Chapter Nine: Looming Trouble

# # # # # #

A whole day passed by in training. Hinata thought it would be easy, but it wasn't. She remembered when she and Miyuki first cut a swathe alongside the small pathway that led to her new home with Naruto. Her fingers would ache and her bones would feel brittle underneath her skin. But this was … much more difficult.

She sat on the chair in Sasuke's office, looking down to her deeply bruised palms. They looked green with swollen veins popping out from beneath her skin. A sharp pain ran across her whole arm as she tried to curl her fingers. Sasuke had given her a very hard time. She didn't understand him at all. It was like he had a different face for everything, a new veneer for all occasions and she could only hope to peel it away completely before a new one resurfaced before her.

Hinata sighed and slumped over the table, looking down to her dirty nails. Her white eyes wandered off left and right and outside the window open across the large table. A gentle cool breeze blew in her face, rustling the yellow leaves on the trees. The sun had dipped below the horizon and a red hue was beginning to spread across the sky.

Sasuke told her to wait in the office and she had been sitting there obediently for the past fifteen minutes. The rest of the team completed tough exercises one after another; she was glad this was her first day. Today of all the days, she felt a slight pang of guilt for Naruto's daily life. Sasuke had denied him his Jounin position because he was falling behind, his family had forced her upon him and Sakura probably added to his worries.

Hinata didn't know what to feel for this man. Maybe, they were the last dregs of her love for him that made her feel a tug of unwanted remorse. She was slowly letting go of it, steeling herself for what was to come. The quietness of her thoughts was constantly disturbed by the noises outside, but there would always be the comfort and loneliness of her home; it was her sanctuary and her prison.

She sat up straight when she heard the pounds of steps on the wooden floor outside, and within seconds, Sasuke entered the room, leaving behind the same gentle smell of tea-tree oil in his wake. It lingered there, persistent, not ready to leave the room despite the steady draft pouring in.

He put the scroll on the table and pulled the zip of his jacket down, taking it off and tossing it on the back of his chair. His shirt was unbuttoned at his chest. It was glistening and sweaty. He pulled the heavy chair back and sat down. Not a second passed when he raised his hand and took off his headband, throwing it on the table. It clanked on the hard veneer of the large table. After that quick ritual, he leaned back into his chair, closing his eyes as he took a long intake of breath. He looked tired.

Hinata kept looking at Sasuke's serene face covered with a thin film of sweat. The dark bangs around his face clung to his skin. He just sat there, eyes closed, arms resting on the armrests, not looking to her or anything … he was just quiet as if sleeping in his chair. Moments passed and he finally opened his eyes, bringing his gaze upon her curious face. There was a reddish bloom in her cheeks. He held his gaze for a moment or two, watching as her cheeks began to redden under his gaze.

"How was your first day?" he asked, leaning his head back to look up to a few cobwebs clinging to the side of the still ceiling fan. A look of displeasure flickered across his face but he quickly schooled his features.

"I-It was … good," she said in a very small voice, fiddling with the button on her jacket.

Sasuke let out a soft laugh and sat up straight. "You don't have to lie. There is not a single ninja on my team whose first day was ever good with me," he said with a playful expression on his face and grabbed the scroll from the table. "So honestly, how was it?"

"I…" her voice trailed off before she mustered up a bit of courage to say something again, "it was … a very d-difficult day. My hands are bruised and I c-cannot feel my fingers." She quickly looked away when she saw Sasuke smiling at her confession with his eyes on the scroll.

"Better get used to it. You have been out of practice for so long. This was bound to happen." He looked up for a fleeting moment and then dropped his eyes to the scroll again. "I will tell Yuu to heal you before you leave. Your performance was barely passable for a newcomer. But you need to step up your game if you want to stay in the team. Right now, you are just in the trial slot."

"T-Trial slot?" Hinata asked, wiping her sweaty hands on her pants.

"Yes, a trial slot," Sasuke replied and rolled the scroll, meeting Hinata's eyes. "I plan on throwing one free-loader off the team. He has been getting on my nerves for quite a while. The bastard didn't even perform well today. So better you, a new chickie I can guide, than an overgrown cock that has lost its warranty."

Hinata didn't say anything and bent her head to look to her hands again.

Sasuke tapped the table a few times with his knuckle. "Pay attention, Hinata. You will keep on repeating the same session every day until you learn something. Clear?" he asked, slapping on the table lightly.

Hinata nodded rubbing her palms on her pants again. They were starting to itch now. "I will … have to come d-daily?" she asked, keeping her voice low.

