Hinata sighed, gazing at her round belly. It had almost been a month, and Neji wasn't back yet.
He left early that morning, only waking her up to tell her that he was leaving. Hinata tried to get up and see him off, but he insisted that she went back to bed. She needed to stay as healthy as she could. Hinata finally gave in, letting Neji kiss her lightly on the cheek. Then, he was gone, his promise of coming back in time wavering through the cool morning air.
Since then, Hinata barely left the house. Ino came, every day, despite Hinata's protests. The blonde brought over groceries and checked on Hinata. Occasionally, flowers from her shop decorated the dining table or the simple nightstand.
Hinata felt that she owed Ino a lot. Sometimes she snuck out to run her own errands, though it was difficult to hide her pregnant stomach in her small form. Ino eventually caught Hinata, discovering the pantry was full for over two weeks. She then made Hinata stay at home and take care of herself.
At night, Hinata slept in Neji's bed. Hers was slightly more comfortable, though she missed him and his scent. For the first few weeks, she was afraid of washing Neji's sheets. But a good medical nin knew to stay clean, and reason won. Hinata was pleased to find that Neji's pine-like scent lingered on the soft fabric. She felt like a silly schoolgirl again, crushing on some boy. She couldn't place the thing about Neji's smell that eased her to sleep. It was subtle and soothing.
However, after washing Neji's sheets multiple times, the smell faded and Hinata was reminded on how long Neji had been gone.
His clothes lay idle in the small closet he and Hinata shared. The kunai and shuriken disappeared from their stash. Rolls of bandages and bottles of creams and ointments lacked their places in the cabinets.
Hinata was all alone.
Even when Ino visited her occasionally, Hinata felt distant. She could not bear not seeing Neji's face, his calm, pale eyes, his long smooth hair…
Hinata longed for Neji to come home. Her baby's due date was approaching fast. Sometimes, Hinata could not help but doubt if Neji would come home, on time or at all.
Neji and his squad leapt onto a tree branch, then stiffened. They've been getting signs of an ambush, but he didn't estimate for it to be this soon…his Byukagan told him that many shinobi had concealed themselves, entirely surrounding his squad. He flung out his hand, signaling for the rest to stop.
"Shadow techniques…" said Tiger from Neji's right.
Neji gave a nod.
"What do we do?" came Wolf's low voice.
Neji could feel four pairs of eyes staring at him from behind their slitted masks.
"Do we take them on?" whispered Fox's feminine voice. She shifted slightly in her spot.
Neji's eyes narrowed, thinking the plan over. The enemy was waiting, quietly. And just a few hours away until the borders of Konohagure…he was almost home…
"Eagle, what do we do?" Kitsune murmured.
Neji frowned. They were obviously using shadow techniques. Shadow clones, with several bushins. Why would they have two different ones?
"They've already noticed that we've stopped. They know we're aware of their presence…we wait." Neji muttered.
The others behind him nodded.
Neji stared ahead. "Make a copy and hide."
The others nodded again, and they flickered slightly. They did as they were told.
Neji stayed where he was, his muscles tense. There was one forming right below him… The shadows of the rotten leaves shifted, then pooled to firm a figure emerging from the black depths. Neji activated his Byukagan. He predicted that they were Chuunin, but at the same time, he should be careful. He didn't want a moment's delay. He wanted nothing but to get home to Hinata as soon as possible.
Neji counted five nin. All clones, whether shadow or solid. The other three could take care of the rest.
Neji stood on his branch, impatiently waiting. "Come out," Neji said, voice cold.
Hinata's eyes shot wide open, and the mug she was holding fell to the floor and shuttered into many jagged pieces.
"No," Hinata whispered. The baby was not due until another week or so! Tsunade's voice floated back to her.
"Have Ino or Sakura when the time comes," Tsunade said, her voice serious. "I know that Hyuuga pregnancy is extremely difficult to go through, so be careful, alright, Hinata?"
Hinata squeezed her hands in her lap and nodded respectfully.
"And," Tsunade continued, "your father insisted that…" she paused and pinched the bridge of her nose. "…your father wanted you to return to the Hyuuga compound immediately after you give birth. Neji is to raise the child until he or she has to…become of age."
