A growl escaped Kiba as he fought with his hair. He had to look his very best tonight.
Hana knocked on his door and then peeked her head around, not waiting for a response. "Getting ready early, Kiba?" She sounded a bit puzzled, after all her little brother never bothered much with how he looked. And being early for anything was completely out of character for him.
"Yah, yah." He snarled, waving her off. His tongue was sticking out as he peered in the mirror, but his locks just wouldn't behave. "Can I use any of your hair goop?"
Hana's eyebrow shot up and she pursed her lips to keep from laughing outright. "They already know how you look, Kiba. And Ino hasn't run for the hills yet, so I'm sure you look good to her at least."
Kiba just ignored her, walking right by as he headed to her room. Hana followed, watching with deep amusement as her baby brother looked appalled at the number of jars and vials sitting on her dresser. "Hana?!" He whined, turning puppy eyes on her.
Hana grabbed a jar in the back and told him to sit down at the dresser. "It's scented." She warned him.
Kiba grabbed the jar and sniffed suspiciously. "Lilacs? Don't you have anything unscented?" He sounded desperate.
Hana shook her head, lying without a qualm. Of course she had unscented things to smooth back her hair, especially for while on missions. Kiba was so far out of his depth that he wasn't thinking straight, or he'd have caught that by now.
Kiba moped and nodded. "Don't use a lot though!"
Surprised, Hana turned his head to face away from her as she worked some of the 'goop' into his dark hair. With a deep pang, she realized that her baby brother was grown now. She had to blink hard to keep tears from forming in her eyes as her fingers worked to smooth Kiba's hair. Memories came at her from all sides. Silly pranks she and Kiba had played on each other. She'd been almost five when he'd been born, and their father had died just a few short months later. Both she and her mother had turned to the new baby for comfort.
Hana could remember nearly every moment. Kiba crawling early, but walking late. He had loved crawling around on all fours with the Haimaru triplets, her three nin-dog companions. But then, she chuckled to herself, he had never really walked. Kiba had bounded and run and bounced everywhere, but never really had learned to walk. Until now. Hana sobered, he'd been walking a lot lately. With Ino. Holding hands as they courted. A tear escaped her and flowed slowly down her cheek to drop and mix with the 'goop' she was currently working into Kiba's hair.
"Aren't you done yet?" Kiba whined, and she smacked him lightly.
"Jobs this difficult take time." She teased, her voice lighter than her feelings at the moment. "Alright, go take a look."
She went to rinse off her hands as Kiba stared at himself in the mirror, turning this way and that. A vain Kiba? The world was coming to an end.
"I smell like a flower shop." He whined, nodding though as his hair was laying down perfectly now.
"Good thing Ino's used to flower shops then, huh?" She told him as she swatted his backside while he headed to the front of the house.
"Hey! Stop that! You'll mess up the pleats!" Kiba walked slowly and carefully in the traditional hakama split pants over a plain black kimono, very un-Kiba like.
Hana followed her brother into the front room where Tsume was waiting for them. Hana watched as her mother's eyes widened as she looked at Kiba standing so tall and formal looking for the coming ceremony. And this wasn't even for the wedding, this was merely the Yui-no, the dinner between the two families once all the agreements for the marriage had been formalized.
Tsume's eyes met Hana's eyes and both had to blink sharply to keep their faces still. When had Kiba turned from a boy to a man? They'd been there, with him nearly every day, how had this snuck up on them both? He was of the age to marry, but somehow they'd missed 'the moment' where he'd actually turned into an adult.
"Oi! Akamaru, don't ruin the folds, they took forever!" Kiba told his dog, who looked up and barked a question at him. "Of course you're coming with us! You're part of the family too."
Akamaru sniffed and nudged Kiba. "I do NOT smell funny." Kiba whined. "Take it back!"
Kiba kicked out at Akamaru who was yipping and growling in fun, tugging at the hem of the hakama. Tsume called the nin-dog off and Hana had to physically keep Kiba from tackling the dog.
Tsume smiled as Hana help right Kiba's clothing. It seems the boy in Kiba wasn't too far beneath the surface.
"We'll be late if we don't go now." His mother reminded her son. It wasn't exactly true, they had plenty of time. But the boy's nerves were very close to the surface. She supposed they'd just have to walk extra slow to meet the Yamanakas. Kiba nodded and called Akamaru to his side.
Tsume watched ruefully as the two left the house, then turned to Hana. "Well, I guess the Yamanakas are going to have to get used to dogs being part of the family and not just pets. I just didn't think he'd even think to bring Akamaru. Good thing the restaurant owner is a friend."
Hana smiled as her mother followed Kiba out the door. She herself turned to stare around the room. The house felt so empty without those two overwhelming personalities filling up the space. Tsume was often out on missions these days, but Hana had never felt as if the house was empty before, not with Kiba and Akamaru always underfoot. Even with her three canine companions to keep her company, Hana couldn't help but feel a bit sorry for herself. It would never be the same again.
With a heartfelt sigh, she gathered her wrap, to cover her own formal kimono for the trip into the village.
Tsume poked her head in through the door to tell her eldest to come along, but stopped cold at the sight of the naked emotion on her daughter's face. Tsume pulled back quietly, then coughed, making small noises to 'announce' her. This time when she looked inside, Hana looked completely composed. "Are you coming?"
