Alright, enough of you have bothered me about this story that i'm doing something about it. I've reposted this chapter in its complete form. Hope you enjoy.
A collective gasp was heard among the Leaf ninja above the fighting arena. The final moments of the fight between Shikamaru and Sakura had been...intense...to say the least. Breaths that had been unknowingly held were suddenly released as everyone realized that it was over. Shikamaru's team was cringing at the sight of their teammate's awful burn. Naruto noted that the fat boy actually looked physically sick while Ino seemed like she couldn't manage to pull her eyes away from either of the fighters. Her pale blue eyes were wider then normal and her breath seemed to be ragged and quick.
Medical nins jumped out onto the field and hoisted each of the fallen combatants onto a stretcher and took them off the field through the huge door at the far end of the room. Once they were gone the amazed tension in the room finally slackened to a point that was tolerable.
As the two young nins were taken off the field Naruto smiled inwardly. There were only a few people left to fight and only half of those looked like they would be somewhat of a match. Naruto was sure he could beat Dosu since he'd seen it done before. He'd beaten Lee before but their fight had been cut short last time so Naruto hadn't gotten to see the bowl cut boy's best. Hinata just didn't seem like the fighting type and he didn't think Choji really had a chance against anyone. That left the sand boy and the silent collar guy from dog boy's team. He didn't know much about either but that had never really mattered to him. He liked punching first and asking questions later.
The judge stepped forward once again as the screen above him blinked to life. "I will announce the sixth match," he stated flatly with a cough thrown in for good measure.
The names flashed and eyes became yet again glued to the screen. Naruto tensed. A tickle down the back of his spine told him he was being stared at. A quick glance across the room confirmed the feeling. The red haired sand boy was staring at him unblinkingly. In the second or two Naruto locked eyes with him he got the distinct impression that something about the smaller boy was decidedly evil and unnatural; as if there were actually two sets of eyes peering through one.
A loud beep from the direction of the board pulled Naruto's attention away from the disturbing green eyes and the names he saw instantly put all thought of the boy out of his mind. His name was there, bold and bright. But the name accompanying his was one he hadn't expected to see. His shoulders slumped a bit in disappointment as he read the name again and felt his excitement start to ebb away as he realized that his dreams of an incredible match had just been blown away.
The name below his was Hyuuga Hinata.
Hinata felt her heart plummet into her belly as she saw the name of the person she was going to face. Of all the people besides her cousin and Shino he was the one she wanted to face least. She'd met him bare weeks ago and she had already developed a strange liking for him. He'd had the courage to stand up to her teammate Kiba and had been confident and bold in every situation she'd seen him in. Maybe it was because he was so different. Because he embodied the things that she wished fervently for; strength, ability, and confidence. She'd snuck out to see Team Seven practice the day after she'd first seen him walking with Sakura. She'd been impressed with his skill but most of all by the way he moved. His body movements were confident and powerful in a way she knew hers would never be.
Despite her liking for him she knew the reason for her plummeting heart wasn't his good looks. His power and endurance had left her breathless after her observations that day. He could take punishment and use massive amounts of chakra and still have energy and reserves to burn. She knew beyond a doubt that she had no chance against him at range. And even if he came in close she doubted she could match his speed and hitting power. Even with her families signature taijutsu style she doubted she'd last two minutes against him.
The familiar feeling of worthlessness crept into her thoughts and drove the little bit of confidence she'd had in a good match firmly out of her.
So it was that both of them made their way silently down to the floor. Naruto's jaw was firmly set. He knew he was going to win, he just didn't like winning against such a weak opponent and a girl at that. The only girl he'd fought so far had been Sakura. He'd gained respect for her as a fighter but still thought of girls in general as weak and not worth fighting. His interest in Hinata's strange behavior and the fact that he'd been impressed with the little bit of Neji's style he'd seen were the only reasons he wasn't yelling and grumping about having to fight the little purple haired girl.
Hinata in turn was wallowing in her misfortune and self pity. Her fingers were intertwined with each other high on her chest. Her eyes were glued to the floor and refused to look up as the two of them took their spots facing each other with Hayate between and off to the side a bit.
