Mizuki awoke after a fitful sleep and went to his front room. Hinata was still asleep on his couch, Gina curled in her arms. Mizuki spared himself a brief moment to smile at the cute scene before him, then carefully extracted Gina from Hinata's arms and carried his tiny daughter to her room. Placing the girl in her crib, Mizuki went back to where Hinata was laying and, careful not to wake her, bound her hands and feet together. There were tears in his eyes as he worked.
After a few moments, Hinata awoke and looked around blearily. Upon discovering her hands and feet were bound, she looked around in fear. Finding Mizuki sitting before her, she shook her head, then asked, "Mizuki-sensei? What's going on?"
Mizuki sighed. "I'm sorry, Hinata. They have Tsubaki," he said sadly, tears in his eyes. He couldn't bring himself to meet Hinata's gaze. "They say they'll let her go if I give them...you."
Hinata gasped. Mizuki was going to...trade her for Tsubaki? But...he'd told her Tsubaki was visiting family in Tanzaku Town! "I thought Tsubaki was just visiting family..." she said uncertainly.
Mizuki sighed again. "I couldn't tell you the truth. They told me if I told anyone, they'd kill her. But now...I guess it doesn't matter since you won't be going back home."
Hinata was stunned. "What in the world do they want with me?!" she asked.
Mizuki shrugged. "I don't know, really. Maybe they think they'll be able to recreate your Byakugan in their own shinobi or something. They've promised me you'll be safe, that's all I know for sure."
Hinata shook her head. "Who is this 'they', Mizuki-sensei?"
Mizuki gave a slight shiver before answering. "The Village Hidden in the Clouds," he said after a moment.
Hinata gasped at this revelation and tried to get free from the bonds holding her. She couldn't. "Mizuki-sensei, you can't do this. It's because of them that my uncle was killed. They've been after the Byakugan for years, and they wouldn't hesitate to kill for it. They even tried to take me before. Please don't do this!" she said, tears filling her eyes.
Mizuki took a deep breath. "I have to," he said. "They won't give Tsubaki back to me if I don't. I'm really sorry, Hinata, you mean the world to me, but I can't live without Tsubaki."
Hinata took a deep breath to calm herself down. "Mizuki-sensei, this is stupid. You know the Hokage would help you get Tsubaki back if you asked. Why not just ask for help?"
Mizuki shook his head sadly. "I can't tell anyone about this or they'll kill her," he said simply, despair coloring his voice.
Hinata barely managed to not roll her eyes. "When are you supposed to turn me over to them?" she asked.
Mizuki thought a moment. "Tonight at midnight, they're going to meet me on one of the training grounds on the edge of the village, and we'll make the exchange there."
Hinata smiled. "Let me go. I promise by then, I'll have a way to get Tsubaki back. Just let me go, and we'll get her back for you. I promise."
Mizuki considered this. "I know this girl. She wouldn't make a promise like that if she wasn't sure she could do it. I trust her...and I have no reason to trust those assholes from the Cloud Village," he thought to himself. He nodded after a moment, then untied Hinata. "I'm sorry about this, Hinata, I really am. I hope you mean it about getting her back."
Hinata chuckled. "Of course I do. Tsubaki means a lot to me, too, Mizuki-sensei. I'd never leave her in the hands of those barbarians if I could help it. I'll see you at the Academy," she said, then turned and left. "Oh, and if they contact you today, tell them you'll have me by tonight," she added as she headed out of Mizuki's door.
Mizuki sighed. "I hope I didn't just make a huge mistake," he said to himself.
When Iruka came to wake Naruto up that morning, he had a surprise for him. "Naruto!" he called. Naruto gasped and sat up suddenly. "We have a visitor. Get dressed and come to the living room."
Naruto got up and dressed, his vision still blurred from sleep. Stumbling out to the living room, he was surprised to find his classmate, Hinata, sitting on their couch. "Oh, hey, Hinata," he said. He wasn't exactly friends with the girl, but he knew who she was from seeing her in class. "What are you doing here?"
Iruka chuckled. "Naruto, one of these days, we have got to work on your tact," he said with a fond smile.
Naruto turned to Iruka with a confused look. "What do you mean, Dad?" he asked innocently.
Iruka rolled his eyes and gave Hinata an apologetic look. Hinata giggled slightly. "I mean, the way you said that seemed rather rude, and you really need to work on being more considerate of other people's feelings," he said back, trying not to laugh.
"Oh! Sorry, Hinata, I didn't mean it like that, I just wasn't expecting to see you here this morning," Naruto said in a rush.
Hinata giggled, blushing slightly. "That's okay, Naruto, I knew what you meant," she said back after a moment.
Iruka smiled at the two, then said, "He does raise a valid point, though, Hinata. You wouldn't tell me what you were doing here until Naruto was here...and he's here now. So...what's going on?"
