Thank Kishimoto Masashi-sama for letting me borrow your characters and the world you created. I hope my original characters feel at home there.
And We All Fall Down
"Damn it, Naruto!" Himino Hatake slammed her hands down on the Hokage's desk after slamming his door against the wall on her way in. "Where the hell did you send my parents this time?"
"What are you talking about?" Naruto looked up from his work into the livid gray eyes of his former student who was now eighteen and every bit the firecracker.
"Where are they? It isn't as if they're that young anymore. You promised me you'd stop sending them out on missions." She banged her fist against the desk to emphasize her point.
"First of all, your parents are more than capable of going on missions. They look and act my age so I wouldn't hesitate to send them anywhere. Secondly, I didn't send them anywhere." He looked back down at the document he was reading ignoring the incredulous look on her face.
Himino stood up straight and glared at Naruto. "Then where are they?"
Naruto shrugged. "No idea." He looked up at her and smiled. "Is there anything else you need today?"
Her mouth narrowed into a fine line and she her face blazed with anger. She clenched and unclenched her hands into fist, stomped her foot, turned around swiftly, and left the office, her silver pony tail swinging as she walked away. She slammed the door shut behind her.
Naruto laughed and shook his head.
Shikamaru, who sat silently through the exchange, sighed and hung his head to his chest. "Do you really have to goad her like that? Listening to you two argue is rather troublesome for me."
Naruto smiled at his old friend and advisor and continued reading.
"Damn him!" Himino walked swiftly down the steps of the Hokage complex. Her former sensei's favorite past time lately seemed to be how angry he could make her. Her head suddenly filled with his face looking up at her. "When did his eyes get to be so blue?" She felt her face grow hot with emotion and she banged her fist on the wall next to her. She put her hands in her pants pockets and walked aimlessly down the street, her emotions mixed between worry for her parents and just flat out confusion. Leaves that had fallen onto the street caught in a sudden gust of wind and whirled around her blowing her ponytail in front of her face. She stopped to brush the bits of leaves from her clothes and realized she had made her way to the front gate of Konoha without even realizing it.
Her mother and father were standing just inside the gate, hand in hand, chatting with the guards. One of the guards turned towards her and waved.
"Kakashi, looks like your daughter found you. We didn't tell her anything, so don't worry."
Kakashi nodded. Suzume looked up at him. "I wish it wasn't like this."
"We don't have a choice." He placed his hands on her shoulders and smiled. "In the long run, it's for the best." His resolve flowed through both of them. Suzume hugged him tightly and they turned together to wait for their daughter. Her light blue attire and silver hair sparkled in the setting sun as she approached. The two gate guards sighed at the vision approaching them. Kakashi drummed his fingers on the desk of the guard shack shocking the two guards back to attention.
"Those two are up to something." Himino muttered to herself as she watched her parents turn towards her and wave. "Damn it all! And I bet he's in on it too." She walked up to her parents and put her hands on her hips. "Where have you two been?"
"Well you see we went for a walk early this morning, then this old lady needed help with her laundry, and…"
"Father honestly! You're the worst."
Kakashi rubbed the back of his head and laughed.
Suzume took her daughter's hands in hers. "How was your day, dear?"
"My day, you're really worried about my day? It was spent looking for you two. I even had to put up with Naruto Sensei's bad attitude." She turned her face away from her mother and blew out an exasperated breath. She glanced at her parents out of the corner of her eye. They both smiled at her then wrapped their arms around her. She sighed and hugged them both. "I was worried."
Her parents looked at each other with a look she didn't quite understand and it sent a wave of anxiety through her chest.
"We're here now. Let's head home. "
"I have to go to work soon. If we hurry we can eat dinner together."
They waved at the gate guards as they walked away down the main merchant street of town.
Himino walked slightly ahead of parents her hands clenched behind her back. She glanced over her shoulder at them as they passed the bread shop. "Really what were you two up to?"
"Hey! Himino!" They shopkeeper's son ran out with a bag of fresh rolls and thrust them at Himino. "Here they're fresh." He smiled at her and bowed and ran back to his stall.
The shopkeeper and his son waved at her. Both blanched when Kakashi turned towards them and waved.
"Stop it already. She's a grown woman." Suzume grabbed his hand and sent calming waves through him. He sighed and kept walking.
"Himino, here's a nice melon, just picked and perfectly ripe."
"How about some dumplings, Miss Hatake? Here's a bag to put them in."
"And a nice head of cabbage?"
"Himino, here take these apples tarts."
She accepted each of them graciously, placing them in the bag as she walked. She smiled at each of the clerks and shopkeepers, her gray eyes flashing with gratitude. She waved at each of them, her ponytail blowing in the breeze, her shirt tail doing the same.
Suzume laughed. "She certainly attracts the attention doesn't she?" She looked up at her husband when he didn't respond. His face was almost purple and steam seemed to flow from his ears. He turned slowly and looked back down the street. It seemed every man younger than 100 was watching them walk away. He lifted his left hand to his head band and uncovered his left eye. The street cleared in a manner of seconds. He sighed and lowered his headband.
"Was that really necessary?"
"Yes, it was. I'm her father."
Suzume shook her head and continued walking, pulling Kakashi along with her. "Let's go already."
Himino placed her load of goods on the table. "Looks like we don't have to cook dinner. I wonder why they always do that? When I ask them to let me pay, they turn red and tell me they wouldn't hear of it. It's strange." She grabbed a roll and bit into it. "I have to change for work." She walked into her room and shut the door.
Suzume turned towards Kakashi. "She really is clueless."
"Good let's keep it that way for now."
"You really can't mean that, can you? She needs to find happiness like we did."
"Yes and we were in our thirties. She can wait."
Suzume shook her head then sat down on the couch next to her husband. He put his arm around her shoulders and they settled in together.
"You know, someday we won't be here. I can't bear the thought she'll be alone."
"Yeah." He took his wife's hand in his and caressed it gently.
Himino came back out of her room and grabbed another roll from the table. "Mom, Dad. I'm leaving."
Her dad turned to look at her. Her black sleeveless shirt showed off the tattoo on her upper right arm. Her sword was strapped to her back and her white and red fox mask was tipped sideways on the top of her head. "You might want to fix your mask before you get there."
"Oh, I guess you're right. But, sometimes I wonder what the point of this mask is anyway? With this hair, any idiot could tell who I am." She lowered her mask and looked at her parents. "Well, I'm off." She opened and shut the sliding glass door to the balcony and disappeared into the night.
Kakashi laughed. "You know, I used to say the same thing." He sighed and leaned his head on the back of the sofa. "I'm tired."
"Me too. Let's go to bed early."
He smiled at her and stood, taking her hand to help her from sofa. "That's the best idea you've had all day."
"I thought you were tired."
"I'm never THAT tired."
She rolled her eyes and let him lead her into their room.
Himino leapt across rooftops until she arrived on the balcony of the Hokage's office. The window had been left open anticipating her arrival. She climbed through and shut the window behind her. She stood at attention behind the Hokage's desk.
Naruto leaned back in his chair and stretched his arms over his head and yawned. "It must be getting late if you're here." He turned and looked at her. He couldn't see if her eyes watched him or not, but her head still faced straight ahead. He had absolute faith in her and her ability to protect him. She was the strongest of the Shinobi in her generation and second in command of the Anbu Black ops behind his old friend and rival, Konohamaru. Both guarded him at night and had been picked by him personally six years ago as the most loyal to him of the Anbu. Konohamaru would be walking the Hokage complex right now after sensing her arrival. They would all return to his quarters when Konohamaru gave them the all clear. He heard her sigh.
"I'm sorry about earlier."
He laughed and propped his feet up on his desk. "It's ok. I really don't know what your parents are up to though. After being appointed to the Fire Council, they don't report directly to me anymore." He put his hands behind his head and leaned back to look up at her. "I have a feeling there is something going on outside the village they haven't told me about. I promise if I find out anything, I'll do what I can to protect them from harm."
"That's good enough. Thank you."
He sat staring up at her. When she became his personal guard at the age of 12, her head barely reached the top of his chair. Now, she was nearly as tall her dad. She was thin and extremely fit from a life time of training, her muscles evident in her bare arms. He blinked then his eyes grew wide as if he was seeing her for the first time. Although she was thin, her feminine shape was quite evident. He turned slightly pink then rubbed his hand down his face and looked up at her again. She was no longer a little girl. He cleared his throat to help clear his head.
"What is wrong with you?"
He removed his feet from his desk and sat up and leaned forward. He placed his elbows on the desk and put his head in his hands. "I'm just tired."
"You should take better care of yourself. You haven't really slept in two days."
Konohamaru, hidden behind his Anbu clothing and a white and black striped cat mask, entered the room. "It's all clear."
