This chapter is a whole week and a half late! I'm so sorry! I was grading midterms and then I had to finish some paperwork for my graduation next semester. The next chapter will be posted on Monday! I promise! Look forward to Kiba's POV!
Eight genin stood side by side in front of their commanding officer, taking up most of the room in the not unsizeable office. Sitting in the highbacked chair was Kakashi Hatake, one of the most legendary shinobi of his generation. To his right stood Shikaku Nara, Konoha's Jounin Commander, the scars on his face pulling at the corners of his mouth and giving him a permanent frown. On the left stood two of the most powerful shinobi in history, two thirds of the Legendary Sanin, the Slug Sage Tsunade and the Toad Sage Jiraiya. They did not look pleased to be there, but they weren't complaining, either, a sign of complicity if not acceptance.
In the two rows of chairs in front of the large, imposing desk sat the shinobi council, Homura Mitokado and Koharu Utatane on one side and Danzo Shimura on the other, their aged faces grim.
Neji wasn't sure why he'd been called to the Hokage's office, but he knew better than to speak out of turn. While he was no longer certain about…certainty and all it entailed, instincts long honed by a place of subservience stilled his tongue.
The second son of the Inuzuka Matriarch had no such qualms.
"What's going on?" He demanded loudly, the dog on his head yipping in agreement. "Are we getting our promotions?"
That was impossible. Neji had lost his match against Naruto of all people, and the Inuzuka hadn't even made it to the finals. Nor had either the Yamanaka heiress or her pink haired friend, but they were both present, as well. He wasn't present for the Aburame heir's fight, but he was sure that the invasion made it difficult to award anyone a promotion.
"Mah," Hatake sighed, his clan's verbal tick dripping with a nonchalance cultivated for more than a decade. "One of you is getting promoted. Shimakaru, congrats."
The Nara heir bowed his head to the sitting Kage, not even acknowledging his father's proud smile. "Thank you, Hokage-sama."
Hatake made a show of grimacing—an impressive feat considering his mask—and waved the boy's thanks away. "Yeah, yeah, whatever. This is just a formality anyway. I'm officially giving you your first assignment as a chunin. You'll—." He cut himself off, pinching at the bridge of your nose and taking audibly deep breaths. "You'll be in charge of a task force meant to retrieve Hanako Hatake. The people you asked for are here, so have at it." Quite suddenly, he seemed almost haggard, his head held up by one hand.
"Wait, what happened to Hana?" Naruto demanded, speaking up for the first time. He'd been uncharacteristically quiet up to that point, but he voiced the question on everyone's minds. "I saw her yesterday!"
Shikamaru came to stand before the gathered genin, his arms folded behind a straight back. It was the most alert Neji had ever seen the young Nara, and it rang all manner of alarm bells. "Yesterday, sometime after noon, Hanako Hatake was abducted from Konoha. We know this," he continued, talking over the extremely vocal outrage that statement inspired. "Because her summons have been blocked. That is an S ranked forbidden technique and, while other nations may have been able to create something similar, the only official version is recorded in Konoha's vaults. Given their previous interactions, I believe it is safe to assume that Orochimaru had a hand in her disappearance. You seven are among my choices for a retrieval team."
"Wait a minute," the Inuzuka demanded, a growl roughening his voice. "I'm all for rescuing Hanako-chan, but what are a bunch of genin supposed to do against Orochimaru?"
"I agree. Why? Because even the Hokage fell to him. A team of genin, no matter how large, will be eradicated."
The Inuzuka and the Aburame were teammates, so their shared concern made sense, for all they rarely got along. Neji might have voiced a similar question, were he not completely stuck on the news Hanako had gone missing.
He hadn't seen her since the final exam. She'd made her disapproval of his treatment of Hinata-sama quite clear during the preliminaries, and he was too busy training during the month in between to seek her out—as he was sure she'd been, as well. As it stood, he hadn't seen her since the invasion, but he'd received no word to indicate she'd been hurt. Certainly not that she'd encountered one of the most dangerous missing nin of their time.
"We're not going to fight Orochimaru," the Nara was saying, rolling his shoulders in a way much more characteristic of his clan. "Jiraiya-sama, you were the last one to see her before she was taken. Would you like to explain?"
The legendary sage recoiled as though struck, the lines on his face deepening as he scowled. He cleared his throat and crossed his arms, sniffing disdainfully as a mask quickly took shape over his true emotions.
"The chibi and I were having a conversation on one of the rooftops—I can show you which one, if you want—and I sensed four chakra signatures of high genin or low chunin rank. I figured it was a bunch of her little friends and I left." He rolled broad shoulders, seemingly unconcerned. "I didn't exactly go out of my way to look at them, you know. It's bad form."
It certainly was, but to overlook them to that degree was—.
"So, we can fight them!" The Inuzuka's enthusiasm was clearly contagious, a nervous energy filling the air as the other genin began shifting their weight. "What are we waiting for, then? The longer we wait, the farther away she gets!"
