Tenten stood on the other side of the window partition, one hand pressed up against the cool glass. Her other hand was a tangled mess of splints and bandages. The sharp throbbing of her broken fingers almost obscured the burning itch of the sutures across her back. The burning itch of the stitches almost distracted her from the rhythmic pulse of the clock out in the hallway. The ticking of the clock was almost loud enough to cover up the muffled noise of the respirator in the ICU. The regular, soothing hiss of the respirator, every five seconds, would never be enough to take her mind off the fact that somewhere, inside that snaking mess of IV lines, monitoring cables, catheters, and bandages, her son struggled for his life.
She stood there and stared. Tenten wasn't quite sure when it happened, but sometime in the past three hours, paranoia had set in. She was convinced that if she looked away, that if she blinked, the machines would fail, her son's last breath would rattle in his throat and the alarms would sound and the staff of the hospital would slowly shake their heads and pull a sheet over what had once been her little bundle of joy.
It had been easier to bear earlier. Everything was always easier to bear when Neji was beside her. He was her anchor. He was unflappable. He had held her and smoothed her hair as they had waited outside the operating room. He had brushed away her tears with the tip of one finger.
Then he had been called away.
Shikamaru had found him, pleaded with him. "Konoha is a mess right now. We need every able bodied shinobi we have. We don't know how many of the Black Wind clan are still inside the walls of the village. I hate to say it Neji, I know it's a major pain, especially right now... But we need your byakugan... Will you help?"
She could see that the decision was killing him. Neji was nothing if not a slave to duty. "Go," Tenten had whispered in his ear. "I'll take care of him. I'll be fine."
Neji nodded once and kissed her hand. "Watch over our son," he said simply as he left.
She had no idea where he was now. He had no idea their child was out of the OR, that he had even lived through the emergency surgery. No one had any idea if the boy was going to recover.
They had attacked during the chunin exam. Drunk with power from the forbidden elixir they called 'the Demon's Blood', the potion that made the weakest of them as strong and as fast as Lee, the Black Wind had torn into the underbelly of the Leaf Village. Visiting shinobi from every land and every village had once again come together to battle the threat, but had been hopelessly outclassed.
It was a miracle that anyone had survived at all. It was a miracle that the Black Wind had been defeated. It didn't feel like much of a miracle to her. She stared into the ICU at the bundle on the small bed. Hizashi Hyuga, six years old. Crushed rib cage, collapsed lungs, multiple axial fractures, multiple contusions, multiple blunt force trauma. Oh, and dual ocular excision... She'd stared dumbly at that last one. She had to ask the doctor to repeat himself. It turned out that was the medical term for having your byakugan stolen.
Tenten stood there, hand against the glass, and cursed them. She cursed Neji and his sense of duty, cursed Shikamaru for taking her husband away from her, cursed Naruto for failing to protect the village from this latest threat. She cursed everyone in the village, everyone in the Black Wind clan, the nameless villain who took advantage of the chaos to steal the eyes of a six year old boy. Lastly, she cursed herself, for failing to protect her children. Her daughter, a fresh faced genin, was off on another floor with a broken leg. Her son, her baby... She hadn't been able to recognize him after the attackers had finished with him.
She cursed them all with every breath.
But she made sure not to take her eyes off her son.
Growing up, Tenten prized strength, skill and self reliance above all else. She was raised by the charity of the Leaf village, one of many orphans from the Nine tailed Fox's attack. She knew what it was like to be alone. She had no one to rely on but herself. When she graduated from the academy, she loved the team she was placed on. Lee and Guy, although terminally embarrassing in all other parts of life, were fantastically competent as shinobi. Neji, in her eyes, was the epitome of what a shinobi should be. He was calm, cool and steely. They had a close bond as teammates, and as they aged their bond grew even stronger. It grew into love, and then a family.
Her nails bit into the flesh of her palms as her son was taken off the respirator. Her concerns had fallen on deaf ears. The ICU was needed for other, more critical patients. She tried to steel herself as she followed the gurney down the hallways of the ruined hospital. She walked around the debris, around the wounded who had no other place to go. She forced herself to focus on her son. He was all that mattered. This was yet another trial that she would have to face alone.
The orderly wheeled Hizashi into the new room, which wasn't even a room at all. It was a curtained-off corner of a large storage area. In Hizashi's new room were two cots, two chairs and a single lamp. The only window in this area had been broken during the attack and was now boarded up. The other cot was occupied by a young olive complexioned girl with bright red hair. Her eyes stared blankly at the wall while her fingers pulled endlessly at her sheets. Collapsed in the chair beside her was a shinobi. His nose was broken and both eyes were blackened. His face had been rubbed raw, but she could still see the Inuzuka fangs on his swollen cheeks.