Naruto stood and stretched. "Let's call it a night."
When they reached his room, Himino entered first and searched for anything out of place. She searched through the natural energy to find any chakra signatures from would be attackers and declared the room safe. Naruto entered and closed the door. For whatever reason, she always stood guard inside the room and Konohamaru stood guard outside in the hall. It was an arrangement she has asked to have changed when she turned fifteen, but her request was denied by Konohamaru himself. He insisted her natural abilities were best suited to protecting the Hokage in close quarters. It was at that age that she really realized that Uncle Naruto was a man, not just her caretaker and sensei. She had resigned herself to the task and stood guard facing the door with her back to him at all times instead of standing beside the wall at the head of his bed. She didn't need to look at him to guard him as long as she tapped into the natural energy around them.
She heard the door to the bath open. The familiar smell of soap filled the room. He always took nine steps between the bathing room and the bed. She heard the swish of fabric as he turned back the bed covers and slid into bed. She smiled under her mask. His bed time routine was quite predictable.
"Won't you at least sit down?"
"You've asked me that every night for the last six years. The answer remains the same. If something happens I do not want to trip over a chair and miss saving your life."
"If you weren't here to ask that to, I wouldn't be able to go to sleep."
Almost before his sentence was finished, he was asleep. She glanced over her shoulder at him and sighed. She turned her head back around and prepared herself for another long night of staring at the door and listening to his breathing.
As the sun rose the next morning and shined on his bed, Naruto awakened. She heard him slide out of bed and take the customary nine steps to the bathing room where he changed clothes. When the door to the bathing room opened, she knocked on the door she stood facing. Konohamaru opened it from the outside and they escorted him to his office. A change of guard signified the end of her shift. She took the same route home she had taken to his office. When she landed on the balcony she tried to sense if her parents were still home. Both had gotten almost impossible for her to detect. Even her father seemed to fade into the natural energy flow. After years of practice, she could detect the faintest taste of silver chains wherever her parents were. She laid her sword and mask in the corner of her room and smiled when she realized her parents were still at home. She plopped face down in her bed, falling asleep before her face hit the pillow.
"So, you're telling me there is word of an insurrection starting along the border of the Land of Wind?"
Shikaku Nara, now elder of the village, his son and Naruto's advisor, Shikamaru, as well as Kakashi and Suzume, representing the Fire Council, stood in the Hokage's office in front of his desk.
"Has the Kazekage been notified?"
"Yes, and the Shinobi Alliance Council." Shikaku carried himself straight and proud. He had given up his title of Jonin commander and took up the title of the village elder when Naruto took office. "Intelligence agents have been sent out. We should be receiving preliminary reports in the next two days."
"How long has the council known of this?"
"We learned of the rumors last week. It is only rumor until it's confirmed. We did not want to involve the entire village until we had something concrete. If the rumors are true, we will have to move quickly so we needed to tell you. The rumor says there is an underground base in a cave complex just within the Land of Wind's border." Kakashi looked unhappy as he spoke. "It is a place devoid of anything except rock and sand. If the entrance to the cave complex is hidden, the insurgents will be hard to smoke out."
"Any countermeasures being prepared?"
Suzume nodded her head. "Yes. After intelligence reports are confirmed, an advance team has been hand-picked to take care of the situation. It will most likely be a joint effort between our village and Suna."
Naruto met the eyes of his most trusted advisors and nodded his head. "Should I be prepared to go as well?"
"No," Shikamaru answered. "We feel it may be a trap to lure you and the Kazekage out of the villages. You and I will stay here with a team of Shinobi to defend the village. Gaara will do the same in the Sand Village."
Naruto nodded. "Who will lead the advance team?"
Kakashi raised his hand.
Naruto sighed. "Of course that will mean both of you will go, huh?" He leaned forward and folded his arms on his desk. "I made a promise I hoped to keep, but it appears I can't. Keep me advised from now on. Understand?"
Everyone nodded and left the room.
"You know she won't be happy about this." A disembodied voice spoke.
"Don't you ever sleep?"
Konohamaru suddenly appeared before Naruto's desk. "It's my job to know what's going on around you. Shikaku summoned me here. The Anbu will have to be more vigilant so your guard will doubled for the time being. I will take command of the day guard, Himino the night guard. One of us will be with you at all times."
"You do realize I can take care of myself?"
"It never hurts to have back-up."
Himino stood with clenched fists as she listened to Naruto and Konohamaru's briefing of the current situation. Her mask was cocked back on the side of her head and her gray eyes blazed with anger. It was a situation that could not be helped, knowing her parents most likely volunteered for the mission, didn't help her mood. She nodded as she listened. Her most important task was keeping the Hokage safe so she had to be as well informed as possible.
"Intelligence reports from the Joint Intelligence Corp have started trickling in. Suna has dispatched a liason that should arrive in a few days. The identity of the person is being kept top-secret by Suna for security reasons. It is possible this person can pick up some information on their way here if they appear to travel as a civilian so the journey will take longer than normal."
"I wonder who they'll send? I can't imagine Temari or Kankuro leaving Gaara's side at a time like this." Naruto mused.
"Himino, I have assigned a new partner for you and you will continue your current role as the Hokage's personal guard. Everyone on the night guard has been briefed and new members carefully screened and added to your detail. "
"I want to request a change in routine." She stood firmly at attention and met Konohamaru's gaze. "I will scan the building for threats alone. My partner will stay by my side at all times until I feel I can trust them like I do you. This is something only I can do for the Hokage. He too will never leave my side on my shift until this is over."
Konohamaru nodded. "I expected as much. Your skills are perfect for recon so I approve." He looked down at the ground then back at Naruto and Himino. "We will continue in shifts until there is more of an emergency. That is the only way we can effectively protect you, Naruto. Like I said before, one of us will be with you at all times."
"I couldn't ask for anything more."
As the evening progressed, intelligence reports came more frequently. By the next morning, the Hokage's office looked more like a war room than an office. Courier birds, Anbu members, Fire Council members came and went constantly. Himino went home, but couldn't rest. The news coming in was troubling. The number of insurgents was higher than original estimates. So far no one had found the entrance to the cave complex and at least a third of the intelligence corps had gone missing. Her parents had disappeared again, not even showing up in the Hokage's office. She lay her arm across her eyes to block out the light seeping in around the curtain and finally fell asleep amid the riot of voices in her head.
She arrived at the Hokage complex early to consult with Konohamaru before he left. She took one look at Naruto's dull eyes and turned to Konohamaru.
"Has he slept at all the past three days?"
"No, you know he has incredible stamina, but he needs to rest before he collapses. Try your best to make that happen." He turned and walked out the door.
She took her place beside Naruto's chair and waited for her partner to arrive. Her new partner seemed to be about her parents' age, very serious, and extremely trustworthy. She knew him only by his code name, Tenzo. He seemed to know her parents well and spoke highly of them both. Other than that, she knew nothing about him as was common among the Anbu unless you worked on the same team. She had only met him two nights ago, but Naruto seemed completely at ease with him adding to her feelings of trust towards him. From the conversations she had overheard, it seemed Tenzo and Naruto had a history of working together.
She felt Tenzo arrive outside the door. He opened it and nodded at her to confirm his presence and quickly shut the door taking up his post in the hallway. Evening turned into night and still Naruto and the others pored over maps and reports. The office gradually emptied and she was left alone with the Hokage. Naruto reached out to pick up yet another report and she caught his wrist to stop him.
"That's enough. I'm under orders to make sure you rest tonight. You will be no good if you don't have enough wits about you to help the village if it comes under attack."
"I'm fine." He leaned back in his chair and looked at her.
"Really? You can hardly keep your eyes open." She took in a deep breath and closed her eyes. She let the natural energy flow through her and searched the immediate area for any unfamiliar chakra signatures. She felt by now she knew everyone in the village by sight and taste of their chakra. She only sensed familiar chakra signatures and none of them contained malice or deceit. She placed her hand on Naruto's shoulder. "Sensei, let's go to your room."
He smiled gratefully at her and pushed himself up out of his chair. He stumbled slightly from fatigue and she steadied him. He leaned against her for a moment, causing her to blush under her mask. His blue eyes bore into hers even though he couldn't really see them. He put his hands on her shoulders and straightened up. "I don't know what I would do without you."
