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The Last Battle of Tenten Nohara

(WARNING... Contains spoilers For Naruto Chapter 614)

"So Naruto..." sneered Obito. "I thought you said you weren't going to let even a single one of your friends die?"

The Uchiha let his gaze drift away from the obnoxious Jinchuriki cradling the dead Hyuga boy, and took a moment to survey the battlefield. Riding atop the Ten tails, Obito could have been a god surveying the four corners of the earth.

Not that he took any gloating pride in that. Not that any of that mattered. Nothing mattered. There was only one reason that he was still alive, one reason that he forced his broken twisted body up every morning. There was only one reason for all the death and terror and horror and war.

It was all for her.

Rin Nohara. Her smile haunted him still. Obito would be the first to admit that the dark powers that kept his body moving put him in the category of 'no longer being human.' He accepted that the horrors that had happened to him had dashed his mind into a thousand pieces. As long as he still had his memories of Rin, he could struggle from one hour to the next. He accepted that he was more monster than man. He accepted it all as just one more price he had to pay. It would all be worth it- just to hear her laugh once again, just to be able to see the wind toss her hair. Just to breathe the same air that had once crossed her lips.

There was nothing he was not willing to do.

Right beside Obito the reanimated corpse of Madara Uchiha rode the Ten tails, casually tossing his head. Obito shot him a glance heavy with triumph and giddy excitement, and Madara returned a cold heartless smile. "Even the great Madara Uchiha has to wait his turn behind Rin," thought Obito. Madara wanted Obito to use the Heavenly Life jutsu to bring the former head of the Uchiha clan back to the land of the living. Such a thing could be done, but only at the cost of Obito's own life. Despite all Madara had taught and done for Obito, there was no way Obito was going to leave this earth before he saw Rin returned to it.

"Have you spread enough despair yet?" Madara asked, a tinge of amusement in his voice. "We do need to have a Jinchuriki for the Ten tails before we can bring this Eye of the moon plan into fruition." He tapped his fingers impatiently on his thigh. "Or maybe you were thinking of modifying the plan somewhat? Surely you don't think that you are strong enough to be the jinchuriki of the Ten tails?"

Obito shook his head. "I would never assume that I could surpass the great Madara Uchiha, Let us just say... that at this late point I would like to have some reassurances."

"Reassurances," hissed Madara, "Are you insinuating that my word is not enough?"

For a second Obito gave a high pitched giggle, reminiscent of Tobi. "Not at all... I simply..." He paused and focused on the boy, Naruto, again. There was a small commotion occurring around him and the killed Hyuga. That idiot from his childhood, a life time ago, Might Guy was bawling his eyes out, a smaller version of Guy (his son maybe?) was clinging to the corpse, screaming in a display of showy anguish.

There was a third shinobi, standing slightly off to one side, quietly watching the whole scene. This new ninja hugged himself and shuddered. With one swift, determined move, he turned and started walking towards the Ten tails. "Simply what?" prompted Madara, "Obito? What is it you want?"

Obito looked over at Madara quickly. "I simply need some sort of assurance that..." There was something about the approaching shinobi that drew back his attention. Something about this shinobi sparked some long hidden memory deep in his mind. There was something about the way he walked...

Correction... She walked. Details about the kunoichi grew clearer as she approached. She was far too young to be anyone he knew from back in his days in Konoha. "Obito," Madara said, in that calm voice he used to indicate he was losing his temper. "If you wish to re-negotiate our deal, you will tell me your terms now. I am growing impatient with this stalling."

"I... " Obito started, and froze. The kunoichi had her hair done up in two tight buns. As she advanced, the left one slipped, coming apart. She paused and gingerly touched that side of her head. After a brief hesitation, she stepped forward with dread purpose. With her right hand she tore out the right bun. Her brown hair fluttered in the wind. Her narrow face and pert nose could just be seen under the shadow cast by her headband. "No... It can't be..." he whispered.

He shivered as she planted her feet and shifted her gaze upward. The kunoichi's tears had cut streaks through the grime and blood on her cheeks. Her honey brown eyes were alight with pain and fury and madness. They were the eyes of someone who had lost their entire reason for being. The eyes of someone who would smash the world for no other reason than to just make the hurting stop.

Obito recognized that look. He saw it in the mirror every morning.

He also recognized those eyes. He recognized her whole face. He felt what was left of his heart lurch. "Rin?" he muttered in disbelief.

*******

Madara was losing his patience. The thrice damned boy was proving much more unreliable than he had hoped. This whole plan was slowly twisting and slipping out of his control. It was still salvageable, yes, but the effort required just to get the smallest goal accomplished was beginning to get on his nerves.

"Obito!" he barked harshly. The boy didn't even flinch. He just stood there like a simpleton, ogling some kunoichi who was standing defiantly before the Ten tails. Curious as to what could command Obito's attention so, Madara gave the stripling of a girl a second glance.

She stood glaring defiance and hate up at them. Another challenger no doubt, hoping to make a name for herself battling the great Madara Uchiha. "Really Obito," Madara grumbled, "it's not like you to lose your focus over a lowly pawn like that." The girl was chunin, and a rather unremarkable one at that. A second glance at Obito revealed him to be mumbling under his breath. He was repeating the same indistinct word over and over in his refrain, quivering with each breath.

There was one of those pregnant silences that only seem to affect dinner parties and battlefields. Madara felt the attention of the gathered shinobi army fall upon this one lone kunoichi. He dismissed her with one contemptuous wave. He would not even waste his time acknowledging her challenge.

"It's just a girl!" snapped Madara to Obito. "Pull yourself together!" Annoyed at his subordinate's distraction, he focused his chakra and gave the ten tails a nudge to move forward and crush the woman who would dare attempt to provoke him.

The Ten tails paused as a ground swell of powerful chakra rippled across the battleground. Madara himself had a slight frisson as the energies passed over and through him. He smiled a tiny thin lipped smile. This kunoichi was playing a dangerous game. She was using her emotions to feed her chakra supply. She was forcing open her tenketsu allowing this new flood of chakra to crash over her like a tidal wave. In that brief moment her chakra strength went from  'impressive for a chunin' to 'almost Kage level'. One could use emotion to boost one's power, that was true, but the shinobi who did so, and failed to win his or her fight, was often easy prey for their opponent, assuming that they even survived the chakra burnout afterwards.

The repeated toll of metal striking metal sounded out over the plain. A low hanging haze that stretched for a third of a kilometer lifted slowly off of the ground and hung threateningly in the air. Madara scowled as he heard Obito's shocked intake of breath. "Rin... No... Don't do this Rin," he muttered. The cloud tinkled gently as if it was made of thousands of tiny bells.

Every discarded kunai, every spent shuriken, every katana, kama and scrap of steel rose at the girl's unspoken command and hovered behind her like a deadly swarm of hornets. "Rather impressive," Madara grudgingly admitted. "It's reminiscent of that young Kazekage's sand manipulation." Madara gave the girl a polite nod. "Very well," he said, his voice loud enough to carry. "If you insist so badly, I can spare a few seconds to send you personally to the afterlife."

*******

Tenten called out with her pain and fury. The steel answered.



Sometimes it felt like her whole life had been a battle. She had grown up with nothing. A lone toddler found crying in a pile of debris after the Nine tails had decimated Konoha. No relatives had come forth to claim her. No well meaning neighbors had identified her. No mourning parents had chosen her to replace the child spaced hole the kyubi had left in their lives. She had been raised on pure charity. There were plenty of others like her.

Tenten learned early on that in order to survive and succeed, you had to be hard, you had to be tough and you had live inside a shell of cold steel. Konoha's orphanages were overcrowded, underfunded, and home to a cruel melting pot of bullying and betrayal. There were too many children for too few adults. Tenten's first lesson was that even if you were younger and smaller, the bullies would leave you be if you had a weapon. Since she couldn't depend on friends or adults, weapons became what she relied on. She learned that as long as you cared for it, good steel would never let you down. She mastered the kunai by the time she was seven, when she was eight, she had the kusagari, katana and staff down pat. By nine she had run out of things for the weapons instructors to teach her, so she began to incorporate her blades into her ninjutsu training. Before she entered the final few years of the academy, she would have told you that she was going to be the toughest, strongest shinobi there ever was.

And then she met Neji.

He was cold, aloof, distinguished in all his ways, and like her, he had something to prove. He was a genius. Everyone knew it, and he let them know it.

She hated him. He would seem to effortlessly best everyone in their class, including her at every task. No matter how hard she tried, the best she could hope for was second place. Like everyone else in their year, outside of school she left the Hyuga boy alone.

That started to change six months before graduation. She was just leaving the academy gate when he hailed her. She was so surprised that at first she didn't believe she heard it. He cleared his throat and tried again. "Excuse me? Tenten-san? I wonder if I might have a moment of your time?"

She turned towards him. "Yes Neji-kun?"

Neji cleared his throat at the familiarity, and glanced away quickly. "I was wondering if you would have some spare time to train this afternoon? I believe we could both benefit from some added practice."

Tenten clenched her books a little tighter to her chest. "I'm sorry Neji-san, I really have to be getting home. I am supposed to be doing some cleaning and then I have to make myself some dinner."

Neji nodded. "Yes. Well... I can't take you away from your duties. I'm sorry to have bothered you." He turned to walk away.

Before he took two steps, Tenten called out to him. "Neji?" he stopped. "Why me?"

"Excuse me?"

"Why would you want to train with me? I thought you were a genius? You've beaten me in everything."

"Out of everyone in our year, you are the only one who could be my equal." He gave her a cool appraising look over one shoulder. "You are the only one who could push me to a new level."

Tenten blushed slightly. "O-oh," she stammered. She called out to his retreating back. "Neji! I'm free tomorrow afternoon! Would you like to train then?" Neji gave her a reserved nod and kept on walking.

That was the beginning of their friendship. Tenten began to open up and lose some of her armor. She had to- Neji was taciturn enough for ten people. Someone had to talk about something during their breaks.

When they were both assigned to team Guy, they had reams of topics to talk about. Mostly dealing with their sensei and their new teammate, Rock Lee. Oddly enough the tight bond that Guy and Lee shared, pushed Neji even closer to her. Little by little he began to open up, dropping hints about his life and his past. Underneath his hard shell was a bubbling cauldron of hatred and resentment. "I envy you," he admitted one day as they relaxed after a particularly gruelling session Guy-sensei put them through. "You always seem so... free."

Tenten propped herself up on one elbow. "Free? What do you mean?"

Neji vaguely waved a hand. "Free. No family restrictions. No clan rules to adhere to. You seem to have so much..." he frowned at her faint smile. "What?"

"It's funny," Tenten said smirking. "There are times I really envy you. You have that whole big clan backing you up and supporting you with everything. It must make some things easier." Something she said upset Neji. He drifted back into one of his stoic silences. Tenten had learned by now not to take them too personally. The last thing she said was. "You know... Someday before I die... I'd like to really find out who my family really is. I'd like to really know where I came from.."

He changed with time. They changed. They grew and matured together, becoming fast friends and confidants. There was little that they didn't share. They were clearly strong teammates, but their relationship never proceeded past the professional level.

The day Neji made jonin, gave her the first hint that they might be able to become something more. They were walking back from the celebration Might Guy threw for him. Guy-sensei and Lee demanded to continue the festivities with a bout of karaoke. Three songs in, Tenten hastily made an excuse, and Neji offered to escort her back home.

It was a warm night and Neji was in a very good mood. The smile never left his face. Tenten had always admired him as a shinobi, but this was the first time she admitted to herself that he might be handsome too.

She reached out and took his hand as he turned to leave her at her door. "Tonight was a lot of fun," she said with hopeful bravado. "We should do it again sometime,"

Neji gave a hesitant chuckle. "Really... I would think that one night of Karaoke with Guy-sensei and Lee would be enough to last for a lifetime."

Tenten found herself giggling at his joke. "I wasn't talking about inviting Guy-sensei and Lee... I meant... just us."

There was a long pause. "I... suppose," he stopped nervously and started again, "I suppose spending more time together outside of missions would... improve our cohesiveness as a team," he finished weakly.

A chill of disappointment settled around her. She nodded coolly at him. "Yes," she said primly, "team cohesiveness. That's exactly what we need to improve." She turned to her door, hurt by his rejection.

"Tenten," he paused and let out a sigh.  "I... understand what you are asking. You just don't have the full grasp of my situation."

"Neji... It's fine. Forget about it. I just had this silly idea that maybe..."

"My situation Tenten," Neji interrupted, "Is that I am a Hyuga, and your family is... unknown."

Tenten felt the armor close around her heart. "Well," she snapped, "I had no idea social status was such an important point in the people you considered friends. I'm sorry to have intruded on your time, your majesty." She tossed the door to her apartment open and began to step inside.

Neji's hand seized her shoulder and spun her around. There was a light in his eye that Tenten hadn't ever seen before. Cool, composed Neji was flustered. "Listen to me!" he pleaded, stepping towards her and giving her a small shake.

Their faces were centimeters apart. Tenten could feel his breath, hot and fast. Neji stared at her and licked his lips once.

He slowly let his hands drop from her shoulders. "I apologize Tenten. I did not mean to make you upset. I was merely trying to say that... as a Hyuga, there are a great many choices that are not my own. Among them is whom I may marry."

Tenten jumped. "I'm just talking about going out Neji! I didn't say anything about..."

Neji shrugged. "Fine... Who I have a relationship with then." His pale eyes stared into hers. "Among the traditions of the Hyuga clan it is all one and the same. Our lives are carefully choreographed from the time we are born, till they wrap us in our funeral shrouds. I have little influence and even less choice in the matter." Neji took a deep breath and quickly looked away. "I wish it were otherwise," he said quietly. His voice tinged with longing.

The next day he almost acted as if nothing had ever been said. A casual acquaintance would have seen the same cool collected Neji as always. It was very slight but, Tenten noticed a tenderness towards her that was not present before. She wouldn't admit it outside of her own head, but she cherished it.

Two years later came the Fourth great Ninja war. Shinobi from the five great nations came together to battle the Akatsuki, a common foe determined to rule the world. The enemy was frighteningly powerful. Casualties were expected to be high. The night before the conflict emotions were running hot with nervous energy. There were fights, arguments, and brawls running through the ranks of the hastily assembled troops. There were also many instances of 'battlefield romance' floating around as well.

Tenten herself was feeling a little apprehensive and sought out her team for reassurances. They were to be split up into different battalions and as such were all located at different posts. Team Guy met together at the large central depot before heading their separate ways. She joked around with Lee and Guy for far too long before deciding to head back to her tent. Neji, once again, offered to accompany her.

They walked through the throngs of noisy shinobi. The tension could be felt vibrating in the air. They passed the third division's encampment, turned right and headed to Tenten's bivouac. Neji cleared his throat. "I hope that you don't find me presumptuous but..." He took a deep breath.

Tenten used the pause to impishly interrupt. "I'm shocked! I've never known you to presume anything!" she teased.

Neji smiled but barreled ahead. "I had the opportunity to look through the archived Konoha records a few months ago. Tsunade-sama wanted a detailed report regarding the Nine tail's attack from sixteen years ago." Tenten's pace faltered a step. "I took the liberty of searching the death records, even though it was not part of the original request."

This time it was Tenten's turn to take a deep breath. "Neji... I appreciate the sentiment, but, Its been checked over and over again. There was no one who claimed me. No one wanted to step forward."

Neji shook his head. "Actually... I think I have found something. It might be worth looking into."

Tenten inhaled with a sharp hiss. "Really?"

"There was a weaponsmith who came to Konoha from an outlying village sixteen years ago. His wife wanted to come to Konoha to visit her sister's grave. It was close to the anniversary of the sister's death. She was a Leaf chunin who was killed in the line of duty." He coughed gently into his hand. "They had a young daughter, barely a year old. Both parents were killed when the fox attacked, the babe was listed as missing, presumed dead."

Tenten scoffed to cover the butterflies in her stomach. "Right... and the odds of that little girl being me are?"

Neji shrugged. "Slim, but not insignificant. They were part of a small clan that had produced some fairly skilled shinobi in the past. Alas, in recent years, they have fallen into disarray."

Tenten marched on. "And you're telling me this because?"

Neji glanced away nervously. "We're entering a war, the likes of which our generation has never even seen. You mentioned to me once that you would like the opportunity to know who your family was before..." He cleared his throat. "Anyway, at a time like this, I know I would like to make peace with my past if I could."

Tenten thought for a bit. "So aside from having a girl roughly the same age as me, what makes you think that they are my parents?"

Neji glanced over and gave her a small smile. "Well there was the history of ninjutsu, and the skills with weapons the father had. Plus there are the colorations." He looked into her face for a moment. "Both parents had brown hair and brown eyes. The babe was described as having the same. The clan markings were two purple bars painted on the cheeks. But of course," he said smiling nervously, "you wouldn't be wearing those."

Tenten shrugged. "Okay. Even taking into account all that you've said. It's still just a bunch of circumstantial evidence. What are the best odds that you think these people would have been my parents?"

Neji looked away. "Ten percent maybe?" He looked back at her. "I'm sorry if bringing it up makes you uncomfortable."

Tenten tried to look him in the eyes. "Not so much uncomfortable as...curious as to why you were checking up on me in the first place."

Unlike most Hyuga, Neji did not often blush. Tenten was surprised to see a faint flush on his cheeks. "It wasn't exclusively you. There was talk of sending a Hyuga trade delegation to meet with this clan after the destruction of Konoha. The Hyuga were very interested in securing an alliance."

"And I came into this how?"

Neji hesitated, choosing his words carefully. "I was mostly just curious. There seemed to be some similarities, and well, the more I investigated, the more coincidences appeared. I was planning on seeing if you wanted me to make any inquiries on your behalf... but the delegation was cancelled, and now... with everything happening... I just thought you might like to know."

Tenten took eight steps, wrestling with how this potential tidbit made her feel. She had always found that whole 'who am I' thing to swing between being an annoyance and the most important thing in the world. With the war starting soon, she didn't think she could deal with it right now. "So what was their clan name anyway?" she asked quietly.

"Nohara," Neji replied.

They uncomfortably walked to Tenten's camp in silence. Returning to the light and the protective ring of sentries seemed to make her relax some. There was a chill in the night air and she sidled up to him for warmth. "Hey Neji?" she asked quietly. "How do you stay so calm? I mean here were are going off to war and you... You look like you're just walking down to the corner store."

To her shock Neji laughed. "I look calm to you?" He shook his head. "Tenten... I'm about as nervous as I can be."

"Well this has got to be a first. Neji Hyuga is nervous."

To her surprise he put his arm around her. "Well, after all I am only human. I worry about what will happen to me... and my family and... people I care deeply about." His breath tickled her cheek.

She stopped. "Neji? What are you doing?"

Neji jerked his arm away. "Nothing... I was just... Nothing" Tenten looked up. Neji had turned his head away, but he was plainly blushing under the moonlight.

"Hey Neji?" she said quietly. Neji turned just enough to look at her sideways. Tenten seized his face and pulled him down to her lips.

It was an awkward kiss. Neji was shocked, Tenten was nervous, and neither one of them really knew what they were doing. There was much clicking of teeth and repeated posturing of lips.

It was the most wonderful sensation Tenten had ever felt.

His arms wrapped around her encircling her in warmth. She slipped her thighs around his leg and squeezed him tight. A warm, melty feeling slowly built in her stomach and creeped up her spine. She felt her toes begin to curl. Tenten kept one of her hands on his cheek while she teased her fingers of the other into his long hair, pulling it slowly through it's length.

For one moment both of their long held defenses fell away, and they gave in to their pent up needs for human contact and comfort.

