Strange Kismet

Chapter Ten: Wild Child

"Ouch! Damn!"

Shizune rarely swore. She only did so when she was extremely upset, especially if she was angry.

Right now, she was angry.

She was angry that she'd given up her life in Konohagakure to follow around a woman who gambled away all of her assets - and Shizune's – and treated her like an assistant at best and a slave at worst. She was angry that said woman had stumbled away in a drunken stupor and expected Shizune to come and bail her out of whatever it was she had gotten herself into. She was angry at herself for believing that traveling with this woman would somehow give her beloved uncle some peace from beyond the grave! What did a little girl know about any of that, anyway - ?!

"Tsunade-sama! Tsu-na-de-samaaaa! I'm cold, and tired, and hungry. And I'm sure that you are too! Why don't you just tell me where you are so we can both go home?"

Home… ha. Home was their latest hotel room. She grimaced as the bush to her left scraped her cheek so hard she felt it break skin. In a few short seconds she healed it. Tsunade was absolutely useless if she saw blood. And if she saw that little cut, Shizune would literally be dragging her back to the hotel. The hemophobic ex-med nin was heavier than she looked, and that was not an experience that she desired to repeat…

Finally she escaped the bramble that had been tugging at her everywhere. Her face brightened when she saw the hint of a figure kneeling in the grass at the entrance to an orchard, and as she ran closer she realized that it was her long-sought teacher.

"Tsunade-sama! Tsu – na…"

It was an orchard drenched in blood.

Twelve men were strewn about in various states of death and near-death. The bark of all the trees was stained dark, some more than others; one man had been lucky enough to escape with a mere slit throat. Limbs were twisted backward at impossible angles. One face was collapsed in completely, gore hanging down from the edge of the gaping hole that had been a person just a short while ago. Shizune was frozen in place, her sandals soaking up the red liquid on the ground.

In the middle of it all was a girl – a humanoid. Something masquerading as human, because no human child would have that look of utter, vengeful pleasure on her face - eyes closed in bliss - at the sight of a dozen dismembered men surrounding her. Tsunade was trembling violently, her eyes locked on the girl-thing. It turned to face them fully, a little giggle escaping the red-flecked lips. Then, the eyes opened.

One was an empty brown hole, the skin inside long dead. Just a child –

The other was the color of pitch, no whites, totally dark as an abyss, black, black as the darkest corner of her heart, the part that took bitter glee in Tsunade's depression because she killed her uncle, so black that for Shizune it was sucking her in with its intensity. The evil that radiated from the thing took every lustful want, every vengeful desire, every little resentful action she had wanted to take in the course of her life and magnified, intensified it, until all she could feel was the temptation to do every bad thing she had ever wanted, ever.

She was frozen in place like her mentor, nearly convulsing with the effort to hold herself back. Back from leaving this place, leaving Tsunade, and doing whatever the hell crossed her mind with no thought to morals or consequences.

Her eyes still locked on the on the abyss, Shizune watched as the dark bled away into a deep royal purple that got lighter and shrank until it was pale, dusty lavender in the shape of a slightly overlarge iris. The urge slowly – very slowly – ebbed, leaving her sore and cold, with a sheen of sweat on her skin. The girl-thing was staring at her, but this time it was different. Now it was more like an actual child, one that was trembling and suddenly crying, and then collapsing onto the ground after a good vomit and harder sobs. It must have been a long time, but it felt like just minutes when she finally passed out. The air was colder now, nipping at the Shizune, the last one standing.

This girl… what was wrong with this girl…?

After dragging her mentor off, away from the carnage, Shizune raced back to the clearing to collect the girl. Something made the young medic want to help her. She was suffering from something that had been imposed upon her, that much was obvious. No child deserved to suffer under a curse like the one this girl did. This girl. It was a girl, she acknowledged, not a thing or a monster, but a little girl who had been possessed by something otherworldly. And evil.