Hinata frowned, her eyes confused. "I don't understand what you mean, Tsunade-sama," she said politely.
Tsunade sighed through her nose. "To put it bluntly, your father doesn't want you to be seen taking care of a child, yours or not. But, he wants one of you to raise the child as a true parent, hence Neji. I…understand, Hinata," Tsunade added soothingly at Hinata's stricken expression. "The age of maturity is two, your father and I have decided. I know it's hard…but…those were his wishes."
Hinata nodded slowly, willing herself not to panic or cry.
"So, Hinata, after you give birth to your child, your father will send an escort. You will be disguised, and returned to the Hyuuga compound, and live there, until your child is of two years old," Tsunade said, swiftly returning to her curt demeanor.
Hinata swallowed, and gave a hesitant nod. "Alright," she murmured.
Tsunade turned and left Hinata's lonely house, with Hinata bowing after her.
The Godaime paused, her hand on the door knob. "I'll be praying that Neji will come home safely to you," she said softly.
Neji whipped around and struck an easy blow to the shadow clone creeping up on him. It faltered then disappeared. The other four suddenly advanced at the same time.
Neji scowled behind his mask and impatiently struck them all down, harder than he intended.
He eyed the rustling leaves, then jumped in, finishing to job as soon as possible.
Neji slipped the bloody kunai back into his holster, ignoring the stickiness of the bodily fluid on his fingers. He spun around to the origin of the voice, dodging a blow gracefully, then running a kunai through his attacker as he darted toward Kitsune's cries.
She was knelt on the ground, clutching her bleeding leg. A gash ripped through the back of her calf and dripped onto the blades of grass, each one bowing down as the red drops of burden rained down from the sky.
Neji held out a hand and Kitsune grabbed it and pulled herself up.
Neji's pearly eyes widened slightly as Kitsune's unusually smooth hands touched his. The twin kodachi strapped o her back were worn and beaten.
"Hold still, Kitsune," Neji murmured.
She paused, leg shaking slightly from the strain.
Her eyes widened as a kunai whipped across her slightly tanned skin and left a thin white scar. Small droplets of blood seeped through the shallow cut.
Her eyes stared at the red liquid, then rose to meet his behind the mast.
"What'd you do that for?" she asked.
Neji felt shame spread through him. "I'm sorry - I though you were a doppelganger - I was distracted-" Neji flustered. He had just made a fool of himself. "I thought you were a clone because your hand - they're not calloused…" Neji said lamely.
Kitsune stood up and winced, taking a mall hop as Neji moved to support her. "I used the ointment Hinata-san made me - it's quite useful…"
"What's the matter with you these days? On this mission you were so…I don't know, anxious," Kitsune said, her masked face turning to look at him.
Neji almost flinched. Almost. "It's nothing." he said coolly. But it was something. He promised Hinata… He led Kitsune forward. "Come on."
Kitsune nodded and limped along with Neji. "Let's get outta here," she muttered darkly.
Wolf and Tiger leapt down in front of Neji, Wolf shoving a nin to Neji's feet.
"Gomen nasai!" the shadow nin said shakily. "We had a misunderstanding - we - my team attacked the wrong people - please, forgive us!"
Neji looked past the shadow nin and saw three other original nin tied together. He looked back at the shinobi at his feet coldly through his slitted mask.
Neji's ghostly eyes flashed dangerously, unseen by everyone, though they felt his sudden glare.
"I'm in a hurry," Neji said. "Next time before you attack someone, take a good look at their identity."
Neji jumped up, landing on a tree branch. "We'll take turns carrying Kitsune. Her leg is injured. Let's go."
Wolf looked at Kitsune and inclined his head inquiringly.
Kitsune casted Neji a searching look before hesitantly circling her arms around his neck.
They all took off in a flurry of dead leaves, leaving the shadow nin behind.
Ino hurried onto Hinata's porch, and fumbling, pulled out an extra key and tired to open the door. Ino slipped inside, shut the door behind her, and hurried to Hinata's room , where Ino ordered her to rest there until she arrived.
Hinata looked up, her glossy hair streaming in the sunlight that filtered through the blinds. "Ino!"
