I was going to wait a few more days to post this, but Lecs changed my mind. xD And I hope you're feeling better, Hana. Sorry for the wait, la. Chapter 34 is in progress. Check my profile for a scene.
I had an interesting discussion with another reader. Here is a small piece of it:
"...If it helps, it's kind of a parallel to Naruto sacrificing his place as Hokage, where it is evidenced he is unhappy. In the interludes I have Sasuke muse that 'Naruto didn't belong behind a desk.' I guess to each their own interpretation, but..."
The Chaos Theory
by Bullwinkle's Lady
The young Sasuke walked out of Tsunade's office, feeling strangely overwhelmed, not that he'd ever let it on. So much information had been given to him at once. And so much had been asked of him. He noticed someone exiting the office after him, and looked at the young Hinata, who was wearing a similarly stunned expression. Neither could say a word to the other. In fact, they attempted to depart and avoid the matter altogether, when someone stopped them just as they started.
Mirai Hinata had followed them out of the office. She quietly closed the door behind her, as if to ensure a greater level of privacy. She beckoned them over, and they joined her by the wall.
She stared at them in an extremely uncomfortable way. She seemed momentarily at a loss for words.
Mirai Hinata glanced down at the small slip of paper squeezed in her hand. She had to be confident, she decided. She couldn't show them any weakness in her convictions that this was all for the best. So she handed over the slip of paper, maintaining a solemn look on her face.
The young Sasuke and Hinata squinted down at it through the darkness, making out some numerical figures with the assistance of their doujutsu.
"Ano...what is this?" said the young Hinata.
"The date Kasai was conceived," said Mirai Hinata.
She watched both teenagers turn red.
"It's a couple of years off, but it's very important. Please keep it in mind, both of you."
They stared at her in horror, before returning to the note. Both teenagers retracted their hands as though it had caught fire, or maybe in a play to force the other to take custody of it. The slip dropped to the floor, and for some moments, there was a silent feud between them. The young Hinata stared down at it, refusing to move. Finally, Sasuke collected the note from the ground. Unceremoniously stuffing it into his pocket, he stalked off. The young Hinata hesitated, and shuffled away in the opposite direction.
Mirai Hinata sighed.
And so they were engaged.
She reflected on their young counterparts as she curled up in her bed that night. They were so different from her and her husband... They were vulnerable. Innocent. Even immature compared to how they had originally been at fifteen. It wasn't a bad thing, this resurrection of youth and innocence. It was just...incorrect. It reminded her of how considerably they had changed the world with their presence. How could they ever expect their plan to work?
Sasuke was staying up, preoccupied with it all, but she went to bed. She didn't even notice her bad dreams were gone as she slept without him. Her nightmares were replaced with new dreams. Good dreams. Visions of her time, of life as it should have been. She was with her friends, her family, her daughter, even...Hanabi was present at times. Everyone was alive and well.
Except for Naruto-kun who was sick, distraught...alone.
...and where was Sasuke?
Mirai Hinata gasped awake, sitting up in bed. She shielded her eyes against the brightness of the sun and tried to catch her breath.
Her husband was sitting beside her. He was sympathetic. Bad dream?
She shook her head. No.
She paused when she spotted a bundle in his lap.
"Kasai," she gasped, embracing her. The child awoke and cried out, irritable about being roused. "No – Kaasan – you're squishing me," the five-year-old complained, her voice muffled in her clothes. Hinata looked up at Sasuke, who faintly smiled.
She held Kasai tightly. Thank goodness. They were finally on the right track.
She would sacrifice her position as Hyuuga clan head in marrying Sasuke before her eighteenth birthday when she would have legally inherited it. It was the only way Sasuke could think to secure their relationship. He had asked her if she wouldn't live to regret it.
She smiled against Kasai's head of dark hair. For the year following her rape, people scarcely saw her. Some suggested she was caged. She had been loaded with responsibility in her father's death and Hanabi's blinding. In a way, she wasn't dissimilar to Neji, and his sentiments on being a Hyuuga clan member. She had been the only main house member left to inherit it. It had been her rationale to Sasuke in the years preceding their marriage. Her purpose was to protect it. But in consequence, she mourned the loss of fighting alongside Kiba and Shino, or even her darker days, when she took missions with Sasuke and Naruto. She had always been a Hyuuga above all else. Above being herself. Above being Sasuke's.
