Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto. If I did, I'd be bullying Shikamaru and Neji's asses into doing my exams...the very exams sapping my muse.

Summary Notes: Don't ask me where I got this pairing (or close to it) from, really. I've just been in such deep thought analysis mode lately with exams, and I was reading a Tsume fic the other night, and I've always liked her character, and hec, even Hiashi's interests me, because we don't know heaps about them, and I have this sick fascination with trying to mold out characters and dig into the underbelly. Oh yeah, and I refuse to believe Hiashi's a complete heartless bastard; he's a product of his circumstances, like everyone is, I bet. As for the pairing...well, this one isn't so much a pairing, though I might write more, but the whole concept was actually borne from a comment Tsunade made in an episode about how Sandaime worked the teams into a mimic of their parents...InoShikaCho...so why not Tsume, Hiashi, and...Shibi? in place of Kiba, Hinata and Shino? Yeah, deep thoughts indeed. Well, hope you enjoy. Comments appreciated!

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The late afternoon sun hung low in the sky, illuminating the streets of Konohagakure in a cadence of fire and shadows as it slowly meandered its way towards the horizon, as unchanging and unmoving as destiny itself.

Everything was the same, a fixed pattern.

Yet nothing was the same too. How could it be, when destiny itself had been the very catalyst behind the loss of such a crucial part of Hyuuga Hiashi's life?

Destiny was a bitch.

Despite the light outside, the room off to the side of his study where he sat, was dark. The shutters barely open, eddies of dust glinting in the mediocre light, that same mediocre light that filtered through the half closed door. And in one corner of the room, the Hyuuga leader's form sat stiffly, a weakly illuminated shadow in the dark room. To the unknowing eye, he appeared as he always did - stoic, tense, concentrated, right down to the slightly clenched fists on his knees. Yet if one looked closer, they would note the way his fists clenched until the knuckles showed white against calloused skin, the way the tense, concentrated look held a sort of grim desperation to it - gritted jaw, frame slightly trembling as if it were fighting back some unassailable feeling of hopelessness, of grief.

Which it was.

Hyuuga did not cry. Certainly not Hyuuga of the main branch, and certainly not the leader of such a prestiguous clan. Hiashi knew that, had reprimanded his little daughter for it many a time, and it was why he kept his feelings buried so deep, but no amount of burying, of hiding away, could help him escape that one brutal fact.

His brother was dead.

Hizashi was dead.

Neji, his little nephew, was left without a father.

And he was to blame.

Hiashi was to blame, simply because he was the leader of the very clan who had created the cursed mark that had essentially signed Hizashi's death warrant. He was to blame, for it had been his hand that had felled the piece of filth that had tried to kidnap his daughter. They called it honourable, this whole ordeal, and he vividly recalled the look in Hizashi's eyes the last time he had seen him. So forgiving, so filled with love even as he told Hiashi he hated him, so willing to accept his destiny.

It did not make the pain any less though.

Footsteps intruded upon his meditation, and Hiashi scowled slightly at the fact that they had evaded his notice until that moment. He'd recognise the light, quick footfalls of his old team mate (and very rarely few times lover before life in general had gotten in the way) anywhere, and the earthy, wind and sun kissed scent that he could smell even without an Inuzuka's nose. Nor did he need his Byakugan to know she had entered the room, and was watching him. Invading his personal reflection, in that brash, fearless way only she could.

"What do you want?" he rasped, his voice sounding cold and rough in the shadows. Rude and harsh in the hope that she'd take the hint and leave him alone, whether he actually wanted her to go or not being another point altogether. And one that he certainly wouldn't broach.

Of course, in true fashion, Inuzuka Tsume either did not get the hint, or completely ignored it. Probably the latter, he thought wryly, knowing her. For someone who's senses were the sharpest in Konoha, she had an amazingly irritating ability to turn deaf at the most convenient times.

"You're being an idiot."

And of course, in true Inuzuka fashion, she also had the amazingly irritating ability to tell it like it was, no sugar coating or politeness. Being mistress to her clan had not tempered her personality at all, and Hiashi still, after all these years, found himself amused, irritated, and endeared to it. Not necessarily in that order, either. For the moment though, it was irritation, and he cracked his knuckles as they clenched tighter against his knees, pale eyes opening to narrow slits as he glared at the wall, refusing to look at her.

"And tell me, Tsume, why exactly you would have a reason, let alone the nerve, to refer to me in such a derogative manner?" he asked coolly.

Tsume snorted, and he heard her foot tapping lightly against the floor boards. He could clearly envision her stance - hands on hips, chin tilted and eyes narrowed, fangs glinting momentarily as she growled disbelievingly in her throat. Her answer was not long in coming, quick and sharp and goading and simply Tsume.

"Cut the bullshit, Hyuuga. You're being ridiculous."

"Excuse me?"

