Happy wife, happy life.
Genma turns to look at the source of the voice. A young woman stands a few feet away from him in the jonin lounge. A lit cigarette dangles out of her mouth and a wolf the size of a small horse is at her side, its long tongue lolled out the side of its mouth, the pink of it stark against its otherwise pitch-black fur. He gives her a once over—she looks like she would rather be napping underneath a tree than talking to him, with her half-lidded eyes and bored expression.
"Morning," Genma returns.
A couple of other people in the jonin lounge turn to look her way. Curious onlookers, part of the regular crowd that haunts this place, intrigued by the newcomer.
It takes him a full minute to place a name to her face. One he does, he sits up on the couch and closes his book. "Uh… Inuzuka Hiwa, right?"
"Yeah," she says. "I uh… I need a favour."
"What can I do for you?" he asks.
Genma blinks. "What?"
"It—I need to get married," she says. "Will you do it?"
He shakes his head. He wondered if he heard her incorrectly the first time, but no, he hadn't.
A woman he's met a handful of times in passing asked him to marry her with the same gravity as she might ask somebody for money to buy a candy bar.
Genma blinks. "Sorry, I… what?"
Hiwa shifts her weight onto one leg and cocks a hip. One of her hands drops to rest on it. "Don't make me get down on one knee," she drawls. The joke is a weak attempt to cover her discomfort, in his opinion. "I'll do it, I just don't want to."
"You can't be serious."
"I wish I wasn't."
Upon closer inspection, Genma sees a dullness in her hazel eyes and the bags that frame them, the dishevelment of the two chocolate brown braids that hang down from either side of her head, and decides that there's more to the story than what she's presenting.
She holds herself with scrabbled together confidence; Genma sees through the bravado.
Beneath it all, he spies the visage of somebody falling to pieces. Parsing the details of a damaged portrait is second nature to him, at this point, after how long he had to look at his broken reflection following the Kyuubi attack.
"You sure have a way of making a guy feel special," Genma mutters. He turns his head to glance around the room, clicking the senbon between his teeth. "Buy me lunch and we'll talk—I need some details, here."
The thought of marrying her is absurd, but if he can get a free meal out of it then he's willing to at least hear her out. That feels like the politest response, all things considered. And who knows? Maybe she'll make a decent case for herself. Stranger things have happened to him.
Hiwa treats him to a feral smirk that lacks genuineness but reveals a set of wicked canines. "Deal."
Hiwa has lost her mind.
It's not a conclusion she comes to with any issue, as right now she's sitting across from a ninja who she's heard of but never spoken to in her life, and she's shooting to tie the knot with him. Maybe it's the sleep deprivation. Hiwa purses her lips, avoiding Genma's gaze. Actually, yeah, she's taking that out—it gives her a reason to explain why she's approached this from the most idiotic angle she could have managed. She should have a better plan than this, but right now she's grasping at straws.
She places a cough into the crook of her elbow and lifts her cup to her lips, washing the shame down with a sip of green tea. She hides a grimace. Even seventeen years into this life, her taste buds haven't quite acclimated to the Japanese tea flavours. But avoiding tea altogether is culturally unacceptable, to her poor fortune. So here she is. Drinking it anyways. What gets her through is that a few token sips are all she needs to take before she can let it go cold.
Their lunch arrives and Genma takes a bite of his sandwich, chews, and swallows, all without removing the senbon from where it dangles at the edge of his lips. He repeats it a few times. His dentist must hate him.
After he's thoroughly started in on his sandwich, he directs a pensive look at her. "Alright, Inuzuka—"
"Just call me Hiwa. We're discussing a marriage proposal, here. I think we can loosen up a little."
He considers over another bite. "Fair," he says. "So, Hiwa—spill. What the hell is going on here?"
"I'm being forced into an arranged marriage. Or, at least, the Nara and Inuzuka clan are trying to force me into one—whoever wins their little spat gets to marry me off into their clan."
At her side, Rei gives off a low growl. Hiwa stoops down and offers a few reassuring pats.
"Nara and Inuzuka?"
"Dad is—was an Inuzuka. And my… mom is a Nara."
Genma raises an eyebrow and makes a 'go on' gesture. "Uh-huh."
"The Inuzuka are claiming rights to my marriage because I was raised as an Inuzuka," she says. "The Nara are claiming the rights because, with..." She lets out a long breath. Clears her throat. "Without my dad, now, my mom is my only living relative. She also happens to be the sister of the last clan head."
"Ah," Genma says with a wince. "Yikes."
"The Inuzuka are trying to regrow their numbers after so many were lost on the frontlines during the war. The Nara want to preserve their bloodline, 'cause even being half a Nara, any kids I have are going to have a chance at being able to use their shadow techniques," she says, not bothering to hide the derision from her voice. She leans back in her chair, letting her fork fall onto her plate with a dull clatter. "Both of them want a crack at whatever my uterus is capable of spitting out."
"How old are you?"
"Seventeen, just a bit younger than you."
If Genma is surprised she knows that about him, he doesn't show it. "Bit young for a ninja to get married and have kids, isn't it?" he asks. "You've still got a few years left in your prime before they'd want you off the active roster."
