My dear readers,
As of this chapter, I will be taking a hiatus from posting. The fic will continue as soon as chapters are written, since I don't have as much free time as I used to. I'm also a bit preoccupied working on my first original novel-tentatively titled Three Moons-which I hope at least some of you will enjoy in the future.
If you've been reading up until this point and haven't reviewed yet, please take this opportunity to speak up and let me know how you've enjoyed the fic! I would really appreciate it.
Also, feel free to contribute to ITB's TVTropes Page. It's a silly thing but it's a bit outdated.
Thank you so much for your support these past three years! The end is in sight, I just have to write it.
Chapter 147 - Baked Alaska
Quite curiously, Ninako was put on several more of these reconnaissance missions, as time went on. And that was certainly how the Hyuuga clan was going to view them, since Hinata had her way about it.
At first, she was only sparingly let out, perhaps once a month. Her condition deteriorated between each mission, so her health had to recover before she could leave again.
(Or so the story went.)
But as her health improved, so too did the frequency of her missions. The Outside began to trickle into the Hyuuga compound for her, once again, and life began to flow back into her as well. There was color in her cheeks again, and laughter in her eyes.
It certainly helped, too, that Andou presented to her a series of photographs and records regarding the comrades of the Fourth Hokage, Namikaze Minato. As a child, he had been paired with an Akimichi and a curious young girl named Hirafu with dark, cloud-filled eyes, reported to be blind. Her last name wasn't Hyuuga—in fact, she didn't have a last name at all, nor any recorded parentage—but she looked like she would have fit in effortlessly with their family, save for her sight.
The girl had died in combat, at the age of fifteen, but to know that there had at least been one other like her son in the world made Ninako feel so much less alone.
(And it made her feel so much more love for her son and her decision, knowing that she hadn't given the boy up, or worse.)
Even though Ninako was now able to experience things for herself, there was still a certain amount of joy that came from hearing news second-hand, and sharing her own news with others.
"Aunt Hinata got me some work at the Hokage Manor while I get back into shape." Ninako said this to Hajime fairly early on, during a visit not long after the first. "Naruto's been busy, so he really needs the help, you have no idea."
"Yeah, how's that?" Hajime replied. They were in the kitchen preparing lunch for Kumori. She was holding him, and he was heating the milk.
"Been going back and forth from Mist for a few weeks doing who-knows-what, and now we've gotta make preparations for one of the Mist jinchuuriki to live here as an emissary or somethin'."
"Which one, the three-tails or six-tails?"
"The big guy that looks like one of the Sannin. You know, the one that's totally related to Jiraiya?" Ninako said, her nose wrinkling with a smile.
"Oh yeah, that guy."
(Naruto had been filled with a strangely passionate interest in Kurunari's well-being after the chuunin exams.)
(Seeing that the boy was twenty-one, he figured there was no need to have him chaperoned about like he was a child, and had been working to convince Mei to let him move to Konoha and work on his literary career.)
(What ended up persuading her was a combination of Naruto's assurance of Kurunari's personal safety, the fact that there hadn't been a major conflict in decades that would require Kurunari to engage in combat, and the six-tails swearing that he would destroy anyone who came near Kurunari.)
(Or if Mei tried to seal him into another person.)
Naruto was gone again a few weeks later, once the jinchuuriki had been moved in.
"Huge, high-profile wedding up north between some syndicate heirs I guess?" Ninako reported, on a walk together. "Andou got to go with him. Dumb little nerd probably doesn't appreciate it."
"Syndicate…? What's Uncle Naruto doing with syndicate people?" Hajime replied.
"Remember those Taki people that came by a few months ago?"
Hajime paused, and the answer came to him. "Oh. With that cross-dressing girl that ran away and stayed with him."
"So she got married?"
"Hope things go well, then," Hajime said.
Ninako reached over and held his hand, afterwards, keeping her other hand on Kumori's stroller.
Taki Kiine wasn't the only one getting married, as it happened. Hajime and Ninako went shopping for wedding presents for Sakari together in April, since they'd both been invited to the May ceremony.
(The story went that she was supporting her coworker on his paternity leave, much like Sakari and Jimichi did whenever they came by. Though nobody ever questioned or asked otherwise.)
It was then that Hajime shared the most surprising bit of news: "So… I guess my parents are dating each other now?"
