So yes one of my famously long breaks in between chapters had occurred there and now it's a new decade. The 3rd one since this story started. That's both hilarious and embarrassing. This time not too bad (not 5 years bad anyway). Have to get working on my other story soon. Almost 5 years going on that one. Sheesh time flies. For long time fans, my standard apology holds. Sorry for the wait but your welcome for something new. For anyone new stumbling upon this for the first time, I hope you enjoy.
I had a jolt of inspiration recently and started working on this chapter that I've had sitting for years. I think it's as good as it's going to get for the time being. Not as good as I wanted to piece it together but I can't think of any other ideas to cram in here logically at this point. Should have some decent pieces of plot to chew on while I gather my thoughts for how I want the first arc to finish. I like to keep the chapters around 9-11k or else the reader starts to get overwhelmed IMO at the massive pile of words attacking their face.
New chapter title song as well. Take a guess and let me know in your review as usual. Pretty easy one. Seems to fit the nature of the chapter as we build towards the arc climax.
As always, I don't own Naruto.
One Step Closer
The wind rushed by the make shift squad as they zipped through the trees. Silently they leap from branch to branch skillfully avoiding getting knocked down to the ground several dozen feet below them. The mid afternoon sun had begun its descent on the horizon leaving the air a bit cooler as they moved. Though the forest was dense and visibility seemed nigh impossible, the five members of the group showed no difficulty navigating the thick vegetation. These Konoha nin have been traversing the woods surrounding their home since they were toddlers. They knew almost every inch like the back of their hands. The path through the trees was as clear to them as the main street down the center of town.
At the rear of the formation, covered from head to toe, was Shino. Sporting a visor over his eyes, Shino had adopted an even larger trench coat than the one from his youth. This one covered his body from his ankles to his cheeks. The silence with which he moved did not betray the dozens of deadly hives he had stored within his body. A couple of specific kikaichu bugs hovered around him, feeding him information about the surrounding forest as he ran. He was every bit as deadly as he appeared to be.
Opposite him at the head of the formation was his long time partner, Kiba. Red fang marks painted his cheeks as he violently galloped from tree to tree. His hair was slicked back these days as opposed to the wild, unkempt mane he had as a genin. His nose constantly twitched to keep tabs on his surroundings much like his horse sized companion running stride for stride next to him. Akamaru, despite his age, kept up well with the group. He was a determined young pup in an old dog's body. His keen awareness showed his many years of expertise as a tracker along side his companion.
In the row behind Kiba was the youngest jounin of the group, Gisei. He wore standard attire for a Konoha ninja. Grey cargo pants, green vest and his sash across his forehead. The only piece of individuality on him was the red shirt he sported underneath the vest. The ninja forces generally liked Gisei. He worked hard, didn't say much but wasn't anti-social like most ninja. He'd probably make a good sensei one day. When in mission, he was all business which many of the older ninja appreciated. He was reliable which was about the best compliment a ninja could expect.
Flanking him was the team's medic nin. Her short, pink hair flapped in the rush of air as she gracefully leap along with her team. Her tone figure had only grown more beautiful as the years went on. Sporting a duller version of her signature red dress and khakis, Sakura was one of the top kunoichi in Konoha and quickly making a name for herself as one of the best in all the nations. Her prowess as a medical specialist was already world renowned but her skill as a ninja grew exponentially every year under Tsunade's tutelage. She may never catch her former teammates' god-like abilities but that didn't diminish just how capable she had made herself at her profession. Her unnatural drive had exploded in recent years as she attacked her training with a ferocity mirrored only by a certain blonde haired hokage candidate. Despite all this, there was a sadness behind her eyes. One that could not be seen except by those that knew how to look.
Just ahead of Shino ran the leader of the group. His spiky ponytail flapped in the breeze as he somehow maintained a cigarette in his mouth while moving. Shikamaru's mind was not concerned as much with his surroundings as a whole as he trusted his team to their duties. Rather he was rapidly calculating numerous scenarios all at once. Formations and patterns should the group be suddenly attacked, calculations of how much energy they could expend at the rate they were moving, ration management, map locations, potential enemy strength. All this while juggling troop deployment, city defense, and the general safety of Konoha. A lot of troublesome details to maintain for the former lazy nin. Adulthood was everything he'd imagined it would be.
Striding next to him was the youngest member of the group. The sole chunin easily kept pace with the squad. Her long black hair was held up in a ponytail to not get in her face. Opting to go with her chunin uniform of blue vest, sleeveless mesh shirt and gray slacks, Hanabi kept her eyes peeled to the forest around her for any potential threats. Despite the exceptional skill surrounding her, she felt confident that she belonged on the squad.
'A little bit of Naruto-kun rubbing off on me.' She smirked.
The double entendre was not lost on her but no longer caused her embarrassment. She made sure that she stayed focused on the mission at hand because it was a very important one. Her emotions, however, were still swirling from her activities of the previous day. If not for being called to this very mission, who knows where things could have led.
'Soon, I'll get to see.' She squealed internally.
She got back to the task at hand and focused on her teammates. Despite her best efforts though, she was still annoyed from earlier. Hanabi was acting professional now but the encounter when the squad met was fresh in her mind. Two of her squad mates on her mind, she looked over at her irksome brother in law and thought back to his smart ass comments.
Earlier that day
Hanabi leaned against the wall thoroughly pissed off at having her intimate time with her sensei rudely interrupted.
'Of course I get summoned for a mission at that exact moment. That's just my luck. Finally get Naruto to see me as a woman and some dumbass chunin messenger boy has to wander on over.'
