No More Dead Heroes

Chapter 1: Focus

It's war now, and yes, it's hell. Oh how the times have changed; there aren't many smiles in this hidden village anymore. People are being separated from their loved ones left and right, either by death or duty, and some are starting to lose what hope they had left. But some are still holding out for that better day, whether it's ever going to come or not.

"I want to be sure you understand what this title entails before I give it to you Neji-kun."


Tsunade sighed. Stoic as usual, the Hyuuga didn't give any indication of whether he had heard her or not, much less whether he actually cared.

And there really wasn't much point trying to read those eyes.

You would think she would be used to them by now, what with all of the Hyuuga clan members in the village, whether from the Main or Branch Family, some who she saw on a daily basis, some not so much, but some things are always going to be creepy, no matter what. Strangely enough, not, blank, smooth, emotionless white eyes were one of those things.

Thankfully, she already knew he cared, or she wouldn't have even considered him for this position.

But she had to make sure he knew what he was getting himself into; he was still just a kid, they were all still kids, no matter how much they may insist otherwise. This wasn't a title she went around handing out to any old shinobi after all, especially not now. At least she knew she could trust this particular Jounin without any fear of betrayal, unlike some of the others in her village.

The Godaime sighed again, keeping one eye on the eldest Hyuuga child as she did. She didn't think he had moved since entering her office, and she would be surprised if he did so other than to leave. His expression hadn't even changed, he just stood there, waiting for her to get it over with and tell him her decision. It wasn't like he was ignoring her either, the Jounin was listening patiently, he merely understood that him getting all dramatic wouldn't speed up the process at all.

She just wished he'd pass that knowledge onto Naruto.

And if she ever got around to actually giving him the title formally, it was this same trait that would make him such a good ANBU.

However, it was taken a little too far in this child. Yes, child. To date, she could count on one hand the times she'd seen the Hyuuga emotional. No, scratch that, she could count them on one finger.

It had been horrible. Obviously, he had experienced loss before; he was a Hyuuga after all.

But some losses were worse than others.

And she could say without reservation that she never wanted to see someone in that condition ever again.

Unfortunately, that wasn't for her to decide.

She hated this war, she really did.

"And where do you think you're going?"

Shikamaru gritted his teeth; it was much harder than he cared to admit to keep himself from turning around and snapping at his mother. And he wasn't often motivated to even do anywhere near that much, let alone to keep himself from doing it.

Had she always been this annoying?

Yeah, yeah she had. Just, his dad had been able to dull her words a little, making her a little calmer, a little nicer.

But he wasn't here now, was he?

"I'm going to see Neji; he was supposed to find out today if he made ANBU." Shikamaru replied, careful to keep the disdain out of his words. If it wasn't for that… incident, he would already be out of here, either living by himself or sharing an apartment with one of his friends. More likely the latter, as he really didn't have much use for it anymore, thanks to all the missions he was assigned.

But now? His mother was just too fragile.

And as much as he denied it at times, he cared about her, at least enough to make sure she was alright, and not too lonely.

"You aren't going until you finish clearing out that room like I asked." She told him from her position in the doorway, a dishtowel in one hand, a bowl in the other.

It was really tempting just to grab his stuff and walk out of here forever sometimes.

Who cares if he didn't have anywhere to go? Frankly, he didn't care if he ended up living in a box on the side of the road. Anything was better than here. Except for a hole in the ground.

"He's my friend mother. And you know he's alone now."

He wasn't sure if it was possible for anyone to forget that. As much as he had tried, the sight of Hyuuga Neji on his knees, in tears, was beyond his power to erase.

"I'm alone too; you don't seem to care much about that. Besides, he has his cousin, the dark haired girl from the Main Family to keep him company; you don't need to waste your time with people like him."

She was angry now.

Shikamaru sighed. Now he was never going to get out of here. "Of course I care that you're alone Mother, or I wouldn't be living here still. And no, he doesn't. Hinata-chan took some Genins and a month's worth of supplies out to one of the Jounin camps in the North Forest. She has to make sure they're well enough trained that they don't die on their first mission."

He tactfully ignored the thinly veiled jab at Neji; he didn't want to get into that fight with his mother again.

Just when had life become such a hassle?

She had to have been out of her mind to agree to this.

Absolutely, without a doubt, insane.

They had only been at the Jounin camp for four days and already the five Genins she had brought with her had caused more damage than you would think possible from such little kids.

This was pathetic.

After so long with them protesting adamantly any time she called them kids, even just thinking something like that had her looking over her shoulder, making sure they weren't trying to ambush her.

Obviously, the only reason she then activated her Byakugan wasn't that she was at all afraid of the hyperactive chibis, she just needed to be on guard at all times. There was a war going on after all…

How long till she got to go home?

Hinata sighed, she should be thankful she had been given such an easy, and relatively safe, mission. She felt sorry for Kiba, who had left Konoha the same day she had, except his mission was taking him so much further away, deeper and deeper into enemy territory.

