"Beyond Hearts and Minds"
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto. I do not own any great quantity of money or property. I'm a STUDENT; that's why I'm poor, okay?
Summary: Demons of yore are springing up for unknown reasons. Recruited by a child ghost, Hinata falls into the messy job of sealing things up. Naruto and Sasuke are unwittingly dragged in... and what is Sakura doing behind the scenes?
This story follows the manga up to the first part, and is an AU to the Shippuden.
Pairings: naruhina, and maybe sasusaku.
Mood: funny to weird to dark.
Rating: PG-13 for language, violence, and sexual innuendo. You have been warned.
(( Flashback ))
Chapter 1: Normal Day with Snake-Demons
The ankles of a sixteen-year-old brushed through the uncut grass. Hyuuga Hinata looked up, giving a smile to the cheerful sun. Now a promoted chuunin, she had duties to attend.
Lifting up a hand in meditation, the dark-haired girl pinched her fingers together. She willed pure chakra to go into them. An irregular, tickling sensation went through.
Hinata dropped her hand with a sigh. Her father told her that when a smooth feeling like water passed through her fingers, she would be near to mastering the Juuken.
But even after years of training, it still did not feel right. Each Gentle Fist move of hers was like one small explosion after another. They were by far not as precise, accurate, and smooth like those of her father. Or Neji.
(( "Smooth feeling in your fingers?" Something like a snort came from a thirteen-year-old Neji. "I learned how to do that at nine."
Hinata lowered her eyes. "I just... wanted to know if..."
"I'm busy." Neji cut her off before she could ask for training. "I'm sorry, Hinata-sama. But my team has an important mission to attend to." ))
Hinata almost giggled at how Neji had loosened up over the years. The family relations within the Hyuuga had lightened up — Hiashi was tutoring Neji as much as, if not more than, Hanabi in the family martial arts. Neji acted much more like an older brother to Hinata and Hanabi, which made Hinata extremely happy. Any change in the household for the better was a good thing.
But there still was an inkling doubt in her, that she was not meant to be part of the Hyuuga. She could perform many of the disabling moves without effort, the swift palm- and finger-thrusts that composed the Jyuuken style. But it made her feel uncomfortable in a strange manner, as if there were something more that she could do.
Hinata walked past the torii, the red-painted gates of the Shinto shrine. The sun warmed her pale skin quickly, making her already wish for shade. The day was almost eerily perfect.
"SASUKE!" Naruto shouted. "I'm gonna kill you!"
Sasuke ducked. Naruto's flying kick was evaded easily, but there were other tricks up the fox-boy's sleeve, and Sasuke braced for more.
Naruto aimed a knee at the Uchiha's face. In his opinion, Sasuke was much too pretty for his own good. A broken nose wouldn't be too bad — it fact, it might assist to look more manly.
Sasuke caught the attack, and threw Naruto across the training hall. The Uchiha growled; his rival was taking it easy on him. "You're not attacking seriously, idiot."
"Yes, I am." A voice directly behind Sasuke laughed.
Sasuke felt his left arm pulled up, before Naruto's elbow sank painfully below his rib cage. 'Shit, a Kage-Bunshin!' Sasuke twisted out of its clutches, and then performed a roundhouse kick. It skidded on the floor of the dojo before exploding in a poof of smoke.
Sasuke huffed. A shadow fell upon him. His hand formed half of a seal.
Naruto tackled nothing but a log. Sasuke appeared ten meters away from the panting Naruto. "You're terrible."
A vein popped out of Naruto's forehead. "Sasuke, I'm gonna kill you!" he shouted once more, before charging.
Two jounin watched the scene from above, leaning on the railing.
"They seem to be doing more than well." Gai spread his arms out, enjoying the fresh breeze going through the window of the dojo. The sunlight reflected off his ever-clean teeth. "I knew that the wonders of Youth could cure that pupil of yours from the clutches of Evil! BA HA HA!"
"Mm." It was obvious that Kakashi only half-listened to the rants. Gai's hands tightened into fists.
Ten minutes passed. The two teenagers continued to fight. They were as yet evenly matched.
"Admit it — Sasuke — you're too damn — tired," Naruto said between heaves of air.
"Shut — UP," the raven-haired teenager answered, his hands on his knees. He straightened up, ran his fingers through his sweat-drenched black hair. Sasuke honestly had no care about his appearance to others, but so-called 'cool' moves — running his fingers through his hair, for example — annoyed Naruto to no end. And since Naruto annoyed him countless times before, Sasuke just considered it friendly payback.