Hinata took a deep breath. "I was at Mizuki-sensei's home last night. I had agreed to babysit his daughter, Gina. When I awoke this morning, however, I found myself bound, hands and feet, on his couch," she began, then paused a moment to collect her thoughts. After a brief pause, she continued, "He told me agents of the Cloud Village have kidnapped his wife, Tsubaki, and are threatening to kill her. The only way they would agree to give her back is if he delivers me to them. I convinced Mizuki-sensei to let me go by promising to find some way to rescue Tsubaki from them. That's why I came here. I need you two's help to save her!"
Iruka and Naruto were stunned. Iruka was the first one to regain his composure somewhat. He asked, "Mizuki's wife has been kidnapped?" Hinata nodded. Iruka took a moment to think about this. "That must be why he asked me about that!" he realized. "And...my advice to him...he took that to mean he should hand Hinata over. Wow..." Iruka was silent for several minutes as the severity of his guilt set in. He hadn't intended his advice to lead to that, of course, but it had done so nevertheless.
Naruto, meanwhile, was seething. "The cowards!" he burst out after a minute or so of silence. Iruka and Hinata both turned to him in surprise. "Kidnapping someone and using them as a bargaining chip like that...it's a coward's trick!" Turning to Hinata and Iruka, he said, "We can't let them get away with this!"
Iruka chuckled. "You know what, Naruto? You're right!" he said. "But the three of us are nowhere near strong enough to face off with a group of trained shinobi. I doubt they'll send Academy students to oversee a hostage exchange like that. We need help. And I know just who can give it!"
Naruto was listening to Iruka's short speech with rapt attention, his eyes filled with pride and awe. "Who?" he asked after a moment.
Iruka chuckled. "The Hokage, of course! Who else?" he answered. Hinata started to say they couldn't do that, but Iruka held up a hand to stop her and said, "Hinata, think about it, if an Academy student like you can tell a Chunin like me something this important without fear of discovery, don't you think the Hokage, who outranks everyone in the village, knows how to keep a secret?"
Hinata considered this, then she had to fight the urge to face-palm. When Iruka put it like that, it made the threat the foreign shinobi had made seem rather ridiculous. "All the same," she said after a moment, "we need to be careful. If they realize Mizuki-sensei told others what was going on, they won't hesitate to kill Tsubaki, and I don't think I could live with myself if she got killed because of me."
Iruka chuckled. "Yeah, of course we'll be careful," he said. "I care about Tsubaki and Mizuki, too. I would never do anything to get either of them hurt. And I seriously doubt the Hokage would put any of his shinobi in danger without good cause, either."
"Why's that, Dad?" Naruto asked, somewhat baffled by this.
"Well, the Hokage loves each and every shinobi in the village, and all of the civilians too for that matter, as if they were his own family. No one would ever put his own family in danger without good reason. It's just part of being Hokage," Iruka said gently. He was used to fielding questions like that from Naruto.
Naruto, who had occasionally entertained the notion of one day being Hokage himself, tucked this little bit of insight away for later consideration, then returned his focus to the problem at hand. "We should probably go see the Hokage before class today, then, huh?" he asked. Iruka nodded. Not thinking about what he was doing, Naruto grabbed Hinata's hand, eliciting another blush from the shy girl, and said, "Well, let's get going then!" He then proceeded to lead Hinata by the hand out of the door and onto the road that would lead them to the Hokage tower. Iruka chuckled at how clueless Naruto was sometimes and followed after the two, carefully locking the door to the small house he and Naruto shared as he left.
Hiruzen Sarutobi, Third Hokage of the Village Hidden in the Leaves, also nicknamed the God of Shinobi by those who knew him in his prime (and ironically used by those who knew him later in his life) listened attentively as Hinata told her tale. It was clear to him that Mizuki had no traitorous intentions, he was simply stuck in a very bad situation. Between that, his immense respect for Mizuki and Iruka, and the fact that two Academy students had such a strong Will of Fire that they would not abandon their instructor and fellow shinobi in his time of need, Hiruzen found his blood boiling with rage. "It seems I have to once again earn my old nickname," he thought to himself. "I won't abandon my shinobi in their hour of need, either."
Raising his view to take in the two students and one instructor that occupied his office, he said in a voice that was deceptively calm, "We have work to do."
Naruto jumped in the air and pumped his fist upward in excitement. "YES!" he cried out. "We have a mission!"
Hiruzen chuckled at the blond's antics, and Iruka smiled fondly at the boy. "Well, it's good to see you're excited, Naruto," Hiruzen said. "However, this, as you said, is a mission, and if anything goes wrong, it could easily be very dangerous. We don't really know anything about the enemy or their strength, so going off half-cocked could easily get all of you killed."
Naruto gulped. He hadn't thought of that. Iruka rested a hand on the boy's head and said calmly, "I won't let anything happen to you, Naruto. You, either, Hinata. I will protect you with my life, if need be. I know you both feel the same way about Mizuki, and I'm proud of both of you for it." Naruto grinned up at his adoptive father. Iruka continued, addressing the Hokage now, "I would like permission to take point on this mission, Lord Hokage."
