Chapter IX; Reunion
"to betray, you must first belong."
The lights were almost blinding, at first. Then her eyes adjusted and she was taking in the large, rectangular room packed with bejeweled people, gemstone encrusted dresses glinting off the light of the chandelier like so many shining beetles. The Hyuuga were easily distinguishable in the crowd, clad in kimonos of rich, sedated silk, the soft, muted colors a contrast to the bright dresses that the ladies of the court favored. The only jewels adorning the Hyuuga women were the ones embedded in the combs twisted up in their hair. In comparison, Sakura's own court looked hopelessly gaudy.
Swallowing, Sakura fingered a corner of her own dress, thankful for its subdued color and-thank the gods, because who knew what else the maids might've picked out- non-reflective fabric.
Beside her, Sasuke moved. It was just a slight shifting of his feet, and since the man could be preternaturally still at times, she knew it was for her own benefit. Right, there was no time to stall.
Sakura cleared her throat, and watched as all eyes turned to her. She stood in what resembled an open balcony, two thrones on the dais of marble, and the door that she'd entered from behind it. One of the thrones was occupied by her father, and since the Queen was dead, the other would be for her. Four steps, blocky and rectangular, allowed one to ascend or descend the thrones. The bottom step was flanked by two armed guards.
Instead of sitting in the throne, she stood at the edge of the first step instead, feeling the eyes of both her father and Sasuke watching her. The court followed her move. At the forefront of the crowd were gathered a retinue of Hyuuga. Recognizing Lord Hiashi at the front, she figured that the woman next to him was Lady Hyuuga Hinata.
She was beautiful, a pale mauve kimono cladding a statuesque figure, the epitome of grace and elegance. Her eyes were almond shaped and a soft lavender shade, pin-straight sable hair cascading down her back in a sheet of silk.
The picture brought a grim smile to Sakura's lips; it would be more fitting if Hinata were the princess, though considering her position as heiress to the Hyuuga, she might as well be. There'd be time to feel inadequate later, but as if looks mattered! She hadn't shorn her hair off so long ago to worry about vanity now.
Bowing at the waist in deference to Konoha customs, Sakura smiled as she straightened and began, "I personally welcome the Hyuuga to my land in what both my father and I will be the continuation of a tradition of peace and prosperity. Lady Hinata, may your reign be as successful as your father's, if not even more."
The court began to clap politely after her greeting, and smiling, Hyuuga Hinata and Lord Hiashi bowed lightly in return, Hiashi's eyes softening slightly at her traditional welcome.
"Yes, I am sure our stay will be pleasant; thank you for receiving us so kindly, your highness."
Both sides bowed once more, and the rest of the court took it as a sign that the party had begun. The king stood and strode forward from the throne, pausing briefly to clasp Sakura around the shoulders for a job well done and smiling warmly at Hiashi as he did so. Stepping forward, he clasped arms with the other man. Hyuuga Hinata looked surprised at the informality between the two, but Sakura smiled, used to the small displays of affection between the two men; having met each other when they were as young as their daughters were, they had formed a camaraderie and friendship of sorts. Sakura hoped that she would develop the same kind of relationship with Hinata-san; the girl certainly seemed likeable enough, her smile shy but genuine.
While their fathers reminisced, Sakura turned to said girl in question, "How was your journey Hinata-san? I trust it went well?"
Hinata smiled softly in return, her voice quiet as she replied, "It went well, thank you. I hope that our stay here doest not overly encumbered your staff."
"Not at all!"
They lapse into awkward silence after that as the older men talked on, Sakura cleared her throat, lips parting to give conversation another shot when the orchestra started, "Oh! We can dance now."
Hinata blinked, "U-us?"
Sakura laughed, but not unkindly, "Not with each other, with other people."
"Oh…" The dark haired girl shifted imperceptibly, and Sakura felt sorry for her; it was obvious that Hinata didn't relish the idea of dancing.
"We don't have to dance now, would you like some wine first? Food is being served in the next room."