She was about to turn to complain to the orderly about the size of the room, but before she could open her mouth the shinobi catapulted himself out of his chair. "Good," he called out in a thick voice. "You're finally here. Look, I just need someone to give her a head scan. There's something really wrong. She hasn't said anything since..."
"I'm sorry Inuzuka-san," said the orderly with a short bow. "I'm not a fully trained medical-nin yet. I am just here to help these people move in. If you will be patient, I will send word along and I am sure that someone will be with you shortly. The orderly transferred Hizashi from the gurney to the cot. He checked the IV bag and hung it from a hook on the wall. He looked around for a place to put the vitals monitor, and settled for wedging it at the foot of Hizashi's cot. He turned and smiled weakly. "We will try to have a meal brought around at some point." He nodded to Tenten and turned to the other shinobi. "I will do my best to have someone see your daughter." He bowed to both of them and hurriedly turned and wheeled the gurney away.
The other shinobi let out a deep sigh and collapsed into a chair. The little girl flinched as he came crashing down, but she continued pulling at the hem of her hospital blanket. Her father reached out and gently touched her fingers. The girl's hands crawled over his palms and found his sleeves. She began to run her fingertips through the creases in his leather jacket.
Tenten stared at the shinobi. His face was puffy and his voice was hoarse. Her head was thick with painkillers and lack of sleep, but she was pretty sure it was him. "Kiba?" she asked quietly.
Kiba Inuzuka never fit her ideal of a shinobi. He was skilled enough she supposed, but he was loud, he was rude, he was more wild than his dogs. He had married some kunoichi from the Hidden Cloud who was just as bad as he was. Together they were the scandal of Konoha: screaming bloody murder one moment and being passionately inappropriate the next. He was in a completely different circle than the prim and proper Hyuga clan.
The shinobi raised his head. Two puffy slitted eyes turned and studied her quietly. Then they shut her out and turned back to the little girl.
Tenten watched him for precisely three seconds. Then she sat by Hizashi's side. Through the bandages covering his mouth and nose she took some small comfort in hearing his breath hiss.
The promised meal never came.
It had been more than a day since her son's surgery. Ten hours since they had been moved out of the ICU. She would sit and stroke his hand. She tried not to think about how in forty eight hours her son had gone from being a rambunctious six year old to such a frail little thing.
Occasionally she would glance up and over at Kiba. He sat there barely moving. The only other people she saw were some exhausted medical-nin who would mutter a few words as they changed the children's IV bags.
It had been that way all night.
At eleven PM Tenten's stomach would not stop growling. Her last meal had been too long ago. The adrenaline rush had worn off, adding to the light headedness from her gnawing hunger, making it hard for her to stay awake. But every shinobi knew the way to fix that.
Her good hand dug in her equipment pouch. Thankfully she had been returning from a mission when the village was attacked. Thankfully she had most of her gear. She pulled out a small paper sack, and heard the pills rattle around inside. She dropped the bag in her lap and pulled out a food pill between her thumb and forefinger. She slipped it between her teeth and crunched it.
She sighed as she felt the rush of alertness and chakra course through her veins. The fog on her mind lifted, the hunger pangs resided. She picked up the bag and began to count how many pills she had left, she needed to calculate how much longer she could stay awake.
She felt someone watching. Tenten slowly looked up. Kiba was staring, hypnotized by the bag in her hand. Slowly she extended her hand out to him. The bag rustled as he took out a pill. Kiba's teeth gleamed once in the darkness as he chewed. She thought he nodded once in thanks before turning back to his daughter.
They sat together, the silence only broken by the whisper of Hizashi's breath and occasional whimper from Kiba's daughter. Tenten marked the time by the number of food pills she had taken. Each time she took one, Kiba had one as well. The recommended dosage was one every eight hours, but she knew that if she needed to she could eat one every four. Right now she needed to. There was another crinkling noise as she unwrapped the bag, Kiba's head popped up alertly staring. Tenten weighed the bag in her hand. It was starting to feel pretty light. She forced herself to smile and held out the bag to Kiba, but he never took one. His mouth opened once, but no sound came out. He cleared his throat and tried again. "Running out of food pills?" he asked. His voice was hoarse. Tenten nodded slowly. He turned his head back to his daughter. "Save them. I'm good. I don't think I'll be able to sleep tonight even if I try." Tenten slowly folded her bag closed and tucked it back in her pouch.
Kiba did fall asleep. Tenten was eating another pill, to ward off the early morning dampness in the air, when she heard him snore. She smiled and shakily got up and pulled out one of her summoning scrolls. As quietly as she could, she summoned her bedroll and a spare blanket. She draped the blanket over Kiba, and pulled her bedroll over herself. She sat there in the dark with her pulse roaring in her ear. She listened to the noises of everyone around her in the hospital. The coughs, the moans, the cries, the sobbing... all of it was just slightly muffled by the privacy curtain. She sighed. Even if she were the only one awake, it was nice to have the company.