She did smirk at least at how said chunin messenger boy nearly crapped his pants with the amount of KI Naruto was throwing at him. Not enough to make him pass out, but enough to make sure he never drew the short straw on being the one to interfere with Naruto's training sessions ever again.
'And I was so enjoying that new training too.' She giggled.
Just remembering the gentle way Naruto held her in his arms and how he tenderly lay kisses up and down her neck, brought wonderful shivers up her spine. She couldn't wait till she got another chance to "train" again with her sensei.
Lost in her daydream, Hanabi nearly missed the loud arrival of her brother in law. Then again how could you miss a grown man and a bear sized dog barreling down the street. They slid to a stop in front of her kicking up a cloud of dust. She made sure not to react to the display as that's what he was after.
"Sup, squirt. Guess you're on this mission too?" Kiba bellowed.
With a sigh, Hanabi looked over at her Inuzuka relative.
"That is why I'm standing here in the spot we all were supposed to meet." Her voice dripping with sarcasm. Her arms were crossed and her face became even more annoyed if possible.
Kiba shrugged not fazed by it all. "Meh, can't be that big a deal then."
Her eye twitched trying not to take the bait. She had had months of conditioning by Naruto to prepare for situations like these where assholes talked down to her.
"I know right? Why else would they have called you in from the pound." She retorted.
"Dog jokes? Pretty lame, Hanabi."
"Didn't want you to have to think too hard, mutt." She quipped.
"Aww what are you still sore from the other day when I insulted your... hehe... sensei?" Kiba reminded her.
Hanabi didn't rise to the poor attempt at goading her. "No I think your general presence is enough to put me in a foul mood."
Besides she was more annoyed at how he got Hinata to dismiss her concerns about Hiashi.
Thankfully someone had shown up not too long after Kiba to save her from strangling him. As she turned to greet the newcomer, her relief turned to anger. The one person she wasn't sure how she'd react to just walked up unaware of the turmoil brewing in Hanabi. The pink hair was like a beacon nearly setting Hanabi's temper ablaze.
'This is the bitch that hurt my Naruto!' her mind screamed.
Sakura greeted them cordially. "Hello, Kiba and you're Hinata's sister right? Hanabi isn't it."
Hanabi choked back the bile in throat. 'It wouldn't do to blow up on the woman. She doesn't even know who I am.'
"That's right. So very pleased to meet you finally, Haruno-san." Hanabi bit out with as little hostility as she could manage.
Sakura raised her eyebrow at the greeting. "Ooo.. kay. Did I do something to offend you?"
'You have no idea.' Hanabi thought.
Kiba began snickering. "Oh I get it."
Sakura was getting annoyed with his antics as well. "Kiba, will you ever grow up." She rolled her eyes.
He started full on laughing now. "You don't understand." He pointed to Hanabi. "She's mad at you because..."
Hanabi gave him a quick kick to the gut. "Can it, chow for brains."
"Hey. Just because you have beef with Pinky because of..." Kiba was cut off again when an angered Sakura appeared in his face.
"What did you call me, mutt?"
Hanabi gave a smirk at that. 'At least she doesn't put up with his shit either.'
Despite his position on the ground being threatened by two angry kunoichi, Kiba pressed on. "You see the squirt here is upset at you, Pinky, because her sensei is..."
Both women stomped on him at the same time and yelled in unison.
"JUST SHUT UP!"
Kiba rolled back over to Akumaru who could only shake his head in embarrassment. "Fine! Nobody appreciates my humor."
Thankfully, the rest of the team arrived shortly after that to save Hanabi from doing something unbecoming.
Hanabi focused back in on her present situation. Shikamaru made a signal to slow up as they were nearing one of the attack sites. They came to a full stop and immediately set about securing the area. It was damaged. Burnt out shrubs and snapped trees littered the clearing. It wasn't a natural one. The fight tore away a good chunk of the forest. Several holes from destructive jutsu left scars on the ground. The dank smell of singed flesh and bark floated through the air. Once they were sure it was safe, Shikamaru got to work.
"Alright this site was attacked less than 12 hours ago. Gisei, get the camp set up. It's getting dark and we might be here awhile. Shino, Kiba, keep the perimeter secure. Hanabi water. Sakura, you're with me. We need to analyze the battle site for any clues as to what we're dealing with while we still have some light. Nothing is insignificant." Shikamaru ordered.
Sakura nodded. "I'll analyze the impact craters for DNA over here. Come find me if you need me."
Kiba nodded and turned to his long time teammate. "Lets go, Shino, my man. Bet ya I can do a lap around the perimeter before you."
"I fail to see how that is relevant to our assignment." The stoic Aburame answered.
"Just makes things more interesting." Kiba insisted as he burst off into the tree line.
Shino ignored him and set out apparently used to this kind of behavior for years.
Gisei gave a nod and went about his task.
Hanabi grabbed the canteens and started off into the woods towards the nearest water source. A stream not to far from the site was available. As she navigated the prickly bushes and tall grass that littered her path, she tried hard not to grumble. Her fiery personality just couldn't help it sometimes.
'Hanabi, water. What am I, the glorified genin of the team? Let me fetch you your water sirs.' She sarcastically thought.
She sighed as she approached the stream. 'It won't do me any good to complain. I am the lowest ranking ninja here. Besides I'm representing Naruto. I don't want to let him down.'