Ninako carried Kumori in a sling on her front and always had at least one hand on him. Presently, she paused in front of the display of blouses at the department store they were visiting. "Dating? How the heck did that happen?"
Hajime shrugged. "I dunno, like… Mom just said that Dad had asked her out to dinner one night, and lately he's been coming by once a week to take her out somewhere."
"That is the weirdest thing I've ever heard," Ninako said. "Like, I thought they hated each other."
"Eh, you know my parents," Hajime said. "I mean, it's kinda nice that he's making an effort, but I still feel… kinda worried for my mom."
"You talked to her about it?"
Hajime turned slightly pink. "I can't talk to my mom about her love life…"
Ninako giggled, and put a hand on his shoulder. "You can at least ask her if your dad is being nice to her," she said. "That's innocent enough."
"Yeah, I guess…"
"C'mon now, I saw some kitchen stuff over there," she said. "That's the kinda stuff you get for weddings, right?"
"Yeah, I guess…"
Ninako bopped him on the shoulder. "Stop repeating yourself, c'mon."
Hajime smiled in a way that he'd almost forgotten, but had been relearning recently.
Hajime ended up buying Sakari a large, high-quality stew pot and a set of new mixing spoons; Ninako settled for new linens in a soft shade of pink. They were, after all, going separately to the wedding. But there was nothing that was going to stop Ninako from dancing with him, once the party started.
As much time as they now got together, however, it was never nearly as much as they used to, when they both worked together.
And even though Ninako got her time with Kumori, it still wasn't enough.
This became horribly apparent the day she came by on a mission and discovered that Kumori had learned to crawl entirely in her absence. As much as Hajime's new anxiety would normally please her, with his scrambling to move furniture out of the way in every room, she just couldn't find the joy in it, and spent that night on her side of Hajime's bed, feeling old familiar darkness crawling into her heart.
The spontaneous and sporadic visits—always on Hanabi's whim—were not enough for her. Not when her son was growing up without her. And nothing she or her father or her aunt could say would be able to change this, and all of them knew it.
The only thing she could do was adapt, and in a way, it was returning to what she was used to. But those places were dark and hopeless, and the transition did nothing to soothe her. Where she had once filled the spaces of waiting for her loved ones with eager anticipation, she now, once again, kept to herself, painfully aware of what she was missing, and what she wasn't forgetting.
Hinata grew worried, and made her usual pleas. But her sister had already given so much, and was not inclined to give any more.
So Ninako coped, and she survived, and brought herself to life whenever her child was allowed in her arms again.
But things were being put into motion that none of them could possibly know about.
The results only became known on the date of the next Hyuuga New Year's celebration.
Ninako was putting on her best face; she'd been allowed, earlier in the week, a mission with Hajime, and spent all of her goodbyes promising Kumori that she would find a way to celebrate his birthday that was super special. Kumori was not quite talking yet, but was stringing together syllables experimentally, and cruised around the house by feeling and balancing against what furniture he could find, to Hajime's utter panic. Knowing that she'd be allowed another meeting after all the ceremony was over—and Hinata had assured this—allowed her to have a much better mindset over the whole thing, and she agreed to show up for everything and socialize like a normal person.
But before she and her family could even get dressed for the banquet on New Year's Eve, Andou came by with a most curious message.
"Hanabi-sama says you and Uncle Neji have been summoned," he told Ninako, sparkling confusion in his eyes.
"Summoned for what?" Neji replied.
Andou shrugged. "I don't know, but I she asked me to be there too, and my mother. It sounded very important, so you should get dressed and come with me, I think…"
"Well, Hanabi-sama's made an order," Ninako's mother said, fastening an earring to her ear. "Go and see what she wants, I'll be back here waiting."
Neji and Ninako finished getting dressed as quickly as they could, and followed Andou to the audience hall.
Hanabi was there, as well as Hinata; they were sitting at attention in their usual places for receiving guests.
"Andou, Neji, Ninako, if you would please sit beside me," Hanabi said, as they entered, ushering with her hand to the empty cushions on the floor.
She wasn't going to speak with them? The order was followed, regardless, and only Andou dared speak.
"Hanabi-sama, may I ask the reason for this summons?" he said.
"We are receiving a guest, and he requested that you all be present," Hanabi replied. "He should be escorted in shortly."