Eventually she pulled away. "Neji," she whispered. "I'm nervous about losing people I deeply care about too." She stepped forward and pressed herself against his chest. "I want you to take care of yourself okay?"

Neji's hand reached up and shaking, tried to run his fingers through her hair. "You're not going to be able to do much with the buns in you know," she giggled at him.

"I don't think I've ever seen you without them," he said quietly. His fingers drew soft circles on the nape of her neck. "But I'm positive you would still be as beautiful." His eyes smiled down at her in the moonlight.

She almost invited him into her tent. Almost, but not quite. She knew that he would politely refuse at first. She could insist, and maybe she could convince him to stay with her, but that would be somehow... wrong. Making Neji not be Neji. Above all things he was a Hyuga, a servant to his duty. Like everything else in their relationship, that would have to take time.

She found herself smiling, entertaining the brief fantasy that maybe she could find this Nohara clan, get herself recognized, and maybe convince the clan elders that this once orphan girl could be a fitting match for a Hyuga. She shook her head dismissing her daydreams. "What is it?" Neji whispered to her.

She answered by giving him another kiss. This one was even better. "Neji Hyuga, you and I will need have a long talk after this war okay?" Grinning, she and Neji parted for the night.



She was late arriving to the location where Naruto was battling the Ten tails. She had had a lot of ground to cover. She knew something was wrong when she heard Guy-sensei's wail of anguish. It wasn't his usual overdramatized cry, his voice was filled with genuine hurt.

Something was wrong with Neji. Naruto and Lee were cradling him. He looked almost peaceful, his eyes half closed, his face half smiling.

Neji's hated curse mark, the mark that chained him to his destiny was gone.

Tenten felt her reality drop away from her in that instant. She knew. She saw the blood all over his flak jacket. She saw the huge spears piercing his flesh and bone. Neji was dead. That fact tumbled around inside her head and found purchase at the center of her being. Its footsteps echoed through her heart with boots of lead.

Neji was gone.

For a second she felt like she was floating. She felt the burning well up in her eyes and in that instant she wanted to do nothing more than collapse in a heap crying.

A sound made her turn. The Ten tails, that hideous twisted beast, grunted and fired off a second wave of spears at a group of approaching shinobi.

Tenten felt her steel armor close around her heart. Slowly, dreamlike, she paced towards the Ten tails.

Two figures peered down at her. They called out to her, but she couldn't hear their words. She doubted she would have cared to listen even if she could. These were the ones. She nodded to herself. These were the ones who killed her Neji. These were the ones who must die.

Tenten kept her mind calm, but her emotions were boiling over. They rolled underneath the surface of her skin, screaming to be let out, screaming for vengeance.

She let them out. Riding a massive wave of chakra, they pulsed outward in huge rings searching for the familiar.

The weapons were familiar.

Tenten could feel each one, singing in her mind, pleading to draw blood, begging to fly, floating in the huge cloud behind her. She knew without looking what that cloud of steel looked like, she knew that were she to try for a thousand years, she would never be able to perform a jutsu like this again.

That didn't matter. Once was all she would need.

Tenten stood there and glared at the monsters, the Ten tails and the two wearing human skin. "His name was Neji Hyuga," she called out loudly to them. "He was a good man. I loved him."

The weapons leapt forward with a hissing sound.

*******

Rin was here! She was right here! Somehow without his lifting a finger she had come back to him! That fool Madara was taunting her, threatening to destroy her, but she was here. Here! Obito wasn't sure whether to pull out his hair with anxiety or laugh with glee. She should not be here! She could be killed... again! He had to figure out some way to talk to her! To touch her! To hold her in his arms and stroke her hair and convince himself that she was here and alive and well.

The cloud of discarded weapons cut through the air. It was only because of his sharingan that his addled brain was able to command his body enough to dodge them.

Rin was here and she was... so powerful. A tremor of doubt crept into his brain. The Rin he knew was never this strong.  The Rin he knew was a kind, gentle, caring soul. This Rin was all blood and steel and vengeance.

The Ten tails shuddered under the hail of weapons. Obito looked over at Madara in dismay. "It is impressive yes," the elder Uchiha intoned. "But compared to the power we wield here it is less than nothing. No weapons like these will do more harm than a paltry handful of scratches to the Ten tails."

Sure enough the noise was fading away. Madara gave the beast another prod. "Go!" he snapped. "Trample the child."

"No wait!" cried Obito.

Madara cuffed him across the face. It was like getting hit by a falling boulder. "I believe that your usefulness to me may be nearing its end," he said casually.

Obito rolled with the blow and sprang back up to his feet. "You can't hurt her! She's a good girl!" he wailed.

Madara's response was a contemptuous kick that spun him to the limit of the umbilical attaching his body to the Ten tails. "Really," said Marada coldly. "I spend a few years in the grave and you forget your lessons so quickly?" He seized Obito by the throat and hoisted him high into the air. "You do not presume to tell me what to do!" He glanced down at the Ten tails. "Burn her!"

Obito kicked out with his legs, as the Ten tails gathered up enough chakra for an enormous lightning jutsu. He had to do something. He had to convince Madara to just stop, to just listen to him for a moment. He did the first thing that came to mind. He activated his Kamui and used the vacuum from the dimensional portal to tear off Madara's head. Obito landed down on his feet with a thump and rubbed his neck.

"Stop now!" he shouted, stomping on the Ten tails' back to get its attention. "Stop I said! Stop I command!!!" The damned thing wouldn't listen. The electricity kept crackling between its paws in a huge glowing mass, "Please stop? I don't want you to hurt the nice lady!" Obito whined in Tobi's voice.

The thunderbolt rent the air with light and sound.

When the dust had cleared, the kunoichi stood in the middle of a ring of blacked smouldering earth. She had made a spinning defensive shell using the metal she was wielding with her jutsu. The blast had channeled itself over her shield and grounded out around her feet.

Obito clapped and whistled. "That's my Rin!" he cheered. He started waving. "Up here!" He stopped waving at a soft sound from behind.

Madara Uchiha stood there gently fingering the holes in his slowly rebuilding face. He calmly looked back up at Obito. "That, my boy, was quite the misjudgement on your part."

Obito grinned desperately at him. "You don't understand... That looks like her... I think that's Rin! I can't let anything hurt her! She's the one I did all of this for! She's the girl I love!"

Madara tested his neck as the last few scraps fell into place. "You don't understand... boy. I don't care."

*******

The two men on top of the Ten tails began to fight each other. Tenten didn't know which one, if either, was on her side, and to be honest, she didn't really care. She looked at it as a pure opportunity to get the upper hand. She had almost started weeping when she made that steel kaiten to stop the Ten tails lighting jutsu. She hoped that somewhere Neji was smiling down on her.

She kept up her attacks. Flowing tendrils of steel, swooping and cutting lanced the flesh of the hideous beast. She was having an effect. Every once in awhile, she could force the Ten tails back, but while these ordinary weapons could annoy the beast, they didn't seem to do any mortal damage. Worse, one of the men fighting on its back still had some intermittent control over the monster and would use it to launch earth shattering attacks at her. The distractions they were having by fighting each other gave her the slightest advantage. The length of time this fight was taking was going to be her downfall.

Most ninja battles end when one shinobi runs low on chakra. Most shinobi will flee a fight before they reach that point. Using up too much chakra was asking for weeks of recovery in a hospital bed, and in the more serious cases... death.

Tenten had already calculated that this was going to be her last battle. The only question was whether she could finish the fight, before she finished herself. If she was going to win, she would need to do something even more desperate.

Time was her enemy. She sent two thirds of the cloud of weapons fountaining up like water into the sky. They floated gently at the zenith of their arc, and then came whistling down at the two figures on the Ten tails back.

One of the two glanced up from their private brawl, shook his head, and commanded the Ten tails to form a protective dome with its tails. The weapons rattled on the monster like hail.

For a moment the two men atop the monster were blind. This is what she had been hoping for. Out of the thousands she had flying at her command, there was one more weapon she wanted to wield this day.

Her summoning scroll unrolled under her hands. There was a burst of smoke, and the bashosen was once again in her grasp.

The relic was dangerous. The last time she used it, it threatened to drain her of so much chakra she could have died. Somehow that didn't seem to matter much right now.

The bashosen eagerly leapt into her hands. It seemed to vibrate with anticipation as she began to feed chakra into it. She held it before her as it began to grow warm to the touch. Waves of intense heat rippled the air, and she continued to pour her life force into the weapon. The fan glowed dull red, and then bright orange, but it still wasn't enough for her.

Tenten began to feel light headed, but she kept adding chakra to the bashosen. The very air sizzled as it approached the fan. At some point she hit her limit. Tenten gasped for breath and eyed the weapon critically. The center of the fan was glowing white, but that still wasn't good enough. Not for her.

She poured every lost dream she had about Neji into the bashosen. Every missing kiss, every time he would not be there to hold her hand, every time he wouldn't be there for her to cry on his shoulder. The wedding that was now so much dust, their shared home that was so much ashes. The children that would never be.

One by one the feathers on the fan flared white and incinerated away. The bashosen started a high pitched keening harmonic that, if it were alive, would pass for pain. This would be the last fight for the both of them it seemed. The light grew too bright for her to look at directly. The handle grew painfully hot. Tenten gripped it tighter and felt the agony of it course through her arm. Her flesh crackled and popped and smoked, but again it didn't matter. Nothing did anymore.

Well maybe one thing. She had to figure out how to get up high enough to give the Ten tails a fatal blow.

*******

Obito was leaking white fluid everywhere. He had thought that his new and improved body was virtually indestructible. Madara Uchiha had emphasized 'virtually'. "So tell me boy..." Madara sighed, applying more force to Obito's knee with the sole of his boot. "Have you changed your mind any about wanting to continue this foolish chivalry, asking me to spare this girl?" Obito just groaned and tried to pull away as bits of his knee cap snapped apart.

Madara crouched down, with a cool smile. "Tell you what, I promise to grant her a quick death, immediately after you resurrect me. Do we have a bargain?"

"Rin!" gasped Obito with a bubbling breath.

Madara frowned.  "Well, no one could say that I wasn't reasonable." With stiffened fingers he dug into Obito's chest searching for his heart. Obito screamed. Madara reached down and patted the beast with his other hand. "Kill the girl," he said.

The Ten tails started to lurch forward and then hesitated. "Go!" snapped Madara. The hideous monster groaned and seemed to shrink back. "What is it now?" snarled Madara, the last shreds of his patience finally gone. At his command the Ten tails lowered his protective dome made of tails.

Obito gasped and looked away to protect his eyes. The girl who looked like Rin stood there, brighter than the sun, lit up with blue white flame. In her hand was what appeared to be a flaming sword. He heard a sharp intake of breath from Madara. "Oh my," the Uchiha muttered in awe.

Obito risked another look. The kunoichi had leaped high into the air. Metal wings of overlapping shuriken unfolded from her back. The fiery light from her weapon made them shimmer and glow as she used them to glide towards the monster's head. A comet's tail of luminous gases and glowing plasma trailed her blade through the air. "An angel," Obito gasped. "She's an angel."

Her voice was a blood curdling cry to the heavens."NEJI!!!" she screamed. The Ten tails squealed with fear as the sword came around in a vicious arc.

There was a tremendous wave of heat, pressure and noise.

Then all was quiet.

*******

Of all the things Tenten expected of the afterlife, seasickness wasn't one of them.

Her head was woozy and full of cotton. There was a continuous sour taste in her mouth. It took her a while, but gradually she realized that the gentle swaying motion wasn't due to the fact she was on the water, but because she was being carried. Strong arms were around her. Her eyesight was dim, she couldn't make out anything other than shadows. There was a ringing in her ears and all she could smell was burning meat. She said the name of the only person on her mind. "Neji?" she whispered in a parched voice.

There was a high pitched chuckle, but the voice was a bass rumble. "No... not Neji."

"Who?" was all she could manage to ask.

She felt a shrug. "I'm nobody. My name is not important."

"The monster?" She rasped through her parched throat. Those two words almost made her cry out with pain.

He knew what she was asking. "I have never seen nor heard of any jutsu like that. The Ten tails was burned to a crisp. I myself saw the supposedly indestructible body of Madara Uchiha blown apart into its component atoms. You slew that which could not be killed." Again there was a high pitched chuckle. "You have ensured that your tale will be told for a hundred generations."

"Didn't... do it... for me," Tenten hissed. "For Neji."

Her rescuer walked for a few steps. "Who is this Neji you keep calling out for? He seems important."

"Neji..." she mumbled. Tenten felt the tears start to come. They stung like burning coals in her eyes and on her face. "I loved him."

The man carrying her stumbled a little bit. "Really?"

Tenten's head gave the tiniest nod. "More than anything..." She swallowed and her voice grew stronger. "We... grew up together. It just took so much time for me to realize..." she broke into a choking cough. "I wish I had told him sooner." The world swam around her. Tenten thought she might have blacked out, but when her head started working again, the man was still carrying her. "Where are you taking me?"

"Back to your friends," the voice rumbled. There was a long thoughtful pause. "You... remind me very much of a woman I once... knew. You're the spitting image of her, I first thought you were her, but she'd be much... older than you." He cleared his throat. "You wouldn't by any chance be part of the Nohara clan would you?" Tenten started to laugh. "What's so funny?"

Her chuckle quickly changed over to a choked sob. "Neji. He was asking me the same thing last night."

"I'm sorry."

"Who was she?" Tenten asked in a mumble, getting drowsy again

There was a long sigh. "Her name was Rin. I loved her more than anything."

"What happened to her?"

"She died," the voice said simply. "Woah there, just relax."

Despite all the pain, Tenten was trying to struggle up. "How do you deal with it?" she slurred at him pleadingly. "How do you keep living like this? All I can do is think how he isn't here with me!"

There was a knowing nod. "It feels like you are going mad doesn't it?"

"I would do anything to bring him back," moaned Tenten.

The man froze. He shifted her slightly in his arms. "I know how you feel," he whispered.

Voices carried on the breeze. They sounded familiar. "...have never seen such a bounty of youthful energy! Did you see what she did? And all for the love of her comrade! If there is even the slightest chance we must find her!"

"Hai Guy-sensei!" There was a shift and she felt the ground underneath her.

She felt the man carrying her begin to pull away. "Wait!" she croaked. "Stay. It's just my friends."

"That... would not be wise." There was a pause. "May I ask your name?"

"Tenten." She tried to give her rescuer a smile but her face felt tight and cracked. "Please be careful... There were two men on top of the Ten tails. One of them might still be out there."

"Don't worry, If he is, I'm sure he won't be alive for very much longer." The voices were getting closer. She could hear Naruto and Hinata and Kakashi-sensei calling out for her as well. A few drops of water splashed on her face. A hand tenderly brushed her cheek. "Tenten... Go to Neji. Be with him. Live your life with him and be happy." Her rescuer began to pull away.

His words poured through her brain like ice water. Tenten's hand latched onto him like a vice. "What do you mean?"

Her rescuer underwent a strange shiver. One moment he was there, the next he somehow slipped through her fingers. "Don't you worry pretty-angel-Tenten-lady!" he said in a high pitched, chipper voice. "I can fix everything! I'll do a good job! I'm a good boy!"

******

"And who was that man Mommy?" asked Hizashi, vibrating with barely contained excitement.

Tenten laughed and gave him a gentle push back down into bed. "Nobody knows. He just mysteriously vanished. But before he did he used a special super jutsu that made everybody who got hurt really badly get magically better again."

"Everybody like Daddy?"

Tenten nodded. "Exactly like Daddy." She gave him a pat and pulled the blankets up to his chin. "It's past your bedtime sweetheart. You promised me you'd go right to sleep if I told you that story again."

She kissed him goodnight and started to step away. "Mommy?" asked, Hizashi, reaching out to grab her bad hand. "How come the magic man's jutsu made Daddy all better and not you? If you were all better you could still be a shinobi, couldn't you mom?"

Tenten gently pulled her right arm away. She gave her son a smiling shrug. "I guess I just wasn't hurt as badly as your father was. He needed it more than I did." She smiled at her son a little wistfully. "Sometimes I wish I was still a kunoichi.... But I wouldn't trade you or this family for anything in the world." She ruffled his hair. "But you already knew that, right?"

Hizashi smiled and snuggled down amongst his blankets. "You were really cool mom, beating the monster and all the bad guys like that. You sounded just like uncle Naruto!"

Tenten shook her head. "Stop stalling sweetie. Go to sleep."

Hizashi rolled over in his bed. "Goodnight Mom."

Tenten quietly shut the door to his room and walked down to the ground floor. She gave a quick look around for her husband and found him in the kitchen, finishing up the dishes. She snuck up behind him and put her arms around his waist. "Hi!" she said brightly.

Neji put the dish down and turned in her embrace. "Hizashi wanted the story of the Fourth war again did he?" he asked in an amused voice. He leaned his head in, awkwardly trying to kiss around her glasses.

"Let me take them off," Tenten said cheerfully, "the sun's setting so the light shouldn't bother me too much." She took off the protective smoked glass and put it carefully on the counter. She'd needed them since the light from the bashosen had burned out her eyes. "Thanks for doing the dishes."

Neji shook his head and gave her one of the special smiles he reserved for when they were alone. "It's least I could do for my lovely wife." He took up her right hand and ran his fingers over the twisted, lumpy, scar tissue there. "Has the medicine kicked in yet?"

Tenten reached up and ran her arthritic fingers over his face. Fingers too disfigured and stiffened by burns to hold a kunai. She paused lightly over the empty patch in the center of his forehead. "It's a little better, but not great," she admitted. She smiled at Neji impishly and hovered her hand in front of his lips. "Do you want to kiss it and see if that makes it better?"

Neji moved closer. With her injuries, she couldn't put her hair up in the buns anymore. Neji ran his hands through her pony tail. He teased it gently around one finger.

Neji kissed the center of her hand. Then, staring deep into her eyes, he pulled her tight and kissed her lips.

It was still the most wonderful sensation Tenten had ever felt.

Fin
Naruto Characters belong to Masashi Kishimoto

To answer your first question, dear reader... Yes... I am fully aware that if the events detailed in this story ever came to pass, the Manga's name would have to change from 'Naruto' to 'Tenten'

Anyway...

Here's how this particular story came into being...

First... Chapter 614 happened.

Like most of the Naruto verse I dissolved into a teary, blubbering mess crying something along the lines of "Noooo! Not Neji!" Instantly having my heart and soul crushed by the loss of someone who... well to be perfectly honest... I didn't think of much because I assumed his story had been resolved way back in part one.

I call it 'The Choji Effect' That one character who is kind of, well, nondescript is killled off and suddenly everyone in fandom is screaming bloody murder at his or her loss.

I was one of them. While I was in mourning over Neji and running around giving internet style hugs. I came upon...
This

For those of you who don't like links... I'll summarize.

What if Tenten is somehow related to Rin Nohara?

I thought it was kind of silly at first. I mean... It's a stretch. There's been no hints in the Naruto story of anything like that. Not that we have had much of a hint of anything related to Tenten's life outside of being a ninja.

I though about it for a while, rolled it around my brains, and finally this one little thought popped into my head.

"Who cares about it's potential to be true of not... Think of the DRAMA!"

A sudden image... Obito hesitating, as the kunoichi that seems to be the ghostly twin of his long lost love, charges at him, screaming a blood curdling cry for revenge, the bashonen curled back over her shoulder, primed for a jutsu of nuclear proportions... seared itself into my brain and stuck there.

Three days later I had the bones of this all down on paper. It was very therapeutic in dealing with my Neji related grief.

I hope you liked reading it.