She lined up all the bodies in a pile, shuddering as she did so. When she left Konoha, she was a little girl, only a ninja in training; and now, traveling around with a hemophobe like Tsunade, seeing dead bodies was a rare occurrence. Dealing with corpses, touching them, piling them up was something to which she was not at all accustomed. But she did so anyway. Gathered the twelve men and their collective parts into a pile and soaked them with flammable poison so that they would burn easier. She stepped back and waited for the flames to die down, so that she knew they would not spread to the surrounding trees, all the while ignoring the pungent scent of charred human. Then Shizune went over to the girl and cleaned her up, removing most of all her clothing except for the things which kept her modesty intact. She suppressed a shudder as she caught a whiff of the mottled, stained-dark rags that had covered the small body and made sure all of her skin was free of blood – because if Tsunade saw that they would be out in this orchard all night, and the bugs were already biting. She slapped a mosquito idly as this thought crossed her mind.

Tsunade, who had finally snapped out of her stupor, eyed the small form hefted over Shizune's shoulders suspiciously.

"I hope you're going to put that in the woods somewhere."

"Of course not, Tsunade-sama. I'm taking her with us."

There was a brief period of stunned silence. Then:

"You're bringing that thing back with us?!" Tsunade said in the angriest whisper she could muster. "You are giving this monster shelter? What are you thinking?! It'll gut us in our sleep!"

"You didn't see what I saw," Shizune countered firmly. "There is something wrong with her. She's just a child, and she needs help –"

"We're not a goddamn charity!"

"Look, I know you hate having me around! I know you didn't even want me to come with you! I know that often I've been a burden to you, made you angry, kept the saké away from you, and generally tried to keep you on the straight and narrow. But please, please let me do this one thing. Please let me help this child… and please, help me."

The buxom blonde stared in utter shock into the solemn, pleading, and determined face of her one and only student. She tried to tell herself that her resolve was slipping only because she shared her intense grey eyes with her deceased uncle. But a part of her – a very small, very quiet, nearly dead part – acknowledged that Shizune was someone precious to her. Did she really think she was such a burden – for all of these years…? What kind of person would stick around somebody they had such a negative experience with?

Shizune would, because Shizune cared about her. She gave a damn. It was a rare thing in this age and time.

Tsunade broke eye contact. "Fine. But she'll have to work for her keep, dammit. I'm not gonna have some little brat leech off me – I've already experienced that more than I care to remember," she said bitingly, taunting Shizune, waiting for those grey eyes to flash with anger. She was mad that someone had awoken those feelings she thought long dead in her heart.

But her student didn't rise to the bait. She'd taught her better, thought the Sannin with a small and rueful smile. Instead of responding with anger to the insult, she smiled with contentment and thanked Tsunade in the sincerest manner.

"Obviously, you'll be up watching her tonight. To make sure that she doesn't actually kill us in our sleep, I mean."

The younger woman paled. An all-nighter after a day like she'd just had! But she knew from the look on her mentor's face that this was a test. How much did she want to do this?

"O…of course Tsunade-sama…"

"Good! Well, have a fun night!"

Tsunade was not at all surprised to see Shizune asleep, slumped against the wall by the little girl. But she was equally surprised to see the girl huddled in the corner against the wall, body tense and her single eye wide open. When she noticed that one of the two was awake, she tensed even further and froze in that position, as prey would in the den of a predator, totally paralyzed by the presence of the women. Tsunade raised her eyebrow in question; truly, this girl was not at all the demon she'd seen yesterday. Possessed by an unrefined but equally twisted version of the perversion that had claimed one of the Sannin.

She brushed that thought away and rose from her futon brusquely. If it was physically possible, the girl shrank away from her further.

"What's all this? Last night you were slitting the throats of grown men without a care, and this morning you're cowering away from the first person you see?" Tsunade clicked her tongue in disapproval, but her hawk eyes caught the brief flicker of despair in her expression. "Well I don't really give a damn. I'm a doctor, and you're getting a checkup whether you like it or not."

Just from looking at the girl, it was a simple matter to see her malnutrition. Tsunade followed the lumps in her skin – protruding bone – with a clinical eye; the skin was stretched and cracked and mottled in some places; the matted mess of darkness on her head would be more aptly called fur, and even that was a stretch, considering the volume of it. She could have been anywhere from seven to twelve years – how badly the malnutrition had stunted her growth had yet to be seen.

"A work in progress," Tsunade muttered to herself. "But first things first. You are in sore need of a haircut, a new change of clothes, and –" The Sannin fought back the gag reflex that was triggered by the young girl's stench. "A bath. A good, long one."

