Chapter 1: For The Good Of The Village
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto and do not make any money from these writings.
Hinata sat nervously in the waiting area outside the Hokage's office. She worried at the hem of her jacket, wondering just why she had been summoned here. Usually regular missions were handled out of the assignments office downstairs in the Hokage tower. One was normally only summoned to Tsunade-sama's office itself for higher-level missions or covert ones or...disciplinary reasons.
The black-haired beauty fiddled with the hem of her garment yet again. This probably would not have worried her if her whole team were here, Shino, Kiba and Akamaru. They had performed plenty of A-ranked missions together and even some S-ranked ones as well. If she were being assigned to some temporary team she'd certainly do her part. And she couldn't begin to imagine any disciplinary reason why she would have been called up here.
But Sakura had acted so strangely when she'd delivered the message. Strangest of all was that it was Sakura herself who informed her. The Hokage had sent her own student rather than a normal messenger. Sakura-chan's demeanor had been terse and unusually reserved. Hinata had a bad feeling that this was a matter of gravest importance.
She tried to relax, taking several deep breaths and forcing her mind to quiet itself from its restlessness. As Kurenai-sensei would say, things would sort themselves out soon enough. In just a few more minutes she would know the answer to the reason for this meeting.
From behind the heavy oak door, she could hear Tsunade's voice raised in anger. Hinata shrank inwardly dreading the day if the ire of that woman should ever be directed toward her. She resisted the overwhelming urge to use her Byakuugan to see just who was in the office suffering the brunt of Tsunade's wrath. That, however, would have been rude and an unnecessary use of her powers. Hyuuga, if anything, were circumspect to a fault.
She knew that Sakura was behind that door, however, and for a moment she feared that her friend might be the object of Tsunade's anger. That concern was swiftly swept aside as she recognized the voice of her fellow kunoichi urging Lady Tsunade to remain as calm as possible.
Hinata could make out other voices muffled behind the door but they were not clear enough to where she could recognize any of them. At least one male and one other female were in the room, as well as Shizune-san whom she heard echo Sakura's plea for calm.
The door slammed open so forcefully that it rebounded and only Tsunade's outstretched arm, palm flat to intercept it kept it from slamming shut again. Hinata gulped and tried to stand, her knees wobbling so much so that she was afraid she'd collapse.
"L-l-l-lady Tsunade, you a-a-a-asked to see me?" she managed to stammer out.
"It wasn't me, Hinata," Tsunade growled through gritted teeth. "But it seems my council have other ideas. Get in here."
Tsunade stood with the door held open wide for her, ushering her in. Hinata scurried in, praying that her knees wouldn't fail her causing her to faint right here in the center of the Hokage's office. She looked around the room, Tsunade, Sakura, Shizune and members of the council Koharu-sama and Homura-sama were present. Hinata swallowed again, hard, redoubling her prayers for strength. To collapse in front of this august body would be unthinkable. She chided herself - what kind of a shinobi was she?
The lavender-eyed Hyuuga heiress straightened herself and then bowed politely greeting the attendees.
"Take a seat, Hinata," Tsunade motioned as she returned to her own chair behind her desk. The blond-haired sannin indicated a chair and as Hinata sat, Tsunade nodded that Sakura and Shizune should also. The silence was deafening. Hinata wished someone would speak. The only sound she could hear at the moment was her own blood pounding in her ears and her heart beat hammering in her chest. What on earth was going on here, she thought nervously.
"Well?" Tsunade's sharp comment was directed toward the two older council members. "You asked for this meeting. Aren't you going to tell her?"
No one spoke and Hinata withered under the penetrating gaze of the two elderly shinobi, teammates of the former Third Hokage and the only ones in the village able to overrule Tsunade-sama's decisions.
Unable to bear the silence any longer, Hinata finally broke it herself. "Tell me what, Lady Tsunade?"
Tsunade snorted in derision as she poured herself a small saucer of sake from a flask. Tipping it up and draining the saucer, she peered over the rim at the two old people across the room from her. "Tell you their hare-brained scheme to 'make-up' for their own past sins, Hinata. And if they don't have the guts to speak up right now, then this meeting is over. One...two..."
"We certainly have the 'guts' as you say, Tsunade-chan," the old woman spoke before Tsunade got to the count of three, her voice graveled with age. "It's just that we were...observing her. So you are the Hyuuga heiress, my dear?"
"Y-yes," Hinata answered simply, mentally kicking herself that she had stammered in front of these dignitaries.
"And you possess the Byakuugan, do you not?"
"Yes. I do, ma'am."
The two nodded satisfied. Then the man spoke. "You have a sister, also. Younger than you, is that correct?"
"And she carries the Byakuugan and is accomplished in its use as well?"
"Yes." This time, Hinata also nodded her assent. The questions were puzzling. This should all be easily available in her personnel file. Why were they asking them? Surely it couldn't be for information, it almost seemed more like they were asking as if to reassure themselves of something. But what?
"Get to the point!" Tsunade snapped.
Koharu sighed. "Very well then. But before I do, I must swear everyone in this room to silence. Nothing discussed here leaves this room." The three younger woman nodded in acknowledgment. She paused before continuing. "Perhaps, Tsunade, your choice of words was the best. We do indeed seek to correct our previous actions, our 'past sins' as it were. You are no doubt familiar with the Uchiha massacre?"
Hinata's eyes widened. Of course she knew about it, everyone in Konoha knew about it Only it was always spoken of in hushed tones - Konoha's shame, Uchiha's shame, that the pride of their own clan, Itachi, could do something so monstrous.
"Yes, my lady, I do. But what does this have to do with me?"
"Patience, Hinata Hyuuga, is something that your sensei assures us you are good at. Indulge an old woman. The tale isn't easy for me to tell."
The voice was weary and resigned. Hinata wasn't sure how Tsunade could be angry at the old woman, she seemed to her to be more...pitiable.
"Forgive me," Hinata ducked her head in a brief bow. "Please continue. I will listen."
"It was a long time ago. And you must understand..."
"All we did, we did because we thought it was best for the village, for Konoha." the old man finished for her.
Hinata nodded and the old woman continued. "The Uchiha massacre was...our fault."
The words rang in Hinata's ears. Itachi Uchiha alone was responsible for his clan's massacre! How could these two respected members of the council have had anything to do with it? She opened her mouth to ask but the old woman shushed her by raising a wrinkled hand, dry skin spotted with age. "Hear what Homura tells you - we honestly believed at the time, that the action was the only way to preserve Konoha."
There was a long pause, before she added. "We ordered Itachi to carry out that mission."
Hinata gasped. It wasn't possible. It was...incomprehensible. Monstrous. She wanted to rise from her seat and had to grip the edges to keep herself from doing so. She gripped so tightly that her fingers hurt. The people across from her were monsters. Then she looked into the two tired old faces.
The old woman continued and she could hear the heartbreak in Koharu's voice now. "We honestly believed that Uchiha were planning an uprising. That left unchecked they would destroy Konoha, the entire Leaf Village. Looking back now we see how misguided we were but at the time..."
"At the time," Homura finished for her "we thought we were saving more lives than we were sacrificing."
And Hinata realized that they believed it. She couldn't describe it, she just knew, instinctively, that they were telling the truth. She'd heard the old expression that the road to hell was paved with good intentions and here in front of her was living proof of that. These two old people had been living in their own private hell for years now.
"But...what does this have to do with me?" she asked.
Silence once again descended on the room and she looked around, peering into each face, wondering why no one would answer her. Tsunade wore an expression of sheer anger as she downed another saucer of sake. Sakura was white-faced and trembling, with fear or with anger herself Hinata couldn't tell. Shizune was implacable, her face a perfect mask revealing nothing.
Homura cleared his throat and shifted in his chair, turning to look at Koharu who sighed and looked at her own hands, folded in her lap. "We...have come across...that is...there is a remote possibility that we could...restore the Uchiha clan."
"But...how?" Hinata asked, bewildered.
"The kunoichi, Karin, who came back to the Leaf when Naruto and Sakura returned after their encounter with Sasuke five years ago, was intimately familiar with Orochimaru's lairs as well as his experiments and ... test subjects and materials."
Hinata nodded, wondering when they would continue.
"Some of that material was genetic," Homura added finally.
"It is possible that...with artificial insemination, a new Uchiha possessing the sharingan could be born. The clan could begin to be restored."
Shattering realization dawned on Hinata. They were asking her to...bear a child? To bear a Uchiha child? "I...I...why me?" she asked.
"Stop right there!" Tsunade interjected. "Before this goes any further, I want to make it perfectly clear to Hinata that I am opposed, morally, philosophically, ethically, and medically to this. I will not allow you to use my kunoichi as brood-mares!"
"Your kunoichi, Tsunade? Isn't she Konoha's kunoichi?" Homura asked sharply.
"More importantly doesn't she have the right to make up her own mind?" Koharu asked. "What is the harm in presenting complete information and allowing her to make her own choice? Or would you decide that for her, imposing your own will on her? In which case, how are your morals or ethics better than ours?" Koharu added.
Tsunade grumbled and glared at them. "Just to be crystal clear Hinata. You can get up and walk out that door anytime now. And this conversation never happened."
"I-I will hear them out, Tsunade-sama," Hinata, ever the peacemaker answered, hoping to restore some measure of calm to the room even as her own head swirled with the outrageous possibility they had just proposed. Bear a Uchiha child? Preposterous.
The heart of the matter now out in the open, Koharu found it easier to proceed. "Karin has informed us that Orochimaru kept meticulous samples of all his subjects before he began...altering them. Many of these labs have been discovered and much recovered, some even viable. The most recent lab contained genetic material from Sasuke Uchiha among others."
"But how can you be sure?" Hinata asked.
t;p>"Orochimaru and Kabuto were fastidious at cataloging everything. There is no mistake. The material is viable. It is highly probable that it could produce a viable pregnancy."
"I see," Hinata nodded feeling like she were watching a Saturday afternoon science fiction movie. "But again, what does this have to do with me specifically?"