She absentmindedly began filling the canteens with water for the group. Her hand shivered as she dipped the container below the surface. She still wasn't happy with the chore but she knew enough not to openly gripe about it. After a minute, the weight of the container signified that it was full. As she looked down to put the cap on the bottle, she noticed a purple tint to the water.
'What the hell?'
Hanabi activated her byakugan and could see chakra laced with a purple ooze. She quickly stood and started walking up the stream towards the source. Being careful to remain silent, she worked her way through the dense growth near the river bank. Her eyes followed the chakra like a trail of bread crumbs. The ooze got thicker the further upstream she traveled.
Eventually, her eyes caught sight of something in the distance.
'That looks like... one of those things. Is it alive still?'
Hanabi rushed towards what appeared to be a body. To the naked eye, there was nothing there but it couldn't hide from the byakugan. Despite it lying covered in mud under layers of debris from branches and plants, her eyes could see it there as plain as day.
'It is one of them!' She analyzed further. 'It doesn't appear to be one of the brutes. Too small but it definitely has that sickening chakra.'
She carefully moved towards it not sure if it would attack her once she was close. She could see that it was breathing. Standing right over the body now, she moved the foliage aside to get a look.
'He doesn't look like those monsters. He looks normal.' she thought.
Wiping away the mud revealed a young man that couldn't have been older than twenty. His face contorted in pain as the dark chakra coursed through his body. Whatever shirt he had was gone leaving his chest exposed with several fresh scars splattered across it. His veins were bulging and throbbing through the skin on his arms and torso.
'Why is he so different from the other ones?'
She reached for his headband and wiped away the mud to reveal a startling discovery.
"Oh my god!" She said aloud.
Through the muck and grime, the metal plate had a leaf symbol on it.
Before Hanabi could contemplate what that meant, a hand shot up and grabbed her wrist. The ninja's eyes burst open in alarm and fear.
"Have to get away... get away... run away... far away..." he stammered.
Hanabi used her juken to cut the circulation in his hand releasing his grip. She jumped back into a defensive stance but it didn't appear he was going to attack. Instead he continued to look around wildly scanning for an invisible assailant.
"What happened?! Who did this to you?" Hanabi asked.
"Have to get away... far away..." he continued to ramble.
"Hey!" She yelled.
She seemed to get his attention as he turned to look at her directly. His body began to move unnaturally as it lurched upwards.
"No! Get away... far away..." He clumsily began moving towards her. Stumbling face first into the mud. Still he crawled forward trying to reach her.
Hanabi didn't feel like she was in any danger. She cut off more of his chakra circulation to keep him from moving further. This seemed to calm his spasms for the moment. His face was immobile in the mud however.
"mmmyoummhave tommm get awamm" he mumbled into the ground.
Hanabi flipped him over. She saw recognition in his eyes.
"Konoha?... you need to... warn... others. Get away... Purple demons..." he tried to get the words out but his body was failing him.
Hanabi tried to coax anything from the tainted ninja. "Purple demons? Is that who did this? Were you attacked?"
He nodded. "Came from... no where... overwhelmed... beware... cloak..."
Hanabi didn't understand him. She was about to continue when a kunai came from her side. She backed away quickly expecting an attack but instead the kunai landed straight into the neck of the downed ninja. He was dead instantly.
Bursting from the woods with a flurry was her loud brother in law.
"Woo got him. Saved your ass there eh squirt?" Kiba yelled with a grin.
Hanabi was livid. "You idiot! That was a Konoha ninja! He was here during the attack!"
Kiba looked confused. "What? But he had that weird smelling chakra. It was one of those monsters right?"
"I don't know! I was trying to find out but he could barely speak. Then you up and killed him!"
"Well I didn't know! I just saw him coming at you and thought you needed help!" He yelled back defensively.
All the commotion soon brought the rest of the team.
Shino and Gisei arrived quickly followed by Shikamaru and Sakura. Shikamaru saw the dead body leaking the purple chakra. Then he noticed the leaf headband.
"Well shit." He sighed as he pulled out a smoke. He turned to Hanabi. "What did you find?"
She stood upright and addressed him. "As I was filling the canteens, I noticed a chakra laced substance in the water. I followed the trail back to this body buried under a bunch of branches and mud. When I cleared it off, he suddenly came to and was rambling about getting away and purple demons. I was going to try to get more out of him but then Kiba thought I was in trouble so he killed him."
Shikamaru turned to Kiba. "Seriously? We find a survivor and your first instinct is to kill him?"
Kiba waved his hands frantically. "I didn't know he was a leaf ninja. I just smelled that weird chakra on him and saw him coming towards Hanabi. I reacted!"
Shikamaru pinched the bridge of his nose. " You should be better than this by now. I'll deal with you when we get back. Go back to securing our perimeter. See if you can find any other survivors."
Kiba looked thoroughly embarrassed. He quickly took off to do his assignment.
With a long dramatic sigh, Shikamaru turned back to the group. He knelt down and took a look at the body.
"Fuck," he sighed. "Yea this is a Konoha nin. Kaito Kobayashi. Chunin, age 19. He was member of the squad that was attacked. His teammates thought he was dead." He took a long drag. "Lets keep it that way for now."
Hanabi looked up at him puzzled. When she noticed the others nodding in agreement, she didn't say anything.
Shikamaru continued his analysis. "Well, Hanabi. You have the most first hand experience with these creatures. What can you tell us about this guy?"
Hanabi was at first taken aback but quickly recovered. "The three I encountered were further mutated than this. He seems like he just got infected by comparison. Two of them looked like muscle bound freaks and fought like wild animals while the third had more skill and wielded a sword. The purple chakra still leaked off him in droves though."