Hana nodded and managed a smile even though it felt like her world was coming apart.
Tsume waited until Hana had gone to stand with Kiba and well out of hearing distance, even for Inuzukas.
"Kuromaru?" She called.
"You're finally going to listen to me?" The nin-dog sniffed with hurt dignity. Earlier he had point blank refused to go to the Yui-no ceremony, still angry over Tsume's stubborness.
"You're coming with me, Akamaru's going and I need you to ride herd. They both need to be on their best behavior."
"And you're going to listen to me?" The nin-dog was just as stubborn as she.
"I'll speak to the Hokage tomorrow. See what can be done." She reluctantly said. "Did you know she was hurting this badly?"
"I'm not as blind as you, even with only one eye."
Tsume blinked at him. "You're bold."
"I'm your companion, neh?" He laughed at her.
Tsume just shook her head, nodding for him to follow. "I'll get them in the same room and you can scent them together, see if it's a match. But that's ALL I'll promise. It's hard to picture them together. It'll be hard to play nice."
"It's for Hana." Her dog reminded her.
"That's the only reason I'm agreeing to go this far."
They arrived right on time. The Yamanaka family too was just arriving, looking resplendant in their traditional garb. Kiba's eyes passed over Ino twice in disbelief before he could admit that it was really her. The colorful kimono and elaborate dress accentuated her beauty and he caught his breath. How the hell did he get so lucky? He finally admitted to himself that he owed Shino big. He'd have to find a way to pay his friend and teammate back.
The couple approached each other shyly, looking at each other with bemused glances.
"You don't look like yourself." Ino told him quietly.
"You do." Kiba replied, still awed. "Just more so." His voice and eyes told her how she looked to him and Ino blushed deeply with pleasure.
Ino took a deep breath and stilled, a little puzzled. "Do you smell like lilacs?"
Akamaru barked and Kiba grumbled, pulling Ino inside the restaurant.
"You both look lovely." Inoichi greeted Tsume and Hana. "And I see that the Nakodo are both here as well." He nodded toward the approaching duo.
Sarutobi Asuma and Yuhi Kurenai arrived, all smiles. They had been chosen as the Nakodo by both families, Asuma for Ino and Kurenai for Kiba. The role of Nakodo was both ceremonial and practical, the go-betweens for the families as they negotiated the marriage contract. Both were neutral and yet both were deeply fond of the betrothed. It was ignored that by acting as the go-betweens for the respective families, that the two got to spend an inordinate amount of time in each others company. Most looked the other way, but it had been nice not to have had to lie about spending so much time together.
The adults followed the young couple into the restaurant and Tsume stopped Inoichi, nodding toward another family already eating. "I'll catch up to you, something I need to do first." She left him and headed over to the bar and Inoichi chuckled, mistaking her intentions.
The families were escorted to the upstairs rooms, a private area for the ceremonial dinner. The gifts that each family were bringing for the other had already been delivered earlier in the day. Inoichi entered, smiling around the room as everyone looked so happy and bright. An Inuzuka as a son? Who'd have guessed? And Tsume had agreed to a form of the ancient practice of Muko-iri. Kiba would actually join the Yamanaka family for a year and a day, becoming in effect Inoichi's son.
This gave Inoichi a male heir, keeping anyone from challenging the direct line should Inoichi himself pass before a Yamanka grandson could be born. Not that it was a given that there would be a grandson. Or that said child would inherit his grandfather's mind control jutsus. But it gave Inoichi a peace of mind and a happiness that he hadn't even known had been missing. After that year, Ino would officially become a member of the Inuzuka clan. In that way, assuring that any daughter the couple had would be in line to inherit should Hana not bear a daughter.
He caught Tsume's eye as she came through the door. They smiled at each other in a way that parents had for generations. They looked for their children, ready to start the evenings events. Neither Kiba nor Ino were in the room.
Both frowned, then looked back at each other. Tsume grinned and shrugged. Inoichi sighed. Kiba was growing on him, but still, they boy was also driving him slowly mad.
That was when both Kiba and Ino rushed through the door. Both were smiling and both looked a bit rumpled. Kiba's hair was spiky again and both were blushing a bit.
Inoichi sighed and walked over to greet the two, but he lost what he was about to say as he got near them. Instead he sniffed and asked, "Ino? Did you change scents? Why do I smell lilacs?"
In another part of the restaurant, a server was explaining to a puzzled Aburame Shibi and his family why a bottle of expensive sake was being delivered to their table.
"The lady sent this card as well, sir." The server bowed politely and took his leave.
Shibi shrugged at his wife and son, then opened the card.
"It will be your turn soon. You'll need this. Tsume." Was all it said.
Shibi glanced at the door leading upstairs to the private rooms. He looked over at his wife and then his son, Shino. Shibi then did something he rarely did in public. He smiled.
Well, this ends this story. But Hana's is just starting. I posted this as an epilogue here and also posted it as the prologue in my new story: "Plans Change".
For everyone who has reviewed, THANK YOU. I hope you enjoyed this story and I hope you'll enjoy reading Hana's story as she searches for her 'mate'. And no worries, I'm not done with Shino either. He'll be around too.