At some point the sun had risen again. Whoever had boarded up the window had done a quick job of it and left a crack large enough to stick two fingers through. Daylight flowed through leaving a bright streak that lanced across both cots.
The sunbeam was far more intense than it had any right to be. Tenten's pulse was racing, and she was sweating as the charka and other medicines in the pill forced her body to stay awake and alert. She was taking the pills every two hours now. Her shaking hands pulled the latest food pill from her bag, there were only three left now. Tenten knew that she was pushing herself beyond her limit, past the point of safety, but she just could not afford to drift off to sleep and leave Hizashi alone.
She put the pill between her teeth and bit down sharply. She waited for the cool rush of chakra followed by the jarring alertness. Tenten felt the burning wave of energy hit her bloodstream and she knew instantly that something was wrong. A throbbing pain started in her head and there was a burning acid taste at the back of her throat. Her hands spasmed and the bag slipped to the floor sending the few remaining pills skittering out and away. That was the noise that woke Kiba.
He snorted and sat up. Kiba drowsily picked up and sniffed at the blanket that was draped over him. "Hey, did you..." He stared at her dumbfoundedly for a second and then jumped out of his chair. "Tenten! What's wrong!" He caught her as she slid out of the chair.
Her vision was shrinking down to tiny circles. "I don't feel so good," she managed to mumble, before everything went dark.
She opened her eyes to a rising babble of voices. Someone was yelling loudly for help. She recognized the voice. Her head was propped up in a lap and a sticky puddle was spreading on her shirt. There was a foul taste in her mouth. A quick patter of feet rang down the hallway, and the curtain partition was yanked aside.
"Oh God Tenten, what have you been doing to yourself?" Sakura rushed over and leaned on the cot. She yanked Tenten's head around and pried her eyes open. "How many food pills have you taken?"
Tenten shrugged. Her pupils were tiny pinpricks. "Ten? Maybe eleven?" Her thoughts were getting wooly. It was hard to find the right words.
Sakura took her pulse. "Well, you're definitely going to feel some side effects. It would be best if you went somewhere else and got some rest."
Tenten shook her head. "I can't. I won't."
Sakura put her hand on Tenten's brow. "Well, pretty soon your body isn't going to give you much of a choice. It's a good thing you threw up that last pill. You've been forcing yourself to burn chakra you just haven't got any more."
"You don't understand!" snapped Tenten angrily. "I can't leave him alone!"
There was a rustle as the lap she lay in shifted. The face was blurry but she could see the red fangs on it's cheeks. "I can keep an eye on him for you while you rest," Kiba rasped.
With a grunt, Sakura pressed herself up from the cot and leaned over Kiba. "You're almost in as bad shape as she is. How long have you been up?" Kiba shrugged. Sakura sighed and placed one hand on her obviously pregnant belly. She rubbed it absentmindedly. "We've all been working too hard," she muttered.
Sakura took two steps and leaned her head outside the curtain. "Kunio!" she bellowed. There was an indistinct answer from outside the curtain. "I need some towels or rags for a clean up. And then get some food in here stat! Broth, soup, anything like that. And hurry or else we'll have another two patients waiting for us by tomorrow." She grumbled under her breath and turned to Kiba. "I heard you think that she may have had a head injury?" She pointed to the girl. "While we're waiting, I'd like to check up on Tsudemi, okay?" Kiba gave a weak nod.
Sakura sat on the girl's bed and placed her hands on the sides of Tsudemi's head. She frowned and quickly passed her glowing palms over the girl's body. "Well, the good news is that there's nothing obviously physically wrong with her. She has a few bumps and bruises, but her body is fine." Sakura tilted up Tsudemi's head and slowly passed a finger lit up with chakra in front of her eyes. Sakura watched the girl, then closed her eyes and let her hand fall. "Her body is fine but her mind is elsewhere." She nervously looked up at Kiba. "Did she witness....Did she have a... traumatic incident?" Kiba shut his eyes and nodded. Sakura gave him a hug. "I'm so sorry," she whispered. "If you... need to see her, she was brought in a few..."
"I know," muttered Kiba, his voice choked with emotion. "I was there when the team brought her in." He ran a hand across his eyes. "Sakura... I just can't... deal with that right now. I have to take care of my girl. " He looked up at her. "What can I do?"
Sakura looked over at Tsudemi, pulling quietly at her sheet. "It will take time. Hold her. Talk to her. Try to bring her something familiar. Something to touch or smell or eat, tell her her favorite stories." Sakura looked down at Kiba. "She's still in there, you just have to help her find her way back."