Shikamaru nodded as if confirming his theory.
Sakura moved towards the body to analyze it further. "These slashes across the chest would have caused severe internal trauma. He should have been dead hours ago." The pink haired nin explained.
She scanned over his arms and torso looking for clues. As she made her way up to his neck, she noticed a small puncture near the base of the skull. "Hmm. Someone injected him with a liquid. Right here is a needle entry point."
Shikamaru took a look. "Possibly after he was injured. Maybe they put whatever that purple stuff is inside him?"
Sakura nodded. "If it's anything like the cursed chakra from Jugo, we'll be able to tell in my lab back at the hospital. We need to get this body back there for a full autopsy."
Shikamaru agreed. "Prep the body and seal it. We'll get it back there as soon as possible. Lets keep looking for clues."
Sakura pulled out a scroll and easily sealed the body inside. She started walking back towards the main site with Shikamaru and Hanabi.
"So Hanabi, you were able to take out three of those things on your own?" Shikamaru idlely began.
Hanabi was a bit caught off guard at being addressed by the Jounin Commander of all of Konoha. "Umm yes, sir."
Shikamaru chuckled. "You can call me by my name. It's fine."
"It doesn't feel appropriate, sir." Hanabi awkwardly continued. "But yes I was able to dispatch three of those beasts. You need to destroy the head or the heart to bring them down. Everything else is a superficial wound it seems."
Sakura chimed in trying to be nice to the girl to make up for whatever issue she has with her. "That must have been terrifying for you. I'm sorry you had to go through that."
Hanabi scoffed. "I've dealt with way worse from my sensei during training."
Sakura took a peak over at her. "Oh? Your sensei must be something else then."
Hanabi looked over at the two of them with a cocky smirk. She could see a grimace coming from Shikamaru and almost a pleading look to not mention who her sensei was. Hanabi wasn't about to miss that chance though.
"Yep. He's the best in the village" She proudly boasted.
Sakura looked over curious. "He? Who is it then?"
Hanabi stopped to look at her full on. With an arrogant grin she told her. "Why Naruto Uzumaki of course."
Tsunade stared him dead in the eyes. She wasn't sure if she had heard him correctly. She hoped to all that was holy that she didn't.
"So you're telling me that there is someone coordinating with Gaikun Hyuga via holographic projection for some kind of plot to take over the Hyuga clan." She summarized.
Her blonde counterpart leaned against the wall next to her. His arms crossed and his eyes closed. He gave an affirmative nod.
She continued. "And you believe that this someone is Kabuto Yakushi?!"
"Yep." Naruto said with a disgusted drawl.
Tsunade leaned back in her chair and threw her hands up in frustration. "Well isn't that just fucking great!"
She stood up and turned to stare out the window. In the reflection, she looked back at Naruto. She could see he was really holding himself back from doing something irrational and stupid.
"So, what are you thinking right now?"
He took a deep breath before responding. "I'm thinking what is stopping me from racing over to the Hyuga compound, grabbing Gaikun Hyuga from whatever opulent accommodations he's currently sitting his pampered ass in and dragging it off for interrogation." Naruto fumed despite keeping an even tone.
Tsunade knew he was well under control because if he wasn't, he wouldn't be sitting in front of her right now. He'd have gone and done what he just said.
"I'm glad that you haven't done that. I'm sure you know why." She stated to him.
Naruto snorted back. "Of course. I'm not an idiot. We lose our only leverage if we bring him in now. Kabuto possibly changes whatever he has planned and we never see him again till he wants us to."
Tsunade nodded. "Now you're thinking like a hokage."
He raised his eyebrow and gave her a smirk. "Don't get your hopes up yet. I never said I wanted the hat again."
She smiled right back with a knowing grin. "You never said you didn't either."
They shared a chuckle that warmed Tsunade's heart. 'Soon, you brat. Soon I can help you finally fulfill your dream.'
Getting back to the matter at hand, they both turned serious.
"If Kabuto is involved, there has to be a connection to these attacks on our troops." Naruto explained.
Tsunade nodded. "Agreed. Although, I'm not sure what kind of connection there is. We have to be careful here. We don't want to tip our hand."
"But we also don't want to let him get a head start on whatever he has planned." Naruto retorted.
Tsunade rubbed her temple in frustration. "How is he even still alive? I thought he was killed when your team finished off Obito and his lackeys"
"We never saw his body. You know how that goes with those types of guys. I'm just wondering why now after all this time?" Naruto added.
Tsunade closed her eyes in thought. "That's not really important right now. You need to get me some evidence so I can nail Gaikun Hyuga to a cross. This is starting to look like a threat to the village and I'll be damned if I stayed in office this long to let some two bit, Orochimaru reject fuck it up."
"I'm meeting with Neji later. We'll get it done." He assured her.
Tsunade's intercom from her secretary suddenly came to life.
"Madam Hokage. Your seven thirty appointment is here." The secretary stated.
Tsunade suddenly remembered who that was. 'Shit!'
"Thank you, Hidomi. Just tell him to wait out there."
She turned to look at Naruto. His face twisted in a barely contained rage. She could tell he already could sense who was on the other side of the door.
"So the bastard returns. Lucky me. My timing is perfect to say hi to my old friend."
Tsunade couldn't help but sigh. "Will this be a problem? He is a ninja of this village too and he has an important job in it." Though a thought just came to her. "Although you did just bring up this Kabuto business. You don't think he's somehow involved do you?" She asked with legitimate concern.