She knocked on the door and Tenzo opened it for them. The trio made their way around the inside of the complex to Naruto's quarters. She felt the movement of the unseen guards advancing with them, but didn't sense any threat. When she opened the door to his quarters and entered, Tenzo shut the door behind them. Naruto shuffled into the bathing room. She heard the tub fill with water and heard him sigh as he settled in. Time seemed to pass slowly while she waited facing the door noting his normal routine was broken by fatigue. She heard him rise from the water, take a wet step on the floor, then collapse with a loud thud. She ran into the bathing room to find him lying in heap wet and naked. Duty coming before propriety, she grabbed him under the arms and hoisted him into a sitting position his back against her chest. She removed her mask to get it out of the way, and reached for the towels hanging on the bar behind her. She wrapped one towel around his waist and rolled it up at his hip to keep it from slipping. She moved out from behind him and leaned him up against the wall. She sighed and shook her head at his foolishness, then dried him off carefully, letting the towel around his nether regions do its job alone. She dried his hair last and he opened one eye groggily and looked at her. "You know if you had a wife I wouldn't have to do this."
"Hmm? Well, nothing ever really worked you know. The woman in love with me married for Hyuga politics and the woman I was in love with moved away to Suna to train their medical ninja." He smiled sleepily at her. "I guess the last few years, I've just been waiting."
"Waiting on what?"
He smiled at her again and closed his eyes and sighed.
"Here let's get you into bed." She bent down beside him and put his arm around her shoulder. Thankful for her years of strength training, she hoisted him up. He rested heavily on her left side and she practically dragged him into the other room. She sat beside him on the bed and removed his arm from her shoulder. She stood and lifted his legs on the bed and propped up his pillow under his head like he always slept. She covered him and added an extra blanket from the closet since his bed clothing only consisted of a towel. She tucked the covers around him and looked at his sleepy peaceful face. Before she could straighten up he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close. Her breath caught in her chest, but she rested her head on his shoulder like she used to when she was little.
"What? What about me?"
"I've been waiting on you. I just realized it recently."
She tried to pull away from him, but he held her firmly. A tear trickled out of the corner of her eye, but she held the rest back.
"You grew up on me too fast. I realize now I want you with me all the time."
"You're just tired. You'll forget this in the morning and so will I." He released her just enough to look into her face.
"You think so?" He pulled her down and kissed her passionately, then closed his eyes and released her. He muttered, "You know your dad might kill me though." His breathing became deep and regular as she stood over him shocked beyond belief at this words and actions. Her hand went to her mouth and lingered there as if to hold the memory forever. She bent down and kissed him on the forehead.
"You'll forget you said that. That was only the fatigue talking. Surely that was it."
She retrieved her mask from the bathing room and took her post in the front of the door. Her legs shook, too weak to stand, and her eyes wouldn't remain on the door. She sank down to her knees, her back against the door. She let the truth of her emotions wash over her. She had always loved him in one form or another since she was born. Now was no different and for the first time in six years, she sat and watched the Hokage sleep.
Naruto woke late the next morning. He opened his eyes and blinked a couple a times. He turned his head to see the familiar sight of Himino's back only to come face to face with a man sitting beside his bed. He yelled in surprise and leapt out of bed, towel left behind in his bed covers. Konohamaru laughed at the Hokage's surprise and resulting discomfort and threw him his clothes.
"Get dressed already."
Naruto sat on the opposite side of the bed and dressed. "Where is Himino?"
"We decided to let you sleep late. Shikamaru is handling everything on your behalf this morning." Konohamaru cleared his throat. "What exactly did you do to her last night anyway?"
Naruto felt his face turn hot and was happy his back was to his friend. "What do you mean?"
"Humph, what do I mean? Well, I got here this morning and found her sitting beside the door staring at you as if she'd never seen you before, then I find you laying here completely naked. Sounds like something interesting must have happened. You better hope Kakashi doesn't find out." He laughed heartily.
"Nothing really happened."
"Let me guess, you finally realized you're in love with her? Did you tell her that?"
"Not in so many words." He rubbed the back of head, sat down on the opposite side of the bed and slumped forward resting his elbows on his knees. "I'm being stupid. She's so young and vulnerable. I would spare her the fate of being tied to an older man like me who'll leave her by herself long before she deserves it."
"In our world, there are no guarantees of time together."
"True, but still, I wonder which will hurt her more? If I pretend nothing was said or if I acknowledge I said it? I don't want to hurt her at all."
"Yeah. I'm not good with things like this. Don't let it worry you though. She's the toughest girl I've ever met."
"But her heart isn't all that tough."
Suzume opened the sliding door to the balcony to let some fresh air into their home and found her daughter sitting against the wall staring up at the sky.
"I thought you were asleep."
"Are you okay? Did something happen?"
Her daughter turned and looked at her. "Mom, when did you realize you were in love with Dad?"
Suzume took a deep breath, stopped a hundred questions from pouring out of her mouth, and sat next to her daughter. "Well, the first time I saw his chakra back in the Northern woods the day he was under attack. His chakra sort of sang to me calling me to help him."
"I see." Himino looked back up at the sky. They sat quietly together for a while letting the warm breeze over them.
"Mom, about Naruto…"
"I see. You've finally realized you love him?" Himino snapped around and sat facing her mother.
"What do you mean?"
"I noticed it back when you were little. You gravitate to him naturally like he is your guiding light and you his, but…"
"But, I'm not sure you are destined to be together." Himino looked at her wide eyed and opened and closed her mouth several times without saying anything. "It seems your destiny might be mixed with another beside Naruto. You may have to walk a confusing path before you find your way."
"Oh, don't go on so. Everything has a way of working out, you'll see. Besides, is what you feel for Naruto really true love or convenient love because he has always been there for you?" Suzume stood. "Maybe you should get some sleep before you're expected back. The final reports are coming in today. I'm heading there to check on the situation."
Himino continued to look up watching the white puffy clouds in the sky mix with her clouded thoughts. The day passed quickly and sleep never found its way to her. She bathed and changed into a fresh uniform and for once was happy to have a mask to cover her lost expression. On her way to the Hokage's office, she felt an unfamiliar chakra signature just outside the village. The chakra signature was carefully controlled, but was tinged with fear. She sped up so she could reach the Hokage before the visitor reached the city gates. When she arrived at the office, her mother and father stood together looking over a map spread out on the Hokage's desk.
She reached for the doorknob, but hesitated when she heard her mother's voice. "When are you going to tell her?"
"I think I still have at least until tonight. There will be time. It isn't as if anything is going to change. I've told you how I feel."
"She'll be hurt if you don't at least explain the situation. We didn't expect our visitor to contact us before arriving." She heard her father sigh. "The timing isn't that good."
"It'll be okay."
She felt Tenzo approach from up the hall. She looked in his direction and took her hand away from the nob. "Would you mind going in first?"
"Are you alright?"
She nodded and looked at the floor. What visitor could cause her so much pain? What did Naruto have to explain to her?
Tenzo opened the door and they walked in together. Her parents and her former sensei turned towards them and looked at each other, then back at her.
"What is going on? Who is this visitor you are talking about?"
"I'll explain later, ok?"
Suzume gasped and turned around. She realized there would be no later. The visitor was entering the compound. "Oh, no. Naruto, it's too late. She's here already."
Naruto stood, ran around his desk, and grabbed Himino's upper arms. "Himino, this doesn't change anything. It's going to be ok."
A sense of extreme malice emanated from outside the door. Tenzo and Himino jumped in front of Naruto. Himino grabbed the hilt of her sword and pulled it from the scabbard. The only metal on her sword was the hilt, made out of a special metal infused with chakra. The hilt began to glow and a white chakra blade hummed to life. The only Shinobi in the village to be able to utilize chakra as a blade weapon, her sword was useless to anyone else and was a gift from her father when he realized she had this ability apparently inherited from her long dead grandfather, Sakumo Hatake. She felt chakra being gathered up and centered into a small area, then the door smashed open into hundreds of pieces. A cloaked figure leapt into the room and raced toward Naruto hand drawn back for a massive punch. Himino used her natural energy shields to absorb the punch and sliced at the attacker with her sword. The attacker somersaulted backwards. The sword sliced through the attackers brown cloak grazing the person's arm. The attacker raced forward again but was stopped short. A blue bubble appeared from the end of Himino's sword and surrounded the attacker who punched mercilessly at the bubble but to no avail. The attacker slumped forward and let out a long breath. Himino placed the sword hilt back into the scabbard and approached the bubble. A strand of pink hair fell from the underneath the attacker's hood. Himino stopped in her tracks and looked back at Naruto, then at her father.
"Sakura?" Himino asked as she backed away. "Why?"
The sense of malice left the room and Sakura started to laugh. "I heard the Hokage was protected by a top notch Anbu guard, I was just testing the waters to see if that was true." She removed her hood and looked at the people around her. "Naruto, Kaka Sensei, Captain Yamato." She nodded at each of them then returned her gaze to Himino. "Are you planning on letting me out of this?"