Hiruzen stroked his tan, weathered, wrinkled face and considered this carefully. After several moments, during which Iruka did the best he could to not show his nervousness, Hiruzen said, "I think that can be arranged. Are there any shinobi or other students you would like to have as your squad in particular, Iruka?"
Iruka considered this. He knew if he didn't choose his squad with care, he could easily get someone killed. After a minute or two of considering, he asked, "Could I have access to ANBU as well as the regular shinobi forces?" Hiruzen considered this for a moment, then nodded. "Then I would like to request Yugao. Her weapon and stealth skills may come in handy. I would also like to have Anko Mitarashi if I may. Her skills with her snakes both offensively and defensively could be useful. I believe those two and these two here would be an ideal squad, along with myself. Is this acceptable?"
Hiruzen considered what Iruka had said, then nodded. "That sounds like an adept team. I will see to it. In the meantime, you three should come up with a plan of attack. Once you do, come back here and we'll go over it, make any adjustments necessary, and discuss when and how to execute it. Be back here in an hour, and I'll have Yugao and Anko here to meet you then."
Iruka nodded, and he, Naruto, and Hinata departed. They had work to do.
Mizuki approached the clearing where the representative of the Cloud Village was going to meet him. Walking ahead of him, barely keeping her feet, was Hinata. Her hands were bound behind her, and her eyes were glassy. She seemed dazed, out of it. To the common observer, she appeared to have been drugged.
As Mizuki entered the clearing, he could see, standing in the middle of the small space, a lone figure. It was the man who had first approached him with the folder he had spent so many hours considering since then. Mizuki snarled as he came closer and a second figure came into view just behind the man. It was his wife, Tsubaki. She looked much as Hinata did, eyes glassy, barely able to keep her feet, dazed. Mizuki ground his teeth as he considered his dear wife being drugged and forced into being there now.
The Cloud ninja stepped forward, grinning evilly. "You brought her," he said simply. "Good. I'm glad you took our warnings seriously. I would seriously hate to have to kill you. You could be of great benefit to the Cloud Village in time."
Mizuki glared at the man. "I should have known it wouldn't be this simple," he thought to himself. "He wants me for a spy. This was just a test to see how well I would do what he told me to do." Aloud, he said simply, "That remains to be seen."
The Cloud representative chuckled. "That's true, it does," he said back. "I hope for your sake you don't prove to be useless to us."
Mizuki was barely able to keep himself from rolling his eyes at the barely-concealed threat. Mizuki stepped forward toward his wife, pushing Hinata forward with him. The Cloud ninja came forward to meet them and placed a hand on Hinata's shoulder. He directed her toward the far side of the clearing. Mizuki passed the Cloud shinobi and moved quickly to grab his wife. Once he had her, he quickly body flickered to get himself and his wife out of the way.
Once Mizuki and Tsubaki were out of the way, several things happened at once. Yugao appeared directly behind the Cloud shinobi, her sword at his throat. Hinata's once glassy eyes gained immense focus as she attacked the Cloud ninja. She hit him at the base of his spine, paralyzing his legs temporarily. At the same time, Iruka cast a barrier around the clearing, preventing any escape on the part of the Cloud shinobi.
Iruka, Yugao, Hinata, Naruto, and Anko then all approached the Cloud ninja. Anko grinned at the man with sadistic glee. "You know," she said, chuckling. "If you're going to threaten someone, you really should make sure you're capable of carrying out the threat before you do it."
The Cloud shinobi's eyes filled with fear as he recognized Anko. "NO!" he screamed. "Not you!"
Anko chuckled again. "No, not me," she said. She allowed him just long enough to process this and for the relief to show in his eyes before she added, "It's Ibiki you'll be dealing with."
The man's eyes filled with fear again as Anko sent a horde of snakes at him. They wrapped around him and then vanished, taking the Cloud ninja with them.
Naruto grinned. "I know I didn't get a chance to do much this time," he said, "but I'm just glad everyone's okay.
Mizuki and Tsubaki reentered the clearing as he said this. "Thank you, Naruto," Mizuki said. "This means more to me than you know."
Naruto chuckled. "It's no big deal. I'm going to be Hokage one day, after all. I'd do this for anyone in the village."
Iruka smiled at his "son". "You're going to make a great Hokage one day, Naruto," he thought to himself. "And this plan of yours proves it. You even knew when not to enter the fight yourself." Aloud, he said, "Naruto, I'm proud of you."
Naruto beamed at his adoptive father. He knew Iruka loved him, but to have him say that...it was an amazing feeling...and the end to...well, a pretty incredible day, overall.
A/N: I hope you all enjoyed this one. If you're wondering what caused everything to be so different...well, good. That's the point. If you think you've figured it out...or if you already know, that's fine, too. Anyway, hope you all come back for the next one!