Disclaimer: the Naruto manga and anime series belong to Masashi Kishimoto

Chapter VII

It hurt to breathe but she pushed the air in and out through sheer force of will. How many days has it been? How long has she been running? How much longer could she possibly last? These questions were insignificant. All that mattered was that she kept moving.

She could still feel their chakra at the edge of her senses as they hunted her like an animal.

Her eyes stung sharply, yet she did not dare deactivate her Byakugan; she could not afford it. A thick liquid dripped down her cheek startling her. Was she crying? No. She had not shed a tear since the first night of her mission when she woke from Hanabi's abandonment of her.

So why had she started now? No. She reached a hand to her face, smearing the thick liquid. Blood. Her eyes were bleeding. She let out a cry of despair that caused her Byakugan to deactivate.

The world closing around her after so long in activation was so startling a change she didn't notice it at first. Only when she tripped over a fallen log and her head slammed into the trunk of a tree, did she realize something was wrong. Her vision was obscured by something. When had it gotten darker? The trees flickered in time with her rapid heartbeat.

'Oh Kami no, please not this. No. No.' And yet she should have expected it to happen. She should have prepared properly like a true Hyuuga. Why was she so pathetic? Now her miniscule chances of surviving just dwindled from nil to zero.

Her pursuers were almost on top of her now. So she got up and started to run again. She tripped again but caught herself and corrected before she fell. It was no use she couldn't continue her pace in this condition. So she activated her Byakugan, knowing the risks and continued on. The pain mingled together with the excruciating seal that was slowly stretching along her back as the days passed.

She allowed hot tears to mix with the fresh blood on her face.

"Hinata-san, you're blind." The nurse had a horrified look on her face. She knew of the Hyuuga; knew the weight they held for their eyes. She continued in an obviously nervous way. "The-the damage is likely – it is possible that it may heal, but it will take time. I'm not qualified to give you an accurate estimation of how long it will take. I'm sorry Hyuuga-san. You'll likely have to give up being a Kunoichi." She said this as she started to wrap a bandage around her eyes to protect them from harsh light.

Beside Hinata, Sasuke grimaced. He looked down at her hand on his wrist. Her grip had not changed, her face was blank. He could have easily mistaken it for shock had he not had instant access to her heart rate. It was calm, steady. Had she already come to this conclusion on her own? Had she already accepted it?

When Hinata spoke, her voice almost sounded amused, "You are mistaken." The nurse frowned and opened her mouth to protest. Hinata cut her off. "I am not blind. There is more than one way to see. A part of my sight is damaged, you are right. I cannot see what color your hair is or the style of clothing you wear.

"However, I know that it was sewn together by an old woman who has pain in her joints. I know exactly where you are standing. I know that your heartbeat just escalated by four beats a minute. I know that while Kangoshi-san was attending me, you stared immodestly at the ANBU operate closest to the door."

The young nurse, who had not bothered to introduce herself to Hinata, blushed fiercely and took a step back as Hinata stood from the hospital bed. Her hand left Sasuke's wrist.

Hinata leaned closer to her and whispered not so quietly, "If it makes you feel any better, his chakra shifted when he caught you." Hinata smiled strangely, then her right arm shot out and a glass jar of cotton swabs adjacent to it exploded, sending shards flying. She straightened, her smile gone, eyes hard. "Never. Don't you ever tell me that I am useless as a Shinobi." Her voice was hard and yet there was an almost desperate twinge to it.

Eyes staring blankly ahead, Hinata backed up until she leaned against the hospital bed next to Sasuke, their arms brushing. His gaze followed her intently.

The ANBU at the head of the pack, the one closest to them spoke. "Hokage-sama is waiting for your mission report. As you appear well, we will escort you to his office."

Hinata nodded but then stepped in front of Sasuke. Her hands slowly reached out to gently cup his face. He tensed as she looked at him, her bandaged gaze not meeting his. "As soon as I am able." Her voice was gentle and firm. He nodded silently, understanding that she would come to him as soon as she was allowed.

Then she turned and left with the ANBU.

Hinata had entered the Hyuuga compound late last night. It was unlikely that anyone noticed her as she now has the knowledge of how to completely erase her chakra signature. It was an unnervingly rare ability; she liked it.

After so many weeks sleeping on the hard ground of unfamiliar territory, her bed was much too soft. She wasn't used to a lot of sleep now-a-days anyway, so she sat on the floor and leaned against her bed for the rest of the night. She was washed as a part of the healing process but she didn't yet feel like changing out of the clothes that had spent the last six weeks on her body. It was something familiar in this now unfamiliar world.

She felt the sun's light through her window as it rose above the horizon. The Hyuugas would be awake now. Hinata could feel them stirring all over the compound. She decided she should finally change out of her mission clothes and meet them for breakfast.