Ninako's heart jumped. If she had been asked to come by, then could it be Hajime…? She wouldn't put something like this past him, but it was still incredibly unusual…
As it turned out, their guest was an Uchiha, but it was not Hajime.
It was Sasuke.
Only Hanabi was able to contain her surprise, if she even felt anything at all.
"I'll have you know, Uchiha," she said, as Sasuke sat down before them, "that the only reason I am even allowing this meeting with you at this most pressing time is due to your status. Even with your son running your clan, I acknowledge you as my societal equal, at least."
"Thank you. I am very grateful," Sasuke said, nodding.
Ninako glanced between her father, and Hinata, tracking their reactions. They seemed as confused as she was, perhaps a little worry mixed into Hinata's expression.
"State your business, then. I have very little time to spare," Hanabi continued.
Sasuke nodded again. "Of course. I will try not to take up much of your time." He looked up, and his eyes were black, his expression non-threatening, but serious. "Hyuuga Hanabi, I wish to ask for your permission to adopt Hyuuga Ninako into the Uchiha clan."
Ninako felt her heart jump against her collarbone. In her peripheral vision, she saw a precursor of outrage on her father's face.
"Adoption." Hanabi sounded far from amused. "Surely, you can't be serious."
"I'm entirely serious. I wish to adopt her—not as my daughter," he added, almost faltering, "but as a member of the clan."
"And for what reason are you bringing this ludicrous offer to me?"
"For the benefit of my son and my grandson."
For a moment, Sasuke's eyes met with Ninako's. She could feel her heart thudding in her ears, now.
Was this for Hajime…?
Was Sasuke actually doing this for Hajime…?
"And was it your son that put you up to this?" Hanabi said.
"No," Sasuke said. "I come here of my own volition. But my actions are for his benefit."
Hanabi glanced at Ninako in obvious skepticism—what, she couldn't be thinking that she and Hajime had planned this!—before continuing on. "Well, regardless of the reason for your actions, I am going to have to reject your offer."
"I'd like a reason why," Sasuke said, calmly.
Hanabi's eyebrow rose. "You need a reason? I'm curious as to what your true reasons are."
"My son and my grandson are not getting the time they need with Ninako. I aim to fix that."
"I don't see how that's possible," Hanabi said. "Ninako is allowed time with your son periodically. There's no reason why that's not enough for her."
"Pardon my saying, though that may suit you, it hardly suits her, or her family." There wasn't even a note of sarcasm or bitterness in Sasuke's voice.
There was, however, bitterness in Hanabi's mouth as she scowled. "You have no right to say what suits my family."
"I wasn't talking about your family, Hyuuga-san," Sasuke said. "I was talking about Ninako's."
Hanabi's expression only tightened, and so did the hold of terror on Ninako's heart. "You are walking on dangerous ground, Uchiha."
Sasuke nodded again—was he bowing? "I understand, Hyuuga-san. But this is urgent business. My grandson is growing up without a mother, and I will not stand for that."
Once again, for a moment, Sasuke's eyes met with Ninako's, and she noticed what might have been sadness in them.
Ninako's confusion only deepened.
"Hyuuga Ninako does not have children, so I do not know why you are involving this grandchild of yours in these proceedings," Hanabi said coldly.
Ninako had to close her eyes, silently apologizing to her son.
"Because that boy is her son, however much you choose to deny it," Sasuke said. His voice was growing louder. "And I refuse to let a member of my own family grow up in this manner, having his own mother denied from him."
"Uchiha Sasuke, I will have to ask you to leave if you continue to bring up that unrelated creature," Hanabi said. "Return to the matter at hand."
Sasuke was almost seething when Ninako opened her eyes, to see if what she was hearing was actually happening.
"Very well." There was an edge to his voice, and his head was low. "For the sake of my son, then, and him alone. Please, allow me to take Ninako into my clan."
"And this is so they might have more time together."
"And so he might marry her, if he chooses."
"Marry me?!" Ninako couldn't contain herself any more.
"Hold your tongue, Ninako," Hanabi said.
Ninako's heart was racing, and she felt her father put his hand on her back, perhaps to calm her.
There was no way Hajime wasn't behind this. Since when was he talking to his father again, though?
"Hearing this, I will, again, have to refuse. Perhaps even more strongly than before," Hanabi said.
"And why is that?"