Above them Kurenai and the Hokage were thinking similar thoughts. They both knew that the two fighters below were on totally opposite ends of the spectrum where personality and outwardness were concerned. Needless to say they both worried.
But Kurenai had a bit more information on the shy girl then the Hokage did. She knew Hinata had developed a bit of a crush on the hyperactive blond over the past few weeks. She was normally skittish around guys; adding a crush to her already shy nature then throwing her and that crush into a confrontation was almost too painful to think about.
Kakashi and Jiriaya were grimacing as well but were thinking more about Naruto then Hinata. Kakashi had seen how much trouble Naruto had with girls in the week or so he'd known the boy and didn't like what his knowledge combined with this match was adding up to.
Jiriaya, on the other hand, was far past just a grimace. He was developing a full blown headache. He had hoped beyond hope that Naruto wouldn't be paired off against a girl. The old man just could not understand his pupil's dislike for the other sex. Sure his sensei was a bit of a perv but weren't kids supposed to follow in their rolemodel's or sensei's footsteps? Girls were one matter though. Female shinobi were on a whole other level and that was why Jiriaya was developing a pain behind his eyes.
Naruto stared at the girl in front of him. Her total lack of eye contact and submissive body language was starting to get on his nerves, and the match hadn't even started yet. He had no idea how he was supposed to handle someone like this. Hinata just looked so damn innocent to him! The only sign that she was a ninja was the leaf head plate hung around her neck and the weapon pouch strapped to her leg and that just wasn't enough for Naruto. A fighter was supposed to be a lion not a kitten.
Hayate looked between the two of them and spoke. "Uzumaki Naruto and Hyuuga Hinata. Let the sixth match begin."
Silence dropped down around them again after the ref stopped speaking. The quiet was only broken by the occasional shuffle of Hinata's nervous feet. After thirty seconds of this Hayate became impatient. "What's wrong? Please begin."
Hinata jumped slightly at his voice and gave him a short pleading look before lowering her eyes to stare at Naruto's feet.
Naruto grumbled a bit then spoke up. "Are we going to fight Hinata-san?" It was a stupid question to ask in a tournament Naruto knew, but with Hinata he felt he had to ask.
Hinata's hands twisted together faster and her eyes rose a bit along with the blood in her cheeks. "H-Hai."
The blond nodded and tensed. "Then quit screwing around and fight."
Hinata jumped again and hesitated a bit before taking up a basic gentle fist stance, signifying that she was ready, but her body language screamed nervousness and unease. Several people up in the crowd groaned inwardly as they saw her pitiful attempt at a stance.
But if Naruto saw her unwillingness to fight he didn't show it because he came in at her seconds after she'd formed her stance. He came in fast and hard with a fist cocked back, ready to let fly. Hinata's eyes took on a terrified look as he attacked. She barely managed to block his first attack and fell back before the rest of his attack sequence, only turning aside the shots she couldn't duck or slip away from.
Naruto abruptly stopped and backed off looking throughly disgusted about something. As soon as Hinata saw that Naruto wasn't about to attack her again she dropped her combat stance and stepped back into her nervousness full time. The sight of his opponent retreating back into herself only made Naruto look more disgusted.
The balconies were strangely silent now yet just about all of the gennin and younger chuunin and jounin were itching to yell something, anything, to get the purple haired girl to drop her act and get on with the fight. But for some unknown reason each of them reigned their comments in and kept their mouths shut.
Unfortunately Hinata didn't need to hear their yells. The silence from above was just as bad because she knew they were all staring at her. The feeling of their eyes on her back were, to her, louder then words. She blushed and cringed slightly under their invisible weight. Naruto saw the almost invisible flinch and turned a quick glare upwards at the watchers above before speaking again.
"Hinata-san. I won't fight you unless you stop what you're doing and face me like you mean it."
Naruto's voice was flat and as free of the emotions raging inside him as he could make it. It cut like a knife through Hinata's nervousness and drained her face of blood leaving it starkly pale even by her normal standards. Naruto had just laid down the law and was looking at her like he expected an answer.
Naruto spoke again. "And I'm not going to just walk out. I expect a fight so I'm gonna wait if I have to till you're willing to fight me like you really mean it. GOT IT!" The last words were a drastic departure from the flatness. He closed his eyes and emptied his lungs in one huge yell.
