look all the more intimidating.

She was shocked to say the least, since Sasuke had never shown so much as a sign of disapproval toward her in any form since they'd met. "Move," he growled menacingly, and Hinata couldn't help but step back slightly at the icy stare he gave her.

She swallowed up her anxiety, quickly, mentally shaking her head. This was one of her best friends, and he was obviously going through a rough time. Whether he knew it or not, he needed her, and she wasn't going to let him down. She would keep her promise...

"S-Sasuke-kun...you haven't said a word to me in almost a week...what's wrong?"

The Uchiha looked into her round lavender eyes, and his chest clenched tightly. A sinister feeling of anger came bubbling up, and before he knew it he had lashed out. "Nothing's wrong. I don't need you sticking your nose in my business so back off and butt out." he smirked coldly at her.

Hinata stared at him, her mouth open in shock and her hands, holding a blue bento box, trembling violently. "I said move, Hyuga." he spat, noticing her frozen expression.

He took this to his advantage and this time she didn't offer any resistance when he pushed by her. The Uchiha willed himself not to look back as he ran down the hallway, immense guilt stabbing him in the chest.

He didn't notice the heartbroken expression on Hinata's face or the spilled bento on the floor she'd dropped accidentally as she'd ran in the opposite direction, tears streaming from her eyes.

:~No One's POV~:

Hinata ran into the courtyard, brushing clumsily past the playing groups of children and not even realizing where she was going until she collided with something solid. She felt back with a gasp, and heard a low grunt from the thing she'd ran into. She looked up only to see a whiskered blond boy rubbing his head, his eyes closed in an almost fox-like manner.

"Ouch! Hey, watch where you're going!" he snapped immediately, before opening his eyes to glare at the trembling girl.

Sparkling tears still streaming freely down her face, she stared in shock. Blond hair...whisker marks...and the most beautiful pair of ocean blue eyes she'd ever seen. Then, it dawned on her. Uzumaki Naruto, the class clown and laughing stock of the academy, considered the dead last in every way possible—a virtual nobody.

She had noticed him on the first day of academy, because of his undaunted spirit and boisterous attitude. Recently, he had also become Sasuke's self-proclaimed rival, though the young Uchiha seemed annoyed by the boy more so than worried of him actually surpassing him.

The blond stared into the large lavender eyes of the crying girl, blinking, and thought of only one thing: this girl was weird. She had run into him, and now she was crying; plus, she had the weirdest eyes he'd ever seen, and her hair was cut like a boy's. Weren't girls supposed to have really cute hairdos, like the little pinkette he'd recently become smitten with?

He watched, confused, as the girl quickly apologized to him before running past him.

That night, Hinata returned home, heading toward her father's study to ask him about training with her more often, hoping the extra distraction would take her mind off Sasuke. She had been prepared to state her arrival, when she'd heard low voices coming from behind the screen door, one of them she'd immediately been able to identify as her father's, and the other an unnamed person.

"I'm counting on you to train my daughter...and guard the secret of the Hyuga's until your dying day. The future of this village depends on it."

"Yes, Hiashi-sama, I know. I assure you Hinata will be in excellent care."

"Very well. Hinata, come in now." she jumped, startled as her father barked the order. So he had known she was there all along! She quickly scrambled in and bowed before her father and the unfamiliar woman he'd been talking to.

"G-Gomennasai f-father...I...I didn't want to intrude." she mumbled stiffly.

"Hinata, stand up. This is Kurenai, she is a master in genjustu, and will be overseeing your training from now on. Do your best not to be a burden to her." he explained, before leaving abruptly.

Hinata studied the woman, noticing she was young, maybe only in her late teen's. She wore a Chuunin vest, and held a wise look in her ruby eyes. Hinata faltered slightly before that all-knowing gaze as the woman silently assessed her.

"Hinata," she spoke, her voice rich and alluring, making Hinata flinch. "Don't worry, I'll train you to become the toast of the clan." she held out a hand, her features suddenly going from stern, to a kind, motherly look. "I know you want your father's recognition, and I know you have more potential than your family realizes." Hesitantly, the little girl stepped forward, studying the woman's soft smile as she let the words sink in. Gingerly, she placed her small hand in the outstretched palm, and Kurenai's eyes grew brighter as she clenched the tiny hand firmly in hers.

That was the day Hinata had vowed to herself to catch up to Sasuke, prove herself as the heiress and become strong enough to protect everything dear to her. That was the day she started down the path to becoming a kunoichi.

:~XoXoXoX~:

By the time Sasuke's mind had finally come back to the present, it had began to drizzle lightly, the raindrops falling on his face and wetting his spiky hair, making it slightly matted. His eyes were unfocused as realization struck him hard.

He stood just as the low rumble of thunder came in to the background. "Hinata..." he whispered, his voice full of emotion. Shock, regret, pleasure, anger, confusion... Memories of the shy girl with the choppy haircut and the cloudy eyes suddenly flooded his mind.

'Was that some kind of genjutsu? No way I'd forget a whole part of my memories like that.' Frustration made his eyes flash crimson, before he quickly deactivated them in the interest of conserving chakra. Someone had been tampering with his mind, altering his memories. He didn't understand why it was those memories, but it didn't matter. No one messed around with his head. The mission to rescue the Hyuga heiress suddenly had a whole new level of meaning.


"Hyuga-san, I need you to come with me now." a feminine voice commanded calmly. Without another word the Hyuga stood, inwardly trembling, but outwardly trying to appear as composed as her captor.

She could almost see her reflection in those vivid blue eyes, and marveled at the way she moved so gracefully as the blue-haired kunoichi spun around on her heel, cloak swishing slightly behind her, no doubt expecting the Hyuga to follow.

She did, for fear of punishment from the cruel pierced man, who had already proven that his leniency had its limits, and that he was not above inflicting torture to attain what he desired.

Unfortunately for the kidnapped heiress, he seemed to have become interested in her eyes as of late, or more specifically something to do with the rare bloodline they possessed. She supposed this was legitimate enough reason to hold her captive; having the Hyuga's kekkei genkai at their disposal would make the already more-than-formidable Akatsuki into an even fiercer foe.

She might have been a bit less apprehensive, if she had not just learned of the other great and terrible secret her family had been keeping from her and apparently the village for years. After meeting with the Nibi, she had begun to mull over things carefully; she wasn't in the position to miscalculate the slightest detail.

Finally, she had decided to trust the Beast, if for no other reason than to remain alive and, possibly have some hope of surviving until help arrived, or, if necessary, she found an opportune moment to escape.

From what she'd learned, if the host was killed, then a demon, no matter how powerful, was also susceptible to death in their bound state. The monster cat needed her for survival as much as she needed the inhuman powers being the host of such a creature provided, now more than ever.


Just so you know, I typed so much my hands are numb. And all to get this up for you guys. So please show your appreciation and review. It'd be much obliged. Thanks! And sorry Hinata wasn't in this chapter [much]; I promise she'll be in the next one *more*. But I did manage to get in some fluff (in the flashbacks anyway), so I'm happy about that. Sadly there was a lot of angst too, so I guess this was kinda bittersweet. But...! It had to be done, so please don't be mad! _

Next chapter, Hinata begins her training to awaken to the full powers of her jinchuuriki state. Can she improve enough in time to save herself? And now that Sasuke's suppressed memories have been realized, will it change the way he sees Hinata? How will her rescuers react to the new her, and what will happen now that Konohamaru knows the Hyuga's deepest secret? Will Hanabi's hatred of her sister change, or will she be the one to destroy the teetering balance of the clan…? Stay tuned to find all this out and more!