Not So Blunt Differences
Huge gates stood as the entrance of commerce into the hidden village as well as a protective barrier from evil. As Tenten stepped through them to begin her mission, they meant freedom to her. Giving her sullen team-mate a sideways glance, she welcomed the opportunity to get a way for a few days.
She sighed and was surprised when he wrapped his hand around hers. His fingers were firm as they held onto hers, as if he was reluctant to release her. Her eyes peered down at their hands joined together and frowned. Ever since she had ran into Neji earlier and told him about the mission she was going on, he seemed to be tense, and possibly even a little angry. He was always so unreadable it was hard for her to tell for sure.
Tenten stopped walking and after a quick look around the area she didn't see Sasuke yet. Glancing at the time, she saw she was five minutes early.
Ha! At least I beat him at something, she thought and her lips curled up in a wryly competitive smile.
Neji's hand clenched around hers for some unknown reason and Tenten led him over to the side of the gate and after releasing her hand from his grip, she placed her pack on the ground and started rummaging through it.
"I hope I didn't forget anything important," she said out loud with a playful smile and hoped to diffuse the tension between them.
Tenten was glad when Neji said, "here," and handed her a flashlight and his lip quirked into a semi-smile.
"Thanks Neji," she said gratefully as she slipped the flashlight into her pack and stood up. Years ago she had forgotten a poncho on one of their first missions together and it rained the whole time. It was one of the most miserable experiences in her life. Ever since then he had been using his Byakugan to make sure she had everything she needed.
It was something known only to the two of them and had been a running joke for as long as she could remember. The familiarity of the situation eased some of the tension and made her feel a bit more comfortable around him again.
"Well, I'll see you in a few days…" she started to say to him when she felt his hand grip her shoulder just before his mouth suddenly covered hers.
Tenten's eyes flew open and she watched in surprised fascination as his elegantly closed eyes and profile were so near to hers. Part of her had always thought Neji was rather beautiful for a guy and in a lot of ways seemed uninterested in the opposite sex. As his lips moved against hers in an almost seductively possessive kiss, she no longer doubted his preference.
Neji did like girls…and not only that. She could tell by the way his hands pulled her against him and the seriousness of his mouth as it purposefully claimed hers, he also liked her.
For just a second, her eyes closed and a small sigh escaped her as she felt herself reluctantly begin to enjoy what was happening between them. A second later hers eyes opened suddenly when she felt a dark and hateful sensation come over her like she was being watched and zapped with lightening.
Looking over Neji's shoulder, she gasped when her glance ran into hard onyx eyes.
Tenten stared back at Sasuke and was taken aback by the anger and reproach in his eyes, before he turned away from her and began to head down the road without waiting for her.
Annoyance shot through her as she watched him leave. How dare he get angry at her, she could kiss whoever the hell she wanted, it was none of his damn business.
Neji looked down at her face with concern and saw something in her expression that was making him rather nervous. He had known the Uchiha was coming and had timed their first kiss perfectly. As he looked down the road and saw anger punctuating every step Sasuke took, he knew he did the right thing.
Tenten belonged to him and he had sent the message to his rival loud and clear. He also clarified things with Tenten, who had been a little dense in all of the other attempts he had made over the past few weeks to show her he liked her.
"Neji, I have to go now," she told him with apologetic brown eyes. She was relieved when he became her team-mate again and gave her a firm nod.
"Be careful, Tenten, watch your back," he reminded her and tried to keep the worry from showing in his eyes.
"I will Neji," she said with a slight smile. "I know, I won't have you there to watch it for me," she told him as she turned away from him in acknowledgement that he always watches over her.
"I will see you when I get back," Tenten yelled just before she sped down the road after Sasuke.
"Hinata-dear, come look at this one, I've never seen a more beautiful pink color in my life!" Mikoto called over to her from a few rows over at the garden section of Konoha's largest home improvement store. "It is absolutely stunning!"
Smiling at her mother-in-law's enthusiasm, she hurried over to her side and she had to agree for once Mikoto was not exaggerating; the pink color was bright, lovely and clearly one of a kind in its uniqueness.
Soon her eyes became unfocused as she mentally planned a section of her garden. If she bought one of these, she could surround it with delicate phlox and some white and red rose bushes and it would be the focal point of her lovely new garden.
Itachi had been helping whenever he could, but he wasn't home very much. So, in her spare time she began to show as much love to her new garden as she did in the one she left behind at the Hyuuga mansion.
Hinata glanced around and noticed her mother-in-law was eyeing the bush as well and her eyes darted around to see if there was another one, so they both could have one.
Her face fell when she noticed none of the other rose bushes even came close to that one, it was special. Without hesitation, Hinata said, "Mother, you saw it first, I want you to have it."