"The Uchiha clan is an offshoot of the Hyuuga in the not-too-distant past. Sharingan is a mutation, a refinement that originates in specialized use of Byakuugan. With a Hyuuga ovum, there is a greater likelihood that the child would inherit the Sharingan capabilities."
"But again, why me? There are many other Hyuuga women."
"You don't have to do this, Hinata. Just get up and leave," Tsunade broke in.
Koharu raised her hand again. "All other women in your clan of child-bearing age bear the Caged Bird seal at this time except for you and your sister. Only you two can act freely from clan oversight in this matter since it involves potentially creating a Byakuugan heir instead of a Sharingan wielder. And your sister is only 15."
Hinata nodded again. "I see." She paused then said. "But I believe there is more to this than simply atoning for past sins?" She surprised herself by her own boldness at the force in her question.
Koharu chuckled. "Perceptive. You will make a worthy leader of Hyuuga some day young Hinata."
"Sasuke remains a threat to this village. Hatake Kakashi is the only one in Konoha who still possesses Sharingan and even that is limited. It would be...good for Konoha...if Sharingan was restored to the village."
"For the good of the village, you mean?" Hinata prompted.
"Yes. For the good of the village."
A/N: I hope I have piqued your interest. I would love to have comments and feedback.
Chapter 2: Whatever You Do
Hinata sat with her hands clasped in what she hoped appeared to be a placid manner in her lap. In reality she was clenching them tightly to keep them from shaking. The room was deathly silent, everyone waiting for her to speak.
Wave after wave of conflicting emotions washed through her. What she had just heard from these elders could not possibly true. No one could give any serious consideration to this ...absurd notion.
And yet as she tried to calm herself once again taking advantage of the silence it was empowering to acknowledge that it was her voice everyone was waiting to hear. She tried to force herself to look back objectively over the entire shinobi clan structure. Konoha, it's history, the history of the other hidden villages had all been full of examples of molding human beings from birth, and sometimes even before, to become those perfect weapons known as shinobi. The clan constructs could be viewed, in coarse terms, as their own controlled breeding experiments where kekkai genkai were carefully guarded and cultivated generation after generation.
In short, the elders' proposition was not quite so far outside the norm as it appeared on the surface.
Hinata looked again into the two wizened old faces and felt...pity. There seemed to be no trace of guile or deception about the two of them, in fact she could sense a tremendous relief that their history of past deceptions was finally coming to light. This weighed heavily in her decision. She had always been brought up to be respectful of her elders, to help them and ease their burdens if possible. What kind of burdens had these two been carrying on behalf of their village for all these years?
"I...I am not equipped to make this decision on my own, Hokage-sama." Hinata answered with a pause but not a stammer this time. "I would like to ask permission to seek advice from another person."
"Who did you have in mind, Hinata?" Tsunade asked.
Tsunade looked at Koharu and Homura sitting across from her, cocking an eyebrow skyward as she questioned them. "Well?"
Koharu answered. "We understand, Hinata. We thank you for giving this matter serious consideration and not dismissing it out of hand. Kurenai Yuhei is a most suitable choice for advice in this matter. All we ask is that you impress upon her the confidentiality of this issue. Make sure that other than Yuhei-san and those within this room today, no one else knows about this discussion."
Hinata nodded in agreement. "Is that all, Tsunade-sama?" she asked.
Tsunade's smile was kind and warm, directed solely at her. Hinata had no doubt that the instant she was gone Tsunade's full ire would be directed back at Homura and Koharu but for the moment it was nice to be the object of such warmth from her Hokage. "I think that's more than enough for today, eh, don't you think Hinata?"
Smile, warm and broad and just for her, her caramel eyes twinkling so that Hinata herself had to smile as well now that the odious formality was over. "Yes, Tsunade-sama," she agreed emphatically and grinned in relief, rising to go.
"Hinata, if you have anything you want to discuss or ask me, anything at all, I'm available to you at any time." Tsunade added. "Or, " eyes twinkling again and smirking at her, "if you never want to talk about this again, that's fine, too. Understood?"
"Yes, Tsunade-sama, and thank you," Hinata bowed to her Hokage and the elders then turned to smile at Shizune and Sakura before she left.
Walking home, she tried to review in her mind all the cons about the proposal and see if there were any pros about it, any at all. If there was absolutely nothing worth considering any further about this, if she was truly going to just 'dismiss it out of hand' as Koharu had called it, then there was no reason at all to even mention it to Kurenai-sensei. The topic could just die right here and now without any one who was not inside Tsunade's office today ever knowing anything about it.
And the cons were almost too numerous to count. She, a single mother? Hinata honestly had to admit that she felt she fell far short of the mark in what was required to take on that task. Kurenai-sensei was a worthy example and Hinata truly admired everything she was able to do in keeping to her duties as a shinobi and being her son's sole parent.
This train of thought caused another, more disturbing one, to race through her head. Would she be allowed to be the child's mother? They wouldn't take it away from her would they?
Would it be fair to bring a child into the world without his father? There were enough orphans and fatherless children in all the shinobi villages due to the history of wars and fighting, would it be right to engender a child knowing from the outset that he or she would never have a father present?
All these thoughts played through her head as she walked along the streets of Konoha, politely greeting those she passed. She was distracted as she continued on her path to her apartment, merely acknowledging acquaintances with a brief nod or a raised hand. She must have been rushed in her steps because no one considered it rude, they just assumed she was on an urgent mission.
Entering the security and comfort of her own apartment, Hinata closed the door behind her and went to the kitchen to prepare herself a cup of tea. Soon the light jasmine fragrance of the tea filled her small apartment as she sat down to try and collect her thoughts over this matter.
The social implications seemed to be decidedly in the 'against' column. But there were also personal considerations that only Hinata herself could know.
Elders in her own clan had been making noises about arranging a marriage for her ever since her twentieth birthday a few months earlier. Some of the older women had nattered about that she should have been wedded and bedded long before now. Although her own father hadn't broached the subject with her she knew he had had meetings with the elders lately on topics that were more than just routine clan business.
The topic had been nagging in the back of her mind for some time now. She dreaded the day when her father accompanied by some elderly aunt would bring up the subject in seriousness to her. We've found a suitable match for you, Hinata-chan.
She'd long ago given up her girlhood dreams that Naruto himself would fall in love with her and save her from the machinations of the Hyuuga clan. Naruto was, and always had been, in love with Sakura. It had just taken Sakura some time to realize what her true feelings were for him. Now that they were a couple it was obvious they had been meant to be together. Hinata sincerely wished them well.
And as far as love interests went, besides Naruto there really had never been anyone else to whom she'd been attracted. Kiba-kun and Shino-kun were practically her brothers, much like Neji-nii-san, it was impossible to consider them as anything other than family.
Hinata realized that she had grown up thinking there were two paths for her to follow, one where she was the dutiful heiress, marrying whomever her clan selected for her and the only alternate to that that she could imagine was one wherein the prince, in the form of Naruto she'd hoped, would swoop in to rescue her from that fate.
And now, here she was presented with a third option. One wherein she could...choose.
She could choose a separate destiny.
It was only one item in the 'pro' column, but it was a there nonetheless.
There was at least a reason to go see Kurenai-sensei.
"How long does he nap?" Hinata whispered as Kurenai closed the door to the sleeping boy's room and the two walked softly to the living room.
Kurenai smiled. "Not nearly long enough I'm afraid. I think he'll have completely given them up by his next birthday."
The two women settled onto the couch. Kurenai still lived in the same home she'd had when Hinata had stayed with her during her genin years. In all of Konoha, this was probably the one place where the young Hyuuga woman felt most comfortable and secure. She'd shared her deepest secrets and fears with Kurenai growing up and the genjutsu mistress had become more than her sensei, she was the older sister that Hinata never had. Although neither of them spoke much about it because it was still too painful for Hinata but in many ways Kurenai also filled the role of her mother who had died when Hanabi was born and Hinata only five years old.
"So, Hinata, what did you want to see me about?" Kurenai asked.
"Well, ah, it's about an interesting proposal..." Hinata began.
Kurenai's heart sank. She had been dreading this conversation for the last couple of years now. The girl's bastard of a father had finally decided on some well-off old man he deemed a suitable match for his daughter and was marrying her off. It was probably some distant clan cousin with an established business and maybe even children of his own by his now deceased first wife, children already close to Hinata's age. Kurenai tried to control her emotions, she couldn't tell if she was almost trembling with rage or heartbreak for her student.
"And, you, s-s-see Kurena-sensei, it's unlike anything I had ever considered before," Hinata was continuing. Kurenai's ears perked up, it must really be an awful match if Hinata was starting to stutter around her. She and the rest of her team were the few people with whom Hinata had always felt most comfortable. Perhaps Hiashi was even marrying her off outside the village, to some far-flung relative at the opposite end of the Land of Fire.
A soft palm covered Hinata's knee as Kurenai patted her comfortingly. "Is it about...marriage, Hinata? Has your father decided?"
Hinata blinked. Of course that would be the first thing that would occur to her sensei, it was the most likely scenario. "No," she hesitated, "not exactly. I mean, it's not about marriage but it is about having a child. A baby. About me, having a baby."
It was Kurenai's turn to blink. She didn't know what to say. After a lengthy pause during which Hinata found it difficult to continue and Kurenai found it difficult to reply the older kunoichi finally asked, "Hinata, are you pregnant?"
"What? No!" the lavender-eyed girl was surprised, stunned, even, that her sensei would intuit such a thing. "I mean, not yet, but it is about me...having a baby. Eventually." She stressed the last word.
Relieved, Kurenai suggested, "Why don't I make us a pot of tea?"
Hinata nodded, grateful for a few more minutes to compose her thoughts. Pleasant sounds of preparation came from the kitchen, the gentle clink of china, the water merrily boiling and finally being poured over the tea and once again Kurenai returned. This time she had a tray in hand laden with the pot and cups. She placed it on the table in front of the sofa and rejoined her student.
"Now, then, why don't you start at the begining?"
