In Konohagakure, the suicide rate among shinobi was 63%. The divorce rate among shinobi was 68%. And if a shinobi was married to another shinobi, that number climbed to 84%.
There were reasons orphans were common in Konoha.
"If he were my husband, I wouldn't allow it. You've spoiled him, paying him so much attention all these years. A man should consider his wife's feelings."
A gray haired woman with a rounded face and hard eyes smoothed stray strands of hair back into her bun before continuing to fold a bed sheet. Her wrinkled hands moved deftly over the material, folding with a speed and precision that only came with many years of being a housewife. She flicked her eyes upward to glance at her granddaughter.
"Do you hear me, child? You mustn't let him have his way so often. He'll lose respect for you if you let him do as he pleases. I expect you to have a talk with him about this; you are a married woman now, it is time to behave like one."
With a slight frown, Tenten acknowledged her grandmother with a nod.
Her grandmother, in turn, reciprocated the frown. Finishing with the piece of laundry in her hands, she set it down to take the large white shirt Tenten was working on out of her hands. She eyed it disapprovingly, shaking it out to re-fold it herself.
"Good heavens child, you must learn to do this correctly! Watch again as I do this next one."
Tenten didn't mention the fact that, having been in Ninja Academy and served as an active gennin (and later chuunin) for several years, domestic duties had never been high on her priority list. More often than not, she and her team wore the same pair of clothes for days on end, getting filthy and faded and worn at the edges. The few times they were able to do laundry (not counting the times they simply bathed in rivers, fully clothed), that chore was usually relegated to Lee, who approached it with the same eagerness as training. She tried not to be offended by the scathing tone in her grandmother's voice.
With a huff, Tenten's grandmother noted that she was spacing out instead of paying attention. Setting the shirt down briskly, she paused a moment before reaching out to take Tenten's hand in her own. Her eyes scanned over the backs of them before she flipped them over to inspect the palms as well. Their rough, calloused texture nearly chaffed her own delicate skin and although clean, they seemed to perpetually bare a soot-like tint. Years of handling and painstakingly polishing weapons could do that. Tenten's nails were short and uneven and her grandmother was only greatful that they were clean. She looked into her granddaughter's carefully blank chestnut eyes and tried to find some softness in her features. Being a warrior had made her hard and now it fell to her to make her soft, presentable.
"At least require him to get you a ring! You've been married for two years now, there's no excuse for not having one. Being a proper wife begins with being a proper woman, Tenten."
Her grandmother managed to choke back the rest of her words Dress more nicely. Do something with your hair. But she was already tired of hearing Tenten's defense of how her hairstyle was practical, keeping it out of her face, and how a simple top and pants were all she needed. Heaven forbid she wear a dress. The least the child could do was wear a wedding band, she had no other jewelry to speak of.
For her part, Tenten took the criticism in silence. There was no need to explain to her grandmother that she, in fact, hated jewelry and had told Neji that she didn't want a ring. Shinobi didn't need wedding bands, they were an inconvenience.
Then again, Tenten wasn't a shinobi anymore.
She'd traded her dreams of being a legendary kunoichi for her other dream; her dream of marrying the boy she'd always loved.
She still wasn't sure it'd been a fair trade. She got the boy she wanted, yet she lost him at the same time.
Come on, Neji. Come on. Come on.
Not for the first time that night, Ino wished her medical knowledge and chakra control were on Sakura's level. This would be so much easier if she was.
"Is he going to...?"
The order flies from her lips with unquestionable authority, nevermind that she isn't the team leader. At this moment, their leader was down for the count and Ino did what she did best - take charge. A flicker of doubt ran across Eri Koyamada's face before she bent her head down again to blow air into the fallen Hyuuga's mouth. Ino scowled and pumped more chakra into her palms. With every breath Koyamada blew into Neji, the holes Ino was desperately trying to heal wavered. She wished like hell she could simply stick a plug in each lung and make him better just like that because her hands are starting to shake and unlike Naruto, her chakra was not unlimited. Another minute passes before she feels less of the chakra in her left palm being absorbed. The right soon follows suit, and Ino almost sighs in relief.
Step One: Stop the Bleeding. Complete.
She moved her hands then, fingers pressing lightly around Neji's chest. The dual puncture wounds to his lungs were sealed now, but now there was loose air and blood pooled in his chest cavity that needed removing. The corners of her mouth dipped downward. He'd seen the attack coming when this happened, but she and Koyamada had been standing right beside him at the time. If he'd done a Kaiten he'd have hurt them both in the process, and the assailant had been out of hand range.