Mikoto's eyes were warm as she placed her hand on Hinata's face, "Dear, are you sure? I already have lots of roses at home."
Her daughter-in-law nodded and smiled, "Of course its fine, it would look great near your walkway, by your front…" she was saying, but stopped when a middle-aged woman rudely pushed past both of them and picked up the rose bush and put it in her cart and left muttering in an affronted voice, "Hyuugas' and Uchihas' can't have everything around here."
Shocked, Hinata watched the woman leave before Mikoto pulled her off to the side and glanced around to see if anyone was near them.
"What was that about?" Hinata asked her as a frown slid over her forehead.
"I am surprised you haven't run into this before," Mikoto commented and rested her hand on Hinata's arm.
"Well, um… I have been away a lot on missions and working in the hospital," Hinata reminded her and kept her eyes on Itachi's mom. She had a feeling Mikoto had been keeping something from her.
A small guilty smile slid over the older woman's face before she admitted more seriously, "I probably should have told you sooner, but since you and Itachi have gotten married, and Fugaku and your father have reconciled, a lot of rumors have been swirling around, saying our two clans are trying to take over the village."
As though rose colored blinders had fallen off her eyes, Hinata looked around her anxiously and began to remember other incidences over the past few months, where she had just brushed off comments or looks as simple gossip about her and Itachi. Being in the spotlight of village gossip as they undoubtedly were all the time, had made her uncomfortable, as did the way people's eyes would naturally go from her face to her stomach now, anticipating that she would soon be expecting.
Her thoughts immediately turned to Itachi and a sense of dread began to overcome her when she thought of how the rumors might affect his chances at becoming…
Mikoto watched the emotions flit over her daughter-in-law's sweet face and was easily able to read them. Her eyes were compassionate, but also a little firm as she realized Hinata was going to have to have thicker skin and toughen up if she wanted to help Itachi reach his new position.
"Dearest, this problem is not going to go away over night," Mikoto told her wisely and lowered her voice as she added with a slight amount of bitterness, "You are an Uchiha now and soon you will realize our clan is highly valued and respected in Konoha, but we are also feared."
"I know," Hinata said almost in a whisper and knew Mikoto spoke the truth. Her heritage as a Hyuuga, with her pearly-white, all seeing Byakugan was regarded far differently, than the sinister and powerful Sharingan of the Uchiha clan. The red eyes and violent past of the clan had a way of invoking fear and distrust in people around them.
Mikoto wrapped her arms around her and gave her a big hug, she hated seeing her upset and wished there was more she could do to help her. "Hinata, don't worry about it too much, just be yourself and over time people will come around," she said in a soothing voice.
Hinata felt a little bit better and knew she wasn't alone and was grateful for the support of her new family as well as her old one. Her relationship with her father and sister as it stood now had never been better or stronger.
"Thanks mom," she said and returned the hug. "Do you want to get some lunch?"
Mikoto gave her a misty eyed look at how informally Hinata called her mom. She had been trying for some time to break through her daughter-in-law's protective and formal shell she had around her and teach her to be more relaxed and open.
"Sure, dear…just let me go pay for these items…" she said and headed toward the checkout line. Just before she got there an ANBU agent appeared before her out of nowhere and Mikoto almost ran him over with her cart.
"Lady Uchiha, the Hokage wants to see you right away!" The agent said urgently before fading out.
Alarmed and very pale, Mikoto shot Hinata a worried look.
"I will pay for this stuff and carry it home for you," Hinata said calmly as she took the cart from her. Her eyes widened in surprise as she watched her mother-in-law, dressed in her stylish clothes, form a series of rapid hand signals and fade out just like the ANBU agent did a few moments ago. Reminding her that Mikoto used to be a Jonin-level ninja before she married Fugaku and had Itachi and Sasuke.
As she went up and paid for the plants, she hoped nothing serious was going on…
Tsunade pushed two large stacks of papers toward the edge of her desk and whined, "I am so exhausted."
"More like bored," Shikamaru said under his breath as he shot Itachi a long suffering look. He saw out of the stack of papers, she had taken out only two sheets and passed the rest of the assignments, tedious complaints, mission reports, etc., on to them.
"Shikamaru," the Hokage said while reading one of the forms she had kept, "Did you say something?"
An urgent knock sounded on the door and saved him from getting into trouble and he wasted no time answering it. He was surprised when Itachi's mother pushed him out of the way and ran into the office.
"Tsunade," she said anxiously while trying to catch her breath. "I came as fast as I could."
"Mikoto," the Hokage said dramatically with a large grin as she leaned back in her chair. "Pack your bags, because we're going on vacation!"