Without waiting for a response, Sakura threw one more friendly smile over her shoulder before navigating her way through the ballroom to the set of double doors on the other side, correct in the assumption that Hinata would follow her. It was a buffet style banquet was set up in the adjacent receiving hall, four long tables loaded with all manners of food and drink for the guests. It was markedly less crowded in here, in fact the only people present were a few well dressed children that scattered into the ball room with giggles and sloppy bows when the two older girls walked in and a few serving maids that were putting the finishing touches on the food displays.
Hinata visibly relaxed with the crowd gone, her smile marginally wider and her positive response genuine when Sakura asked if the cup of tea—laid out alongside the wine and spirits for the foreign guests—she handed to her was acceptable.
Noting the girl's pale violet gaze, Sakura was reminded of another whose eyes had been more than unusual, "Hinata-san? I hope I'm not being rude by asking, but why is the Hyuuga clan's eyes like that?"
The Hyuuga looked faintly amused by the question, "No, it's alright. This," lifting a hand, she traced the shape of one eye, "is called a bloodline limit; it is the byakugan. All children born to at least one pure-blood Hyuuga parent will inherit it."
Sakura nodded, she knew what bloodline limits were from what Ino had told her about her own, "What does it allow you to do? Does it only give you enhanced sight?"
Hinata smiled at her questions, "Yes, but it can also do more. Among other things like allowing the user to see through solid objects and providing an almost 360 degree field of vision, the byakugan's greatest advantage is its ability to be able to literally see chakra pathways."
Curious, the pink haired girl asked, "Does that mean you can see mine?"
"Not until it's activated."
"Ah…" The two lapsed into silence, the Hyuuga heir occasionally sipping at her tea, Sakura's own cup forgotten in one hand.
"Hinata-san, are there other blood line limits like yours?"
"Well, there are multitudes of doujutsu in the world, so probably yes. But…specifically pertaining to Konoha, there used to be people who could use the sharingan, which actually arose from the byakugan. The sharingan grants the power of advanced genjutsu to the user, and with it anything can be copied. It was the signature of the Uchiha clan, before…" Hinata's trailed off, "Before the Uchiha massacre. Now only Hatake Kakashi is left, but he was not born with the doujutsu so he cannot pass it on."
Sakura's eyes widened. "Massacre?"
"We…prefer not to speak of it. Like the byakugan, users of the sharingan must activate it first. Unlike our bloodline limit however, the sharingan look like ordinary eyes until they are."
"So until it's activated, you can't tell if someone has the sharingan?"
Hinata nodded, "That is correct. The Uchiha clan almost always had dark eyes that were very unremarkable until the sharingan was activated. When the doujutsu is used, the pupils will turn blood red."
Sakura closed her eyes, heart beating hummingbird fast. She could still remember Sasuke's eyes that very first night. The red of it had stayed with her to this very day.
The pink haired girl started. Hinata, seeing her surprise, hastened to apologize, a hint of the old stutter slipping through. "A-ano, I do not mean to pry. I was just—"
"No, no it's alright. I was just curious." Sakura smiled reassuringly at the other girl.
The sudden, discordant blare of instruments cut through the comfortable quiet of the buffet room
"Ah, I think we have to head back now."
Hinata bowed her head in acquiescence and set her cup of tea back on the table, murmuring another quiet thank you. Together, the two woman made their way back out into the ballroom.
It was eerily quiet, now that the instruments had subsided and the chatter had ceased. The King and Hiashi waited for them in the middle of a cleared space on the dance floor. Sakura immediately knew what to do and started towards Hiashi, but Hinata hesitated for just a second, looking between her father and the King. Sakura gave her a small, encouraging smile and nudged her towards her own father. Hinata recovered and the look she gave the other woman was full of thanks.
Bowing before the Hyuuga head, Sakura smiled when he took her hand. The first lonely notes of a violin broke the silence, and the waltz began. A few minutes in, the violins and cellos faded and a new sound pierced the air. The shamisen was being played now, the beat of the song changing from the demure notes of the waltz into something fiercer, faster, and altogether more primal.