It was like the girl didn't even register the words as being non-threatening. Apparently Tsunade's height and the severe look on her face was enough to convince the (deaf-mute?) child that whatever she was going to do was bad.

Shizune was still out cold. She was on her own.


Shizune woke to the sounds of screaming. Rubbing the sleep away from her eye, she twisted around to look at their new arrival. She froze in her futon.

"KYAAA! Tsunade-sama, she's gone!"

The sounds of splashing, a squeal bordering on bestial – what was her mentor doing in there - ?!

"You little – argh! I can't believe I'm doing this for you!"


Tsunade, granddaughter of the Shodai Hokage and grandniece to the Nidaime, formerly under the guidance of the Sandaime, a legendary ninja in her own right who could liquidate a man's insides with a mere poke. Tsunade, the babysitter. Shizune tried – and failed – to hide her huge grin behind her hand.

The amazing Tsunade was covered with water and soap bubbles, and, if one were to judge by the look of extreme vexation on her face, was not very pleased by that fact. It was obviously the most extreme act of will that kept her from storming out of the room and away from a barely-human child. What was amazing in itself was that she had not already thrown a hissy fit and stormed out of the room.

"Do you need any help, Tsunade-sama?" asked Shizune sweetly.

"This is all your fault!" A steady stream of expletives forced its way past Tsunade's lips with little effort as she stormed out of the bathroom, angrily yanking a towel from the rack on the way out.

"Don't worry, I'm a softer touch," said Shizune with a quiet smile. The girl looked up at her through a wet mop of hair that clung to her forehead. Her underfed, waifish body was shivering in the slowly-cooling water, and she had pulled her knees up to her chest in a defensive maneuver. She was a completely different being from last night's eager slaughterer. Shizune lathered her hands with shampoo and leaned forward, gentle but insistent. Soon the girl no longer shied away from human touch; instead, she was stock-still, refusing to move and inch, but not cringing away either.

Tsunade grew impatient and after twenty minutes called out to them imperiously. "Well? This is ­my bathroom, are you ever going to be done in there?"

"A few more minutes, Tsunade-sama. And get a pair of scissors ready."

"Hmph! I'm not a servant…" she mumbled half-heartedly, stomping away from the bathroom door with all the grace of a five year old. Nevertheless, she dug through their things for a pair of scissors – not hard to find in a doctor's bags, even an inactive one like she – and soon unearthed a pair.

Finally they emerged. Tsunade quickly turned around and crossed her arms, not wanting to appear as if she had been waiting impatiently. But she couldn't resist the urge to look at the girl once she caught a glimpse out of the corner of her eye. She stared.

Under the grime there was a human being – a cute little girl. Her skin was free from the coat of weeks-old dust and dirt, and though it didn't have the healthy glow of regular children, it did not look like the hide of a foreign creature anymore. Except for the random, cleanly healing scars – from medical instruments and procedures, Shizune had assumed – her skin was essentially unbroken, a pretty, pale porcelain. Her hair, once a matted mess, was now in a more controllable, dark curtain; still tangled, but not a nest suitable for birds anymore.

Her look was now appraising.

"Yes, haircut first," she murmured, slipping into medic mode against her will. "Then we'll have to go hunting – my special hyper-vitamin mix doesn't just grow on trees, after all – lots of liquids until she's adjusted to regular, healthy consumption of food – I'd estimate a week until solid food would be suitable – and shopping – yes, you will definitely need clothes – well, come on, Shizune, we've got work to do!"

They wrapped her in one of Shizune's old robes that was far too small for her now, and ripped off the bottom because it was dragging on the ground. The haircut was next; her hair, falling to her hips, was cut down to brush past her shoulders. Bangs were also trimmed in the front that feathered around her face, framing it prettily once it was blown dry. The hair in front of her empty eye socket was left shaggier than the other side, so as not to give attention to it. They also covered the socket with medicinal tape. Throughout all of this, the girl was silent and complacent.

They gave her a pair of old sandals that flapped on the ground loudly as she walked; they were several sizes too big for her tiny feet. She didn't seem to care though; now that they didn't have as much physical contact with her, the girl had calmed a great deal, reverting to a quiet and submissive state that made both of her companions want to frown.