-Cas
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Konoha Children's Crusade

Chapter One: A brand new day.

It was going to be a bright sunny day. The sun had just crept above the mountaintops and was beginning to burn off the morning mist. The light gleamed down through the forest like warm butter. It warmed the wings of a hawk circling through the sky. It lit up the six faces carved into the mountainside above the sleepy village. It shone down on the Hokage's residence, where it found a slightly parted curtain. Quickly, it stabbed inside and landed on the Hokage's face.

Naruto snorted and twitched, but the sun showed no mercy. He tried to brush it away with his hand but to no avail. He smacked his lips and slowly sat up in bed. He scratched his head and yawned. He looked around his bedroom. He looked down at his wife, and smiled.

"She will always be beautiful to me." He thought to himself as he reached over and brushed a lock of raven black hair off her face. His fingers traced her hairline A few silver strands were showing at her temples. He ran a fingertip down one of her cheeks. A few wrinkles showed at the edges of her eyes. She sighed in her sleep. He embraced her from behind and kissed her gently on the nape of her neck. She sighed again still asleep and snuggled close to him.

He kissed her neck again and moved up to nibble her ear. He kissed her cheek and heard her breathing quicken. He kissed her ear and whispered "Good morning Mrs. Uzumaki." She rolled over and opened her expressive grey eyes. She smiled and reached up to brush his cheek.

"Naruto… What are you doing awake so early? Are the children up?" Hinata ran her hands through his hair.

"No my love, It's still pretty early. In fact…" Naruto snickered. "Hee-hee-hee, I do believe that we are the only ones in the Uzumaki household up at the crack of dawn." He ran his hand down her nightgown and rested it on her thigh. "I was wondering if you night be in the mood for some… recreational activities this morning?"

Hinata smiled. "I don't know where you get the energy." She wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him close for one kiss, then another. "I'm still waking up… Why don't you try your best to convince me?" Naruto grinned and buried his face in her neck. She pressed her hands to his back. "Mmmmmm... Naruto…" Naruto kissed his way down her chest, kissing her through her nightgown. Here and there, he nipped gently with his teeth and she shuddered.  He straddled her hips and sat up looking down at her lovingly.

"I love you Hinata." Naruto said smiling.

"I love you too Naruto." Hinata smiled back. She reached up and pulled him closer. "I'm awake now… And I think you've managed to convince me…"

"DADDY!" A red headed blur flew across the room, crashed into Naruto, and knocked him off the bed and on to the floor. "Daddy, daddy daddy! Play with me!"

Hinata sat up quickly "Naruto?!? Are you okay?"

Naruto got up to his hands and knees. "I'm okay… I just have a baby on my head." Hinata giggled. Their youngest, Sasuko, was trying to ride his father like a horse.

"Play with me, play with me daddy!" He shouted. "Pony ride! Pony ride!" Hinata laughed and clapped her hands as Naruto galloped around the room neighing like a horse.

Naruto stopped his prancing after a moment. "Do you know what is even better than riding a horse Sasuko?" Sasuko shook his head. "A frog!" Naruto began to jump in the air with the child on his back yelling "Ribbit! Ribbit!"

After pretending to be a lion, an elephant, and an ostrich, Naruto and Sasuko collapsed on the bed. Sasuko reached out for Hinata. "Mommy!" He called. She reached over and kissed him on the forehead. Sasuko snuggled into her arms. Naruto sat up next to her and lay his head on her shoulder. The sounds of the other children thumping about began to filter into their room. Naruto sighed. He and Hinata shared one tender kiss.

"I guess we have lost the opportunity huh?"

Hinata made a mischievous smile, then turned and kissed his cheek. She leaned into his ear and whispered "I'm going to take a shower now… If you can convince someone to watch Sasuko, I'm sure there will be plenty of room in the shower for you as well." She got up from the bed and gracefully walked to the bathroom door. She gave Naruto a playful, come-hither look over her shoulder, delicately tossed her hair with one hand, then stepped into the bathroom and shut the door.

Naruto closed his mouth with a click. He ruffled Sasuko's bright red hair. "Hey little guy," He said with a grin. "Let's see if your sisters and brother are awake yet."

Sasuko pouted. "No daddy. I want to stay with you." Naruto tickled him.

"I just need to help mommy with something for a little bit… Don't you want to see if your brother is awake?"

"No daddy I want to stay with you! I miss you!"

"Awww… I miss you too little guy. I tell you what, if you play with your brother or sister for a little bit this morning, I'll take you to the office with me today. Will that be okay?"

Sasuko looked thoughtful. "Maybe…" The bathroom door creaked open. Hinata's arm slipped through the crack and slowly let her nightgown slide to the floor.

Naruto turned back to Sasuko. "I'll take you to the office, get you an ice cream, and buy you any toy you want."

Sasuko clapped his hands in delight. "Yay!"

Naruto picked him up, yelled "I'll be back in a minute dear!" to the bathroom, and ran down the hallway.

He skidded to a stop in front of the first doorway. "Hishyota… I need you to help me for a while." Loud snores filled the air. Juggling Sasuko to hold him in one arm he stepped over the piles of dirty clothes and scattered ninja tools on the floor. He opened the curtains covering the window. The morning sunlight spilled across the bed. Somewhere buried under the pile of blankets was his eldest daughter. "Hishyota…" He said again, nudging her bed with his foot.

The pile of blankets shifted. From somewhere deep inside a voice muttered, "Go 'way." Naruto thumped the bed again.

"Hishyota…Get up! I need you to play with Sasuko. You have to wake up soon anyway. You might as well get up now." There was a ripping noise as a kunai tore through the blankets and solidly slammed in the wall next to Naruto's ear. A pale arm emerged from the pile of blankets groped around for a pillow and pulled it back under the pile.

"Go 'way I said… Still sleeping." the voice muttered again.

Naruto and Sasuko looked and the knife still vibrating in the woodwork. "Let's go see what your other sister and brother are doing this morning shall we?" He quietly stepped out of the room and very gently closed the door.

******         

Kusumina carefully smoothed down the sheet on her bed. She flipped the blankets up once in the air and tucked them neatly under the corners of her mattress. She then arranged her stuffed animals at the head next to her pillow. "I will… Never understand… Why you do… That sis." Her twin brother was doing pushups on his side of the room they shared. Normally there was a divider that could split the room for privacy, but they usually opened it when they woke up.

"It makes it look nice." Kusumina had a soft voice. "It makes Mom and Dad proud to see that I can take care of things myself. I can't understand how you can stand to sleep in such a messy bed."

"Ha!" said her brother Jiraiya. Jumping up from the floor and starting to do free squats, his unruly jet black hair flapping up and down. "It just gets messy again the moment you get back into bed. You shouldn't be so helpful Kusumina. It makes you look like a pushover."

Kusumina stopped and stared at him. "Just because I like to have a clean bed doesn't make me a pushover!"

"No... But doing everything that anyone asks you to does!"

Kusumina stomped her foot. "It does not."

Jiraiya smirked. "Oh Kusumina, will you be a good girl and make dinner? Oh Kusumina, will you please sweep up? Oh Kusumina could you help me with the homework? Oh Kusumina, could please run down to the store? Oh Kusumina, please watch Sasuko for a minute." He bent down, placed both hands on the floor and then kicked his legs up into a handstand.

"I am not a pushover!" She said with finality. Kusumina marched over to her vanity and starting the hundred brush strokes she daily gave her long brown hair. She pointedly avoided looking at her brother in the mirror.

Jiraiya hated being ignored. "Want to make a bet?"

"What is the bet?"

Jiraiya thought for a second. "I bet you can't go the whole day with out doing something someone else asks you to do."

Kusumina narrowed her eyes. "Not fair... If the sensei asks me to do homework, I have to do it. You won't trap me there."

Jiraiya jumped back to his feet. "That's not what I'm getting at... You are always doing other people's jobs for them. I want to see you go the whole day with out someone else taking advantage of your good will."

"But what if they really need help?"

"Helping a little old lady cross the street or rescuing a kitten from a burning building or other heroics is okay... Is it a deal? Will you try it?"

Kusumina folded her arms. "Fine. I bet you a lunch at Ichiraku's that I can go the whole day without being a pushover." They shook hands just as the door to their room opened.

Naruto came in smiling. "Ah, good Kusumina you're awake. I need you to watch your brother for bit while I go help your mother with something."

"Good morning little one." as Kusumina reached out for Sasuko, Jiraiya loudly cleared his throat. She glanced at him quickly and then turned to her father. "Why do you need me to watch him Father?"

Naruto looked puzzled "I told you, I just need to help your mother with something for a little bit. That's all." Through the open door, the sounds of the shower starting up could be clearly heard.

Kusumina looked puzzled. "What do you need to help Mother with in the shower? Is it important?"

Naruto's face turned bright red. "Uhm..."

Jiraiya shook his head. "Helping dad with pervy things is not important enough."

"Pervy?!? What? I..." Naruto looked from one twin to the other.

Kusumina lowered her head. "I am sorry Father. I made a promise that I would only help those in dire need today. I am afraid your need doesn't meet the requirements."

Naruto turned from one twin to the other. "I have no idea what is going on here, but I need someone to watch Sasuko right now. Jiraiya... It's going to be you." Sasuko climbed down out of Naruto's arms and padded over to Kusumina.

Jiraiya folded his arms. "Sure... I'll do it for the right price."

"I'll pay you 300 ryo for watching him for next twenty minutes."

"Make it six hundred and you'll have a deal."

Naruto narrowed his eyes. "In a minute you'll be doing it because your Hokage made it an A-ranked mission."

Jiraiya narrowed his eyes in return. "That's really unfortunate. If that was the case, I would have to inform the Hokage's wife of the mysterious collection of instant ramen hidden in the large decorative urn in the sitting room. Since the Hokage's doctor expressly told him he had to cut back on his ramen intake I simply cannot imagine what such a hoard could be doing in our house."

Just as Naruto opened his mouth to retort, Hinata called out from the shower. "Naruto-kun... I need you." Naruto shut his mouth with a click.

"Fine." he muttered. "600 ryo."

Jiraiya smiled, and pointed at his Kusumina. "And another six hundred for my assistant here."

"WHAT?!?" Naruto bellowed.

"Naruto-kun... Could you please wash my back?"

Naruto looked distracted for a second. "Fine... Okay." He turned to go.

"And we want to go out to dinner at Ichiraku's." Jiraiya said.

"Fine..."

"All we can eat..."

"Fine..."

"...Every night this week." Jiraiya grinned.

Naruto turned. "My son, I am leaving now before bankrupt me. I'm coming Honey!" He called as he ran down the hall.

Jiraiya turned to his siblings. "And that my dear Brother and Sister is how you make a deal."

"Daddy promised me ice cream." said Sasuko.

Jiraiya lifted his eyebrows in surprise. "Shoot... I should have held out for more."

*****

The Uzumaki-Hyuga family breakfast table was experiencing a quiet lull. The mad scramble for the food had settled down. Hishyota was chewing slowly in between yawns. Jiraiya was shoveling in as much food as his mouth could handle before making an attempt at chewing. Kusumina was daintily using her chopsticks to take small bites, and somehow she seemed to be eating faster that Jiraiya was. Sasuko was using his chubby hands to stuff handfuls of rice in his mouth, and occasionally rub it in his hair.

The stars of the breakfast table were Naruto and Hinata. They kept giving each other dreamy smiles, purposefully brushing past each other, and occasionally giving the other a gentle caress. Once as Naruto got up to get an extra serving bowl of rice, he leaned in and gave his wife a quick kiss.

Hishyota sleepily watching this back and forth finally let curiosity get the better of her. She kicked her brother under the table and hissed. "What is up with mom and dad this morning?"

Jiraiya rolled his eyes. "Trust me..." He whispered back." if you want to refrain from being scarred for life, you will not ask that question."

She stared at her parents again as Hinata fed Naruto a piece of fish from her chopsticks, and then leaned into his ear and whispered something that made him blush. "Well then what took mom so long in the shower this morning? I have a mission I have to get ready for."

Jiraiya looked back with an evil twinkle in his eye. "Remember that aforementioned life scarring incident? Well, it involves Mom, Dad, the shower, and something so incredibly pervy that dad promised to take us out for ramen every night this week if we watched Sasuko for twenty minutes...

"Eww."

"All right everyone," said Hinata, Sitting straighter in her chair. "I plan on leaving tomorrow for the monthly clan meeting. This month we are going to the resort town where your grandfather retired to. Since your Uncle Neji will be coming with me, and your Aunt Tenten is away on a mission, both of your cousins will be staying with us while I am away.

"Woo-hoo!" yelled Jiraiya, throwing his arms in the air. "Party time!"

Hinata's eyes narrowed. "It most certainly is not party time. I expect you all to behave while your cousins are here and show them that you can all be good hosts."

"Yes, mother," said Kusumina.

"Is Hishyoni staying with us too? Or does she have a mission?" Hishyota asked in that flat disinterested way people use when they are pretending their question isn't important.

"Nope, she will be right here," said Naruto. "Try to be more polite to Hishyoni this time okay?" Hishyota didn't say anything. She did not get along well with her cousin's cold, assertive, demeanor.

Hinata cleared her throat. "Jiraiya and Kusumina, even though your cousins will be here I expect both of you work extra hard on your school work. Just because we have visitors is not an excuse not to try your hardest."

"But Mom, "groaned Jiraiya. "What kind of host would we be if we just did homework all the time?"

"The kind that gets good grades, do you understand me?" Jiraiya opened his mouth to protest but his twin elbowed him.

"Yes mother, he does." Kusumina said.

"Now meals..."

Naruto interrupted her. "I thought that maybe we could just go out to Ichiraku's for dinner for a few nights until you got back..."

"Now dear, you know Sakura said you should cut back on the amount of ramen you eat, you need to start eating healthier."

"But I've already given up on the instant ramen cups, and she did say Ichiraku's wasn't too bad."

Kusumina chimed in. "Plus Father already promised he would take us there."

Hinata smiled. "Alright, just promise me you won't let your father eat more than one bowl."

"Only one?!?" protested Naruto.   

Hinata ignored him while the children snickered. "Now there is one other thing," Hinata continued. "Sakura will also be heading out with us to visit the fifth Hokage, who is vacationing in the same resort. So while we are gone I also expect you all to be good neighbors and help the Uchiha clan if they need it." She stopped to glare meaningfully at her son. "This also means no pranks on them."

"I have no idea what you are referring to," said Jiraiya. "And besides, no one can prove anything."

"Be that as it may, I don't want to hear about any problems when I get back is that understood?" Sasuko laughed out loud, and everyone turned to look at him. He had upended his rice bowl on his head.

"I'm the rice-kage!" He shouted. Hishyota, Kusumina and Jiraiya all giggled.

Hinata sighed. "Dear, would you be so good as to clean him up?"

Naruto looked up from his breakfast. "What? Oh no buddy, what happened?"

"I want to be the rice-Hokage when I grow up, Daddy."

"Hmm… a worthy goal, but right now let's get you cleaned up."

As Naruto and Sasuko left the table, Hinata leaned forward. She looked at each of her children. "I want each of you to promise that you will help out your father while I am gone. He always tries to be the best father he can, but there are times when he has to be the Hokage. When the village needs its Hokage, it is your job to help him… Do you understand?"

"Why do you always have to say that Mom," grumbled Hishyota, brushing her long dark bangs out of her eyes. "You would think we know that by now."

Kusumina spoke up. "Sister… You know why. Three years ago when Mother was pregnant with Sasuko… Do you remember?"

Hishyota stared down at the table and clenched her fists. "I remember. I remember everything." She stared at her mother. "I remember watching you bleeding on the ground. I remember Dad crying as he frantically tried to help stop the bleeding." She turned her glare to her brother and sister. "I remember you two screaming, and I remember the guards dying one by one."

Kusumina reached out for her sister's hand. "I remember too Hishyota. I remember that you helped to save us. I remember that you were so brave…"

Hishyota looked back down again. "Why do we have to be this way? Why can't things in our life just be normal?"

Hinata stood up from her chair and placed her hands on her daughter's shoulders. "Hishyoni, you were born into one of the noblest families in Konoha. Your father is the Hokage. Our family will be affected by many things that are outside of our control. But we are still a family, and no matter what happens we will be there for each other."

"Yeah sis," grinned Jiraiya. "As bad as all of that was, it all worked out in the end didn't it?"

Hinata sighed. "For our family, yes everything worked out… Politically, not so much. When you are older you will understand."

"When I'm older I will understand…" She said mocking her mother's tone. Hishyoni glared at her mother. "Fine… But, when will you understand, huh? Maybe I don't want to live this way!" Naruto and Sasuko returned to the kitchen.

"All clean!" said Sasuko beaming.

"Well, I think we are all about ready to start our day," said Naruto smiling. "I promised Sasuko that I would take him into work with me this morning. Does anyone want to walk with us? We could have an Uzumaki family parade!"

"Yay! Parade!" cheered Sasuko.

Naruto looked around the table. "Hey, why all the glum faces?" He noticed everyone centered around Hishyota. Four pairs of pale Hyuga eyes were studiously avoiding him. "Hey, is everything okay? Do you want to talk to me about anything?"

Hishyota ran the back of her hand across her eyes. "I'll be alright Dad. I'm meeting my team soon. Moegi-sensei doesn't like it when we're late." Hishyota gathered up her pack and started to leave. Naruto put his hand on her shoulder and stopped her. "What is it Dad? I have to get going," she said testily.

Naruto smiled in a sad way. "I just wanted to tell you to do your best. I wanted to say that I am proud of you."

"Whatever." Hishyota shouldered her pack and headed out the door.

Hinata put her arm around Naruto as he sighed and let his head drop to his chest. "Why do I always feel like I'm always doing the wrong thing when it comes to her?"

"It's just a phase she is going through. She is growing up and trying to figure things out on her own. She still loves you. She just needs to separate herself from your influence. Everyone rebels from their parents."

"You never were like this growing up."

Hinata smiled and kissed him. "No. I just went against the wishes of my father and my clan. I disregarded the opinions of every adult in the village and fell in love with a clumsy orphan boy that everyone thought was a monster." She laid her finger on the tip of his nose. "And every morning I wake up happy that I did."

Naruto smiled his old smile again. "Thanks." He said, kissing Hinata's forehead. "Alright everyone… let's get ready to go!" He turned back to her. "Do you want to walk with us?"

Hinata smiled. "I'll catch up to you in a bit. I want to clean up quickly first."

Naruto smiled back. "All right I'll see you later. I love you."

"And I love you." She watched as Naruto gathered up Sasuko and helped him put on his sandals. He called Kusumina and Jiraiya over to him. As they all walked down the front path, Naruto turned once and waved to her. Then they turned on to the main road, and she could not see them any more.
Chapter One of the Fan novel: Konoha Children's crusade

Naruto Characters belong to Masashi Kishimoto

NOTE: This chapter is pretty tame, however, if this whole novel were to be rated by the MPAA, it might cross the PG-13 boundary in parts. It's much more tame than what you'd find on late night cable TV though.

Cast List

Book 1 Links:

Prologue
Chapter_1
Chapter_2_part1
Chapter_2_part2
Chapter_3
Chapter_4_part1 PG-13 warning
Chapter_4_part2 PG-13 warning
Chapter_5_part1 PG-13 warning
Chapter_5_part2 PG-13 warning
Chapter_6_part1
Chapter_6_part2
Chapter_7_part1
Chapter_7_part2

Book 2 starts here
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Konoha Children's Crusade


Prologue:

Takumi took a deep breath and checked behind him for the hundredth time to make sure that he hadn't been followed. The darkened corridors of the Daimyo's palace were even spookier than usual this evening. It wasn't helping that he hadn't been able to sleep on the trek back from the Hidden Sand Village. His nerves were completely shot. Dark shapes seemed to be scuttling about within the shadows. His stomach was roiling and his forehead was coated with a fine sheen of cold sweat.  He was regretting that sake he had drunk in the hopes it would calm his nerves.

