Chapter Seven


After trying on the dresses and making a few last minute adjustments to the measurements—although no amount of pleading on Hinata's part got the neckline re-altered—Temari took Hinata to the kitchen where they made hot cocoa and raided the sugar snacks before laughingly being shooed out by the cook.

With other guests likely to start showing that afternoon, it was possibly the last chance for some alone time for them and Hinata was simultaneously cheery for her friend while relishing the quiet bonding. She loathed social gatherings. She always felt awkward and nervous and out of place. Ever aware of scrutiny over her words, her appearance, her manners... She shook herself. She wasn't on display. This wasn't about her—she was here for Temari and she would smile and stand straight and meet everyone's eyes, because she wouldn't let anything ruin this celebration for her friend.

As though sensing the direction of her thoughts Temari slung a loose arm across Hinata's shoulders and leaned her cheek against her hair. "I'm so happy you're here. Thank you. I know you hate big events like this."

Warmed, Hinata placed her free arm around Temari's waist and gave a gentle squeeze. "I wouldn't miss it," she said with a sincere smile.

"Come on, let's go for a walk." Temari tugged her towards the main entrance, stopping only briefly to grab some coats, boots and hats.

The place was even more grand in the daylight, Hinata thought as she stepped off the porch and down into the lane. Rolling, snow covered hills and surrounded by thick forest. The Uchiha property was expansive to say the least. The main house was a sprawling mansion with more rooms than Hinata cared to count, and the area surrounding was dotted with smaller, private, cottages like the one Sasuke had. She blushed a bit, remembering the cottage and the kiss, but quickly pressed her lips closed and studied the scenery.

Further into the forest and up the mountain a bit there were seasonal hunting cabins, Temari informed her, pointing. There was also a lift and over a dozen ski trails and paths for snowshoeing, which Hinata was eager to explore. She loved taking long hikes into the quiet. It was nice to get away from the noise, to settle and feel grounded. Even if only for a short time.

"I still can't believe they hardly ever use this estate," Temari commented with a shake of her head, sending blond tresses bouncing off her shoulders. "If I had access to a place like this, they'd have to pry me away."

"Well," Hinata reminded, "you soon will."

Temari gave a short laugh. "Sometimes I forget that. It seems...surreal. I mean, I get to marry a man like all this." Another shake of her head. "How did I get so lucky?"

Hinata knew that Temari didn't mean the luxury. Her family was wealthy and worldy, rulers of a small nation. Her joy—her disbelief—stemmed from Itachi. As confident and wonderful as Temari was, Hinata knew that no one was immune to insecurities. "You deserve it all." She told Temari. "And then some."

"Of course you would say that. You're too sweet to think otherwise."

Hinata thought for a moment and then shook her head. "Oh, that's not true. There are plenty of people in the world that don't deserve this."

"Can it be? Does Hinata Hyuuga have a bit of spite in her after all?" Temari teased. "I should maybe write this down in my diary later."

"Oh, ha, ha." Hinata gave her friend a gentle hip bump and then readjusted her borrowed pants. Even with the belt they hung awkwardly on her. "I still need to sort through the things recovered from Sasuke's car to see what was salvageable and what needs to be replaced," she murmured, more to herself than anything.

"It's a given that your cell and probably any other electronics are toast," Temari said with a frown.

"Yeah." Hinata agreed with a pang. She didn't put an overt amount of value on material things, but she worked hard for the few luxuries she did indulge in and having lost more than one so suddenly was going to really bruise her budget.

"You know, I have a spare phone you can have."

"Mm, no, that's okay. I need to get a few other things too. I'm sure my camera is ruined." Not to mention her favorite sweater, but she would only fret about one thing at a time.

"In that case, it's a trip down the mountain into town. You should have Sasuke take you. Aside from the fact that it was his crappy driving that cost you your things, no one knows photography like he does. Itachi didn't want him working for the wedding, but he insisted that Sasuke be the one to select our photographer. I have to say—I'm impressed. We've only had a few sittings, but everything I've seen is great. Which reminds me, there will probably be some candids done this week too, so don't break any arms if you see a bald man with glasses snapping shots."

