Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or the characters therin.

A/N: To my loyal readers, who have waited patiently for me to get going again, this story is for you.



The lonely cry of a crane rang out across the delta, a harsh counterpoint to the softer nighttime songs of the frogs and crickets. The noise increased as the half-moon rose over the ocean, shedding light onto its neighboring land. The tide began to grow in strength, bringing the night symphony to a crescendo as a shadow darted across the rugged marshland, making no noise as it passed. Towards the nearby village it raced, taking care to avoid the moving lights of the sentries posted around the village outskirts. A stranger would have had a hard time avoiding detection, but for someone who had grown up here, avoiding the boggy sections of terrain, the razor sharp marsh grass, and making the gaps in the night watch was child's play.

The corners of Ryusei's mouth twitched upward as he reached his destination, a large, walled garden belonging to an isolated house a small distance from the village. Crouching down as he pressed himself as close to the wooden barrier as possible, he listened for any signs of life from the other side. Hearing nothing, he settled down to wait for the signal that all was clear. One minute passed, then five, and he was forced to shift to relieve his stiffening muscles. Finally, after nearly a half hour, a soft owl hoot reached his ears, and he stood up.

Letting his weight sink to his feet, he sprang up and over the wall, using a small chakra boost to help him overcome the height. A flowerbed met him as he landed, and he had to take care not to crush any of the flowers, lest he leave proof of his passing. Slowly rising back up, he scanned the garden for any potential threats. The house on the other side of the garden was dark, its massive windows betraying nothing of the interior. Rows of plants and clusters of bushes surrounded him in full summer bloom, broken only by the large pond in the very center of the garden. In front of that was an ornate bench, occupied by a lone figure, half hidden in the surrounding darkness.

With nervous glances at the house, Ryusei approached the bench and sat down. The woman beside him scooted out of the shadows, letting the moonlight reveal her ethereal features. Her long hair looked black in the night, but when the sunlight touched it, it shone a deep navy blue. Her pale skin was an almost deathly shade of white, and while most people had an undertone of pink or yellow, hers was light blue. Her eyes were shadowed now as well, but Ryusei didn't need to see their color to know their magnificence. He would never forget her particular shade of gold, ringed in lavender. They were the most unique eyes in the entire world, and he could lose himself forever in their depths.

Tentatively reaching out, he slid his hand under the silk sleeve of her black summer kimono, grasping the warm hand beneath. "Amaya-chan." he breathed.

"I was afraid you wouldn't be able to make it." she replied, her voice a near-whisper.

Drawing on his courage, he straightened and gave her a smug grin. "Of course I made it, I'm a shinobi, after all."

She rolled her eyes at him, but returned his smile. "Aren't we all?"

He feigned hurt and clutched his heart with his free hand, refusing to release their entwined fingers. "You wound me, great lady! My honor is surely tarnished. When I return from my mission I must reclaim it. I challenge you to a duel. No weapons, and you can't use your monstrous chakra. Just hand to hand combat, you and me..."

Ryusei leaned forward, attempting to look threatening. Amaya just laughed softly at his efforts to sound courtly and attempted to stare him down. Her face fell under the intensity of his gaze, and she squeezed his hand as apprehension suddenly washed over her. "I wish you didn't have to go to Earth Country. You know what my parents did to the Stone ninja. It's too dangerous to go so close to their territory."

He pulled her forward and wrapped his arms around her, finally releasing her hand. Relishing the way she seemed to melt against him, he hugged her tightly before pulling back to let his eyes wander over her blushing face. "I'll be fine. It's only for three days, and if it were too dangerous, Sensei would have sent a whole team instead of just me."

"I know, but…"

He silenced her protest by crushing his lips to hers. She responded immediately, kissing him back with a fierce strength that belied her slender frame. He pressed for more and she opened her mouth, letting him tangle with her tongue. A low moan welled up from her throat, and Ryusei clutched the back of her kimono as a maelstrom of feeling hit him.

Then the pond exploded.

Amaya jumped to her feet and turned with a gasp as a wall of water rose up over them. Seconds later it came crashing down, soaking them both. Ryusei took the brunt of it, and now stood a few feet away, his brown hair hanging in his eyes, water streaming off of his face. A light came on in the house, and Amaya turned to find her father standing silhouetted on the other side of the pond. He was crouched in a fighting stance she knew all too well, the great Samehada tucked under his right arm.

"Dad!" she shrieked.

"Amaya, what are you doing out of bed?" he asked, his voice as hard as steel.


"Get in the house. Now."