The newly promoted chunin didn't even react to his classmate's rash words, his expression completely unchanged. Neji found himself focusing on the younger shinobi. They were in the Academy at the same time, though in different years, and he was of course aware of the people around Hinata-sama, but they'd never really interacted. As far as he could tell, this Nara was much like all the others, a walking stereotype of lazy intellect. Looking at him now, there was an iron in his stance that hadn't been there when he'd last seen him, just before the final round of the Chunin Exams. Whatever had happened during the invasion to warrant his promotion, it had a tangible effect.
"Kiba, calm down," the Yamanaka heiress hmphed over crossed arms. "We can't just go rushing after Orochimaru's henchmen without a plan! Shut up and listen for a change!"
The Inuzuka growled in response, the Yamanaka growling back with her human voice in an unseemly display. Hinata-sama would never behave so recklessly. Hiashi-sama would never permit it.
The Nara heir chose that moment to speak. "I have a plan, but I'm still waiting for the last members of our team to arrive."
Danzo Shimura pounded his cane on the floor, expressing his anger with the sharp sound. The exposed portions of his face were twisted in a frown. His fellow council members also wore sour expressions, clearly unhappy about something.
"Your petition was overruled," he said sharply. "You will cease this."
It was obvious that whatever it was had already been discussed. Neji could commend the Nara's attempt at reopening a closed topic. Brining one up again in front of guests or other influential members of the clan was one way Hyuuga clansmen often fought to have their way without actually fighting. Unfortunately for the Nara, the council had no reason to give him face.
"Mah," Hatake drawled. "I've overruled your overruling. They'll be here shortly."
"You cannot!" Utatane gasped. "You are only an interim Hokage, Hatake-kun. To use your power like this is a usurpation!"
The man in the Hokage's chair cocked his head, somehow expressing a sugary fake smile with only one eye. His voice was light and airy, the tone in direct contrast to his words.
"Yep~. That's exactly what it is." He leaned forward, hands folded on the desk where everyone could see them. This did nothing to weaken the distinct sense of impending violence rolling off him in waves. "I was elected to serve as Hokage by the Clan Heads as an emergency measure in the wake of invasion and a continued foreign presence. Now, I'm perfectly aware that they all probably expected me to step down the instant I could and under different circumstances they would have been right. Now, it just so happens that my daughter has been taken and the esteemed council dares to think they can keep me from using every available resource to retrieve her. So, naturally, my only recourse is to replace the council."
"What are you saying?" Homura demanded. "These issues are completely unrelated!"
"Oh, by they're not. You see," Hatake gestured to a pile of papers sitting neatly by the corner of the desk. "The Lord Third was an old man. He knew he'd eventually have to retire and he made a few preparations for it to ease the transition for his successor. While it's unfortunate that I gained this position the way I did, nevertheless, I am the one in the chair. As such, in accordance with a law you yourselves allowed to be passed, I am required to form a new council manned by shinobi from my father's generation. Which you are not." He turned to the two Sannin beside him. "But you are. Tell me, elders, do you accept the position?"
This did not seem like something genin should be witnessing. Neji glanced surreptitiously at his comrades and found most of them to be expressing some amount of discomfort or confusion. The only exceptions were the Aburame, who never expressed much of anything, the Nara, and Naruto's kunoichi teammate. It was entirely possible that the Nara—both of them—were already aware of Hatak'es plans regarding the council, but a civilian born girl shouldn't have been so calm in the face of the dirty dealings of their government. It was only years of training which kept Neji's own uncertainty from his face, his eyes flitting from the Hokage and his newly appointed advisors to the old council.
Tsunade Senju crossed her arms under her breasts, her beautiful face marred by a sneer. "Watch who you're calling elder, brat! You're lucky I even came to this farse of a meeting."
"It is good that Hime-sama sees it for what it is."
Her golden eyes narrowed. "You misunderstand me, Shimura-san; you are the farse. That Kakashi even had to go to such lengths to exercise his legal rights is proof that Sensei was right to write a change of council into the law."
"You forget your place!"
"And you forget that I am your candidate for Hokage! I don't want the hat! Jiraiya doesn't want the hat! Kakashi's already wearing it, and if he'd fine with it I say just let him keep it! Even if I were to take his place right now, I would be doing the exact same thing. That girl is my flesh and blood, and I'll be damned if I let Orochimaru lay his filthy hands on one of mine, again!"
This was definitely not something genin should be listening to. Still, that entire exchange could have been had elsewhere, likely before any of them arrived. They were clearly meant to see, but Neji wasn't entirely sure why. Was it to impress upon a new generation that the current Hokage wasn't someone to provoke? Was it meant to be a semi-public display of the new council's power? There was no way this kind of thing could be done in front of the civilian council or the general public, but a group of genin, almost all of them tied to one major clan or another? That made sense.
There was no way it was meant to showcase Hanako's relation to Tsunade Senju. "Flesh and blood" she'd called her. That wasn't a lot to go on and Neji was completely certain she hadn't meant to say it. There was no way. That was the kind of thing that involved banquets and official announcements. If Hanako was a Senju, even distantly, it was the kind of thing he would have been told. Hiashi-sama was not one to waste opportunities for advancement, and a relationship with a Senju child was definitely one to be fostered.