Besides, aggravating the opponent was one way of increasing their willingness to fight. And what Sasuke needed more than anything, in this god-forsaken village of Konoha, was a challenge.
Naruto and Sasuke exchanged kicks and punches for ten more minutes.
Kakashi raised an eyebrow. The fight was not a strategic, well-thought-out spar anymore. It was a bare-fisted rumble. Chakra had run out long ago, and the weapons had been all thrown; now they were just using taijutsu. Naruto and Sasuke were panting and coughing up saliva from all the physical exercise.
Kakashi decided that it was now time to intervene. He disappeared from his spot, and reappeared in between Naruto and Sasuke. Unlike one tense moment in the past, the jounin did not have to shove the fighting teenagers away from each other. Sasuke just halted, and Naruto skidded to a stop.
"Sparring is over," said Kakashi.
"No — it's — not!" Naruto whined, the exhaustion showing in his sharp intakes of breath. Sasuke said nothing; he merely took the time to regain oxygen. But his dark eyes held the same determination to conclude a winner of the spar.
Yet both teenagers dropped to their knees from exhaustion. Kakashi tapped a finger on both of their foreheads. "Do things in moderation. All work and no play makes you overworked and dysfunctional."
"How about no work and all porn-reading makes a bad teacher?" Naruto muttered under his breath.
The silver-haired jounin gave an embarrassed cough. "Naruto, Jiraiya is expecting you at the training grounds within two hours. Remember that."
"Yes, sir, yes," the blond teenager droned. Naruto pulled himself from the ground. He then turned around — and gave one exaggerated cough in Sasuke's direction, spit and all. Before Sasuke could regain chakra in his legs and pummel him, the mischievous fox-boy ran out of the training hall. "See ya later!" Naruto said with a laugh, his throat already clear enough for him to shout.
Sasuke wiped away several flecks of Naruto's saliva from his face. 'That moron! I'd set up smoke-bombs in his house for that if I weren't monitored...'
Kakashi sighed. Even after four-and-a-half years, Sasuke and Naruto still kept up their fierce rivalry in a rather childish manner. At least Sasuke's rehabilitation efforts appeared successful. It was on a large streak of luck that Sasuke had assimilated back into village life.
Sasuke had served Orochimaru as an apprentice for nearly two years, and barely escaped when an attack on the Sound Village came about. To the surprise of Kakashi and Tsunade, it was Haruno Sakura who brought Sasuke back to Konoha.
The pink-haired girl had been mysteriously abducted, half a year after Sasuke abandoned the Leaf. Nobody knew who had taken her, where she had been, or what had happened to her. Her missing-citizen status lasted a little more than a year. But the kunoichi managed to find her way back to Konoha, safe and sound. It had only been a lucky coincidence that she ran into a battered and beaten Sasuke along the way.
Both had been fourteen at the time.
(( "Do you want to go home together?" Sakura offered. ))
Sasuke's nerves chilled at that memory. That night, the feel of her aura was ethereal. He couldn't resist the offer, especially when she had been embracing him so gently. He had felt... powerless.
(( "They'll probably interrogate you, and put you under surveillance," Sakura continued. "But I've been missing as well. I'll be going through the exact same process." ))
After they arrived in their home village, Sakura visited Sasuke often. She knew that few trusted him in the village. The girl did not trail him like a lovesick puppy as she used to, but she provided the minimal company he needed.
That was, until Naruto came back from his journey with Jiraiya. It was kind of awkward at first, but things eventually patched up. Eventually.
(( A hyperactive voice echoed in the middle of the night. "First stop: the Ichiraku Ramen!"
The blond teenager dashed through the lamp-lit streets.
Two people walking together froze in their tracks. The female's face lit up, while a disgruntled look passed the other.
Naruto slowed down in his tracks. His legs nearly gave out as he saw a familiar mane of pink hair.
"NARUTO!" Sakura ecstatically shrieked. The girl sprinted to the blond teenager, and then proceeded to squeeze the air out of him in a large bear hug.
"Sa- Sakura-chan?" Naruto choked out. He gave a whoop of joy as he tightly hugged her back. He buried his nose in her rose-colored tresses. "Where have you been? I was so worried when you were kidnapped, and — oh MAN!" He began to laugh, happy that his old teammate was safe.