And Hinata did. To her credit, Kurenai dutifully listened to all that was said without looking too shocked or interrupting in disbelief. When she was finally finished, Hinata looked at her teacher and asked. "What do you think?"
Kurenai's red eyes were wide. "I think," she said rising from the couch. "That we should be drinking sake not tea."
Smiling at the gentle joke, Hinata appreciated the humor that lightened the mood as well as the sake that was quickly produced and shared between the two friends.
"What do you think, Kurenai-sensai?" Hinata finally asked again.
"What do I think?" Kurenai leaned back in the chair, her dark tresses falling over the back as she looked up at the ceiling and searched for a wise answer. "I think raising a child alone is the hardest thing I've had to do in my life. There's not a day that passes that I don't wish Asuma was here with me. I miss him every day."
"But that...wouldn't be the case with me." Hinata prompted.
"I know," Kurenai replied understandingly. "But Hinata, just because you've not met someone yet doesn't mean you won't find the right person and fall in love with him and..."
"And would the right person love me less if I already had a child?" she countered.
Pouring more sake for the two of them, Kurenai didn't answer directly but rather mused, thinking out loud, "You know, isn't it odd that we kunoichi wouldn't have any qualms about killing, taking a life, if ordered to for our village but to be asked to create a life, to bring a new life into this world causes us such a dilemma."
"So what do you think I should do?"
Kurenai smiled. "I can't answer that. But I can say that whatever you do, you will do well because I know you. And whatever you decide, whether it's this or a traditional clan marriage or something else entirely, I'll always support you."
Chapter 3: Pros and Cons
Hinata faced an inner struggle of enormous proportions over the next few days. She was at times determined, scared, convinced she was crazy, elated and anxious. There were times when she was convinced she was capable of going through with the plans the elders proposed and other times when she was dismayed that they would even suggest such a thing.
But when she honestly sat and weighed the pros and cons it quite surprisingly kept turning up more pros than cons. Being a single mother would be harder than she knew she could imagine but she had Kurenai as an example and a reliable friend. She was certain that with her steady help she could do this. And Konoha in general had an exemplary record of helping shinobi families when one, or God forbid, both parents had died.
Another item in the pro column was that she could do what her father had always wanted with respect to the clan leadership - turn it over to Hanabi. The downside to this was that she would probably be completely ostracized from the Hyuuga clan.
If Hinata's father thought she was unsuitable for Hyuuga leadership he had vastly underestimated not only her shinobi skills but her skill in statecraft as well. She had been a most attentive student at clan meetings she had been required to participate in since childhood. Undertaking this course of action would precipitate a crisis in Hyuuga the likes of which had not been seen since...as long as she could remember.
Clan issues could be resolved through negotiations, however, and if the elders wanted this badly enough they could see to it that that happened. Personal issues would be much harder. Hanabi would be surprised but she knew her sister well enough to know that she would be relieved the tension between them was resolved by Hinata removing herself from consideration as leadership. Briefly she allowed herself a few moments in which to feel wistfully forlorn about her father. If only...
If only he had ever actually been a father toward her.
It was a sign of the graciousness of Hinata's heart that she actually bore him no ill will. She just...missed...what she wished they could have had.
The painful, grown-up realization was that it had never been there to begin with. The idea was strangely liberating. All her life she'd been told she was never good enough for Hyuuga and now she no longer had to be. She was free to, what was in effect, be the founder of her own clan.
The elders may have thought they had a plan to restore the Sharingan of the Uchiha to Konoha, but Hinata's plans included much more than that.
Kurenai's words haunted her, though, that a day didn't go by in which she didn't miss Asuma. How was this possibly fair to a child? To deliberately bring a child into the world with her it's only parent? To create a child for the purpose of re-establishing a particular jutsu?
The fact of the matter was that was just what the history of arranged marriages among the various clans had been - business propositions and the reinforcement of clan specific jutsu. How else had kekkei-genkai come about and why else were they so jealously guarded?
Better to have technology to assist than to have her own body bartered by her father to make a suitable match.
But, and here was the most important question, could she love such a child?
In her heart she already knew the answer to that question or else she would never have spent so much time worrying about the rest of it.
With that her mind was made up.
She appeared on Kurenai's doorstep breathless the next morning. As Kurenai opened the door she saw the smile on Hinata's face and simply said, "Well, I see you've decided."
Nodding, feeling particularly giddy, Hinata stepped in at Kurenai's welcome and joined her sensei for tea. "Yes, sensei, I have. And I-I hope you will accompany me as I give them my requirements."
Kurenai arched an eyebrow at her young student and smiled. "Requirements?"
Hinata nodded. "I have given it a lot of thought Kurenai-sensei and it's not quite as simple as fulfilling their request of a single baby."
"Of course not, Hinata, it's your whole life ahead of you. After this, you do realize that you're never not going to be a mother again, don't you?"
Another nod from Hinata and she held up her hand. "Of course, Kurenai, but it goes beyond that. And there are certain practical considerations that will have to be met. Both inter and intra-clan."
"Well I'm glad to see you've considered it so carefully. May I know what requirements you intend to ask them to satisfy?"
"Please do not be offended, Kurenai-sensei, but I can't let you know that just yet. I need to ask you one more favor in addition to all the help you've given me these last few days and asking you to accompany me tomorrow when I see the elders."
"Oh? Of course I'll do whatever I can to help Hinata. And of course I'll be there. Now, what else is it you need for me to do?"
"I know that you are close friends with him, closer than I am to him myself. Would you please do me the favor of asking Shikamaru Nara to accompany us tomorrow as well?"
"Shikamaru? Yes, I can ask him. But why, Hinata?"
"I'm afraid I can't tell you that yet."
Chapter 4: Negotiating A Contract
Hinata was slightly nervous as she waited patiently with Kurenai the next morning for Shikamaru to arrive. She realized that she was actually more worried about the role she was asking Shikamaru to play in all this than she was about announcing her decision to the council itself. Although she considered Shikamaru a good friend, the Hyuuga heiress recognized she was by no means as close to him as she was to her own teammates, Kiba and Shino. And yet, they did not possess the skills she was going to ask the young Nara man to draw on by presenting him with her dilemma with no preparation. She hoped he would forgive her afterwards.
There was a light knock at the door and Kurenai answered it and welcomed Shikamaru into her home. He looked at Hinata and smiled his famous half-grin and wished them both a good morning then added with his characteristic lack of enthusiasm, "So, Hinata, care to tell me what this is all about?"
The blood rushed to her face in a furious blush and Hinata felt light-headed. With her knees knocking together, she managed to stammer out, "P-p-please, Shikamaru, forgive me if I ask you to indulge me and wait just a little longer." She noted that the young man stood casually, his hands in the pockets of his jounin vest. He appeared to be in a far more relaxed pose than she felt with her own hands jammed into her own pockets at that moment.
Another half-smile and he shrugged, "Sure. Whatever." He yawned and turned to Kurenai, "How's the boy?"
"At preschool. As a matter of fact, you can see him this afternoon. He's been asking about you. You've been away on missions for quite a while now."
"Yeah, it's been a drag," he drawled.
"Shall we go then?" Kurenai asked. Hinata had informed her that their meeting was at nine this morning with Tsunade, Koharu and Homura. Even though the two younger people were now her equal in rank since they had both been made journin in the years since Asuma's death, she still felt somewhat like their teacher as she shepherded them out her front door.
The three made their way through the busy morning streets of Konoha. Vendors were doing a brisk business in the early sunshine. Shikamaru noted the blue of the sky and a few fluffy clouds on the horizon and commented that it was shaping up to be a nice day. He and Kurenai exchanged a few pleasantries about the weather and Konoha in general but their voices seemed tinny and far away to Hinata. Her heart was racing but it felt as if her feet were slowing each step they carried her closer to her Hokage's door.
They finally arrived and after a brief wait in an ante-room where an attendant politely offered them tea, Shizune opened the door to Tsunade's office and called for them. Filing in Hinata noted that Shikamaru's face didn't betray any surprise at all as he simply and quickly took in the faces of the people in the room. The attendees were precisely those whom Hinata had expected and whom she had informed Kurenai would probably be present - Tsunade and the council along with Shizune and Sakura.
If Shikamaru was curious, his face certainly did not show it, in fact he looked bored, almost as if it was everyday he was summoned in front of three of the most important senior people in Konoha. Then again, Hinata realized, perhaps he was used to it. The Nara family had always been very close to Tsunade. Not only was Nara-san her jounin commander, they seemed to be close friends as well. A fresh wave of nervousness passed through her at the thought that she might anger not just her friend but also a powerful family she might soon need as allies.
Tsunade was already seated at her desk, Shizune and Sakura slightly behind and to her right. The elders were seated to her left. That left Hinata and her small retinue to take the three seats positioned in the center of the room.
Tsunade looked at her and silently mouthed. It's okay. Breathe. With a start Hinata realized how tense she was and that she had in fact been holding her breath. She breathed out and saw Tsunade wink at her. Again she whispered. It's okay.
Hinata relaxed a little. But it was short-lived. Homura's sharp voice snapped her back to the reality of the situation.
"Hyuuga Hinata, we had an agreement that you would discuss this matter with only a single person outside this room. Have you already broken that agreement?"
"N-n-no, Homura-sama," Hinata replied, thankful for Kurenai's gentle touch at her elbow. She straightened in her chair. "S-s-shikamaru knows nothing of the request which was made of me. I n-n-needed only Kurenai-sensei's advice in arriving at my decision. And my decision is a qualified 'yes.'"
"Qualified?" Homura demanded.
"H-hai, Homura-sama," Hinata replied, gathering strength. "I have decided that my answer is yes and we may proceed provided certain conditions are met. Shikamaru is here to…negotiate on my behalf, if you agree. If not, then, I regret my answer is no."
Homura harrumphed. Koharu scowled and straightened in her chair but the scowl was quickly replaced by a smirk. Tsunade sipped her tea noisily to avoid laughing out loud at the looks of consternation on both their faces. None of them had expected such audacity from Hinata. Tsunade was intrigued to see how this would play out.