Ino hurried to her side. "I came as soon as I could - how's the pain?"
Hinata gave a weak smile. "I'm fine…"
Ino eyed the pale complexion of Hinata's skin. It was paler than usual.
"Are you sure?" Ino asked.
Hinata was halfway through a nod when she froze, eyes squeezed shut and her hands pressed to her abdomen.
Ino leaned forward concernedly.
Hinata's hand found the sheets, ad clenched her hand so that her knuckles turned white.
Ino's eyebrows furrowed and she felt Hinata's forehead.
"I'll be right back," she said shakily.
Hinata could only nod.
Neji knew something was wrong. He glanced back at the other three.
"We need to hurry," Neji said.
The three nodded and caught up to him.
"Eagle-san," Tiger said. "I noticed that the ones that attacked us were from Konoha."
"What?" Neji said. Why didn't he notice?
"They disguised their forehead protectors to say they were from water country… maybe to fool the ones they were truly intending to attack." Tiger continued.
Neji nodded. "What a troublesome delay," he muttered.
"We're in for a big one when we report to Tsunade," Wolf said. Kitsune nodded.
Neji's eyes narrowed. They should've noticed earlier….now the Fifth would have a fit, ANBU, the elite shinobi, attacking their own people accidentally. A lecture would probably be given.
"Hurry," Neji said. He sped up, jumping nimbly over branches and avoiding overhangs.
Hiashi looked up as the door slid open.
"You called, Otou-san?" Hanabi murmured, bowing before her father.
"What is it you want, father?" Hanabi questioned.
"Hinata is in labor." Hiashi said.
"What? Already? I thought it wasn't due until next week?" Hanabi exclaimed.
"Not so loud," Hiashi said.
"Hai… What was it you wanted?"
"You were supposed to escort Hinata home. But… if the same thing happened to you as it did your mother….bring her body back."
Hanabi's wide eyes blinked, then lowered. She nodded hesitantly and bowed. "Hai, Otou-san…" she turned and left.
Hinata rested, leaned back in the pillows and breathing heavily. Ino sat by her side, rubbing her thumb on Hinata's hand.
"Hinata, you must - we have to get your child out!" Ino cried.
Hinata clenched her teeth as another contraction ripped through her lower abdomen.
"Hinata? Hinata!" Ino said frantically. She wet a towel, squeezed it of its excess water, and placed it on Hinata's forehead. "Your contractions are too strong, Hinata, it's not healthy for you or your child!"
Hinata shook her head, her eyes still tightly shut. "I must wait-" she gritted out.
"You don't even know if he's coming today!" Ino said hysterically.
Hinata cried out in pain and doubled over.
"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," Ino said, her eyes glazed with panic. "Demo… Hinata, there will be serious health complications if we don't get your child out."
Hinata had never been in so much pain before; even the worst injuries during missions did not add up to this. A moan escaped Hinata's lips and she gave into Ino's pleadings.
Ino was only calmed slightly. She gently pushed Hinata into position.
Two hours later of muffled screams, tiny cries rang out through the near-silent room. Hinata, weak and exhausted laid back in her bloody bed, panting faintly.
Ino swiftly cleaned off the whimpering baby and bundled it in thick towels. Still holding the baby, she shakily dialed Sakura's phone number. She needed help.
Hinata had lost much more blood than she should have. The sheets and mattress were soaked in the crimson liquid. She was paling fast.
Sakura came as fast as she could, slightly bewildered at the whole situation. Spotting Hinata's blood loss, she too paled.
Hinata's soft white eyes opened slightly. "Is he coming?" she said, breathing very shallowly. She was fading.
Ino's brow furrowed, and she looked to the side. "Yes, Hinata, he's coming as fast as he can." Sakura watched with sad eyes.
Hinata sighed, head drooping slightly. "Tell me when he comes," she murmured.
Ino felt a pang lance through her chest.
Neji almost tore the door down as he exploded into Tsunade's office. Tsunade looked up, startled by the sudden noise.
"Mission report-" Neji started.
Tsunade held up a hand. "Report already given, Neji. Kitsune, Sohma, Ryoumaru, go home. Neji, I need to speak with you."
The others nodded and left bowing as they left.