The doors to the office opened, and Neji pointedly did not turn around like many of the others did, keeping his attention on the Hokage. He itched to activate his Byakugan, just to check, but doing so in the Hokage's presence without an express order was extremely uncouth.
"Gaara!" Naruto's happy exclamation made it clear who it was. "You guys are out of prison, now?"
The three genin from Suna stepped forward to join their Konoha counterparts, the two elder siblings visibly nervous as they stood close to the youngest, who stood unmoved by the distrust flowing through the room. They were part of the invasion force, were they not? Why would the Nara include them in a plan to rescue Hanako, since that was clearly his aim? There was something else there, something Neji was missing. Naruto seemed genuinely happy to see them, and his kunoichi teammate greeted them cordially, but the other Konoha genin were holding themselves a bit apart.
"Thank you for coming," the Nara said, as though they had any choice. "How much were you told about why you're here?"
"Something happened to Hanako." The red haired one stated, his voice low. He'd been relatively calm compared to the murderous aura he'd carried during the exams, but there was an edge to his words that hinted at that rage. "Where is she?"
Strange. Neji was a part of the team which escorted the Suna trio to Konoha for the exams, and he'd noticed Hanako's attempts to befriend the unstable boy, but he had no idea she'd succeeded. He wasn't sure he liked the tone of his question, though.
The Nara didn't seem to agree, a small smile brightening his otherwise uninterested expression. "Easy, Gaara. She's alive, I promise. Try not to go on a rampage until after we've gone through the formalities, ok?"
Gaara did not look pleased, but he didn't argue. Some of the tension left his sister's body, but her expression didn't soften.
"We were told there was an opportunity to earn a pardon," she said, voice clear despite her nerves. "As the eldest, I will receive the terms."
The Nara stepped away from the front of the room, coming to stand beside the pink haired kunoichi. Hatake smiled that too sweet smile of his.
"Shimura, Utatane, Homura, you are dismissed. Neko, escort them out."
An Anbu agent appeared, kneeling before the Hokage before ushering the old council out. They had enough pride not to protest too loudly, but their discontent was palpable. The two Sannin took their places in the seats vacated by their predecessors, also obviously unhappy, but not complaining.
"The Sabaku family," the Hokage began, the weight in his voice incredibly similar to his daughter's—a resemblance seldom seen, given their outwardly different personalities. "Has had a grievance against the Hatake Clan since the Third Great Ninja War, when my father killed the son of Sabaku no Chiyo in combat. My father is dead by his own hand, but the grudge remains. You three were part of the invading force which crippled my village and my child—by rights, I could simply execute you. However," his expression became almost sinister, his one eye aflame with a glare Neji was very glad wasn't aimed at him. "For some reason my kid has decided that you're friends. I can't just kill of her friends, no matter how badly I might be tempted. So, I have decided to give you the opportunity to earn your freedom. My super cute kiddo has been taken by Orochimaru's evil little cronies. You are going to work under Shikamaru-chan, there, to help bring her back. Once my baby is back in my arms, never again to part from me, then, and only then, will I grant you three a pardon for your involvement in the invasion. Am I clear?"
Neji had met Hanako's father many times over the years of their friendship, and, while he'd doted on her openly in a fashion no Hyuuga parent would dare, he'd never been so…embarrassing.
Also, what had Gaara done to incite such anger? Neji was almost afraid to ask, given the open threats the Suna boy had weathered without reaction.
"Are those terms negotiable?"
The puppeteer snorted at his sister's question, adjusting the weight of the massive, wrapped puppet on his back. "Come on, Temari, what's the point? Gaara's going no matter what—can't leave his girlfriend with the creepy snake man, right?"
A solid wave of killing intent rolled over everyone in the room, the Hokage's saccharine smile sending shivers down Neji's spine.
It was Jiraiya who spoke though, his face twisted in disgust. "Please, no. I can barely stomach a grandchild as it is."
Tsunade scoffed. "If you didn't want grandchildren, then you shouldn't have had a child."
"It wasn't intentional, believe me."
The elder Nara cleared his throat, speaking for the first time. "Maybe you should get going? Hanako is a resourceful girl, but I'm sure she could use the help."
His son sank into their clan's signature slouch. "Troublesome."
Neji was inclined to agree.
This fic is almost a whole year old! Can you believe it! The first anniversary will be on November 11th! Now, I''ve already said this, but I won't be updating this fic or Round Two in November so I can focus on Round Three for NaNoWriMo, but I really want to do something for the anniversary! I'm thinking of sharing some ideas that almost got used and maybe writing some AU snippets. Maybe a Q&A? Let me know!
ALSO! I commissioned a new artwork with Hanako's new face markings! It's on Archive of Our Own, in a work titled Shinobi Isekai!: Artwork along with a link to the artist's page! I wish I could post pictures here for you guys, but c'est la vie.