Hiashi let go of her hand and they began a new dance. The traditional Leaf dances usually don't require the dance partners to touch, and like the song, was more rhythmic and energetic than the waltz. It was a dance of fast whirls and flying feet, the dancers coming so close to each other after each turn that stray strands of hair tickled each other's face. Sakura loved this dance the best, and her smile turned into a full blown grin, movements almost wild as her skirt swirled around her in trails of purple fabric. Hiashi's dancing was much more reserved, and he was the one who gave Sakura a polite, perfunctory tap of the shoulder to indicate when it was over. The King and Hiashi returned Sakura's and Hinata's deep bows, and after a polite round of applause the rest of the room moved onto the dance floor.
The exchange of dances occurred every year Hiashi visited, standing as a symbol of trust and the cultural exchange between Leaf and Fire. This year was the first that the King had participated however, due to the fact that Hinata had never visited before.
Tucking a few stray strands of hair behind her ear, Sakura excused herself from Hiashi's company and made to move to someplace less crowded to catch her breath. A warm hand on her arm stopped her though, and Sakura was startled to meet Sasuke's hooded gaze when she turned around.
Another short tug pulled her both back onto the dance floor and into the circle of Sasuke's arms. He was…much too close for her liking. Long fingers threaded through hers and a strong arm settled around her waist. His touch was light, almost hovering over her skin, but she could feel the heat of him and it scorched her like a brand.
Her eyes were just level with his collarbone. Sakura swallowed, turning her head so she wasn't staring at paper pale skin and the strong jut of bone anymore. She reluctantly laid a hand over his shoulder, fingers light and uncertain, but as soon as the music started, she was hissing, "Sasuke, what the hell?"
He tightened his grip for a second, perhaps in reprimand, and Sakura shivered at the increased contact. "Language, Sakura."
Frowning, she moved to shake him off. In response he hauled her back against his chest, still moving smoothly to the music. They weren't dancing so much as swaying on the spot, but she was conscious of the fact that all eyes in the nearby vicinity were on them.
"Too high and mighty to grant the lowly shinobi a dance prin-cess?" He bent his head until his lips were pressed into her hair, the rumble of his growled whisper passing through her like a ghost.
Wrenching herself away until there was space between them again—until she could breathe again, Sakura smiled sickly-sweet up at him, "Not at all, Sasuke-kun, I just didn't think you were the dancing type."
The man in question ignored her provocation, instead only relaxing his hold after he was sure she wouldn't try to break away. In the end, the pair ended up swaying in sullen silence. Sakura was about to pull away again, annoyed at the tension and the annoying hitch in her breath whenever she moved too close when the music changed, this time to an upbeat Leaf tune. Sasuke immediately adjusted his grip on her, sliding his hand down her shoulder and arm until long, rough fingers entwined with hers, the other hand leaving her waist so that he could twirl her out. It should've been easier, this increase in space, but the music set a rhythm in her blood that matched the pounding of feet to the dance and then and then—
Strong arms were pulling her back in a single tug, bringing their bodies within hairs-breadth of each other. Her chest heaved with the exertion of the movement and the rich dark fabric of her bodice stretching over her breasts had barely grazed the dark front of his shirt before he was swinging her out again, feet light and quick as they went through the steps. His grip on her hand loosening and tightening as the music warranted, sometimes he nearly letting her go, almost flinging her into other dancers with the force of his push before he was tugging her back by the fingertips a second later.
Leaf dances were designed as a display of passion and physical skill. With Sasuke's natural fluidity he was a master at the latter, and passion…? Sasuke wasn't what Sakura would call passionate, instead, everything he did, she noticed it'd always been with a single minded intensity. It was the same intensity now that set her nerves on fire whenever she looked up and accidentally met his dark eyes, burning like black flint. That same intensity was the reason why it seemed like every particle of her being was strung on tight strings, singing and vibrating every time he pulled her close, the fast movement ruffling her skirts and her hair until loose, soft wisps were framing her face.