Neji stepped forward, speaking before the door actually closed.
"How is she?" he said, ripping off his mask. If his instincts were right…
Tsunade looked at him through her chestnut eyes. "She went into labor around four hours ago."
Neji's eyes widened, and his face paled. "Is she alright? Has anything happen-"
Tsunade held up a hand. "I have no idea of the situation. Go home to her, Neji."
Neji bowed twice and he hurried out of the building. He leapt out of an open window in the hall, and landed gracefully, despite his hurry. He didn't even bother to change into normal clothes. His mask went back on his face.
His form flickered from rooftop to rooftop, until he came to a stop in front of Hinata's house. The house was silent. Neji's eyes were wide in confusion. Why was it so quiet? His hand froze right on the doorknob. Why?
The door creaked open and he stepped into the dim house. He hurriedly closed the door behind him and made his way down to Hinata's room, taking off his mask.
Sakura and Ino looked up as Neji stopped in the doorway. His eyes fell onto Hinata's still form.
"Hinata?" he said tentatively, stepping into the room.
Bloodied sheets and towels were in a bundle in the corner, some of the dark liquid dampening the wooden flooring.
"Hinata?" Neji asked again. Ino and Sakura stood, glancing at each other.
Sakura stepped forward, startling Neji.
"Neji-san," she began hesitantly. Neji looked at her. "Hinata has…major hemorrhaging…"
Neji seemed to glare at her.
The bundle in Ino's arms shifted and made a small noise.
Neji glanced from Ino's arms to Sakura's. Ino's were occupied by a swaddle of towels, slightly smeared with blood.
Sakura's were just bloody. Way too much blood to be comfortable with. The red sheets in the corner. He knew those were white before.
"I…I barely stopped the bleeding…" Sakura said, then faltered as Neji stepped forward and knelt down beside Hinata. "She's lost too much…" Sakura whispered, tears misting up her eyes. Ino took into looking at the baby, her mouth set into a hard line.
Neji swallowed. He could hardly keep himself from panicking. Hinata's face was so pale…it was almost white.
Ino and Sakura left silently, closing the door behind them. A drop of warm liquid rolled down Sakura's face and dropped onto the ground.
Neji lifted a hand and stroked Hinata's cheek gently. "Hinata? Hinata, I'm back… I told you I would come back…"
Hinata's pearly eyes opened half-way and she gazed at him. "I knew…you would. You promised…"
Neji swallowed. "Are you okay?"
Hinata closed her eyes, breathing shallowly. "I'm fine," she murmured.
"You always say that. Tell me, Hinata…" Neji said, voice faltering slightly. "Are you in pain?"
Hinata opened her eyes again. "Not anymore," she murmured, smiling weakly. They were both silent for a while.
"Sakura-san told me I lost too much blood," Hinata said softly.
"She's wrong," Neji said, blinking rapidly. The red material in the corner seemed to scream at him, to prove him wrong.
"I feel faint…" Hinata whispered.
"You'll be fine," Neji said forcefully.
"My father wanted to take me away for two years… to cover up what happened…until our child was two. You'd raise her, Neji. You'd be a great father."
"What?" Neji said. He ran his hand through Hinata's damp hair.
"I guess he wouldn't need to…come get me," Hinata murmured, her eyes closing.
"Don't talk like that," Neji commanded quietly. "Don't you dare."
Hinata's ki seemed to be draining away. Neji looked in horror at the insanely red objects in the room.
"Don't leave me," Neji whispered weakly.
A light sigh left Hinata's still lips, and her hand, clutching Neji's, fell limp.
Neji's ANBU mask fell to the ground as Hanabi knocked on the door.
Two years later…
Neji's dark, long hair swayed in the breeze as he stepped out from Tsunade's office building. Today was Shinjuko's birthday. He had to pick her up from Ino's house. He walked toward Ino's flower shop, eyes sad and full of longing. His jaw was strong and closed, but something lingered in his presence.
Neji looked at the opening door, and smiled as a little girl with long, blue-tinted hair ran to greet him.
He knelt on the ground, pulling his daughter into a hug.
"I missed you, daddy," Shinjuko murmured in his hair. "Your missions always take so long…"
"I'm sorry," Neji said, holding her head to his.