A medical-nin came by with a basket full of damp rags. He helped Kiba pull Tenten back up into her chair while Sakura cleaned off her face and hair. "You need to sleep," she hissed to Tenten.
"I told you... I can't..." Tenten murmured back.
Sakura gave her a stern look, and then moved over to examine Hizashi. "You can and you will." She splayed the chakra over Hizashi's chest. "Your son is strong, just like his mother," Sakura said, smiling up to Tenten. "He is breathing fine on his own. His ribs are healing beautifully." Sakura ran her hand up to Hizashi's face. Her smile froze. "His other wounds are healing nicely as well... Now you need..."
Tenten noticed the change in subject. "How are his eyes?"
Sakura looked away. "Tenten his eyes were..."
"I know," Tenten yelled testily. "Someone stole his byakugan." Kiba's head snapped up in shock. "But the trauma surgeon said that he might be able to get a set of donor eyes from..."
"There's been some damage," Sakura said quietly. "There's still a lot of swelling, so I could be wrong, but it looks to me like the optic nerve has been injured."
Tenten suddenly felt dizzy again. "How bad?"
Sakura looked away. "I can't say until he has healed a little bit more. I'm sorry." She smiled as another medical-nin stuck his head in through the curtain. "Ah... Good. The food is here. I'm sure you will all feel better with a nice bowl of..."
The medical-nin coughed. "Actually Uchiha-sensei, the hospital kitchens are still in a state of..." his voice faded at Sakura's stare.
She pointed an angry finger. "Get out. Get out and be thankful that my master is not here to witness how far the once pristine Konoha hospital has fallen." The medical-nin blanched and scurried away. "Useless bunch of..." Sakura grumbled under her breath.
"I can get us food," Kiba rasped. "We'll be okay."
Tenten bobbed her head. "We'll be okay," she echoed drunkenly.
Sakura sighed and rubbed her eyes. "Look... I am far too busy and don't have the time or the energy to be polite. Neither one of you is doing your children any good by killing yourselves staying awake for days. Both of you need to go home and rest. Come back in twenty four hours after you've rested and eaten." She reached out and put a hand on each of their shoulders. "Your children are stable, they're hurt, but they are alive. Be thankful you have that." She gave each of them a little shake. "You need to take care of yourselves now."
"We'll be okay," said Kiba calmly. "I know someone who can get us something to eat. I know someone who can help out with watching the kids." He looked up pleadingly at Sakura. "Just don't kick us out. We need to be here. Our children need us."
Sakura chewed on her lip. "If I find out you haven't eaten or slept, I will throw the pair of you out of here myself," she said sternly. She hugged Kiba quickly, and whispered in his ear. All Tenten caught was "...keeps throwing up, let me know immediately." Sakura turned and gave Tenten a hug as well. "You are being so brave," she sniffled, and left.
Tenten tried to struggle up out of her chair, but Kiba stopped her with a gentle push on her shoulder. "Stay down," he said quietly. "I've got this."
Tenten struggled against his hand but she felt weak and woozy. "But... I..." Her eyelids were heavy. She blinked once and could barely open them again.
Kiba smiled. "Shhh, just rest. I'll wake you up when the food gets here."
There was something huge, heavy and warm on her feet. There was a smaller one in her lap. The heat was making her uncomfortable so she tried to shove it off and onto the floor. It squirmed and yelped.
Tenten pried open one sticky eye and looked down. A small dog was sitting on her lap giving her a very affronted look.
Tenten looked down lower. The largest canine she had ever laid eyes on was lying spread eagled on the end of her bedroll. He grumbled slowly in his sleep and rolled. There was a rustling next to her. Yet another dog was sitting at attention on Hizashi's cot. The dog caught Tenten's eye and gave a wag of its tail.
A bottle of water was dangled in front of her nose. Kiba grinned apologetically. "You might want to wipe the top off before you drink it." He shrugged. "Personally, I don't mind a little dog slobber, but not everyone shares my tastes."
Tenten did as he suggested. the water was warm, but it soothed her throat. "Kiba... What's with all the dogs?"
His smile grew. "I'd like to introduce you to the babysitter crew. That's Hoshi Akari keeping an eye on Hizashi." The black and white dog gave her a nod. "She'll let you know the moment anything happens. The monster keeping your feet warm is Kabocha, and Hime-sama has decided to honor your lap with her presence." He leaned forward and gave the small dog a pat. "She's getting on in years, and age has made her a bit ornery, but she was the best nanny Tsudemi ever had." He held up a slightly chewed box. "Can I interest you in a assortment of health food bars borrowed from Guy-sensei's store?"
Tenten's stomach snarled. The bars were terrible. They tasted like glue. She ate four, barely breathing in between bites. "Which dog here got the food?"