He clutched the dark cloak he was wearing to disguise himself a little tighter. He was expecting to have to explain his way past the Daimyo's guards, but he hadn't seen any in the palace. Come to think of it, he hadn't seen anyone since the two guards at the main gate just casually waved him inside. No challenge or anything. At first he had just assumed that they had been forewarned of his arrival and were expecting him. But now, with his footsteps echoing about the empty hallways, with no lights and no other people, he was beginning to suspect that there was something very wrong.

It wasn't his problem. Not right now anyway. Takumi's mission was to make his report to the Daimyo about the latest information from the Hidden Sand village. The Daimyo had asked for Takumi personally to meet with certain advisors to the Kazekage and to ask them certain... questions. "That is my mission," Takumi whispered to himself, "to ask and report back. That is all I have to concern myself with." He rubbed his sweating hands on his cloak and tried to forget what those questions were.

The Daimyo's private apartment and bedchamber was just around the corner and down the hall. Takumi paused and took calming breaths. Once again he looked for any sign that he was followed, or for that matter any sign of life at all. The palace remained as still as a graveyard.

Takumi swallowed and headed down the long hall.  It was empty, but the moonlight shone through the large windows making it better lit than the rest of the palace. Takumi was just about to reach out to knock on the Daimyo's bedchamber door, when he heard the noise.

It was a dry scrape. Like something sliding very gently over the mosaic floor. He froze and listened as hard as he could, but the noise never repeated itself. He looked around the whole hallway to check, but he was all alone. He turned back and reached out for the door again.

"I wouldn't do that Takumi-san. The Daimyo went to bed early with a stomach ache. He is bound to be upset if you wake him," said a smooth voice.

Takumi jumped and spun around. There was a man standing in front of the nearest large window, silhouetted against the moonlight. Takumi panted until he calmed down. He sensed the man looking at him with wry amusement. When he had caught his breath, he straightened and took a step forward.

"I am glad to see you my friend," Takumi said with forced cheerfulness. "Can you tell me why the palace seems so empty tonight?"

The shadow shrugged. "The Daimyo was feeling ill. I suppose the staff is just trying to be quiet in order to give him the chance to rest quietly."

Takumi walked forward and stared out the window alongside the shadow. "You are still here," he said quietly.

Again the shadow shrugged. "The Daimyo believes that my work is too important for me to afford the luxury of having an early night. Indeed, it appears that I am most fortuitous, for I was just hoping earlier today that you would arrive. I need the results of your latest meeting with the Kazekage's council in order to finish my projections." There was a pause and Takumi felt himself being studied.

"I have been a diplomat in the service of the Fire Lord for over twenty years," thought Takumi to himself. "I have been threatened, I have had insults hurled at me, I have been chased out of kingdoms by mobs. I have faced it all in the service of the Daimyo with restraint and decorum." He swallowed. "So why does being examined by this man make me so nervous?"

"You seemed troubled," said the man in a kind tone. 'Would you care to share with me what is bothering you?"

Takumi took a deep breath. "I have met with the Kazekage's advisors... They received me well enough. They spoke to me with courtesy and obeyed all the forms."

"But?" prompted the shadow.

Takumi sighed. "I approached the councillors named to me personally by the Daimyo in private. I'm afraid that the majority have... reservations."

"Hmm," said the dark figure rocking back and forth on his heels. "A majority have reservations... does that mean that we can count on the support of a minority?"

Takumi shook his head. "I presented the letters to those who expressed sympathy with the Daimyo's plan to change the leadership of the Hidden Leaf. Upon reading those letters, all but one of those councilors withdrew support immediately."

"And that one remaining councilor?"

"Councillor Teruo expressed doubt that things would go as the Daimyo planned, but would be willing to assist in exchange for... what was promised in the letter."

The shadow chuckled. "Good. It's nice to see that some people in this world can still be swayed by power." The dark figure studied Takumi again and sighed. "But that is not all is it? What else is bothering you?"

Takumi looked away. "My dear Takumi," the smooth voice went on, "We are both highly trusted advisors to the Daimyo. If we can not speak our minds plainly to each other, whom else can we trust? If you have any reservations I want to hear them now."

Takumi took a deep breath. "My lord," he started quietly. "The letters I handed over to the interested Sand councilors contained promises that I was not made aware of."

"Oh?" said the shadow. "Do tell."

"There were all the standard things that were discussed in the meetings, however the letters that were sent contained... references to certain bloodline traits... that we would be willing to part with?" Takumi finished weakly.

The silhouette sighed and hung his head. "I told the Daimyo that he was being... careless by including that promise. But he did insist."

"My lord, the very notion that we would go into the business of 'harvesting' byakugan and sharingan and selling them to the highest bidder was what drove off our support of the Sand council. Some of them, while they could support the removal of the current Hokage found the reward being offered to be... distasteful." Takumi swallowed. "Those that did not, were worried that retaliation from various members of the Uchiha and Hyuga clans would be not worth any reward."

"Strange. The contact we have within the Hyuga clan actually recommended that as a way in which to raise some quick profits."

Takumi shook his head. "I distrust that woman my lord. I find her a most disagreeable person to work with."

The shadow reached out and tapped one finger against the windowsill. "You would agree though that we do need her? The Hyuga clan and the Hokage are tied very closely together. Without a powerful Hyuga to sway the clan, we would have no hope to remove the Hokage."

Takumi shook his head even stronger. "My lord, I must confess I have very strong reservations about the very nature of this plan."

The shadow sighed. "I see." Slowly, he reached out one hand to give Takumi a reassuring pat on the shoulder. As he did so something silently writhed out of his sleeve, and then darted quickly towards Takumi.

Takumi clapped a hand to his neck. "Ouch!" he yelped.

"Oh I'm so sorry," apologized the smooth voice. The setting on my new ring is quite rough. I must have caught you on your neck. I do hope you are alright?"

"I'm  fine, I'm fine," insisted Takumi. There was curious burning sensation around the sting.

"Good," said the smooth voice. "I'm glad. Would you mind telling me any of these reservations of yours?"

Takumi shook his head as if to clear it. "I understand the goal of removing the current Hokage from office. I even approve of it. Some of his actions have been really quite... distressful."

"On that point we agree. Go on."

"Well, I approve of the gathering of the popular support among the Leaf village councillors." Takumi shrugged. "I can see no other good way to dispose of him. However I find most of them to be a rather disreputable lot."

The smooth voice chuckled. "When you ask for volunteers to remove someone from power, you must expect the power hungry to step forward."

"True," said Takumi wiping sweat from his brow. "But this batch seems to have a more personal grudge against the Hokage and his... associates than I would like. If they are out for revenge, it will make them harder to control."

The shadow shrugged. "We must work with what we have got."

"But do we have to work with the rest of the groups involved with this plan?" Takumi shivered.

"You've voiced your objections to working with the Hyuga representative already..."

"I cannot be expected to give my trust to someone who is willing to sell her own flesh and blood," interrupted Takumi.

The smooth voice had a note of distaste. "Please do let me finish, Takumi-san. I quite agree with you there. But what else can we do? The Daimyo orders, and we obey."

Takumi shivered again. He felt like he was beginning to have a fever. "But the soldiers he has brought in," he croaked. " By the gods, whatever was he thinking when he decided to offer them a position in the new Leaf village. They are simply..." He struggled to find the right words.

"Barbaric? Repulsive? Consorting with dark powers?" suggested the smooth voice. "Again, you are quite correct. But there will be those in Konoha who will always support the Sixth Hokage. I understand the Daimyo's reasoning. The Black Wind clan easily matches the military power of the Leaf. There are not many who can."

Takumi looked unsteadily up at the silhouette. "I worry my lord. I cannot in good faith support this plan of the Daimyo. It is just... not right." He took a deep breath to calm the roiling in his stomach. "Replacing the Hokage is one thing. But this current plan goes far beyond that. Given the allies and the offers being made here, it seems like the Daimyo has a personal grudge against the Sixth Hokage, the Uchiha clan and the Leaf village as a whole. This is not a plan to transition the Sixth Hokage out of power and put the Leaf Village under a new leadership more to our liking, this is a plan to destroy Konoha in its entirety!"

The other man dropped his head and stared at the floor in deep in thought. Takumi pulled out a lace handkerchief and blotted the sweat from his brow. "You are quite astute," said the smooth voice. "I can see all the points that you bring up. I agree with your assessment that as things are currently, this plan will no doubt lead to the destruction of Konoha." The silhouette stood up straight and clasped his hands behind his back. "We must find some way to alter the current situation," he said crisply, "You are quite correct, Takumi-san, this will simply not do. I will add my concerns to yours. Together we shall speak to the Daimyo first thing in the morning."

Despite how awful he felt Takumi smiled. "Thank you, Thank you very much." The hallway seemed to spin around him he staggered.

The shadowy man caught him. "My poor Takumi," he said. "Whatever is the matter? Have your travels drained you?"

"I appear to be feeling a little ill," rasped Takumi. "I'm sure it will pass."

The smooth voice tsked twice. "You appear to have caught a touch of what the Daimyo has. Don't worry," he said, pulling him upright. "I am more than capable of dealing with the Daimyo on my own." Moonlight reflected off his grin. "In the morning you will find that all these concerns have just faded away."
Prologue of the Fan novel: Konoha Children's crusade

Naruto Characters belong to Masashi Kishimoto

I needed something to capture the darker places this story is going. The opening chapters 1-3 are much too fluffy and light.

Book 1 Links:

Prologue
Chapter_1
Chapter_2_part1
Chapter_2_part2
Chapter_3
Chapter_4_part1 PG-13 warning
Chapter_4_part2 PG-13 warning
Chapter_5_part1 PG-13 warning
Chapter_5_part2 PG-13 warning
Chapter_6_part1
Chapter_6_part2
Chapter_7_part1
Chapter_7_part2

Book 2 starts here
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All Naruto characters belong to Masashi Kishimoto

Note: I am not the artist for this piece... believe me I wish I was... This was drawn by the extremely talented :iconkiko-burza: (Who does fantastic commissions at very reasonable rates... you should go check out his work now)

Even more amazingly it was given to me by the amazing :iconspadiekitchenqueen: as a gift!!!

That's right a completely unsolicited gift. Not my birthday... Not a holiday...  right out of the blue.

I can only assume she did this because she is the most wonderful kind generous person in the world!!!

THANK YOU SO MUCH!!! :iconglompsomethingplz::iconspadiekitchenqueen: :love:

Make sure you go read her works becasue aside from being a marelous human being she is also a very talented writer with wonderful ideas and characters.

This pairing is featured heavily in my story (so long I call it a fan novel as opposed to a fan fiction) Konoha Children's Crusade, set twenty years after the Fourth Great Shinobi war

Exerpt:

Kakashi wandered in twenty minutes later. He struggled a little taking his shoes off, his knee was stiffening up again. "The weather is changing, there must be a storm coming," he thought to himself as he limped his way into the main hall. "Anko?" he called out. There was no answer. "Honey?" he tried again, "I'm home!" he said a little louder. He could smell the scent of food coming from the kitchen so he headed that way.

He stopped when he heard a thump from upstairs. He turned toward the stairwell and called up. "Honey? Is that you?"

"I'll be right there in a second!" yelled Anko. She muttered a frustrated expletive as there was another loud thump.

"I thought you said you wanted me to come home for lunch today because you needed my help with something?"

"I do," she yelled back down from upstairs. "Just go to the kitchen! I'll be there in a second!"

Kakashi stood still for a moment peering up the stairs, but then he shrugged and headed down the hallway into the kitchen. The table was set with a large single dish piled high with food. There was a single pair of chopsticks, and a single candle burning. Off to one side was a plate, piled high with chocolate covered strawberries. Kakashi tilted his head and looked at the scene.

Anko clumped down the stairs in her high heels, and lounged in the doorway wearing a red robe. "Hey," she purred in a low throaty voice.

"What's all this?" asked Kakashi, amused.

Anko tried to sashay forward, stumbling a little in her heels. "I wanted to eat lunch with you. You were late last night and missed dinner, and you said you'd be working late for the rest of the week… So, I thought that maybe we could spend a little time together." She placed a hand on his chest and began to gently push him back. "Have a meal, just the two of us."

Anko pushed Kakashi back to the chair. Smiling he sat down. "I see," he said. "I hate to point this out, after you went to all the trouble of preparing this, but you forgot some chopsticks. There's only one pair."

Anko laughed and shook her head. "I did that on purpose." She sat down in his lap, straddling him. She leaned over the dish, and used the chopsticks to snag a piece of sushi. "I was hoping that I could feed you… Like this," she pulled down Kakashi's mask and popped the piece of sushi into his mouth. "And then maybe you could feed me… Like this." She took his hand and guided it into the bowl of strawberries. Kakashi took one out and held it up to her mouth. Anko grinned at him impishly. She licked the strawberry, sucked the chocolate off the tip, and then bit down. She looked down at Kakashi and raised her eyebrows.

Kakashi smiled. "Where are the girls?" he asked innocently.

"Oh, I sent them off on an errand." Anko leaned forward and nibbled his ear. "They shouldn't be back for an hour or so," she whispered.

Kakashi reached up, turned his head and kissed her passionately. Anko pulled back, and still grinning, fed him another piece of sushi. "I have to say," he said smoothly, "That this is turning out to be the best lunch I've had in awhile." He raised one eyebrow and looked at her. "I do have one small question… Why are you wearing the robe?"

Anko smiled slyly. "Well," she said getting up. "I was thinking, that if we just happened to finish lunch early we could re-enact chapter twelve from Make-out tactics." She unbelted the robe and let it slide to the floor. Underneath she was wearing a French maid costume. She grinned at Kakashi and did a slow pirouette. "Well?" she asked in a sexy voice. "What do you think?" she stepped back over and straddled his lap again. "Are you still hungry?"


Want to read more? The whole story starts here: Prologue

Thanks again :iconkiko-burza: and :iconspadiekitchenqueen:!!!

-Cas
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Title: Kiss and Make Up
Summary: First kisses are usually thought of as romantic, but that doesn't mean they always have to be. Takes place when Neji and Tenten are both six and at the Academy.
Rated: K

X

“Now isn’t there something you want to say?” Iruka prompted, gently nudging Tenten forward.
The six year old folded her arms and shot a glare at the small boy only a few feet away from her. Neji was glaring back, his white eyes now further emphasized by a large black mark directly under his right one. Tenten didn’t even bother hiding a smug grin at her handy work.

“No.” Tenten said promptly, stomping her foot slightly as Iruka sighed deeply. The other teacher, a new woman she didn’t know well, mirrored Iruka’s body language as she stood by Neji.

“Come on, Tenten, you don’t want to hurt your classmates, do you? I know you’re mad…” the woman started only for Tenten to narrow her eye’s further and point accusingly at the boy.

“He started it! He said I was stupid and that Lee was stupid and I’m not sorry I hit him! I’m just sorry you two stopped me from giving him another black eye!”

“You should be grateful they came when they did.” Neji said, his voice soft and cold. “After all, one lucky hit should not be considered victory.”

“Is that right?! Well I’ve always had good luck, so how ‘bout another go, Hyuga?!” Tenten would have leapt forward if Iruka hadn’t grabbed her around the waist and picked her somewhat off the ground, setting back firmly about a foot, with his hands on her shoulders.

“Tenten, that’s enough! Both of you!” he was one of the few teachers not afraid to scold Neji and the small boy hated it. His eyes seemed to glow with the intensity of his anger, that only slightly dimmed compared to Tenten's. “Now I will not have this kind of immature behavior going on in my class. Now both of you apologize, or it’s going to be worse when I call…”

“I bet Ojisan won’t make me apologize.” Tenten muttered more to herself than anyone else. Guy emphasized the need to get along with people, and she knew he wouldn’t exactly be happy with her. But he had also told her to always stand up for herself and her friends. And there was no way she was going to let anyone, not even a ‘genius’, push her around.

Iruka’s sigh was even deeper this time and far more exasperated.

“Something tells me, Guy, isn’t the person to take your cues on apologizing from, Tenten.” he almost muttered before his voice took on a much more authoritative tone. “This isn't up for debate. Both of you will show some maturity, shake hands, and let this go, or we can go to the office and you'll miss the rest of class.” he said, then shot a look at Tenten. "But don't think that means you're getting out of the homework."

There was a moment of silence as the two children stared at each other, both waiting to see who was going to go first. Tenten sighed. She didn’t want to make the teacher’s mad. Sure she wanted to punch Neji in the face again, but at the same time…she also wanted to go back to class. That and being the first one to make a move would really get under Neji’s skin. Before she could move though, he’d already brought his hand up and extended it towards her as she blinked, staring at it.

“It’s your turn, Tenten.” Iruka gave her another gentle nudge.

Tenten continued staring at the hand, her face getting redder. She knew Neji wasn’t sorry. She could see it in his eyes. He wasn’t sorry and neither was she. But now he’d made it look like he was being good and she was just being stubborn. Even if she’d had the same idea, it still made her grind her teeth that he beat her. Then a sudden thought raced through her mind and her brown eyes widened.

She’d heard a phrase once before. Just a few words that someone had hastily said to quell a fight. And while she wasn’t a believer in the fact girls had certain things, she also knew that Neji, in fact, still was.

Suddenly she smiled and nodded.

“Okay. Neji…I’m sorry.” she took his hand and before either the teachers or Neji could move she leapt forward, grabbed his face between her hands, and planted a kiss right on his lips that literally smacked when she pulled away with a dramatic ‘mwah!’

Both teachers and Neji stared in absolute shock as Tenten smiled.

“I thought maybe it’d be better to ‘kiss and make up’ instead of just shaking hands.” her smile couldn’t have been more innocent if she’d been wearing a halo, and both teachers instantly seemed to turn in her favor with a laugh, smiles and comments mostly to themselves about how ‘cute’ kids could be.

As they started to lead them into class though, Neji’s face had yet to change much, except that now it was bright red and had a hint of horror.

Tenten shot him another sweet, yet sinister, smile when the teachers weren’t looking.

She didn’t believe in cooties, but it sure helped that he did.

END
Title: Kiss and Make UP
Summary: First kisses are usually thought of as romantic, but that doesn't mean they always have to be. Takes place when Neji and Tenten are both six and at the academy.
Rated: K


Request drabble for :iconchi-chi-z:

So I finally, finally got this done! I can't believe how long it took me to get this done and I have no idea why it did, but I'm finally getting a ton of stuff done again and I finished it! :D I really hope you like it. I know you wanted it to be their first kiss and I tried to make it romantic in other drafts, I really did! But for some reason it wouldn't work and I couldn't get it to feel right, so I went with a different angle with more comedy and them as little kids. I hope that's okay and you enjoyed it. :hug:

Also Ojisan means uncle and the reference to Guy is from :iconode2sokka: 's idea that Guy raised Tenten when she was a little kid, and that's pretty much become my personal headcannon. :XD:

Anyways, hope you guys liked it.

Naruto (C) Kishimoto
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*~The Panda Princess~*

.:decatbastet:.

Lady Tsunade stared at them with bloodshot amber eyes, seeming absolutely exhausted even though it was barely ten in the morning. "I know that one of you is a jounin and the other two are chuunin, but..." She hesitated, fiddling with the files in front of her, making sure all edges aligned perfectly with each other as well as the sides of the desk before she looked up again. "I'm giving you a D-rank mission today."