"Do you have a name, girl?" Tsunade asked her as the three of them walked down the street. She turned her head up to Tsunade, and nodded once.

"Can you talk?"

A nod, again. Then the girl paused, as if steeling herself for what she was about to do.

"H…Hin…Hina-a-ta," she forced out, struggling with her voice as if it fought against her. Then she started to cough violently, as if that one little action had caused her immense pain.

"Hinata-chan, a lovely name," said Shizune as they stopped and waited for her to regain her breath, patting her back. Then she glanced at her teacher and mentor. Tsunade nodded gravely.

Before their departure, Tsunade had been close with a woman named Hyuuga Kimiko. One of her most promising medical students, the girl had been forced to discontinue her studies after her marriage to the Hyuuga heir, Hiashi. They had managed to remain in decent contact even after her schooling had ceased, and then even after Tsunade had left the village. The letters had stopped altogether six or seven years ago – Tsunade had grimly factored in Hiashi's influence once again, or at least the clan elders - but not before Kimiko had revealed the name of her eldest daughter. Hinata.

Was this broken child really the daughter of her dear friend? It seemed – surreal. Kimiko's will of steel and heart of gold, though often disguised by her quiet nature and regal bearing, had always been alive and well. There was no way that she would allow this to happen to her daughter. So that was it. Kimiko was dead. The thought of such a lovely and understanding woman dying, one that she knew and cared deeply about, recalled that heavy, asphyxiating weight that materialized onto her chest every time somebody she knew and loved died. There was a time when that suffocating feeling had surrounded her constantly –

Tsunade stiffened her lips and forced her memories away; this stupid girl…!

But one look into her waifish face forbade all violence, verbal or otherwise, against her, despite the fact that she reminded Tsunade of everything she was running away from. That was the face of a child in a need – a patient in need – and more importantly, the face of her dear friend's daughter.

"Rest with all the peace you deserve, Kimi-chan," she murmured, the tremor in her voice barely there. Shizune caught it, and was still, holding her breath.

There was a certain tension now, one that Tsunade had created with her invocation to the dead. It vanished in a second when Hinata looked up at her – the face of Kimiko's present and future, the way in which she could live on. One pitiful gaze from that big moon-eye soothed this new hurt with such ease…

Shizune watched her mentor's eyes soften as she looked at Hinata, and instantly knew that the girl had a protector for life. However, Tsunade seemed to sense that she was being observed, and broke the moment with a glare at her student.

"What're you grinning for, Shizune? C'mon little one, I see a clothing store over there!"

Shizune was positively gleeful.

Not once in the entire day had Tsunade even mentioned gambling or alcohol. She was so wrapped up in catering to this girl's every whim that any thought of herself seemed to have vanished. It was a bizarre (though definitely not unwelcome) phenomenon.

Now Hinata was outfitted with a plain black undersuit and a silvery tunic – and a pair of sandals that fit her. They had also gone shopping for medical supplies and certain vitamins that would be beneficial to a growing child. It was a slow but steady process, but the girl was opening up just as Tsunade was; they even managed to get a genuine, fluttering smile out of her when they bought her a treat – a large, sticky cinnamon bun.

The only damper in the day was when they had been helping Hinata try on some clothes. There were unmistakable markings all around her body, marks of special experimentation. And worst of all –

"His seal," muttered Tsunade with fire in her eyes.

"His? You can't mean –"

"Orochimaru. Yes. This is his work – a different shape, perhaps, but unmistakably the work of that – that – grrr!" Tsunade had clenched her fist, barely stopping herself from decimating a nearby clothing display, and likely half of the store, given her strength.

Hinata had been trembling uncontrollably, hunching in on herself and staring up at them as if waiting for the killing blow.

"My dear, we are not going to throw you out," said Tsunade in whisper, trying not to attract attention from the tetchy store owner. He was looking over at them suspiciously.

"We only want to help you," added Shizune in earnest. "Please, trust us."

Hinata had nodded slowly, barely daring to hope, and then pulled the tunic on, letting Shizune tie it for her in the back.

That event had signaled an increased tenderness toward the girl, given that she had been the victim of such a man, and an increased trust between the girl and her two overseers because they did not shun her.