Kiba shook his head. "I told you, this is just the babysitting group. I've got three other dog foraging parties running through Konoha right now." He took a bar from the box and peeled off the wrapper. "The dogs thought that these would be fast and easy to eat. After all it says right here 'full of vitamins, proteins and rare herbs to restore the power of youth!'" Kiba took a bite. "Taste like tree bark," he said through a full mouth.
Her stomach full, Tenten's eyes began to droop shut again. "Don't you want one of the dogs to watch Tsudemi as well?"
Kiba's smile was sweet. "Tsudemi already has her own watchdog," he whispered. Tenten followed his pointed finger. Tsudemi was again constantly stroking something with her fingertips. Nestled in her arms was a sleeping puppy.
She felt better when she woke up. The foraging dogs had been back again. There was a small pile of fruits, energy bars, nuts and instant ramen piled between the chairs. Tenten reached down and picked up an apple. There was a puncture mark where a dog's fang had pierced the skin. She shrugged, rubbed it on her sleeve and took a bite.
She turned to look at Hizashi. The black and white dog was now dozing on the floor and the smallest one, Hime-sama, was sitting attentively near Hizashi's head. Every now and then she would lean down and give his bandages a careful sniff. She saw Tenten watching her, and gave a little whine. Tenten reached over and the dog gently licked her hand.
"She says, she's very sorry this happened to him. He seems like a very nice boy." Kiba said from the other side of the room.
Tenten turned and stared at him. He looked worse than yesterday. "Didn't you manage to get any rest at all?"
Kiba shrugged. "Some. I think I slept a couple of hours after midnight." He smiled. "I'm jealous. You were out like a light."
Tenten ate the apple down to nothing and reached for another. "The dogs got ramen?"
Kiba gave a small smile. "Kumo found them. He said there was a huge stash in the Hokage's office."
Tenten's eyebrows twitched. "Naruto is still hoarding ramen? His wife's not going to like that."
Kiba nodded. "Yup. Hinata's going to be pissed." He smiled weakly. "But look at it this way, we can now blackmail the Hokage into doing whatever we want."
Tenten laughed. "I've got dibs on a council seat. Do you want to be ambassador to the Hidden Cloud? Then you'd have an excuse to go home with Karui and..." She stopped as Kiba's face blanched. He quickly looked away. Comments that had passed her by earlier suddenly made sense. "Oh, I'm so sorry..." Tenten whispered.
The huge dog, Kabocha, scrambled to his feet, whimpered once and lay his head in Kiba's lab. "It's okay," Kiba said quietly, stroking the dog's ears, "you didn't know." He swiped the back of a hand across his eyes. "It's not like I've been talking about it much. I can't afford to deal with it right now." His voice cracked with emotion. Kiba took a deep breath to settle himself. "I just can't handle it here. My... Our daughter needs me."
Tenten put her hand on his shoulder. Kiba screwed his eyes shut and bowed his head. She pretended not to notice his shoulders shaking. After quite a long time the shaking stopped. Tenten reached into the food pile and pulled out a Might Guy brand energy bar. "Hungry for some more tree bark?"
"Don't mind if I do," said Kiba, in an unsteady voice. The bar vanished in a few bites. He glanced worriedly at her as he chewed. "So... I don't mean to be nosy, but I haven't seen Neji around. He's... okay isn't he?"
Tenten scowled. "Shikamaru said he was needed in the defence force. He's off somewhere protecting the village. I haven't heard from him in days. I need him here!" she snapped.
Kiba nodded slowly, chewing. "Must be hard for him." Tenten looked up. "Being that dedicated I mean." Kiba swallowed. "I'm sure he thinks he's doing the right thing. I wish I did. He's a good man."
Tenten shifted in her chair. She thought about what Kiba said and exhaled. She gave him another pat on the shoulder. "You're a good man too Kiba Inuzuka. Tsudemi is lucky to have you."
Another day passed. The sounds that filtered through the boarded up window began to hint that the Leaf Village was beginning to return to a state of normalcy. They slept in shifts, ate whatever the dogs brought, and occasionally talked. When they talked, it was mostly about their children. Hizashi's poems, how Neji would dote on him, Tsudemi's skill with a katana, how Karui used to stroke her daughter's hair. They would each take turns reminiscing, which was followed an uncomfortable silence where they watched their children. They took solace in knowing that they were not alone.
It was almost sunset. Tenten sat dozing in her chair, trying to ignore Kabocha. The big dog had gotten into the Might Guy energy bars and was now distressingly flatulent. It was almost a welcome distraction when the medical-nin stuck her head in through the curtain and called for Kiba.