Amaya stiffened, her temper flaring to the surface. Standing tall, she crossed her arms over her chest and glared at her father. "No. We weren't doing anything wr-"

"It's okay, Amaya. Go on." Ryusei said softly as he shook the last of the water from his hair.

Not wanting to disobey her father, but not wanting to just leave Ryusei alone with him, she stood frozen in indecision. The remaining water in the pond bubbled in agitation, and it was then that Hinata appeared on the porch, still in her nightclothes, a kunai tucked in her hand. Her Byakugan was receding as she failed to see a chakra signature she didn't recognize.

"Kisame? What's going on?" she asked as she looked over at a very wet Ryusei and Amaya. "Did something happen?"

"Ryusei-san just came by to have a little 'chat' with Amaya." he snarled in reply.

Amaya bypassed Kisame and the pond, and hurried over to her mother, anger still blazing on her face. "Mom! He just wanted to say goodbye to me before he left in the morning, that's all!"

Hinata looked between her daughter and Ryusei, a knowing expression on his face. "I see. You'd better go inside then, Amaya-chan. I'm sure your father would like to have a word with Ryusei-san in private."

Amaya gave her mother a horrified look. "He'll kill him!"

Hinata shook her head. "He's a shinobi of this village. You, more than anyone, know what that means to him. He wouldn't actually harm Ryusei-san unless he didn't have a choice."

Contrary to her mother's words, Amaya watched her father stalk forward, swinging Samehada in a wide arc. Ryusei just stood there, unwilling to challenge his sensei and the leader of his village. But he stood his ground, refusing to let him see the fear that made his knees want to tremble. He was confident in his own skills, but he wasn't stupid enough to believe he could defeat the legendary Mist ninja.

Unable to stay and watch what was sure to be a disaster, Amaya turned and fled into the house. A sliver of doubt crossed Hinata's mind as she watched Kisame advance on his former student. She had not seen her husband this angry in years, and it didn't look like it would cool anytime soon. Tucking her kunai back in its hiding place, she called out to him.

"Kisame! I don't think it's very sporting to use Samehada on an unarmed chuunin."

He glanced over his shoulder at her, a look of something akin to disappointment on his face. Grumbling under his breath, he thrust the sword into the ground, its blades wiggling towards him as if they were reaching out, asking to be picked up again. Ignoring it, Kisame continued toward his target, eyes hard.

"What the hell do you think you're doing, Ryusei? Sneaking into my house in the middle of the night, meeting secretly with my only daughter…"

The rest came out as a snarl as he closed in on him, one arm drawn back, ready to strike. Dressed in his trademark mesh shirt and black pants, Kisame's exposed arm muscles bulged with adrenaline, letting Ryusei know just how much one punch was likely to hurt. The younger man glanced once at Hinata, then met the hard gaze of the man who had taught him everything he knew, turning him into more than just another orphan; the man who had made him a ninja. The man who would most likely kill him for what he was about to say.

"Hoshigaki-sama, I humbly request Amaya's hand in marriage."

The blow came faster than he expected, connecting with his jaw and sending him reeling back, despite the fact that he had been prepared for it. An inhuman roar followed him down into the marigold bed, making him wince as dirt and foliage flew from the impact. Then he was drug upward before he could react, a large blue hand firmly wrapped around his throat. Murderous yellow eyes bore into his brown ones, and the face that had always looked different in a crowd of people now looked more like a demon's than a human's.

"She's still a child. She just turned seventeen!"

"It's only another year, we can wait that long." Ryusei said, heaving breaths past the constricted muscles in his neck.

"What makes you think you deserve her?" This time his tone was low, dangerous.

"I don't! No one can. But I love her …and I know she feels the same way …about me! Just ask her!" he cried out, despite the sudden tightening on his throat.

"That's not good enough. Love won't protect her from our enemies. If anything, they will use it against you both. Trust me, you don't want to know what that is like." Kisame said as a flash of pain ghosted across his face.

"I will die before I let that happen."

"And if you die right here before I let that happen?"

Suddenly, a voice from the past rang through Kisame's mind, the cold, condescending words as fresh as if the old woman were standing right in front of him. 'You damned fool! Death in inevitable, making the cause of it irrelevant. Are you going to deny love for the sake of something you can't prevent anyway?'

Staring down at the silent determination in the young man in his grip, Kisame's resolve was shaken. His hold on Ryusei loosened, and at last he let go. With a grunt he backed up, his hands falling to his side. He started to turn around as Ryusei collected himself. Heading back to the house, he reclaimed Samehada and called back over his shoulder,

"If that is really the way you feel, I won't stand in your way."

