A/N: Just editing here, nothing to see...
Extreme thanks to: My beta Mariagoner, who is the only reason this story makes even a vague amount of sense, not to mention the best beta who ever beta'd :)
Disclaiming: Quatrain is John Masefield's, story is mine.
Ah, we are neither heaven nor earth, but men;
Something that uses and despises both,
That takes its earth's contentment in the pen,
Then sees the world's injustice and is wroth—
It was an ordinary flak jacket, slightly worn but very clean, so it bore the look of a threadbare blanket that had been cared for through many years. There were scrolls in the pockets; when Hinata unravelled them, she found that they were ordinary—mundane water jutsus, a heavy-duty flash bomb, a fountain which unleashed a pile of gravel all over the floor. The last made her squeak and drop to the floor and set about picking it up immediately, because gravel was bad for pinewood grain and Itachi would have noticed the nicks in an instant.
"What kind of information?" she had asked her father, on a July day not dissimilar to the one on which a young man, half a village across from the Hyuuga compound, had bowed his dark head and asked the same questions she was asking now. "Even if I marry him, he won't be taking me with him to clan meetings, or talking strategy with me…"
Her father had looked scathingly down his nose at her and scoffed, but it was something that no longer caused her pain. She had seen him speak that way to his branch members in the field. She had seen him speak that way to Hanabi and Neji, on their way out into the sunlight on S-class missions, and she had seen him speak that way to them when they returned before clapping them awkwardly on their shoulders and releasing them, his sharp voice unable to counteract the sheen of pride glimmering in his eyes.
She had been proud that he now spoke that way to her.
"Hinata," he had asked, "why do you no longer train with Neji?"
She had been surprised at the question, but they hadn't trained together in about a year. The answer was easy. "We know one another's habits too well by now, I suppose…it's too easy to tell when he's about to make a feint, or when he's lying or out of chakra—It's just not new anymore. I can d-defeat him now." She had been getting better, but she still stuttered over concepts she had trouble believing.
"Precisely. Knowledge of habit. And that is what you will give us, living in the same house as Uchiha Itachi, and sharing his habits. When does he sleep? How does he plan? What does he carry with him? What does he love? It is these details which, when the time comes, will enable us to see him clearly."
Hinata had understood. The Hyuuga would do anything for clearer vision. She would be the one to eliminate their greatest blind spot.
She picked up the flak jacket and brushed it off, noting how soft the material was, how much more worn than her own. It was doubtful that this particular flak jacket would be useful, at this point—after all, Uchiha Itachi, if the ANBU files were correct, had earned it more than a decade ago. She wondered why he didn't acquire a new one.
A rip in the side caught her attention and she let her fingers travel along it. It looked recent. She'd been correct; the jacket was too old to provide any real protection. It must have been very large on him, as a ten-year-old—and this image made her laugh, a miniature version of her serious husband, his eyes blankly staring over the collar of a flak jacket that came down to his knees.
Without thinking about what she was doing, she slid her own arms into the sleeve-holes and tugged the jacket on.
For a moment she was anAcademy student again, watching as Sakura and Ino clawed at one another over something—a shuriken holster, it looked like—and shouting with laughter as they called, "It's Sasuke's! I got Sasuke's holster!" Hinata was a kunoichi, eighteen years old and deadly, but at that moment she was simply a gloating young girl, smiling at the thought of what her friends would do if they could see her wearing Uchiha Itachi's flak jacket. Back then, he wasn't an Uchiha or an ANBU to them, just an exciting older boy with hair that was shinier than theirs, the dashing older brother of their most attractive classmate.
She spun around once, feeling giddy and even releasing a little giggle.
"Please forgive my interruption."
When she whipped around he was standing in the doorway, his eyes politely inquisitive and one slender hand on the rice-paper screen.
He waited serenely for her permission to enter the room—he always did, despite the fact that the room technically belonged to both of them—and she nodded in panic. She was wondering how best to disentangle herself from his jacket without being horrendously embarrassed when he said, "If you would be so kind, I would like to borrow that jacket for a clan meeting. It is part of the police uniform."
She could feel her heart hammering away. "Yes—of course, s-senpai. I was just—" her eyes fell on the rip—"I thought I would m-mend it for you…"
"Yes…there's a t-tear…"
He looked uncertain, and when she gave the jacket back, he ran a finger along the seam in apparent surprise.