They held a very fast, very quiet discussion. All three dogs perked their ears up and stared at Kiba as he slowly walked back to them. Hoshi Akari dropped her tail and gave a short whimper. Kiba sat in his chair and ran his fingers through his daughter's hair. She in turn stroked her puppy. "Kiba?" Tenten asked him expectantly.
It took him a long time to answer. "It's been three days," he said flatly. "There's been no power to the morgue... They have to do something with all the... remains." Kiba wiped his nose on his sleeve. "They wanted to know if I wanted to attend the ceremony." His hands were shaking as he reached out and touched Tsudemi's face.
Tenten watched him carefully. "I think you should go." Kiba's head turned slightly. "Really, you should... I never knew Karui that well, but it's obvious how much you loved her... You owe it to her to say goodbye."
Kiba turned back to his daughter. "I can't go. Tsudemi..."
Tenten stood up. She pulled his face towards her. "Tsudemi would want to say goodbye as well, but she can't... She'd want you to do it for her." Kiba squeezed his eyes shut. Tenten took both his hands and gently pulled him out of his chair. "It's okay," she whispered. "I'll watch over her. I'll keep her safe."
Kiba nodded. "Thanks," he breathed out.
Tenten smiled. "That's what friends are for isn't it?" Kiba nodded, gave Tsudemi a kiss on the forehead, and left.
Three hours later, Tsudemi was screaming at the top of her lungs.
All had been quiet. Tenten was resting her eyes for a second. Lulled by Hizashi's calm, even breaths, she was almost drifting off to sleep.
In her cot, Tsudemi shifted to one side, rolled to the other, and then sat up and shrieked. The puppy she was holding squealed in pain and fear as she was squeezed. Hoshi Akari and Hime-sama jumped up with a start and started growling. Kabocha tucked his tail between his legs and tried to worm his way under Hizashi's bed. "Mommy!!!" wailed Tsudemi.
Tenten leaped over to her. "Hey... Tsudemi... It's okay. You're okay now. You're safe..." Tenten spoke to her in quiet even tones. She tried to soothe her, she held her hands, to try to get her to loosen her grip on the puppy. She tried to hold her and sing to her Tsudemi just struggled and cried louder.
Tenten ran her hands through Tsudemi's hair. Tsudemi instantly quieted down. Her hands relaxed and the puppy scrambled away. "Mommy?" she sobbed, holding out her hands in the darkness.
Tenten kept stroking her hair. She picked her up and pulled her close. "Shhh... It's okay now," she whispered. "It's okay now." Tenten kept repeating that phrase over and over, and bit by bit, Tsudemi relaxed.
She yawned and snuggled in close. The puppy warily circled her, and with prompting from Tenten climbed back into Tsudemi's arms. Slowly she began to drift off back asleep. Tenten kept whispering to her the whole time. Tsudemi never opened her eyes once. Right at the end, she rubbed her face on Tenten's sleeve and frowned. "Mommy, you smell different," she murmured.
Tenten kept running her hands through her hair. "I know," she whispered back.
She was still holding her well after midnight, when a hollow eyed Kiba returned. He reeked of cheap sake, and it took him a moment to register the scene in front of him. Tenten held a finger to her lips. "She wanted her mother," she whispered, red-eyed but smiling. "Kiba... She woke up."
Kiba fell down to his knees and touched the cheek of his little girl. She nuzzled his hand. "Hi Daddy," she mumbled.
Kiba's cheeks glistened with tears. "Hi baby," he said.
The next morning, Kiba somehow managed to get a kettle of hot water into the hospital. "Today, in celebration, we feast on the Hokage's own personal stash of instant ramen!" He held up a cup with a flourish. "Ooh, gold label Miso pork!"
Tsudemi wrinkled her nose. "I only like the beef ones Daddy." Kiba laughed and dug through the pile.
Tenten watched them as she slurped down the hot noodles. Tsudemi was prone to staring off into space or bursting into tears, but she would come back eventually with words from her father or a touch of her puppy. Kiba was putting on a very brave face, but it was obvious that it was all for the sake of his daughter. She couldn't help but envy them.
Suddenly, Hime-sama sat up from her position near Hizashi's head. She arthritically stood and tugged on Tenten's sleeve, making her spill her soup. "What is it dog?" she asked angrily, mopping at her pants. Hime-sama whined and leaned her head close to Hizashi. Tenten followed suit.
His words were as ephemeral as a summer breeze. "Smells good..." he breathed. "So hungry." Her ramen tumbled to the floor.
She had hugged him, squeezed him, and cried over him. "'Mom," he groaned, "Ow... That hurts." She laughed and kissed him more gently. Gingerly he reached up and pulled at the bandages over his face. "It hurts to breathe... My eyes hurt too Mommy. What's wrong with my eyes?" She told him to stay there; she told him to wait until she returned with the doctors. As she ran out of the curtains and down the hall, she heard him yelp and she stopped to turn back. "What's this?" Hizashi cried out in alarm.
