Please see first chapter for disclaimer, rating, warnings, pairings, etc.

Special Thanks: goes out to McKazekage, TheGirlWithNoIQ, ImCutePoison, rao hyuga 18, BlueSpiritFire1, QueenP19, shyprincess82, Jigokun, sailorangelmoon1, ASirensLullaby, cerberus angel, and lidianm for all your wonderful reviews! Also thanks to everyone who has added and continues to add this story to their favorites and follows lists, you all are awesome!

Author's Note: This is another of those chapters I've been looking forward to sharing with you for quite a while now, because it answers more questions brought up close to the very beginning of this story. Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy!


*~Chapter XXVI~*

~Subterfuge~


When those from Konoha - including Kiba and Shino - left Suna, Hinata put forth every effort to act as though everything was normal. She, Gaara, Neji, and Tenten had agreed to keep Hanabi in the dark about their family situation, at least for a little while longer, so the two women parted on remarkably good terms.

Several of Suna's best soldiers and ninja departed with Neji and Tenten's group, including - surprisingly - Kankuro. Gaara had voiced his desire to send someone from the family to Konoha, particularly since he couldn't go, and his brother had quickly stepped up to fill the spot. Hinata, who had always been unsure of how to respond to Kankuro's rather loud and colorful personality, found herself thankful for the elder Sabaku brother's bravery and willingness to help.

After seeing his wife's relatives and friends off, Gaara closeted himself in his office with Baki, the head of his war council, and some other unfamiliar men. Left to her own devices, Hinata took to wandering through the halls, committing her mind to trying to find a way to help Temari and Itachi. There had to be a way Gaara could bypass the Council's overinflated sense of importance - and their ridiculous adherence to the old laws!

The day before, Hinata had suggested the idea Temari and Itachi leave Suna to take cover in a safe place, at least until the law had been changed. Her sister-in-law had killed the idea immediately, stating Suna's only ally at the moment was Konoha. There was no way Itachi could return to his home village; besides, it was certainly not safe at the moment. While they could attempt to travel to a smaller, neutral village, Temari and Itachi would still have to pass through hostile territory to get there, and they just couldn't take such a risk.

Their only remaining course of action was to remain in Suna and hope Gaara was able to find a way around the law. Or, failing that, Hinata was also in the family way.

Instinctively, Hinata turned her steps toward the library. Its rather isolated place in the house often left it empty, and she'd spent many hours in there by herself lost in thought. Perhaps in there, she reasoned, she could have the solitude she needed to come up with answers.

However, when she arrived, Hinata found it was already occupied. "Oh, I'm sorry!"

Itachi looked up from the book in his hands, looking unsurprised to see her standing in the doorway. Several more thick volumes were stacked on the table by his chair; three others sat open on his lap. "Please, Lady Hinata, come in."

Reluctantly, Hinata entered the library, closing the door quietly behind her. "I d-didn't mean to interrupt."

Setting down his book, Itachi rubbed his hand across his eyes and smiled tiredly. "You're not really interrupting," he reassured her. "To be honest, I'm glad for the company."

Sliding into the chair across from Itachi's, Hinata pointedly eyed her brother-in-law's stacks of books. "Is there anything I c-can d-do to help?" she asked.

"Did you come to the library for something in particular?" Itachi questioned, neatly avoiding her offer.

Hinata shook her head. "I mainly c-came in here since it's quiet, and I c-can easily think when I'm in here." She ran the tip of her index finger along the arm of her chair, admiring the black and gold fabric. "B-But I was also thinking of looking through some b-books about Suna's history. I'm hoping to find some sort of loophole in the law, though I know you, Temari, and Gaara are b-bound to have already searched."

"Never hurts to have a fresh pair of eyes searching," Itachi remarked. Leaning forward, he handed her several volumes off the stack on the table, as well as one off his lap. "Thank you," he said as she leaned over the first one. When Hinata looked up again, surprised, he smiled thinly. "Temari told me last night she'd enlisted your help. We are both infinitely thankful for your willingness to help us."

She saw the shadows beneath his eyes, the way the corners of his mouth pinched tightly with concern and anxiety. Even his black eyes glittered with a haunted look which sent a sharp pain through Hinata's heart. She had seen the depth of Temari's pain the day before; though not as immediately obvious, she could tell Itachi's ran just as deeply as his wife's.