Himino looked to her father and Naruto for guidance. Both nodded. She touched the bubble letting it dissipate back into natural energy. Himino looked at Tenzo. "You're Captain Yamato? The Captain Yamato?" She looked at him with mixed emotions. She didn't know rather to be hurt, angry, or proud to be working with him as her parents had.
"What they never told you?" Sakura laughed at her discomfort. "I bet they didn't even tell you I was coming here did they?" Sakura walked over to Naruto and hugged him. "Just like old times, huh?" She looked into his blue eyes with such sadness that Himino's heart nearly broke for them. "Almost like old times."
"Yeah." Naruto's voice choked with old emotions. "Almost." He stared into Sakura's green eyes and hugged her back, whispering something into her ear the others couldn't make out.
Sakura nodded her head then towards Kakashi and Suzume. "Kaka Sensei, is this your wife I've heard so much about?" As Kakashi introduced Suzume to his former student, Himino walked around to stand beside Naruto's chair as always. She didn't dare look at him. She stood at attention facing front pushing her emotions to the background as any true Shinobi was trained to do. She had a job to do after all.
"Were you able to find out anything on your way here?" Naruto asked while sitting back down in her chair.
"Yes and no. Word has it these insurgents are trying to start a war between Suna and Konoha which is pretty pointless considering the close ties between the two. I did not find the cave entrance, but I did find a place with a high concentration of chakra I believe is the center of their stronghold." She pointed out the location on the map. "I can't be certain of this, but it seems several people are living in these caves."
"At least you gave us a starting point." Kakashi eyed the map and nodded to Suzume. "We should gather our team and leave at once."
Himino could not break Anbu protocol. She wanted to run to her parents and hug them goodbye, but couldn't in front of Sakura. Her parents turned to her and Tenzo. "Take care of the Hokage. We're counting on you." Both nodded. She clenched her fists and watched them leave.
Sakura turned to her. "I see. The hair is a dead giveaway. You are their daughter, right?"
Himino didn't acknowledge the comment or turn her head. She didn't even move her eyes. She let the natural energy flow through her, to calm her, and searched for the taste of silver chains in the flow and followed it. It became too faint to detect as her parents left the village. She returned her attention to the conversation around her.
"I'll go see my parents now and come back later." Sakura turned and left the room. "I've already ordered you a new door, it'll be here shortly." Her laughter flowed down the hall as she walked away.
Himino followed her chakra signature until it reached a house in the middle of town. She once again returned her attention to the room. Tenzo and Naruto were both looking at her. She couldn't read Tenzo's expression behind his mask, but Naruto's face was a mask of warring emotions. She couldn't acknowledge his concern or his emotions. She felt simultaneously betrayed, worried, and hurt. She didn't trust words to come out correctly so she continued to stare start ahead until Naruto sighed and went back to work. When the door was repaired, Tenzo took his leave and took up his post outside in the hall then closed the door behind him. Naruto turned to her and grabbed her arm.
"I'm sorry. I couldn't keep my promise to you to keep your parents safe, and I didn't have time to tell you that Sakura was coming back. I…"
"Don't say anything else. I'm your student and personal guard, nothing else." She pulled her arm out of his grasp. "My parents volunteered for this mission before you even knew of it. Your promise cannot be kept under those circumstances." She clasped her hands behind her back and continued to stare ahead.
"You know, I meant what I said last night." He stood and reached for her. "I really don't know what I would do without you."
She stepped away from him and removed her mask so he could see her face. Only her eyes showed the hurt she was trying desperately to hide. "You have kept me close as your guard. You have cared for me since I was born. You are a huge part of my life. I've always been by your side and you by mine. You have to let your heart guide you now." A hot tear flowed from her eye, but unlike her mother, she did not have the ability to just let them fall. After years of training, her emotions were under her strict control and she suppressed the tears causing her eyes to sting. She put her mask back on and stood back at attention. "You have work to do before turning in for the night."
Naruto looked at her and wiped stray tears from his cheeks. Hurting her was the last thing he wanted to do. He was sure given enough time they could have worked everything out on their own, but now things had changed. Holding Sakura reminded him of the times they shared before she left the village, both turning to the other after losing Sasuke, but unable to find true solace in each other's arms. It was too much to bear until they couldn't be around each other anymore. He realized tonight he still loved her, but he loved the woman beside him too. Fights he was good at, matters of the heart not so much. He continued his work for a few minutes more, but realized he just couldn't concentrate. "I'm tired. I need to call it a night."
Himino nodded and did her usual scan of the complex. She knocked on the door as usual and took the usual one hundred and two steps to the Hokage's room. Tenzo closed the door behind her as usual and she stood facing the door as usual. Everything was so damn routine she nearly screamed because inside her nothing felt routine. She could feel Naruto staring at her, but she didn't move. After he closed the bathing room door, she let out a breath she didn't even know she was holding and waited for his return. Just as he was opening the bathing room door she felt Sakura approaching. Tenzo knocked on the door and announced he had a visitor. She moved out of the way and watched Sakura enter the room. Naruto stood staring at them both. Sakura moved towards him and wrapped her arms around him. He looked at Himino over Sakura's shoulder. Himino looked at him for a moment and left the room. She stood in the hallway on the other side of the door from Tenzo. Always sensitive to chakra flow, especially unfamiliar ones, she felt Sakura's and Naruto's chakra intermingle and she hit her fist on the wall behind her. She grabbed her head with both hands and slumped against the wall. The world started to spin around her. She felt herself fall right before she blacked out.
Kakashi and Suzume stood back to back in the middle of a brown desolate rock invested wasteland surrounded by at least 200 fighters. They spoke to each other quietly, and both nodded. They reached out for each other's hand, squeezed then reluctantly let go. Suzume pulled the chakra from the several of the surrounding fighters. As they collapsed she quickly built a sphere shaped shield around her and Kakashi. Kakashi's hands blurred as he prepared for a jutsu release. He and Suzume were lost from view inside the shield as if filled with smoke. A brilliant white explosion mushroomed from where they stood and spread over the horizon at least a mile in all directions. When the sand and debris settled…
Himino screamed, clutched her chest and shot straight up in bed. She struggled to catch her breath. Her mother's voice seem to float on the air around her, "We're sorry, Himino." She was drenched in sweat and felt hot even to herself as she wrapped her arms around her body and rocked to relieve the pressure on her chest. Her heart felt crushed and she was shaking. The room was dark, she had no real idea where she was and panic threatened to overtake her. A light cut through the blackness beside her. She stopped rocking and made herself breathe deeply. She realized she was in her own room, but had no recollection of how she got there. She got up out of bed and gripped the wall for support. Her whole body continued to shake and sweat continued to cover her body. She pulled the curtain open and saw the sun was setting. She didn't know how long she had been out, but she knew she had to find out about her parents. Her switched on the lamp beside her bed and sat back down. Her eyes burned, but no tears fell. She saw she was still dressed in her uniform. Her mask, sword and vest were lying on the dressing table. She grabbed her sword in her wet hand and walked out the front door and down the steps. She clung to the walls as she made her way down the street. Her hair hung down around her shoulders like a wet string mop. She clung to her chest as if holding the broken pieces of her heart and soul together. People stared at her as she passed. She passed on the opposite side of the street from the bread shop and stopped to catch her breath. The shopkeepers son saw her and ran to her side.
"Himino, are you alright?" He put her arm around his shoulders and held her around the waist. "Are you sick or hurt?"
"I need to see the Hokage." She wheezed out. He tried to help her walk, but she stumbled along so slowly he was afraid she would pass out before she got there. He stood in front of her and wrapped her arms around his neck and picked her up on his back. He carried her to the steps of the Hokage complex. She tapped his shoulder and he put her down. "Thank you, Matsudo. I owe you." She climbed up the steps slowly, still hanging on to the wall for support. About half way up, she slipped and landed heavily on her knees and shins. She cried out in pain catching the attention of Konohamaru who was passing in the hall on his way to the Hokage's office. He ran down the steps and picked her up, carrying her against his chest, her head resting on his shoulder. "My parents. I have to see Naruto about my parents."
