Sasuke found Itachi in the lower gym, just as Temari had told him. His older brother was handily working over one of the heavy bags. Itachi, as he did with everything, excelled at physical fitness-martial arts in particular. It was one of the things he and Sasuke had in common.
Their father had insisted they learn a variety of fighting styles and techniques when they were only toddlers. It was one more way for him to parade and show off Uchiha superiority. Had he not enjoyed it so much, Sasuke probably would have rebelled at the lessons as he did most everything else, but there was something satisfying in flawless form and precision.
Sasuke watched Itachi's fluid movements, noting the way the heavy bag swayed in time with his short, sharp jabs. He stayed that way—silent and observant—for a few minutes before clearing his throat to announce his presence, although he was certain Itachi had known he was there from the moment he'd entered the gym.
"Well, hello, little brother," Itachi greeted without pause. He sent the bag shifting to the left with a strong hook. "Calm now?"
Sasuke shrugged and moved to lean against the wall."Hnh."
Itachi shifted his weight to add more force to his blows. "Well...you two...need to reign it in. I won't have...your animosity...ruin...this for Temari." One last hard hit and Itachi sent Sasuke a meaningful look.
"Whatever." Sasuke waved a hand. Like he didn't know how important this week was for Itachi. It wasn't like it was his fault their father was impossible to be around. "He leaves me alone, and I'll happily avoid him."
Itachi caught the swinging bag, his wrapped hands making a sharp slap against the leather as he brought it to a halt. "You know, it doesn't have to be this way."
Sasuke snorted, avoiding his brother's penetrating gaze. "He thinks I'm a disgrace and a failure."
"No, he doesn't."
"He does, and I really don't give a shit. I'm not you; his approval doesn't matter to me."
Itachi cocked a dark eyebrow.
Sasuke rolled his eyes. "Can we talk about something else?"
A small pause and then Itachi nodded. "Of course." He began unraveling the wrap at his wrist, "We could discuss the weather, the guest list, tonight's menu..." he paused, the sly tilt of his lips betraying his intent to tease. "Or, little brother, we can discuss your intentions with the lovely Miss Hyuuga."
A bit surprised, Sasuke slanted Itachi an assessing glance. Normally, Itachi steered well clear of his personal relations. "What makes you think I have intentions?"
"Aside from her spending the night with you?"
Sasuke's look narrowed. "Do I even want to know how you know that? Besides, nothing happened."
Wiping his forearm across his brow, Itachi snorted.
Sasuke straightened away from the wall, defensive. He knew that given his history it wasn't an unfair assumption for Itachi to make, but it bothered him, for some reason, to have Hinata viewed like that. "She's not like that."
"You mean a woman spent the night with you and isn't completely enamored?" Itachi deadpanned. "Someone should give her a prize."
"So, you're telling me that you aren't looking in that direction?"
"Looking's free," Sasuke avoided.
Finished wiping down, Itachi tossed his wraps and towels into a bin. "She's Temari's friend," he reminded.
Sasuke could hear a slight edge of warning in his brother's tone. He answered back with his own, a clear intonation of 'drop it' seeped into his words. "I'm aware."
Itachi ignored it. "There will be plenty of other women here, Sasuke."
"Are you telling me to stay away from Hinata?"
"Of course not. You're a grown man, and I have very little say in with whom you choose to...uhm, associate. The last word was drawn out. "Believe me, if I had any influence over who you became involved with there would be a number of women to never have crossed the Uchiha threshold."
Sasuke blew out a breath. He'd made some mistakes, he could admit, but none of his 'relationships' lasted more than a smattering of weeks and he very rarely brought a woman around his family.
"I'm only asking you to consider the situation," Itachi continued. "And the people involved."
Sasuke raised an irritated brow. "And what's the situation, exactly? In case you missed it Hinata is a fully functioning adult. Besides, I never said I had any intentions regarding her, one way or another."
"Don't try and bullshit me, Sasuke." Itachi grinned, knowing him all too well. "I see the way you look at her. I know you. She interests you. I am, as your brother, and as a good husband, asking you to think before you carry things any farther. Hinata does not fit your usual type."
She didn't. And maybe that was part of the attraction, Sasuke mused, but he withheld commenting.
"Not that that's a bad thing, " Itachi added laying a hand on his shoulder, his dark eyes—so like Sasuke's own—were somber, yet lit from within with a happiness that Sasuke could only silently envy. Whatever else Temari did in her life she made his brother happy—truly happy.
"No one has ever been able to tell you what to do, little brother, and I wouldn't presume to try. All I ask is that you be sincere, in whatever you decide. If you choose to pursue something with Miss Hyuuga, then do so with the understanding that she is near and dear to Temari, and if you don't have an interest, then I suggest no more overnight visits. We hardly need any more women hung up on you." With that Itachi let the matter drop.