"Negotiate?" Koharu asked, leaning forward and taking control of the conversation away from Homura.
"Hai, Koharu-sama," Hinata responded politely, her hands now folded placidly in her lap. Negotiate. She was in familiar territory. As far back as she could remember she had been present at clan meetings where business was conducted. She had grown up nodding off to sleep next to one elderly aunt or another as a young child in the midst of transactions where financial deals were made and marriages were arranged both intra and inter clan. Her father may have disparaged her skills as a shinobi but he had dutifully seen to it that she was well versed in the business and political skills necessary to head their clan.
"Why Nara?" Koharu asked, her voice crisp but not unkind.
"This is a very complex problem that will span many years. I would hope we can all agree that Shikamaru has unparalleled skills in analyzing complexity and seeing multiple potential outcomes as well as setting up contingency plans. But if you do not agree to his presence then we must conclude this meeting. Shikamaru leaves here with no other information than what you and I have just exchanged. And I have kept my word."
Koharu considered briefly, smiled, then nodded. "Agreed. Go on."
"I have documented the request you made of me at our last meeting as well as some fundamentals necessary in order for a successful outcome of your rather obvious but unstated goal." Hinata produced a small scroll from her pocket and handed it to Shikamaru.
"And what is that rather obvious but unstated goal, Hinata? I thought we expressed it most clearly earlier?" Homura asked.
"Indeed. You expressed a portion of it very clearly, Homura-sama. However, only a portion. And in order to achieve the stated portion requires an … infrastructure, or the unstated portion. Without which, I become a perpetual target and this mission, as it were, will end in failure."
"Very well. Let's begin," Koharu said.
As Shikamaru turned his scroll over and broke the seal he drawled, "So since everyone agrees I'm now a participant in this meeting, would somebody mind telling me what the stated and unstated goals are?"
Hinata answered calmly while looking ahead at Koharu and Homura. "The original request was to produce a child with the ability to wield the Sharingan. The unstated request but which must follow logically from the first is to reestablish the Uchiha clan."
Although her gaze held steady on Koharu, Hinata possessed amazing peripheral vision even without activating her Byakugan. She had to suppress a grin as she saw Shikamaru cast a sidelong glance of astonishment her way. If he had been a cat, she would have imagined his ears pricking forward in interest. Well, she thought to herself, at least there were some things that surprised him.
He pored over the scroll in front of him. Finally he put it down and looked at her. "Hinata – are you sure about this?" he whispered.
"Yes, Shikamaru." Her soft voice matched his own. "I have researched both my clan and the village histories and outlined some of the historical legal precedents. Although there is no single circumstance that exactly matches this one, I believe there are enough examples to roughly match what needs to be done, which is, in short, restore the Uchiha clan."
"Not the legal precedents, Hinata!" he fairly hissed at her under his breath. "Are you sure about this? You. Do you know what you're doing to yourself?"
"I can assure you, Shikamaru, I understand much better than you do. You are Nara, not Hyuuga. It is you who perhaps cannot understand that an arranged marriage has always been my most likely fate, my destiny as Neji would say. Now, at least I get to have a greater deal of control in the matter."
"Well?" Koharu asked, interrupting them.
"Pardon me, Koharu-sama," Shikamaru addressed her. "As you know, this is the first I have seen of any of this. May I have as few moments to study the information she has prepared?"
"A few minutes," Koharu said curtly. "Meanwhile, why don't you fetch us some tea, Tsunade?"
Tsuande scowled at the old woman, annoyed at being treated as a serving girl and then sent Shizune to the outer room. She soon returned with the assistant bearing a tea service. As they were all served, Shikamaru was engrossed in the details Hinata had provided him. She had clearly been very thorough in her research but he could see a few weaknesses in her plan. One thing was certain, she had a firm grasp on the scope of what they were asking her to do. She couldn't just have an out of wedlock child, much less one conceived artificially, much less from the notorious Uchiha clan without splitting Hyuuga apart. And splitting Hyuuga apart would most likely cause a similar sized rift in the village itself.
The solution Hinata proposed was actually quite sound from a legal standpoint. Since the Uchiha clan had never been formally disbanded it existed in a sort of legal limbo. Sasuke as the sole remaining survivor still maintained the titular head of a clan that was in effect in suspended animation. The clan's lands, houses, buildings, bank accounts, and all other holdings had passed to him by inheritance laws at the death of all his other blood relatives. After eleven years, Konoha still remained in shock over the massacre and the topic had been so taboo that no one had yet undertaken the legal unwinding of Uchiha.
But the clan still existed. And was unable to produce an heir. The curious anachronism Hinata proposed was an ancient law that was still on the books more as oddity than something actually employed in the memory of anyone living. When a family was unable to produce an heir they could engage the services of a concubine. The concubine lived with the family as a member and did her wifely duties until such time as a child was born. The concubine was then paid for her services and dismissed and the child was raised as the new heir of the family.
Hinata proposed that the elders function in loco parentis, in the absence of Sasuke's parents, to negotiate a contract in effect purchasing her as a Uchiha concubine from Hyuuga.
Now that he had the gist of it, Shikamaru sipped his tea and gathered his thoughts. Yes there were weakness but the devil was in the details and could be overcome.
Hinata had one overriding stipulation. The child would be hers. Since there was no Uchiha family in which to leave the child she would be designated the guardian in charge of and responsible for him or her. She would in effect, remain employed by the Uchiha clan as the caregiver for the child until he or she reached adulthood and inherited all the clan's holdings. Hinata's written note made it very clear that this was a nonnegotiable point.
"All right," Shikamaru began. He highlighted her primary stipulation to which the elders agreed rather quickly. But next he surprised even Hinata herself when he specified that the entire Uchiha holdings should fall under her control as guardian. The two older people dissented but it did not take long for Shikamaru to convince them and everyone in the room that it was actually easier for the village to settle the Uchiha matter in one fell swoop.
Other weaknesses that he felt Hinata had not looked far enough ahead in addressing had to do with her own safety. They could keep this under wraps for a certain amount of time, but if the procedure was successful eventually biology would win out and Hinata would not be able to hide a pregnancy for the entire nine months. He asked for and got their agreement to rotate bodyguards for her. He specified their original classmates to begin with as well as Kakashi Hatake. Not sure how this would play out in the rest of the village he wanted to keep the initial group small that would be privy to the information. They needed enough to maintain an effective rotation but not enough to draw undue attention. He deliberately excluded Neji's team for the immediately obvious reasons that Neji was Hyuuga and thus a member of the group most likely to be pissed off by the whole affair.
That left only the matter of whom the elders would be purchasing Hinata's "services" from on behalf of Uchiha and for how much. Shikamaru got the elders to authorize a handsome value paid to Hiashi Hyuuga from Uchiha funds based on historical archives chronicling the practice in the past. He also recommended that they offer to enthusiastically and publicly support Hanabi's designation as the next head of the clan. That last part was difficult for him to recommend, he felt almost as if he were agreeing with Hiashi that Hinata would not be a suitable leader of the clan. But from a purely logical standpoint he had to admit that it would help to calm any offended sensibilities the man might have over the whole matter. It couldn't hurt for Hiashi to feel that the elders were now agreeing with him after resisting the idea of his bypassing Hinata for all these years. The irony was that it was Hinata herself who was orchestrating the deal and rather shrewdly at that.
Eventually all the i's were dotted and all the t's were crossed and the eight of them were witness to the agreement that Shikamaru struck on Hinata's behalf with the elders of the village of Konoha.
Walking out of the room Hinata was weak with relief and disbelief at what they had just accomplished. She was also slightly dreading having to face Shikamaru and apologize for what she had just put him through.
As the three cleared the door of the Hokage building and exited into the streets of Konoha she turned to him and bowed so deeply he was embarrassed. "Shikamaru-san, I cannot thank you enough for you assistance today. I am…ashamed that I had to put you through this but I knew I needed your expertise in seeing any flaws that I may have missed. Please forgive me for any embarrassment I may have caused you."
"Knock it off, Hinata," Shikamaru shrugged and laughed, wishing she would hurry up and rise from her formal bow. Being embarrassed was too much of a drag. When she finally did rise and meet his eyes he saw how worried she was that she had offended him.
"Nah, you didn't embarrass me," he reassured her. "I'm just wondering why I never asked you if you wanted to play Shogi before."
Chapter 5: Voices From The Past
Voices From The Past
Sasuke stared at the small scroll in front of him, his face a mixture of disbelief and rage. His initial burst of anger had come simply when he recognized the handwriting after breaking the seal of the scroll the messenger hawk had delivered. The neat, tidy script was unmistakable. After five years he thought he had put that part of his life behind him.
Unfortunately she had not. And her chakra detection skills were obviously honed to a high level if she had been able to sense his location with this much time and distance separating them.
But it wasn't just the fact that she dared to contact him that triggered his ire. The actual content of her message was equally disturbing if not more so. He started to tear the paper in two but stopped himself in case he might need to study it later for clues as to what her actual game was. Instead he crumpled it in disgust and then straightened it out again to read it a second and then a third time.
Mouthing the words silently to himself he pored over them one more time then shook his head. It was absolutely preposterous what Karin was alleging. And yet, Konoha and it's leadership had been responsible over the years for more than one atrocity. Although, he mused, he was surprised that Tsunade would allow something like this on her watch. During his time with the snake sannin, he had heard Orochimaru grumble often enough about Tsunade's inflated sense of moral superiority.
Another name from his past. Only this one dredged up even more uncomfortable memories. Karin's threat had always been veiled and somewhat ludicrous – she never wanted to specifically harm him, only use him for her own ridiculous romantic purposes. Purposes which he easily brushed aside.
But the time he spent with Orochimaru had been far more dangerous and damaging, an unhealthy symbiosis. He had consented to the sannin's experiments because he needed to be trained by him in order to advance his techniques. Those experiments had been at times painful and at other times humiliating. And one of them apparently had left him in the situation he faced now.
