Disclaimer: That it is not mine, 'tis true; 'tis true 'tis pity; And pity 'tis 'tis true.

A/N: I really hate it when a plan backfires on me. See, I had this all nicely planned out, when I got this sudden - wait, but that makes absolutely no sense!- road to Damascus kind of flash, which totally threw the whole story into chaos. When I compare this to what was supposed to be... well, I just can't understand the way my mind works. Not that I'm sure it's technically working anymore. What with the weirdest times of work ever, which have totally thrown my internal clock into a frenzied haze of wtf-ness (breakfast at 3:00am? lunch at 9:00am? Why not?) desperate attempts to study for an upcoming exam, hayfever plaguing my sinuses and the usual tangles of life-in-general, I can't blame the neurons for deciding to take a permanent coffee-break.

Oh, and I haven't re-read this, so there will be plenty of mistakes. I couldn't bear to re-read it... after all, that's where all the trouble started in the first place!

I don't think I've answered all of your lovely reviews - if I haven't, I grovel humbly and give you cookies of your choice.

May you find the following to your liking!


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Chapter 2

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Uchiha Sasuke knew he should be grateful. Other people spent months, years, a whole lifetime even, wondering whether their life had a point to it, and if so what it was. He on the other hand, knew that he lived to be a source of amusement to some sadistic invisible being, who generally used Sasuke's secretary as a medium to ensure that this happened (the true reason why the Uchiha heir had such a high turnover of secretaries – definitely not because he was an impossibly demanding, sarcastic, moody, perfectionist, obsessive-compulsive demon-master).

Which was why, after being saddled with a little she-monster and inadvertently rescuing her from the terrible fate of being lost, having to wait for forty-five minutes before the start of a meeting, then being fooled into thinking the sweet-looking, motherly woman who had thanked him with tears in her eyes for having saved her offspring would be grateful enough to make the business-deal an easy one (never, ever would he trust soft voices and sweet smiles again!), he had been coerced into accepting a dinner invitation with both she-creatures.

He had his secretary to thank for that, with his "Oh, but Uchiha-sama, you're free Thursday and Friday evening this week! There should be no problem arranging a meeting with Hyuuga-sama!" just as he had smoothly begged off a thank-you dinner due to prior engagements. Sasuke could have sworn he'd seen his secretary's tail wagging, anticipating a well-done and a pat on the head, before Sasuke had turned the patented Uchiha glare (started by great-grandfather Uchiha who'd founded the company, improved by further generations) on him and reduced him to a quivering lump of goo.

His mother, on the other hand, had been amused by his predicament.

Scratch that. Her son, who when forced to interact with people outside work had all the social graces of a grizzly bear, forced to go out with a woman and her daughter no less? She'd found all of it hilarious.

She'd also cheerfully mentioned that letting Fugaku know that he was having an informal dinner with the enemy would probably either give him a heart attack or a fit; Fugaku had some strange prejudice against the Hyuuga head, Hiashi dating back to their university days, which did not extend to business matters (business is business after all, and liking your business partner never came into the equation) but definitely involved avoiding any kind of voluntary social interaction.

Mikoto ordered Sasuke to let her be there should Fugaku get to know about this dinner, so that she could enjoy the show.

Sometimes Sasuke wondered if his mother was in cahoots with the aforementioned invisible being.

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Contrary to popular belief, Sasuke was not a devilishly handsome, charming and popular playboy. God knows who had circulated that rumour (not the devilishly handsome part – that was fact not rumour) but whoever it was couldn't have been further off the mark. He lived quietly, did not spend money lavishly in things he did not need, had few friends, next to little or no experience with women, and hated the idea of clubs, bars or anything vaguely resembling partying. In short, as his mother sometimes remarked despairingly, and perhaps a little guiltily, he was an old man in a young one's body.

He didn't really care. His ambition in life had always been to be an exemplary Uchiha and make his father proud of him. The things his father valued more than anything in a man were integrity, hard work and good business sense, and while growing up, all Sasuke's efforts had been into moulding himself to fit into those expectations. He had no idea if he had succeeded – his father was a hard man to please, and it had become even harder after the disappointment he had had to bear when...

Sasuke turned his thoughts away from that unsavoury and painful interlude of his life. It had been a definite turning point, and whatever childish thoughts Sasuke had had about his future (had he really dreamt of being a professional pianist? What a fanciful child he had been) had been swept away under the carpet. The loneliness and fear he'd felt as his whole world had disintegrated around him was something he preferred not to dwell on.