Tenten fought back an impulse to twitch. D-rank? She searched her memory, flipping through her team's last few missions in an attempt to remember if any of them had done anything unforgivably horrible. Lee, of course, had been Lee: wildly loud and enthusiastic and himself; Gai, as always, an older version of Lee (or perhaps Lee was, instead, a younger version of Gai?); Neji his unflappable self: strong, silent, with that one vein in his forehead occasionally protruding from suppressed irritation. And as far as she remembered, she hadn't done anything out of the ordinary, either. So
why then the undeserved punishment of a D-rank mission?

To her right, Neji softly cleared his throat. "If I may ask, Lady Hokage -- have we done something wrong?" Although he kept his voice civil and level, his narrowed eyes betrayed his annoyance. If he'd hated any suggestion of failure before, since attaining jounin rank he loathed it even more.

The ever-present Shizune sent Neji a sharp look. The blonde leader of the Leaf, however, gave no hint she'd noticed as she waved one red-nailed hand dismissively. "Not at all," she said airily. "It's just that before Gai left last night for his mission, he specifically asked me to give the three of you this mission. He actually didn't give me a reason why. He just said it would be ... good for you all."

Somehow Tenten doubted that. If she knew Gai-sensei (and, after so many years spent on his team, she liked to think she did; even though she didn't really want to, per se), he'd shouted words like "youthful," "springtime," and other such nonsense. She couldn't really blame Tsunade for not wanting to repeat any of it.

On the other side of her from Neji Lee's wiry body snapped to quivering attention. "Another challenging mission from Gai-sensei!" he exclaimed, the tears he always seemed able to shed so easily streaking down his face. "Please, Lady Hokage, impart to us the nature of our mission so we may enthusiastically complete it to the full of our youthful abilities, and not disappoint our sensei!"

A long sigh escaped Tsunade. She looked down at her hands, folded together on top of her paper-strewn desk, and her knuckles whitened slightly. "The Land of Fire's feudal lord has come to Konoha for a meeting with me. He also intends it to be something of a vacation for his family. And since the family's nanny is recovering from an illness, he is in need of--" Oh no, please don't let her say what I think she's going to say, Tenten thought desperately, "--babysitters for his three young children for the day so he and his wife can have some time alone to tour the village and visit our hot springs."

Lee let out a gleeful shout and jumped into the air, pumping his fist victoriously. "Oh, is Gai-sensei not wonderful for providing us with this opportunity? Could we imagine anything better than to spend our day refreshing our own youthfulness while gaining a better appreciation for the next generation of our beautiful land?"

Well, to be perfectly honest, yes. Yes, she could. And evidently so could the others in the office because Neji, Shizune, and Lady Tsunade all twitched at the same time she did. "Ah..." the Hokage said slowly. "Well." She sat up straight again and spoke in a brisker tone. "You'll have them until later this evening, and you're free to go wherever you wish with them, and do whatever you wish -- within reason," she stressed. "I'm sure I don't need to make myself clearer on that account." Lifting a scroll from her desk, she held it out toward them. "This contains all the information you need. The children's names are Haruka, Akira, and Kohaku -- two girls and a boy. Good luck."

They'd need all the luck they could get. By the sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach, Tenten already knew it.

*~*~*~*~*~*

"We are not watching three children. We are watching four."

Tenten wholeheartedly agreed with Neji's hushed, horrified remark. After less than five minutes in the daimyo's hotel suite, their D-rank mission had devolved into complete and utter chaos. The two youngest children -- Kohaku, three, and Akira, five -- cowered in front of Lee as he rhapsodized to them with terrifying intensity about the wonders of youth and how excited he was to have this mission. The eldest -- Haruka, eight -- sat in the corner, arms crossed scornfully, glaring with dark eyes at her wailing siblings and the chattering Lee.

"This is so gonna be a disaster," Tenten moaned. "Neji. Do something to distract Lee." No response. Glancing sideways, she saw her normally stoic teammate staring at the scene, his pale eyes glassy. Irritation flared inside her. "Neji!" She poked him in the ribs, her elbow as sharp as her voice. He jumped and gave her a startled look. Motioning toward Lee, she snapped, "Do something about Lee, will you?"

The young Hyuuga's Adam's apple bobbed as he swallowed hard. He asked tentatively, "What -- do you want me to do?"

Tenten barely controlled an urge to snarl. "Choke him, gentle fist him, I don't care! Just get that babbling idiot away from those kids!"

With Lee no longer in the way Tenten cautiously approached Kohaku and Akira. Kneeling before them she took a deep breath, trying not to show how nervous she felt. Her trusty weapons' scrolls contained nothing useful for this situation: little kids (especially when the little kids belonged to the Land of Fire's feudal lord) and sharp, pointy things didn't mix. She never carried any sweets, since giving them to Lee at any time was a really bad idea, and Neji didn't like them. So what in the world could she do to win these kids over?

Well, she needed to do something to get things under control. Just as she opened her mouth to say she wasn't sure what, Kohaku peeked up at her from his huddled position. His tear-streaked face suddenly brightened, and he threw himself at Tenten with a delighted cry of, "Panda!"

Squelching her immediate instinct to defend herself against what her reflexes considered a sudden attack, she barely had time to brace herself before a warm little body impacted hers. He snuggled against her chest and tucked his head of thick chestnut curls under her chin. Surprised, she slowly lifted her arms to wrap around the little boy. A moment later, as if by its own will, her right hand began a gentle, rhythmic thumping against the middle of his back in what she hoped was a soothing way.

Lee's wide eyes suddenly appeared in her peripheral vision. "Amazing!" he breathed in a stage-whisper. "Tenten, my springtime flower, I did not know you possessed such an amazing power of motherly instinct!"

Akira crept closer, too, and began investigating the huge scroll strapped to Tenten's lower back. She hummed softly as she lifted the edge, wrinkling her nose as she tried to read the patterns -- necessary to the kunuoichi's ability to summon her weapons -- written on it. "I -- it's not motherly instinct!" Tenten hissed at Lee under her breath. Badly as she wanted to tell the hyperactive twit to shut up, she didn't dare take the chance of scaring the kids again. "I -- he just latched on to me."

"Panda," Kohaku sighed into her neck. "Comfy."

Letting out another delighted sound, Lee shut his eyes, though it did nothing to halt the tears once again streaming down his cheeks. "Tenten, this makes me so happy! You have a gift with children that few others have, and it is! So! Beautiful! I can hardly wait to tell Gai-sensei when he returns from his mission!"

Horror streaked through Tenten as her future flashed before her eyes. If Lee told their team leader that, she had little doubt they -- or at least she, possibly along with (shudder) Lee -- would be assigned more babysitting missions. Unlike jounin Neji who had only been given this mission because of Gai-sensei, they were still chuunin. And chuunin were occasionally called on to take up the slack for the genin when there happened to be an overabundance of D-rank missions. "Lee! Let's just keep it a secret among us, okay? This is just some kind of a fluke." Because for some reason, the kid thinks I'm a panda, of all things--

Haruka suddenly spoke up from the corner in which she'd sequestered herself. "You know, Kohaku is right," she commented. "Those buns of yours make you look like you have panda ears."

"Panda!" Kohaku repeated happily. Leaning away from her, he reached up with his tiny, grimy hands (how in the world had he gotten so dirty indoors?) and tried to bat at her "ears." Tenten involuntarily shied backwards.

Suddenly Neji was there, crouching next to her. He captured Kohaku's hands in his, gently encouraging the little boy to turn toward him slightly. "Her name is Tenten," he corrected softly.

"Panda!" Kohaku insisted, lower lip poking out in a pout. He turned his head up to look at Neji, and his liquid brown eyes widened. "Pretty!" he declared, staring up into Neji's eyes. Without relinquishing his hold on Tenten, he leaned his little face up toward the Hyuuga's, straining to get a better look. "Pretty eyes!"

Akira leaned around Tenten to look up at Neji, at last abandoning the kunuoichi's weapons scroll. "Where'd you come from?" she asked. "Who are you?"

Neji's eyes shifted uneasily from Kohaku to Akira and back. It seemed that now he'd succeeded in drawing the younger children's attention away from Tenten, he had no clue what to do next.

Tenten smiled at the sight and even chuckled a little. "That's Neji," she said. "He's my sparring partner. And this is Rock Lee, my teammate." She grasped Lee's sleeve and jerked him down into a sitting position, hoping the two smaller children would feel more at ease with him if he was on their level.

"Tenten, Neji, and Lee," Akira repeated, looking from person to person. She smiled toothily. "I'm Akira!" she announced proudly. "Haruka, and Kohaku," she said, pointing to her siblings in turn.

Haruka rolled her eyes. "Mother and Father already introduced us before they left," she sighed. Picking up her book again, she ignored them.

All right, Tenten thought analytically. So really all we have to do is watch out for and entertain Akira and Kohaku. Apparently Haruka is good at entertaining herself. So, here's the question: what do we do to entertain a three-year-old and a five-year-old?

Akira leaned toward her brother. "Kohaku! Come on," she wheedled. Her hands opened and closed encouragingly, trying to get her brother to come to her.

The child let out a thin wail and snatched at Tenten. "Nooo!" His little hands fisted into her shirt as he clung even more tightly to her. "I want my Panda!"

Okay. Surely she could handle one small boy for the day. With Haruka able to entertain herself, that left Akira -- and surely between Neji and Lee, the girl would be safe and sufficiently occupied...

*~*~*~*~*

...Or not.

Tenten desperately resisted the urge to slap her hands over her ears, curl up in a corner, and sob until her eyes fell out of her throbbing head. Kohaku still clung to her like a little monkey, arms around her neck and legs around her waist, as his cries quickly turned into ear-shattering shrieks in decibels previously undiscovered by man (or woman). Across the room Akira's grew shriller and shriller as she tried to outshout her brother.

And the trigger for all this bedlam? The simple word "naptime," innocently if fatally uttered by Lee.

Kohaku didn't want to fall asleep for fear his "Panda" would leave him. Akira, trying to exploit the situation, loudly insisted she always had ice cream before her nap. (Thanks to the Hokage's scroll, Tenten knew this claim to be a blatant falsehood; Akira was, in fact, lactose intolerant.) Haruka, beyond naptime as a venerable eight-year-old, kept remarking pointedly and with increasing volume that all she wanted was quiet in which to read more of her book.

Feeling a certain grim sympathy for the daimyo and his wife, Tenten wondered how (or if)they managed to cope with their offspring. Even if the children didn't want to nap, she did. At only one in the afternoon, she already felt like she'd just gotten back from a week-long A-rank mission -- a failed week-long A-rank mission. She slid a glance towards Neji. Far from being his usual unflappable self, he appeared overwhelmed as he stood in one corner, eyes glazed over, jaw taut, the just make it go away! expression she knew so well on his face. If not for her own stress, she would have laughed at him.

Ironically Lee was the only one in the room who seemed calm. "Children!" Assuming a no-nonsense stance he suddenly spoke in that tone which Gai-sensei adopted whenever he wanted to address his students about something of "infinite, youthful importance."

Even Kohaku went silent, little hiccuping sniffles escaping him only every now and then as he turned his red-rimmed eyes toward the younger of Konoha's Green Beasts. "Naptime is one of the most important pursuits ever to be undertaken," he said with a gravity almost shocking considering his usual happy-go-lucky, enthusiastic approach to everything. "It refreshes our inner youthfulness, preparing us to face the rest of the day and whatever trials may later await us. It would be a tragedy indeed to encounter a situation and face defeat, all because we did not rest our bodies and minds sufficiently when we had the opportunity."

Most of the time Tenten considered Lee sweet but annoying; but at times like this, when he waxed so intimidatingly philisophical, she marveled at him. "It's true," Tenten said, hurrying to back up her teammate, since she wasn't sure how much of what he'd said had been understood by the little ones. "And I promise I'll still be here when you wake up, Kohaku," she added gently.

The little boy sniffled and furiously rubbed his eyes. "Promise?" he demanded, his intensity marred with a yawn.

"I promise," Tenten repeated, giving the youngster a gentle hug. "And, because something said three times is absolutely true, I promise I'll still be here when you wake up."

Evidently awed by Lee's eloquence, and with her little brother calmed and reassured, Akira slowly trailed along. After getting them settled in, Tenten closed the door and let out a long, relieved sigh. "Thank goodness," she sighed.

"Hn," Neji agreed fervently.

Lee dropped to the floor and instantly began doing pushups. "I shall do one thousand before retiring for a nap of my own," he said decidedly. In her corner Haruka lifted her eyes from her book to give him a disbelieving stare before snorting softly and resuming her reading.

Since watching him made her even more exhausted, Tenten turned to the only other sane person in the apartment. Tipping her head slightly towards the glass doors giving onto a screened balcony, she raised one eyebrow in a silent question. Neji silently dipped his chin in acquiescence and followed her, closing the door behind them.

"How are you holding up?" she asked in a low tone, seating herself on a plump cushion.

Neji dropped down onto a cushion across from her and assumed a meditative position; but she knew he was listening. He always listened to her, even while meditating. "Hyuuga children are never so uncivilized and--" Neji paused, brow wrinkling as he searched for the correct term.

"Bratty?" she supplied.

"Spoiled," Neji corrected.

"That explains so much," she teased. Snagging another cushion, she placed it behind her and reclined backward onto it. She stared up at the ceiling, enjoying the relative peace as she and Neji fell into the easy banter they always shared when alone.

"Hn." Neji exhaled, a long sound that eased the tension out of her shoulders just hearing it. "Since you do not meditate, Tenten, perhaps you should take this opportunity to sleep a bit yourself. I doubt you'll have another chance until the end of the day."

She moaned. "This has been one of the longest days I've ever suffered through, and it's only one in the afternoon. We still have at least five more hours of this." She peeked inside to make sure Lee was still absorbed in his exercise before speaking again. "When this is finally over, I am going to go prostrate myself in front of Lady Tsunade and beg her never to give us any more of these missions -- no matter how Gai-sensei postures and implores her."

"If you consider the endeavor likely to succeed," Neji said austerely, "I will join you."

Tenten smiled up into the bamboo ceiling. "I'll hold you to that."

They lapsed into companionable silence. Tenten tossed an arm over her eyes, feeling the instant relief in her pounding head at the darkness. Letting out a sigh long enough to rival Neji's, she allowed all her tension to release through her very pores and seep into the cushions beneath her...

...She snapped awake an indeterminate time later to the sight of two wide dark eyes suspended a foot or so above her. Confused, she blinked up at Kohaku, who in turn blinked down at her. How...? Blinking rapidly again to clear her sleep-blurred eyes, she widened her focus. Neji stood above her, the little boy's waist grasped in his hands so he dangled over her in midair -- as though intercepted mid-pounce. "He intended to jump on you," the Hyuuga said by way of explanation. "Onto your ribcage, to be precise."

Embarrassed she hadn't sensed the little boy coming, yet at the same time grateful to Neji for having the foresight to grab Kohaku and keep him from startling her awake (thereby undoubtedly unleashing some particularly nasty instinctive moves on the child),
Tenten sat up. She quickly readjusted her messy hair buns. "Thank you," she murmured, taking Kohaku from Neji's hold.

Instantly, Kohaku snuggled against her, head resting on her shoulder. "Panda," he sighed.

Looking around into the suite's common room through the now-open glass doors, Tenten noticed Haruka still involved with her book and Akira just coming out of the little kitchenette area with Lee, nibbling on a rice ball in one hand and carrying a plate with more in the other. She grinned at the kunoichi, revealing her two endearingly missing front teeth.

"Feel better?" Kohaku asked, looking up at her with those big, brown eyes, completely melting her heart and resolve.

"Yes, thank you. And you?" She ruffled his head of curls.

Kohaku nodded vigorously. "Playtime!" he said, grinning up at her.

Akira stuffed the rest of her rice ball into her mouth, hurriedly set the plate down, and came over, dropping to her knees in front of them. "No!" she objected through her last enormous bite. Turning to Neji, she laced her fingers and held up her hands prayerfully. "Please, please tell us a story?" she begged.

Neji, looking remarkably alarmed (at least for him), turned his pearlescent eyes to Tenten pleadingly. Help!

"Is not the story supposed to come before the nap?" Lee asked, obviously puzzled.

"We didn't get one before our nap!" Akira said cheerfully. "So we get one now, after." Still looking adoringly up at Neji, she tucked herself against his side, nudging and wiggling until she'd managed to get his arm wrapped around her.

The young prodigy opened his mouth, but no sound escaped. He stared down at the girl snuggled against him, looking for all the world like he had no clue what to do with her now.

Kohaku leaned back against Tenten, playing with the hem of his shirt while he, too, stared expectantly at Neji. Even Haruka looked up from her book, obviously interested in what the Hyuuga would come up with.

"What kind of story?" Neji finally found his voice to ask.

"Monsters!" Kohaku requested loudly. "And Panda!" He tugged on Tenten's sleeve for emphasis.

"With a handsome prince!" Akira added happily.

"You're ninja," Haruka stated. "Why don't you tell us about one of your adventures?"

"They're all classified," Neji stated firmly.

Akira and Haruka visibly pouted.

"What's that?" Kohaku asked.

"It means we can tell no one about what happened on our miss-- ah, adventures," Lee explained.

"Story!" Kohaku demanded in surprisingly stentorian tones.

"Right." Neji's eyes darted uncertainly from face to face, his expression an almost comical mix of terror and cluelessness. "A -- story."

"With a handsome prince!" Akira prompted again.

"And monsters, and Panda," Kohaku grinned.

"Right," Neji repeated. "I--"

Akira interrupted. "Every story is supposed to start with 'once upon a time,'" she said authoritatively.

Tenten swallowed the smile twitching at her lips. She knew from painful experience that real life was nothing like a fairytale, but even she was interested to see what stoic, realistic Neji would come up with. (Though she was, naturally, prepared to rescue him just in case. As a last resort, naturally!)

"Of course." Neji cleared his throat, pale gaze (which pretty much mirrored his skin tone at the moment) shifting to stare somewhere over Tenten's shoulder. "Once upon a time, long ago, there lived--" His eyes narrowed slightly, and he seemed to have to force out the next words "--a handsome prince in a far-off castle."

As if it had been rehearsed, Akira and Kohaku "ooh"ed at the same time.

"The prince--"

"Handsome prince!" Akira corrected.

"Hn." Neji glanced down at her, forehead wrinkled slightly. "He was still very young -- a child, not much older than you."

"Oh." Akira nodded. "Not handsome yet. Go on."

Tenten bit her tongue to keep from giggling. She knew she shouldn't be enjoying her teammate's obvious awkward discomfort, nor the harrowed look in his eyes as he groped for something, anything to say to placate the children. But he just looked so -- adorable like that.

"The prince grew up with only one friend, a very dear and close friend -- the only person in the world with whom he could share anything, or do anything and everything. This friend was a little girl, a commoner, but the prince didn't see her that way. He -- he always called her 'Princess.' She wore her hair in two buns atop her head, ones that made her look like she had the ears of a panda, so he called this dear playmate 'Princess Panda.'"

Despite herself, Tenten felt her breath catch in her throat. As heat rushed into her cheeks, she snapped her gaze up from Kohaku's enraptured face to Neji's, whom she could have sworn had been looking straight at her a moment ago. But now he was focused down on Akira as he continued.

"As the years wore on, the prince's father, the king, began to realize something. Not only did the prince's playmate become more and more beautiful as time passed: His son seemed to become more and more attached to this friend." Neji paused for a moment, his free hand curling in a nervous fist against his knee before he continued. "So the king decided he -- he had to do something about it. The girl was not royalty, but a commoner and thus unworthy of his son or the throne of his land. Or so he thought."