A chuckle. "Ah. Okay."

"But if you spot anyone else snapping photos, punch them in the nose. Damn nosy photo-pimps."

Hinata took a slow, savoring, breath of the crisp air before asking,"Photo-pimps?"

"You know...those assholes that take 'in your face' pictures of private moments, or embarrassing things, and then sell the images to the highest bidder."

"Oh, you mean those photo-pimps."

"Oh, hush, Hyuuga. I know full well you've had more than your fair share of experience with them." The last was said with a sympathetic head tilt.

Unfortunately, that was true. After the fall out with her father and the drama of her being ousted from the family, she had been hounded for months by reporters and photographers hoping to catch glimpses of the "Penniless Princess". Gods, how she hated that name.

"They aren't much of a concern." Temari continued, clearing her throat and changing the subject. "Security here is pretty tight, but I just want everything to be perfect. There's so many details that still can go wrong. Our wedding planner assures me that she's on top of it, but what if she's not? What if everything gets screwed up? What it all blows up in my face?"

"Okay, first: deep breath. All right? Good. Second, everything will be fine," Hinata assured gently. "How can it not be? Even if the mountain crumbles and the sky falls down, you'll still be marrying the love of your life."

Temari let out a slow, even, breath, then smiled. "Good point. See? This is why I need you here. You keep me sane."

Hinata giggled at that. "It's a full time job. I should probably ask for a raise and some benefits."

"Oh, har, har." Temari scooped up a loose pack of snow and tossed it at her.

"You're staring rather intently out that window. What's so interesting out there?"

Sasuke turned away from the mentioned window to see his mother entering the small reading room. Adjacent to the library it was one of the few mostly isolated places in the main house. He could remember many afternoons as a child spent curled against his mother's side as she read. Not aloud—something he would be thankful for later in life when he realized the smutty content of her rose covered books—but quietly to herself while he skimmed his own choice novels. They were, he could honestly say, some of his happiest memories.

"Nothing," he deflected her inquiry. "Just watching the snow fall,"

Mikoto placed her hand on his shoulder, leaning in to brush a gentle kiss against his cheek. The sweet smell of her perfume tickled his nose and once more stirred nostalgic memories. He really had missed her. Between travel for his work and avoiding his father he'd not seen his mother very much the past few years. He would have to try and set aside some time for her this week.

"The snow fall, eh?" She murmured, pinching his ear and turning his head back to the glass. "Looks to me like you have your eye on a certain young woman."

Or maybe he would continue to avoid visits.

"I like her," his mother continued after a moment, peering past his shoulder. "She's not at all like the girls you usually date."

Sasuke's gaze flickered to the window and the yard beyond where Hinata was happily throwing snowballs at Temari. "I'm afraid you're mistaken. She's just a friend. That's all."

"Hm." His mother folded her hands, and leveled him with a look that would have done his father justice. "Women have never, ever, been 'just friends' with my boys."

Rubbing the back of his head and feeling his ears burn, Sasuke met her stare. "Well, it's not exactly like I've ever tried it before."

Mikoto inclined her head, one sculpted eyebrow arched. "Just friends, then. Nothing more? Pity. It would be a welcome change to see you with a nice girl for a change."

"The women I date are nice."

She made a soft 'tsk' sound under her breath. "If they're so nice why haven't any of them lasted longer than a handful of weeks?"

Sasuke sighed and ruffled the back of his head. "I'm really not in the mood to be interrogated," he told her.

"Is it interrogation for a mother to be interested in the affairs of her baby boy?"

It was Sasuke's turn to scoff. "Yes."

Mikoto made a scrunched face at him. "You're terrible," she told him with a gentle smile.

"Why the sudden interest in my love life?"

She moved away from the window, the teasing smile still tilting her lips. "I wouldn't call it sudden. I've always wondered what type of woman would finally breach your walls, maybe get you to consider something more long term than a romp."


She shrugged one delicate shoulder causing the deep blue of her blouse to shimmer in the filtered light. "Oh, please, Sasuke. I may be old, but I'm not stupid."