Konoha was trying to breed a Sharingan user.
His stomach lurched over. Who the hell were they to play god with his clan, his family, his genes?
He forced himself to re-read Karin's letter yet again, this time trying to not let rage cloud his ability to look for clues in what she had written.
Konoha had obtained his DNA. They had recovered it from a labyrinthine lair he had occupied with Orochimaru in the past. And they were now planning to convince a Hyuuga woman to bear a child who could grow up to one day activate its own Sharingan. There were a lot more flowery phrases from Karin and promises to do anything at all she could to help thrown in but that was the gist of it. The purple prose she had surrounded it with simply brought back to mind all too clearly how nauseatingly close she had tried to get to him while a member of Team Hebi.
Team Hebi was no more. Juugo and Suigetsu had died and he had assumed Karin had simply abandoned the team. Not that he cared. After Itachi's death he'd had no need of her special skill and she was only marginally adept at any other practical techniques he might make use of. When she didn't come back one time he hadn't even bothered to find out where or why she'd gone. It hadn't even been worth the effort and truth to tell he was glad to be rid of her. He eventually learned she'd gone with the Leaf ninja contingent after an encounter and he was content to just leave her there. He'd reasoned he would deal with her when he took care of the rest of the Leaf.
After the dissolution of the original Team Hebi Sasuke had headed south to recover from the battles for and with Madara. He'd endangered his own life for the man and that could not be allowed to happen. His original plan had been to occupy one of the snake-sannin's unused facilities in the south and prepare for his own final revenge on Konoha. The village would be obliterated and there would be a new Uchiha clan someday but on his terms, not as a result of some Orochimaru-esque eugenics program.
South and west he'd gone to begin again. The new Team Taka he'd assembled here was not even close to being the equal of the originals' skills but they served as efficient subordinates. He kept a low profile and that was why Karin's note was even more surprising.
Was it really possible that her chakra-sense was that keen? If that were true then it was most unsettling.
But the other point he had to consider was that the entire story was a fabrication of Karin's. Perhaps this was some elaborate ruse to lure him out of hiding. Or the delusions of an emotionally and mentally unstable woman? Why would she concoct such a far-fetched tale if there wasn't some truth behind it?
He couldn't take the chance. He knew the possibility existed. That alone was enough to prompt him to take action. Sasuke would have to infiltrate Konoha and neutralize this new threat. The nature of the matter was so embarrassing, so delicate that he could not trust it to anyone else. There was no one he could confide in.
He would deal with Karin at the same time he removed this threat to his own family's lineage. The rest of Konoha might have to wait a little longer for his revenge but two kunoichi shouldn't be particularly hard to deal with.
There was a further complication, though. Karin's senses were too sharp. She would detect his approach.
"Seito," he called for one of the newer shinobi to join up with him.
"Yes, Sasuke-sama?" a teenage boy of medium height and build with straight brown hair answered pausing at the doorway to bow lightly before entering.
"We're leaving. Tell the others."
"Immediately," he replied. "Where shall I tell them we're going and when will we return?"
Sasuke glared at the boy. "You won't tell them anything other than that you and I are leaving. We'll return when we return," he said sharply.
"Yes, Sasuke-sama," Seito acknowledged then bowed once more a little more formally and left to do as he was instructed.
Seito was a reliable shinobi with an interesting ninjutsu. He could mask his own chakra. It made him a useful espionage agent. Sasuke was hoping he could extend that cloaking ability to his own chakra signature as well, or at least mute it enough so that Karin would not recognize it. He hoped Seito could sustain the masking long enough for the seven day trip to Konoha.
Sasuke looked at the note in his hand once more then incinerated it. He couldn't take a chance on leaving it lying around.
Hinata shivered with anticipation as she stood outside the door to Konoha's medical center. She rubbed her upper left arm gently, remembering the last two weeks of HCG shots she'd received in order to stimulate ovulation. There was no pain only the memory of them as testament to what she was about to do.
The medical center was nearly empty. This procedure like all her visits for the shots preceding it had been scheduled for late in the day. The council and Tsunade were still keeping this under tight secrecy. Only the original eight who had been in on the negotiations and the top level Hyuuga clan representatives were aware of what was going on.
Kurenai was waiting for her at the door. "Ready?" she smiled warmly at her.
Hinata grinned herself. "Ready as I'll ever be I suppose." She paused then added most sincerely, "Thank you again, Kurenai-sensei, for coming with me."
"Hinata. Of course I'm here for you…and my future godchild," she said conspiratorially as she linked her arm through the younger woman's and together they went into the center.
As they entered the procedure room Hinata was struck by the sterile and decidedly medical surroundings. She didn't know what she had expected, it was basically just a regular examination room. The two kunoichi waited a few moments and then Shizune came in.
"So, Hinata, how are you feeling? Any side effects from the injections?" she asked flipping through her charts.
"No. I mean, I'm feeling fine, no side effects," Hinata responded. "Well, maybe just a little anxious, that's all."
Shizune smiled. "I think that's to be expected. Okay, let me explain the procedure to you. With intrauterine placement we have about a 25% chance of success for women with fertility problems. Given your age and overall health plus no known fertility problems there's an excellent chance that pregnancy will result from one procedure today. If not, we can continue the injections in a few more weeks and try again next month."
"W-when will I know, Shizune-san?" Hinata asked.
"Two weeks. Give it two weeks before you try a pregnancy test. Okay?"
"Two weeks?" Hinata sounded surprised.
"Sometimes it takes a day or two after the procedure for a woman to actually conceive. And then it can take several days before your hormones settle down enough to give a reliable indication."
"O-okay," Hinata said then grinned, "it's just that's it's going to be difficult to wait that long."
"I imagine so. Well, there's no harm in peeing on a stick earlier if you want to, but don't assume that if the first test is negative that you're not pregnant. Let's see if you can hold out at least seven days before trying a test, okay?"
"Okay," Hinata agreed and all three women laughed.
"Right, then, well, I'll leave you get changed and then be back in a few minutes," Shizune said. She paused before turning to leave. "Hinata, Tsunade wanted me to make sure you understood why she's not the one here doing the medical procedure."
"I know. I understand. She told me herself already," Hinata answered. Tsunade had called her to her office for a long conversation after the meeting with the elders. At first Hinata had been terrified that Tsunade disagreed with her decision. But the older woman had just wanted to make sure the Hyuuga girl knew that she respected her right to make that decision. Although not what Tsunade herself would have chosen, she assured Hinata that she supported her and would help her in any way possible. They had had several more conversations over the last few days and Hinata could see why Sakura was so devoted to her teacher. Although not quite as warm as Kurenai, she was caring in her own way.
One of their later talks had turned to the general topic of the good of the village. Tsunade felt compelled to let Hinata know that she had to decline being the one to perform the procedure. As Hokage, she felt the topic was already too politically sensitive and she couldn't afford any conflict of interests between her medical and leadership responsibilities.
"Tsunade just wanted me to be sure you knew she supports you 100%," Shizune said.
"Yes, I know. Please tell her for me," Hinata reassured the medical specialist.
"Right, then, well, I'll just let you…slip into something more comfortable while I get things ready," Shizune said with a faint grin as she handed Hinata a standard examination gown. She and Kurenai left the room for Hinata to change, with Kurenai waiting in the hall.
Hinata changed into the gown, folding her own clothes neatly on the counter. "You can come back in now Kurenai," she said softly to her friend out in the hallway.
"How do I look?" she asked when Kurenai re-entered.
"You don't really want me to answer that, do you, Hinata?" she replied drolly and both women laughed.
"It's not exactly wedding night material," Hinata mused as she hopped up onto the table.
"You're not exactly getting married you know," Kurenai pointed out and there was another round of excited nervous laughter.
Soon there was a light knock on the door. Kurenai arched an eyebrow up as if to say to Hinata 'this is it.' Hinata nodded then called out, "Come in Shizune."
"Ready?" Shizune asked as she peeked in the door before entering.
"Ready," Hinata affirmed. "What do I do?"
"At this point, Hinata," Shizune chuckled, "You don't need to do anything but lie back and…think of Konoha."
Hinata complied and Kurenai moved to stand beside her student at the head of the bed, taking one of Hinata's small hands in her own.
"All right, Hinata, this shouldn't be too uncomfortable, possibly some slight cramping, nothing more," Shizune talked softly as she worked. Hinata kept her gaze fixed on Kurenai.
After just a couple of moments, Shizune announced. "Okay, we're done."
Hinata's brow knit, confused. "That's it? That's all there is to it?"
"Yes, well, you're probably not the first girl to make that observation," Shizune said dryly but with a gleam in her eye as she turned to begin putting things away.
Kurenai burst out laughing. It took Hinata a moment to get the joke and when she did she blushed furiously.
"So what should I do now?" she asked after regaining her composure.
"Lie here and wait a few minutes, say ten or twenty, then go home, get plenty of rest, eat well, stay healthy and come back and see me in a couple of weeks. We'll see if you're pregnant."
Chapter 6: Plans
Shikamaru surveyed the quartermaster's store with displeasure. He was taking inventory, preparing to requisition what was needed for the upcoming chuunin exams and noted that the entire supply of exploding tags was nearly gone. A stray note or two fluttered to the floor and he bent to retrieve them.
The slender Nara man sighed, he'd seen some of the younger genin out horsing around in the evenings making impromptu fireworks displays out of the tags. He realized it was almost a right of passage, he and Chouji had done the same thing back when they were kids but still he'd have to nag them about it. It was one thing to use a few of them for such pranks but to severely deplete the supply to this point was inconveniencing a lot of shinobi who might legitimately need them on missions.
He mentally ran down the list of genin suspects and then added their respective sensei's to the list of those he'd have to gently remind, or nag, about respect for property. Shikamaru added Konohamaru's name to the list for good measure. Even though the teenager was a chuunin by now and getting a little old for such childish antics, Shikamaru had a suspicion that he may have helped himself to more tags than were technically necessary for his latest missions.