His brother wouldn't bring it up again, Sasuke knew. Itachi respected him, his mind, and his decisions—even if he didn't always agree with them. It was something Sasuke admired and loved about him. Where their father did nothing but condemn and compare, Itachi supported.
Sasuke let out a breath, and then let his defenses down. "I don't know what my intentions are," he admitted, carding a hand through his dark hair. "You're right. She...interests me. For the first time in a long time, I want to know more about someone, and not just to sleep with her—although that's definitely in there, too. It's just not the only thing..." Catching Itachi's amused expression, he let out a disgruntled sigh. "Fuck, I sound lame."
Itachi leaned toward him with a smile and gave Sasuke a two fingered jab to the forehead. "Not lame. Besides, it's good to know you're not completely shallow. I was beginning to have my doubts."
Sasuke rubbed his head, and found himself smirking back.
"He's completely shallow." Temari crossed her arms over her pearl encrusted chest. "That man only cares about one thing when it comes to women, and it's not their charming personalities. With Sasuke it's fuck it or fuck it."
"Temari!" Hinata swung her head around, torn between laughter and mortification. There Temari stood, draped in the most expensive silks and laces on earth, cussing like a sailor. Hinata had been listening to her friend for the past several minutes list off all the reasons Sasuke was no good for her. And since Hinata knew that Temari was as far from judgmental as a polar bear was from wanting to live in the desert, she took the warnings in stride.
"It's true. That boy has a conquest list longer than the hallway." Temari tilted her head, her fingers ghosting over the material of her gown. "How do I look, by the way?"
"Gorgeous." And she did, Hinata thought, staring at her friend. Trust Temari to have picked just the right wedding dress. The corset style and soft folds fit her long frame elegantly and made her look like a princess. There would be no veil, and instead Temari would wear a crown of flowers on Saturday. She would be the most beautiful bride ever, Hinata was sure. Temari deserved this-deserved to be happy. She was one of the best people Hinata knew.
When they'd met just over two years ago, Temari had seen how frail Hinata had been—how shattered and in doubt—even though Hinata had tried to hide it. Instead of ridiculing, Temari had helped her through one of the most difficult times in her life.
With her urging, Hinata had mustered up the courage to call Neji and Hanabi—knowing her father would be livid that she defied his command of "If you leave, Hinata, you don't ever show yourself to me or anyone in this family again. Ever." She'd honored that request for many months, buried in trying to rebuild her life with her finances frozen and all her supposed 'friends' turning their backs on her. She had never felt so low before...but then Tenten, Naruto, and Temari had lifted her up, dusted her off, and set her straight. Hinata had found the support and love she'd lacked from birth and managed to move forward after the huge falling out with her family.
And now, here she was, about to share one of the happiest moments in Temari's life, and she felt so proud and honored.
"Hina, are you crying?"
Quickly she wiped her eyes. "N-No."
"Oh, crap, you are! Look, I'm sorry. Damn it. Where's the tissues? Here. If you want to bump uglies with Sasuke, go for it, just, you know, be careful. He's pretty but he's about as deep as a mud puddle—"
Hinata continued to wipe her eyes, laughing. "I'm not up-upset about Sasuke. It's just... You just look so beautiful and...and, well, I'm so happy for you."
Fingers wadded with tissue, Temari exhaled a relieved breath. Then, she glanced down at herself. "Really?"
"Yes, really." Hinata beamed. "You look so amazing."
"I feel amazing." Temari grinned into the mirror, equally wide. "I'm getting married!"
"I can't believe how lucky I am," Temari breathed. "I love him so much."
"I can tell." Hinata couldn't keep the slight wistfulness from her voice.
"It will happen for you too," Temari assured her. "some gorgeous, wonderful, man will sweep you off your feet. I'll be at your wedding and it will be beautiful and we'll drink champagne and toast to our ridiculous good fortune and happy futures."
Hinata chuckled and tucked her hair behind her ear. "I think I should start with dating before we skip right to marrying me off."
"Probably a good stepping stone," Temari agreed with a wink. "But seriously, you do need to get out there more." She paused, considering. "Maybe testing the dating pool waters with Sasuke isn't such a horrible idea. He does share his brother's stellar looks and killer body..."
"Two minutes ago you were warning me away," Hinata pointed out, blushing.
"Yeah, well, I'm horrible with advice. Taking or giving." Temari shrugged. "Just do whatever makes you happy. There. That's all I'm going to say on the matter."
Temari made a locking-lips motion. "Okay, okay, now you. Go try on the dress I ordered." She shooed.
Smiling wide, Hinata scurried behind the changing screen. She was attempting to adjust the top of the dress when Temari peeked around the corner.
"I had the bust-line lowered on yours, because, honestly, with boobs like those you should walk around topless. I know I would."
AN: Holy crap, I'm not dead. **cheers** And neither is this story. I will be plodding away at it as I can. Thank you all for your wonderful messages, continued interest and amazing support! You rock!