The wind sang softly as leaves danced in the breeze. One brown leaf curled gently around the corner of buildings and landed softly on the ground. Only seconds after it descent, a sandaled foot crushed it.
Shinobi walked jubilantly through the streets, some cheering, others crying with joy, and still more were embracing their loved ones and kissing them fiercely. The war was finally over, and the joint shinobi forces had retreated to Konoha for the celebration.
Hinata smiled softly at the jubilation in front of her. The casualties had been heavy, and it would take years for the elemental nations to truly regain their power. But then again, she thought pensively as she watched an Iwa nin embrace one of the Konoha jounin, they had gained new strength through the course of harsh battles.
Sighing softly, Hinata turned away from the festivities. The singing and cheers soon became background noise as she walked through the streets of the village she loved. Her feet only had one destination, and as she walked along the winding road, Hinata would feel the light and cheery atmosphere slowly fade away.
Flowers were strewed all throughout the streets, courtesy of the Yamanaka flower shop. Marigolds, agrimony, carnations of all colors, cypress, and…
Hinata's smile faded as she stopped to stare at the flower lying at her feet. Stooping over, she bent to lift its delicate stalk between her fingers. The flower was in the midst of wilting, and its fuschai petals were already turning brown.
The Eglantine Rose, meaning a wound that needed to heal.
Hinata sighed and pressed the flower closely to her chest. It felt like the flower was about to snap at the slight pressure. It was, Hinata reflected, a lot like life. Beautiful, fragile, and so easily destroyed.
A broken sob sounded before her, and Hinata dropped the rose quickly. She rushed forward and activated her Byakugan to scan for enemies. Who was injured? Who was hurt? Did they need any medical assistance –
Hinata slowed and observed the crying female in front of her. The woman's brown hair was untied and streamed messily down her back. Her forehead protector lay disregarded on the ground, and she was clutching at the grass, uprooting it, tearing it apart in her wild grief. The memorial stone she prostrated herself before was filled with names, most freshly carved in light of the finished war. The kunoichi's fingers were bleeding, and Hinata couldn't help but notice the contrast between the red, red blood streaming down the black face of the rock. The cuts on those long, calloused fingers were from tracing one name over and over, obsessively. Hinata turned her face away in grief though her Byakugan made sure she saw the name dyed in crimson.
Hinata stepped forward. "Tenten," she said softly.
Tenten didn't even lift her head to acknowledge Hinata's presence, and Hinata wondered if she was even heard over the brown haired girl's sobs. She took another step.
"Tenten," she repeated.
Tenten's head shot up at this, and she stared at Hinata with red eyes rimmed with shadows and insane with sorrow. Hinata refused to flinch and met those broken eyes with her own steady lavender.
At length, Tenten chuckled. The deep rasp she produced was rusty knives dragged across granite, the sound of sandpaper scraping across concrete.
"What, is it your turn now?" Tenten's smile was mocking and more than a little demented. "You should give up now. Lee came by earlier, and before that it was Sakura." Another laugh bubbled from her dry lips, and Tenten bit her lip as another sob escaped her. "It's too late for any of you." Turning a tortured gaze onto the bloody stone, a bitter giggle fell. "It's too late for him."
"How long have you been here?" Hinata ventured. Funny, she thought. A year ago, she would already be cringing away from the kunoichi and retreated, stuttering all the way. Now, Hinata stood to face her, no longer intimidated, no longer cowed. Naruto had changed her. War had changed her.
War had changed everyone.
"Since the so-called end of this God forsaken war," Tenten spat. Her nose crinkled up in distaste, and her hand dropped limply to her side.
Hinata merely stood and observed as if there was nothing wrong, but inside, she was screaming and crying out.
I lost people too! She cried to herself. He was my protector, my mentor, my brother! I lost him too!
But, no. That wasn't fair to Tenten. Hinata could understand the pain of losing someone dear to her, but this. This was a pain beyond her comprehension. If anything had happened to Naruto in the final battle against Madara… Hinata shuddered. But then again, she thought wryly. That had been prevented by her cousin.
Tenten had long stopped clawing at the memorial rock, and her eyes were now blank and empty. She sagged against the dark stone and exhaled through her nose. She looked defeated and tired even though it should have been a night for celebration. Hinata's heart twisted with sympathy.
Hinata let her legs collapse from underneath her, and she crawled to the other side of the memorial stone. She was now facing the opposite direction from Tenten, and though she could still see Tenten (courtesy of the Byakugan), Tenten could no longer see her.
"Let me tell you a story," she began. She watched as Tenten's body stiffened, noticed the way her chakra flared angrily. Hinata ignored it. "This story is about a young man who was born into a cage."
There was no sound from Tenten, and Hinata could see her hands clenching at her sides. Taking it as a sign that she was listening, Hinata continued.
"This young man had suffered early in his life. He lost his mother and relied on his father before losing him too. This boy became focused on hatred and revenge, despising his family and trusting no one."
A shaky breath escaped Tenten.