"So there is. It is very kind of you."
"It's no problem, s-senpai."
There was some silence, while she wondered frantically if she had even brought a needle and thread with her.
"I will wear it as is to the meeting," he said finally. "There is no need to trouble yourself with this on such short notice."
She gave the jacket back to him. As it left her hands, she felt a catch in her throat—something she wanted to say caught there, lodged inside her as only a difficult word can be. It was only much, much later that she realized it was not a word, but a feeling—that of guilt.
The morning after Hinata left, Uchiha Shisui came in with blood on his breastplate. Itachi was on his feet immediately, hands swathed in healing chakra, before he realized it wasn't his.
"Tense, aren't you?" commented Shisui. He took a seat at the kotatsu table and put his head down on it, a gesture that Itachi hadn't seen since they were children at the Academy. "If you have to be motherly, get me something to eat. I'm bushed."
Itachi gave Shisui rice and leftover soup, which was an atrocious meal and one that Hinata would likely have quailed at. "What has been happening?"
"Looting—where've you been? I could've used backup."
"When did they send you back?"
"Apparently we had orders on file to stand down at sunrise, after sending all shinobi in the area to ANBU headquarters for briefing. Someone wrote them up in anticipation of when the looting would begin, looks like, before the Hokage was even assassinated. How did you know—" Shisui broke off and narrowed his eyes. "You wrote those orders. You wrote them as advance preparation, didn't you?"
Itachi ignored him. "Where is the looting centralized?"
"Open-air market, just west of the Hokage tower. You know, the road to the Hyuuga enclave. There were a couple places where it could've gotten out of control, but—Itachi?"
Several calculations ran through Itachi's head. A few pieces fitted themselves together. Then came the calming sensation that accompanied a strategy fulfilled, the cool distilled infusion of certainty that hummed in his bones when he knew he had taken a chance and succeeded.
There was something else, too. There was an odd guilt trapped like a pinched nerve, and a refusal to stare too deeply into the memory of his ring in Hinata's hand—but he turned his mind away from it almost forcefully.
He reached for his police insignia and shuriken holster and strapped them on. He found that his hand halted on the fabric of his flak jacket, and his fingers went instinctively to a mended tear, small precise stitches like teeth in a smile.
Stop, he told himself.
"Itachi?" asked Shisui, looking bewildered. "What—are you going to do something?"
He let go of the little ridge of stitchery and put on the flak jacket.
"I already have."
The road that led to the Hyuuga enclave was, for the first time, crowded. Debris was strewn along its length like brightly colored confetti—destruction ran in primary colors, as did anything else: here a shredded blue awning, there a splash of red blood, further to her right, a fountain of yellow hair spilling from a cracked skull. And everywhere, the metallic glints of kunai and shuriken, flying through the air as civilians—civilians?—pillaged the wrecked open-air market.
Hinata was a kunoichi. She should have been used to violence. But this, this was something different; she had never seen so many people fighting at once, and in such an obvious fever of greed. She wanted to shield her eyes from it, as if she had stumbled upon something fiercely indecent, as if her retinas would burn if she stared too long. For the first time, words she had never understood fitted themselves into their technicolor context—fray, melee, mob. War—
She didn't even want to wonder how civilians had gotten their hands on so many weapons caches, and she didn't see another shinobi anywhere the vicinity. Most of them had probably left for ANBU headquarters for briefings—or were elsewhere, dealing with looting in other parts of town. Come to think of it, it was odd that there were no shinobi on the Hyuuga road. Hinata began to panic at the conspicuous lack.
However, Neji had told her an infinite number of times that wondering about extraneous information got people killed in the field, and this made too much sense to disregard. She forced her mind to relax.
A crowded road, filled with hostiles—albeit, civilian ones—and she needed to get home. She funnelled chakra to her hands and assumed her stance. As she opened her clenched palm, the watered-down sunlight caught on the forgotten silver ring.
It was the point where, had she been someone in a story, she would have held the ring to her chest, perhaps whispered senpai, perhaps engaged in the moment of silence given to things that had died. The story she had found herself in was not that sort of story, but she was that sort of girl, and so she remembered a flak jacket, a polite hand on a door—and, negotiating her way between practicality and nostalgia, she slipped the ring on.