"A member of the Hyuuga clan may only leave upon death, Uchiha Sasuke," Hanabi said. "And marriage outside of the clan is strictly forbidden."
"Then at least let them be together," Sasuke said. "Surely that's not too much?"
"What I am allowing now is far too much," Hanabi replied. "I cannot risk any more misjudgment to happen between them."
"You ought to be ashamed to think so lowly of my son and your niece," Sasuke said, darkly. "They can go about their own business without supervision because they are adults."
"And yet these two adults, when left alone together, created a gross mistake that should never have-"
Sasuke's fist hit the tatami. "My grandson is not a mistake!" He was on the edge of yelling. "And your continued denial of him -"
"Enough, Uchiha." Hanabi, with dangerous grace, began to stand, holding the edge of her overcoat. "I see no reason to continue this discussion. I ask that you leave."
And Sasuke, instead of standing, or firing back in any way, threw himself into a desperate and humble bow before her.
"I am begging for you to at least allow Ninako to live in my home. My family will watch over her and ensure nothing happens to her that would harm her or your family's reputation. Please, Hyuuga-san." He kept his head to the floor, his hands poised by his forehead. "I am pleading with you not as your equal or as the head of my clan, but as a concerned father."
Hanabi looked at him as if he were trash in the middle of the road. The silence was dangerous.
But then, Andou spoke. "Hanabi-sama, if I may?"
Hanabi did not look back at him as she replied. "Speak, boy."
"While clan law does not allow for marriage into other families, there is a law that does allow for Hyuuga to live as guests in the houses of another clan for indefinite amounts of time, where they are to be treated as… well as family. For… diplomatic missions."
"Considering… Uchiha-san's urgency, I figured perhaps it would be an agreeable solution on the matter." His manner of speaking was impeccable, perfectly nonthreatening and formal.
It didn't seem to change Hanabi's expression, but her reply suggested otherwise. "Remove yourself from my hall, Uchiha Sasuke. I will consider your needs and make my decision following New Year's Day."
Sasuke carefully picked himself up, and bowed once more. "Thank you for your time. I will not bother you any further."
He turned around and left without another word, nor any glance behind him.
Once again, Hanabi was the only one who didn't express any surprise or shock at Sasuke's actions. She turned to the rest of her family, her face returned to its usual coldness. "Well? You are no longer needed. Return to your families and prepare for the banquet."
Ninako exchanged uncomfortable glances with her father and aunt, before standing to leave.
"Wait." Hanabi held out a hand in a motion to stop them. "Andou, you come with me. I would like to speak with you about your little… outburst."
"Yes, ma'am," Andou replied, nodding. "Mother, I will return to you when I am finished talking with Hanabi-sama."
"Of course, Andou," Hinata said. "Brother, niece, let us take our leave."
She led them out in silence.
And once they were a safe enough distance away, Ninako couldn't hold it in any longer.
"Did that… really just happen?" she said. "That whole thing?"
"I'm inclined to say it did," Neji replied.
"It was… unexpected, certainly," Hinata said.
"There is… no way that was actually Hajime's dad, though," Ninako continued. "I mean, I don't know the guy all that well, but from what I've heard…"
"Uchiha Sasuke was behaving quite unlike himself, definitely," Neji said.
(Especially since he remembered, all too clearly, the events of the previous year, and how forcefully Sasuke had rejected his grandson.)
"Perhaps he's turned over a new leaf?" Hinata said, hopefully. "I've heard some very promising things from Naruto, after all…"
"Maybe it wasn't him?" Ninako offered. "Like… maybe that was Hajime, or someone else?"
"No, it was Sasuke," Neji said. "I'd know that chakra anywhere."
Ninako laughed slightly, in disbelief. "What the hell… Well, that'll definitely be something I'll have to talk to Hajime about when I see him next."
"I do agree," Hinata said. "Let's all of us finish getting ready first, though. Shake all that off, hm?"
"Mm. I'll see you at the banquet, Hinata," Neji said, and motioned for Ninako to follow.
"See you in a bit, Aunt Hinata," Ninako said, in parting.
Neji said one thing more, as they neared the house. "If that boy, Uchiha Hajime, planned everything that just happened, he is incredibly foolish."