"I always wanted to take genin," she whispered, a sentiment she had revealed to him only once before.
She regretted that Kasai had fallen asleep in her arms. She couldn't have thought of a better opportunity to kiss him.
With the recent revelations, there was a new air of candidness at the Hyuuga house. When the elders had originally seen Mirai Hinata, and her lack of a cursed mark, they had always assumed she was the clan head in the future. Now they knew that, and a lot more. There was less caution in approaching the time travelers, and more intrigue. The young Neji stared at Mirai Hinata during one of the rare occasions they crossed paths. She didn't have to be discreet about her relationship to Sasuke and Kasai anymore. No one seemed to notice or register the way the child's age had fluctuated. They were more interested in Mirai Hinata, and how she ended up with the deranged sharingan-user.
Someone addressed her politely that day, "Uchiha-san."
She blinked, and started, "I'm not-"
"I like it."
She paused as Sasuke walked by, a sheepish smile crossing her face. She clutched Kasai's hand as she squirmed to follow him. "Good luck," said Mirai Hinata.
With a backhanded wave, Mirai Sasuke disappeared into a meeting room.
As he entered, he nodded to the young Hinata, who was sitting on her heels on a mat with her head bowed, and the young Sasuke, who lurked in a corner, seeming uncomfortable in the Hyuuga-centric environment. Both teenagers looked up and stared at him as though he'd come to take their souls.
Two elders had been waiting for him, and ushered him to the circle of mats including Hinata's. The three of them took seats, and the young Sasuke reluctantly crept over. He kicked off his sandals and took the spot left for him beside Hinata, bowing to the tatami mat. The elders seemed surprised by his good etiquette.
Mirai Sasuke pulled the contract from his vest and spread it open on the wooden floor between them.
Logic would suggest the elders express gratitude for his counsel, but not to the extent of being without curiosity.
The young Hinata stared at the contract. Her face was blank. Suggesting she was hesitant would have been an understatement.
Sasuke looked at the elders, and pushed for their encouragement. "Our only child has the sharingan. And we're not having anymore."
Whether or not this was true was irrelevant because he achieved his desired affect. He watched the elders pale.
Mirai Sasuke's claim presented an uncomfortable scenario. Kasai would become heir as default, and Hyuuga would end up under Uchiha leadership for who knew how long.
"Hinata," said one of the elders, firmly.
The young Hyuuga showed no sign that she'd heard him. She continued to stare at the scroll, her face pallid.
"It's just a technicality," said Mirai Sasuke, to no affect. He clenched his jaw. She wasn't going to go through with it.
He blinked when his young counterpart suddenly raised his thumb to his mouth. He bit his finger and pressed it to the contract, leaving his blood print, and completing his part. Hinata looked at him in surprise. The young Sasuke gave her a humorless expression, as though challenging her.
Mirai Sasuke watched heat rise to Hinata's cheeks. So it was true. She liked him.
Hinata bit her thumb and finished the contract. Mirai Sasuke watched it disappear in a poof of smoke, and he sighed. Hinata's gaze was averted.
"You'll make a good jounin," Mirai Sasuke said.
The young Hinata looked up, her face a mixture of fatigue and uncertainty. "Thanks."
It started with the jounin exam. They took it together. Neji passed. Ino failed.
In the days that followed, she became irrationally acrimonious towards him. She followed him home after missions, antagonizing him. She said his hair was too long, and made him look like a woman. She said he acted like an android and looked like a ghoul – his ghastly voice, his flowing white robes. She went out of her way to harass him, following him to the Hyuuga compound across town from where she lived. She stood by the gates and balked insults in his wake.
Then one day he invited her in.
Mirai Naruto was fascinated by the story. He had always wondered how Neji and Ino had gotten together. Neji just stood and stared as Ino continued. He hadn't known she had been antagonizing him. People said those things to him all the time.
