Tokuma tries very hard to be careful. He is quick to fill sake cups when he serves during dinner time, he bows slightly more than etiquette minimally requires, he tacks on ‘sir’ to the ends of his sentences and keeps his eyes fixed to the floorboards. He keeps his head down and his mouth shut and he toes the line. Most of the time.
He cannot be faulted for dropping a bowl when his tray has been overfilled, Tokuma muses as Lord Hisao starts his scalding rebuke and Tokuma dutifully falls to his knees and presses his forehead protector to the ground. He cannot be faulted for maybe burning the man’s scrambled eggs and maybe adding too much salt to the miso. He doesn’t exactly remember doing the last two, but Lord Hisao’s voice is so grating against his ears and of course the main family is always correct.
The fact is that Tokuma had returned from his month-long reconnaissance mission only 9 hours ago, giving him just enough time to change, stand guard duty, and assemble Lord Hisao’s breakfast. The fact is that Tokuma has not slept in 31 going on 32 hours, much less eaten, and he is exhausted, and he has a headache and his hands won’t stop shaking and he is pretty sure the wound in his side has just reopened.
“Are you listening to me, boy?”
The man is supposedly Lord Hyuga’s father, but Tokuma would bet his entire life savings on him being the literal devil.
“Yes, my lord,” he murmurs anyway, only a beat too late. There is a heavy pause that has Tokuma flinching and bowing lower, as if that will make any difference. The only warning he gets is a sudden surge in the other man’s chakra before burning pain spirals from the center of his forehead and digs itself deep into his brain.
The thing is, it’s not different from the last three times his curse seal had been activated, but if feels new, feels like this is the first time his head has ever split open and the first time his nerve endings have ever been set on fire.
“This will not happen again,” Tokuma hears from what seems to be very very far away, when the pain recedes after what feels like an eternity.
He passes out rather abruptly.
Tokuma wakes up in the clan infirmary, sunlight streaming through the narrow windows and sitting squarely across his face. His mouth feels like it’s been baking in Sunagakure’s dunes for at least a couple weeks and his newest headache is pounding insistently at his temples. A hawk with very distinctive red markings sits patiently on the windowsill, and Tokuma groans out loud when he sits up and sees the scroll on its leg: the gold filigree Missions Summons label glints at him mockingly.
The thought of standing up makes him slightly nauseous, so Tokuma settles for patting his thigh awkwardly. “Come here,” Tokuma says, but the thing just cocks its head to the side and tightens its grip on the sill.
“That hawk has been sitting there for at least an hour,” Suzume, the branch medic, informs him when she bustles into the tiny room not half a minute later with a tray and her usual brusque attitude, interrupting his staring contest. She has her hair up in its usual bun, flyaways barely tamed by bobby pins and her headband. The hawk chirps when it sees her, fluttering down to where she kneels to put down her tray, and rubbing its head against her leg.
“ Asshole ,” Tokuma hisses in a very un-Hyuga manner.
Suzume only rolls her eyes and unhooks the scroll, tossing it into his lap before coaxing the creature back onto the sill with a handful of seeds.
The note is terse as always:
Hyuuga Tokuma --
Report to Jounin tower for your B-Rank Mission Assignment.
Except April 3rd means he’s been out for 2 days, and he hasn’t even written up his report for the last mission yet. He’s behind with nothing to show for it, and only because some old man decided to go on a power trip —he cuts himself off from that train of thought; it’ll only make him angry, which is the opposite of what he needs right now. And Suzume’s still watching him out of the corner of her eye, pretending not to be concerned.
Tokuma lies back down with a sigh and lets her unwrap his head bandages. At least he finally got some sleep, he supposes. Silver lining and all that.
Suzume messes around with a sharply scented poultice and then smears the cool concoction over his seal. Tokuma revels in the relief for a second before opening his eyes again.
“It’s not as bad it as it could’ve been,” she offers at his questioning gaze. “The swelling will go down soon.”
It was still unjustified , he wants to say, but all of the walls have ears here so he just shrugs and says, “It was my fault.” He may be a ‘clumsy piece of shit,’ as Lord Hisao so pleasantly reminded him, but at least he has a very good sense of self-preservation—in this house, one communicates in layers, and it has been so many years since Tokuma has said anything without carefully weighing each word as though it were gold.
Even so, Suzume seems to understand, and she shoots him quick warning look.
With one final quick once over, she wraps his forehead back up in fresh bandages and watches him finish a cup of tea laced with some kind of herb that instantly soothes the ache around his eyes and settles his empty stomach.
“Be careful,” she tells him as he gingerly slips his shoes on and shuffles out of the building. She squeezes his shoulder once, a Don’t do anything stupid , before disappearing back inside the low building.
Applying for Tokubetsu Jounin means that his mission load has dramatically increased in preparation for the rank, and while Tokuma is grateful for the time this allows him to spend outside of the compound, it also means that he has had no time at all to have a social life. He can admit to himself that he misses pulling stupid pranks with his old genin team and gossiping in dango shops with them for hours on end, though he’d rather take a senbon to his eyes than ever tell them that.
Muta Aburame is a very nice remedy for this problem, Tokuma decides. The Aburame’s got his clan’s signature black sunglasses and high-necked tunic on, even though it’s sweltering in this crowded space. Tokuma loves a challenge anyway—he has had four missions with the chuunin and, despite graduating from the same academy class, he has never gotten anything more than a greeting and an occasional ‘yes’ or ‘no’ out of the shinobi. The back of the missions line is as good a place to start as any and judging by the harried look of the chuunin on duty and the amount of people ahead of them, Tokuma suspects they’ll have more than enough time for a conversation.
“Hyuuga-san.” The other man gives him a single nod before turning back towards the front.
“How are you?” Tokuma presses on after a second, just before the silence can get too awkward. “Been busy? I heard your application for Tokubetsu just went through.”
“What’s your specialty?”
That’s one new word, and Tokuma would grin if he weren’t in public and also a Hyuuga who had passed all of his etiquette classes with flying colors, thank you very much.
“I’ve applied for a reconnaissance position,” he says as the line finally starts to move forward.
“I wish you luck. Your bloodline limit will serve you well.”
And doesn’t that just leave a bitter taste on his tongue, but he can’t even be bothered right now because he just got two full sentences out of an Aburame . There was an Aburame on cousin Yuuki’s genin team and she swears she didn’t get a single sentence for a full year.
“Thank you, Aburame-san,” Tokuma manages just before it’s Muta’s turn to get his mission files.
The other shinobi nods again on his way out and Tokuma finds himself tracking Muta through the back of his head well after Muta leaves the cramped room.