I'm sorry guys. I wanted to have this arc done before November, but I didn't make it. (﹏) I'm sad to say that this will be the last update for this fic until December, and I'm upset that I'm leaving it at this point. I hope this chapter was long enough to tide you over until then. Still, I will be updating Round Three every day in November with chapters of at least 1700 words each, so feel free to read that one! Please read it. My sister helped me with it. (ಥ﹏ಥ)
Edit: I didn't realize it but with this chapter this story is officially over 100k words long! (This is total words in the story, not including the author's notes) AAAAAAAH! Of all the chapters to do it!
I don't like this.
Kiba huffed a humorless laugh, scratching at his sensitive nose in the hopes of dispelling the unpleasant combination of scents that had it itching with the promise of a sneeze. "Yeah, me neither, buddy."
Akamaru whined piteously. Does he have to come?
There was only one 'he' the dog could be referencing. Kiba turned sharp eyes on the short redheaded boy from Suna, the scent of blood still clinging to him in a cloud of malaise that urge Kiba to run as far and fast as he could from the predator it preceded. During the Chunin Exams, he'd followed that instinct and kept his team away from the Suna trio, but now…
Now, they were united in their quest to save Hanako.
Kiba's face twisted as he growled lowly to himself. How could she have been taken from the middle of the village? There was no way no one noticed the Hokage's kid being taken against her will.
"Kiba." He turned to Shikamaru, the only person from their graduating class to be promoted—not that Kiba was bitter or anything. "We're going to the rooftop where Jiraiya-sama last saw Hanako. See if you and Akamaru can find her scent."
"Hmph, of course we can," he declared. "Hanako-chan's a scent tracker, too, you know. She knows how to leave a trail."
"That's what I'm counting on. Come one, I'll give all of you more information once we get there."
The rooftop in question was one of the taller ones, standing right in the middle of the village. All sorts of scents wafted up from the streets below, the cacophony of construction somehow amplified by the myriad of towers and alleyways. Kiba and Akamaru wasted no time trying to identify Hanako's scent. Everyone's scent was unique, produced by a combination of shed skin cells, hair, sweat, and residual chakra, with certain similarities across families and even the village as a whole. Hanako's scent was superficially similar to her father's and even Sasuke's, which was to be expected since they all lived in the same house, ate the same food, and were in such constant contact with each other. However, her scent was different in a way that made it instantly identifiable, its underlying foundation utterly distinct. Where nearly everyone in Konoha had the scent of trees somewhere on them, Hanako, despite living in the village for more than half her life, now, smelled like water. Specifically, like rain on parched stone, an overdue monsoon bringing an end to a drought. It was a refreshing scent, one that Kiba learned to identify almost instantly for its uniqueness.
And one he was struggling to uncover from beneath a day's worth of foot traffic.
"You said you had more information?" The older boy from Suna asked, using his puppet to prop himself up.
Kiba listened intently as he crouched down, sifting through the layers of scents which had accumulated since Hanako's disappearance. If they'd only known sooner, then maybe…
"Right, well, this is kind of a secret, but Hanako said it was fine to tell you. Sakura, can you check to make sure the privacy seals are still in place?"
The Top Kunoichi of their year rushed to do just that even as Ino screeched over the familiarity between her love rival and her teammate. Kiba was more concerned about the secrets Shikamaru was going to share. It couldn't be the sharingan, right? Kiba knew about it, but only because Sasuke hadn't stopped to consider whether or not he could be heard by people with heightened senses. Neji knew about it, too, because he'd been there and seen it for himself. Kiba cast a glance at his teammate's older cousin, but the Hyuuga was as stoic as the rest of his clan, giving no indication that he shared Kiba's concerns.
"They're good," Sakura confirmed, coming back to stand beside Shikamaru—an interesting development he'd have to tell his sister about, so she could make the necessary changes to her bet in the genin shipping pool.
Shikamaru sighed as he found himself the center of everyone's attention, his slouch steepening as though their gazes had actual weight. "This is so troublesome. Before I say anything, you need to understand that this is a secret, ok? It could cause a serious international incident if word got out."
"What, worse than ours?"
The Suna kunoichi smacked her younger brother over the head for his impertinence, and Kiba took some joy in the knowledge that older sisters were the same no matter where they came from.
"Yes." Shikamaru's serious answer to the joking question instantly sobered everyone up. "Much worse."