"Dad, we don't even know if he had anything to do with it…"
"I'm certain he is. And it makes him very brave and clever, as well," Neji said, and smiled slightly. "He's certainly improved my opinion of the Uchiha clan, at any rate. Him and Uchiha Sasuke both, to cooperate like that."
Ninako grinned. "I'll keep that in mind."
They returned home to polish their outfits and finish preparing for the banquet, neither of them feeling an immediate need to share what had happened with Hasami.
Ninako ended up talking to Hajime much sooner than expected.
Because as the family was making their way up to the Hyuuga banquet hall, Andou came rushing towards them, with a smile on his face as large as the moon.
"Ninako," he said, "go pack up."
"What?" she replied.
"Pack up! Get some clothes, at least something for a few days."
"Uh, okay?" She smiled in confusion. "What for?"
"Hanabi gave the okay. You're going to live with the Uchihas from now on."
Ninako's smile widened, despite herself. "Wait, what the hell? You mean-"
"I mean that you're free to go! Because of the diplomacy law I brought up. Hanabi said that she agreed with my reasoning and-"
Andou was interrupted by Ninako rushing forward and giving him the biggest hug she could muster. "You little genius dork! You mean what you said changed her mind?"
"I guess?" Andou replied. "I mean, that's what she said, but-"
Ninako hugged him again. "I have no idea how to pay you back for this."
"Hey, don't thank me! Thank Hajime and his father, I suppose. Hey, get off." Andou managed to escape from her arms, and went to work on getting his kimono readjusted. "Hanabi-sama says she wants you there as soon as possible, and she's going to announce your absence to the family at the banquet. Something like… an honorable job representing the Hyuuga clan."
"That certainly sounds prestigious," Neji said. Even his wife, beside him, was smiling a little.
"I made sure she meant well," Andou said. "So go and pack, already! You don't want to keep Hajime waiting," he added, playfully.
Ninako held a retort on her tongue before simply laughing instead. "Okay, so, I'm not going to the banquet?"
"Of course not! Go, go, go!" Andou waved her off with both hands.
"Well, then, I'll help you pack," Ninako's mother said, obviously trying to stay composed. "Dear, you ought to go with Andou and tell Hinata-sama, if he hasn't already told her."
"I haven't, Aunt Hasami," Andou said.
"Then you have a job to do. I'll make sure Ninako gets where she needs to go."
Ninako went to hug her father, next, out of sheer joy. "I'll be sure to keep in touch," she said.
"I know you will, Ninako. Now go get ready," Neji said.
Ninako gave him and Andou both hugs before following her mother back into her bedroom.
They packed Ninako's suitcase in near-silence, but as they were finishing, Hasami finally said something.
"You know you're welcome back here at any time, if you need to pick up more things." She added another shirt of Ninako's to the pile of clothing.
"Thanks, Mom," Ninako replied. "I'm sure I'll forget at least a few things in this hurry…"
"Mm." Hasami closed the suitcase, and reached for the zipper. "Ninako, I know… I haven't been the most supportive of you lately, what with… the child and everything, but I want you to know I'm happy that you're leaving with Hanabi-sama's blessing."
Ninako looked at her mother over the suitcase. "Yeah…?"
"The last thing I want for you in life is for you to be in trouble," Hasami continued. "So… yes, I'm glad you have at least this."
"Thanks, Mom," Ninako said again, with far more affection than before.
(Her mother, a fragile glass woman, was almost Ninako's opposite, withdrawing at any hint of conflict, for fear of breaking herself.)
(Between her and the reserved nature of her husband, it was a wonder how someone like Ninako could have been produced between them.)
They stood, once the suitcase was packed, and hugged each other before Hasami escorted Ninako to the door of their house, and waved her off, whispering "Take care," to the wind.
And Ninako ran into the night and toward her family.
She didn't even ring the doorbell once she reached the Uchiha home, flinging the door open and shouting from the foyer. "Hajime! Hajime!"
He came running, bewildered and immediate. "Ninako? What are you doing here?"
"I'm going to live with you now! I got the okay from the clan head!" She dropped her suitcase on the ground and ran to him. "I'm going to be a diplomat or—something, I don't care!"
"You're going to live with me?" He took her outstretched hands in his.
"Yes! I'm going to be able to see you and Kumori every day and—and the clan is okay with it!" She began hopping up and down. "We practically have their blessing!"