Akira and Haruka gasped, eyes widening to the size of Lee's. Kohaku squirmed in Tenten's arms so he could lean closer, little hands fisted into the fabric of his shirt. Even Tenten felt herself shift slightly as she got caught up in the story.

"While the prince was occupied one day, the king called the panda princess to him. She went willingly, since not only was he the king, he was her dear friend's father. When she arrived before him, he sternly forbade her from ever seeing his son again. But since the king wanted to make sure his orders were followed, he had a wicked sorcerer turn the girl into the very thing his son called her: a panda. The king then banished her into a bamboo forest at the edge of the kingdom, also placing a hideous monster on the edge of it to guard her. She could not escape, and no one could rescue her."

Four pairs of eyes filled with tears. Kohaku's hand reached out, snatched up Tenten's arm, and hugged it around him. Feeling her own heart fluttering unsteadily with sadness and sympathy, Tenten glanced over at Lee, since she didn't trust herself to keep staring at Neji. Her green-clad teammate had tears welling into his eyes, though his expression was one of fury, indicating how unjust he felt the king's actions were, even though it was just a story.

"The king knew he could not tell his son the truth about what had happened. So instead he told the prince the girl, an orphan, had been taken in by a family that had moved very far away, to the very most-distant edge of the kingdom. The prince, very much saddened his only friend had left him alone -- the one thing she'd promised never to do -- wanted to follow her, but his father said no. He told him it was too far away, and too unsafe to cross such a vast distance in pursuit. He most strictly ordered the prince to remain in the castle. Though he knew there was nothing he could do to make his son forget his playmate, at least for now, the king determined to do everything he could to bring in other girls, real princesses, to make his son forget about the girl he'd come to -- to truly care for." Neji's eyes lifted, briefly meeting Tenten's before darting away to take in the three childrens' expressions; for Haruka had laid aside her book and left her corner to sit just inside the doorway.

Tenten felt her heart flutter again, but this time it had nothing at all to do with sadness. Did he just...? No. No way. I'm blowing all this out of proportion. It's just a story, Tenten! Don't get so involved, and don't overthink it!</i> Still, though, she found herself focusing her entire attention on him, hoping, hoping he'd look at her again with that expression she'd thought she'd glimpsed before in his eyes...

"The handsome prince," Neji said, smiling slightly at Akira's squeal of happiness, "eventually grew up. He took his aging father's place as general of the kingdom's army, promising he'd do all he could to protect his land, his people, and his father. Even though this was true, at times during his training all he could do was think about his panda princess, the girl he'd lost so long ago but had never, never forgotten. He missed her so much, but knew so much time had passed that by now surely she had forgotten about him."

Has this soft side of Neji always existed? Tenten wondered as the children and Lee let out soft whimpers of sadness. I never knew he was so good with children, and his imagination...!

Neji's long fingers moved, brushing one of Akira's dark brown curls off her enraptured face. "One day, the prince decided to find somewhere new to train. So he set off from the castle without telling his father or anyone else, not wanting to be interrupted. He had a new techn-- ah, some new things he wanted to practice, and he didn't want anyone to see him until he'd perfected them." The slightest hint of red stained his cheeks at that, and he quickly cleared his throat and continued. "The handsome prince kept looking and looking, getting farther and farther from the castle all the while, but he didn't find anywhere suitable until..." He stopped, eyes glinting as he shifted his gaze from face to face quickly.

Tenten found herself leaning forward with the others, eager to find out what happened next. Kohaku hugged her arm even closer to himself, little hands fisted in her white top eagerly as he bounced slightly in excitement. "And?" he prompted.

"'Until' what?" Haruka demanded impatiently. For the first time since Team Gai had met her earlier that day, genuine interest glittered in her eyes and brightened her face.

"Until," Neji continued, face serious, "he came upon a hideous monster guarding a bamboo forest." He paused again, very deliberately, as he waited for their reactions.

Kohaku clapped and squealed excitedly, Lee visibly brightened, and Akira and Haruka gasped and covered their mouths, eyes round and anxious above their hands as they continued to stare impatiently at Neji. Tenten had to resist the urge to pull out a kunai and throw it at him to get him to hurry up -- it wouldn't be a good example for the children. How in the world has he managed to get me interested in this story? I don't believe in fairytales, yet I can't help but hope that he'll find the princess and -- ugh, Neji, will you hurry up?!

Apparently the Hyuuga enjoyed putting everyone else on pins and needles. At last he took pity on them and continued. "Fortunately the monster was sleeping. This made the handsome prince very excited. He thought bamboo forest the perfect place to train, and the presence of the monster--"

"The hideous monster!" Haruka corrected.

"Hn. Yes. The presence of the hideous monster, just added to the challenge. And the prince couldn't resist a challenge -- it wasn't in his nature." Neji's eyes briefly flashed up and met Tenten's again, the hint of a smile lurking in those silvery, hypnotizing depths. "So he sneaked his way past the hideous monster and into the bamboo forest, searching for just the right place to begin his training. He knew he had to be quiet, lest he waken the beast and be caught, but that just made everything seem all the more exciting." His voice hushed slightly on the last part, and this time he who leaned in slightly.

"'Cause the handsome prince couldn't resist a challenge," Akira said knowingly.

"A truly noble and brave man," Lee agreed.

Tenten bit her lip to keep from laughing at the expression Neji's face at that. "Yes," he said flatly. "While investigating the bamboo forest, which had been thus far curiously empty of animals or birds or the like, the prince came upon -- of all things -- a panda."

More squeals of excitement issued from the girls. Kohaku gave a little bounce in Tenten's lap.

"Naturally, this made him remember his lost panda princess. Thinking about her, he became incredibly sad. Finding it difficult to look upon the thing that reminded him most of his childhood companion, he turned to leave, so sad he didn't even know if he was leaving to find another place to train, or the forest in general. He just knew he had to get out of there."

At the same time, Lee, Kohaku, Akira, and Haruka let out cries of protest. Even Tenten's mouth opened as a shocked sound escaped her. Neji held up one hand, shaking his head. "Wait," he ordered softly.

Slowly, they all settled down again, reluctantly heeding his gentle warning.

After reassuring himself that they'd all calmed, Neji continued. "The panda, naturally, recognized the prince. He was older than she remembered -- taller and more handsome than she remembered," he said, smiling down at Akira's suddenly radiant face. "But she felt very, very happy that, somehow, the prince had found her. But then he started to leave, and it made her sad. She could not speak, to she could not tell him who she was. So she did the only thing she could: She followed him, desperate to find a way to make him recognize her."

Tenten realized she was squeezing Kohaku too tightly. She released him, though he still clung anxiously to her sleeve. C'mon, Neji, don't disappoint us!

"The prince realized he was being followed, and turned to face the panda, who stopped in front of him. The two stared at each other for a long time, each sad for their own reasons -- the prince because the panda reminded him of his lost playmate, and Princess Panda because she saw the prince did not recognize her. She knew he had not come to rescue her after all, as she had hoped and prayed he would for so, so long."

Neji wove his story so masterfully, Tenten felt despair grip her heart and twist her insides. Surely that must have been what the panda felt; she would feel like that in the girl's place.

"Unknown to the pair, the monster--"

"Hideous monster!" This time Akira corrected him, scowling ferociously.

"I beg your pardon. The hideous monster had woken, realizing that someone had invaded the domain he protected. Furious and intent on destroying the intruder, he stormed into the forest, tracking the prince to where he still stood with his panda princess."

Kohaku whimpered, tucking himself back against Tenten's chest as he hugged her arm around his chest again, tightly. Akira buried her face in Neji's white shirt, and Haruka (surprisingly) reached out cling to Lee, who clung back with equal fervor.

Smiling reassuringly, Neji rested his hand atop Akira's head and stroked her dark curls. "The prince heard the hideous monster coming, and immediately drew ba--" Cutting himself off abruptly, Neji coughed slightly, almost sheepishly. "Excuse me. He drew his sword and prepared to face the creature to defend himself and the panda, whom he was determined to defend in memory of his lost friend. When at last it appeared--"

"Did it have sharp teeth? And long claws?" Kohaku interrupted hopefully.

"Yes," Neji said, nodding. "All the handsome prince had was his sword, but he faced--"

"Bravely faced!" Haruka half-shouted.

"Hn." Neji blinked. "Yes. He bravely faced off with the monster--"

"Hideous monster!" Akira did shout.

"Pardon me. The handsome prince bravely faced down the hideous monster with nothing but his sword against its sharp teeth and long claws."

Tenten smiled at his exaggerations on the parts the children had insisted upon, the warmth flushing through her having nothing at all to do with the hot little body pressed against her. With Neji finally and fully warmed up to the story and the children, she saw a side of him she'd never known existed. Now she suddenly realized a long-repressed truth: She fiercely, undeniably loved this new facet of his personality -- just as she loved the rest of him.

"A fierce battle ensued between the handsome prince and the hideous monster. They fought, and fought, neither of them gaining the upper hand, until the panda princess could stand it no more. She threw herself upon the beast's back, doing all she could in her clumsy animal form to fight it and help the handsome prince. The prince took advantage of the distraction she'd caused to defeat the vile creature, saving the panda and himself."

The children and Lee burst into cheers and exclamations of victory, claiming they'd known all along that would happen. (Personally, Tenten hadn't seen the part about the panda jumping in to help coming, but it made her appreciate the panda princess and her bravery all the more.)

"With the hideous monster's defeat, the spell the evil sorcerer had cast upon Princess Panda was broken. She turned back into her human self, and even though she too was older -- and more beautiful -- than the handsome prince remembered, he recognized her. So they were at last reunited."

More cheers.

Neji held up his hand. "But that isn't all of the story," he said, once more allowing his gaze to drift from face to face. "Even though his heart nearly burst with the joy of having found his Princess Panda again, the prince also felt deeply saddened, knowing this meant his father had lied to him. He went back to the castle, taking her with him, intending to face down his father." Straightening his shoulders, Neji's eyes turned to
Tenten's again. He said, "Imagine the king's surprise, his fury, when he recognized the girl with his son. Before he could say anything, the handsome prince spoke. He told his father no matter what happened in the past, he would not allow his Princess Panda to be sent away now he'd found her again. He loved her, and wished to marry her at once, because he intended never to be parted her from again -- even in death."

Tenten swallowed hard. Suddenly she had the almost absurd feeling that Neji was no longer telling the children the story -- he was telling it to her.

"The king protested, saying that the girl was nothing but a commoner, unremarkable, with no royal blood or particular talent to recommend her. He claimed it would be shameful, more than shameful, for her to marry someone as important as the prince, the future king. But the prince held firm in his resolve, insisting that he would have no other bride, only his Princess Panda. The king made one last argument, calling it unheard of for the royal lineage to be tainted with the blood of a commoner. The handsome prince replied by saying simply, 'There are some things more important than blood and heritage. Love is one of them. If you will not allow me to marry her, I will renounce my throne and my birthright. Either way, I will marry the woman I love.'"

Tears prickled at her eyes and streamed down her cheeks at the look on Neji's face, the earnestness in his voice when he spoke. Neji, are you...?

"The king gave in to his son's wishes. The prince married his princess. Even though she was known by her name throughout the vil-- ah, kingdom, to the prince, in private, she remained Princess Panda." Neji at last broke eye contact with her. "The end."

Once more, Lee and the children cheered happily, talking over each other in order to be the first to say how they loved the story best. Neji smiled at all of them, a smile that curled his lips, and warmed his eyes -- and Tenten's insides.

The door into the suite abruptly rattled open. The children scrambled away from the three ninja. They tore across the room to their parents, who had returned early, excitedly clamoring about monsters and pandas and princes and the best story ever.

Neji caught her gaze and smiled again. She found she had to agree with the children. Perhaps, she thought with a secret, inward smile, the mission hadn't been as much of a disaster as she'd feared it would be.

In fact, when Neji's hand brushed hers as the three of them bowed to the daimyo and his family before they departed, it had turned out to be a very good day, indeed.

*~*~*~*~*

Tsunade leaned back in her chair and sipped her tea, closing her eyes as she smiled satsifactorily. "Another mission can be marked as a complete success," she sighed.

Shizune still stared at the door, her dark eyes round with shock. "They -- they gave us extra," she whispered.

The blonde Hokage cracked open one eye. "Not just them, though they said that the job Team Gai did with their children was remarkable," she said. "The feudal lord reported that his children were actually sitting quietly when he and his wife returned. Apparently this is a rarity." She sipped at her tea again.

"Did you know that this mission was going to be that much of a success, milady?" Shizune asked. There was a certain note in her voice that sounded dubious, as if she hadn't really believed it would be anything less than a complete and total disaster.

"Sometimes you have to take a risk," Tsunade said knowingly. "A lot of people thought this one was worth it." She smiled smugly. "Besides, I don't think I've ever seen that old geezer so satisfied with himself."

Shizune let out a squeak. "Milady!" she gasped. "Please, I beg you not to let the daimyo let you hear you call him that!"

Scowling, Tsunade opened her eyes and stared up at her elder apprentice. "What are you talking about? I was referring to Hyuuga Hiashi!"

"Oh." Shizune stared down at Tonton for a moment, abashed. But then she looked up again. "So he, too, thought the mission was a success?"

Tsunade nodded. "He gave us a bonus as well," she said, once again feeling smug. "Now that he's been reassured his nephew and Tenten get along well with each other and children, particularly ones as -- ah, hyper as the feudal lord's, I get the feeling it won't be too much longer at all before we hear the announcement of their engagement."

"I didn't even know they were seeing each other," Shizune commented, puzzled.

"Oh, they weren't." Tsunade hesitated, cup halfway to her mouth. Her sharp amber eyes narrowed, and she reviewed a number of things she'd heard through rumors in the village and observed for herself. "Those sneaky little...!"

"They were?"

Sighing, Tsunade leaned back. "It doesn't matter," she said wearily. "As long as everyone's happy and everything's worked out all right -- and Gai doesn't find out I used him as an excuse to send his students on a babysitting mission -- I don't care what has or hasn't happened in the past."

"Excuse me, Lady Hokage, but did I hear you just mention my name?"

Oh no -- he's back early! Tsunade's eyes widened in horror at the glimpse of green and orange, accompanied by that unmistakable voice, coming from the cloud of smoke that had just appeared before her desk. Oh no! Her hand scrambled for her saké drawer as she firmly told herself that making the feudal lord of Fire Country and
the most disagreeable man in Konoha, not to mention two of her best shinobi, happy was well worth any and all headaches Maito Gai could (and would) cause her.

After all, any day where four out of five things went as planned could be counted as a win. Perhaps she'd celebrate by buying a lottery ticket on the way home.

Three months later, during the ceremony in which she wed Neji and Tenten, if the Hokage thought she heard the stoic Hyuuga genius murmur, "Princess Panda," to the weapons mistress, she decided not to comment on the matter. Even if she did hear the reply of, "my handsome prince."

Some things, she decided, were better off left unquestioned.

*~The End~*
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto, nor any places, characters, things, or ideas therein. The aforementioned belong to Masashi Kishimoto, Shonen Jump, Viz Media, TV Tokyo, etc. I am merely playing around in the sandbox for a while, and I will put the characters back unharmed and in one piece when I am finished. I am making absolutely no profit from this fic, it was written for entertainment purposes only, not monetary gain.

Summary: Written for NejiTen Day. As a ninja, Tenten logically knows there's no such thing as a real-life fairytale ending. But when has logic ever been an issue for her, especially when Team Gai in general and Hyuuga Neji in particular are involved? :NejiTen fluff and cuteness:

Rating: K+

Warnings: Very slight violence and cuteness overload. And Lee being - well, Lee.

Pairing(s): Neji/Tenten

Spoilers: None

Author's Ending Notes: I wrote this fic for NejiTen Day, hosted by :iconnejitenplz: and :iconbladedlove: here on DeviantArt. I've been saving this particular idea for something very special, and I don't think it gets more special than that! It was a great deal of fun to write, so I hope it was even half as much fun to read. Thank you so much for checking out The Panda Princess, and I hope you enjoyed it!

Also posted on fanfiction.net (as fyd818): [link]
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Pairing: NejiTen
Words: 2,823
Rating: T (to be safe)


Sun streaked through the open window. It hit the foot of the bed just enough to warm it, but not enough to actually wake the occupants. Despite the early hour, though, one of them was already laying with eyes open.

"Hmmm." Tenten sighed. She snuggled down into the blankets wanting to fall back asleep but finding it impossible.

The arms wrapped around her midsection tightened with the slight movements she had made. Neji's thumb began running smooth circles against her skin as he also began to wake. It was something he always did when the two shinobi lay in a bed together. Tenten knew it was an unconscious habit, but she liked to think he did it to her on purpose.

These types of missions were her favorites. It gave her one-on-one time with Neji that could rarely be found on other more dangerous jobs or even back home in Konoha. Plus the cover of being husband and wife came with the perk of sharing a bed.

She'd never admit it out loud to anyone but she loved waking up in his arms. More than water… more than air… more than her weapons.

"What time is it?" Neji murmured, his mind becoming clearer as sleep grew further away from him.

Blowing her bangs off forehead, Tenten reluctantly pulled away from his warmth and sat up. "Time to get to work." She blew her bangs up again. "We need to get the information and get out before anyone starts to suspect we aren't really…" She shrugged. "… you know, actually married."

He smirked at this. Sitting up on the bed behind her, Neji leaned his chin on her shoulder and followed Tenten's gaze out the window. "Let's get to it then."

-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_

The mission was completed with minimal problems. All the details in their briefing had proven useful in obtaining what they came for. An impromptu public kiss was the only thing needed to save a possible disaster of discovered identities.

It was dark before they stopped for some rest on the journey home. Neji didn't have to say anything for Tenten to understand what he was doing when he veered off the path they'd been running on. Between the two of them camp was set up quickly with both a fire and some basic defense traps set. Dinner was cooked just as fast.

"We've got another three quarters of a day run tomorrow." Neji broke the silence.

"Yeah." Tenten had barely heard him. She was off in her own little world, not yet ready to think about home.  Home meant an empty apartment.

Staring into the flames, Neji nodded at her vague response. They'd been working together long enough for him to realize something was bothering her but he didn't comment on it. She was just like that on return trips. He couldn't blame her; his own thoughts often had to be reined in when they were alone like this without a mission to think about.

Quiet took over the small clearing with only intermittent crackles from the fire disturbing it.

Tenten's shiver broke the pensive feeling around them. The night was getting cold. "I think it's time for bed." She pulled her sleeping bag from her pack, scooted closer to the heat coming off the fire, and lay down.

The traps would be enough to alert them of any trouble so Neji pulled his out as well. He laid it next to hers. Body heat, even indirect body heat, would help keep them both warmer.

"Goodnight." They said in unison.

Tenten let out a giggle which, in turn, caused Neji to smirk. It made him feel better knowing she was getting back to normal. Her blankets shifted when she rolled over to face him. "Night." She smiled at him.

"Hn." Neji closed his eyes but it was some time before he actually fell asleep to Tenten's soft, even breathing. When they arrived home, he would miss that sound at night.

-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_

Neji was the first to awaken the next morning. He was unsurprised to find that he had pulled Tenten, still inside her sleeping bag, to spoon against him. It was happening more and more often on jobs where it was just them. Lingering touches, unnecessary contact, and flushed cheeks were becoming normal for him despite his ever effort to stop.

The sun was low in the sky. If they got started soon they'd get back to Konoha in the early afternoon and maybe have some time to get a bit of training in. Gently he released her body from his and roused her.

