Authors notes: Done originally for the Temps Morts 'Past, Present, and Future' challenge: three scenes, one in the past, one in the present, and one in the future.  Trick is the last line from the first scene has to be the first line in the second and the last line of the second must be the first line of the third, and the last line of the third has to be the first line of the first.  So, here it is. Standard disclaimer applies.


          "Stand up, Hinata."

          Her father was annoyed now, she could hear it in his voice. She wanted to. She had to, she knew she did, but her knees kept shaking and her fingers wouldn't flex, and it felt like his eyes were pressing her down. She wanted to, but she couldn't. She wanted to say, 'Father, I can't' but she couldn't do that either.

          "Stand up," he said again, and he was losing patience, so she tried, and somehow, somehow managed to lift her cheek. She splayed her fingers out against the polished wood, shoved her body, tiny body she was only four, off the floor. 'I'm trying, father,' she wanted to say, but the words wouldn't go past her lips, her breath was too shaky, she was too shaky, and her father was getting frustrated now, she could feel it in his gaze. Stand up. What good are you, he seemed to say, if you cannot even do this on your own? I'm losing patience.  Perhaps its time to start over. Useless.

          Useless. She pushed herself to her knees, felt something cry out in her arms, the muscles were taut, sweat beaded on her lips. She forced a leg up, forced it to take her weight and it hurt, it hurt. 'I'm standing, father,' she wanted to whisper, because she really could do it. Just a little more. 'See, father?' She looked up at him, and pushed off of the floor again. 'See?' She swayed, strained, and stumbled. Her palm scraped against the boards painfully. Stand up, Hinata. She whimpered. Please.

          "We're done," her father said, sighing, sad now in a way she couldn't understand but could feel in her every aching fiber. All this. All this for nothing. What good was it. Useless, useless girl.

          She managed to get her shoulders up by the time he'd turned. "Father, I can do it," she pleaded, rising a little ways off the floor. She steadied her legs, lifted her fingers, and raised her chin. He didn't look back at her. No, Hinata.  It wasn't enough.

          It wasn't enough. She'd known from the beginning. Not enough, never enough. She'd lost before she'd even started—and he'd been right, of course, of course he'd been right. Her body had been the give away, had given way, and what hope she'd had fluttered and guttered out with her heart the moment she'd felt the slap of his palm against her chest. The floor was cool against her cheek, smooth stone under her fingers. She could still see, she could still hear, though it was starting to fade out very, very fast, because really, how could she have thought it would be enough.

          Still, she slid her palm under her body. Still, she pushed herself upwards. Still, she could hear /him/ from the walkway. 'I'm trying, Naruto-kun,' she wanted to say, but it hurt enough just to breath. She could do it, if her body would let her, she could do it, if she kept her balance. She could do it, if she could just lift her head and just look up. 'I'm not done, Neji-niisan.' She wanted to yell across the arena, forcing herself to take the weight into her heels and forcing her body, swaying, to her feet. Not yet, not yet. Neji looked at her like she was crazy. Looked annoyed, too. Fool, he seemed to say with the twist in his lips and wide outraged eyes, what do you think you're doing? You've lost. That's enough. And he was right, of course. She could taste the blood in her mouth and in her voice, struggling to be heard as she held her hand to her ribs to keep her breaking body together for just.  Just a little. Just. A little. Longer.

          "You're wrong."

          "You're wrong," she murmured, sitting with her hands folded in her lap. They were struck dumb by it, the rows of them all listening, and she couldn't help flinching. She hadn't thought it would be so surprising that her voice could carry. It couldn't have been that strange to them. Even her sister was staring, the point she'd been in the process of making to the rest brought down to a tip of her head and a confused, "Oneesama?"

          "You're wrong," Hinata said again, shifting uncomfortably in her seat. "I disagree." Please understand Hanabi-chan, she wanted to say. I love you, but I can't let you…

          "Oneesama," her sister said, frowning, and crossing her arms. The clan's eyes were back on her. Hanabi shouldered it well, stalking the length of the room to address the elders more than Hinata. Why are you doing this? she seemed to ask just her alone. "I think--"

          "I do not think we should take that course of action, Hanabi-chan," Hinata said, calmly as she could. Please forgive me. I have to. Her sisters eyes flashed in loud, angry disbelief. She turned her back. Don't do this, Oneesama, she seemed to tell her. You can't handle it.

          "As I was saying--"

          "Hanabi-chan," Hinata whispered. "You misunderstand."

          "What." Her sister's voice was coarse--frustrated. Hinata pressed her fingers against smooth polished wood beneath her, and leaned forward, smiling.

          "I mean," she pronounced slowly, her legs unfolding, kimono rustling. "We will not be taking that coarse of action. I'm sorry, I did not word that right the first time, did I?"

          There was shock in the room then. Shock and more than a dozen wide eyes, all on her. It was enough to make her shake, but not enough to stop her. She set her feet against the floor. Not now, not now. This was important. She slid her palm along the boards. She wasn't done yet, not by far. Fingers still, Hinata. It can't be so hard anymore.

          "…Therefore," she said, pushing up and looking up, and struggling to keep her eyes steady and her chin raised. Don't look away. "That's not what we're going to be doing." Her sister bristled, and Hinata smiled sadly. Only a little afraid. Not too much though. "As clan head, Hanabi-chan, this…This is my choice."

          Stand up, Hinata.