Before she could answer, Kakashi came through the door and for once he was in a hurry. His mask was even slightly askew. The ANBU member told him it was an emergency and he said the Hokage needed to see him STAT. He thought the village was under attack or something.
It only took him a second to sum up the extremely non-urgent situation, and after releasing a sigh, he slumped down in the nearest chair and pulled out one of his orange books and started reading.
"So Kakashi, you CAN move fast when you have to," she joked with a bark of laughter.
He gave her a cool glance over his book and was not amused. "Did you need something, Lady Hokage?"
"I need you to be Acting Hokage for a week," Tsunade said without beating around the bush.
When Kakashi looked like he would rather spend the whole week doing extreme calisthenics with Guy and Lee then be Hokage, she added, "In name only."
The blonde Hokage's eyes were firm as she gestured in Itachi and Shikamaru's direction, "They will be doing all of the hard work. Shikamaru will assist Itachi and you will only be contacted in the direst of emergencies. The only thing I need you to do is come in the mornings and sit in that chair and pretend to be the Hokage."
Shrugging nonchalantly, Kakashi was relieved. He was one of the few people who knew about the Hokage's plan to name Itachi as her successor and he knew that information was a highly classified secret. He had a feeling this week was going to be a piece of cake for him with nothing to do except for catching up on a little reading. "When do you want me to start?"
Tsunade got up from her chair and gave Mikoto a sideways glance bursting with joy and anticipation of getting away for the first vacation she has had in three years. "Uh, now," she said and moved out of his way.
Kakashi got up and slouched down in the chair and put his feet up on the desk and started reading his book.
Not much different than normal, Itachi thought conveying it to Shikamaru who rolled his eyes and returned, I know.
Tsunade linked arms with Mikoto and just before she opened the door she turned and said, "Don't let me down, geniuses…or else," she cracked her knuckles.
Unperturbed Itachi bowed, "Enjoy your vacation, Lady Hokage, Konoha will be fine."
"I know," Tsunade said seriously after giving him a long and solemn look. "I wouldn't be leaving if I didn't believe that," she told him and swept grandly out the door.
Mikoto hugged her son and couldn't keep the pride from shining in her eyes, "I'm so proud of you, Itachi."
"Thank you, Mother," he said before mentioning in her ear, "You might want to stop by the bank before you go." He reached in his pocket and placed a large wad of cash into her hands.
"Thanks son," his mother said with a knowing smile, already anticipating her friend's gambling and spending habits. "Your father will happily pay for everything!"
She moved to leave and turned back and looked at him as if just remembering something, "Oh Itachi, please ask Hinata if she will take over my clan duties while I am gone."
"I will," he told her and thought this might be a good opportunity for her to get to know some of the members of the clan better.
Humming to herself cheerfully while she packed, Mikoto pulled out a long black evening dress and some high heels to match it. She was just starting to put her toiletries and make-up bag together when her husband walked in their bedroom.
"How long will you be gone," he asked and his mind was already thinking about the new fishing rod and reel he had just bought and all of the night-fishing he could do with it.
"A week," his wife answered absently as she looked over which shade of lipstick she should pack and ended up throwing in both into the bag.
A week, her husband repeated almost longingly in his mind. A whole week of fishing, with no one to stop him, it sounded like a little bit of heaven to him. He could have Itachi and Sasuke take over the clan while she was gone and he could do whatever he wanted, whenever he felt like it.
His eyes glanced in Mikoto's direction and he saw she was watching him closely.
Shit, he cursed mentally and knew he needed to tone down his happiness or he was going to get it. His face immediately became downcast as if he was really sad to see her leave.
He put his hand on her shoulder, "I will miss you while you are gone."
Liar, Mikoto thought as she snapped together her suitcase. A slow smile came over her face as she happened to mention. "I took some money out of the bank to pay for the trip...I took out xxx …"
Fugaku blanched when he heard the amount, it was excessive even for her.
"Well dear, if you want... you could always come with us," Mikoto suggested innocently.
As she predicted, Fugaku didn't say a word about how much she was spending and began helping her out the door. "Have a good trip," he said after he kissed her goodbye.
"Goodbye dear, I will see you when I get back," Mikoto said with a victorious laugh as she took off down the road to meet Tsunade.
Author's Note: I have been working hard on Itachi's Ghost, but had to stop when this story kept calling to me. I have the next chapter all plotted out and plan to have some fun with it. Sasuke/Tenten and Itachi/Hinata coming up next. Please read and review!
Naruto anime/manga notes (Spoiler): I have been getting caught up and the latest manga chapters are awesome (582)! I also watched the fight between Sasuke and Danzo and thought it was great.