Hinata stared some more. She looked almost like she'd turned to stone there on the floor of the arena. Her large pale eyes hadn't left him since he had spoken and had barely blinked at all. In fact they seemed like the only parts of her body that were moving. No one could even tell if she was breathing.
Finally her lips parted and a whisper of a word came out. "I don't think I can."
Now it was Naruto's turn to blink and stare. "Whadya mean you don't think you can? If you can't give it you're all then why did you enter this exam in the first place?" Naruto had gone from in control to totally confused in a matter of seconds. This girl in front of him, from what he was gathering right now, had no motivation to speak of and no sense of worth. This clashed so strongly with Naruto's idea of a ninja that he could not mix the two. It left him, for lack of a better term, profoundly mixed up.
The blond scratched at his head and asked her again. "Why are you here? Don't you have a goal or something?" Naruto had an idea and clapped his hands together. "Or did you just come along for the ride with your teammates?"
The Hyuuga girl took a sharp breath as Naruto spoke. What he was saying was so shocking she couldn't help it. It was true she hadn't exactly wanted to do this but for the sake of her teammates had agreed since they couldn't take the exams without her.
But there had been another reason as well. Hinata was passive by nature, and hated that fact dearly. She didn't like being walked on and cast aside by her father and other clan members. She didn't like the fact that she fidgeted and started at the slightest mention of her name in another's presence. She didn't like the fact that she wasn't good at her family's taijutsu style and that she didn't have the heart to be the heir to Konoha's top clan. Yet the thought of trying to change that scared her enough that it effectively negated the desire to change. She was living at an impasse.
But this exam had finally offered her what she thought might be a chance to change all of that. She clung to the desperate hope that, if she could get through the exam, that the action would open up inside her some invisible barrier or provide some impetus for her to change herself.
Naruto could see the nervousness warring with something else inside those pale white eyes. He could see that something deep within wanted to rise to his challenge, to refute his words, and to kick a little ass. This Naruto could work with, this he had seen before.
Jiriaya had looked like this a few times when Naruto had tried to weasel a technique or something else important out of him that he wasn't fully willing to give up. Naruto knew from experience that if there was even the faintest glimmer of doubt in someone's eyes that he could press the issue and make that feeling grow. He could push and poke and nudge the feeling along with clever counter arguments or sneaky self serving comments that would often get a rise out of his subject and make their own arguments weaker against his own. It was a skill long practiced on the streets of towns across the five countries. Naruto had gotten many a free morsel or trinket out of his efforts. And while Hinata was not selling anything he knew the same principle still applied.
Naruto smiled in a way only he could. "So you've got a bit of a confidence problem," he said, suddenly twirling a kunai around one of his fingers, "but so what?" The spinning stopped and he gestured up at the audience behind him with his thumb. "Ignore those guys up there. They're not part of this fight. All you have to worry about is me Hinata-san. Personally I could care less about what those people up there think of my fight." Naruto blushed inwardly at his little lie. He would care, he would just care later.
The blond boy continued. "One on one like this your team doesn't matter. Kick them and whoever else is worrying you out of your head and focus on me."
Hinata blushed a bit at that comment. Focusing on Naruto wasn't difficult, it was just that when she focused on him it wasn't a fighting focus. But she tried it anyway.
Naruto saw her eyes steady. They no long drifted off or glanced upwards. Now they seemed to be locked somewhere around his feet. And while he would much rather have her focusing on his face his feet were a definite improvement. Naruto stepped into his next point.
"Now kick yourself out too."
Hinata's confused eyes suddenly jumped from his feet to his face. "Wha...what?"
"Drop kick yourself, the worried part of yourself, strait out of your head. Forget about how bad you've done in the past and ignore the thoughts on how you think this'll turn out. Do that and you can fight me. Focus on beating me and beating me only. Nothin else."
Naruto suddenly felt really, really stupid. He'd never given anyone a pep talk before but he suddenly felt like he had. But even worse was the fact that he was trying to talk someone into fighting him. He'd insulted and teased people into fights but never talked someone into one. 'I hope this doesn't come back and bite me in the ass,' he thought sullenly.