"That's just Hime-sama," she heard Tsudemi lisp. "You can pet her if you want, she's really nice."
The medical-nin came and went. Hizashi and Tsudemi were unhooked from their IVs and given the go ahead for food. An aid shipment of supplies from the Hidden Sand had arrived, so the hospital was once again serving hot food. Hizashi said the unfamiliar spices were yucky, so he continued to make do with the Hokage's ramen.
Having Hizashi awake bolstered Tsudemi. She would talk endlessly about little things: The academy, the playgrounds, other children, the dogs. Tsudemi would sit and tell him endless stories about the dogs. Hizashi politely listened to each one. The only time she stopped talking was when Kiba left. Lately, he had taken to going out for short periods of time, only an hour or so, and returning half drunk. Tsudemi always seemed to shrink when he left. She was always very quiet when he returned.
Late one evening, after the children were asleep, Kiba asked Tenten if she would mind watching Tsudemi for an hour or two, and then excused himself. Tenten didn't approve of what he was doing, but then again she wasn't in his situation. What might she be like if Neji were gone? She felt like she owed it to him, for all the times he watched over her and Hizashi. Tenten sighed and leaned back in her chair to get comfortable.
A couple of hours later, Tsudemi sat up in her bed with a start. "Daddy? Where's Mommy!" she cried out sharply. "Daddy! DADDY!"
Tenten sat on the corner of her cot. "It's okay Tsudemi," she whispered. "He went out for a bit. He'll be back soon I promise. Can I get you something?" Tsudemi reached out for her and froze. She stared at Tenten wide eyed for a second, and then slowly lay back down. "Okay," continued Tenten, "You can go back to sleep if you want. I'll be right here if you need me." She started to rise from the cot.
"Hyuga-san?" asked Tsudemi in a small voice.
"What is it?"
"Could you... sit with me for a while?" Tenten nodded and settled down next to her. After a few minutes, Tsudemi spoke again. "Hyuga-san... do you think you could... pat my hair?"
Tenten smiled sadly. "Of course I will."
"So... I don't have a byakugan?" Hizashi asked in a small voice. "Does this mean I can't be a shinobi anymore?" It was after his latest exam. Shizune-sensei had given him quite a thorough check up and then called in Sakura to reevaluate her findings. Tenten nervously watched them holding a quiet discussion, while Hizashi and Tsudemi argued.
"Of course it doesn't mean that!" Tsudemi snapped. "Look at Kakashi-sensei! He lost an eye and got a better one! He was so strong he almost was Hokage!"
"He got a sharingan, that doesn't count," muttered Hizashi. "I'll never get one of those."
"Does too! Lot's of strong shinobi just have regular eyes! They fight and go on missions just fine!"
"They might be strong, but they'll never be as strong as the Hyuga clan, " said Hizashi with pride, "With a byakugan you can see really far so you'll never get surprised and fall into a trap, and you can see the bad guys all the way around you, so you can dodge and never get hurt. I'd like to see someone with regular eyes do that. They'd just get killed."
"Hizashi!" admonished Tenten, but it was too late. Tsudemi was trembling.
"I hate you!" Tsudemi said in a voice exploding with anger and pain. "I hate your stupid clan and your stupid byakugan!" She turned and buried her face in her pillow, sobbing. Kiba shot Hizashi a scowl and turned to his daughter
Hizashi turned to Tenten. "What did I do?" he asked mystified.
"Hizashi," said Tenten in a stern voice. "You need to apologize. Tsudemi's mother was one of the bravest, strongest kunoichi ever, and she died protecting this village."
"Oh." Hizashi sat very quietly for a moment. "I'm really sorry, I didn't know," he said in a small voice.
"Shut up! I hate you!" screamed Tsudemi into her pillow. "I'm happy you can't see!"
"Tsudemi!" barked Kiba. He looked over at Tenten and shrugged apologetically.
Tenten was about to say something when Sakura looked up from the consultation and waved Tenten over. She swallowed and went.
"I'm so sorry, his optic nerve is..." was all that Tenten could bear to hear. Sakura kept talking but Tenten shut it all out. It took all she had not to burst into tears. Sakura looked at her with a sympathetic face. "We don't have to let him know now... or, I could tell him if you don't want to?" she offered.
Tenten clenched her fists and shook her head. "No. He's strong. Our family is strong. I'll tell him."
Hizashi had no reaction. Tenten did her best to comfort him. But he didn't want consoling. In the end, she sat by his bed holding his hand, while Hime-sama snuggled close on his other side. They sat that way for a long time. Over on Tsudemi's cot, Kiba rubbed her back, stroked her hair, and whispered constantly to her. Eventually there was the patter of feet.