It was going to be hot today, her bandages were already stifling and the excess weight of her jacket would be uncomfortable, so she opted to leave her jacket behind. When she reached her closet, she remembered that she couldn't wear it anyway. She and Rinkusu-san, the female ANBU operative that was on her team with the lynx mask, had traded their outer wear when she was wounded and had to be taken back. 'The vest will protect you better,' she had said.

She pulled a dark training shirt over her head and pulled on a pair of pants similar to her regular ones. Her feet remained bare. It helped her 'see.'

As she was about to leave the room, her hand raised to the left side of her face. A healed cut rested on the apple of her cheek and stretched almost all the way back to the top of her ear. It had sliced off her left side bangs so that they clung tightly to her head. It was the cause of the nasty seal on her back. It was also a reminder of how beat up she must look. The nurses said that it hadn't scarred much, as it wasn't very deep. Still, Hinata hoped it wouldn't bother Hanabi too much; that was of course if Hanabi even cared anymore.

When she reached the door to the dining hall Hinata didn't hesitate as she slid it open. She stood in the door way briefly as the subtle noise of clanking utensils stopped abruptly at her appearance. They really hadn't noticed her it would seem.

Hanabi broke the silence as she stood and shouted in shock. "Onee-chan!" Hinata smiled to herself. The 'chan' suffix was reassuring; she hadn't called her 'san' as was traditional. Nobody seemed keen on correcting her at the moment; even her father's chakra, at the head of the table, spasmed in surprise at the sudden news of his eldest daughter's return.

Hanabi ran around the long table, from where she sat at her father's left, to embrace her older sister tightly. Hinata sucked in a sharp breath at her little sister's unexpectedly hard grip. If she wasn't already blind, Hinata would have seen spots in her vision from the sheer pain. Hanabi jerked back in surprise at her reaction. Was her Onee-chan really hurt?

Before Hanabi could let go completely, Hinata placed her hand on the smaller girl's shoulders. She leaned down to whisper so only they could hear in the room of observers. "I'm happy that you are glad to have me back, Imouto-chan." Hinata gave her a brilliant smile and stood before she could reply. "Let us eat Imouto-chan," she said regularly and Hanabi was surprised at her sister's bold show of casual endearment in front of so much of the clan. "I am positively starved."

They walked side by side to their places on either side of their father. Hinata helped herself to the food laid out on the table, seemingly unbothered by the attention on her, though her senses were buzzing in heightened awareness.

She seemed to be the only one making noise in the entire hall until Hiashi, her father head of the Hyuuga clan, spoke, "I was not informed of your arrival." His voice was cold as it always was. He did not start eating again.

"I was not released until late last night." Her voice was equally empty.

What were once considered quiet, subtle noises of the dining hall now seemed unusually loud to Hinata, as they resumed.

"Your eyes," he started stiffly. "When are they expected to be fully operational again?"

This was of course the question she had been waiting for. Hinata was honestly surprised that it wasn't the first thing he'd said to her as soon as he saw the bandages. She responded to the previously most terrifying being in her existence unconcernedly, "The nurses at the hospital are not sure they will heal. They seemed utterly convinced that I was blind."

Silence again and yet Hiashi didn't seem overly worried; random medics of the village were inferior in his eyes anyway. "You will be examined properly as soon as possible." Hinata simply nodded in acceptance.

When her father motioned for his tea to be refilled, he spoke again. "You did not stutter." Hanabi turned to her sister in surprise; she was so relieved, she hadn't noticed. Hinata took her time finishing her last piece of toast before replying.

"That Otou-sama, is because I just spent four weeks being chased through several foreign countries, blind, and in the worst pain of my life." She stood and bowed to her father. "I have little left to fear from you." It was completely silent again as she left the hall.

She was clinically declared blind and yet you say she can still see.

It would appear that her severely traumatic experience has allowed her to forge an unusually strong control and unique connection with her chakra. Chakra is everywhere, on everything; her heightened sixth sense allows her to see by sensing the residue around her. At least that has been how I've been able to understand it.

It seems rather a risk to let such an untested ability to run around unchecked. There is also the matter of the seal.

She will have to be under constant surveillance until we can extract the scroll from her body.

How did such a thing happen in the first place?

She had successfully infiltrated the mansion but was attacked in the scroll room. She was cut on the cheek; it severed a bit of her hair. It is my understanding that both the hair and some of her blood landed on the scroll. When she picked it up, it must have registered that she had made a sacrifice for it and sealed itself onto her. The process would have been excruciating.

In any case she cannot be left alone while she is in possession of that scroll.


Very well, she will be assigned an ANBU team until we can get Jiraiya here to look at the seal.

As soon as she stepped foot out of the compound, she could sense their chakra focused on her. Four of them, familiar too. They were the ANBU team that she had left the village with. Of course, she mused, the mission isn't technically over until the scroll is in the Hokage's hands.

Well, she was not about to fail it now.