"It is an unfair law," Hinata said firmly. "The C-Council is b-being ridiculous for c-clinging to it so desperately. No matter how they justify their actions, what they did b-before - and would do again, if given half a chance - is murder. I refuse to allow it to happen, no matter what I have to do to put a stop to it."

Itachi arched one eyebrow, a brief flare of tired amusement lightening his features for just a moment. "Temari also mentioned how fired up you were," he said. "I must admit she didn't quite do your determination justice."

A flush crept up her neck. "I'm sorry," she apologized sheepishly. "B-But I've not felt so strongly about anything b-before. This is wrong, and I feel like I c-can - and, more than that, that I must - do something to help." Looking down, Hinata pressed her hand to her stomach, wondering if even then a new life was forming inside her. Part of her was thrilled at the thought; the rest of her was terrified. Neji's concerns about whether or not he would be a good father seemed perfectly reasonable now in light of her own fears of being a bad mother. "I suggested you and Temari leave the village for a while, at least until Gaara c-can finally get that law struck. B-But she told me it was impossible, that your only real allies are in K-Konoha. And - and I know you c-can't really go b-back there."

Sinking back in his chair, Itachi seemed to age before her eyes. Very carefully, he closed the book in his hands and set it aside. "How much do you know about what happened to the Uchiha, Lady Hinata?" he asked quietly.

Blinking in surprise at the change of subject, Hinata momentarily lost her voice to confusion. When she regained it, she replied, "Not much. All I know is what I've heard from my own family and friends, and even that is mostly hearsay and rumors, I suspect."

Itachi nodded. "I will spare you from most of the details. I was absolved of any guilt for the crime, but most people in the village - particularly my younger brother - feel I am guilty regardless. They will let me in the gates, I would imagine, but I also believe such hospitality would last only as far as the gallows." His expression turned apologetic when he saw the shocked look on Hinata's face. "I'm sorry," he immediately apologized. "That was harsh of me."

"Harsh," Hinata said softly, "b-but probably very true." Even some of her own friends still spoke very poorly of Itachi. She suspected a lot of their animosity had been fostered merely because of their association with Sasuke; even at that, she was hard-pressed to find anyone in Konoha who had anything kind to say about the elder Uchiha brother.

"The truth is, I'm not entirely innocent." The words were so softly spoken Hinata almost missed them.

Surely she'd misheard that... "I'm sorry?" She hated calling attention to what he'd said, in case he didn't want to repeat it or elaborate, but she had to know if she'd heard him right.

"The Uchiha used to be one of the largest clans in Konoha - second only to your own, the Hyuuga. Many of us were ninja, serving under Lord Sarutobi - and the agendas of the clan." Itachi frowned, hands visibly tightening around each other where they rested in his lap. "Father included me in his carefully crafted plans, which included using our skill as ninja to execute a coup to take over Konoha - and eliminate our biggest competition."

Hinata felt the blood drain out of her face, because she didn't have to ask to know of which clan Itachi spoke.

Smiling apologetically at her, Itachi continued, "After I got a clearer picture of my father's plans, I went straight to Lord Sarutobi. We spoke at length of different strategies to cut off the coup before it happened." He closed his dark eyes, a sudden, pinched expresion of extreme pain flashing across his handsome features. "We both decided the only way to do it which would result in the least bloodshed was-" He stopped, letting out a long, shaky breath before opening his eyes. "Well, you know how it turned out."

Dropping her hand from where she'd covered her mouth to keep any sort of involuntary sound from escaping her throat, "Eradication," she whispered. And that was the result with the least bloodshed? Her blood chilled at what else the former leader of the village might have considered - not to mention what Itachi's father himself must have been planning.

"Yes." Releasing his death grip on his own hands, Itachi picked up his book again. "This is why I said I wasn't exactly innocent. Lord Sarutobi sent me on a mission to keep me from being there when it happened, and I never knew which ninja were involved, which is best for all involved." Shaking his head, the Uchiha tapped the book against his leg twice with a tight smile. "Because I knew what was happening, before I left on my mission, I encouraged Sasuke to sneak off to practice shuriken-throwing the night of the massacre. I had no way of knowing if he would actually do it or not, but I felt reasonably certain he would. There was nothing he wanted more than to be a ninja, and he was always running around begging people to help him practice - usually me or Father."

Hinata relaxed slightly. "Obviously he did, for he is still alive today."

Itachi nodded in agreement. "I finished my mission early, and I reached the village shortly after it happened. I sneaked into the compound and went straight to the house, searching for Sasuke. I had to know..."