Chouji, who had remained quiet all through the meeting with the Hokage and up to now, finally spoke up. "Well, we won't tell. Hana-chan's our friend."
A whiff of rain had Kiba inching toward the edge of the roof, his nose to the air as he tried to ferret out the trail.
Shikamaru didn't say anything for a long moment and Kiba looked over his shoulder to see him frowning in way he'd never seen the other boy do. Sure, Shikamaru wasn't the most expressive of guys, but he was never so…dour. Sakura stepped up to him, bumping his shoulder with hers in obvious encouragement.
Yep. So telling Hana. This was the kind of info the jounin lived off of, the nosy gossips.
Shikamaru sighed and Kiba turned back to his sniffing. "Ok, fine. Look, Hanako already knew people were going to come after her. She actually expected it to happen sooner, but they were keeping their distance for some reason. So, she orchestrated a fight with her grandfather so they'd think they had a chance at getting her to leave willingly."
"Wait a minute," Ino interrupted, her voice shrill as it always was. "Her grandfather? Who's her grandfather?"
"Pervy Sage," Naruto provided helpfully. "Duh. They have the same eye thingies."
"What? Since when?"
"That's not important—."
"Not important? Shikamaru, Jiraiya-sama is one of the last pureblooded Senju in existence! They're a founding clan!"
Something twisted in Kiba's gut. If Hanako was related to the Senju, then her place in the village was even more prestigious than before. As heir to the Hatake clan, she was the only one in line to inherit the greatest stash of wealth in the Land of Fire. Every clan in the village except the Inuzuka and the Nara paid the Hatake rent, along with literally every civilian and shinobi who called Konoha home. Most of that money was put right back into the village in the form of maintenance, of course, and he was eighty percent sure the Hatake were the ones paying for all the repairs in the wake of the failed invasion, making use of a disaster fund which had also paid for the rebuilding after the Kyuubi attack all those years ago. The entire village was basically private property the Hatake were kind enough to rent out to the people living in it, and they were pretty good landlords, all things considered. The Inuzuka owned their land outright only because of the ancestral alliance between the two dog clans, their sizeable estate a gift to signify the goodwill they shared. The Nara were granted their lands on account of their herds, if he recalled correctly, as well as the medicines they provided to the veterinary clinics free of charge. His mother had drilled the land laws into him the instant it became clear that there might be a chance that the Hatake and Inuzuka would renew their alliance. He didn't have the head for numbers, but he could at least keep track of who owned what—it was mostly Hatake, anyway. Still, it was starting to look like he'd never need to use that knowledge…
The only chunin among them let out a long, weary sigh. "Please, Ino, can you not be a drag for two seconds? That's all I'm asking."
"Listen here, you lazy—!"
"Ino, please. That's enough."
Sakura's voice was soft—especially compared to Ino's shrill screaming—but her tone was firm. It was so out of character, Ino even listened.
"Thank you, Sakura." That was also unexpected. Shikamru being polite? Without his mother nagging him into it? Unnatural. "As I was saying, Hanako was aware of the team sent to retrieve her for some time before they made their move, so we have a bit of information about them. I'll be using that to split us up into takedown teams, with live capture as our goal."
"Live capture is most appropriate," Shino said, his monotonous voice belying the angry buzzing of the insects inside his body. Being on the same team taught Kiba that the bugs were a better indication of the Aburame's mental state than anything else, and he was lucky his ears were sharp enough to hear them, though they were just on the edge of his audible range. "Why? Because Hanako would not be pleased to learn we ended a life to save hers."
"Yeah," Naruto agreed. "She takes that really seriously, believe it!"
"Wait, I'm still confused," the puppeteer interjected. "Why did she let them take her when she could have told someone they were here?"
"That's where the secret comes in. You see, even though four people were inside the village, there are actually five people on the team. The last one is Kimimaro Kaguya, the last surviving member of the Kaguya clan."
"Weren't they, like, wiped out ages ago? That was when Kiri started hunting down people with kekkei genkai, right?"
"Yeah," Shikamaru sighed. "It was. The Kaguya clan staged a coup against the government in retaliation, and they were slaughtered down to every last man, woman, and child—except for Kimimaro. Orochimaru somehow got ahold of him and turned him into a loyal soldier for Oto, but he's sick. He'll probably die, soon, if he doesn't get proper treatment."