Naruto snorted as if that was the funniest thing he's ever heard. "Believe me. I can't fucking stand the guy anymore but he would NEVER work with Kabuto. Those two hated each other. They tried to kill each other on many occasions. I doubt that sentiment has changed in the time we thought the glasses creep was dead."
Tsunade was still a bit leery. "Still it can't be ruled out."
Naruto shook his head. "Trust me, it can. Why are you making me defend that fucker? I'd wager my life on the two of them not working together."
He stood up from the wall when the door unceremoniously opened. Walking in with his aloof demeanor was Konoha's prodigal son, Sasuke Uchiha.
He hadn't changed much in the few years that he'd been back. Same haircut. Same facial expression. Same outlook on life. Well, maybe some growth there. While still on probation, Sasuke had been sent on a non-stop run of S-ranked missions for Tsunade's own personal needs. She needed someone as skilled as Naruto but whom she found more expendable. These types of missions tend to have a very low success rate.
'No matter how skilled Naruto is, I could never forgive myself if he died on one of them.' She thought selfishly. 'I can't lose him too.'
Tsunade watched anxiously as the two former friends eyed each other carefully from across the room. She hoped she wouldn't need to intervene.
'At this point, I honestly don't know if I could stop them if they really wanted to fight.'
After what seemed like ages, Sasuke broke the stare with a disinterested scoff. Naruto looked annoyed but did stand down from his aggressive stance. Tsunade silently felt relieved.
"So, Uchiha, what do you have to report?"
Sasuke glanced over at Naruto and then back to the Hokage. "Should I debrief with him here?"
Before Naruto could fly off the handle, Tsunade interjected. "He is the Hokage in training and your future boss. So I'd get used to reporting to him."
Her smirk was for both of them.
Naruto couldn't help but roll his eyes at her antics.
Sasuke shrugged not caring either way and continued. "The Northern border with Yugakure has been normal. They still are running their standard patrols but they don't seem to be facing the same attacks as us. However, their northern border with Frost country has been unusually silent. The frost ninja are very thorough in warding off foreign ninja from their territory and yet I didn't see a single one for the week I was there."
Sasuke didn't elaborate and simply waited for their response.
Tsunade had her own thoughts on the matter but she waited for Naruto to chime in. He clearly had some insight.
"Frost country is fiercely territorial. They didn't have any patrols? Not even hidden further back behind their main border?"
Sasuke replied with a shake of his head.
"That's not good. They don't have a lot of ninja at their disposal. If they're leaving their southern border exposed that means they're focusing on protecting their northern one or..." Naruto let the implication hang.
Tsunade finished it for him. "Or they've already been invaded by Kumo."
Sasuke nodded and continued. "I did encounter a group of those creatures on my way back. I observed three of them taking out random travelers. I didn't engage but I was able to analyze their fighting style. The one with the sword used a style consistent with other Kumo master swordsmen."
"Why didn't you kill it or capture it?" Naruto demanded.
Sasuke shrugged. "My orders were to not interact with anyone or anything."
Naruto sternly looked over at Tsunade. His unasked question hung in the air.
'Don't look at me like that. You know damn well why he had to stay covert.' She glared back in silent reply.
She wanted discuss things further with Naruto but she couldn't do that with Sasuke here.
"Anything else to report?"
"There was one other thing. Yugakure did not seem nearly as busy as the season would warrant. Normally the hot springs are overflowing this time of year with patrons from Fire, Lightning and Earth countries. The owners didn't seem concerned about the lack of business though and were more worried about getting their establishments in order." Sasuke added.
Tsunade shared a look with Naruto. He sighed.
"Thank you, Sasuke for your report. Don't go far. I'll have another mission for you soon." She dismissed him.
He gave her a curt nod. Turning to his right, he locked eyes with Naruto but Tsunade couldn't make out what they were conveying to each other. The moment was over before she could infer anything else from it. Sasuke quickly left the way he came.
"Asshole." Naruto muttered.
"What was that about at the end there?" Tsunade's curiosity getting the better of her.
Naruto shook his head. "Nothing. Just Sasuke's lame attempt at an apology. After all these years, the guy still has no social skills."
"Did you... accept it?" She carefully asked.
"Hell no. Fuck him. I'm still pissed about it. Probably will be for the rest of my life." He sighed calming down a bit. "Doesn't mean I can't be an adult though."
"I'm sorry? I think I have something crazy in my ear. You act like an adult?" She proceeded to laugh in an overly dramatic fashion.
"Yea, yea, laugh it up." Naruto threw back with no malice. "Life's too short to hold grudges. I'm focusing my energy on things that can make me happy and not assholes that make me eternally angry."
Naruto smiled thinking about something pleasant. Tsunade smirked at his sudden mood swing. "Penny for your thoughts. Anything juicy I can blackmail you with?"
Naruto was unfazed by her attempt at teasing him. "Nah. Even a Yamanaka doesn't want to get up in here. Rated X content most of the time."
She blanched at that. "Damn perverts. Why do all the men in my life have to be damn perverts?"
Naruto raised an eyebrow. "Even Dan?"
A red tinge came to her cheeks remembering times long past with her deceased fiance. "Oh you would not believe. There was thing he used to do with his tongue..."
Naruto cringed at that. "Ok you called my bluff. Don't want to hear any Granny Tsunade sexcapades." He made his way to the door. "I'll let you know when we find something useful."
She smirked at his departure. 'That's right brat. I can still get under your skin.'
Thinking back to all the info that was just dropped in her lap, she returned to a previous fear about Sasuke. Can he be trusted?