Hiwa feels her smile turn bitter and brittle. "You'd be surprised how many power clan men think women are more useful with a baby in their belly than a kunai in their hand, regardless."
Genma sighs. "Right. Okay." From thin air, another senbon materializes, and he starts to weave it between his fingers. His face is drawn. "So, what? You think they're just going to let you go out and get married?"
"If I elope, what can they do to stop me?"
"Annul the marriage?"
Hiwa shakes her head. "They won't get it," she says. "Lord Hokage dislikes stepping into clan confrontations as it is—he won't reverse something that puts a problem to rest."
From what her dad told her and what snippets she's witnessed with her own eyes, she knows that squabbles between clans get brushed off more often than not, especially in the case of the Inuzuka and Nara as neither have blood limits. This would be a whole other can of worms if she were half Hyuuga, with a dojutsu or some other blood limit on the line. But there isn't one, not really. Nara techniques are more tied to their unique yin-chakra development rather than an actual blood limit. Their claim is weaker because having Nara blood only gives them a better chance of being able to learn the shadow techniques; a lot of people in the village could potentially learn the Nara techniques if taught young enough and nurtured properly.
When the cards are laid out and the chips fall, the stakes boil down to pride and a slight bump or drop in their population, and she doesn't think they'll have a good shot at an annulment should she nab a husband under their noses.
Honestly, from what she's heard from Jiraiya about Lord Hokage, he might take her side just to spite them for wasting his time on something so petty. Because it would go to Lord Hokage if they escalated. She would take it there. She was a special jonin, not a full jonin, but that title still brings some power with it. If they tried to go through the easy routes, she'd cause a fuss. If they tried to strong-arm her, she'd dig in her heels. Whatever it took to throw a wrench in their plans and make their lives miserable.
"I hear marriage isn't that bad," Genma says. "I mean, I hadn't ever planned for it myself, but consensus is that it's not the worst thing in the world."
Hiwa raises a hand to tug on one of her braids and stares out at the various couples gathered at the cafe. She sees hands linked across tables, plates that have two forks poking from them rather than one, and conversations and laughter bubbling around her; she sees a whole lot of something she remembers in vague snippets and what-ifs.
She remembers the smell of coffee in the morning, poured into two cups and not one, already prepped with a splash of cream and two sugar by loving hands, just how she likes it. What it felt like to wake up in a bed weighed down by somebody else. That slight jump in her heart, something that wasn't love yet but could have been, one day, if she took the time to nurture it like a flicker of fire on kindling.
The feel of his hand on the small of her back and the way he smiled at her when she came home from work is burned into her brain, but she can't recall what his name was, the sound lost in translation on more than one front.
And she wants that again. She wants a second chance. So, she'll raise hell before she lets the Inuzuka or the Nara take that chance away from her. Not when they have no regard for her. They've made it clear that she's not a person to them, with interests and desires of her own—she's just a fertile female that can produce pups to repopulate the pack, or birth a child with the spiritual capacity to control shadows.
Hiwa pulls a cigarette from out of her flak jacket pocket and lights it with a snap of her fingers. She takes a drag, lets it burn down her throat and warm her lungs. She releases a cloud of smoke in a gusty sigh.
Her gaze rests on him. "I want to find that out for myself, you know?"
Genma meets her eye for half a second and then breaks contact to stare skyward, sinking into his seat. He raises a hand to pinch the bridge of his nose. "Am I the first person you've come to?" he asks.
"No," she says. "You're the fourth."
He nods as if he expected this answer. "Everybody else refused?"
"Yeah. You're the first one to hear me out, actually."
His face twists with some emotion. It's too brief for Hiwa to translate. She wonders if it was pity she saw ingrained in his features, which isn't the worst thing for her. She doesn't want to get through this by manipulating him emotionally—that sounds too much like mission Hiwa for her liking—but she won't leave things out to avoid sympathy. That'd be counterproductive.
"I'm not surprised." He pulls himself upright again. "I'm not agreeing, or anything, but what did you have in mind for this?"
"It's all a formality," she says. "We don't have to play at being in love, or act like an actual couple, or spouses, or whatever. We just have to be legally married until the clans forget about this whole thing and I can find an actual husband, not just… not just who I'm most likely to make strong babies with." She shrugs. "If you want, we don't even have to be friends."
Genma waves a hand. "Nu-uh," he says. "Look, if you're running around with my last name, I'm not going to just ignore you."
Hiwa's heart skips a beat, and she holds her breath. "So?"
He tilts his head. A crooked grin takes over his face and his senbon flicks around from its spot in the corner of his mouth. Now that she takes the time to look at him, properly look at him, she can admit that he's a cute one, with a dimple and a button nose and hair that looks feather-soft.
"If we can get along for a day then I'll go through with this," he tells her.
"That's it," he confirms. He offers her a languid shrug. "As long as I can still pursue my actual relationships on the side and I don't end up hating you, I don't particularly care—like I said, I never planned on getting married anyways. It's not really a loss for me."
She smiles, which isn't the friendliest sight in and of itself, but Genma's grin widens in response anyways. "Yeah, alright," she says.
Get along for one day. No problem.