"Oh! So, Hana-chan wants to bring him to Tsunade-baa-chan so she can fix him!"
"Yeah, but why?" The puppeteer was asking all the good questions. "She's never met the guy, right? So why does she care?"
Kiba's hackles rose at the implications of that question. "Hey, Hanako-chan doesn't need a reason to want to help people," he spat, glare locking on the older boy where he stood on the other side of the roof. "He's sick and needs help, that's reason enough for her." It was another of the reasons she was different from everyone else. Sure, her tongue could be sharp, but she never hesitated to help people when they needed it, even when they had hurt her, before. When one of her childhood bullies almost lost their home because their parents couldn't pay rent, she forgave their debts and granted them a grace period so they could get back on their feet.
"Kiba's right," Shikamaru agreed. "But she does know him. Hanako's from Kiri, too."
Kiba turned back to stare at the newly promoted chunin who again sank under the combined weight of everyone's stares. The Nara gestured at the Konoha genin.
"You guys all know she grew up outside Konoha before she suddenly showed up and started going to the Academy. What you don't know, and what is absolutely to remain secret," he added that part with a glare at the louder members of the team—cough, Ino and Naruto, cough, definitely not Kiba, cough. "Is that she was born in Kiri. Her mother's clan is—or was, we don't know if there any others still alive—matrilineal, so even though her father's from Konoha, she had no contact with him. Their seal is a hiden, not a kekkei genkai, but it's big and it's eye catching. So when clans like the Hoshigaki and the Kaguya started being edged out of society, her mom made the decision to leave before things got worse. Unfortunately, someone noticed her leaving and Hunter nin were sent after her. She died before she could reach Konoha, but Hanako survived."
That…He'd had no idea. He knew her mother was a sensitive topic. She never brought her up and always got really withdrawn and sad when someone else did. It was something all her friends knew better than to talk about. To think, the story was so complicated and involved.
"Huh," the puppeteer said, sucking his teeth and crossing his arms over his chest. "So that's what she meant when she said her mother was murdered."
"She told you?" For once, Kiba had no issues with Ino's screeching.
The Suna genin's face became insufferably smug beneath the obnoxious purple paint, his lips curling upward at the edges. He shrugged. "Hey, it's not my fault I have one of those faces."
"So, Hana-chan knew this Kimimimo guy back in Kiri?" Naruto was oddly subdued, his previous exuberance dulled by talk of the Kiri genocides. Kiba vaguely remembered the blond boy having a mission that involved another survivor, or something, but he wasn't sure. "That's so sad!"
Shikamaru snorted, the sound more a rough exhalation through his nose than a laugh. "Oh, not just that. They're cousins. Distantly," he added when everyone again looked at him, agog. "You'll see it when you meet him. They have the same 'eye thingies'."
"Huh, so she let herself get caught so she could rescue her cousin? That makes sense," Chouji said around a mouthful of potato chips.
"I thought the eye thingies were from Pervy Sage, though."
Kiba had no idea what the 'eye thingies' were supposed to be. He hadn't seen Hanako since the final round of the Chunin Exams, but nothing stood out in his memory that would fit that description.
"The Kaguya are distantly related to the Senju," Sakura supplied. "And the Uchiha, and the Hyuuga, and the Uzumaki. They're all descended from the same ancestral clan, so there are a few shared traits which pop up every now and then."
"Woah, really!?" Naruto turned to Neji, a broad smile on his face. "Yo, we're cousins!"
The sour twist of Neji's mouth was barely discernable, but it was there. Kiba took a moment to relish in his discomfort before he started wondering how Hinata would feel about that revelation. The Hyuuga and Uzumaki were distant enough to be two separate clans, but she'd still probably turn a furious red when he told her. Kiba looked at Shino, his teammate nodding imperceptibly. They'd tell her together, then.
"So," Ino began, crossing her arms in her trademarked stubborn stance. "What's the plan, then? There's five of them and eleven of us, so there's roughly enough to take them on two on one."
Shikamaru's lips quirked in a half smile at his teammate's deduction and he opened his mouth to speak before his expression closed off, a hard glint entering his dark eyes and making him look entirely too much like his father.
The eleven genin were now twelve. Everyone turned to look at a panting Sasuke, his black eyes wide and unfocused and his mask nowhere to be seen. It was weird to see his face again after so long, but he looked pretty much the same. Pale skin, a sharp, pointed face, a tan line.