His voluntary social exclusion for most of his life had lead him to being distinctly uncomfortable in most social situations, and hence he tried to avoid such situations as much as possibly.

The Uchiha gazed pensively into his wineglass before taking a sip. His appartment was dark aside from the flickering of the television screen, which threw strange shadows on the walls. He'd muted the sound as well, uninterested in hearing what the actors were saying. Sasuke sighed.

The evening had definitely been one to remember.

He'd almost pulled out at the last minute but his pride had won out. Backing out because he was afraid of appearing like a complete social idiot in front of the Hyuuga woman and her daughter was not a viable reason. So he'd girded his loins and trudged on into battle.

The choice of place had surprised him. It was a small Italian restaurant, La Piccola Lepre, hidden in a side street he'd never heard of. Apparently, Hyuuga Hinata was not a fan of what was trendy or hip at the moment. This little trattoria was definitely not one of the mainstream places advertised in the more popular magazines, and the Uchiha, who was a secret fan of anything involving tomato sauce, hoped that it would at least be good. Sasuke had arrived a few minutes early, but when a smiling maitre d' lead him politely to a table situated at the back of the restaurant, Hinata and her daughter were already seated. Sasuke took a seat and accepted the menu and wine-list the maitre d' handed to him and exchanged greetings with the two Hyuugas.

"I am glad you could make it, Uchiha-san," Hinata bowing slightly, "Natsu-chan was e-especially looking forward t-to it." The occasional stammer startled the Uchiha. There had been no trace of it during their business meeting with her impassive face and her rigid adherence to her demands; now, on closer inspection, Hyuuga Hinata looked almost nervous. She was a mystery, this Hyuuga Hinata, whether she meant to or not. Her business profile was remarkable – with her having graduated summa cum laude from LSE, after which she'd managed to build up a small but successful art dealing company and was now heading the PR section of the Hyuuga Corp. Her achievements were made even more impressive by the fact that she'd probably given birth during her finals at university. On paper, Hyuuga Hinata was intimidating. Now, in this very instant, Hinata looked nothing like the sharp savvy, businesswoman she was supposed to be. Instead, she looked as nervous as Sasuke felt.

The thought of his hostess being as anxious as he was over a simple meal had never even crossed his mind; almost unconsciously, his tension began to ease. He murmured something about being his pleasure and the conversation, initially rather stilted, became easier as they discussed the menus and the wine list, and compared their various tastes. It was apparent that the Hyuuga was eager to make this a pleasant evening for him and to his surprise, it wasn't so hard to hold a conversation with her. She was well-read and articulate, and they held quite a number of common interests. Her daughter amused him with the occasional solemn interjection, and without realising it, he was more relaxed with strangers than he'd been for a long time.

Hinata confessed over their antipasto to having asked his secretary whether Sasuke liked Italian food and being delighted that he did as she loved this place, while Natsuye interjected that Uchiha-san should order the fresh ice-cream instead of bothering to eat the boring things ("...because grownups can do anything even eat dessert all the time!") while Sasuke amused them both with his experiences of eating various types of cuisine. Their primo piatto lead to comparing Japan with America, with the Hyuugas being surprised that Sasuke had not been in Japan since childhood, with Sasuke deftly avoiding explaining the exact reason for that. Over the second piatto Hinata and Sasuke, usually both sticklers for propriety, were calling each other by their first name (with the obligatory –san, so as not to be over familiar) and once they got to dessert, the Uchiha realised with a sudden shock that he'd actually enjoyed the evening, and hadn't looked at his watch once.

He liked them. He really liked them.

Sasuke liked how she wasn't pretentious or coy, how she never even tried to flirt with him or talk about the Uchiha corp and their financial assets, how she evidently enjoyed good food and had an easy laugh, and he liked watching he way she and her daughter interacted with each other. He didn't have that much experience of watching parents with their children - his memories of his childhood consisted of very few family dinners, even before that happened, and later when his mother had left, and his father spent all the time locked in his office, Sasuke had eaten most of his meals alone in the cavernous dining room. He envied the camaraderie between Natsuye and Hinata, and vaguely wondered why neither of them ever mentioned Natsuye's father. The girl's conversation had been peppered with what Aunty Hanabi had done or said, and where Uncle Neiji had been, but any mention of 'Daddy' was conspiciously absent. Sasuke also recalled not having read anything about an ex-husband in Hinata's profile.