And he only had two other people with him, not nine (four of them Jounins) like Hinata had. Even if the majority of hers were brats.

When had she gotten so cynical?

Oh. Right.

"Hinata-sensei, Hinata-sensei! Rin and Kaburo took all the smoke bombs again, even though you told them yesterday that they had to share!"

Hinata looked up from the kunai she had been twirling while she waited to watch the two girls running towards her. Instead of the usual nine that graduated out of the academy, this year fifteen had been chosen, five of which were here to train with her. The other ten had been split between Ino and Choji, both of whom had turned out to be surprisingly good with children, despite still being teenagers themselves, and Ino's nasty temper.

Who would have thought that, just five years ago now, they were these children.

They had been divided into teams, teams with people with whom they would work with for a long time, and get closer too than their own families ever could. And with these people, they had risked their lives for an ideal.

But in the beginning, they had been mere children, who were weak and foolish and ignorant. Of course, that had changed more quickly for some than others.

And now, it was happening all over again.

She didn't want to think about how many of these children would be dead before the year was out.

Rock Lee was not enjoying himself in the slightest.

It was all Gai-sensei's fault too. If the Jounin hadn't decided that it was imperative for him to run off with Tenten and find the closest ANBU team before they attacked the Sound-nins on the other side of the river, Lee would not be sitting in an increasingly wet ditch, waiting for them to return.

Which would also mean he wouldn't be cursing the Jounin's name, or sneezing every couple seconds.

He groaned. This meant he was going to have to make a stop at the Konoha hospital when they got back, or he wouldn't be any good for anyone.

Lee had spent far too much time in hospitals.

He sneezed again, wiping a hand across his face with a snuffle as soon as the spots in his eyes had cleared.

Why on earth did they need the stupid ANBU anyway? There were only five enemies in the camp, all only at Chuunin level, and they didn't even know they were here. Or had been here anyway. Now it was just Lee.

Lucky him.

Of course, it didn't pay to make careless mistakes in this business.

They had learned that lesson the hard way.

Great, now he was sitting in a ditch, getting soaked to the bone, all by his lonesome, and he had just succeeded in making himself depressed to top it all off.

This really was not his day.

Of course, if Neji hadn't been too busy trying to join the ranks of the elite (Lee wasn't too fond of the ANBU), he would have been here sitting in the ditch with him.

Not that he had anything against Neji or anything.

Frankly, the Jounin had suffered more than his fair share since this damn war started.

Maybe there wasn't all that much weight in the saying "fortune favors the brave". Some of the bravest people he knew had lost everything they had and then some things they didn't even know they had.

Or had had.

Lee couldn't wait for the day they could finally say that the war was over.

It couldn't come a day to soon in his opinion.

Of course, maybe that was why Neji was a Jounin and he was still only a Chuunin.

Sometimes Shino wondered if this little garden of his was the only peaceful place left in the world.

It certainly felt that way sometimes.

He was reluctant even to venture outside of his house unless to train or go on a mission; he hated to see the fear that had taken hold of the villagers. But lately, he couldn't even count on the privacy of his own house to shelter him from the emotions that were running wild in Konoha. Still, he holed up here until Tsunade sent her messengers for him.

Which she did every time he returned, often with only a day's rest in between, without fail.

But he couldn't blame the Godaime even a bit. It just wasn't her fault that the world wasn't the peaceful place it had been a few years ago.

Shino sighed, glancing around his little garden despondently. This was his first time home in over a month, and he couldn't even count on the one person he had wanted to see most actually being here at the same time. From what he had managed to gather from the guard who had assisted him back here, the Inuzuka had been sent out a mere few days ago.

Even that was iffy though; the guard had been speaking rather quickly, thus stumbling over more than a few words. He had known better than to stick around for long after this admission too.

Apparently the Chuunin got this job a lot; telling people that their loved ones wouldn't be home for a while now.

Really he should be thankful he wasn't saddled with the job of telling people that their loved ones wouldn't ever be coming home.

Tsunade-sama probably had a list with all her shinobi's family members and important people on it, just in case the worst should happen.

Which it did, on a daily basis, no less.

Like clockwork.

That really told people everything they needed to know about Konoha, and how it was slowly crumbling, now didn't it?

And even here, in the scrub of land he called a garden; the same chaos that had torn apart the village was starting to take root. There were weeds choking out all the flowers, and his precious bugs were being driven away by wild animals and dog urine. The grass had been shredded beyond recognition and little clumps of dirt had been torn out of the ground.

It would have been more depressing if he actually still had the time to visit it more than once a month, when he was lucky.

And Shino, one arm held out for any bug that so desired to land on, tried not to focus too hard on the dark windows behind him.

a/n: I'll try to update soon, and I'll give someone a cookie if they can tell me what/who Neji lost. Bet you can't. Anyway, I'm trying to keep them in character, but it just didn't work with Hinata. Sorry?