Pale eyes dropped back down to stare again at her opponent's feet. She'd heard similar speeches from her father and sensei many times before and had never been able to manage what they told her to do. But hearing it from someone her own age, someone she liked and respected and was supposed to be fighting right now, seemed to be different. She closed her eyes and sought out her focus again. One by one she blocked out the voices or images of others in her head, blocked out the memories of their faces or their words until only Naruto and herself remained. Then she tried to get rid of herself as well.
She dredged up all she had learned as a ninja and cut out all the emotion from it. How badly she'd done or how disappointed her teachers or fellow genin had been. Then she began to filter in what she'd seen of Naruto and began the process again. She cut out all the thoughts that had run through her head about how cute he was or how incredibly powerful he looked. Suddenly she found her mind working out his moves, analyzing them for weaknesses and meshing them with her own abilities strengths and weaknesses.
A small part of her brain watched in detached wonder as the rest of her mind, now completely devoid of anything but the fight, began to run as smoothly as the best well oiled engine she'd ever seen.
Naruto's smile reappeared in full force when the pale white eyes of his opponent suddenly reopened and locked on his own. The determination and focus that had been missing before were now all that was left. They were hard and calculating, just as a ninja's should be.
People up above noticed as well. Anyone who knew the young girl below was rendered speechless at the sight of this completely new Hinata. Neji was probably the most surprised. He'd watched his cousin for many years now, waiting and hoping for a match with her so he could grind her face into the dust. He knew what she was like in combat, knew how utterly worthless she was against anyone tougher then a sparring log, and knew that she had hardly managed to master her own families basic techniques. So when the ice in her stare had registered in his mind it was almost rejected as outright impossible.
Naruto on the other hand couldn't have been more excited. He slammed his kunai wielding fist into his open palm. "Alright! That's more like it! Now you're ready to kick a little ass!"
Hinata didn't answer. Her hands were moving through a quick series of seals that ended in a fist with a single finger raised. Her eyes pulsed and veins throbbed into life around them. Naruto's smiled turned almost wicked as he recognized the same Byakugan eyes that Neji had shown earlier. Her stance shifted into a more sturdy version of her original combat stance, left foot forward with left hand raised palm outward and right hand tucked in next to her body.
Naruto crouched down and shifted his kunai over to his left hand. His right hand settled itself over his weapon holster, popping it open for easy access.
Now it was the calm before the storm. The fight was beginning in earnest. Not and eye blinked in the entire room as the two warriors waited for the other to make a move.
Never one to wait long, Naruto made the first move. His hand flashed out, several shuriken darting out towards his opponent. He charged after them as if hellbent on attacking Hinata with his skull alone.
White eyes flashed. Muscles firmly ingrained with the correct responses suddenly leapt into action for the first time. Skilled eyes directed hands to intercept and catch the flying missiles then return them from whence they'd come.
Metal met metal as Naruto's kunai knocked aside the returning metal stars. As soon as the last of them had been redirected the kunai disappeared back into it's holster to free up Naruto's hands. He could see Hinata's minute adjustments in stance as he rocketed towards her, adjusting herself to his attack as best she could. But Naruto had no intention of letting her set up for him. With a surge of focused chakra Naruto made a phenomenal flip right over her head.
Hinata saw the large amount of chakra suddenly directed towards his legs with her eyes and guessed his intention. It was a good move, meant to keep her off balance and unable to set herself against an attack. Using one against a Hyuuga however wasn't always successful. She simply turned as he flew overhead and adjusted for an attack from the other direction.
Naruto grinned as he saw her begin to adjust as he flew overhead. His move had been anticipated, but the two smoke bombs he dropped while flying overhead weren't. A cloud of thick purple smoke erupted around Hinata as he hit the ground running. A quick seal and five shadow clones popped into existence. Together they circled around her, drawing their own shuriken as they went.
The smoke cloud was unexpected but did not pose much of a problem for the Hyuuga girl. Her Byakugan eyes had no trouble seeing through the thick cloud. Nor did they miss the creation of the shadow clones or their subsequent encircling movement. She saw them all draw a hand full of shuriken each and instantly knew what Naruto was planning.