The last bars of the song played, and with a quick snap, Sasuke pulled her close for the final maneuver. This time though, he didn't stop until she was plastered flush against his front. Sakura knew it was only for the dance, but for the three long seconds that he held her close, her world was composed solely of warmth, darkness, and the faintest lingering scent of smoke. She moved just a fraction of an inch closer, tip toeing slightly and pressing her nose in the warm crook of a neck. Then he was again a respectable three feet away, face as composed as it'd been during the dance. If Sasuke noticed her slip, he didn't comment on it.
"Ah," she said intelligibly, "um."
He stood, impassive as ever, waiting for her to finish.
"Thank you for the dance?" Sakura hated that her words came out sounding like a question, hated that she'd been affected by his proximity at all.
Sasuke inclined his head in response, and it was then that she realized he wasn't as composed as she thought. His right hand, the hand he used to draw his weapon with, clenched and unclenched ever so slightly.
Beats of silence reigned while everyone continued to chatter around them.
A countdown in her head, anticipation for something she did not know, mirroring the agitation in his eyes, in his curled fingers, in—
A collective gasp swept through the crowd, every head turning towards the sound.
Except for Sasuke and Sakura.
He only cocked his head towards the noise, face expressionless, hand now settled firmly over the hilt of his sword, expectant. Sakura watched him warily, afraid to turn to see what was causing the commotion, it was answered for her, however, when the screams began.
"The King! Someone help the King!"
She sat slumped outside her father's bedroom, back against the wall, legs drawn up to her chest, head in her hands. It wasn't the way she should ever be found by any of the servants or courtiers, but she'd managed to hold her head high when she'd still been in the ballroom and now, now was the time to break apart and worry like any other girl for her father. The attending physicians hadn't allowed her to enter when they'd carried her father into his chambers after he collapsed in the ballroom. At first, the guards had thought he'd been attacked, hit by a poisoned senbon perhaps. But no wounds had been found on his person and Sasuke confirmed that there had been no intruders in the castle.
Hiashi stood opposite to her, still regal and distant but obviously worried, but whether for her father or what this would mean for his clan, she couldn't tell. He was her father's friend, true, but to ninja, clan would always come before everything else. The rest of the Hyuuga were in the guest wing of the castle, and the ball had ended early and all courtiers dispatched from the grounds. Sasuke had left her to consult with the guards about the security of the fortress.
They'd been waiting for a while, now.
A creak sounded from the door next to her. Sakura had only managed to jump to her feet and smooth down her dress when it opened and out emerged one of the physicians. The very same one that'd told her despite the fact that she was as good a healer as they, if not better, she wasn't allowed to help her father because she'd been taught by a kunoichi.
"Princess, your father has fallen ill. You are not to disturb him until we feel he is…recovered enough for more strenuous activity. We suggest that you go back to your chambers now and rest, it has surely been an eventful night for you as well."
Sakura could only stare at him, at the pretentious gold and silver robes, the absolutely useless charms hanging on the man's thick silver braided belt. The helplessness she'd felt all night quietly changed into a louder sort of anger, "Excuse me? Who are you to tell me that I can't see my father? If the most you've figured out is that he's fallen ill, and anyone could see that you…you imbecile, then may I suggest that you're doing something fuc—"
Her name on his lips swallowed the rest of her sentence. His voice was polite, but the hint of steel underneath was easily detectable.
He was standing behind her, against the opposite wall next to where Hiashi used to. She'd never heard either of them coming or going.
If the threat in his voice wasn't enough, the look he gave her was. It held no room for argument, and by the time she'd found it in herself to look away again, the physician had already reentered the room and closed the door.
Cursing, she tried the handle, not surprised when it didn't turn. Hiashi had been allowed in then, but not her, because she was just princess and that held even less power than king.
Biting her lip, Sakura nodded and followed Sasuke down the hall.
"What do you think happened?"
His echoing voice startled her in the quiet of the castle, and she didn't even realize it'd been a question until she'd registered what he'd actually said.
"I…I don't know. They say he fell ill, but…"
He stopped, turned and looked at her, "You don't believe the doctors?"