Sasuke looked to her with an incredulous expression as if it was not obvious enough. "Obviously," he paused, standing up, "you will not get any special treatment … just because of the nice time we had together." He looked down to her, wearing a wisp of a smile on his handsome face.

Hinata averted his heavy gaze upon her and looked outside the window again. There on the tree branch sat that same tiny hawk Sasuke called Kirin. It was sitting there obediently, cocking its head and craning its neck to look left and right as Sasuke marched in the office to get another scroll. Hinata thought it … looked adorable. She had this urge to grab it in her fist and stroke its flecked feathers.

"Y-Your bird," she said, pointing outside the window.

Sasuke walked towards the window and looked outside. It let out a melodious sound and flew towards him as he made a small hand gesture. It landed on his shoulder and bounced excitedly as he reached into his pocket and fed him. "I told Nii-Sama not to send you here so early," he said in a gentle voice and stroked his feathers lightly, "but I guess he knows that I get lonely without you." He laughed and leaned against the table.

Hinata smiled, admiring the softness of Sasuke's features. He looked happy today. His countenance serene, undisturbed by any burden. A small part of her envied him so. He didn't know remorse like she did and relished it every day like a poison that ate her insides, and made her visage crumble to reveal the telling wistful smile that hid nothing.

But Sasuke always knew how to hide his heart. Maybe, staying close to him she might end up learning the art of secrecy; something she could never learn in her home. Her eyes still locked on his face didn't realize when he started looking back to her. "Something wrong?" he asked, breaking her out of those snarled up thoughts.

"N-No," she said quickly and turned her gaze slightly to look to the hawk again that had hid itself quite well behind Sasuke's jaw-length hair. "I … what are my chances to clear the trial period?"

"That is entirely up to you. If you work hard, nothing is impossible. I can ask Neji to help you out because I will have my hands full with a few missions for a week. I won't be around anyway," he said, shoving his hands in his pockets.

Hinata's heart began to beat under the weight of longing, and her lips moved before she could stop them and she whispered, "when will … I-I see you again?"

A lustful expression scurried across his face before it disappeared behind his well-guarded countenance. "If you want, I can come see you tonight," he said in a deep, husky voice and leaned down to meet her passion-filled eyes. "Naruto will stay at the academy again. Aren't you naughty, Hinata." He backed away, leaving behind that same lingering scent.

Hinata leaned her head down and peered through the curtain of bangs over her eyes. The allure in his eyes was gone, vanished behind the same mask he always wore. His eyes took on that ferocious red colour and turned to look at the door. Those three perfect Tomoes moved in a circle before coming to a halt. "Go home," he said in a low voice, his eyes locked on the door, "I will come by after I am done here."

"Y-Yes," Hinata said and stood up, moving her aching fingers a bit. They still hurt, but at least the itchiness was mostly gone.

"Yuu should be done with his work by now. Tell him to heal you," he said and folded his arms across his chest when he heard the knock on the door. "Come in, Sakura."

The door opened, revealing the pink-haired woman wearing that same odd expression on her sweaty, red face. It lost its intensity almost suddenly as her green eyes turned to Sasuke. Her expressions softened like that of a lover. Hinata didn't understand her. She made her way quietly out of the office and closed the door behind her.

"Office hours are over," Sasuke said, watching her as she made her way around the table and stood close to him ... too close. "Leave, unless you have something important to tell me."

"I came to give you this," Sakura said, producing a scroll out of her jacket's pocket. She was smiling heartily.

Sasuke took the scroll from her hand and unrolled it. A subtle hmm sound escaped his lips before he rolled it up again and threw it on the table. "I don't approve of these results," he said, his features hardening into a look of irritation.

"What do you mean? Hokage-Sama took the test. You have to accept these," she protested, looking helpless.

"No, I do not," Sasuke replied, keeping that hard visage plastered on his face. "I am the team's Head Jounin, it is up to me whether I accept your results or reject them. That's what the rules say anyway. And guess what? I do not trust your mentor."

Sakura backed away a little, looking impatient. "What do you mean?" she asked, biting her lower lip in anxiety.

"I don't know, maybe, because you are her student that she feels the need to throw you in the best team in Konoha? You know, to exalt her own reputation and of your clan's as well. After all, Haruno Clan is unheard of," he said, his voice full of reproach.

"That is not true," Sakura denied, raising her voice.

"Lower your voice. This is my office," Sasuke said with a heavy accent, gritting his teeth.

"I have worked hard to get here and stay on this team. You know how good my chakra-control is. It's the same as Yuu's. I have good Taijutsu and tailing skills. You just … don't see it," Sakura accused, her voice shaking with emotion.