'Naruto may think he's fine but I can't take that risk when he's already betrayed this village once.'
She reached over to her intercom and summoned her secretary. "Hidomi, send word to Sai. I need him for a special assignment."
"At once, my lady." The girl dutifully obeyed.
'I'm not taking anything for granted when it comes to Orochimaru lackeys.'
It was late. The forest was pitch black at this point. The cacophonous sounds of crickets and other insects echoed through the night air. Hanabi and her makeshift teammates were settled in to their resting cycle. The team had been switching guard duty every hour to allow each of them to get enough sleep. The plan was to wake in four hours and start their investigation again at first light.
Try as she might though, Hanabi was having trouble staying asleep. She managed an hour or so before she stirred awake. There were too many thoughts littering her mind and very few of them involved the current mission.
She rolled over in her sleeping bag careful not to disturb the others. She remembered Shino being on guard when she fell asleep but now it appears Kiba switched out. Akamaru was still fast asleep though. Shikamaru was leaning up against a tree apparently dozing. Gisei was zonked in a sleeping bag a dozen or so feet from hers. Sakura was awake still doing research when Hanabi first went to sleep but now even she was out like a light.
'Wonder if my reveal kept her from sleeping.' Hanabi smirked with satisfaction.
Hanabi was very pleased with the shocked look on Sakura's face when she told her that Naruto was her sensei. That gave way to confusion though. She expected anger or spite from the med-nin. She thought the older woman would scoff or mock her. Instead she shut down at the mere mention of his name. Of all the reactions Hanabi was expecting from the pink haired woman, she did not think she would see her show immense sorrow. The look of remorse on her face almost caused Hanabi to pity her.
She shook those thoughts away though. 'No, she doesn't deserve pity. She hurt my Naruto.'
Hanabi sighed mentally. 'Although if she hadn't done what she did, I wouldn't have had the chance to know him the way I do. Weird how life works.'
She lay awake and marveled at all that has transpired in her life these past few months to bring her to this point. Hanabi couldn't help but think it was meant to be this way.
'Careful. Don't want to get into a fate monologue like Neji.' She chuckled.
It was hard not to sometimes. One day you think you have no way out of your current situation and then through a series of seemingly random events, you're set on a completely different path in life.
'Is life all a preordained script that we follow or is it truly what we make of it?' She pondered.
These are the types of questions that keep the brain from getting rest. Was she meant to have stumbled upon Naruto that day and thus setting in motion all that came after? Or was it just an opportunity that life provided her and she has since made the most of it?
'One things for sure. I am not going back to sleep tonight. Might as well get up and give Kiba a break.'
As she was getting ready to sit up, her paranoia kicked in. Something felt wrong. The crickets were not as loud all of a sudden. Quickly she activated her byakugan. Sitting in a tree not far away was Kiba. He didn't seem concerned by the change.
'Well if Kiba isn't alarmed I guess there's nothing to worry about.' She thought. 'I'd better check just in case.'
She stretched her vision further and nearly gasped at the sight.
'Shit! We're surrounded!' she silently thought.
Through her 360 degree vision, she could see nearly twenty of the sword wielding, purple chakra assailants. They were closing in slowly but steadily on their position. Hanabi turned back to Kiba but saw no change in his demeanor.
'What the hell is he doing!?'
She didn't have time to ponder it. Hanabi swiftly moved to wake the others. The enemies were only thirty meters out now. She had to hurry.
Hanabi moved over to Akamaru figuring that once the giant dog was awake, he could sound the alarm. She shook the overgrown pup violently but he would not wake up.
"Come on you mutt. Get up!" She whispered.
Akamaru continued to snore happily. Hanabi gave up with a frustrated grunt.
She moved over to where Gisei was laying next. She shook him roughly as well but no dice. He too was sound asleep.
"What the hell is going on?!"
Discretion was quickly going out the window. She yelled out to her brother in law.
"Kiba! We've got incoming!"
Kiba turned to look at her from his branch a dozen feet in the air. His face confused.
"Huh, what are you doing up squirt?"
Hanabi growled back at him. "We have at least eighteen enemies surrounding us. Where the hell is that nose of yours!?"
He looked shocked and then stared out at the woods. "I don't smell anything."
She had no time for this. "Then use your damn ears. They are coming. All sides, less than ten meters now." Hanabi turned back to the team members who were still asleep. "Why won't they wake up!?"
Shikamaru and Shino were still lights out. She was about to give up hope until she saw Sakura stir from her sleep. Hanabi quickly moved to her side.
The pink haired ninja appeared dazed. "Wha.. what's happening... I feel... like..." She shook her head. "Like I've... been drugged."
Hanabi knelt down next to her, keenly aware that the enemy was danger close now. She could see them holding position about eight meters away. Looking down at Sakura, she saw that the med-nin was still out of it. She grabbed her face and pulled it so she could look into her eyes.
"Sakura-san! We're under attack. You need to snap out of it." She urged.
Sakura's eyes went wide. "Oo... kay." She tried to stumble to her feet but was still unsteady. She fell into Hanabi who caught her. "In my... bag... green pills... three of them. Give me..."
She was stuttering bad and looked like she could pass out at any moment. Hanabi got the message though. While still holding the pink haired woman up, Hanabi reached down into the medical bag and sifted around. Using her bloodline, she was able to spot a bag of pills but unfortunately she couldn't tell what color they were since she could only see in black and white.
"This them?" Hanabi asked quickly.