Sakura grimaced, "They're poor excuses for doctors. Our medical care is way behind the rest of the world because—But that's not the point. His attack, whatever it was, was too sudden," she looked up at Sasuke, green eyes serious, voice hushed, "Sasuke, don't you think it was a little too convenient that my father would fall ill now when he was perfectly healthy a day before? He almost never gets sick, not even the occasional cough or cold, and now he's collapsing all over the place?"
Sasuke's expression was inscrutable as she continued, her voice growing louder, gaining a desperate sort of momentum, "I think this is because of me, because the Hyuuga were going to be here and it would've been the perfect time to get to him, when the rest of the castle was distracted with other things and he could be caught off guard. If my father died it would have been because of me—"
Her breaths were coming in quick, short pants now, her head dizzy with spinning implications.
Because of what you can do, never because of who you are.
Everyone wanted her, everyone had a hidden agenda no one no one there was no one safe no water in the rock no rock in the water no safe harbor no—
"Look at me."
Sasuke gripped her shoulder with one hand. The other lay against her mouth, pressing her lips hard against her teeth. She was sure she'd be able to taste him on herself if she licked her lips when he let go. He'd bent so he was looking right at her, slate eyes intent on something, intent on her.
"Look at me."
Her shudders stopped, and when she was breathing normally again, he let go. Sakura couldn't help it, she immediately rewet her dry lips. But there was no trace of anything but the remnant bitterness of tea on her tongue. A perverse part of her, the one where her fear of Sasuke had slowly morphed into wariness and then curiosity and eventually a hunger to find what scraps of his life she could, was disappointed. If it wasn't for the lingering pain of bruised lips it could've been that he'd never touched her at all.
"What. Are. You. Talking about."
Sakura nearly jumped, but that restraining hand was back on her shoulder again, holding her in place. He didn't know, she realized. For whatever reason Danzo hadn't told him the reason the Akatsuki had wanted her in the first place.
"Tell me," he said again, louder this time, "what are they keeping from me?"
When she didn't respond, eyes growing wider in fear, his other hand rose to grip her hard by the shoulders, and suddenly he was shaking her.
She shook her head, her own hands holding onto his arms now, shocked at his loss of control and wary of the wild look in his eyes, "Sasuke—Sasuke stop, let me go—"
He ignored her, though the shaking stopped. The ringing the jostling had produced in her head though, didn't go away, and he didn't let her go either, "Tell me."
"Hey, you heard the lady. Let her go."
Sakura froze; that voice it couldn't be couldn't there was no possible way—
Sasuke's hands disappeared from her shoulders as he looked up, over her shoulder to glare at someone behind her. His sword was already drawn.
She turned: a slow, dream-like movement because this could not be real, she does not, cannot believe what every sense in her body was screaming at her.
A boy, tall, tanned, and blond stood not four feet away, dressed in rust orange ninja gear. His smile was large and beautiful and true and his eyes were creased closed but she knew, she knew that when he opened them their color would be the brightest imaginable blue. Three whisker marks decorated each cheek.
"N-Naruto," she breathed.
a/n: See, I haven't abandoned this! This year's been...hard, and I'm actually in the middle of my finals, but I think you guys have waited long enough. Are there any of the original readers left? But yeah. Here, finally finished. I've been itching to write the dance scenes but when I finally got to them, they were so hard.
But here. Things happening. Like I promised. A year late but...still! Better late than never! Not my best chapter, but not my worst. A big thank you to everyone that's reviewed this story though, and even a bigger thank you to those who've actually stuck with it! My immense gratitude goes out to you! Remember, reviews and concrit are always appreciated, and I make it a point to always answer any questions you may have. :) Will probably proofread again later and find more mistakes. Time for A Long Way Home now...
(BTW, if you haven't heard about SasuSaku Month, head over to my profile to check it out, and then join join join!)
*I didn't want Hinata to stutter except in extreme duress because in Revolution!verse, she's had more time to grow up and become more composed. So no, no fainting Hinata here when/if she meets our favorite kid in orange.