"You take me for a fool?" he asked and pushed himself off the table to tower over her, his expression contorting with a large flare of anger. "You know damn well how you got here. Your parents pleaded before the Hokage and she practically told you the Jounin Team test. You sly little cheater. I had to give you countless extensions, work around the test timings, group you up with Yuu and send you off to that damned woman's office almost daily so that you could make up for your training. Don't you dare mock my intelligence." He breathed heavily, seething with rage.

Sakura fell silent. She knew he wouldn't fall for her denials. It was no use ... and she couldn't tell him the truth. It was better to lie for now. "It is true," she began, looking down to her feet, "I didn't come here on hard-work alone. It was Hokage-Sama's love for me and my parents' prayers that I am where I am today. But that is also true that I have worked hard since then. I have done everything you have asked me to. I passed all the exams … Sasuke, I have done whatever you asked. Don't be so cold-hearted." Her breath caught in her throat came out as a few sobs. She moved her hand up and wiped her tear-filled eyes vehemently as if to push her burdens down.

Sasuke's expressions softened just a bit. "What do you want? Because you know, I am tired of babysitting you," he said, kneading his brow. "I don't care what your reasons are to stay here. I will not accept your test results. The Team Exams will take place a week from now and Yuu will be overseeing the Medical Divisions' Tests with a few other Ninjas from my Clan. If you fail those, I don't care what you do. I will throw you out faster than you can blink. That is my final word."

"I will have to give the tests again? And Yuu is a Chunin, he cannot oversee anything," she said with an accusatory expression.

"You damn well will if you want to stay on the team. And Yuu gave Jounin Exams two weeks ago. I sent his letter of recommendation to Anbu Division. The approval letter just came in today," Sasuke said, there was an odd note of triumph in his voice. "Is that all? If it is, then you can leave as I have work to do."

Sakura inched closer and leaned up to kiss his jaw. "You know … you know I didn't just stay to preserve my Clan's honor. I stayed here for you," she whispered in his ear and then left the office silently.

# # # # # #

Hinata sat in the shadows of the room. A lone candle sat on the table, its flame danced madly on the wick, threatening to go out any second as the wind outside picked up pace. She had just made it home when Miyuki gave her the message from Minato. She didn't even have time to rest. Next to her, sat her husband. His head bowed and his face tense. He was silent, unable to answer his father's questions.

"Naruto, your father has asked you something," Kushina said, adjusting the shawl draped around her small shoulders. Her long red hair hung down her back like a long silky curtain. They were spread on the floor behind her, wispy and numerous on the shiny wooden floor. She was an uncannily young looking woman; pretty with a sprite-like appearance.

Naruto raised his head up sluggishly, his eyes tired and weary. He looked very ill. "I … I don't have anything else to say. I already told you, it's … it's just not working," he said in a weary voice, raising his hand to palm his face.

"Perhaps, you are not trying hard enough," Minato said heavily, turning his blue eyes just a little bit to look to Hinata. He was still very youthful and handsome for someone just a few years shy of fifty like his wife. "You will turn twenty-five this year. I wed you off five years ago in hopes of preserving our Clan … through you. The Hyuga Clan wanted the same, and yet, here you are, sitting before me with nothing but excuses."

"Father I," Naruto protested, but clamped his lips tightly together when Minato raised his hand.

"I don't want to hear anything. How hard is it to impregnate a healthy woman," Minato said, his voice heavier than before, laced with authority despite what had become of his own Clan. But his wife was enough to anchor his name. She was an Uzumaki, and despite the mass-slaughter of her clan a few decades ago, they were still numerous in number, living in Eddy Village under the protection of Konoha. They were famous for their sealing techniques and medicinal herbs – an asset for Konoha's growing military power.

"Did you go to Shizune, Hinata?" Kushina asked, clearing her throat. "I made an appointment for you yesterday. But she told me you never came. Why?" Her greenish eyes, inquisitive and emotionless.

Hinata looked up at her, avoiding Minato's crystal blue eyes. She could see a bit of Naruto in him. "I-I joined Sasuke-Sama's team. I just forgot. It is not like I haven't gone there before … m-many times. She doesn't have anything n-new to say to me anyway," Hinata said, taking a deep sigh.

"You joined that Uchiha's team? Why?" Minato asked, looking stern now.

Before Hinata could say something in her defense, Naruto forestalled him loudly, "and what's wrong with that? It's not like Sasuke would ruin her family's name or something. He just wanted a new hand for his team with Neji. It would benefit Hyuga Clan to be under the Uchihas anyway." He looked away, huffing.

"I know Sasuke means a lot to you, Naruto. But your wife needs to be home if she is to raise a child," Kushina reasoned, looking from Naruto to the quiet Hinata.