"What happened," he demanded, voice airy and breathless. "Where is she?"
Oh. Someone told him. Kiba hadn't questioned the Uchiha's absence from the Task Force. He was pretty sure Hanako's sharingan was one of the reasons she was targeted by Orochimaru in the first place, though no one had confirmed it—Shikamaru hadn't mentioned it, so it was likely Hanako hadn't given him permission to share that particular secret. Sending both genin with the sharingan out of the village where Orochimaru's henchmen were waiting was a very bad idea.
"Sasuke," Shikamaru's voice was colder than Kiba had ever heard it. "What are you doing here?"
"What are talking about? Obviously, I'm going with you!"
"Obviously, you can't." Shikamaru straightened, giving off an aura of authority that had nothing to do with the chunin vest he was wearing. "I'm the leader of this mission, Sasuke, and I chose the people who needed to go. You're not one of them."
Oof, harsh. Sasuke was undeterred, though, his pride set aside for once.
"She's injured, Shikamaru," his panic bled through to his voice and Akamaru whined quietly as he picked up on it. "She can't defend herself the way she used to! She can't just pull a weapon out of thin air, anymore!"
"Wait, what?" Kiba looked to Shikamaru, panic of his own tying itself into knots in his chest. "She's hurt? You didn't mention that!"
Shikamaru scowled, but he didn't say anything.
Naruto did, though.
"It's fine, teme," he assured his teammate. "She can do one handed jutsus, remember? Besides, Ochinchin wants her alive. He won't hurt her." *
"You don't know that!" Sasuke was showing more emotion in this one conversation than he had in the last five years. "She can't fight the way she's used to, and she can't use her seal! She's at a serious disadvantage!"
"Sasuke-kun, calm down." Sakura's words were devoid of the worship she normally expressed for the Last Uchiha—with Hanako's sharingan, was he really the last, though?—and her expression was completely serious. "Take a moment to think about this. Look at everyone here. Do you think you can bring something to this team that they can't?"
Sasuke looked at the gathered genin as though seeing them for the first time, lingering on Gaara for a moment too long.
"Sasuke-kun, we have trackers, heavy hitters, distance fighters, defense specialists, and strategists. Again, is there something you can add to this lineup?"
Damn. She really wasn't giving him an out, was she? Was this really Sakura? Sasuke's ultimate fangirl, Sakura?
"Will be a liability," she cut him off, her voice clear and brooking no argument. "You were Orochimaru's original target, you know. He switched to Hanako because he had an interest in her seal, plus another incentive I'm sure I don't need to point out."
Sasuke stiffened at the obvious reference to Hanako's sharingan. So, Sakura knew about it, too. That meant Shikamaru probably did, as well. They were quite the pair, weren't they?
Not everyone knew about it, though, since Chouji, Shino, Ino, and Naruto looked confused, along with two of the Suna genin. Gaara didn't react at all, his expression still that tense, edge of panic expression he'd worn since leaving the Hokage's office. He wasn't radiating killing intent anymore, but Kiba was still wary of him. He stank of blood and there was something in the way he'd reacted to the news about Hanako's abduction that told him there was more to their relationship than he'd been told—which was nothing, but still. There was something there, something dangerous, and he wasn't entirely comfortable with his presence on the team, but he was strong, so Kiba was willing to set aside his misgivings. For Hanako's sake.
"If you come," Sakura continued. "Then there will no longer be a reason to keep Hanako-chan alive. Her seal no longer works," she spoke over Sasuke's startled protest. "But her seal isn't the only thing Orochimaru wants. If presented with an uninjured alternative, what do you think he will do?"
The wind visibly left Sasuke's sails, his expression falling into a look of despair Kiba recognized with a heart wrenching lurch. It was the same look he'd worn when his mother had brought him to their house, right after the Uchiha Massacre.
Naruto stepped up to his teammate and placed his hands on the taller boy's shoulders, pressing their foreheads together in an obvious display of affection. The words he said were deliberately pitched too low for most people to hear, but Kiba's senses were much sharper than most.
"Don't worry, teme," the Dead Last promised the Rookie of the Year. "I'll bring her back, believe it. I never go back on my word."
As Sasuke nodded forlornly, the wind shifted and Kiba finally caught hold of Hanako's scent.
* Ochinchin is Japanese for p*nis, lol.