Konohamaru carried her into Naruto's office and helped her stand. Her already weak legs ached from the fall causing her to cling to Konohamaru for support. A leaf Shinobi was standing before Naruto's desk holding a head band and several pieces of cloth. "We saw the explosion. They went out first to doing reconnaissance. We can only imagine they got caught. When we got to the sight of the explosion, this is all we found." He laid the items on the desk and backed away. Himino gasped and lurched over to Naruto's desk. She gently fingered the gray and navy blue scraps of material. She held the hand band in her hand and absently picked at the silver strands of hair caught in the knot. She looked around the room through burning eyes. Naruto leaned forward in his chair and reached across his desk to her. Sakura stood beside him where the Anbu guard always stood. Grief covered Sakura's face, but she had taken Himino's place by Naruto's side. Tenzo, the man who knew and worked her parents, face hidden behind his mask, stood on Naruto's other side. Other faces blurred as she stood there slowly breaking apart on the inside. She picked up the pieces of cloth and shoved them in her pocket. She jerked her hand away from Naruto's outstretched hand and turned around. Clutching her father's headband to her chest, she stumbled out the door. She heard people calling for her, but she kept walking blindly along. She heard footsteps running after her and willed herself to become invisible. In her grief, she managed for the first time to lose herself in the natural energy flow just as Naruto's hand grabbed her arm. He stopped in surprise, angry tears spilling from his eyes. He ran his hands through his hair and yelled in frustration.
Himino came to beside Lake Chidori still clutching her father's headband tightly. She uncurled her cramped fingers and laid the headband in the grass. She lay on her side and watched the light dance on the ripples of the lake, tiny diamonds sparkling in the sun. Her stomach ached, her chest hurt, and she couldn't get the image of her father's hands out of her mind. She slowly sat up and groaned as she straightened her legs. Her pants were torn and the skin underneath swollen blue and caked with dried blood. She reached into her pocket and fingered the scraps of material and pulled them out. Each piece was covered in droplets of blood. Kakashi and Suzume Hatake were really gone. She reached out into the natural energy flow for the taste of silver chains, but there was nothing. Not only was it all a bad dream, it was reality. She slowly pushed herself onto knees, grimacing at the pain. She removed her outer clothing and crawled to the lake's edge. She wasn't sure of her intentions, but she knew the cool water would embrace her and numb her body. She slid in and floated on her back, her silver hair spilling around her like moonlight. The aches and bruises became less noticeable, her limbs became heavy and she sank under water. She watched the ripples play in the sun as she sank and felt her lungs start to burn from the strain of holding her breath. She closed her eyes.
"Don't leave me here alone." A voice startled her back to consciousness. "You can't do this. I've been waiting for you." She opened her eyes. Silver threads wound around her arms and legs stopping her descent to the bottom of the lake. "Swim, Himino, hurry." The threads seemed to pull her to the surface until she regained enough sense to pump her arms and legs. Black spots swam before her oxygen deprived eyes as she madly beat the water. She broke into the sunlight gagging for breath. She pulled herself to shore leaving her lower body in the water. She heard someone shout her name. She tilted her head backwards and saw Tenzo standing on the branch of large tree. He jumped down and ran over to her.
"It would be foolish to ask if you are alright, I know you're not. Let me help you to the cabin and you can rest there. He handed her the shirt and torn pants she had cast aside. She slipped them back on and he helped her up. They walked together quietly. He caught her if she stumbled, but he didn't offer to carry her and she didn't ask. She was oddly relieved by this and it strengthened her slightly. When they entered the house, a new wave of sadness washed over her. Tenzo removed his mask for the first time in front of her and laid it on the hearth next to her father's headband he had retrieved from the grass. "You should take a hot bath before you catch a cold. It's chilly in here so I'll start a fire." She nodded and made her way to the bathing room.
She ran hot water into the tub and climbed in wincing as the heat hit her bruised and swollen legs. The blood had washed off in the lake. She turned her arms around looking for any sign of the silver threads she had seen. It brought back the dream she remembered of the sliver chain wrapped around her mother's waist and her father's voice calling them back. She had always wanted to ask what that dream meant, but realized now it was too late, she wouldn't talk to her mother again. A wave of nausea hit her and she leaned over the side of the tub so her bath water wouldn't get spoiled, but nothing happened. Her chest tightened and she hugged herself hard no longer able to keep it in, hot tears spilled from her eyes and she wailed as if she had never cried before. Time passed slowly as grief hit her in waves. She stopped crying long enough to catch her breath and a memory would hit her basically between the eyes and the tears would roll again. The water went from hot to tepid before she was able to pull her emotions under control and finish her bath. She dried off and put on clean clothes, then dug the scraps of material out of her old pants pocket. She rubbed the pieces on her face, kissed them, and put them in the pocket of her clean pants. She folded up her Anbu uniform and stared at it momentarily before placing it in the backpack she kept at the cabin. She shouldered the pack and walked out to talk to Tenzo.
He was sitting by the hearth building up the small fire. The air in the room had warmed up considerably and she could smell soup cooking. He turned to her. "I thought you could use something light to eat so I cooked miso soup. It'll help your stomach settle."
She nodded gratefully and sat down on floor beside the fire warming her chilled body. She didn't feel inclined to talk just yet.
Tenzo looked at her thoughtfully then ladled the soup in a bowl and handed it to her. "Here."
She didn't think she could eat anything, but when the warmth hit her stomach she starting to cry again, but kept eating. Her partner just sat back and watched her without saying a word. When her tears subsided he took her empty bowl and sat it beside the hearth.
"Konohamaru asked me to stay here with you until you are ready to return to the village."
She shook her head. "No, I'm not staying here. I've come to a decision and I want to go back this afternoon." She looked down at the floor and traced the wood grains with her finger. She looked back at him. "I would really appreciate it though if you would escort me back and stay with me until I've talked to the Hokage."
Tenzo nodded his agreement. "That's fine."
"If I see you outside of the Anbu, can I call you Yamato?"
He smiled and nodded. She smiled back and they sat quietly watching the fire crackle. As morning turned into afternoon, she nodded and stood. "I'm ready to go back." They dowsed the fire, making sure it was completely out and she grabbed her pack. "Will you do me a favor?" Tenzo nodded his consent. "Please go to my house, in my room, and grab my mask and sword? I don't think I can walk in there right now."
"I can do that for you. Do you intend to go back to work?"
She shook her head. "You will hear my decision soon. Thank you for helping me today. I will wait for you by the city gates." She put her father's headband in her pack and looked around the room. A single tear fell down her cheek then she closed the door behind her.
When Tenzo returned with her mask and sword they walked together to the Hokage's office. The few people they met on the way watched her with sorrow filled eyes. The news of her parents' death had apparently spread throughout Konoha, but no one said anything to her for which she was extremely grateful. When they entered the Hokage's office, Naruto, Konohamaru, Shikamaru and Shikaku were poring over a report and pointing to a map. They stopped when they realized she walked in and stared at her. Naruto started to move towards her, but Shikamaru put his arm in front of him to stop him. She nodded in gratitude. "I have something I need to say and it is good everyone is here so I only have to say it once." She sat her backpack on the floor and pulled out her torn uniform and mask and handed them to Konohamaru. She turned her sword sideways and handed it to Naruto. "As of today, I am leaving the Anbu Black Ops and leaving the village." Naruto and Konohamaru began to protest until Shikaku raised his hand for silence.
"Is this best for you?"
She looked at Shikaku, took a deep breath and sighed. "Yes, it is best for me and the village. I realized today, at least for the time being, I am no longer capable of being a Leaf Shinobi."
Shikaku nodded and took her sword from Naruto. "Keep this." He smiled at her puzzled expression. "It is useless to everyone but you and it is your keepsake from your father." He placed it in her trembling hands. "Treasure it."
She hugged the sword to her chest and let the tears fall. She could no longer hold back the tide, years of training or not. She wiped them away. "I'm sorry. It appears I am a failure."
Shikaku looked at her thoughtfully. "Showing emotions at a time like this is not being a failure. It is shameful that we Shinobi continue to believe that."
Naruto tried to reach for her, but was stopped this time by Konohamaru. The Hokage growled in frustration, but backed down. "Himino, I'm…" Konohamaru put a hand on his shoulder and shook his head. Naruto ran his hand through his hair and looked at her. "Where will you go?"
"To my mother's village. I need to tell them the news and it will be a good place to rest. I'll be around my only family." She bowed to them all. "Thank you all for everything you've done for me. I hope our paths cross again."
Tenzo placed his hand on her shoulder and she turned to him. "Be safe."
She strapped her sword to her back, picked up her pack and walked out the door and into the evening without looking back.
Naruto slammed his fist on his desk. "Damn it!" His tears fell on the map blurring the boundaries of the Land of Fire. "I'm a fool."
Chakra flowed into a sphere around Suzume and Kakashi. Kakashi's hands flashed creating signs to perform a jutsu. Mist filled the sphere then white light burst forth….