Once Tenten got her bearings between her dreams and reality, they packed up and set off at a run.

According to their calculations they'd arrive in the city by about three in the afternoon, but only if they maintained a good speed. Without their other two green teammates it was tempting to slack off on the run. Taking their time meant more time alone together but hurrying meant some time to train before the next mission.

Just before they'd left on this job Tenten and Neji had been working on a new battle strategy which utilized her accuracy and his byakugan in tandem. It would be invaluable if they could get the kinks out, a fact they both understood, so they maintained a vigorous pace.

Their arrival at the gates was met by the watchful eyes of Izumo and Kotetsu. Neji ignored them. Tenten scowled at them. They were too nosy for their own good in her opinion. She disliked the open staring at her and Neji as they said a brief goodbye to each before agreeing to meet in an hour to train. It was a routine the two shinobi always did when they returned home. In Tenten's mind it was a private matter, not something to be gawked at.

"See you in an hour." Tenten said. Neji nodded and took off toward the Hyuuga compound. "Would you two stop staring!" She spun on the guards. They merely returned to their post laughing as they went. Tenten stood for a moment glowering before she too turned to go home.

"Do you think they'll ever figure it out?" Kotetsu asked.

Izumo shook his head. "She already knows. He'll be the one to break, though."

Kotetsu nodded.

-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_

Several days passed. Each of them found Neji and Tenten training hard in their clearing. The new combination was beginning to work nicely and would soon be usable to battle.

"Hey, Neji," Tenten called out from her perch in a nearby tree. "Why don't we try it a couple more times before we go grab dinner?"

"Hn."

Tenten got back into her opening stance and started the movements. Neji followed suit to be her counterbalance. Part of the sequence required her to be up in the air. Just as she was about to release her weapons, a shout startled her. "NEJI! NEJI!" Ino screamed out at the companions from across the way. From her position in the air Tenten could see her friend running toward them. "NEJI!"

The distraction caused the duo's pattern to be broken and Tenten fell to the ground with a graceless thud. Neji ignored the new presence in order to see to Tenten as she lay in the grass dazed. "You okay?" He asked as he pulled her up to sit against him.

"Yeah. I'm fine." She responded. "What did you need Ino?" By now her other friend was at their side.

"Sorry about that." Ino scratched her head sheepishly. "I didn't mean to interrupt, but Lady Tsunade just set an undercover mission for me and Neji. The two of us leave later tonight."

"Hn." It wasn't that he disliked Ino; he just preferred working with his regular partner. She didn't try so hard to prove to everyone that they were really married. Thinking about this, he unconsciously pulled Tenten closer to his body, something which did not escape the louder kunoichi's attention.

She pouted at him. "You never hold me like that, Neji."

"Maybe it's because you're too busy glomping people all the time." Neji deadpanned as he stood up, tugging Tenten with him.

Ino laughed. "I guess that's true. I'll meet you by the gates in three hours?"

"Hn."

-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_

Following a quick dinner Neji left to prepare for his mission.

Tenten went home to her apartment. It wasn't until the middle of the night, after hours of tossing and turning in a restless sleep, that Ino's words actually hit her.

What did Neji do when he had to pretend Ino or Sakura or any other kunoichi was his wife for a mission? Did he hold them like he held her? Did they know what it felt like to wake up in his arms? Did he kiss them? Tenten had never really thought about it before.

It hurt her heart thinking about all the possibilities of where he was or what he was doing with the others. She wanted Neji all for herself. She wanted him to only hold her; to only touch her.

A sigh escaped her lips. Until Neji returned to the village, Tenten knew sleeping would not be easy.

-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_

Neji and Ino's mission went smoothly.

They were in and out of the target village in less than two days. The return trip is what gave Neji his headache. He had commented to Ino that he wanted to get home before nightfall so he could sleep in a bed again.

She had loudly responded it was his own fault; he could have shared the hotel bed with her. "But no. You chose to sleep on the floor instead. Don't complain to me. What would it have looked like if a pair of newlyweds got a room with separate beds?"

He knew she was right, of course, but it never sat well with him to share a bed with anyone besides Tenten. "Hn. Let's just get home."

"After you, leader," she said before taking off at a run in front of him.

-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_

Things were back to normal for the two shinobi after Neji returned. Tenten met him the next day for training. They worked some more on the tandem strategy before working through the regular target practice and kaiten exercises.

A few more weeks passed with sporadic missions with Gai-sensei and Lee mixed in with training days. It was the pattern of their lives. Nothing being the same and yet being alike at the same time.

It was during a short break one afternoon that Neji learned about one of Tenten's upcoming missions. "We leave in a couple of days. It's going to be kind of weird, though." She contemplated out loud.

"How so?"

"Well… I've never pretended to be married to anyone besides you. I'm not really sure what I'm supposed to do." She laughed. "With you it's just comfortable. I'm just myself. With Shino? I don't know." Her shoulders shrugged.

Neji averted his eyes from her when he responded. "Just be you. You'll be fine."

Although he wasn't so sure himself. It was his job to be her pretend husband. He didn't want to think about someone else stepping into the role. Someone else having to hold her, touch her, in ways that may be necessary to maintain cover. It didn't sit well with him.

"Yeah," was all Tenten could reply.

-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_

They'd continued on training until the day she was leaving. Their new attack was ready to be used in battle. They were absolutely in sync. In fact, they'd hardly left each other's sides in order to perfect it.

Neji walked with her to the gates where she was to meet up with Shino. It felt odd having her leave with someone else. He knew she'd been on missions without him before, but not with just one other person… a male person at that.

Once Shino and Tenten were out of sight he decided to go train on his own for a while rather than return home. In turning toward the clearing his eyes caught the sight of Kotetsu and Izumo whispering to each other while staring in his direction. As soon as they realized Neji saw them they stopped talking and smirked at him.

"Haven't figured it out yet, huh?" Kotetsu teased.

"…" Neji had no idea what he was going on about.

"It's nothing." Izumo said.

"…Until someone else sweeps her off her feet of course!" Kotetsu broke in. "You better get with the program Hyuuga. You can never tell what other guys are trying to do with her."

"…" Neji still had no clue what was happening, but he was tired of dealing with the two guards. He turned and headed off without another glance.

-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_

The kaiten practice went flawlessly, but when Neji got to his meditation time something was off. His mind could not focus. It kept drifting off to different things.

What had Kotetsu meant? What were other guys trying to do to Tenten?

And suddenly it clicked. Izumo and Kotetsu thought he was in love with her.

He smiled at the thought and got up to leave the clearing. There was no way he was in love with Tenten. She was his best friend and teammate, nothing more. Neji continued with some more kaiten practice until it grew dark. Then he headed back to the Hyuuga compound for the night.

It wasn't until he lay in bed that he realized that the something he had felt was off earlier came back.

His white eyes were open and staring at the far side of his bed. Although Tenten had never been next to him in it he knew that was the off sensation. Despite his own denial of it, Neji wanted her. He wanted her next to him, wanted to be the one touching her. Not Shino.

Not Shino.

Neji sat bolt upright.

Tenten was currently in some other village sharing a bed with Shino. She was pretending to be his wife and he her husband. Was she laying there next to him in some hotel bed? He had told her to just be herself. Would she willingly crawl into the bed of another man, pure intentions or not?

His feet hit the cold floor. He was dressed and out the door running before his mind could fully process what he was doing. As he reached the main gate, both guards stirred.

"Would you look at that?" Izumo laughed.

Kotetsu was leaning against his shoulder to keep from falling over in amusement. "Guess he finally figured it out!" He called out after Neji's rapidly disappearing form. "And you were right. He did break first."

-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_

The door slamming open startled Tenten awake with a small shriek. On the floor next to the bed she was in Shino sat up awake as well. They both grabbed a nearby weapon and prepared to strike their attacker only to drop the weapons in pure shock.

Standing there, byakugan activated, was Neji.

Tenten jumped up from the bed and pulled him inside. "What are you doing here? You're going to blow our cover."

He stumbled forward. Taking in his surroundings, he noticed Shino sitting on the floor, blankets scattered around. Tenten sat back down on the messy bed. Neji audibly sighed. "Stupid Kotetsu. Stupid Izumo." He leaned against the wall behind him, banging his head, and slid to sit on the floor exhausted after his run.

The mission partners were more confused than ever.

"…" Shino wasn't sure where to begin.

Tenten did, though. "What are you taking about? What do those two have to do with you barging in here in the middle of the night?"

When he was finally able to catch his breath Neji stood back up. Moving toward Tenten he reached out and grabbed her arm, tugging her to him. He wrapped himself around her burying his face in her neck. "I didn't want someone else pretending to be your husband." He whispered in her ear.

"How does that have anything to…"

"They got me paranoid enough to realize Shino might be holding you in his arms, that you'd be sharing a bed with someone else. I didn't like it." His eyes closed when he leaned his forehead against hers. "I want to be the only one you do those things with."

Tenten's arms embraced him. "You never had to worry." She leaned up and kissed his cheek.

-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_

Neji's sudden epiphany and subsequent freak out had caused the cover to be blown. And because of this, it was him that Lady Tsunade was chewing out. Shino and Tenten had been scolded, too, but Neji got the brunt of the assault.

Once they were dismissed, Neji grabbed Tenten's hand and directed her toward the door. Just as they passed the threshold, Neji's ears picked up the start of Lady Tsunade and Shizune's conversation.

"I told you he'd be the one to break first."
Phew! :phew: I wasn't sure I would be able to finish this in time. This is my entry for :iconsorceress2000:'s NejiTen Month 2012.

I tried a slightly different style in this story. Instead of only one point of view, which I normally do, I attempted a more well-rounded perspective. I think it turned out alright. Let me know what you think. :D


All Naruto characters/references (c) Masashi Kishimoto
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Storyboard style Illustration from the Fan Novel Konoha Children's Crusade

Naruto characters (c) Masashi Kishimoto

From Chapter 14

“Heavenly rotation!” roared Hiashi as he spun, releasing chakra. The eight, sixteen, thirty two and sixty four strikes all ended up being deflected by Hiashi’s eight trigrams Heavenly rotation jutsu.

Hiashi stopped spinning and faced Hinata. “Eight trigrams, Vacuum cannon!” he shouted.

The crowd screamed and dove out of the way. The maelstrom of air took out the main doors and a good chunk of wall. A few stray pieces of plaster fell to the floor in crumbling chunks. Hinata stood on the middle of the floor, streaked with dust and dirt and slowly rotating to a stop. Surrounding her was the telltale circle of a successful Heavenly Rotation jutsu. “So, you have mastered that technique as well,” said Hiashi.

Hinata gave him a nod. “Neji did have to coach me quite a bit with that one.”

“And the previous jutsu? The divination sixty four strikes with the chakra whips?”

“She came up with that one when she was thirteen Hyuga-sama!” Naruto called out proudly. “She saved our lives with it when we were on a mission!”

“Are we having a nice time sitting here talking about our new fancy jutsu?” asked Junko with false cheerfulness. “Good lord Hiashi, how long do you intend to drag this out? How many times do I have to say it?” said Junko her voice dripping scorn. “Finish the girl.”

The smallest twitch flashed across Hiashi’s face. “I will ask you one last time Junko-sama to please keep a civil tongue. I am still the head of the Hyuga clan, and this challenge was never in doubt.” He made a series of hand signs. “Eight trigrams, twin vacuum palms!”

He shot the two air blasts at Hinata. As she dodged them, his hands flew through another series or hand signs. “Eight trigrams, vacuum morass!” He slammed his hands on the ground. A thick white fog rolled out from him and rolled towards Hinata.

She landed and there was a thick slurping noise and her feet sank into the fog. She pulled and tugged and barely managed to extract one foot. He father smiled at her. “I will admit I am surprised by your progress. You have shown more promise this day than I would have ever thought possible. But in the end you must accept your fate. This challenge of yours was hopeless.” Hinata closed her eyes and hung her head.

He looked at her a little sadly as he made the hand signs. “Eight trigrams, Vacuum air…” He flinched.

Something moving very fast blurred by Hiashi’s head. It swooped around in a tight arc and dove at him again. He thrust out a palm to block it but it swerved around and beat its wings at his face. Hiashi stumbled back and raised his arms to protect his head. It’s wings and claws left deep gouges in his flesh. Hiashi stumbled back and stared.
It was a hawk made of water.

It cupped its wings and headed up to what remained of the roof. Hiashi watched open mouthed as it perched.
It was his byakugan that saved him. Three more hawks swooped in, two high and one low. He dodged the first, hit the second with a palm strike, and tried to jump over the third. The low hawk rolled in its flight and grazed him with a wingtip. The wing drew a fine red line through his pants and skin.

The second hawk, when hit, lost its shape. It turned into a roiling mass of water just hovering in the air. Quickly, wings stretched out of the ball, and a head and tail appeared as well. The new formed hawk flapped hard to gain some height. Naruto, Kento and Riku began cheering. They whistled, yelled and stomped their feet.

Hiashi was holding his own against the four hawks. He had entered a jukken stance and was trying to imitate Hinata, using jukken as a defensive technique. The hawks twisted and spun around him. They would dive and fly headlong into his body. Hiashi’s robe was getting covered with growing red spots from all the small wounds he was receiving.
He was attacked again. One hawk for each of the four cardinal directions. Hiashi was a blur of speed as he lunged out with feet and hands blocking each of the birds around him.

The fifth hawk caught him. It had flown up as high as it could and entered a power dive straight down. Hiashi barely had the time to step back. The hawk spread out its wings and cracked him across the crown of his head.
Hiashi staggered but did not fall. His hands shot out. “Eight trigrams twin vacuum palms!” The dual fountains of air bored towards Hinata.

Three of the hawks broke from harassing Hiashi and darted in front of her. They splashed together and formed an angled ramp of water in front of her. The air vortexes hit the ramp and angled up into the roof causing another smattering of debris to fall down. The remaining two hawks darted in at Hiashi. He spun making a small Heavenly Rotation. Rather than crash into it they back beat their wings and pulled up short. The ramp re-formed into hawks again. Two of them began to fly in a pattern around Hinata while the third went to circle Hiashi.

Hiashi stopped his Kaiten and warily looked up. “You have water nature chakra? I never knew that.”

“You keep telling me that a good leader must be willing to learn. There are a lot of things about me that you do not know Father,” said Hinata quietly.

Hiashi nodded sadly. “I hope someday that you will allow me to rectify that… regardless of how this challenge ends.”

Hinata cocked her head and smiled listening to Naruto’s cheers. “It’s a possibility,” she admitted quietly. “But I have made promises to people very important to me…” She looked up at her father. “These are promises that I intend to keep for as long as I live.”

Hiashi nodded once. “Noble sentiments. However, I also have made promises.” He gestured at the fog surrounding Hinata’s feet. “You are aware that you are trapped? I assume that you only have a limited amount of water to work with otherwise you would have made more than five birds.” He looked around at the circling hawks. “This would have been much more impressive if you had shown the full extent of your abilities earlier.”

“I didn’t want to hurt you Father, if I could avoid it,” said Hinata calmly.

“Nor I you,” replied Hiashi. He sighed. “It cannot be helped.” His hands made the tiger sign. “Burning hands, vacuum palm.”

Hiashi exhaled out a thin stream of flames. It wrapped around the vortex of the vacuum palm and made a miniature fiery tornado. The blaze snaked toward Hinata.

The two hawks guarding her splashed together and formed a thin shield of water surrounding her. Hiashi played his makeshift flamethrower over it.

The three hawks circling him dove and struck. He punched out at the first but the second and third raked his back, tearing long bloody strips from his robes.

The hawks wheeled and and swooped in again. Again Hiashi was struck, this time in the left shoulder. He winced but the flames continued to bathe Hinata’s water shield.

The burning twister began to break through. Her shield was boiling away. One of the Hawks broke away from her Father and added it’s water to her shield. Hiashi was now easily able to fend off the remaining two hawks. “You see the problem now don’t you?” he said conversationally to her over the roar of the flames. “You must reduce your attack power to defend, but all the while I am eating away at your defenses. Soon you will run out of material.”

Hinata’s shield began to boil away again. She added another hawk to keep the water barrier protecting her whole. Hiashi in response used his other hand to add a second flame jet to his fire technique. Both of the blazing tornadoes began to sizzle away at her shield. With his byakugan, Hiashi was able to dodge the remaining hawk with ease.

Hinata was beginning to sweat. She was surrounded by clouds of superheated steam. Her injuries were beginning to ache as she used all her chakra to push the water against her father’s flames.

She added the last hawk to her shield. There was a hissing sound as the last of the wall boiled away.

Hinata flinched as the flames flickered towards her. She smelt the stink of singed hair. Mercifully the fires stopped.
She panted and beat out a small fire on her flak jacket.

Hiashi stood and smiled at her sadly. “I triumph,” he said quietly, “Because I am willing to sacrifice. I sacrificed my body in order to win this victory. I am willing to take a few wounds in order to destroy your defenses.” He studied her carefully. “Sacrifice is another thing that you will have to learn.”

“Then why didn’t you teach me before?” she asked. She fixed him with her stare. “Why couldn’t you have done it earlier?”

Hiashi shifted uncomfortably. “We will discuss this later. Yield now, this challenge is all but over.”

Hinata shook her head stubbornly. “This challenge is not over. I will not yield.”

Hinata’s stand Links:
Hinata’s_stand_storyboard_part_1
Hinata’s_stand_storyboard_part_2
Hinata’s_stand_storyboard_part_3
Hinata’s_stand_storyboard_part_4



Link to full Chapter:
Chapter_14_part4

Artist's Note:

Cas must have been a good boy this year! I got a set of sharpies in my stocking that were just begging go be used.

So... I've been having this tempation to try to turn the Konoha Children's Crusade into a fan anime for a while now.I keeping thinking up cool visuals and I actually see most of it as a cartoon as I write it... I keep telling myself it would just be a cool little project to try on the side.

And I'll get right to it after I win the lottery, win a Nobel prize, get a pony, and Summer Glau starts sending me love sonnets.

Seriously... Who am I kidding?
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                                        *******

"I've got to hand it to Naruto," thought Shikamaru. "He's come a long way. Seven years ago when he first became Hokage, he would have thrown these guys out a window. He's showing remarkable restraint."

"… So you see Hokage-sama The Daimyo of the land of fire is most concerned about the drop in revenue from the Hidden Leaf village. Each year shows lower gains and thus a lower return on the percentage paid to the Daimyo." The old man delicately coughed into a lace handkerchief.

Naruto sighed and rubbed his temples. "Look, I don't know how we can just keep dancing around and around the same subject. We are at peace for the first time in decades. The five great nations and almost all of the smaller ones are at peace with one another. We have all negotiated our treaties so that we each have more than enough to support ourselves." Naruto gestured out the window. "Yes, the income of the village is slowly dropping year by year. What about other sources of income from the Fire Country? How much more do the farmers produce now that their fields aren't being burned? How much more do the craftsmen produce now that their shops are not being destroyed? How much more do the merchants make now that they don't have to hire as many guards as they used to, how much more when their caravans aren't being raided?"

The older ambassador frowned. "There is much more at stake than just money Hokage-sama. I remember when the Fire nation was the strongest of all nations. Our enemies would tremble with fear at our strength. What has happened to our prestige?"

"I would much rather be happy in this world surrounded by friends, than be lording over enemies, always fearful for the next attack," said Shikamaru, cleaning his fingernails with a kunai. "Personally I've seen enough of war."

"Yes... Nara-san. You are well renowned for being very... cautious." The old man's lips twitched in a smile.