Ryusei couldn't have been more shocked if the old man suddenly turned bright orange. He struggled to find his voice as Kisame gained the porch. "Uh,… thank you."

The door shut with a loud click, leaving Hinata and Ryusei in silence. The kunoichi smiled softly as she adjusted her robe. "Are you alright?" she asked.

"I'm fine, Hoshigaki-sama." he replied with a small bow.

"Good. When you return from your mission, why don't you come over for dinner? I'm sure Amaya will be happy to see you again."

A genuine smile lit up Ryusei's face. "I'd love that. Well, goodnight, Hoshigaki-sama. I am sorry about your flowers."

And with that, Ryusei turned and ran for the garden wall, leaping over it in another chakra-enhanced bound.

A small smile still on her face, Hinata turned and went back into the house. The sound of shuffling came from the living room, and she headed in that direction to find Kisame sitting in his favorite chair, Samehada across his lap. He had a fresh cleaning rag in his hand, and was picking bits of earth from between the serrated blades. He didn't stop or look up when she entered the room, but she knew he was aware of her by the slight tensing of his shoulders.

She approached the back of the chair and rested her chin on top of his head, his long navy hair, now peppered with silver, tickling her nose. His muscles flexed as he worked, and she admired the way he still looked so young at fifty-two. She was jealous, really. She was only thirty-five, but no matter how hard she trained, she couldn't get rid of the little pouch of skin and fat that was her testament of motherhood. And whenever she looked in the mirror in the mornings, she saw the crow's feet that insisted on getting a little bit longer. She wasn't vain by any stretch of the imagination, but she couldn't ignore the signs that age was calling on her. Her one saving grace was that her waist-length hair was still the same lustrous bluish-black it had always been. But, that too, would eventually change.

Kisame leaned back into her neck slightly as they sighed simultaneously. "We're getting old."

"It was bound to happen eventually. Amaya is a wonderful girl and she and Ryusei have been together since they were little." Hinata said softly, knowing he wasn't actually talking about their age.

"Heh. I'd still rather just kill the little prick and be done with it."

"I noticed."

Kisame was quiet for several minutes before he spoke again. "Amaya probably hates me right now."

"She knows how protective you are. But if it makes you feel any better, I'll go talk to her."

"Alright, but don't stay up too late. We have to start training the new class of genin tomorrow."

Hinata laughed lightly as she straightened up. "I'll try not to."

She felt his eyes on her as she walked out of the room and down the hall. She had a feeling he'd rather walk into Kirigakure unarmed and in chakra binds than approach their daughter right now. If there was one thing Amaya had inherited from her father, it was her volatile emotions. In fact, she could already hear the dull thumping of the training dummies as they took the hardest beating they'd probably had in years.

Despite the turmoil that erupted over the last few minutes, Hinata couldn't help but relax as she walked barefoot across the cool wood of the floor. The smell of the flowers from the garden pervaded the house, lending it a peaceful atmosphere. She was absolutely happy here, something she thought she would never see in her lifetime. Kisame had built this house for her himself, not allowing anyone to help. Every timber bore his sweat and love, and the whole place seemed to resonate with a protective aura. There was a glow coming through the shoji doors separating her from the training room, softly lighting up the mural of black hummingbirds and lilacs painted on the rice paper.

She slid the door to the brightly lit interior open just in time to see a kunai split the face off of the furthest dummy. Rice and straw spilled out on the floor in a small pile. Without missing a beat, Amaya readied another kunai as she spoke.

"Is he dead?"

Hinata shook her head. "I told you he wouldn't hurt him."

The relief was visible on Amaya's face as she turned and faced her mother. It was quickly replaced by steely determination. "I don't care how much he forbids it, I won't stop seeing Ryusei."

"He's coming over for dinner when he returns from his mission."

For the second time that night, Hinata saw utter shock descend. Then her daughter shook her head. "It's got to be a trap."

Hinata mirrored the action. "Amaya-chan, there is still a lot about your father you don't know. The reason he's so protective is because there has been so many times he nearly lost everything he ever cared about. Thanks to his efforts, you have had a very good childhood. You can't know what it was like to run for your life every time a shadow moved. To have to do unspeakable things just to survive. You can't blame him for being the way he is. When we first met I-

Amaya made a face. "Please, Mom. He tried to kill the man I love tonight. I'm not in the mood to hear how he charged into your life, swept you off your feet, and took you from Konoha to live happily ever after."

Hinata laughed outright at this. "I was swept off my feet, alright. But it was because the very first time I met your father, he scared the hell out of me…"