The blond boy then noticed another figure, watching him embrace Sakura. Raven-black, messy hair. Blue clothing. And that ever-disgusting curl of the lip.
Uchiha Sasuke looked stiff, nervous, and annoyed all at the same time.
Naruto's blue eyes flashed. "YOU!" He pulled Sakura protectively closer to him. He had no idea what to say or do, seeing that Sasuke looked like a normal civilian of Konoha. Again.
What was Naruto supposed to do, after he and his comrades had nearly lost their lives in their attempt to retrieve Sasuke? And after his long training trip with Jiraiya... No reasonable idea came at the moment. Naruto simply decided to repeat what he said, just in case Sasuke did not understand the first time. "YOU!"
Sasuke gave off an angry hiss through his teeth, and raised his hands in defeat. "I'm on probation, moron. I can't attack you."
"PROBATION! That's it?" Naruto exclaimed. "After what you did!" Naruto took a hold of Sakura's shoulders, and put her to the side. His face was relaxed when looking at her. "Sakura-chan, stay out of this, okay?"
Sakura noticed the irregular silkiness in Naruto's voice. "Naruto, you're not going to—"
Naruto threw a punch at the raven-haired boy's face. Sasuke could not dodge it — his body was still in the healing process after a grueling session of training with Kakashi — and so Naruto's fist connected painfully with his jaw.
Sasuke clutched the side of his face. He tasted blood. "Naruto, you idiot!" he snarled.
"YOU'RE the one who's an idiot, idiot!" Naruto's hand gripped the collar of Sasuke's shirt. He wanted to punch the traitor again, just to enjoy the sensation twice — but he froze. A peculiar sound echoed into the night air.
Sakura was giggling to herself. Her lips curved into a naughty-looking grin. She seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the scene. Naruto was rather surprised; she wasn't hitting him over the head or yelling at him after picking a fight with Sasuke.
Sakura's giggles transformed into a hearty laugh.
Sasuke raised an eyebrow. "What's so funny?" he asked coldly. For some reason, he felt embarrassed and light-headed with the tinkling sound of her laughter.
"It's just that — both of you boys — are so STUPID!" Sakura snorted. Naruto and Sasuke blinked, and she waved them away. "Go on with your male macho bonding; I'll go home now." She pointed at the tree above. "Kakashi-sensei is watching you anyway." The slight shake of a branch signaled a twitched greeting by the silver-haired jounin.
"Wait, Sakura-chan, you have to join me at the Ichiraku!" Naruto ran after her. "Don't leave me here with this bastard!" ))
Sasuke still did not exactly know what Sakura had meant by 'male macho bonding.' She was most probably referring to the tendency of some guys to punch each other by means of a greeting. 'That's what she thought,' Sasuke decided. 'I won't think anymore about it.'
He and Naruto had taken the exams with Hyuuga Hinata two years ago, as Sakura could not attend it for unknown reasons. All three passed. Afterwards, Sakura retook the Chuunin exams thrice, each time with random Konoha ninja she barely knew.
Sakura had the option to work with her old team again, even as a genin, but she had declined. She devoted herself to Tsunade's medical lessons, only now and then helping out other genin teams whenever a substitute was needed. Bizarre as it seemed, it was as if Sakura tried to avoid working with Naruto and Sasuke.
It sort of made sense: after all, Sakura had always been the dead weight of Team Seven. Why should she continue to work with Naruto and Sasuke, when it was clear that they surpassed her in being a ninja? She would only hold them down.
On the one hand, it was a relief to Sasuke. He could continue his intensive studies in the Shinobi Arts. Once Sasuke proved himself skillful and trustworthy, he could be promoted to ANBU within his teens. True, his older brother Itachi had already beaten him by becoming a squad captain at the age of twelve, but Sasuke didn't care. With Kakashi's long experience in the ANBU, the younger Uchiha was on the right track.
On the other hand, it was rather lonely at times without Sakura around. Sasuke now and then spotted his former teammate doing menial jobs around the village, like babysitting or gardening. Many times, he saw her in the Ninja library. The pink-haired girl haunted the stacks like an unsatisfied ghost, usually researching something like medicine or anatomy.
The kunoichi sometimes noticed Sasuke looking at her from a distance — she would give him a smile and a gentle wave. He would nod, and turn away. That was about it for their usual level of conversation.
The young Uchiha swallowed the bitter pill that they were separated, just like many friends were on the road of life. It was probably for the best for both of them.