It was not that sort of story. Yet she still found it in herself to be surprised when the chakra suppressor made contact with the blaze of chakra at her fingertips, and Itachi's parting gift—in its generosity, or its acknowledgment, or whatever she might have thought it was, for one night—activated itself, pulsed blue, and shut down every tenketsu point in her body at once.
"Say exactly what I told you to say."
"Do not—I repeat do not—use violence against the perpetrator."
"Are there any questions?"
"I don't see why we can't just deal with her as soon as we find her," said one of the older deputy chiefs. Itachi recognized him as one of Shisui's uncles, an older man named Rai. "We're at war, Itachi-kun—"
"Excuse me," said Fugaku, not at all loudly, and still enough to send shockwaves of quiet ricocheting through the assembly. "My son is a deputy chief, and you will address him as such."
Itachi was not in the mood for this. "We do not have time to puzzle over clan minutiae at the moment," he said sharply. "I wish to know if there are any questions pertaining to the mission."
Many of them looked dissatisfied, but Itachi outranked most of the people there, and so there was nothing.
"Very well, then," said Itachi. "We shall move out."
Chakra suppressors were against regulation.
So are about five thousand other things! screamed Hinata's mind. That doesn't stop them from happening!
She should have known, she should have guessed, she should have…should have—
She quieted her mind enough for it to assess the logistics of her situation. Itachi had given her the ring and let her leave close to dawn. Being police, however, he must have known that civilians would be looting in the streets, and that ninja such as themselves would have been expected to keep the peace. It was standard procedure in difficult times; shinobi villages had always been self-maintaining, and it was part of their job to keep civilians under control when the police was nowhere to be found, as was presently the case. Wartime looting was a given, as was the fact that shinobi were expected to prevent it to the best of their ability.
Civilians expected it. Protection and peacekeeping, after all, were the only reasons a civilian family would voluntarily settle in a shinobi village in the first place. And complying with this duty wouldn't have been difficult for her—in her normal state.
She pulled hard at the ring, but the chakra in the suppressor flared—she knew the feel of that chakra so well—and without channeling excess chakra to her own hands, she couldn't remove it. Someone would have to do it for her, and at the moment, there were no other shinobi in sight. She fought down the rising urge to scream.
Several civilians around her were just now noticing the kunoichi in her panic, and she could see the terrible realization dawning as they fixated on her eyes—
"She's a Hyuuga!"
"A Hyuuga, you say? Well, why's she just standing there instead of doing something about this mess?"
Taijutsu. She had her taijutsu. The Jyuuken, after all, was taijutsu-based, and she could use that. The problem was that there were at least eighty civilians, and her taijutsu wasn't quite good enough to—
She whimpered. But she was a kunoichi, and so she assumed her stance and prepared to fight her way out of the mountain of people already bearing down on her—civilians, enraged at her failure to comply with her duty.
It was a small ring. It had been easy to embed the chakra suppressor in it, but it had been very tiny, just a slim silver curlicue. Still, Itachi's hand felt empty without it. He flexed his fingers experimentally and felt dissatisfied with the result.
"They're going after her," said Shisui, next to him. "You timed this right, didn't you? And do you want that chakra suppressor back?"
They were in an alcove on the leeward side of the Hokage tower, watching the riot whirl on the street in front of them. The awning they were using as cover flapped lamely in the kicked-up dust from many pairs of heels. Itachi didn't look at the street. Shisui didn't comment on this.
"No," Itachi said. "Let her keep the ring."
"She's not going to wear it, knowing it has a—"
"I did not say to let her wear it. I said to let her keep it."
Shisui gave him a strange, intense look. He seemed to be weighing several words in his head while simultaneously fighting with the desire to say all of them at the same time, as if whatever he had to say was too important to fit into the meager sentences he would inevitably give it. Itachi recognized this look; he wore it often himself when dealing with Sasuke's more ridiculous ventures, but this was a particularly bad time to engage in any sort of fraternal counsel, and Shisui, of all people, should have known this.
Shisui opened his mouth and Itachi said, "Keep your eyes on the street."
"Because you don't want to do it yourself, or what?" said Shisui right back, and Itachi reflected that old friends were ultimately terrible, terrible reconnaissance partners.
"I do not wish to speak about this, Shisui."
"At least you know there's a this to speak about," said Shisui tersely, and then before Itachi had a chance to say anything, pulled aside the awning and jumped down into the road.