It was a skill Shikamaru had become rather adept at lately.
The irony was not lost on him.
Since taking over responsibilities for administering the chuunin exams he'd found he had to nag the senseis to ready their students, the proctors to actually commit to showing up for their assigned time slots, his dad to even commit to assigning him jounin to be used as proctors in the first place. And Tsunade. She was the worst. There was an inordinate amount of inter-village paperwork that needed to be in place each year prior to the exams. All she needed to do was to sign the damned things and yet she never managed to get around to it. Shikamaru wondered how Shizune put up with the woman on a day-to-day basis.
What had seemed like an easy job at first that would get him out of a lot of off-site missions had turned into more work than he had imagined.
But it did have its upside, he mused as he continued on down the aisles completing his inventory. The job did, as expected, keep him in the village for the most part. And given the current...mission...that he was assisting Hinata with that was a good thing.
He...worried about Hinata. He nagged her, too. He nagged her to take greater care for her own safety. Shikamaru felt that she didn't see all the potential dangers that he did.
The biggest threat to her that he anticipated at the moment came from her clan itself. There was no predicting what the fallout from the elder's proposal to Hyuuga would be. He had played out several scenarios in his mind, but the number of variables made it exponentially complex.
Hyuuga Hiashi was the most likely to be offended. It was one thing to tell your daughter her entire life that she was worthless. It was another to actually have the village leaders agree with you - to essentially tell the man 'we concur - you have raised an ineffective leader.'
The council was agreeing with his assessment of his younger daughter's skills, but the unspoken subtext was that Hiashi had failed when it came to Hinata. Shikamaru recognized Hiashi Hyuuga as a prideful man and it was just not possible to assess how he would handle this.
Then there were the additional Main and Branch family subgroups within the clan itself to deal with. How might this play out with them? The Main family would probably go along with Hiashi's position whatever that turned out to be. And Koharu seemed to have a relationship with some of Hinata's elderly aunts, one in particular that she thought would be inclined to view this in Hinata's favor. She felt the woman would be influential over Hiashi himself. But even if Hiashi accepted the situation, how would the Branch family react? Rebellion against the Main family had simmered under the surface for years. Would they see this 'use' of the Main family's control over Byakuugan as the ultimate betrayal? Employing a Main family member with unrestricted use of the technique to re-spawn a second clan while keeping the Branch family subservient with the Caged Bird Seal?
So far things had proceeded acceptably. Shikamaru wasn't involved in the Hyuuga negotiations directly but he was kept informed by Tsunade. Not unexpectedly, Hiashi had bristled - torn between the elders agreement with his preference for Hanabi and their tacit implication that he had failed with Hinata. But to her credit, Koharu had been spot on in her assessment of her elderly Hyuuga friend's opinion on the matter. And apparently the old woman carried quite some clout within the Hyuuga clan. Hiashi may have chafed and sulked but ultimately he had gone along with it and in effect 'sold' his daughter to the dormant Uchiha clan.
Clan leadership may have been on board but that only widened the circle of people who knew. The general population of Hyuuga had yet to be informed, as had the general population of Konoha. Shikamaru felt as if he were waiting for the other shoe to drop when the Branch family found out.
To top it off, all this was only a portion of it. There were also still the medical realities to take into account. Over the last few weeks Shikamaru had learned more about the female reproductive cycle than he really needed to know.
The gist of which was Hinata was trying to get pregnant.
He found that he liked the quiet sanctuary of his storeroom even more. This was all extraordinarily complex. With Shogi you had a fixed number of pieces on the board with a defined set of moves. Human beings could do anything.
Shikamaru met with Kurenai and Hinata in the early evening at Kurenai's house. Hinata had been alternating spending her time between there and her own apartment. The three of them sat outside and had tea while watching Kurenai's son playing in the back yard.
"So, err, how are you?" Shikamaru asked awkwardly.
Hinata blushed and smiled. "I am fine, Shikamaru, thank you."
Shikamaru shot Kurenai a look almost as if he were asking for confirmation. "Yes, Shikamaru, she's fine", the kunoichi assured him. "We came back here and I even made her take a nap, too."
"Okay, well...that's good...I suppose. And er...how did it go?" he stumbled over his words.
Hinata looked bewildered. "As I said, Shikamaru, I am fine. You don't need to be concerned." She still looked puzzled.
He coughed and cleared his throat. "What I mean, is...ummm...are you pregnant?"
Hinata and Kurenai both laughed. "She won't know that for a few days, Shikamaru," Kurenai explained while Hinata sipped her tea with a smile. "Both of you," she looked at Hinata too, "need to be a little patient." She said this with mock sternness in her voice.
"Yes, Kurenai-sensei," Hinata agreed, amused to to see Shikamaru as anxious to know the outcome as she had been just a few hours earlier.
"Oh, right," Shikamaru said. "Well, um...can she walk? I mean take a walk?"
Hinata's smile was wide and happy with amusement. "Of course I can, Shikamaru. I won't break you know."
"You two run along," Kurenai rose from her seat gathering the cups to clear the table. "Hinata, are you staying here tonight? Or back at your apartment?"
"I want her to come back here, tonight," Shikamaru answered then apologized. "Sorry, Hinata, I just don't want you to go back to your apartment alone from now on."
"Of course, Shikamaru. Whatever you think is best," Hinata answered. She had asked her friend for his advice and it was obvious this was weighing heavily on him. "Is something wrong?"
"No, nothing specifically, it's just that I want you, us, to all be as prepared as we can be," he answered.
The two kunoichi nodded in agreement and then Shikamaru and Hinata left assuring Kurenai that they would be back before midnight.
Shikamaru led Hinata through town to the edge of the village proper where it bordered with the Nara clan lands.
"Where are we going, Shikamaru?" Hinata asked him, curious but still trusting in his judgment.
"I want to discuss some alternatives with you about your living arrangements," he answered her. "I know you have your own place and that you're also always welcome at Kurenai's, but there are some other factors I want you to consider."
The two of them departed the village walking at first but then Hinata reminded him, "Shikamaru, I'm happy to walk but if it's a good distance away we could go a little faster, you know. I am still a shinobi."
"Right," he agreed somewhat embarrassed. "You're sure it's okay?"
Hinata grinned and reassured him one more time. "Yes, Shikamaru, I am sure it's okay."
With that the two of them whisked lightly through the treetops over the Nara lands, Shikamaru still leading at a fairly easy pace but Hinata didn't say anything else, not wanting to fluster him further. She found his concern actually kind of sweet.
Soon they came to a little cabin very remote from any other structures they had passed. Shikamaru led her inside. It was small but comfortably furnished. And it obviously appeared to be smack in the middle of his clan's homeland.
"It's a research cabin," he explained. "There are some particular botanical specimens that are most abundant in this part of our forest. It's owned by the main research center of the Nara labs but not used this time of year, only in the spring when the flowers bloom. No one who is not Nara is going to get here without someone from Nara knowing about it. It's remote but defensible."
Hinata nodded and looked around the place. It was rustic but still welcoming. Obviously with a good store of provisions someone could live here comfortably for quite a period of time. "It's nice, Shikamaru. I could stay here but...do you really think I need too?"
Shikamaru considered his answer. "The biggest unknown right now is going to be the people's reactions as the news gets out assuming you do get..." he motioned at her middle.
"Pregnant?" she supplied helpfully.
"Yes. Assuming that. It wouldn't be permanent but I'd just feel that you were more secure between the time news gets out and when things settle down and people accept it. My biggest problem in arranging your security is going to be people. The fewer that are around the better. And if the ones that are around are the ones you and I trust implicitly and only those ones then I'll feel better still. There's this place and... one other option."
Detecting the hesitation in his voice Hinata looked at him with curiosity in her eyes. "What's the other one?"
"Come with me," he instructed holding the door open for her and then closing it firmly behind him as they left. He seemed unusually solemn to Hinata.
They picked up their path again and continued at the light brisk pace from earlier through the treetops. But they angled sharply after they crested a ridge and Shikamaru called back to her. "Nara clan lands bordered Uchiha along this stretch of the forest. The entire compound is accessible but from the rear. I don't know if you would consider it but...lore and taboo would keep the curious and the casually disgruntled away. You could come and go via my clan's lands and no one would really realize that these buildings were once again occupied. And after all... they essentially belong to you now."
Up ahead in the distance as the trees cleared, Hinata could see the buildings coming into view. In the deepening twilight it had a forlorn air of emptiness about it that even the remote little cabin didn't have. The two of them stopped at the edge where the forest met the first streets of the Uchiha compound.
Hinata looked up and down the streets and then started walking down one past the first dilapidated shops that led into the village.
"I remember coming here as a child," she whispered. "My mother was friends with Sasuke's mother. She would bring us here to play with him sometimes."
"Yeah, me too," Shikamaru joined her, their footsteps echoing softly on the deserted cobblestone streets. His hands were shoved into his flak vest pockets. "Mostly we went to Choiji's but sometimes we'd come here to visit."
"We got dango there," Hinata pointed at one of the little shops near the edge of the lake they were passing. "And green tea ice cream here," she pointed at a second shop.
Shikamaru didn't say anything just let her walk to wherever her feet would carry her. They crossed over a bridge and down a few small residential side streets and Hinata paused in front of one particular house. "And Sasuke lived...here," she whispered.
"Yeah," was all he could manage to add as the two of them stood silently on the street searching their childhood memories for glimpses of their long-lost friend and his family.
Shikamaru studied Hinata's face - her eyes brimmed with tears but at the same time she seemed composed. "If it's too much, Hinata," he said to reassure her, "you've always got the cabin. Or you can stay at your apartment or Kurenai's place. I just wanted you to know what your options are and the advantages of the ones you might not have considered."
"No. It's not too much. It's all so sad, but... not too much," she wiped her eyes and then stepped up onto the porch of Sasuke's house, her hand on one post as she continued. "You're right of course. Either or both would be good choices for their remoteness, their defensibility. I...thank you...for showing them to me. But I'll decide later. Tonight we should go back to Kurenai's."