"You're not old," he dutifully contradicted before adding, "and what makes you think that Hinata has breached anything?"

"Well, for starters, that face you were making when I entered."

"I wasn't making a face."

"You most certainly were."

Sasuke rolled his eyes. "Well, for the record she hasn't breached anything. And before you start in on me—neither have I. So, if you don't mind, how about we focus on Itachi—you know the son of yours getting married—and leave my personal...stuff...personal." He took a breath, and then instantly regretting it, grumbled, "I wasn't even aware that you knew Hinata."

His mother waved a hand, a triumphant smile lighting her face. "Not well, I admit."

"And yet she earns your ringing endorsement?"

At this Mikoto's eyes grew somber and her tone serious. "Any woman that can stand up to Hiashi Hyuuga and withstand the backlash that resulted from it is made of strong stuff." A pause. "Remarkable stuff."

This new information gave him pause. He knew she was Hyuuga, but he had no idea that she was at odds with her father. How would he? It wasn't like they were friends. Hell, he could count on one hand the amount of words he had said to her before she'd slid into the passenger side of his soggy car. "Daddy issues," he muttered, bordering on dismissive. He could relate.

"Well, I think it goes beyond that," Mikoto murmured, voice lowering slightly, as though she was afraid of being overheard—or uncomfortable. "Whatever happened must have been substantial. As far as I know Hinata has been cut off and disowned."

Sasuke blinked. As tooth and nail as he and his father got he knew in his heart of hearts that his father would never completely oust him, never cut him out entirely. Whether out of genuine emotion or not wanting to upset Itachi Sasuke had never bothered to ponder, but he knew with absolute certainty that his place in the Uchiha family was secure—no matter how much griping his old man did.

Sasuke settled down into one of the chairs. It was obvious this conversation wasn't one he could avoid, and at the moment, he didn't want to. His curiosity was piqued. "And no one knows what happened?"

"Oh, there were rumors, of course," Mikoto acknowledged and the corner of her mouth turned down. "The closest to the truth I think anyone has gotten is that it was Hinata that walked away, and not Hiashi tossing her aside...despite what he claimed to the press."

"Wait, he actually publicly claimed to have tossed her from the family?" The idea that anyone would be so flagrant shouldn't surprise him, but it did.

"Delightedly," Mikoto corrected with another twist to her expression. "She was weak, he claimed. Not fit to head the empire. Surely you must have heard all of this before? It was everywhere for months."

"No. I don't usually pay attention to gossip."

"Hardly gossip when it's a multi-billion dollar dynasty that's in the news."

He shrugged. "Expensive gossip is still gossip."

"At any rate, whatever happened may never be fully known, and I feel a bit uncomfortable discussing it...I'm sure she's endured enough people talking about her behind her back. I'd rather not continue."

"You brought it up," he reminded her, ignoring the tug of guilt in his gut.

"I just think it would be a terrible shame for you to overlook a sweetheart like Hinata." Mikoto continued, smoothly returning them to her preferred topic—his love life. "She could be good for you, I think. But if not her, than someone, Sasuke. I don't like you being so alone."

"I'm rarely alone," he muttered.

"All right, then a rephrasing. I'm tired of seeing you lonely." There was tenderness in her gaze and an understanding that he hadn't expected.

Ignoring the unexpected tightness in his throat he pushed to his feet. "Shall we go find Itachi? Your son that is getting married. Him. Not me. Remember?"

"Of course." Mikoto slipped her arm through his. "And he's marrying a lovely woman that adores him. I couldn't be happier for them. Itachi has his head on his shoulders, a love in his life, and he's taking steps to secure his future. Itachi doesn't need my guidance."

"Neither do I." The last thing he needed was his mother playing matchmaker.

"Of course you do. You're just too stubborn to admit it."

AN: Hi! **ducks and covers** I know it's been AGES since I had a chance to update. I'm so sorry! Real life is busy. Next chapter has Sasuke and Hinata back in a car again and spending an afternoon together. Also, that man should take his mother's advice.