"Aaaaaa," Himino screamed and sat bolt upright, panting. She put her head in her hands and let the tears trickle down her arms. The cold point of a kunai knife pressed into the side of her neck. She tried to leap away, but a heavy arm wrapped itself around her chest and held her firm. She inwardly cursed herself for being so vulnerable. The knife point was lifted, but she was not released. She turned her head to look over her left shoulder only to see an Anbu mask. The person was obviously male, but his chakra signature was not one she was immediately familiar with although it was tinged with a sense of nostalgia, as if she should know her captor. "So, they sent you to bring me back?" The man behind the mask chuckled. She twisted herself to the left to break his grip and leap upward into the trees while pulling her sword from its scabbard. The white light emanating from her sword lit the surrounding trees momentarily blinding her opponent. "I'm not going back with you or anyone else. You can tell them all that." She leapt back to the ground and grabbed her pack as she raced past the Anbu operative. She placed her sword back in the scabbard so it wouldn't give away her location and tore into the darkness between the trees. As she was shouldering her pack, the corner of it caught on a passing limb tearing a gash into the side of it. She saw the glint of moonlight flash across her father's headband as it fell to the ground, but she could hear her pursuer's racing to catch up with her. With a lump in her throat she threw down the pack and kept moving.
The Anbu operative picked up the pack and turned it over in his hands. The contents lay scattered on the forest floor below the tree he was standing in. He jumped down and looked at the belongings. He held in headband up, the silver hairs caught in the knot shimmered in the breaking moonlight. "Himino."
Himino arrived in her mother's village as dawn broke the horizon that morning. She carried nothing more than the clothes on her back and her keepsake sword. She ran for the remainder of the night even though she could find no trace of her pursuer's chakra signature. Even at the early hour she arrived, the town nestled in the hills was stirring. Under her grandfather's leadership, the village had prospered by terrace farming rice in the surrounding hills earning it the name Inemachi. Farmers and townsfolk alike moved through the streets greeting each other happily. Children rubbed sleepy eyes while walking beside other family members. Dogs barked and chased each other from place to place while avoiding the legs of the people walking. Himino stood slightly above the village taking in the peaceful scene. She hadn't been to Inemachi since she was twelve. Many things had changed in six years.
She made her way to the edge of town to her family's home. Her grandfather, aunt, and uncle and their families lived in a traditional home. It reminded her of the Nara residence back in Konoha and gave her the same sense of peace. She loved the garden in the back, especially in the spring when the cherry trees were in bloom. The fish in the pond would jump at the pedals as they fell. With a sweet sense of longing, she entered the front gate and walked to the main door. She removed her shoes and laid her sword on top of them. She placed her hand on the door frame and took a deep breath, then entered. She could hear the clamor from the kitchen as breakfast was being prepared. She followed the voices through the familiar hallway and stood in the door watching the commotion. Her aunt, Ami, sat places at the table as her two kids chased each other around it. Her uncle, Chiro, hugged his new wife as she entered carrying a tray laden with food from the adjoining kitchen.
Her grandfather entered from the kitchen also carrying a tray of food. He placed it on the table then turned to the doorway. He noticed Himino standing in the doorway, straightened up and held his arms out to her. She ran to him and wrapped her arms around his neck crying on his shoulder.
"Grandpa!" She sobbed. "Mother and Father are…"
"Now, now, I know all about it. It's ok. We're here for you."
She stood in his warm embrace for a while longer then leaned back to see his face. Even though she hadn't been to Inemachi for quite some time, she had seen her grandfather just a few months before when he visited Konoha. He hadn't changed much in that time. His gray eyes looked just as bright, but sad, and his salt and pepper hair seemed whiter. He was still strong for a man nearly eighty years old. "How did you know?" She wiped the tears from her eyes.
"We received a messenger bird from the Hokage the day it happened. Apparently you had gone missing and they wanted us to report to them if you saw you. Another bird arrived here last night letting us know you were found and were on your way here." He smiled sadly at her. "Apparently the Hokage was worried about you."
She shook her head and sighed. "He has a village to worry about. One person should not concern him so." She hugged him again and turned towards her other relatives. Everyone else rushed her at once, welcoming her and hugging her. She smiled for the first time in days.
"Here, we fixed a spot for you. Sit." Aunt Ami pointed to a cushion next to the head of the table. When everyone was seated they blessed their meal and ate. The meal passed with laughter and talk of rice and Himino listened intently, but soon realized she was extremely drowsy.
Her grandfather placed his hand on her shoulder. "We've prepared your old room for you. Why don't you go rest and I'll wake you later, ok?" He smiled gently at her.
She nodded and excused herself and walked down the hall to her room. She opened the door and saw the familiar wall hangings and a few old toys she had left behind. Her futon and a change of clothing had been laid out for her. She picked up the nightgown and held it up. "But how?" She looked around the room and found her old torn pack sitting in the corner, her clothes washed and neatly folded. She ran to the pack and found her father's headband among her other belongings. She hugged it to her chest and fell to her knees with sudden exhaustion. She crawled over the futon and went to sleep clutching the headband.
She awoke suddenly, the flash of a white explosion filled her mind. She groaned and turned over. She rubbed her hand down her face to wipe away the sleepy feeling. She saw a shadow through the paper wall get up and walk away from her room. She stumbled out of bed and quickly shoved the sliding door open, but no one was there. The afternoon sun was setting on the other side of the hill behind the house. She sat down and watched the sun's last rays streak across the lavender clouds. When night time fell on the house, she walked to the bathing room with a change of clothing. Her aunt and her children were bathing and relaxing in the tub. She unclothed, wrapped a towel around herself and slipped into the tub, removing the towel as she sank into the very warm water. Her aunt moved to sit next to her.
"How are you feeling? I'm happy you got some rest."
"I feel okay. I'm still very sleepy, but I feel like I should be helping out here."
"Don't worry about that. Everyone is concerned about your health so rest as long as you need. We have plenty of people here to help out. Eat supper and go back to bed. You'll feel more rested in the morning."
She looked at her aunt who she was told looked like the grandmother she never met. She really did not resemble her mother or grandfather at all. Her straight hair was black and her eyes a deep brown, her face oval unlike her Himino's mother' face which was more square. Both were beautiful in their own way even though they didn't look alike. Himino rested her head back on the side of the tub. "Aunt Ami, I can't believe they're gone. I keep thinking anytime I'll wake up and it'll be a bad dream."
"You know, it is very hard to believe your parents of all people would die so suddenly. I'm not sure I believe it either." She reached for Himino's hand. "I'm really happy you came here with us. You can stay as long as you need to. Everyone here loves you, you know that."
Himino nodded and fought back another round of tears. When she trusted her voice not to crack, she asked her aunt about her pack.
"Oh, well, you see…"
"Mommy, brother won't help me with my back. He's so mean."
"Oh, excuse me." Her aunt stepped out of the tub, wrapped a towel around herself, and walked over to her children. "Honestly you two, get along and help each other, that's what family does, you know."
"Ah, mommy, why do I have to help sister? She whines too much."
"I do not!"
"Stop it both of you. Now turn around, I'll help you both." She looked over at Himino and smiled, but saw that her niece had already left the room.
Himino had stepped out of the tub and quickly dried and dressed while her aunt tended to her children. She really wasn't in the mood for idle happy chatter. She walked back to her room. She opened the door and found a plate of food waiting on her desk. She looked around outside for any sign of who left it for her so she could thank them, but no one was there. She ate and went back to sleep.
She awoke with a start later in the night after having the same dream. She sensed the same chakra presence she felt from the Anbu operative who attacked her in the woods. She rolled out of bed, unsheathed her sword and stood with her back against the wall.
"You know that's one bright light you carry around there." She saw a shadow detach itself from the corner beside the door. When the figure entered the light she could see a man about five feet eleven inches tall with a brown hair pulled back in a pony tail at the base of his neck. His eyes surprised her more than anything and brought back a flood of memories from her childhood. She lowered her sword and stared at the man in front of her.
"Kumo?" She sat down suddenly, her back sliding down the wall. She reached for her scabbard and sheathed her sword, leaving the room suddenly very dark. She heard him walk towards her. Her heart skipped in her chest and she turned on the lamp beside her. The lamplight illuminated his pure blue eyes, the only real sign of his Hyuga clan heritage from his mother. He sat a few feet away from her at the foot of her futon. He looked at her and smiled a sad smile.
"I'm really sorry about your parents." He looked like he wanted to say more, but he just looked at her.
"What are you doing here?"
"I live here. You don't remember?" He gave her a puzzled look that was replaced with a look of understanding. "I see. You probably didn't know at all." He shifted around and leaned against the wall. "I was put on permanent station out here after becoming a Jonin and joining the Anbu."
"When did you join the Anbu? I never knew."
"About four years after you."
"I'm sorry no one ever told me."
"Why would they? It isn't like you had a lot of contact with the rest of us, closed up tight with the Hokage like you were." His voice sounded bitter even to himself and he bowed his head in shame. "I'm sorry, that was uncalled for."