Shikamaru just nodded. There was a familiar tone in her voice when she addressed him and he wondered where he'd heard it before. Then he remembered, she sounded like Tsunade did when she addressed his dad.
Chapter 7: Future and Past
Hinata surveyed her work thus far. Wiping the dust off her hands and then placing them on her hips she looked around the dilapidated house she had chosen and admitted proudly to herself that things were starting to shape up. There was more work to be done, that was for certain, but still she had made some progress in cleaning and restoring one of the Uchiha homes for her own use.
Well, Shikamaru, Sakura and she together had done so she corrected herself. So far, those were the only two 'guards' in her rotation. She felt somewhat self-conscious about using her friends as her personal bodyguards but Hinata recognized the necessity. The topic was still closely guarded, outside the original group only the Hyuuga Main Family leadership was aware of what was going on.
A leadership which now included Hanabi.
It had been a bittersweet meeting between herself and her sister, one which Hinata had done on her own without even telling Shikamaru as soon as the contract was signed between the village elders and her father. She'd invited Hanabi to her apartment and explained the situation to her personally. Initially Hanabi was tearful, feeling that she had somehow been responsible for driving Hinata away but after numerous firm reassurances from her older sister that was not and could never be the case, Hanabi calmed down and was as consumed with curiosity about the whole procedure and process Hinata was going through as any other fifteen year old girl could be expected to be. They had spent the rest of the weekend giggling and gossiping as sisters have done since time immemorial and when it was over, Hinata was beyond relieved to know that her sister would be her staunchest ally through all that lay ahead.
Hinata looked around the empty room. Sakura had been gone for a few minutes to fetch some more water so that they could continue cleaning. Unfortunately there were some significant repairs that were going to be needed on any of the buildings in the Uchiha compound before they could be considered fully inhabitable. Plumbing was among one of her top priorities but she'd have to wait until her circle of conspirators included someone skilled in that area.
Shikamaru had grumbled half-heartedly and complained that her apartment, Kurenai's house and the cabin were all completely occupiable, now. In his opinion, any effort spent to restore a Uchiha house until the plumbing and electricity could be restored was simply work for the sake of work. Nonetheless he had pitched in to help the two kunoichi. He had been particularly adamant about being the one to do any work at a height, extracting a promise from Hinata not to climb any ladders or stepstools.
"Here we go," Sakura announced, returning with two buckets full of water from the lake so that they could continue scrubbing the floors.
"Thank you, Sakura," Hinata smiled, reaching to take one bucket and set it on the floor near her mop.
"No problem," the pink-haired fellow kunoichi said, taking a break and sitting on a dusty end table. "We've got a lot more to do, don't we?" she smiled back, raising a dusty palm and holding it out to show Hinata.
"Yes, we do, but we'll get there," Hinata said encouragingly as she turned to dip her mop in the bucket. She paused, curious about something. "Sakura, may I ask you a question?"
"Huh? Sure, Hinata, what is it?" her friend replied, wiping her forehead with a bandana then stuffing it back into a pocket.
"It's about Shikamaru, he seems...overly concerned. Especially about the ladders. Am I really likely to lose my balance?"
"Well, balance problems aren't uncommon, but it's usually later in pregnancy," Sakura started in her best medical student voice. "What's probably more likely would be loose joints. When you're pregnant your body produces a hormone that allows the ligaments and bone ends to relax and stretch to accommodate the baby and for delivery. But the hormone's in your body, it's not just limited to those particular ligaments, so it is possible that you would be more likely to... twist your ankle for example."
"But would that happen to me even now? It's only been a few days and..."
Sakura shrugged, "Probably not but...Shikamaru's a guy...the whole process is like science fiction for them." And with that she laughed and Hinata joined her.
As she turned to begin mopping the room they were in a stray thought crossed Hinata's mind. Sakura hadn't been doing any of the tasks requiring climbing either. Shikamaru had done all the inspecting of the roof, ceiling repairs and hanging of curtains that had been required so far. She wondered if this was just a coincidence or...
"Sakura," she began slowly, smiling to herself and keeping her eyes down focused on the area of floor she was cleaning, "I noticed you haven't been climbing anything either..." she let her voice trail off and chanced a look up at her friend.
Sakura was blushing furiously, her face almost matching her hair.
"You are pregnant!" Hinata announced with delight. "Why didn't you tell me?" She let her mop fall to the ground and rushed over to hug her friend.
Sakura laughed and hugged her back. "Yeah, I am, we are..."
"But how could you keep it a secret?"
"Hey," Sakura joked back, "look who's talking about keeping pregnancies secret." Then she added somewhat more seriously. "We, ah, I haven't really told anyone except Naruto, Tsunade and Shizune yet. About the time I found out, this, ah, whole situation with you came up and it just ... I just didn't want to influence you in any way."
Sakura was overly cautious, aware she was treading on delicate ground with Hinata with respect to Naruto.
She needn't have worried. Hinata had long since given up Naruto to Sakura in her heart with no ill feelings. She was genuinely happy for both her friends. "I know you've kept it a secret, Sakura-chan but how is it possible that Naruto-kun has managed to..."
"To keep his mouth shut?" Sakura finished for her.
"Well, first of all, Tsunade threatened him with bodily harm if he said anything to anybody before I was ready. And secondly, she's been running him all over the Five Nations on one mission after another just to keep him out of Konoha and to keep him from talking. She told him it was so he wouldn't have to travel as much when the baby got here, but she and I both know it's to keep him from blabbing."
"Well, it's wonderful. Congratulations. How far along are you?"
Sakura shrugged. "About three months. Tsunade says I'll start showing soon. We won't be able to keep it a secret then will we?"
Hinata nodded in agreement, hugged her once again wishing her the best then returned to her mopping, lost in thought over her own potential pregnancy. Suddenly she was consumed with the need to know whether she was or was not actually going to have a baby. She had promised Shizune she'd wait and not get her hopes up, but then again, Shizune had reassured her there was no harm that could come from doing a test, only the possibility of disappointment.
But she couldn't very well run back to the village to pick up a pregnancy test now, could she? Not only would that draw undue suspicion if she were to actually purchase one at the pharmacy, it was quite frankly a stupid thing to do - dash off from the Uchiha compound, through Nara lands all the way back to Konoha's city limits.
However, there was another way, an older way that she could use. She'd been able to resist the temptation up until now, but being here with Sakura, knowing that she was pregnant, Hinata found she just had to know about herself, too. Now.
"Sakura," she called back over her shoulder where her friend was working on the other side of the room. "I think there are some more buckets in the kitchen. We're going to need the water anyway, so I think I'll go down to the lake to get some."
"Sure," Sakura said. "I'll be right here."
Heart beating a staccato rhythm, Hinata darted to the kitchen to fetch the two spare buckets. She hurried down the short path to the lake, walked out to the edge of the dock and sat down, trying to steady her breathing. She wasn't nervous she was...excited.
It had fallen out of favor over the years, but Hyuuga women of her grandmother's and great-aunts' generations had routinely used Byakuugan to determine if they were pregnant. Village women and those of other clans had been quite jealous of this ability and so it had become talked about less and less among her own clan. With the advent of inexpensive early home pregnancy tests, the jealousy factor had gone away, now any woman could find out within a very few days whether or not conception had occurred. Most younger Hyuuga women preferred to do things the same way as their fellow villagers and so now hardly anyone within her clan used the technique.
Still, it could be done. Easily. If she could just settle herself down from her giddy trembling to try to find out.
Sitting on the dock as the sun set lower over the lake she tried to calm her breathing, forcing herself to take several deep steady breaths followed by long exhales. When she felt ready she activated her Byakuugan and looked within herself. Following the paths of her own chakra network to her womb she began methodically searching for what she was looking for.
Only a week. Seven days had gone by. She was searching for the tiniest group of cells.
There! She saw a spark, just a flicker, the smallest flash of chakra.
And it didn't match her own chakra signature.
With a long drawn out breath she sat there on the dock, happy and elated and scared and drained and exuberant all at the same time.
Gazing just a little longer she watched the sparkle that pulsed and flickered of its own accord. Before she deactivated her Byakugan she whispered, "Well, hello there."
Scooping up two buckets of water she dashed back up the path to tell Sakura the news. Their earlier conversation echoed in her head and she realized she should be extra careful not to lose her balance. But as good as she felt, as great as she felt it was hard to imagine anything bad actually happening to her.
Shikamaru studied the shelves in disbelief. It had been less than a week. The paper tags he had stocked up on were running low again. Not depleted, but still far lower than he would have expected. This had gone far enough. Genin pranks were one thing, but this was too much. Until now he'd been satisfied to merely speak to a general audience of suspects and remind them in broad terms about proper use of stores.
Now, he was going to have to get to the bottom of this and find out precisely who was involved. He groaned inwardly. This might even require disciplinary action. How troublesome.
How had he ever wound up with this job?
He grumbled and took a couple of the long-burning high luminosity ones with him. With no electricity at the Uchiha houses and the days getting shorter as summer drew to a close, he thought they might need a few in the evenings to finish up the tasks Hinata had laid out.
He looked at the clock. Ino would probably be getting off her shift at the medical center about now. He hadn't seen her and Choji in a while, he'd been spending so much time with Hinata. He decided to take a short detour by her place of work to check in with her and see how things were going.
As he entered the medical center he met a young woman with red hair and glasses. Karin. He'd seen her around the village, remembered when she returned to Konoha with them, but otherwise he didn't know much about her. She was a rather unremarkable kunoichi. She kept herself employed as a shinobi within Konoha running fairly routine missions on a regular basis. Reliable but unremarkable - that's how he would describe her.
Quickly trotting up the steps he turned the corner and went down the cool hall where Ino was just hanging up her lab coat.
"Hey, Shikamaru," she brightened. "Haven't seen you for a while. It's Friday night, you going to make it to barbeque with us tonight?"
"Nah, not tonight, got some things I've got to get done for the exams." Technically it wasn't a lie and she'd be in on the whole story soon enough but he still felt a little guilty for misleading his best friend.