It broke Hinata's heart, hearing this story. "Did you never tell your brother about this?" she asked softly.

He eyes suddenly refocused and raised to meet hers. "At the time, no. When Sasuke got home, he found me standing over our parents' bodies - convincing evidence, particularly for a boy of such an impressionable age." The exhausted expression on his face eased slightly. "Gaara told me you glued Sasuke's letter back together and gave it to him. Thank you."

Blushing, Hinata bowed her head. "I knew it was important," she said. "I just hope he actually read it."

"There's no way of knowing. But, if he did, I put in there the details of what happened that night, and in those preceding it. It is entirely up to him whether he believes me or not." The hopeless expression on Itachi's face made it clear he found that outcome unlikely.

Hinata wanted to say something reassuring to her brother-in-law, but she didn't know what it could possibly be. She wished she could say Sasuke had opened the letter right there in front of her and read it, but she couldn't. There was no way to know until the two brothers were able to meet face to face, or Sasuke sent a letter. At the moment, Hinata didn't think either option would happen any time soon.

In the end, she said nothing. Better to remain silent than say the wrong thing.

The two sat quietly for a long few moments, thoughtfully staring at each other as they each pondered various scenarios. At last Itachi looked away with a thin smile, flipping open the cover of his book once again. "Thank you for listening, Lady Hinata."

Returning his smile, Hinata easily found words to reply. "Thank you for trusting me with your story."

Turning to the book in her own lap, Hinata paged through its contents, unsure of what she was searching for, really. Suna had been operating by the same set of laws since long before she arrived, and even though she was the wife of the village's most powerful man, did she really hold that much power? Granted, she saw to the affairs of the house - with input from Temari, the other lady in residence - but in the grand scheme of things, she held very little power in the palms of her hands. She made no life-changing decisions in the course of her day, week, month - not like Gaara did.

Logically, she knew Gaara was doing everything he could to remedy the situation, as he had been ever since Itachi and Temari's first child had been killed without the chance to draw breath in the world. But it had not been enough then, and despite how much she loved and trusted and believed in her husband, Hinata had to wonder - would it be enough now?

She flipped another page, eyes scanning over line after line of cramped writing. The leather cover, dry and cracked, felt fragile in her hands, and she feared tearing the thin yellow parchment every time she turned a page. But her research was absolutely crucial - she'd promised Temari and Itachi she would do everything she could to help them, and if her vow meant she had to pore over every single book in the library, she'd do it - and gladly.

At the same time, though, they had to be careful, so very careful. The Council could not get wind of what was happening, or they would figure out the reasoning behind Hinata's research, and Gaara's renewed pushing to change the law involving children of the leading family. Temari was already being extra cautious about every morsel of food and drop of drink she put into her mouth, but she could only hide her pregnancy so long. The two women had come up with subtle ways to play with the blonde's wardrobe, incorporating looser tunics and dresses now so her wearing them later wouldn't seem so unusual.

Hinata, however, hoped their cautious planning would only have to be just that - planning for a possible outcome. If she were able to come up with a way to make the Council vote to admit the law was no longer necessary, Temari wouldn't have to live every hour of her day in fear of losing yet another child. The blonde, besides being anxious about the situation, was also understandably angry. She had a very proactive temperment, and knowing there was nothing she could do to change the situation herself was not going over very well at all. Though Hinata did admire Temari's ability to hide her raging emotions while out in public...

By the time a servant came to inform the occupants of the library of the encroaching hour of the evening meal, Hinata had gone through almost every book Itachi handed her earlier. She left the library with a heavy heart, scratchy eyes, and a skull-shattering headache which threatened to rob her of the rational thought required to fix this situation.

There had to be a way. Even if it was not to be found in the library, Hinata would find it.

Even if she had to poison every single one of the Council members herself.


The approach was soundless and so sudden Gaara barely got up a hand in time to keep the white projectile flying at him from smacking him square in the nose.

What the-?

His first thought was Hinata must be in some sort of pique, and thus had been crouched in some defensible position just waiting for him to come in so she could attack him. Keeping his hands up in a clear posture of surrender, he took a step forward, opening his mouth to-

Crunch.

Confused, Gaara looked down at his bare foot, which had just landed on a crumpled-up ball of paper. Widening his gaze, he looked up to find dozens more scattered about the floor, making it look as if it had snowed - inside a single room, in a sandstone building, in the middle of the desert. As far as he could tell, the flurry of discarded papers - including the one which had nearly (embarrassingly) hit him - originated from the bed, where his wife sat with a lap desk and a dark scowl absolutely unsuited to her beautiful features.