Neji picked her up as Ino stepped outside, her cerulean eyes smiling.
"Thank you for taking care of Shinjuko while I was gone," Neji said with a bow of his head. Ino smiled and waved. Shinjuko waved back, and Neji turned to walk away.
"You know what day is today?" Shinjuko asked happily.
"I have no idea," Neji said. He barely kept himself from smiling. "What is it?"
"It's my birthday! How'd you forget!" Shinjuko pouted.
"Alright, alright, daddy owes you a present, ne?" Neji smiled.
"Yeah, Chichi-ue owes Shinjuko-chan a present!" Shinjuko said, giving a bubbly laugh.
"We're going to get your present right now," Neji said, setting down his daughter and holding her small hand.
"What's my present, Chichi-ue? Tell me! Please!" Neji glanced at his daughter's round, pearly eyes and almost died.
"Well… The present has eyes like yours," Neji said slowly. They passed the Konohagure Academy, where Shinjuko would be attending in a few years. Several kids waved at Shinjuko, who happily waved back.
"Eyes like mine? Would that be like yours, too, Chichi-ue?" she asked, turning her attention back to her father.
Neji smiled, his eyes hazy. "No, Shinjuko. More like yours."
"Oh…well, hurry, Chichi-ue, I want my present!" Shinjuko squealed.
Neji picked her up and walked along the side of the road, until he reached a archway with several characters on it. He nodded to a couple guards with blank eyes, and they let him in.
"Where are we?" Shinjuko whispered. Her creamy, pearl-like eyes roamed the compound.
"Shinjuko." Neji said quietly.
"Chichi-ue?" her eyes met his, and he let her down.
Shinjuko sidled to Neji's side, and gasped when she saw a pretty woman with dark, glossy hair flowing in the breeze.
Neji walked forward slowly. Shinjuko followed after him, not wanting to be alone.
"Who's that pretty lady, Chichi-ue?" Shinjuko asked as she tugged on Neji's ANBU uniform. He did not answer.
Neji stopped a few feet in front of the smiling woman. Shinjuko peeked shyly up at the beautiful lady from her spot behind her dad.
"Hinata…" Neji said, licking his lips.
"Neji!" Hinata cried. She threw her arms around Neji, and drew him into a kiss. Neji's arms automatically went around her, and hugged her close even after Hinata's lips left his.
Shinjuko watched with wide eyes. She tentatively stepped out from behind her father.
Hinata's eyes landed on her, and filled with tears. Neji released Hinata, and she stooped and drew Shinjuko into a tight embrace.
"Shinjuko, you know who I am?" Hinata said into the small girl's soft hair, tears sliding down her pale cheeks.
"Mommy…" Shinjuko murmured.
Hinata smiled through her tears. "Happy birthday, Shinjuko."
Okay, (sob) it's the last chapter! ;; I had a fun time writing this story…though it's slightly angst-y. Hehe… What do you guys think of this style? Maybe if you've read my "Wings of Freedom" ffic, you can compare the two and tell me which one you like better… Haha, I wanted the ending to make people cry. I dunno. My inspiration was Kuro Shi's story, which I cannot remember the title right now. It was a Sasuke/Sakura one… it's sweet. No wait, what am I talking about? It's drama and angst, so yeah. But the ending is nice. Anyhoo, what did you guys think? Did it make you tear up? That was kinda my goal. And my critiques: I though it was rushed, like some of you might think. Gomen nasai! I didn't have any filler ideas, so I just jumped to the bigger points that I though were significant. TT.TT"
And about Shinjuko talking all…well, good… I can't really explain that… I needed to have her say some stuff, and didn't know how to phrase it in a way that two year olds would talk. Sooo, she seems grammatically correct… Just think of it this way: Neji is a genius; naturally, his kid would be too, since he raised her. There…XP
Please review and tell me what you think; I really need critiquing! I love receiving the reviews that help me improve, thank you sooo much, for those of you who did that! I also love the ones that just plain squealed and loved the story to death…those are nice too! n.n So, please review and critique, and help me improve! Oh, and tell me if the story made you tear up or not…XP Domo Arigatou!