She shrugged. "It is the truth, no matter how you say it." She picked at her shirt tail nervously, her heart still thudding in her chest. She was surprised by her reaction to the man in front of her. She felt like her heart strings were being pulled towards him. "I was very sheltered there. When did you move here?"
"Two years ago. The town needed protection and the Hokage needed someone to keep an eye on the border. Since I grew up here, I became the logical choice."
"I see." She yawned in spite of her nervousness and blushed with embarrassment. "I'm sorry. I'm still a bit sleepy."
"That's understandable. You've been through a lot recently. I'll leave and let you sleep."
"Will I see you again?"
"Of course, I live here and so do you. I'm sure I'll see you in the morning." He stood a walked to the door. He turned and looked at her. "I'm happy you decided to come here." His eyes locked on hers causing her heart to leap into her throat. He smiled at her and closed the door.
She heard his footsteps retreat down the hall and let out a long breath to slow her heartbeat. She turned off the lamp and got back in bed. She stared at the dark ceiling for several long minutes, old memories of Kumo running through her head. She hadn't seen him in six years. He had become a Chunin the year after she had and a Jonin three years after her when he was fifteen. She had heard he had become a Jonin from her parents, but she never knew he had also joined the Anbu, but then someone joining the Anbu was never publicized. She remembered he was two years older than her, making him twenty years old now. She wondered if he had a girlfriend, then felt her face grow hot with emotion when she realized it really wasn't her business after all. It wasn't like there was anything between them. "What was he doing in my room anyway?"
Despite the late hour, she jumped out of bed and quietly made her way down the hall. She crept about until she found his room and knocked on the door. She heard him shuffle around the room then he opened the door. He stood there with just his pants on and a towel over his head, his wet hair hanging about his shoulders and chest. She sucked in her breath and stepped back.
"Um, I'm sorry to bother you, but what were you doing in my room?" He motioned for her to come in so they wouldn't wake anyone up.
"I was just checking on you. I heard you groan in your sleep as I was walking down the hall. It sounded as if you were having a bad dream. I wanted to make sure you were ok."
"Oh, I see." She flushed from head to toe and turned to leave. When she got to the door she turned back to him. "Was it you who put a knife to my throat in the forest?"
He rubbed the back of his head and looked sheepish. "It's my job to protect this area. I didn't know it was you until I got close to you." He looked her in the eyes. "I'm happy you weren't hurt."
"So you gathered my things and brought them here?"
"Thank you for that, but if you ever draw a knife on me again, you better be prepared to eat it." She turned sharply and closed the door behind her.
Kumo ran his fingers through his wet hair and sighed, his heart pounded in his chest.
Himino helped her aunt with breakfast the next morning. She felt better than she had the day she arrived in spite of her broken sleep the night before. When everyone had finished eating, she helped clean then went out to the fields with her grandfather. He walked slightly hunched, but still had a strong long stride in spite of his shorter stature. Being out in the sunshine for a change lifted her spirits and a smile made its way to her face. People waved at them from the field as they passed by and she greeted people she hadn't seen since was small. They walked until the end of the first terrace and her grandfather sat down to rest.
"These old legs don't like to climb like they used to." She sat down beside him and held his hand. He patted hers and looked out at the town below them. "Things sure have changed in my lifetime here." He smiled at her, his wrinkling from the corner of his eyes to the corners of his mouth. "I'm not going to be here forever."
"Is Uncle Chiro going to let you retire someday?"
Her grandpa laughed heartily. "Chiro has proved himself quite capable and actually runs everything now. I just show up to see how things are doing. I'm not ready to retire yet though."
A man ran up the trail waving. "Renkuto! It looks like the hybrids are prospering. Come take a look." The man held out his hand to help her grandfather up. Her grandfather turned to her. "You know Kumo has a plot on the next terrace that's doing really well. He's probably working there now if you want to say hello."
Her heart jumped into her throat again when Kumo's name was mentioned. She tried to hide her excitement which caused her to turn red. "But don't you need me to help you?"
"Nah, this will take a while. I'll see you back at the house later." Renku walked away chuckling.
Not knowing what else to do, she turned and walked up the trail. She saw Kumo bent over in the water checking the plants. He looked up when he heard her footsteps crunch on the gravel of the trail. He smiled warmly at her. The sunlight danced off his brown hair hanging loose around his shoulders only part of his ponytail still clasped. He wiped his hair behind his ear and looked at her. "Would you like to help me? I've been working this plot by myself."
"I really might get in the way. I don't know a thing about rice planting." She waved her hands in front of her as she spoke the color rising in her face once again.
"I'll show you, come on, please?" He held his hands out in front of him. "Please?"
"Oh okay. I'll try." She slipped her shoes off and walked in the ankle deep water to where he stood.
"Just watch me." He watched him pick a plant from the tray beside him and place it in the wet ground. "See it's not hard. It's just really time consuming by myself."
She followed his lead and planted her first plant.
"See." He smiled and handed her another plant. "These plants will be in the ground in no time."
She wiped her hands on her sleeves and reached into her pants pocket. She wrapped a band around her hair and pulled it up in a slipknot on stop of her head to get it out of the way. She watched Kumo tuck his hair behind his ears again.
"Here let me. My hands are dry." She walked over to where he squatted in the water, grabbed up his hair and pulled it back into its clasp.
Kumo dropped the plant he was holding and cleared his throat. He didn't turn to look at her and his voice cracked when he spoke. "Thank you."
She was glad he wasn't looking at her because she was surprised at how natural that felt and she was sure her face showed it. She walked back to her row of plants. She started to make some sharp retort, but stopped herself. "You're welcome," she said instead and continued her work.
The morning passed quickly as they worked. They shared a noon meal he had brought with him from the house that morning. He looked at her work. "I'm really not at all surprised that you learned to plant so quickly. Your rows are actually straighter than mine."
She shrugged and smiled.
"Thank you for helping me."
She leaned her head back and took in a deep breath. "It has been therapeutic to get my mind off of everything."
"It's only been five days. No one expects you to recover from your loss quickly."
He reached for her hand and looked at her wrinkled fingers. He massaged her fingertips to bring the color back to them. She watched his tan hand slide over hers and felt his warmth, despite the cool water they had been working in. She felt her pulse quicken and felt something pull her heart towards his. "You have nice slender hands." He picked up her other hand and started massaging it. "No wonder weapons are easy for you. You have long nimble fingers."
"I never thought about it." The blood rushed around her body making her oddly uncomfortable. She wanted to jerk her hand out of his, but at the same time, she wanted him to hold her hand forever. Her emotions were all mixed up and she realized he had stopped massaging her fingers and just held her hand. His eyes sparkled in the afternoon sun.
"I've missed you, Himino."
"Really? Why?" She realized that sounded really stupid, but the words came out before she could stop them.
He laughed. "Let's get back to work ok?" He stood up and offered her his hand.
She just sat looking at him. "You didn't answer my question."
"Because, just because, ok?"
"Whatever." She stood without his assistance and glared at him. "Like you said, let's get back to work."
As the afternoon passed slowly, Himino burned with impatience at the quiet that fell between them. She felt as if she would choke to death if she didn't speak to him soon. She turned and watched him move from plant to plant his arm muscles rippling with the effort of burying the roots. "Uh, Kumo?" He turned and looked at her. "I've missed you to." She felt herself fall into his warm smile.
"Oh, really? Why?"
She laughed. "Because, just because."
They both laughed easing the tension between them. The rest of their conversations fell lightly on the wind and the afternoon passed by a bit too fast.
Himino stared at her wrinkled water soaked fingers as she walked back to the village.
"Don't worry, that'll go away soon." Kumo rubbed his hands together to increase the circulation in his fingers.
"Yeah. I guess I'm just not used to a lot of physical labor, in spite of a lifetime of training."
Kumo looked at her through the corner of his eye. "It must have been lonely for you."
"Lonely?" Himino stopped walking and looked down at the ground. Memories of her childhood flitted across her mind like leaves in the wind.
Kumo looked at her worriedly. "I'm sorry. I was out of line to speak that way."
"No, it's okay." She looked up at him and smiled a sad smile. "You know, at the time, I never considered myself lonely. I had my mom and dad, Naruto, my teammates. I had a duty to perform and I was never alone when I was on duty and Naruto made sure I spent as little time as possible alone if my parents were on missions. So, no, I was never lonely, but for a while now, I've felt not so much lonely, as empty."
"Naruto, huh? You speak casually of the Hokage." Kumo turned away from her to hide the heat rising in his face.
"Well, he was part of my family long before he became Hokage. I knew my place though when I was on duty." She glared at Kumo's back then walked past him.
He grabbed her arm as she passed him up and turned her around. "I'm sorry. I was out of line again." He shook his head and sighed. "I guess you care about him a great deal."