"Hinata?" Closing the door between their bedrooms behind him, Gaara swooped down to pick up one of the papers. Flattening it against his leg, he smoothed out as many wrinkles as he could before trying to read it. Though Hinata's handwriting was as beautiful as she, the scratches on the paper were instead a frantic and nearly illegible scrawl, making him think she'd been at this - whatever this turned out to be - for quite a while.

Looking up from her desk and the fresh sheet of paper, Hinata blinked at him with owlishly wide pale eyes. "Gaara." Dropping her pen, she sat up a little straighter against her pillows, pale hands fluttering to the edges of the desk as if to put it away from her. "I'm sorry, I'm quite out of sorts, b-but-"

Sitting down on the edge of the bed and ignoring the additional crunch of crumpled papers with each step he'd taken to get there, Gaara rested his hand atop the desk to hold it in place. "It's all right," he said soothingly. "I just hadn't seen you since early this evening and was a little concerned. What are you working on?"

Hinata looked down and around, as if just then noticing the abundance of discarded papers cluttering her bedroom floor. "Oh! What a mess," she moaned. "I d-didn't even realize..."

Once again forestalling Hinata's attempts to set aside her writing desk - presumably to rise and clean up the room - he shook his head. "Later. What's going on?" It had to be something quite terrible to distract his neat wife so much she didn't even realize she was tossing her unsatisfactory ideas helter-skelter.

He decided not to mention she'd almost hit him with one. His ego and her peace of mind seemed far better off if he kept that particular piece of information to himself.

Slumping back against the pillows behind her, Hinata rubbed her forehead, leaving ink stains smeared across her pale skin. "As soon as I returned to my room after the evening meal, I had Matsuri mix me up some headache medicine, and then I got straight to work."

"I can see that," Gaara said drily. "But to work on what?" If he had to ask the question one more time...

Hinata's hand dropped limply to her lap, and she stared at him with red-rimmed, exhausted eyes. "They haven't told you." Her words were quite matter-of-fact, spoken in a tone which indicated she was beyond any and all emotional displays she might have otherwise made.

Gaara's hairless brows twitched, conflicted between the equally strong urges to raise in confusion and lower in aggravation. "Who hasn't told me what?"

Leaving more ink smudges in her wake as she tiredly rubbed her face, Hinata shook her head. "Itachi and Temari. I just naturally thought they'd tell you. B-But things were so b-busy yesterday, and then today, so it makes sense-" She cut off abruptly upon seeing the thunderous expression on his face. Biting her lower lip, she looked away and nervously wound her hands together in her lap. "Temari is pregnant again."

The blood drained from Gaara's face, leaving him feeling lightheaded and unsteady. His first, instinctive, reaction was to storm over to his sister and brother-in-law's rooms and demand to know what they were thinking. They should have been more careful! They, of all people, knew the risks, especially since it was clear Gaara was making no headway with the Council in his quest to make them finally drop the law about Sabaku children.

His second, more rational, reaction left him remembering how pale his sister had seemed these past couple of days. He had merely thought her tired, as so many of them were. She had, after all, been quite involved in the festivities just passed; plus he knew both she and Itachi were prone to nightmares, which often left both of them looking pale and tired, sometimes for days afterwards.

It had never occurred to him to think Temari might be pregnant again. After what happened last time, she had been determined to do whatever it took to keep the sequence of events which led to losing her child from happening again.

Hinata spoke up, once more drawing his attention to her. "Temari told me yesterday. She also asked for my help in hiding her p-pregnancy for now, and then getting the law struck b-before she started showing so much it c-can't be hidden." She motioned to the papers strewn across the floor. "I've b-been trying to c-come up with a good proposal with which to approach the C-Council. Thus far, however, I've c-come up with nothing."

"Did Temari say how far along she is?" Gaara still remembered details from his sister's last pregnancy, when he had been pulled in with the rest of the family (reluctantly at first, but then he had caught on to the others' excitement) with her sharing of countless details. A woman as athletically slim as Temari could only hide her pregnancy for the first four months or so, and that was pushing it.

"Two months." Hinata straightened the blank sheet before her so it was perfectly centered, the bottom edge lined up against the writing desk's same. "Temari has decided to start working some looser clothing into her wardrobe, so it won't seem quite as suspicious if she has to start wearing more later." She bit her lip, pale eyes turning misty as she looked up at him again. "But I'm hoping that won't be necessary. If I could just find the right words..."