Tsudemi stood at the side of his cot. "I'm sorry," she said sadly. "I didn't mean it."
Hizashi nodded. "I'm sorry too. That was mean and boastful of me. Father says a true shinobi shouldn't brag." He sniffed and pulled at his bandages. "But I'm not ever going to be a shinobi, am I?"
"Can I sit with you for a little bit?" Tsudemi asked. " Hime-sama says you're nice and my puppy wants to come over and meet you." She climbed up on the cot and deposited the dog in Hizashi's lap.
Hizashi snorted as the pup clambered around and licked his fingers. "What's his name?" Hizashi asked.
"Her name," corrected Tsudemi. "She's Akakaru and she's the best dog ever."
Tenten staggered down the hallway and felt like crying. Her visit with her older daughter, Hishyoni, had gone terribly.
She had entered Hishyoni's room all smiles. At first, Hishyoni was so glad to see her that she actually cried. Her tears quickly dried up as Tenten went on and on about all that had happened to her brother. "So you've been here the whole time?" she asked staring angrily, "and only now you've come to check up on me?" Tenten tried to explain, but Hishyoni would hear none of it. "Get out," she said to her mother coldly. Then she turned to the wall and refused to say any more.
Tenten stopped and leaned her head against the wall. She pressed her fingertips into her eyes to stop the tears and wondered how she was going to fix this.
A warm arm swung around her back, supporting her. "Tenten? Are you well? Where is Hizashi?"
She turned and there was Neji, combat weary and travel stained, but calm and composed as ever. She stepped forward and let his arms enfold her. She tried to tell him everything that had happened but it all came out in a blubbering mess. Neji understood enough. "I see," he said quietly. "I am to blame for part of this. This was too much for any one person to handle."
Tenten shook her head. "No. You see, I thought that, but then I met..."
Neji silenced her with a finger on her lips. He gave her one of his rare smiles. "Tell me as we walk. Right now I need to see my children."
Neji met with Hishyoni. A few seconds later she called out for her mother from her room. Tenten apologized, for not visiting her sooner. Hishyoni mumbled an acceptance and a quick apology of her own. She promised to meet with them all, once she got her crutches. Tenten hugged her and left clutching Neji's arm.
"So, my son will never see again?" Neji whispered. Tenten clenched her jaw and shook her head. "I feel so awful leaving you. It must have been so difficult dealing with all of this alone. We... We will have to find some way to care for him. I guess we could modify the house and maybe hire some extra help?" He sighed sadly as they walked. "He has always wanted to be a shinobi. How will we steer him toward some other profession suitable for..." Neji stopped suddenly. "Wait," he asked with sudden concern. "Who is with him now?"
Tenten pulled gently on his arm. "Some friends of mine. Come, I'll introduce you."
"...And can you tell what this one is?" Kiba's voice rumbled.
There was a short rustle. "Chicken?" answered Hizashi hesitantly.
Kiba laughed. "See? I told you you could do it!"
"Try this one! Try this one!" called out Tsudemi. There was the sound of something spilling followed by the scrambling of claws and an excited bark.
Neji raised an eyebrow. "You left him with Kiba Inuzuka and his hounds?" There was a note of distaste in his voice. Tenten shook her head and motioned for silence.
"But how does this help me be a shinobi?" asked Hizashi hesitantly. "I still can't see."
"When we do the tunneling fang, we can't see either. We use smell!" said Tsudemi proudly.
"Kid, let me tell you a story," said Kiba, "Do you know your parents' old teammate?"
"You mean Lee-san?"
"Everyone at the academy used to wonder why he even bothered. He couldn't use ninjutsu. Everyone thought he was a joke. 'What good is a shinobi who can't use ninjutsu?' They'd all say. Lee didn't listen to them though, he trained his taijutsu skills until he was one of the best shinobi I've ever seen." Kiba sighed. "Most of the time, being a shinobi just means doing the best you can with what you've got. " Kiba paused. "Do you know who else was a joke in the academy? Naruto."
"The Hokage?" asked Hizashi surprised.
"Yup. Do you know how he made it to become Hokage? He had only two things going for him. He worked hard, and he never gave up." Kiba snorted. "If you work hard, and don't give up, I bet you could be ten times the shinobi he is."
"Really?" asked Hizashi eagerly.
"Oh yeah," muttered Kiba. "Let me tell you all about the 'secret' move he used to beat me during the chunin exams..."
Tenten pulled Neji towards the curtain. "You see, I actually didn't have to handle the last six days all alone," she whispered, "We've been helping each other this whole time. Kiba may be... different, but he's a good man, just like you. Come on, I want you to say hello."