Ino grinned. "Well, Mr. Responsibility, whoever thought I'd see you take a job so seriously." She patted his cheek. "Your mom must be so proud." She turned to put away a few items in the drug locker and accidentally knocked a binder off the table where it was lying.
"I got it," Shikamaru offered, leaning to pick it up. The binder had spread open and a few pages fluttered free. As he bent to retrieve them all he realized it was an appointment book. Karin's name was on several of the pages indicating appointments over the last few days.
"What's Karin coming in so much for?" he asked casually. "She sick or something?"
Ino loosened her ponytail and turned and fixed him with a piercing blue stare. "So - Mr. Responsibility is Mr. Nosy, now too? You know I can't tell you that. It's privileged medical information." Her tone was crisp and no-nonsense much more grown up than his irritating twelve year old teammate had been. She reached around and regathered her hair, putting it back up into a fresh ponytail. The motion of her chest when she raised her arms as she completed this maneuver reminded him that there were a lot of things more appealing about twenty-something Ino than there had been about twelve-year old Ino.
"Hey, it was just a question," he tried to defend himself, curiosity piqued more than ever.
As she gathered her things and ushered him out the door, turning out the light behind her, she responded thin-lipped and quietly, "Let's just say, Orochimaru was a monster."
Chapter 8: Bad Memories and Exciting News
Sasuke perched in a tree at the edge of the Forest of Death. Through that labyrinth of green lay Konoha, his former home. They were close enough now that he felt Seito should begin cloaking their chakra signatures. Over the last several days he had had the younger ninja practice extending his chakra-muting jutsu to cover the both of them. Sasuke didn't trust it enough yet to completely mask his own identity, but in the current situation no one would actually be looking for him inside the village itself. All he needed Seito to do would be to muffle their signatures enough so that they wouldn't be immediately recognizable.
He paused on a tree branch looking down and considered his options. Should he capture Karin or go after Hinata herself?
Grimly he recognized that there was one important task that needed to be completed before dealing with either of those two kunoichi. Sasuke ordered Seito to accompany him, maintaining the cloak but also trying to detect Karin. Their first stop would be the medical center. Whether or not Karin's ludicrous allegations about Hinata were true, there was absolutely no doubt that the possibility existed after what Orochimaru had done to him. Whatever genetic material had fallen into Konoha's hands would have to be destroyed to prevent any possibility of such a thing in the future. Once he had dealt with that personally then he could decide what to do about the two women.
Slipping through the streets of Konoha memories came flooding back to him. His feet automatically remembered the path to the medical center. Konoha had been rebuilt after Pein's attack but the layout was still familiar. The Hokage tower loomed over the village center, attached to the library and medical center. Seito's cloak must have been working very well, no guards confronted them and passers-by paid little attention to them.
A late summer Friday night and people were out and about for the evening chatting happily. Wistful memories started to rise like the evening's mist in Sasuke's mind, memories of similar summer evenings when his parents would take him and his brother out for a treat. Sasuke quickly relegated those memories to the back of his mind.
Other memories, darker ones now started to surface as they approached the medical center. They darted around to the back and crept in stealthily through an alternate entrance. The place was dark, they were at the back of the building, the duty nurses at the front had no idea they had entered. Sasuke left Seito stationed at their illicit entrance while he silently crept through cold and sterile hallways. No need to enter the patient wings of the facility, what he was searching for would be in a lab area.
He finally came upon what he was looking for in a freezer. Retrieving the vials from their chilly storage compartment he thought back bitterly to the shame and the pain and the outrage he had endured under Orochimaru's tutelage. He had gone to him for knowledge and Orochimaru had delivered but the price had been high.
The black-haired young man smashed vial after vial on the ground grinding them under one foot. Violently he then upended the container of all the samples from Orochimaru's labs and destroyed the remainder, not just his own. No one who had been a victim of that monster should have those memories continue to haunt them in this way, a threat held over their heads for eternity. And if they were dead already at least they deserved the dignity of remaining dead, not having their bloodline resurrected in some program fit only for livestock.
"Let's go," he whispered tersely to Seito as he rejoined his companion.
Seito thought about asking his master about his completed task but one look at Sasuke's face caused him to think better of it. "Hai, to where my Lord?"
"Follow me," Sasuke replied heading back toward the edge of the village.
Shikamaru left Yakiniku Q after having been wheedled into coming by Ino. Actually 'wheedle' probably wasn't the right word, he admitted to himself. It more likely had something to do with her dismissive 'suit yourself' and the swish of her long ponytail as she turned to walk away. Recently he found her mesmerizing and the idea of her having dinner alone tonight with just Choiji, even though he was his best friend, even though they were all three best friends... it just hadn't sat well with him. So he had relented, caught up with her and enjoyed dinner with his old team.
Hinata was with Sakura, the two of them were still working on cleaning and that was certainly work he didn't mind avoiding just for one evening. They could get along fine for a couple of hours without assigning him a broom or a mop.
The young Nara man yawned and stretched and then started to walk toward the Uchiha compound, taking the circuitous back route where he would be less likely to be noticed by anyone in the streets. Mainly because there wouldn't be too many people in these streets.
So much of Konoha was new and shiny until one reached the Uchiha quarter. Even though the rest of the village had been renovated in a burst of enthusiastic building after the end of the last war, this area remained untouched, a ghost town. The crowds thinned out as did the occupied buildings. Shadows lengthened and then finally became simply the night itself. In this part of town, even the streetlights were frequently left unattended when they went out. Maintenance activities were few and far between here.
Shikamaru reviewed his reasoning behind even suggesting this location in the first place. Hinata's plan had been bold. Bold enough to require a bold statement. Living in a shared apartment with Kurenai, or in a borrowed cabin on Nara lands, while possibly safe in the short term failed to acknowledge the long term implications of what she was undertaking.
But reclaiming Uchiha lands and assets did.
Shikamaru smiled to himself. He had to give her credit - Hinata certainly did engage in long term strategic thinking. She had had the vision - his suggestion of this spot as a location for her new family was just an implementation detail.
Who would have thought her so bold?
When did she get to be so...fascinating?
Gah. Women were troublesome.
Movement flickered at the corner of his field of vision and he glanced over in the direction. A slim shape dipped into the edge of the forest. They had come from behind him but must have headed off at an angle upon catching sight of another person in the streets. He thought the figure seemed feminine but it could have just been a slender male. At first he considered following them but decided against it. The alleys here probably held several illicit gaming rooms and other questionable activities. Most likely he'd just happened to cross paths with someone who didn't want their business known.
Still, he remained on alert for any hint that the person or any persons might be following him.
Slipping into the his destination area he walked to the house under repair and saw with relief that Sakura was still with Hinata. Of course she would be - she was one of the most reliable shinobi he knew. Sakura would never be derelict in her duty. The two girls seemed to be happy as a pair of larks with broad smiles. He could hear an occasional chorus of giggles as he approached.
"Yo," he saluted the two of them.
If possible both their smiles became brighter as soon as they saw him.
"Shikamaru!" Hinata said with delight.
"Hey, Shikamaru," Sakura joined in equally giddy.
"Why so happy?" he asked and the two of them dissolved into laughter. Puzzled, because he himself had never been that thrilled about housework or any type of work for that matter. "Care to fill me in?"
"Please, Sakura,...can I tell him ...both?" Hinata looked at her friend with pleading eyes.
"Oh, all right," Sakura relented, still laughing and forgetting the earlier promise she had extracted from Hinata. "You can tell him...both."
"We're pregnant!" Hinata announced joyfully.
"Well, er, congratulations, " Shikamaru replied scratching the back of his head and not quite sure of protocol in these matters. Should he hug her? Then he stopped short and re-parsed what she had said.
"Wait a minute...we're pregnant?" he asked looking from one kunoichi to the next.
Hinata nodded enthusiastically. "Yes, Sakura-chan, too."
Sakura just beamed. "Naruto's going to be angry. Tsunade and I have been threatening him to keep him from spilling the beans and now here I've gone and done it first. But you can't tell anybody, Shikamaru!" she added sternly. The look she gave him reminded him of his mom's "I-really-mean-it" look and so he quickly nodded his agreement.
In those few seconds Shikamaru's world changed forever. Hinata pregnant. Sakura pregnant. They were going to be mothers. Heck they already were mothers. And Naruto was a dad.
Until now Hinata's situation had been an interesting and complex problem to solve. But the baby part of it had been abstract not tangible. It was...a desired goal of Hinata's plan. But now...
Holy shit Hinata was pregnant.
And Sakura too.
This meant only one thing.
His mom was going to start hounding him relentlessly about settling down now and providing her with grandchildren.
They chatted for a while longer, with the girls doing most of the chatting and Shikamaru smiling and nodding politely all the while refining his plans for keeping Hinata safe now that they had progressed into what he preferred to think of as "Phase Two" rather than the "Oh-My-God-Hinata-Really-Is-Pregnant" phase. The proverbial shit would now really hit the fan.
The Hyuuga clan leadership had been kept silent by large bribes from Uchiha funds and the sternest of admonitions, otherwise known as threats, directed toward Hiashi by Tsunade, Koharu and his own aunt Chizu. But now they were on a schedule determined by the baby. In about ninety days Hinata would start showing and there would no longer be anyway to keep this secret.
He watched the two happy young women and wondered if they would be able to keep it secret that long.
Eventually Sakura realized the lateness of the hour and excused herself to head home, leaving Hinata in Shikamaru's care. It was late and he really did want her to go back to Kurenai's for the evening.
"Just a few more things to tidy up, Shikamaru," she wheedled. Although when Hinata wheedled it was rather more pleasant than when Ino did, he had to admit to himself.
Picking up the cleaning implements and stowing them away he thought he heard movement from the woods at the back of the yard. He paused, alert like a stag in the forest straining to either see or hear anything but there was nothing.
He briefly thought back to the stranger who crossed his path earlier this evening but once again dismissed it as a gambler or a drunk on their way home.