Strange as it looked, Hajime began hopping with her, the two of them chest-to-chest, caught up in the sheer joy of the moment. "This is—wonderful! Fantastic! I can't-"
Takeru had come down the hallway, propped up against his arm-braces, and they immediately stopped.
"And what is going on here?" he said, with a thin smile.
"Ninako's going to live with us now," Hajime replied, unable to feel even slightly angry. "Her clan gave their blessing."
"Well, then, isn't that good news," Takeru said. "I suppose this means you won't be relying on me to watch Kumori anymore?"
(Takeru, to everyone's surprise, showed a remarkable interest in his nephew. Nobody expected it.)
"Uh, Ninako?" Hajime looked to her for confirmation.
"If you're the de facto babysitter, then I suppose we'll still use you when Hajime and I both go out," Ninako replied.
Takeru sniffed, though not in disdain. "Hm. Well, I suppose that works out. Now get inside, the both of you, you look like fools."
Takeru began down the hallway, the dull tap of his braces accompanying him, and Hajime and Ninako kissed each other with enthusiasm once he was far enough away.
"Here, let me help you with that. We can put your stuff in my room, I guess?" Hajime said, reaching for her suitcase.
"Thank you, you're a darling," Ninako replied, and they began into the house together. "So this worked out better than you expected, huh?"
"What did?" Hajime said.
"You working together with your dad to convince Hanabi-sama to let me live with you."
Hajime stopped, midway into the kitchen, and he put the suitcase down. "Wait, what about my dad?"
"Oh hi, Ninako!" Karai began, but clipped her voice once she noticed the conversation continuing.
"Your dad came by today and practically begged with Hanabi-sama on your behalf," Ninako said. "I thought you were working together?"
Hajime shook his head. "I haven't even seen my dad in over a year. What made you think I'd said something to him?"
"Just… the way he talked, it sounded like he was doing a favor for you I guess," Ninako said. She scratched her chin as she re-processed the evening in her mind. "That's so weird, he must have thought of this by himself, then."
"There's no way my dad would do something like that," Hajime said.
"Well, Hajime, he just did, and me being here is pretty damn good proof of that, I think," Ninako said.
But Hajime continued, still fumbling for answers. "Mom, did you have anything to do with this?"
"With what?" Ino was still setting the table for dinner. She was wearing a string of new pearls with her outfit that evening.
"Dad asking the Hyuuga clan to let Ninako live here. I mean, you're the only one that still sees him regularly."
Ino put down the last plate, and furrowed her brow with thinking. "If he was planning anything he certainly didn't give me any indication…"
"How very generous of him," Takeru said. His words, however, were only slightly sour.
(He did not expect anything for his birthday that year, and stayed respectfully quiet when Inou received a handsome cable-knit cardigan for his birthday, brought home by their mother.)
(But all the same, he received a package from Sasuke on his birthday.)
(Inside was a pair of finely-made fingerless gloves, and a letter.)
(The content of the letter was beside the point.)
(But it was signed, "Your father.")
(Takeru, of course, made no outward indication of how any of this affected him.)
"I'm sure I'll ask him what made him do this when we meet next," Ino said. "For now… well, we're probably best off not questioning this good fortune too much, hm?"
Hajime tossed a slightly suspicious glance at his mother, but she cheerfully shrugged, shaking her head, as if to say "I honestly don't know!" He sighed and returned to the joy of his reunion, and getting Ninako set up in his room.
The following New Year was one of the more exciting ones for the Uchiha house. Along with the family dinner, there was Kumori's birthday to celebrate, with Ninako there to actually participate. Yakata even came by with the gift of a teddy bear and a bouquet of variegated tulips—the flower Nadeshiko chose for him, of course, as they meant "beautiful eyes."
A day or so after the festivities, with Ninako settled in and having retrieved her forgotten items, another package arrived for the family.
Inside were a brand-new set of matching outfits, socks, and hats for Kumori, along with a note from Sasuke wishing his grandson a happy first birthday. Hajime received the gift with hesitance, and Ninako with chirping delight, and Kumori spent a great deal of time trying to chew on the cabled accents of his new sweaters when Ninako tried to get him to try them on.
Sasuke called Ino that evening, to ensure that the package had been received. And Ino took the time to plan another date with him, as was the norm—him calling, and her accepting and planning.
That night, however, they would have much more to discuss than usual.