Hinata's hands formed into an In. 'Byakugan!'
Her vision shot forward like a bird in flight. White and blue images flew past her, bringing her mind into a whirl.
"Hyuuga, is there anybody around yet?"
"Nobody," Hinata answered. "Not within a hundred meters, anyway." She halted. "Wait... there are some traps on the ground. Mostly strings and exploding notes here and there."
"The last crew must have forgotten to clean them up." Another Konoha ninja turned his head. "I'll signal to the other teams to watch out for them."
Hinata exhaled as she relaxed her eyes. For a B-ranked mission, the team was on guard duty for a mansion. The owner of the property was holding a party there — even though he was a minor lord, he still demanded security in case assassins targeted the guests.
Hinata leaned against the tree, a bit mesmerized at the many richly-dressed ladies of the gathering. They seemed beautiful and well-off. Their smiles seemed strangely forced, as if their makeup were of paste.
A strange hissing sound rang through the forest. The ninja tensed up.
'One more time: Byakugan!' A renewing surge of chakra went into Hinata's white eyes.
She spotted a large animal. It looked like a snake.
The only thing strange about it was that it was immensely large. Hinata frowned: this part of the forest, especially the area around the lord's property, was supposed to have been exterminated of mutated snakes.
Hinata then examined the snake's head. What she saw shocked her: the animal had three eyes. The reptile's gaze seemed to drill into her very soul, as if knowing well that she spotted him.
A shudder went up Hinata's spine. "Large snake, coming this way!"
One of her teammates looked at her. "What?"
"Quiet!" the leader hissed at him. He turned to Hinata. "Hyuuga, tell us its exact place. We need an attack formation before it reaches the palace."
The smell of rust tickled the inside of Naruto's nose. He was one of a group of chuunin assigned to clean out an old warehouse of weapons. A box over, Sasuke was sorting various kuani.
"Hey, Sasuke." Naruto examined a box of old shuriken. "What do you think of Sakura-chan?"
Sasuke accidentally chipped the rusty kunai he was holding. He almost growled at Naruto's sudden question. Sakura was a topic he would have rather avoided. "She's weak, and annoying," he said in a dismissive tone. He dropped the kunai into another box, trying to put full concentration back on this menial task of cleaning.
Naruto clicked his tongue in disapproval. "As far as I know, bastard, you have no idea how strong she is. You haven't seen her in combat for years, so who are you to judge?"
"You haven't worked with her, either," Sasuke said, although he silently agreed with Naruto's reasoning. He pulled up a heavy axe. 'What kind of ninja use axes? They're too heavy.'
"As for Sakura being annoying," Naruto continued, "what has she done recently to irritate you? She's been working as a medical assistant for Tsunade-no-baachan, and now and then doing D-ranked missions. You barely see her." His words jabbed into Sasuke's thoughts. "As far as I'm concerned, you're annoyed that she's not spending time with you. Too bad that she's gotten over you and moved on..."
Sasuke resisted the inclination to throw the axe at Naruto. The fox-boy was certainly lucky that there were jounin supervising them. "What are you getting at, idiot?" the Uchiha spat.
"Isn't it obvious?" Naruto said with a foxy grin. "I've seen you stare at her when she's walking, and in the few times she's close enough, your eyes are first glued on her pretty face, down her graceful neck, then chest..." Naruto shook his head. "Sasuke, if you're growing perverted like Kakashi-sensei, you certainly only show it towards Sakura-chan."
Sasuke twitched again. That was it; it was high time to retaliate. "What about you and Hinata?" A mild snort escaped him. "She would be scandalized — maybe even crying — if she knew that you're mumbling her name out in your sleep."
Naruto stiffened. How did Sasuke know?
"Actually, you were moaning, loud enough for me to hear when I came to pick you up when you overslept." Sasuke wondered why he had not thought of this tactic before: blackmail. He threw in a smirk for additional effect. "I was quite relieved to find you alone in your apartment — but what exactly do you DO there?"
Naruto's face turned a bright red. He could admit that he and Hinata had been going out for a while, and that he had been seeing her in dreams. "If you give Hinata any wrong ideas, I'll kill you," Naruto threatened.
Sasuke sneered. "You want to try?"
Naruto clenched his fists. He inhaled and exhaled, calming himself down. "No," he answered finally. "Killing you would be too easy."
