Seito's strength was returning and Hinata found she was glad to have the company. Over the last couple of weeks as the boy rested and recuperated Sasuke had continued spending the majority of his time outside. Although her work inside kept her busy it was pleasant to have someone for conversation when she would occasionally take a break or bring him his meals.

It had taken him longer to recover than they expected because he had depleted his chakra to dangerously low levels. Lately Sasuke had been asking Seito to accompany him on his survey as long as he felt able. Hinata continued to notice the concern Sasuke showed to his subordinate. At one point she caught herself wondering what kind of a sensei Sasuke would have made. Even though the age difference was much closer between the two of them, she still thought his actions reminded her of Asuma-sensei's towards Shikamaru in the past, or possibly even the way she could dimly recall his brother Itachi treating Sasuke himself when they were younger.

Hinata realized there was something about being here in this remote location that seemed to put him at ease. Perhaps here, away from his revenge fueled anger toward Konoha and the memories of any places associated with Orochimaru he could simply be himself. Another thought crossed her mind - with only her and Seito here perhaps he also had no worries about untrustworthy underlings. She wondered if any of his current companions within his organization that he spoke about would actually try to plot against him.

"Hinata!" Sasuke's voice startled her out of her reverie so that she almost dropped the tray she was carrying for their lunch.

"Oh!" she said in surprise as she turned to see him. "I was just bringing the things out for you and Seito."

"Join us, then, if you haven't already had lunch yourself," he told her.

She hurried into their dining room and settled herself with them at the low table, serving the food and pouring tea.

After a few moments Sasuke addressed her. "Are you still wishing to go outside Hinata?"

Again, his words surprised her so much so that this time she actually reverted to her stutter, "H-hai, yes, Sasuke." She blushed in excitement like a little girl and then realized it and felt her face burn even hotter. How ridiculously child-like she must seem to him. But to actually be out, in the open and fresh air after so long inside. Her little window in her room as well as the balconies and terraces had been her only solace during this time. But to actually have the ground, grass beneath her feet, trees above her, yes, she had missed it terribly.

"Good," Sasuke said and had to hide his own smirk at how her expression of happiness made him feel. She never presented herself as sad around him and he knew this was a studied effort on her part, but nonetheless he found that he enjoyed the few times he did actually see her smile. Moving some dishes aside he spread one of the old maps out displaying his recent annotations.

"We've mapped out the extent of the largest mineral deposits," he motioned to the map indicating a semicircle radiating away from their current location. "Basically if you stay between the keep and the river as the boundaries to the east and west and no further than these arcs as your boundaries north and south," he pointed to the markings on his map then continued,"you should be within the limits of the chakra masking." He looked up at her making sure she understood him. "This is as much for your own protection as... anything else. Am I clear?"

The excitement of a moment earlier wavered just a little under his stern gaze. "Hai, yes, I understand. And thank you." Then she added with her own strength back in her voice. "But you should know that my own safety is not all that keeps me here. I said I would stay and I will, within whatever bounds you set." She held his gaze, her own steady.

Seito studied the two of them without speaking. His new 'mistress' for lack of a better term and her relationship with his master still puzzled him. She had started out prisoner and seemed to now be functioning as a servant although he could never imagine any servant talking to his master so. It was a puzzle.

Sasuke acknowledged her statement with simply a nod as he re-rolled his map. As he did so he was admitting to himself that Hinata's word was her bond. Even if there were no threat to her and no...pregnancy to contend with...she had offered herself in place of Shikamaru and she would honor that agreement no matter what. That's simply who she was. Mineral deposits with chakra-blocking characteristics or no, if he set the parameters for her she would abide by them. Not because of who he was. But because of who she was. It was...unique among all the people he'd been associated with since leaving to become Orochimaru's student. For just the briefest of moments he thought he wished that she would want to stay because of who he was, Sasuke Uchiha. "Let us go, then."

He rose and the other two followed. They descended the stairs, not all the way to the basement levels where she had first been kept, but only to the main floor where she had so often seen him come and go. It seemed silly to Hinata but she felt like the princess in the tower who has finally found her escape. Even though there was no where to go but simply outside, that was where she longed to be. Stepping out into the bright sunshine for the first time in several weeks she tipped her face up to the sun and smiled, whispering "Oh, Sasuke."

He couldn't help but smile himself. It was...delightful to see her so happy.

"What do you want me to do?" she asked turning to face him.

Her question jolted him back to reality. She was his servant, he her master, he should assign her some task. Instead he was enjoying simply watching her. He thought back a moment to why he had originally asked him to accompany them outside. "I think we are all tired of the reconstituted rations for the stores inside and simply meat. See what you can find that would be a little fresher for dinner tonight. You know the boundaries." With that he left, motioning Seito to follow him.

Hinata puzzled over it as he walked away. It was already autumn and there were hardly any cultivated crops in this wilderness. Still there should be some nuts and berries in season. She hurried back to the storeroom, being inside as briefly as possible in case the doors should shut and close her within. Returning to the fresh air with a couple of baskets she began foraging for whatever she could find.

By evening Hinata had managed to gather in a couple of punnets of blackberries and a basket of nuts she had collected. More importantly she had found some wild sage and rosemary. They had not been suffering from a lack of food, there was plenty in the storerooms. But Sasuke was right, they would all appreciated something fresh and a little variety in their diet. She wasn't worried about the small amount she had collected she was more interested in making the meal more interesting tonight. When Sasuke and Seito returned they were carrying a couple of plump rabbits as well. Hinata smiled. It would be an interesting supper indeed.

It was already getting cool when they returned to the keep for the evening. She busied herself with dinner preparations while Sasuke and Seito were occupied outside with some other repairs Sasuke wanted undertaken. As she put the finishing touches on the supper she recalled one item in the storerooms that she hadn't used yet. There was only a small supply and she really hadn't seen any reason to use the few bottles of sake she'd found til now but the day had seemed such a pleasant one that she decided to serve it, too. It was a pleasant surprise to the young men when served and although Hinata did not have any she enjoyed the conversation that resulted.

As the evening wore on she realized that for the first time since becoming Sasuke's prisoner she was somewhat at ease. Shikamaru was safe in Konoha. Seito, whom she'd grown oddly fond of herself was recovering nicely and she was certain that Shikamaru was too in Tsunade's capable hands. Sasuke was neither the boy she remembered or the monster he was reported to be back home in Konoha but a rather complex and conflicted young man. And one who had demonstrated that he would not harm her or her child...their child, nor would he allow anyone else to harm them. She was by no means happy but just for the moment she felt content.