Fumbling with her weapons pouch she produced a senbon with one hand, kneading Neji's chest with the other. If she could gather the blood into one area, maybe she'd only have to make one incision to lance it out and then smooth the air pockets to that area. She held her breath as the tool penetrated his chest, only a second, and blood ran and air bubbled out with it. She exhaled and set the senbon down beside her, then looked to her other teammate.
"You can stop now."
With a hint of worry, the girl obeyed, dark brown eyes wondering if this were a turn for the better or a turn for the worst. Ino's eyebrows drew together as she looked at Neji's face, praying that what she was about to do would go smoothly. She only had two minutes to remove the blood that had leaked into Neji's lungs before lack of oxygen started to affect his brain. Ideally, she'd liked to do so with him breathing or having someone breathe for him, but what she planned was going to cause him to choke and she didn't need anything obstructing his mouth.
Ino directed her to the middle of Neji's body. Koyamada's wavy, sandy brown hair swayed as she moved into position.
"Put your hands over his stomach. After I move my hands, you push, okay?"
She was answered with a nod. Ino blinked, then placed her hands flat over his lungs.
She channeled her chakra again and pushed upwards, hands moving in parallel lines towards Neji's neck. She tried to keep her flow as even as possible; too much chakra foced into him would blow out both of his lungs completely.
Koyamada pushed. Ino put her hands back over Neji's lungs and repeated the action. Koyamada pushed without instruction. The third time, Ino heard a gurgling noise in the back of Neji's throat. With a hand Ino signalled to stop and the two of them turned him onto his stomach, holding him up by the shoulders. Nearly half a cup of blood ran out of his mouth. They hit his back with soft thwacks and laid him on his back again. Koyamada gave Neji a few more breaths before he began to breathe on his own. The girls exchanged looks of relief, and Ino dug around in her pouch for smelling salts. Putting the strongest one under his nose, Neji awoke with a large gasp.
Ino was silently thankful not to hear any rattling or wheezing. Koyamada smiled and wiped Neji's blood from her lips.
Neji regarded them both with the slightest of frowns, liken to the look a person gives when their morning newspaper is wet, and sat up. He only coughed once before he spoke.
"Basement.", Ino chimed in. They had been on the second floor of the building when he'd slipped into unconsciousness, unable to catch his breath. Getting his 170 pounds of lean muscle down two flights of stairs without being seen had been a small miracle.
Saying it out loud, Ino felt a pang of shame that it had taken her that long to heal and revive him. Every second counted on missions, especially if a team member was taken out. Had they been discovered, the three of them would very well have died. Neji was the primary fighter on the team, they needed him more than he needed them.
Neji stood up and took a deep breath while his eyes panned upwards, looking for shinobi on the floor above them.
"There's six above us. We're using exit plan C."
The girls nodded and stood up.
The brunette paused mid-stride and turned toward the voice. Approaching on her left was a male her age, and she recognized him as one of the gennin graduates from her year. Team Two, was it?
The male, clad in long gray short and a darker gray top, came closer and gave a friendly wave. He smiled warmly as he stood across from her.
"I thought it was you! Can't miss the double buns. How's your team? Haven't seen you since graduation day. You didn't show up at the chuunin exams...?"
Recalling that year, Tenten quirked her lips and shrugged.
"Yeah. Gai-sensei kept us back a year, he didn't think we were ready. He was right."
She smiled, remembering how utterly pissed Neji was and how distraught Lee looked when Gai told them he wasn't going to recommend them to participate. It had stung her, too, but in time she came to appreciate Gai's judgement.
"Ooo, harsh. But you guys made it to chuunin, right?"
"Yeah! We took the exam the year they held it in Kumogakure."
"Nice, I heard that year they had a kid who could drain your chakra just by toucing you."
"Well, yeah, but he couldn't touch Lee, so he lost."
She felt a moment of pride in thinking about how far they'd come. In the chuunin exams in Konoha, Lee had taken quite a beating from Gaara. By the time they took the exams again in Kumogakure, Lee didn't even need to remove his ankle weights to beat his opponent, let alone open his tenketsu. She'd ended up fighting a boy who had the misfortune of being a close-ranged fighter, and Neji...Neji practically obliterated his opponent.
"Old bushy brows? Guess he's stronger than he looks. Neji must be a jounin by now."