"Oh, don't give me that; I've known you way too long to be fooled by your formal shit. You're being a fool. He wouldn't have wanted this."

That struck a nerve, and Hiashi's jaw clenched so tightly he tasted blood.

"How dare you?" he hissed, voice deathly soft. Tsume seemed to pause, and he felt a sense of relish that he had put a check on her brashness. It was too good to last, though, and once again, he was subject to her words. Her voice - her damn rough, so husky voice that could speak sense and oddly, seduce as easily as it unleashed a savage cry of battle. But then, she was a kunoichi after all.

She was speaking again.

"I do dare, Hiashi-"

"You know nothing-"

A sharp intake of breath, and Hiashi realised he'd overstepped the mark. Even in his arrogance, he knew exactly where he'd gone wrong; she knew nothing? Bullshit, as she'd said, and he knew it, too. She knew exactly what it was like to lose someone you loved, in a most painful, horrific way.

Hiashi waited for her to leave. To turn on her heel and storm out, even attack him (though he was undoubtably stronger than her). Waited for long moments...yet nothing happened. He was sorely tempted to turn his head, but before the thought had taken a strong enough shape for him to actually do it, she spoke again.

"I do know, more than you like to think, jackass," Tsume said, and her voice was so quiet and surprisingly soft that he listened simply because it startled him, "I know Hizashi would think you're being ridiculous, doing this to yourself. Because he loved you. And because he loved you, the least you could do is honour his memory, and his sacrifice for you, instead of wallowing in the darkness like this."

Hiashi's pale eyes narrowed, and he grit his teeth, barely restraining the urge to turn and attack her for speaking to him in such a manner. Yet he couldn't, because as proud as the Hyuuga male was, as haughty and as arrogant as he could be, and as much as he hated being told, so to speak, he also knew when the teller was right.

Damned Inuzuka. For all her brash impulsiveness, Tsume could be a fount of common sense at the most inconvenient times. Blunt and honest, sharp, yet warming to the heart.

But that was what he'd always liked about her, Hiashi reflected. Even as genin team mates, he had found himself attracted to that warm Inuzuka honesty, so different to the cold politeness of the Hyuuga clan, even as he mocked her, disdained her, called her all manner of unsavoury insults that would send most girls off with a flea in their ear and a sob in their throat. Yet she had stood her ground, teeth drawn and eyes flashing, daring him to look down on her. Like she always had. Like she always did.

Despite the harsh growl of her tone though, there was no threat in her expression as he finally turned to face her. Her face was half hidden by the darkness, shadows softening her sharp features, ghosting over the thin but well shaped lips that hid those formidable fangs. The dim light from the half open door partially illuminated her wild hair, the glint of tattoo barely perceptible on her skin, and eyes that glittered with feral light even in the darkness were softer, darker, sombre.

Unashamedly concerned, for him.

Always, no matter how many times he insulted her, ignored her, or upset her temper. Because it was simply the Inuzuka way, to be so loyal and forgiving, and yes, he liked that very much. He would not go so far to say that he loved her warmth, her blunt honesty, loved her, because whatever may have been there deep down, he could not show, because it was simply not the Hyuuga way to show emotion. It was why he had not cried for his brother, why he had kept his mask of stoicism so firmly in place even as each beat of his heart hurt painfully with every step that took him further towards the reality of a life without Hizashi. A life without his brother that was, in essence, his own doing. No matter what his old team mate tried to tell him.

Emotion was weakness. For any shinobi, but particularly for leaders.

He knew that. He knew she knew that. Of course she knew; he would never have imagined her to have risen to mistress of the Inuzuka if she did not know. It was why, even both alone, they could never really be.

Yet still, darkness had always had a way of lowering inhibitions, shadows and silence twining around souls and gentling steel and ice beings and allowing them to indulge in machinations that they would never normally allow themselves to indulge in. So when Tsume's lips curled slightly, he didn't glower in response. And when her footsteps sounded across the room, he didn't move away. And when her arms slowly, tentatively, yet tenderly and familiarly wrapped around his shoulders, he found himself hard pressed to keep his feelings in check, even as his body responded dimly to the gentle pressure of her limber frame so close, so warm. So comforting.

And though he did not hug her back, Hiashi permitted himself that one weakness, allowed his cheek to rest against soft breasts that had only grown rounder and sweeter with the timeless experience that bespoke a mother. Her face came to rest against his head; he knew she too, took comfort in this simple, common grounded exchange, and he closed his eyes. More vulnerability shown than he, Hyuuga Hiashi, knew either of them often showed. Allowed himself that further base indulgence, even as he still refused to shed tears. Perhaps she wanted him to, even if she did not voice it. But Hyuuga did not weep. Just as Inuzuka did not betray and abandon.

Still, was it completely wrong to seek the comfort of a friend, of a familiar, even for an all too brief moment, and let the stoic mask fade into quiet vulnerability?