"The boy was also very afraid, you see. After all, everyone he had ever trusted had left him one way or the other, and his family didn't care for him due to where he had been born. It seemed like there was nothing left for the boy, and he resigned himself to always being alone."
Tenten leaned back against the rock.
"The boy did quite well at this feat until he was assigned a team. There, he meet two beautiful and youthful beasts as well as a weapon mistress whose fingers were as deft as the wind. When she fought, it looked like the blades were dancing."
A scornful expression took its place on Tenten's face.
"Slowly but surely, his ice cold façade began to crack. It didn't change much, for he was still ostracized from his family, but he changed. The change was slow, and most people couldn't see it, but when a blond fool punched him in the jaw, the entire world saw a change."
A huff of amusement from Tenten.
"After that, this boy opened up. He became kind, warm, and powerful. He had always been skilled, but with the knowledge that other people were there for him, he truly reached his title of 'genius.' Of course, he did have a few near death experiences."
A rough chuckle came from Tenten at this, though there was no real amusement.
Hinata persisted. "No one else noticed, but he and the weapon's mistress became quite close. They were the best of friends, the best sparring partners, and he confided in her when he doubted himself. She was always there for him, and he, in turn, was there for her."
A smile danced on Tenten's lips.
"They grew closer and closer, and their love for each other grew as well. Things would have been perfect if not for the evil force that drew closer to them every day. At long last, tensions reached their peak, and war exploded across the world. The fighting was harsh, and wounds were severe." Hinata paused here and considered her next words carefully. "The two were able to persevere through it, forever trusting in the other to stay strong."
Tenten began trembling, and she wrapped her arms around her own shaking body. Hinata could almost see two ghostly arms clad in white reach out to embrace her.
"They were skilled warriors, and there should have been no problem. But war is cruel, war is unfeeling, and war tore them apart."
Tenten was crying again, and Hinata took a moment to doubt herself. Was she doing the right thing by saying this? Shaking her head firmly to clear the doubts, Hinata began speaking once more.
"The man – no longer a boy – died at the height of battle." Her voice cracked in the middle, and Hinata felt a tear of her own slip out and fall to the ground. "He died protecting the one who would end the war, and thus he became a hero."
"Don't heroes have happy endings?" Tenten interjected virulently. "If this boy was one, then why did he die?"
Hinata shook her head and felt her hands shaking. Clasping them together, she willed herself to be strong. "He died a hero," she repeated strongly. "And no one will ever say differently. Can I continue the story?" she asked tersely.
Tenten scoffed. "Go ahead," she said, but it was clear she was losing herself again.
"The man left behind his family. He left behind his life and his future, everything that he had ever known. His life had ended, and there was nothing left behind…" Hinata trailed off when she saw Tenten abruptly stand and make as if to leave. "Where are you going?"
"Anywhere," came the poisonous reply. "I'm not staying here to listen to your drivel. I don't need your messed up form of therapy."
"Sit down," Hinata barked, surprising herself with the strength of her words. "The story isn't finished yet."
She could see the struggle Tenten was going through as various emotions flitted across her face. Finally, Tenten sat down with a huff.
Hinata let out a breath she hadn't know she was holding. That was a potential disaster averted. "Good."
"He didn't leave anything behind," Hinata picked up. "At least, that's what everyone thought, but that wasn't true. That brave young man left behind a lot of things."
"He left behind the Will of Fire for future generations," she went on. More and more determination crept into her voice as Hinata spoke. "He left behind a legacy of honor for veterans to remember. He left memories of laughter and undying resolve for his friends to relive. Most importantly…" Hinata gulped, and tears streamed down her face. "He left behind his love for the brown-haired weapon's mistress and his wish for her happiness."
She stood and walked around the stone to see Tenten sobbing into her knees. The red pants she always wore were stained with dirt and tears. Her white blouse was covered in muck, but Hinata thought that she had never seen anything quite as lovely as Tenten at that moment, mourning for her lost love.
Hinata waited for Tenten's weeping to turn manageable and added in a quiet voice, "He truly did love you, you know."
"I know." Tenten took a deep shuddering breath and heaved herself up, supporting herself on the memorial stone. She gulped for air and glance around slowly, like a drowning man regaining his senses.
Hinata watched those brown eyes take in the torn up grass, the flowers on the road, the sounds of merriment from the village, and finally, the red name on the stone.
Tenten's voice cracked when she addressed Hinata. "Thanks," she muttered. Scuffing a foot awkwardly against the ground, Tenten whirled around. "I – I should probably head back to the village."
"You do that," Hinata encouraged. She stared after the kunoichi and was about to head after her when Tenten's voice broke into her train of thought.
"Hinata… did the boy in the story have a name?"
Hinata smiled at the hesitant question. "You know the answer to that." It was a sight to behold, she mused, as Tenten's back straightened, her shoulder's stiffened.
And as Tenten marched down the flower road, Hinata could have sworn she saw a white robed figure with long brown hair walking beside her.