Sakura could barely keep her eyes open but managed a slight nod. Hanabi wasted no more time and took one of the pills from the bag. She opened Sakura's mouth and shoved it in. Hanabi watched her slowly began to chew. The light in Sakura's eyes started to return. Hanabi saw her scan the area and realize the situation.
"Hurry. Give the other two to Shikamaru and Shino." She said standing up on her own now. She held her head with a grimace of pain. "I'll be fine in a minute."
"We may not have a minute." Hanabi grabbed two more pills out of the bag. "We're surrounded by eighteen of those creatures. They all have swords." She moved over to Shikamaru first.
Sakura nodded. "I can feel my strength returning. I just..."
Before she could finish, a dozen sword-wielding creatures broke through the treeline and charged straight for the group.
Hanabi shoved a pill into Shikamaru's mouth and immediately dodged an attack from her right. Ducking under another swipe from behind, Hanabi swept the legs out from her original attacker and swiftly shot a lightning-charged juken strike to the heart stopping the enemy dead in its tracks. Vaulting over the downed enemy, she avoided a strike from a third attacker. Hanabi focused on dancing around the attacks and drawing them away. She kept the enemy sword focused on her instead of skewering her unconscious leader.
'Have to keep moving or we're all dead!'
Another enemy over-extended itself leaving it wide open for attack. Hanabi wasted no time in obliterating the heart inside of its chest. Flipping rapidly to her left, she managed to disable another attacker's legs keeping it out of the fight for the moment. She turned quickly and delivered a roundhouse kick to a midair enemy trying to strike from behind. The force of the chakra reinforced boot sent it flying back into a tree with a sickening crunch. The creature looked dazed but would soon be up again.
'They just keep coming!'
It had only been seconds since all hell broke loose. Hanabi was moving on instinct just trying to stay alive. She landed another decisive strike to the skull of an enemy that just missed a stab at her side. Thankfully with the Byakugan, she couldn't really get snuck up on. Still the combatants pressed on, vile purple chakra oozing off of their bodies. Hanabi grabbed the hand of one attacker on her right as he swiped cross ways and redirected the attack into the heart of another one to her left. Once the sword was stuck, she quickly eliminated him with a juken strike to the skull.
Hanabi had no time to think. She could barely breathe. She didn't stop to see how the others were doing.
'They'll be ok. Have to keep moving.'
She suddenly noticed three enemies closing in from all sides. She wouldn't have time to stop all of them.
Before she could move, Hanabi heard a yell from her right and saw a pink blur launch herself into the fray.
A chakra enhanced punch hit the ground near Hanabi sending the enemies flying away. A heavily breathing Sakura stood up with a grimace.
"My strength isn't all the way back, but I can fight." Sakura grunted. "We need to eliminate all them. Keep them away from the team." She looked around seeing only herself and Hanabi awake while Shikamaru, Shino and Gisei were still sleeping. "Where the fuck is Kiba?!"
Hanabi was about to answer when another wave of the cursed ninja launched themselves at the two kunoichi. Hanabi moved back to back with Sakura as they stood waiting for the attack to come. Seven enemies stopped just outside of striking distance. They started to inch towards the two.
Sakura flexed her fist while Hanabi charged her juken. As if communicating telepathically, the two girls moved in sync with each other leaving no openings to their attackers. One of the ninja leapt at Sakura's right. Hanabi rotated to intercept striking it in the arm forcing the sword to drop. Two more attacked from Hanabi's previous position but were met with a wound up chakra packed punch from Sakura. She caved the chest in of the first ninja and backhanded the other in the head embedding the monster in a nearby tree. Spinning again, Hanabi twirled in to cut off a strike from Sakura's blind spot. She struck it's head square ending that enemy's life. Using her momentum, she brought her foot around laced with chakra for another juken strike. Not as precise as her hand but it still did the job. The two enemies that remained went for Hanabi's legs to incapacitate her but Sakura turned back with a mighty punch completely obliterating the first one's chest and sent the body careening into the second. Walking up to the pinned enemy, Sakura pulled out a kunai and stabbed it firmly into the remaining ninja's skull.
Hanabi surveyed their immediate vicinity and saw that they were clear for the moment. She turned to the pink haired woman and smirked.
"Remind me never to get in your bad side." Hanabi joked.
Sakura scoffed. "Yea same for you. I'd hate to face one of those lighting punches."
Despite the situation, Hanabi couldn't help but like the girl. She knew what happened between Sakura and Naruto and she so wanted to hate her. Its just that getting in to a life or death struggle and relying on each other to survive tends to put petty stuff like that aside.
"Don't give me a reason to." Hanabi mocked. She then turned serious again. "We need to make sure the others are ok."
Sakura nodded. "How are you feeling? Is your chakra good?"
Hanabi could feel the fatigue start to set in but she could manage. "I've been through worse in training."
Sakura flinched at the thought of her sensei. "I'll... I'll bet."
Hanabi didn't notice the stutter and scanned the area. She couldn't see her brother in law anywhere. "Where the hell did he go?" she muttered.
Sakura over heard her. "Kiba? You still can't see him?"
Hanabi shook her head in the negative. "No. Which means hes pretty far away. I can see a decent ways out."
'Just what are you up to, Kiba?' She thought to herself.
Sakura knelt down to Shikamaru and saw him begin to stir. He shook his head to shake the fog from his brain.
"Argh... what the hell happened?!"
"We were drugged. I'm not sure by who yet. Hanabi and I just took out 20 or so of those enhanced ninja as they were trying to kill us."
