About a Heroine
Today had been a bad one, all right. The man known as her lieutenant placed a jug of beer before her. He was a handsome officer indeed, with a cleanly shaven chin and long, black hair that framed his face flatteringly.
She looked at him, traced her eyes down to rest at the shape of his hand, and then across to the froth of the beer. The memories of the last time she'd been stupid enough to drink alcohol were hazy; it'd been so long since she'd drunk. For good reason too.
Now, she had no reason not to. This was just what she needed.
Without a moment's hesitation, she picked up the beer and chugged it down in a few seconds flat.
"Get me another."
And so he did. "Drink up. Today's been…"
"Hell on earth. Tell me about it."
And after a few more, the tears that she had held back fell in a downpour as she felt herself falling into something strange, but comfortably unaware. Her vision, already misty, became thickly clouded, and kept her far away from reality. Her mind drifted off elsewhere, and she was sure it floated into a place that held her memories.
She'd always been a clumsy child with shaky hands—and as a little girl her mother had never quite come to terms with that acquired inelegance. Without any intention of ever inflicting harm, Tenten from her youngest days broke vases. She was scolded at school and home for having illegible penmanship, or reprimanded for spilling hot water, often across her own arm. There was no denying that she was the blunt one of the bunch, and was often chided for things that were no faults of her own.
She was too much of a dreamer. Overtly idealistic, even when she knew not of most the world.
But her parents loved her all the same.
Her mother weaved her pretty dresses and poured love into all her meals and made sure she never left home without an umbrella on rainy days. Though she was strict she was also affectionate, and Tenten loved her very much.
Her father also doted on her, and being an old war veteran, he was a patriot who loved to nourish his daughter's dreams. He told her about the legendary women who achieved victory in combat, defying odds and breaking social standards. Over the years, he found she loved most the Ballad of Mulan and the story of Tsunade-hime.
Through countless encores she requested of him, by the age of ten, Tenten's fantasies had grown into something that would become troublesome in the years to come, regarding her more-or-less adult life.
"Daddy, I wanna learn how to fight!"
"Do you now? Put those silly thoughts to rest, dear daughter. The battlefield is certainly no place for a woman."
"Said who! What about Hua Mulan… you said so yourself! A-and Lady Tsunade!"
"…and dear me! Even less of a place for a child!"
Tenten huffed, jutting out her young red cheeks, an endearing display of her childish rage.
"But I'll tell you what. You can have my cap."
"Really. On the condition you'll stop blabbering on about this nonsense. Especially to your mother."
"It's not nonsense!"
Tenten crossed her little arms, and her father scratched his beard. For a moment, a train of thought did two laps around his grey head, and then stopped. An idea had crossed his mind. Tenten could see it in his eyes. Her father asked her to close the door and take a look at the billboard behind it.
"All right, Tenten. If you're serious about becoming my apprentice, I'll teach you to fight if you can pull off three bullseyes with these darts."
The old veteran smirked as he handed her the miniature missiles. His daughter did the same.
"Easy peasy, right?"
Not likely—especially considering the fact Tenten always had "wobbly" hands. It was such a prominent flaw of hers that Tenten's parents thought of it as a nervous twitch or brain deformity, and they'd even gone to a specialist (who simply told them to watch and wait). Besides, it was not even likely for top snipers to have a hundred percent accuracy. And they were talking about darts here, not automatic rifles with built in pinpoint accuracy or what not.
So it was no surprise the Veteran (who was honestly thinking much too far) was dumbstruck when his clumsy, somewhat slow daughter hit the bullseye of the board.
He struggled to wipe the gawk off his face. "Humph. Beginner's luck."
And then he found himself to be still gaping when she'd done it again.
At times he would say to Tenten's mother at dinner, "My, my! Look at the girl we've made! Isn't she something? Isn't she gorgeous? To think those good for nothing hands belonged to the greatest sniper in the world!" And then he would give Tenten's forehead a good rub, and she would smile fondly back at him.