She nodded and he released his grip on her arm. She turned and continued to the village.
Kumo walked faster to catch up with her. "So, thank you for helping me today. I can't believe we got everything planted."
Grateful for the change of subject, Himino nodded. "It's harder than it looks, but it was fun. I'm happy I was able to help you." She stretched her arms above her head letting a huge yawn slip out before she could stifle it. She turned pink and covered her mouth belatedly. "I'm sorry. I haven't been sleeping well lately."
"That's understandable. The last few days have not been easy on you."
She took a deep breath and exhaled. "I keep having the same dream over and over."
"The one you told me about before? The one about your parents?"
"Yes. I don't know why, though."
"There has to be something you need to learn from the dream or you wouldn't keep seeing it."
"You believe that?"
Kumo nodded. "Definitely."
"I just wish I knew what I was looking for if that's the case."
"You'll figure it out in time." He placed his hand on her shoulder as they walked. "Until then, just hang in there."
She looked at him and tried to smile, but the smile did not reach her eyes.
After a good long soak in the tub, Himino wound a towel around her long silver hair and walked back to her room. She stretched out on her futon and stared at the dark ceiling and thought about Konoha. "I wonder how everyone is? Naruto, how are you?" A few tears leaked from her eyes and she wiped them away quickly. She fell asleep thinking of all the nights when she was small that she fell asleep on Naruto's shoulder.
That night when the dream came again, she was gently wrapped in silver threads. The dream passed slower this time, but when she woke up suddenly, only the white light from the blast filled her mind. She looked around the room and saw there was no light coming from under the door so it was not yet morning. She wrapped her covers around here and quietly opened the door and walked down the hall and slipped out the side door. The stars glowed brightly and the moon was cresting over on the hill behind the village. She opened her senses to the world around here and took in the movements in the natural energy flow. The world here was new and unfamiliar to her. She sensed a small pack of coyotes roaming around hills, a pair of owls flying in the night sky hunting for food, and a familiar presence sitting on the rooftop above her. She gathered her blanket in her arms and leapt upward. The chill wind blew threw her still damp hair and she shivered. She quickly wrapped herself again and set down.
"You'll catch a cold if you're not careful, you know." Kumo turned and looked at her, then smiled. "It's beautiful here at night."
"It really is." She drew her legs up and rested her arms on her knees and her chin on her arms. She pulled the blanket over her head tighter and watched the moon's slow ascent into the night sky.
"That dream woke up again?" She didn't answer, but he saw her head nod under the blanket. "That's what I thought." They sat quietly together for a while until he heard her yawn. "I'm actually on patrol for a while yet. Why don't you go back to bed and get some sleep? We still have work to do in the rice fields tomorrow." He stood and held out his hand for her. She placed her hand in his and he helped her up. She wobbled a little from exhaustion and he picked her up in his arms and dropped down to the ground with her. She was already asleep when he put her down in her bed. He gently wiped her hair out of her face and watched her sleep. "You really don't know do you?" He kissed her forehead then left the room.
His duty as a Leaf Village Shinobi was to protect his home village and watch the Eastern border of the Land of Fire. He had been stationed in this remote area when he was sixteen after reaching Jonin level. Although he was around the people he grew up with, he sorely missed Konoha after living there for six years, but most of all, when he received this assignment, he felt like he had left a part of his soul behind. He had worked extremely hard to improve his skills and become a member of the Anbu Black Ops. He did not progress as quickly as Himino did, very few people would, but he worked even harder to catch up with her. The harder he tried to catch up to her, the further away she seemed to get. All he could do was wait for the day fate would bring them together again and he could properly thank her for bringing him back from the brink of death after their battle at the Chunin exams. He could still feel her hand on his arm from back then, it seemed where she touched him was all those years ago was warmer than the rest of his body. He felt tied to her in an unexplainable way. He stood on the crest of hill facing southwest towards Konoha. He ran his hand through his hair and closed his eyes. "Will you ever understand?" He thought of how the sunlight glinted off of her silver hair and the inner light that shone from her silver eyes. In her pain, she seemed oblivious to his feelings, yet she had found him tonight. He could only hope she continued to turn to him.
He made his way back to the house and quietly entered the house. He grabbed a bite to eat and sat down in the dark kitchen. He heard footstep approach the room and a soft yellow lamplight filled the hallway.
"I thought I might find you here."
"Grandpa Renku, did I wake you?"
"No, I was hungry. When I realized the time, I thought you might be just getting back so I came to look for you." Laugh lines crinkled from Renku's eyes to his mouth as he smiled at Kumo. He sat down slowly beside Kumo and patted his knee. "How is our girl?"
Kumo let out a long breath and shook his head. "She's still caught up in her emotion, still not letting anyone break through that tough outer shell of hers, but on the inside, she's begging for help. I can feel it."
Renku nodded his understanding. "She is much like her mother that way. Just stay by her side. She needs you more than she even knows."
Kumo stood and helped Renku up. "I think I need to turn in. Do you mind if I check on her before I go to bed?"
Renku laughed quietly and shook his head. "Take care of her, Kumo. That's all I ask of you."
Kumo looked at Renku, then turned and walked down the hall. He heard Himino's whimpering cries and knew she was reliving the dream again. He sat down outside her room and closed his eyes. He linked his mind to hers and watched the dream replay itself in a continuous loop. He saw her running towards the scene and felt her panic when she couldn't reach them in time. He slowly wound his thoughts around her. She turned and looked around in her dream. She seemed to feel his presence watching her dream with her. "We'll figure this out together, I promise." She looked down at the silver ropes winding their way around her body, enveloping her in tranquility. She gasped in surprise and blinked a couple of times as if focusing on the world around her for the first time. He walked up to her and wrapped his arms around her, silver ropes binding them together. "Watch now. Watch for what you need to see." He nodded towards the scene. Tears streamed down her face. She stared at his face in wonder. "Watch." She turned her head away from him and saw the people surround her parents for the thousandth time. She saw many of them fall dead as her mother drew their chakra away from them and use it to build a shield.
The dream stopped. She turned her head to look at Kumo. "The shield." She creased her brow in puzzlement.
"It's not clear. Mother's shields were always clear before."
Kumo nodded again and Himino turned to watch. The dream restarted. Her father's hands flashed, but for the first time she really saw the hand signs. "An Earth jutsu? What in the world?" Her parents disappeared in the milky shield, but Kumo reached up to cover her eyes before the explosion.
Himino sat straight up in surprise. She searched her body for the silver ropes in her dream, but they were no longer visible although she could still feel them around her. "Kumo? But, how?" The door slid open and Kumo sat in the hallway looking at her. Her soul quivered when she saw him as if for the first time. She motioned for him to come inside the room. "Back then, when we were kids after the Chunin exam, I helped you. After that, I felt you were always near me, but then I lost that feeling a few years ago. It was like I was empty inside." She looked at him in astonishment. "That was when you came here?" He smiled at lopsided grin and bowed his head to her. "I can't believe it. It's impossible."
"Is it, really?"
She shook her head in wonderment and placed her hands in his. He smiled softly at her and drew her into his arms. She placed her forehead on his shoulder and let the pent up tears fall. After some time, she back away from him and dried her face and bowed before him. "Will you help me?"
He chuckled nervously and cupped her chin in his hand and lifted her head. He cocked his head from side to side and if searching her soul for his answer. "I will help you now as you helped me back then, when we were younger."
She let out a long breath and collapsed on her futon. She felt as if she was overcome with a fever. Her body began to tremble and she broke out in a sweat. She looked at Kumo's concerned expression and reached for him.
He squeezed her hand and she pulled him down next to her and he wrapped his arms around her as he had in her dream. "Go back to sleep now. In the morning, we'll talk about the dream." She curled up with her back to her chest and fell back asleep.
He nuzzled his cheek into her hair and closed his eyes. "I'm so happy you finally figured it out." He closed his eyes and drifted to sleep.
Himino awoke around mid-morning feeling better than she had in weeks. She knew Kumo was working in the rice fields, but she didn't need to look for him. She dressed quickly, pulled her hair into her standard ponytail, and ran down the hall and out the back door. She ran up the hill behind her grandfather's house, and stood looking at the landscape. Below her was a narrow valley. "That's a good spot." She leapt down the hill and landed nimbly at the base. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. She replayed the jutsu hand signs from her dream in her mind, memorized the pattern, and tried them for herself. Her mouth gaped open, her eyes widened as she surveyed the results of the jutsu. Tears slid down her face. She wiped them off with the back of her hand, and sprinted away towards the rice fields. She ran as fast as she could and nearly passed up Kumo who was running to meet her.
He grabbed her shoulders. "What's wrong? I felt something happen."
"Kumo, my and dad, they are…"