Shikamaru laughed. "Heh, I think you mean to say I'm a coward, right?" He went back to cleaning his nails. "I'll be the first to admit it, I find fighting to be too troublesome to make a habit of it... and yet... I served in the fourth great ninja war. I watched many brave men and women die trying to protect the people of this land. I saw unspeakable horrors on the battlefield." Shikamaru smiled. "And yet... I did not see you... So, if I am a coward... then what does that make you I wonder?"

The old man's face turned crimson, his mouth turned into an angry slash. Before he could speak, Naruto raised a hand and spoke to Shikamaru. "Shikamaru please, I am certain that our honored guest meant no insult to you." Naruto turned to the old man. "Please accept my humblest apologies. However, Shikamaru brings up a valid point. While conflict may be profitable in the short term, its long-term cost far outweighs the benefits. Look there..." He gestured to a corner of his office where Sasuko and Fugawari sat playing with paper, ink, and brushes. "During war they pay the future price. They pay it in fear, in a lost childhood, and if they are unlucky enough, they pay it in blood. You do not know what you are suggesting gentlemen. Our world is in a legendary period of prosperity right now. I will not jeopardize it because you want to return to the days of glory."

The old man opened his mouth one more time as if to speak, but he shut it quickly when the young man closed his fan quickly with a snap. "Hmmm..." said the young man. He had a long delicate face, pale skin, and long black hair. His eyes were hidden behind a pair of tinted glasses. "You have given us much to consider Hokage-sama. We will report what you have said to the Daimyo and we will ponder your wisdom."

Naruto studied the young man. "I don't believe we have met before, may I ask your name?"

"I am known as Daikiro, Hokage-sama."

"Do you have a family name?"

"Just Daikiro, Hokage-sama. I came to the Daimyo's household as a foundling child. Through hard work I have been recently attached to the Daimyo's retinue."

"Well, Daikiro. I am pleased to meet you. I am sure we will have many productive discussions."

"I am certain of that Hokage-sama," Daikiro said giving a small smile. "In fact I believe that it may be the right time to have one of them right now." Naruto leaned back in his chair. "I have had reports from many trusted sources of bands of thieves roaming the borders of the Fire country. They seem intent on attacking other nations, but mysteriously they do not attack within our own borders. I have heard of towns being sacked, outposts destroyed, even military storehouses emptied. Yet the moment that any news of these mystery marauders seems to enter official channels of the Fire country it appears to disappear. Now why is that?"

Naruto frowned. "I have no answers for you at this time. To tell you the truth, we have only recently found out about these bandits ourselves."

Daikiro tapped his closed fan in the palm of his hand. "Well, I should not have to tell you about how this lack of information appears to an outsider. Perhaps the Hidden Leaf village skill set is waning?"

"I have an inquiry of my own to make ambassador," said Shikamaru. "Why have we been cut out of the loop for even the most basic announcements of changes made by the Daimyo? I had to discover about the change in the ambassador to the Nation of Wind through my wife on her last visit home. Should we include the Daimyo on our list of intelligence gathering targets?"

Hanzo coughed. "That was a mere formality. The previous ambassador had unfortunately passed away from a sudden illness. A sudden suspicious illness I might add, that he happened to contract in the Hidden Sand village."

Daikiro snapped open his fan again and wafted air across his face. "It was such a shame to lose such a good man. He was exceptional at gathering information. How unfortunate it was that he died before he could send back his latest dispatch. I can only imagine what he had discovered that was worth his life to silence him."

"And once again our discussion turns back on this familiar path..." Naruto rubbed his face with his hands. "Look, we have treaties with all the major villages right?" Daikiro smiled faintly and opened his mouth to speak, but Naruto motioned him to silence. "Let me guess... You were about to say that a treaty is worth only the paper it's written on." Daikiro gave one curt nod with his head. Naruto smiled coldly. "As I said, I tire of having this same discussion over and over again." Naruto sat up straighter in his chair. "Even if there were no treaties between our villages ensuring the peace I would still trust the other villages not to attack us. Do you understand why?"

"Please Hokage-sama, enlighten me."

"When we fought the fourth great shinobi war, we realized that were weren't that different from them. Those "evil" ninjas from the other villages... they fought beside us, they shared our food, shared our jokes, shared and our stories. We died protecting them, and they died protecting us. We became friends. In many cases, more than friends. Do you know how many shinobi from other villages now live here in the Hidden Leaf village because they are in a relationship with someone here? Do you know how many Ninjas who still owe their allegiance to the Hidden Leaf village have settled elsewhere to raise a family?" Naruto spread his arms wide. "What possible reason could the Hidden Cloud or the Hidden Sand have to attack us? They would be attacking their own people. Why would we want to do the reverse?"

"May I say Hokage-sama; I am very impressed by your faith that all other villages desire peace as much as you do," Hanzo rasped. Naruto threw his hands in the air and slumped back in his chair. He muttered something under his breath. "I didn't quite catch that Hokage-sama?" the old man inquired.

"I just said that Shikamaru had a matter that he wanted to discuss with you while you were visiting, and I see no reason not to bring it up now." Shikamaru grinned. He had caught the last part of Naruto's mutter, which sounded suspiciously like "... stubborn, stupid old fool."

"Yeah, I wanted to discuss the lack of cooperation and the lack of intelligence sharing that has been happening with the Daimyo's own guard. If I were a more polite man, I would ask if we had done something to bring us out of favor with the Daimyo. However, since we are all busy men here, I am just going to ask... What the hell is going on?" Hanzo's eyes widened in shock at Shikamaru's statement, but Daikiro just smiled faintly and nodded his head. "You may not like us, you may not agree with us, but that is no reason to put us and yourselves at risk by keeping us in the dark. If you have information why the hell aren't you sharing it?"

Daikiro stepped forward. "Simply put, we do not know who to share it with."

"I would think the Hokage would be a good place to start," said Shikamaru sarcastically.

"Would it?" Daikiro paced in a small circle, his hands clasped behind his back. "From our perspective the Hokage has shown that his desire to trust outsiders has made him quite blind to threats aimed toward the Leaf village." He stopped pacing. "External threats... and internal ones as well," Daikiro glanced over his shoulder to where Sasuko and Fugawari were playing. Seated next to them, his back leaning against the wall, was Sasuke.

"I know you aren't insinuating that Sasuke isn't trustworthy," Naruto growled. "Because I would consider such an insinuation, to be a slight on my honor... and I am afraid that I would have to ask you to step outside to settle that matter."

"Nevertheless, I must insist." Daikiro smiled. "If it makes you feel any better, just consider this information to be "top secret" and the fewer people that know about it the better."

Naruto slammed both hand on his desk and stood up slowly. "That man," he said, pointing at Sasuke, "has paid thrice over for his crimes. He has earned my trust and my respect. He has saved my life, the lives of my wife and children, and the village from complete destruction. He is my friend. If you think that I will stand here while you insult him in this manner..." There was a cry from the corner. Naruto turned his head and saw Sasuko looking at him, frightened at his rage.

"Hokage-sama," said Sasuke, getting up slowly and brushing himself off. "I think I will take Sasuko and Fugawari outside to play for a bit. The fresh air out there will do them good." He took each of them by the hand. "Come boys let's feed the fish in the Koi pond, maybe I'll get you a snack."

Hanzo sneered as they were leaving. "Hmpf. The infamous Uchiha Sasuke, reduced to a nursemaid." Sasuke stopped and caught his eye. Hanzo felt his soul shrivel. Sasuke smiled.

"Be thankful I am a nursemaid these days," said Sasuke in a calm voice. "The old Sasuke would have carved out your liver and made you eat it." He closed the door quietly behind him with a click.

"Are you going to allow that monster to insult a person of my stature like that?" Hanzo huffed.

Naruto smiled. "You are right. I will suggest that next time he cuts out your lungs instead. Maybe then you will learn not to waste your breath on pointless insults."

"It was a mistake for you to have unsealed his chakra. That man is a dangerous, unstable monster.  If you continue to allow him to walk around unchecked like that he is liable to kill someone," said Hanzo grouchily.

"He has earned my trust and my thanks. That man is a hero, even if everyone else refuses to acknowledge it."  Naruto turned to Daikiro. "Well? Will you kindly tell us this top-secret information? Or would you like to peek behind the curtains first to make sure no one is hiding there and listening?"

Daikiro bowed his head. "My message is simple Hokage-sama. The enemy has infiltrated your village. The enemy is here as we speak, and his goal is your death and the destruction of the Hidden Leaf Village." Daikiro started pacing again. "Do you see our problem now? We do not know whom we can trust here."

"Let's start at the beginning," said Shikamaru. "What proof do you have to support your claims?"

Daikiro stopped and stared at him. "The complete breakdown of communication between the Daimyo and the Hokage for one, as you yourself have said, not a single one of our messages has reached you, don't you find that unusual? I find this be quite telling of some form of enemy action. With all these foreigners, living in the Leaf village it is impossible to know who is an enemy agent. If indeed it even is an outside enemy agent."

"Meaning?" asked Naruto.

"Come now," sputtered Hanzo, waving at himself and Daikiro, "do you really think that we two are the only ones who object to your tenure as Hokage?" He grinned humorlessly. "Do you truly believe that you are loved by every last person in the Leaf village?"

Daikiro sighed. "What my esteemed elder is trying to say with more respect is that you have traitors in your midst." He reached into the fold of his sleeve and pulled out a Konoha forehead protector. "This was found in the remains of a garrison in the Land of Rice Paddies."

"May I?" Asked Shikamaru with his hand extended. He took the forehead protector and examined it closely. "It's either one of ours or a very convincing forgery." He looked up. "I could take it to ANBU headquarters, see if they can figure out whose it is?"

Naruto nodded. "Please do." He turned back to Hanzo and Daikiro. "I don't pretend that I am universally adored, but I find it hard to believe that any ninja from the Leaf village would be carrying out attacks on other nations without orders."

Daikiro shrugged. "I do not claim to know the whole truth. I can only tell you how we have interpreted the evidence. You yourself say that the patrols from the Leaf village have not turned up anything suspicious. What better way to hide than in plain sight, as the patrols themselves?"

Naruto nodded to Shikamaru. "While you are at ANBU headquarters getting that forehead protector examined, could you please have a quiet talk with Kakashi-sensei about any rumors that may be floating around about the long range patrols?"

"Sure thing."

Daikiro smiled. "Ah yes rumors... I was hoping that when we finally met, you might be able to confirm this most troublesome one."

"More bad news?" smiled Naruto. "Let me guess... The Demon Moryo has once again risen from Hell, and once again we need to stop his thousand year kingdom."

"Laugh while you can boy," snarled Hanzo. "We're telling you this for your own benefit."

Daikiro waved him to silence. "What the senior ambassador means to say is that this is but the smallest whisper of a rumor, but we were so disturbed by it that we felt it our duty to tell you."

"So tell."

Daikiro nodded. "This last but most disturbing piece of news concerns a small but very powerful group of mysterious rogue ninja. We have not had any concrete proof of their existence, but we have heard this tale from so many different sources that we fear it is true. It is a tale of cruel, brutal warriors that perform dark rituals to create a powerful elixir that gives them the strength of many men. The rumor states that they are a small group but vicious and without mercy." Daikiro took a deep breath. "I report this to you because I know of your personal stake in this. I am beginning to fear that the Kurokaze has not been destroyed as we have all hoped. I worry that the band is very much alive and appears to be slowly gaining strength."

"The Black Wind? That bunch of maniacs are still alive? Impossible!" said Naruto. "They were crushed three years ago when they attacked this village. Sasuke killed their leader in a duel."

"It appears they have a new leader," Daikiro said softly. "Do you recall how much they prize strength and savagery? They choose their leaders in a trial by combat, a trial that always ends in death. The rumor is that they praise this new leader as the heir to Orochimaru. They claim that he is the last of the Akatsuki. Does that sound like anyone you know?"

                                              *******

Sasuke, Fugawari and Sasuko walked around the pond pointing out their favorite fish. Fugawari liked a huge, pale white koi with golden spots. It was always hungry and would follow you around the pond with its mouth poking above the water, begging for food. Sasuko liked a large, but lean orange koi that was prone to leaping out of the water to catch a tasty bug. Sasuke's favorite was a small black koi with a single dark orange spot on its back. It would just sit and wait, almost invisible in the dark water, except for its spot. When something sparked its interest, it would flash to that side of the pond. The small black koi would make a fine shinobi, Sasuke often thought.

After watching the fish, pulling both boys out of the mud, playing a game of tag, getting Sasuko unstuck from a thorn bush, climbing trees, and getting Fugawari down from a branch where he was trapped. Sasuke decided that he and the boys needed a break. "I think I'm just about ready for a snack," he said patting his stomach and pointing to a pushcart that was serving up rice balls and hot, skewered shrimp. He watched as a happy couple was served up a tray, thanked the owner, and walked off. "Do either of you feel like eating anything?

"Yes please!" yelled both Fugawari and Sasuko. They laughed as they both ran to the cart as Sasuke sauntered up behind.

"Daddy, can we have dango please?" asked Fugawari.

Sasuke smiled. "Only one, and only after you eat some lunch." He turned to the owner of the cart. "Could I have one adult helping and two smaller helpings for the boys please?"

"I'm sorry sir; I think I have just run out."

Sasuke looked confused. "Really?" He pointed to the couple that had just left. "There seemed to be plenty when they made their order."

"I'm sorry Uchiha-san," said the proprietor in a cold voice. "I have really just run out of everything."

Sasuke clenched his fist. "That's… too bad… I guess I will have to find my lunch at another place."

"Daddy I'm hungry," said Fugawari in a pleading voice.

Sasuke turned his back on the proprietor, but asked him anyway. "Do you by any chance have dango, or any other small snack left? Not for me, but for the boys here?"

The shopkeeper gave Fugawari and Sasuko a disgusted look. "Sorry, as I said, I have nothing for you here."

There was a sharp Tak-tak on the paving stones as someone tapped a cane in impatience. "I am so sorry to contradict you Huradi-kun," said a smooth, calm voice from behind the cart owner. "But I believe that if you check the cooking tray to your left you will find just enough rice and shrimp to make two adult and two children's meals." Kakashi leaned over the proprietor's shoulder and smiled at him behind his mask. "Don't worry we all forget things as we get older. Sometimes I'm amazed that I remember to put my pants on before heading out to work."

"Hatake-san," said the shopkeeper, making a nervous little bow.

Kakashi waved away Sasuke's wallet. "Don't worry Sasuke; I'll treat you and the boys right now." Kakashi paid, and everyone headed over to a shady spot under a tree. Sasuke followed, balancing the four trays.

"Boys I want you to say thank you to Kakashi-sensei here," Sasuke said handing out the trays. Both Fugawari and Sasuko mumbled a hurried thank you through full mouths. Sasuke handed a tray to Kakashi, then leaned back against the tree and started to eat himself.

"So Sasuke," said Kakashi, toying with a skewered shrimp. "It looks as though Fatherhood suits you."

Sasuke chewed and swallowed. "It is the most difficult thing I've ever done. It's also the most rewarding." He picked up another mouthful. "How is your family doing Kakashi-sensei?"

"Hmm? Well enough I suppose. Anko keeps redecorating the house every few months, and the girls… well, they just turned seventeen. So of course they know better than their father and don't see any reason why they should ever listen to him." Kakashi sighed.

Sasuke smiled. "Hana's only twelve, but I'm beginning to see a little of that. How's the leg?" asked Sasuke pointing to the cane.

"Oh this?" Kakashi lifted up the cane. "The leg is fine, just a little twinge when it's cold. I keep the cane for the added dignity it gives me. Your wife is quite the surgeon you know."

"Heh, I know." Sasuko and Fugawari finished gobbling up their lunch and asked it they could go play. Sasuke nodded the affirmative and watched them go. "So is this a social visit?" he asked Kakashi.

"Of course it is… I don't get to see you as much since your probation was lifted."

Sasuke's face grew hard. "Yeah."

"Sasuke," Kakashi put a hand on Sasuke's shoulder, "I'm glad you came back to us. Don't let these small-minded fools get you down. If they thought about it for a minute, they would be glad you were back with us too." Kakashi looked up. "It looks like something interesting is happening." He pointed. The entrance to the Hokage's office could be seen from the base of the shady tree. Sasuke and Kakashi watched as the door opened and the group of ambassadors, followed by Shikamaru and Naruto left the building. They bowed to each other, and said a few words. Then the ambassadors got into their sedan chairs and left. Naruto and Shikamaru saw Sasuke and Kakashi by the tree and headed over to them. Naruto could be heard swearing indistinctly on the breeze.

"Sounds like it was a most productive meeting," said Kakashi, using his cane to get up.

"Kakashi-Sensei!" called Shikamaru. "We were just talking about how we needed to see you."

"Why do I always feel like I need a bath after I talk to diplomats?" grumbled Naruto.

"I take it the meeting went well?" Sasuke asked, standing up and brushing himself off.

"We have a lot to discuss…" started Shikamaru, but Naruto interrupted.

"Those arrogant bastards would have me believe that the Leaf village is filled with traitors, that every other village has some secret plan to attack us the moment we show a hair's bit of weakness and that you," he pointed at Sasuke, "are consorting with demons and are going to eat all our children." Naruto threw up his hands in the air. "What the hell is the matter with people?"

Kakashi nudged Shikamaru. "What happened?"

Shikamaru sighed. "Apparently the Daimyo has some intelligence for us that they interpret as indicating we have traitors in the village. Oh, and that the Kurokaze is still around, and Sasuke is their new leader."

Sasuke snorted in derision. "Well, that's something I haven't been accused of yet."

Kakashi frowned. "I think we should go back to my office and discuss this."

"Kakashi-sensei," said Naruto, "you can't be saying that you believe them are you?"

"Naruto, their conclusions they are coming to may be completely wrong, but if their intelligence is even the smallest bit correct, then there is a threat to the village that needs to be examined further. Can you all come?"

Shikamaru shrugged. "I can come with you."

Naruto and Sasuke looked at each other. "School is almost out," Naruto said. "Let me drop off Sasuko and Fugawari with Kusumina and Jiraiya, and then we will head right over."

Kakashi nodded. "Please hurry if you can. I don't like the sound of this."
Chapter Two of the Fan novel: Konoha Children's crusade

Part two

Naruto Characters belong to Masashi Kishimoto

NOTE: This chapter is still pretty tame, however, if this whole novel were to be rated by the MPAA, it might cross the PG-13 boundary in parts. It's much more tame than what you'd find on late night cable TV though. This chapter is divided due to length

Cast List

Book 1 Links:

Prologue
Chapter_1
Chapter_2_part1
Chapter_2_part2
Chapter_3
Chapter_4_part1 PG-13 warning
Chapter_4_part2 PG-13 warning
Chapter_5_part1 PG-13 warning
Chapter_5_part2 PG-13 warning
Chapter_6_part1
Chapter_6_part2
Chapter_7_part1
Chapter_7_part2

Book 2 starts here
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Healing

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."

Fin
Contest entry for :icontentens-revenge: Encounters with Tenten Contest.

Naruto Characters belong to Masashi Kishimoto

My draw was Kiba Inuzuka. I had to putter around with this one for a while before the story took shape.

Note: This takes place roughly 20 years after the fourth great Ninja War.

Kiba's dogs (translated)
Hime-sama - Princess
Hoshi Akari - Starshine
Kabocha - Pumpkin

I hope nobody minds, but I set this one shot it in the same world as another Naruto fan fiction I'm working on. This particular short story is completely self contained, but (shameless plug warning) if you like what you read and want to try more, stop by my dA account (end shameless plug warning)

For those of you who are reading Konoha Children's Crusade, Yes... This short is 'in story' cannon.
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