Shikamaru tried to stand up but was still a bit woozy. "How the hell did this happen? Who could have gotten the drop on us? We were keeping watch the whole time."
Off to the side, Hanabi gave the final pill to Shino.
"There." She turned back to Sakura. "Hey, I gave him the last pill. Hopefully he'll be up soon."
Sakura nodded. "It should kick in pretty quickly. I'm starting to feel almost normal again." She stretched her arms out to loosen up after the fight.
"What about Gisei though? Do we have any more pills?" Hanabi asked.
Sakura shook her head. "Unfortunately, I can't make any more until I get back to my lab at the hospital. We need to get moving soon. I'm not sure if the drug is fatal if left untreated."
Shikamaru nodded in agreement. "The mission was to find some evidence to take back with us. We have plenty of bodies to examine now. Seal as many as we can and pack up. We have a ways to go to get back to the village and we're a man down."
Shikamaru looked over at a nearby tree to see Akamaru still unconscious. Turning his had to scan the area, he couldn't find what he was after. "Where the hell is Kiba?"
Sakura responded first, clearly pissed at his absence. "I don't know but he better have a damn good explanation. He was keeping watch. I saw him switch in for Shino before I went to sleep."
Hanabi chimed in. "He was on watch. I don't know what was wrong with him but he didn't even know the attack was coming. He said he couldn't smell it or hear it. Could it have been a genjutsu?"
Shikamaru pondered. "Possible. Won't know until we find him." He turned to Hanabi. "Can you see him at all?"
Hanabi checked again. "No." She sighed. "He's still not in my range."
"Damn it." Shikamaru muttered. "We need to find him but we don't have time to waste with Gisei and Akamaru still out of it."
Just then, Shino started to stir. He carefully sat up but remained silent.
"Easy there, Shino." Sakura began. "We were drugged. It will still be a few moments before you recover."
Shino understood but began searching for his missing kikaichu. He turned his head towards his teammates identifying the bug he placed on each of them for tracking purposes. He then turned his head sharply towards the East away from the camp.
"One of my kikaichu is in that direction moving away."
Shikamaru raised his eyebrow. "Is it one of your scouts?"
Shino shook his head. "Negative. It is the one I placed on Kiba."
"This is a terrible plan." Neji whispered.
"Look I don't like this any more than you do but we're running out of options." Naruto replied quietly.
The two of them stood in the shadows bathing one of the numerous parks of Konoha in darkness. The slight breeze offered some cover for their voices should anyone pass by. The light from the street lamps was far enough away to keep them hidden while they discussed their course of action for the Hyuga clan.
"It's just that they will see through my inquiries rather quickly and any main house member that catches wind of my motives will light my skull on fire." Neji carefully rebutted.
Naruto knew this and truly did not want his friend to be in any danger but he didn't have much choice. "I could ask Hinata to do it but they would see through that even quicker. At least she would be safer though." He offered.
Neji fiercely denied that option. "Absolutely not. I don't want her anywhere near these traitorous dogs. She is the heir and needs to be kept safe if there is to be a coup."
"I get it. I don't want you going in there either. I just need something though and you're my most trusted option on this right now. You know what's at stake. You know who we're dealing with." Naruto hated putting someone that still considered him a friend in danger when he was only just getting back to talking to him.
Neji knew of course. Kabuto. Just thinking the name in his head conjured up horrific memories. Almost as deadly as Orochimaru and twice as devious. 'Perhaps even more deadly now with all the time he's been missing.' Whatever plans Kabuto had for his clan, Neji knew he couldn't sit by and let it happen.
"I know. I suppose we don't have the luxury of time." After a deep sigh Neji responded. "I will get your evidence by tomorrow."
Naruto nodded. "Thanks. And yes we don't have time to waste on this. Something big is in the works and we will not sit by and allow it to happen. Get me anything I can use to bring Gaikun in for interrogation legally. Otherwise I'm going to be forced to do it illegally and that could cause just as much damage within the clans politically to weaken us. That smug bastard has a lot of explaining to do."
Neji gave an affirmative nod.
Naruto let out a breath of relief. He hoped Neji would come through for him so he wouldn't have to trample on clan law but he still had a nagging feeling in the back of his head. He didn't like the plan at all either. 'Send Neji snooping into the main branch quarters with a walking time bomb on his head. What could possibly go wrong.'
As Neji turned to walk away, Naruto called out to him.
Neji turned back. "What is it?"
Naruto wanted to say something that could reassure him it would be alright. He wanted to offer any piece of hope that could inspire confidence in his friend. In the end it all sounded hollow. "Just.. be careful alright?"
Neji gave his insufferable smirk back at him. "Do not worry. I'm not going to allow fate to decide my future."
Naruto smirked back. "No you won't, will you."
Neji nodded. He turned back to the shadows and disappeared into the night.
Naruto went the opposite direction to prepare other contingencies for the village should the worst come to fruition.
Now devoid of any would be passers by, the park returned to silence. A gust of wind grabbed the branches of the trees and swayed them to and fro. The light danced across the ground underneath revealing the once hidden grassy patches below. Perched silently at the foot of the tree was a creature that had remained hidden until then. Before the branches returned the darkness, a small garter snake stuck it's tongue out and slithered off into the night. It's own mission accomplished.
So there you have it. The game is afoot. Who keeps attacking Hanabi? What is in store for the village? Oh yea and Sakura and Sasuke are back. That's always fun right? I'm sure everyone is happy about that.
Let me know what you thought as always. I think I've worked out a plan to be able to update more often. No promises as always but hopefully I can stick around this time.
Till next time...