"Let's do it," he said, flashing him a tepid version of his usual brilliant grin. "She's your wife, after all." And he opened his palm and dropped the lit flash bomb into the dirt.
The taijutsu kata was an old-fashioned art that was no longer taught at the Academy, popularly considered to limit 'freedom of expression' and 'creative thinking' in its practitioners. But the Hyuuga clan, being nothing if not old-fashioned, had made sure its offspring knew at least fifty basic kata before their promotion to chuunin, and Hyuuga Hinata, for one, had never been so grateful for this fact in her entire life.
Really, half of any given battle was the ability to remain steady, to move your muscles while your mind was frozen in its limbo, and this was what the kata gave you. There in the middle of the street, Hinata became two people, one moving fluidly through progressions she had learned as a young child, and the other weaving her incoherent thoughts through the air, trying to knit something recognizable out of what she already knew was useless panic. The civilians, for their part, had figured this out and were beginning to overwhelm her through sheer force of numbers.
The part of her mind that was detached from the muscle-memory movements chose that time to fixate on the little silver ring, and she felt something twist inside her, a knife wrenching without the accompanying pain, but still jarring, still enough to make her pause and nearly take a punch to the solar plexus. She blocked it. The painless knife remained embedded in her body.
She didn't have time to consider this carefully before there was an absolutely blinding flash of light, and, recognizing the look of a flash bomb, she forced her eyes shut. When she opened them again, the street was thronged with officers from the Uchiha police force.
The civilians fell silent.
She felt a sick whirling sensation in her head. This only intensified when she laid eyes on the head of the coalition, and somehow, before the pale face and emotionless eyes had fitted themselves into her memory, she already knew who she was looking at.
"Who is responsible for this?" asked Uchiha Itachi.
And somehow, all the accusatory eyes on the street turned to her, the sole kunoichi, and Hinata felt the bottom drop out of her world. Itachi had timed this so that she would arrive and be unable to fight, and so that all the civilians on that crowded thoroughfare would believe that she had neglected her duty. And willful neglect of duty, as every shinobi Academy up knew very well, was a punishable crime in the eyes of the Uchiha police.
She had been framed. She should have known.
Should have, could have, would have—
"Hyuuga Hinata," said Itachi, seemingly just noticing her. "As a kunoichi, it should have been your duty to keep the peace. You know this."
She tried to open her mouth, but suddenly a very strange feeling crept over her neck and ghosted along the little hairs there and burst into her brain, all the spangles and motion of a firework without the noise, or the color, or—
"Would you like to say something in your defense?"
Itachi's sharingan was almost always on. From the corner of its expanded vision, he could see the chakra flare, and he knew that Shisui's dojutsu was in place. Already he could see the chakra seeping into Hinata's brain, sweet flavor from a teabag, and the confused parting of her lips as the jutsu integrated itself seamlessly into her psyche.
Shisui's technique was so subtle that most people did not detect its use until after they had already been ensnared. Nonetheless, most people retained a clarion sliver of awareness through the mental manipulation, and Itachi knew that despite her powerlessness, Hinata probably knew exactly what was being done to her. Shisui caught his eye and offered him a smirk entirely devoid of humor. This was effortless for him. Effortless. A matter of duty—
As it should have been for him, no doubt.
Still, he almost had to close his eyes against the sight of her, defenses down, as his ring on her finger sapped away her chakra and his best friend's jutsu leeched away her free will. There was recognition in her eyes—and something else, something that flashed like a coin in water before sinking back into the jutsu.
"No," she said tonelessly, already under. "I have nothing to say."
The civilians in the street began to raise their voices, a dull roar rising and falling like a wave, sounds of indignation—"what?"—"kunoichi, why didn't she do something?"—"could have helped us"—but Itachi heard only the rising swell of sound. The plan come to fruition felt heavy in his veins, now, weighted down and drowning in the greater ocean that the crowd had unleashed. There was only one thing to do now.
Goodbye, said a part of him beneath his consciousness, the part that still chafed at the loss of the ring on his finger. It was like a leaf as it fell, silent in its routine hopelessness, and no one heard it.
"Hyuuga Hinata," he said, and banished the memory of a girl twirling in his flak jacket, as he halted at the rice-paper door and wondered how to keep the small smile off his lips. There was no smile now. "You are under arrest."