Shuriken flew thick and fast from the hands of the six blonds as they circled the cloud of slowly dissipating smoke. He'd practiced this attack many times and had gotten good enough to not hit himself if the shuriken missed.
Practice, however, doesn't make perfect...especially when it's against a log or shadow clone. Living opponents never react exactly the way you want them to. So when shuriken started coming back at Naruto and his clones and hitting them his formation fell apart as some dodged and others fell to the little metal stars.
Naruto saw what was happening and decided to cut his losses. He dispersed his remaining shadow clones and set himself for a grand fireball. A quick inhalation and the appropriate hand signs created a nicely rounded fireball about six feet in diameter. The roiling ball of flame cannon balled into the dissipating smoke cloud, burning off the remaining smoke in the process.
But yet again the result was not what Naruto had predicted. He'd expected her to dodge the fireball or get toasted. When the fireball split in two and died off just past the mark he knew she'd done neither.
When the smoke and steam cleared it revealed a heavily panting Hinata. Her arms were stretched out strait in front of her with her palms towards Naruto. She'd done something to divert the attack, that was for sure. The singe marks on the left and right fringes of her coat and pants showed that she had not escaped unharmed but she was far less damaged then Naruto had planned for.
"Again!" Naruto yelled. A second fireball of near equal proportion leapt from his mouth and traveled down range. He watched as Hinata braced herself. Then the fireball was upon her. It split just like before, diverting around the girl leaving her barely touched in the middle. As the fire dissipated this time however Naruto noticed a light blue physical line waver out of existence a few inches in front of her hands. The blond smiled.
"You created a wedge of chakra to divert the attack around you. That's awesome! You've got some pretty good technique for someone who said she didn't think she could fight me."
The spectators were just as impressed. Kurenai was practically beaming at her pupil while her cousin looked like he'd swallowed a toad. Every other Konoha ninja was smiling or nodding appreciatively.
Hinata's hands dropped slowly to her side as she began to notice the smiles and unspoken praise from above. A shy smile fluttered around her lips before settling into a beautifully full grin.
Naruto smiled happily. He'd done his good for the day. It was worth it to see the girl smile.
The blond blinked quickly. Had he just thought that? He shook his head as if clearing away cobwebs and took up another fighting stance. It was time to get back to business.
"Enough of that. Hiya!"
Naruto attacked with a quick one two punch then swept in with his leg. Hinata blocked the punches expertly and managed to catch and redirect Naruto's kick upwards so that the boy was forced to jump or loose his balance. Hinata struck before he could get his body completely out of her reach. Her hand snaked out and slapped his left ankle. The slap didn't hurt, it was the spike of chakra that she sent with the slap that hurt.
Naruto grimaced and altered his flip so he landed more heavily on his right foot. He glanced at Hinata warily as he tested his other foot. He grimaced again as he found that it wouldn't support his weight well. He could see that Hinata regretted hitting him like she had. He'd teach her to show sympathy like that to an opponent.
"Lets see if you can do that again," he said as he took several careful steps back and formed his favorite seal. Ten shadow clones popped into existence around him and immediately went on the offensive.
Despite what she'd said, Hinata was good. Naruto knew a taijutsu user when he saw one despite her soft manner. And after Neji's performance he'd had no doubt about the girl. As the clones battled the girl Naruto studied her technique and looked for flaws in her defense. He quickly realized she knew the basics of whatever style she used very well. He also confirmed that her style was largely defensive in nature judging by the blocks to attacks ratio. His clones were falling but more slowly then they would have been if he'd been facing a more offensive opponent. He smiled. He had plenty of chakra to burn. He'd ware her down eventually.
After three minutes of none stop clone attacks he could see that she was slowing considerably. 'Not much stamina I guess,' Naruto mused as one of his clones landed a solid blow to her shoulder with an ax kick. The girl stumbled, her defenses fell, and the clones moved in. Moments later Hinata was in a full body lock on the floor. The real Naruto drew his kunai and approached at his best hobble. Crouching down beside her head he placed the blunt side of the weapon against her neck and looked up at the judge.
The judge nodded. "Winner, Uzumaki Naruto."
I wanted to tie up this loose end before returning to Bound to Eternity. Don't expect anything more out of this story for a while.