"Not to mention that demon incident. Sage knows what these Uchihas are planning," Minato accused with a slow shake of his head.

"Have you invited me here to accuse and insult Sasuke?" Naruto said, his temper flaring. "If it was not for Sasuke, I was done for. No one would take me in their team. It was Sasuke who looked out for me and trained me. No thanks to you, father. "

"Naruto, behave yourself. You are talking to your father," Kushina said in a disapproving voice. Putting her hand on her husband's shoulder. "Apologize, now."

"And you, mother? You didn't stop being a ninja when you married father, and even after you had me. Are all your rules for me … to make my life even more miserable?" Naruto said in a loud voice, not backing down.

"No one is making your life miserable, Naruto," Minato said in a calm voice, closing his eyes. He looked hurt by his son's honesty. "But you know how Uchihas are and how Hinata would suffer if she failed to bear us and her own family an heir. Neji would have been an apt match, but he is from the Branch family. You know how it is? The Head family's few sons are already betrothed or wedded off within the Head family. Hiashi had little choice in the matter. His own family line was dying. Try to understand things, Naruto. You are not a child."

The thought of Neji came suddenly to Hinata's mind. That was true. She desired Neji so long ago as well. It was just a girlish desire. He was a very handsome man; kind, sober, loving … If her father had wedded her off to him, she wouldn't have been plagued by such a lonely and shameful life. Just today, when she saw him again looking at her, she felt a sudden jolt of that old longing rise within her with such vehemence that only the thought of Sasuke quelled it. Sasuke really was that lovely poison that killed every other desire within her.

"Here you go again. You just cannot stop accusing the one person I care about the most, don't you?" Naruto said, leaning forward. The whiskers on his face standing on ends. He looked livid. "Your accusation got half of his clan killed. Don't deny it. As for an heir, then you will get it when I feel like going near her." He hastily got to his feet, looking down for a fleeting moment to Hinata.

"Naruto, don't shy away from your responsibilities and don't forget the hardships faced by your parents. Don't be … selfish. This isn't just about you; it's about us as well. Think about it," Minato said in a heavy voice, holding Kushina's hand in his.

"I am going over to the academy. I have to prepare for the Jounin and Team Tests in the coming weeks. I really don't have time for this," he said without turning around and left all of them silent in the living room.

"He has turned into such a spiteful child," Minato said aloud, heaving a painfully long sigh. He raised his eyes to look to Hinata still staring down at her healed-hands. "If he doesn't come near you, then you as a wife can do so. You are a woman and the daughter of a respectable Clan. It's not just Naruto's responsibility to shoulder his own Clan's honour, it's yours as well."

"Minato is right. Think about your Clan and the shame your father will face if people find out that Naruto doesn't care for you. Or Sage forbid, they start thinking that you are a barren woman. You have no idea what that would do to your father," Kushina said with an air of her Clan's superiority over her existence. Hinata didn't like her tone, but she stayed quiet.

"I will ask a servant to escort you back to your home," Minato said, rising to his feet. His Hakama still bore the red patterns of his Clan since his Hokage days.

"It's all right. I-I will manage," Hinata replied, standing up. "Thank you for the meal." She bowed down and turned around to leave the mansion.

It took her a good thirty minutes to make it back to the familiar verges of the forest that marked the start of the moors. The night was quiet today, broken just a little by the wind. Somewhere an owl hooted and a few crickets made a little noise. But because of the light rains, the forest fell asleep so soon before the moon even had a chance to shine down upon it properly.

Minato and Kushina's words hurt her terribly. Naruto didn't want her, even they could see that much. How could she ever pursue him to bed her? He disgusted her now. He never made love to her. It was always a responsibility, a ritual for him that he tried to complete without leaving his seed within her. He wanted his parents to break off this marriage. This wasn't the first time they were called before his parents. It was always the same questions and nearly the same answers that always shook her pride and left her humiliated.

Hinata walked lightly next to the snaking brook that led to her house. Her eyes downcast, looking to the vegetables poking out of the scraped soil. She had planted the seeds a few weeks ago and new buds were reaching out above the ground. The recent rains had been beneficial. It would be just Miyuki now, as she would be working hard to gain that spot on the team. When she would get it, she would try and break free. She just needed that little reassurance.

With that thought, she raised her eyes to look to the door. She stopped in her tracks, her cheeks flushed. Sasuke was looking at her with a lust-filled smile on his handsome features. He had not forgotten that she invited him earlier to her place. After that grueling humiliation at Minato's house, the thought of making love to him made her feel alive again.

# # # # # #