Ino sighed at the story. "So what would you like?" she asked as she adjusted a bouquet. She was looking after her family's flower shop that afternoon, and Mirai Naruto had stopped by. As had Neji, apparently.
Naruto smiled. It was bizarre to be reunited with a friend he'd lost what felt to be centuries ago. There were so many things he would have liked to have said to her at that moment. Like, that he was sorry. He'd try to save her this time. She was lovely, and had no business dying so young. That everything...would be okay. He promised.
"Naruto-kun?" she said, drawing him from his reverie. Despite looking harmless to the point of detriment, she had the wary eyes her future employment would necessitate.
"I actually came for advice," Mirai Naruto admitted. "I want to know how you..." he trailed off and thought for a moment. "When you perform a Yamanaka technique on someone, how does one go about...overcoming it?"
Ino tilted her head to the side.
"Ano, like Sak- like Sakura-san could," Mirai Naruto elaborated.
Ino furrowed her eyebrows. "You mean like during our first chunnin exams?"
Naruto nodded. "Something like that."
She brushed back some of her long hair as she recalled the occasion. "Sakura's mind was...divided. Like she had two of them." She had spent many a day musing about it.
Yes, yes, Mirai Naruto nodded impatiently. "How can I replicate that effect?"
"Why do you need to?" Ino grinned. "Don't tell me I beat you up in the future?
Naruto's smile became strained. "Not exactly," he said, shifting his gaze to the counter.
Ino frowned. "It's serious? I can help you Naruto." – always addressing him so casually, as though he was a kid again, and she knew him as well as she had back then. She should have hated him. He had known Hanabi was dangerous.
Naruto raised his face and reinforced his smile. "This is something I have to do alone," he said, aware of the suspicious way Neji was watching him. "Is there a way or not?"
The younger blonde released a defeated sigh. "Don't ever let anyone know-"
"Pain," she said quietly. "Physical. Emotional. It doesn't matter. The target has to be in an intensive pain for the duration of the technique. That's the secret to beating shinrashin no jutsu."
Mirai Naruto could handle that. "Thank you," he said, before turning away. He walked out of the shop, hearing someone follow him. He glanced back at Neji.
The Hyuuga didn't have the level of experience the elder version of him had had, but Mirai Naruto figured he'd probe him for advice. "I – lost my focus," he said, looking back at him wearily. "Have you ever encountered the wrong person?"
Neji immediately knew what he was talking about. "How do you know about that technique?"
"You showed me."
Neji was caught off guard. "How-?" he stopped. "Only a Hyuuga-"
"'You can take a manual approach to anything.'" The blonde quoted Neji's future-self.
Neji simply stared at him. He was still young, and had no way to rationalize the actions he would make in the future. Naruto sighed, and Neji saw his exasperation.
"Just don't lose your focus," the Hyuuga said, with a warning gaze. Naruto could imagine his thoughts.
...you shouldn't be using that technique...
Neji walked back into the flower shop, and Naruto took his leave.
He folded his arms behind his head, enjoying the beauty of the day. He smiled enthusiastically at Ayame as he strolled passed Ichiraku. She blushed in return.
He had never understood Neji's loss of Ino. He couldn't relate then. He had reassured his friend, but those had been shallow words. He couldn't have implanted meaning in them though he had tried his hardest. Now he understood...
He liked them this way. Carefree. Together. He chuckled to himself. They actually weren't a bad couple. He couldn't deny they always played nice.
The young Sakura's fist connected with the young Naruto's jaw with enough force to send him smashing through a tree. She snorted as he disappeared in a poof of smoke. Shadow clone. She turned to find herself surrounded by them.
They launched themselves at her just as she regained her footing. With vicious jabs and hasty kicks, she tore through dozens of impersonators and sought out the original.
Deeper in the forest, the young Sasuke was slacking. Few of his assaults connected with his opponent, who seemed similarly distracted.
No one knew about the contract, except them, their counterparts, and the Hyuuga elders. They were legally married, and had yet to speak a word about it, not to their friends, not to each other.
"Hyah!" yelled Hinata, her foot connecting with his chest. His back hit the trunk of the tree they were in. She began to dart away, but hesitated. She turned back, and they watched each other.
So maybe there was a reason they were always being matched together.