Their first day together had been exhausting, and by the time evening came, Hinata was yawning and rubbing her eye as they scaled the stairs to the hotel room.

"Ah! Not yet you don't. Drink this," Tsunade commanded, seeming to pull a glass out of nowhere that was filled with a nasty-looking, grayish liquid. Hinata shrank back a bit.

"I know it looks disgusting – tastes like it too - but it's good for you," Shizune said softly, laying a hand on her head. With trembling hands, Hinata took the glass from Tsunade and, in what seemed like an age, slowly raised it to her mouth. The second she tasted it, all of the tension left her body, and she drank it down without a protest or the puckered look that most of Tsunade's other patients had worn whenever they drank it.

"You… you like the taste?"

She gave them her second smile of the day, and shook her head in the negative. Then she yawned again, and before they knew it, she was slumped on the floor, breathing heavily. Tsunade moaned in despair.

"What have I gotten myself into…"

The next month passed in a blur for the Slug Sannin, but for once this blur was not the result of an alcohol-induced haze. She was busy with work. Usually this prospect would have terrified or revolted her, but now she was absorbed in accomplishing something like she hadn't been in years.

It was the work of that one month that opened Hinata further to trusting them. They gave her an official physical exam, and let her run around until she was tired to test her limits. Days were spent in physical activity, while the afternoons were spent teaching her basic ninja tenets. It was a slow and steady process, but one that they knew was necessary if they wanted her to heal completely. If she did not trust them, she would not be receptive to treatment.

One of the first steps in giving Hinata the most complete diagnosis was finding the best medical facilities available (barring Konoha – that was still absolutely off-limits in Tsunade's mind – in her heart.) She knew that the only treatment facilities that came to a close second to Konoha were in River country. River was not technically an ally of Konoha, but they weren't an enemy, either; and there had been times when she was younger when they had requested her medical expertise. She had always been too busy – sometimes with her personal life, but usually with some war or another. Could their request have extended all these years?

Tsunade wrote to the Kawa no Daimyo – the leader of Kawa no Kuni – through a courier service in the town in which they were staying the very night after they had taken Hinata shopping. In western Fire Country, where they were, the letter would take approximately two days to the reach the capital. She expected an answer within a week.

To her great surprise, one and half days later an entire entourage entered the quaint village in which they had been staying, looking exhausted but extremely pleased at themselves.

"Lady Tsunade!" yelled one man, breathing irregularly. Tsunade raised her eyebrow delicately, staring with slight disdain at the state of the party. The one who spoke was clearly the leader of the group; though a little blustery and pompous, he seemed good-natured overall. He swung his thick, longish blonde hair over one shoulder. "It is pleasure to finally meet you – My name is Morimoto Takeda, and I am here to discuss the particulars of our deal with you!"

It was surprisingly enjoyable to exercise her diplomatic expertise again. In the end, the bargain had been resolved like this: for one day, Tsunade would act as medical advisor (very strictly hands off) to the Kawa specialists; for the next week after, she would enjoy unrestricted access to all of their state-of-the-art facilities.

"Exciting, isn't it?" Tsunade said to Shizune with a large grin. The younger woman hid her own smile under the guise of a cough and looked away. She knew her mentor would not take kindly to that smile, and she might turn back out of sheer stubbornness.

They arrived at the capital of Kawa no Kuni, Kasui, in two and a half days, after having stayed in two of the best hotels the country had to offer each night. Tsunade was greeted with much fanfare by the daimyo himself, a gaggle of medics staring at her with hero worship. They were quickly invited to stay in the daimyo's palace.

"Not bad, eh?" The grin felt permanently affixed to her face.

"Not at all bad, Tsunade-sama," said Shizune wryly, glancing around the interior of Tsunade's quarters, joined to hers by large double doors. Hinata hung around her knees, never going too far from either woman, especially in an environment so strange to her. All of the finery was disconcerting.

The next morning was a busy one. Tsunade got up early for the first time in a long time and departed downstairs from her lavish quarters; what seemed to be the entire medical staff of Kawa General – though she knew that was impossible – had appeared, situated around the huge dining table. The high-ranking officials received actual seats, but others were crowded behind those sitting down, some easily young enough to be students. After a sumptuous breakfast – during which she absolutely refused to be disturbed – she calmly raised her eyes and welcomed the flood.