He shrugged away the thought. It wasn't his business anyway, and anyway, it wasn't like his family didn't have any skeletons in their closet.

The thought suddenly strucj him that actually wouldn't have minded a follow-up of this dinner.

And possibly the world was ending.

"I...err... I enjoyed this," Sasuke remarked casually, trying not to sound as surprised as he felt, as he and Hinata sipped their espressos, while Natsuye spooned up the remains of her coveted ice-cream. The Hyuuga beamed and Sasuke gave himself a mental thumbs-up. "So did I, Sasuke-san!" she said happily, "I thought it would be horrible but it..." her voice petered out as she suddenly realised what she'd said.

"Horrible?" Sasuke raised an inquiring eye-brow as Hinata blushed profusely.

"I...oh... I mean..." Hinata covered her mouth. "I'm so sorry!"

Sasuke had to laugh. "If it's any consolation, I felt sure it was going to be horrible too," he told her. He raised his coffee cup. "A toast to our having been proven wrong?"

She pressed her fingertips to her head. "This a-always happen when I drink t-too much wine," she muttered shamefacedly. Her eyes met Sasuke's and he nodded towards her cup. Hinata laughed and lifted it up. "To our both being wrong," she said and they clinked their cups together.

And may this be the first of many, Sasuke added internally.

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"Thank you once again, Sasuke-san, for helping my daughter," Hinata said, bowing gratefully.

"Honestly, it was nothing," Sasuke replied, thanking his lucky stars that she'd never know just how close he'd been to leaving the kid stranded there. He looked over at the younger Hyuuga, who looked rather sleepy, but as composed as ever. She met his gaze and grinned. "Mummy said I should be very grateful that I met such a nice person," she said. Sasuke blinked. Nice? Him?

"I think so too," Natsuye continued, "So will you marry my mother, Uchiha-san?"

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In retrospect, he could have given a much more dignified response. A hanging-jaw reflex with an indefinable questioning sound was not what you'd call smooth.

No, definitely not smooth. And definitely not complimentary.

Hinata had turned puce-coloured, and literally squeaked her daughter's name. Safe to say even she had no idea of the bombshell the pipsqueak was about to drop on both of them. The culprit, instead of looking abashed, looked distinctly aggrieved that her proposal was not met with her mother and Sasuke agreeing that it made perfect sense and rushing into each other's arms.

Sasuke could barely register what happened, what with the whirlwind of apologies, and calling for a taxi, and a look which suggested that tears weren't far away (embarrassment from Hinata, angry ones from Natsuye) and a disintegration of the evening into utter chaos, leaving him there on the pavement feeling strangely empty.

That cheerful ending had been two nights ago, and Sasuke hadn't heard a word from Hinata. He hadn't called her either, but he simply couldn't bring himself to do it. He was confused, embarrassed. He'd behaved like an utter dolt, simply standing there stiffly, complelety unresponsive to all of her apologies and distress, completely failing to try to diffuse the situtation or pretend that it never happend.

And why had he been so stunned himself? All it would have taken was a laugh, a small joke to ease the tension, but he'd behaved like a berk, like he'd been offended beyond belief! Sasuke groaned. Talk about social ineptitude! The one time he was thinking that well, maybe this was a woman worth knowing, he'd completely screwed it up. And the look on Natsuye's face! Ridiculous that he kept thinking about the look of reproach on the kid's face... what on earth had she expected him to do?

He tried to take a sip from his wineglass but it was empty. He slid it onto his coffee table, and fell back onto the sofa. Sasuke had toyed with the idea of sending flowers as a sort of apology, but it felt weird to send flowers to someone he barely knew. And what was he supposed to say? Sorry for having acted like a freak after a random comment from your kid? Sorry for having rejected you so rudely, it's not you it's me? Sasuke felt a migrane coming on.

Perhaps he should have phoned.

His doorbell rang, making him jump. He frowned. No one he knew would randomly drop by without prior notice, not even his mother. His doorbell rang again, insistently, and he growled as he got to his feet, annoyed at the very persistant person who was pissing the hell out of him. Sasuke strode to the door and flung it open, ready to give a veritable tounge-lashing to whoever had their finger stuck to the doorbell.

"What the hell are you..." His jaw dropped as he took in the forlorn little figure outside his door.

"Natsu-chan? What on earth are you doing here?"


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