"I've been dealing with the Council for years now," Gaara said tiredly. "I don't want to admit defeat, especially not in this matter, but I don't know if there are any right words. Not to them." He could still so clearly remember his sister in the days after the poisoning. How she wandered the halls listlessly, as pale and distant as a spirit. She never spoke unless spoken to, and sometimes not even then. The hopeless nothingness in her eyes seemed all the sharper against her gaunt face, and not even Itachi - who looked not much better himself - could get her to eat more than a few bites of anything. For almost six months she turned into a lifeless shell, and Gaara still wasn't entirely sure what had finally pulled her out of her frightening depression. He hadn't dared ask for fear of plunging her right back into it.

He could not bear it to see that happen to her again.

"I was afraid you were g-going to say that." Hinata sighed heavily, the sound tugging at his heartstrings even as her words brought his attention back to her. "B-But there must b-be something we c-can do, or say, or..." She trailed off.

"We'll figure something out," Gaara replied, trying to sound firm, as if he believed it.

Hinata's distracted gaze slid past him, toward the door. "I had thought of one thing," she began hesitantly. When she said nothing more, Gaara leaned forward and tilted his head inquisitively, smiling encouragingly at her. At his prompt, she returned his smile, although weakly, and went on. "I have c-considered going ahead and telling the C-Council I, too, am pregnant."

Something deep in Gaara's stomach jerked, and he felt his eyes widen. "Are you-?" He choked off the rest of the question, somehow unable to finish.

"I don't know." Hinata's small, pale hand drifted to her stomach, fingers stroking lovingly as her tired eyes softened. "B-But even if I'm not, telling them so will hopefully stall the C-Council long enough to give us a b-better plan. For now, Temari is still able to hide her pregnancy. We c-can hold my plan in reserve and only use it if it is our absolute last choice."

Gaara's mind skipped ahead, trying to search out alternative methods while at the same time giving Hinata's its due consideration. "There's only one problem," he admitted. "If we do tell them this, they'll want you to be examined by one of Suna's Healers."

Hinata nodded. "I've already thought of that myself," she admitted reluctantly. "B-But I think I've already b-been able to c-come up with a solution." Lifting her lap desk, she set it aside before leaning over and rummaging through the drawer of the nightstand next to her side of the bed. At last she let out a soft "aha!" and withdrew something which she then held out to him.

Taking the single folded sheet of paper, Gaara flipped it open and read its contents quickly. "Haruno Sakura - the pink-haired Healer from your village, yes?" he asked when he finally reached the signature at the bottom.

His wife nodded again. "Since Temari c-could not go to any Healers here in Suna, she had Sakura examine her and confirm her pregnancy. B-Because of that, Sakura was already b-basically aware of the situation. All I had to do was go to her, finish explaining things, and ask her to write up a medical report for me."

"Good thinking," Gaara murmured. Folding the paper again, he dropped his hand into his lap, mind racing off in a completely new direction. "Even if the Council does happen to request you see a Healer from Suna, I can buy you time on that with this." He wiggled the paper to demonstrate his point. "I can point out Sakura is one of Konoha's best and most respected Healers, and to question her diagnosis is tantamount to questioning our alliance with the village. It will certainly keep them silent, at least for a while. And, like you said, it will buy us some more time to come up with a plan to get that cursed law struck."

Hinata's fingers once again stroked over her middle as a slight smile curled her lips. "And even if we d-do not c-come up with something right away," she said, "maybe I actually will b-be c-carrying a child of my own."

Gaara's eyes dropped to her hand, and he leaned forward to press his against hers. He spread his long fingers, wrinkling the soft lavender fabric of her nightgown with the motion, closing his eyes as he imagined feeling the flat expanse of her belly rounding with a child - their child. The thought both excited and terrified him, but he pushed those emotions away for further examination at a later time. "If you are not," he said softly, "it will certainly not be for lack of trying."

The warmth in his wife's eyes as she leaned forward to meet his kiss indicated her complete agreement.

*~To Be Continued~*

Author's Ending Notes:...It's taken (quite) a while, but you finally got to find out what was in the letter! This is another chapter I've been looking forward to for a good long while now, since it (at least partly) explains what really happened the night the Uchiha clan was wiped out and why Itachi had to leave Konoha. And there's still so much more I'm looking forward to sharing with you all! Thanks again for reading this chapter, I hope you enjoyed it, and I hope to see you again for the next update!