On those lonely nights when her father boasted of her talents, she couldn't hear the end of her mother's screaming even when she tried pulling the pillows over her head. And usually on the next day after the fights, some sort of glassware had been broken, and Tenten would be tired, hungry. Tenten's mother always tried to bribe her daughter to tap into her feminine side by buying candies for her and showing to her pretty, delicate dresses. She ate the fancy sweets and wore the fashionable dresses, but to no avail.
The only times Tenten gave her mother the joy of Explaining Womanly Virtues first was when she had a set of growing, budding breasts and asked her mother to help her with a bra, second time she asked how to snazz up a quick meal, and Ma had shown her a quick and classy way to do it. Third time Tenten had trusted her Ma enough to ask her about a sexual rendezvous she'd had with her first boyfriend, of which Ma did not approve and they never approached the subject again.
Tenten always kept at her lessons at the local dojo, run by a man who was just a tad bit… loony, (but sweet) where she met a boy named Rock Lee, who'd later become a lifelong friend and confidant. They even dated for a little while during the sixth year of Tenten's apprenticeship to her father as a smithy, but cut off their romantic affiliation due to each party's respective devotion to their lifelong ambition. And lifelong indeed, they stayed close till the very end.
And as Tenten's family's mental health plummeted, Tenten's former training started to become increasingly hard. Dad was just that bit harsher and demanding, Ma was just that bit more unstable and deranged, and funds started to dwindle with the dying economy and political crisis the country was in.
Tenten soldiered on, and by seventeen, she'd finished her apprenticeship and became quite skilled in weaponry. Name a tool and she'd know how to use it effectively, wield it, and in some cases craft it.
Her impressive résumé was just in time for the nation-wide draft to be issued, and there was one problem and one problem only with that. Tenten was a girl.
All men aged seventeen to fifty-five were to serve in the army. Luckily her father was older that that age group and wasn't qualified to join.
"No fair," Tenten had sighed as she read the sign on the billboard. Apparently women with even at least a little medical experience were welcome, though. To serve as a horde of nurses and doctors.
Pfft, nurses and doctors. Probably euphemisms for something more despicable. Girls those days didn't even know they're selling themselves into certain doom. Not a clue, not one. Tenten shook her worried head as she thought about the "comfort women" she'd read about on the shelves of her father's warfare section. Nevertheless it wasn't their fault, and the women of the house were quite excited otherwise, chattering on about how exciting it was how war had broken out between some far off nation and their own peaceful, prosperous, albeit boring country.
But the same could not be said for the Veteran, who seethed with a hidden glower.
"Definitely not for me!" Tenten snapped at her agitated mother, who was trying to convince her daughter to sign up for the nursing job.
"But it's a great opportunity for—"
And then the father of the house slammed his hand on the table, right there. "That is enough. I'll tell you this right now! There is absolutely no good that comes of war. Have you ever watched your best friend die?"
Tenten shut her mouth in mid sentence, and her eyes snapped over to her father.
"There he goes again, still mourning over the death of his—" Ma's voice had overridden Pa's. There was a vindictive fire in both their eyes.
Tenten was stuck hopelessly in the middle of another of their arguments. But something wasn't quite right about this one. Dad had a fiercer retaliation and more bite in his words than usual.
"Oh shut up, woman. While I was out the watching him die you were whoring around with… with that janitor!"
"I think we all know that you loved him more than you loved me."
"Well who are you to speak you spoiled, petty, gold digging—"
The girl tried to sound reasonable and calm, but when she spoke her voice was broken and dry. "Well I don't. I have no idea who this j-ja-janitor is. And daddy, please don't yell at mama…"
Her father stormed out of the room, and her mother was left sobbing, holding onto the hems of her daughter's skirt for comfort.
"Don't cry, Ma. I'm going to go sign up for the war. I'll protect you and daddy; you'll have nothing to worry about. And you won't hafta fight because of me anymore…"
"Stupid child! Why go and come back to us with less a limb? Do you despise us that much?"
"No. It's my dream… to be recognised as a heroine, you know?"
"Don't you dare! You know what happens to women who get found out in the army… they get send away to do all these horrible," she said, thinning her lips, "Just how are you going to become that heroine anyway if women won't be recognised as heroes?"
"I know Ma, I can take care of myself... And Ma, where's your spontaneity?"