Taking advantage of her pause, Sasuke lunged at her, and Hinata fell backwards as she dodged. She fell from the branch and managed to catch a lower one, climbing upon it, where Sasuke joined her seconds later.
He seized the front of her jacket, jerking her up to her feet. She grabbed his fist in an effort to unwrap it from her clothes. Then he slammed her into the trunk, knocking the wind out of her lungs.
And again, there was pause between them.
Both were suddenly conscious of how their hands were touching in the vaguest of intimacies.
Sasuke released her. "Would you prefer it was someone else? That we didn't end up together in the future?"
Hinata flushed. "I-" she managed.
"I like you."
And then there was silence.
Truth be told, he wasn't sad. He was determined.
Standing on the center of training ground three, Mirai Naruto performed hundreds of hand seals in moments. He didn't have time to contemplate them, he just had to see it through to the end, and not mess up this time – no falters-
"What are you doing," someone called from the edge of the clearing.
Mirai Naruto didn't look up. "Just practicing something."
Mirai Sasuke followed the hand seals with the sharingan. He recognized the technique from the last time. "To get us back to our time?"
"To get Sakura back."
Sasuke's breath hitched in his throat. He recovered his composure, but Naruto caught his falter. "Raise the dead? You're insane."
He had to try...
"It's not possible," said Sasuke harshly.
Naruto ignored him, but the Uchiha wouldn't let up.
"Find another way, dobe."
"They'll want more offerings. You don't have anything else."
Naruto winced at the remark. He was painfully aware of that. He threw a laugh to disguise his anguish. "I'll give my great hair or good looks."
Sasuke's patience was wearing thin. There was the sound of him drawing his sword, then the sound of it dropping to the ground.
"Or Kyuubi," Naruto continued, growing slightly fanatical. "They can have my balls for all I fucking care."
Naruto grunted as the Uchiha cuffed him in the head, throwing him off his balance. Twice he had attempted the technique, and twice, his focus had been stolen from him by Sasuke.
"Teme," Naruto growled dangerously, holding his jaw.
He hadn't expected Sasuke to follow up with three additional strikes, and a kick that felt like it broke some of his ribs. The Uchiha clearly still had some animosity towards him for kissing his wife. Naruto caught Sasuke's fist as he attempted to punch him again. He was used to dodging heavy blows when he sparred with Sakura, but Sasuke was the fastest of the three. He kicked Naruto in the abdomen, breaking out of his hold. Naruto leaned forward to catch his breath, but within seconds, Sasuke was upon him again. He struck his nose, and there was a sickening crunch.
Naruto stumbled back as blood poured down his face. He took to the trees, but Sasuke followed. He didn't have Sakura's force, but he was more proficient at making his hits connect.
Another rough cuff knocked Naruto out of the sky. He collapsed to the ground on his back and watched as Sasuke materialized before him. The Uchiha grabbed his collar and lifted him up when several shadow clones appeared around them. They closed in on Sasuke and Naruto was freed as the Uchiha became preoccupied with destroying them.
Naruto climbed out of the scuffle, clutching his ribs. Sasuke always fought dirty, ambushing opponents and going for their weaknesses, inflicting as much damage as he could.
Did he really think he could still be baited so easily? That anything could distract him from getting back to Sakura?
The last of the clones disappeared and Naruto turned back to Sasuke just in time to catch another strike to the face. Naruto staggered back. Spat some blood. And still, Sasuke approached.
"Dammit teme," Naruto hissed, his eyes glowing red. Sasuke didn't have time to dodge.
Naruto thrust out his arm, and a surge of crimson chakra struck Sasuke like a wave, catching him across the chest, and throwing him several yards away. His body smashed into the earth, destroying the grounds several feet in his diameter and encasing the clearing with dust clouds.
As they settled, Naruto could spot him. Sasuke's shirt was in tatters, his chest bleeding from burns. His cursed seal glowed angrily behind his shoulder, but he would not give in to it.
Naruto watched Sasuke struggle to recover, his head lifting slightly, and limbs shuddering as he tried to get up. And then they dropped, and he was unmoving again.
Pressing his lips, Mirai Naruto darted off.