It was a day spent engaging the parts of her brain she had abandoned so long ago. Mentally stimulating, new and familiar at the same time. It was wonderful to be recognized for her medical expertise instead of her gambling failures; whereas a man in a seedy casino would snicker at her, waiting to take her money and ogling her at the same time, any one of the men or women – though mostly men, she noted with chagrin – in this room looked at her with respect and even reverence, hanging onto her every word. One of the younger ones had even asked for an autograph.

It was an ego-stroking day, she reflected afterward. But it hadn't been until she was lying in bed, exhausted but more content than she could remember being in a long time, that she realized how much she had needed such a day.

The tests were difficult to conduct.

This was not because they did not have any assistance with the complex machinery, or because Shizune and Tsunade were incompetent; they encountered no resistance in performing the tests from the staff, or from the government reneging on their deal.

Hinata was the reason it became such a difficult situation. During her first steps into the white, sterile medical facility, her pace slowed until she was walking behind the other two. Three steps later she halted completely. Tsunade and Shizune looked back in surprise.


It was the same wide-eyed, terrified look she had sported in the dressing room when they had discovered Orochimaru's mark, and the scars resulting from his experimentations…

And in an instant Tsunade knew exactly what was wrong. This place reminded Hinata of her experiences with him – it was like being back in that place all over again, about to go under the knife not to heal, but to inflict pain for the sake of his progress…

It was another hour before they could get her inside the first room with many hushed words and promises of her safety and their trustworthiness. Shizune held her hand constantly, and the trembling never stopped.

Every day of the following five days proceeded in this way; they would try to get the testing done as quickly and painlessly as possible, and as soon as Hinata reached her breaking point, Shizune would take her out around the city until her cheeks regained a little color and the trembling finally subsided. Tsunade stayed behind to analyze the test results. The only day on which this differed was when they performed the blood test, which had been Shizune's responsibility to perform and evaluate. On the sixth day, Hinata's condition became so stressed that her eye began to darken, and the seal on her neck pulsed. That had signaled the end of the testing.

On the seventh morning, Tsunade went by herself to the medical facility and stayed the entire day, culminating the many tests into one final conclusion. She walked back to the daimyo's palace with a heavy heart. Shizune was waiting for her patiently. Hinata stared up at the blonde, easily two and half times her height, with one wide eye.

"Here's what I have found." She passed a manila folder to Shizune who opened it immediately and began perusing its contents with concentration and avid interest.

"Hinata-chan's chakra passageways are enlarged tremendously for someone of her age, gender, and build. As I believe you know, this was done in order to make her body a more feasible candidate for that seal. Her chakra coils are very sensitive because of the way in which they were enlarged – that is, not by a natural process of building up taijutsu skills which increase the amount of chakra one has and thus slowly make increase their circumference, but by having physically forced chakra through her passageways at regular intervals – by week or by month, maybe. That's why her passageways are so sensitive – tender even. It's unnatural for them to be the size they are. Furthermore, his chakra has fully infiltrated her system. It's like a coating around her chakra coils. Something like a slow-acting poison or agent.

"On another point, I think that the – ah – side of Hinata that we saw on the night we first met her must be a result of those tortures that he put her through in order to make her body viable for the seal."

Shizune stared up at her mentor with wide eyes. "So it's like – an alternate personality? One that her mind created to deal with the pain? That girl was not at all like Hinata-chan… so bloodthirsty, vicious… it makes sense that she is the result of his experimentation." She flipped through the file until she reached one of the last pages and nodded. "Then that was the unusual reading that was picked up during the brain scan."

"Yes, very astute. Worthy of the title of Tsunade's apprentice." She smiled before hesitating briefly, as if deciding if Shizune was up to hearing what she had to say. "I know that the official details of that investigation were classified, but let's just say Mitarashi went through a lot of shit. She was older than Hinata, and a lot more tough, and it messed her up. It's the kind of psychological abuse that affects a person on a daily basis. Imagine doing what he did to Anko to a child only a quarter of her age…"

"Oh," said Shizune with a slight quiver in her voice. Her eyes were big and glassy as she turned to the silent Hinata, who did not look up from the floor. "Oh…"

"Well!" Tsunade interrupted loudly. "Hinata-chan, come with me, I'm going to prepare your vitamin mix! It still tastes awful, I promise…"

From diagnosing the problem, it was now time find a solution to Hinata's rather unique situation.