"He is, actually."
Tenten tried not to let her smile falter, she could sense the next question.
"What about you? Are you still a chuunin, or did you make jounin too?"
"...I retired two years after I became a chuunin. I got married."
His face flashed in mild shock before settling into an easy grin.
The conversation died soon after that and Tanaka hurried off, wishing her luck and prosperity and other things she didn't care about as his back disappeared into the crowd. As much as she wanted to stick out her tongue about that, she had to admit to herself that she couldn't blame him. A warrior's life revolved around killing and training to kill better, since Tenten was no longer a part of that world, they really had nothing in common anymore to speak of. That was the tragedy of retirement - she was too much of a shinobi to relate with civillians, yet too domesticated now to relate to shinobi.
She bit the inside of her lower lip and made her way to the produce section of the village market. What could she make for dinner tonight? Maybe if she bought enough shrimp, she could manage to make two batches of tempura without overcooking it.
As they neared the village gates Neji allowed his squad to slow and catch their breath. Coming home was always something to be savored because every time you saw Konoha's gates you thought about all the shinobi who never made it back home.
Koyamada beamed and sucked in a deep breath, letting the scents of home flood her lungs.
"Ah~ I can't wait to take a bath! Gonna fill my tub with piping-hot water and just sit in it for an hour or two. Add in some peppermint oil...Hell, I might sleep in it!"
"You'll drown, Komayada-san." Ino countered, though the idea was tremendously appealing.
"It'll be a good death."
Neji let a small smile grace his lips. He didn't favor having two kunoichi for support on this mission, but he was thankful that the three of them at least got along. As they crossed the threshold into the main gates, they greeted Kotetsu and Izumo and Koyamada ran into the waiting arms of her lover. Neji was about to start towards the Hokage tower when Ino stepped in front of him. She didn't look him directly in the face, instead choosing to look at absolutely nothing over his shoulder. She kept her voice low.
"Look, um, I don't say this often, so pay attention okay?"
Her eyes finally found their way to his face before she closed them and made the slightest of bows.
His usual blank stare didn't change.
For a moment I thought you were going to die and it was awful and it reminded me of Asuma-sensei and I almost quit because I didn't think I could save you.
She smirked up at him, her uneasiness suddenly gone and replaced with her usual bravado.
"Don't worry about what for, just accept the apology. Jeez."
His eyes softened and her smirk became a geniuine smile.
"I'll be more useful next time. Promise."
Before he had the chance to tell her that she had been useful (and an instrumental part of the mission to boot. How else would they have gotten the passwords they'd needed to get access into the most heavily guarded areas?), she was already walking away. He started towards the Hokage's tower again.
He was already at the front door when Tenten sensed him, and cursed herself for losing her touch. Back in the days of Team Gai, she could sense Neji's chakra from a quarter mile distance. Now she couldn't sense him a block away. Two years had done much to dull her reflexes. She didn't turn away from the kitchen sink to face him as he came through the front door, but she did open her mouth to greet him before shutting it, hearing the light padding of his feet trail to the back of the house. She resisted the urge to sigh. As feared, she'd managed to overcook both batches of tempura, and now she was mincing potatoes for the curry. As much as she loved pointed objects, Tenten hated kitchen knives. They never quite got the weight distribution right, they were no where near the level of sharpness she liked in her blades, and they broke as easily as if they were made of cheap aluminum.
She tried not to jump at the sudden sensation of an arm draping across her collarbone and another snaking around her waist. Sometimes, she forgot just how fast he was. The cool feel of Neji's cheek against hers calmed her, and she automatically matched her breathing to his.
"Hold the salt."
His mouth ghosted over her cheek and he moved away from her and down the hall, to the back of the house again. Tenten stopped slicing and looked at her left hand, at her bare ring finger.
Up close, she could smell traces of sweat, blood and perfume on Neji. Tenten did not wear perfume.
She knit her eyebrows and resumed mincing. Sometimes she had to remind herself that he was Konoha's Neji before he was her Neji, and he was a Hyuuga before he was even Neji. She barely made the top three on the list of his priorities.
(A/N): Updates will be incredibly slow, thought I'd be nice and tell you that now, but this is a multichap fic and I have no idea how long it will be. I'll be relatively consistant with chapter lengths. I have a general idea of where I'm going with this and a few key moments, but other than that...I'm going to seriously take my time with this and try to push my writing skills (or lack of) to the limit, I want this to be awesome :D