Tsunade knew that any long term help would need to be conducted in a facility similar to the one she had used for the past week. However, she also knew that her legal contract with River Country had expired the day previous, and as such she could impose on them no longer.

All of Konoha's other alliances were far too tenuous to test her requests without the help of Sarutobi, or at the cost of inciting a war. And the random fiefdom that might accept her heritage and her reputation were all in war-torn territories, or ones that were about to be war-torn. Besides, as with the facility in River Country, she would risk exposing the Hyuuga bloodline limit – something that she had found to be tied intrinsically to the seal and to his chakra in her body – to outsiders. Definitely a no-no, as that was something that could earn her lifelong imprisonment or public execution.

If Tsunade wanted Hinata's healing to be complete, it was imperative to return –

No. After all this time! Her heart still hurt. The presence of Hinata and the knowledge that she was caring for the child of her dear friend could only dull the pain in her heart so much before even that ran thin, powerful as it was to have Tsunade go so far out of her way.

So she took the easy way out. If she couldn't heal the problem directly, she would stall it. It was her only option, she thought to herself, ignoring the prickle of guilt as she gazed at the sleeping Hinata on their way back to Hi no Kuni. Really, she had no other choice. Really.

So the issue at hand was how best to stall the problem.

The most alarming part of Hinata's many abnormalities was her alternate personality – cruel and sadistic, it not only posed a threat to those around Hinata, but to the girl herself. The so-called "Dark Hinata" was a forceful and dominating persona, one that they had found was kept back only through Hinata's sheer will. Though they hadn't seen Dark Hinata since that night, Tsunade had her suspicious that the personality change was triggered either by large amounts of stress – evidence of that was in Hinata's reaction to the sixth day of testing – or by Orochimaru's chakra flowing especially strong through her, which was essentially the same thing.

During the testing, they had found several concentrated points of chakra, tiny glands that Orochimaru had created that were triggered by emotional and physical stress. Put enough pressure on her, push her just a little bit, and she was sure to snap. It was ingenious, really. Tsunade admitted grudging admiration for the intricacy of the work, but she had never understood how the man she had known so well could justify doing this to a child. To this child in particular. Hinata so obviously hated violence that she admitted to living as far from civilization as possible, so as to avoid any form of stressor. That had explained her wild appearance, and her total inability to interact with most humans correctly or at all.

Once again, the best solution lay in Konoha. But unlike the top-of-the-line medical facilities in her hometown, this was much smaller in magnitude. It could easily be shipped to a location of her own choosing. Her next letter would be to the only man of his trade who ever got her business: Tengfei.

"She sent a letter to who?"

"Tengfei the Terrible, sir. The blacksmith." The older woman looked at her Hokage strangely; Certainly he had not forgotten Tengei the Terrible, an infamous and feared ninja the Second Great Ninja War? The Sandaime had fought in that war, it seemed impossible for him to forget someone like Tengfei.

Hiruzen looked absolutely mystified. "Tengfei. Of all the people to write home for, him? Why? What is she doing? What does she need from him?"

His curiosity was overwhelming… He had not heard from his student directly in nearly a decade now, but he always kept himself aware of her comings and goings as much as he could. Sarutobi knew that essentially all communication between Tsunade and anybody in Konoha was nil. He hadn't heard any differently in the past eight years. What was driving her? Her hemophobia would prevent her from buying anything that could draw blood, so what business could she have with a blacksmith infamous for his ninja weaponry?

"Oh, and sir?"

"Mm, Nokomi-san?" he mumbled to his secretary distractedly, fingers laced together as he stared off into space.

"You recently received a letter from the daimyo of Kawa no Kuni. Would you like to read it now?"

"No, no, perhaps later. That will be all for now, Nokomi-san. Thank you."

Not a good ending, in my opinion. I have more written – I was going to continue this chapter, but I really wanted to get this up and it was taking forever to be written…so the flashback shall conclude next chapter. Grrr. But now you have an update, right?

Anyway. If you see any mistakes, or have any suggestions, please let me know. I know I need the criticism. ^_^