'Indeed,' Kyuubi commented inside Naruto. 'You should teach this human friend of yours a few things about the female sex. If you ask me, he's in desperate need of a good —'
'Kyuubi!' Naruto's thoughts shouted. 'Since when were you listening?' He growled, clutching his stomach. 'You've been talking too much recently. Stop eavesdropping.'
'I will listen to your conversations whenever I please,' Kyuubi retorted. 'Take my advice, whelp: if even this pompous Uchiha brat knows your feelings towards the Hyuuga girl, then the whole human village probably knows. You might as well take her full force and have a litter together.'
Blood flushed in Naruto's cheeks. Litter? "Just shut up!"
The surrounding ninja stared at him, while Sasuke raised an eyebrow. "What are you looking at?" Naruto barked at them. He pulled up a number of shackles with a scythe attached. "Let's get working!"
The observers turned around and resumed in a nervous manner.
Naruto sighed, and picked up a crate of kunai. 'Hinata, I hope you're okay with that mission of yours.' He slammed it down on another crate. 'I'm so bored.'
A ninja screamed, crashing through trees as he dropped. Hinata heard his body make a sickening thump on the ground behind her — she muffled her cry with a hand over her mouth.
The snake jetted in and through the team of ninja. It was too agile and quick for anybody to capture.
Hinata ordered her body to move. Half of her comrades lay dead in front of her. 'I have to get up!' Her fists were shaking as they held the ground. 'I am a ninja! I have to get...'
The three-eyed monster raced towards Hinata. She was frozen in fear. This was no ordinary snake. The monster's aura was something totally different from those of animals and humans.
It was a youkai — a demon of nature.
'GET UP!' Hinata willed chakra into her legs, and she disappeared from her spot. The snake sank its jaws into the ground, only to realize that the girl was gone. The long tongue shoved the dirt out the snake's jaws. The three eyes looked around for signs of the human.
'Come out, human child.'
Hinata nearly chocked. Did that snake just... hiss words at her?
The monster flicked around its tongue, tasting the young woman's scent in the air. Her soul was also a delicate morsel, strong and pure — if he ate it, some of her power might absorb into his own.
The sixteen-year-old was frozen in her hiding spot in the trees. She could not just run away; it was her mission to protect the castle and its people. But how was she going to defeat such a three-eyed animal? She had no backup. The snake was enormous. Its smooth scales clanked against each other like metal plates.
Hinata bit her lip. There was only one strategy she could come up with. If she succeeded, what was left of her team still had a chance. But if it did not work — everyone was as good as dead.
She swallowed, and lifted up her foot.
The snake spotted her in the trees. It rushed up, spiraling around the tree trunk towards Hinata. The kunoichi stood on the trunk, adhering it with chakra so that her gaze fell directly downward.
The team's captain was barely awake as he saw the monster-snake shoot up towards Hinata. He barely had time to blink a swollen eye of his, before he realized the girl was not using any weapons. She was not even producing clones of herself to distract the monster.
Then the captain realized what her plan was: she was using herself as bait.
"HYUUGA!" he screamed from below. "What the hell are you—" He was unable to finish. He heard his own lungs gasp for fresh air, and saw his vision waver. The air was full of a hypnotizing powder. The ninja collapsed on the ground, unable to speak nor move.
Hinata jumped sideways from the snake's snapping jaws, grappled upon its neck, and swung her body around on its head. She hoped that what she had planned would at least disable the snake.
The girl concentrated — a large amount of chakra collected in her palm. It radiated a light blue. After quickly examining the snake's aura-system, Hinata slammed her glowing hand down on the beast, directly above a major chakra-artery.
The jet of energy shot through the snake's head. The animal did not move.
Hinata's palm stilled on its tough hide. 'Did it... work?'
The snake hissed in anger. It tossed Hinata up into the air like a rag doll, and she gave an exclamation of fright. 'It didn't work!'
The young lady felt the night's cold air envelope her. She was only a mouse to this monster snake. She saw the youkai-demon opened its jaws, ready to catch and swallow her whole when she fell.
Time seemed nonexistent in her mind. The veins around the Hinata's eyes disappeared; her eyes were now a pale shade of lavender again. She was going to die.
A loving sadness passed her thoughts as she closed her eyes. 'Naruto-kun, I'm sorry...'
A dark figure stood amidst the sleeping and dead soldiers. It raised a bow and arrow, and aimed towards Hinata. "You're not ready yet."
For the Sakura fans, she'll be coming up in the next chapter.
Thedarkowns1: I couldn't read your full e-mail address in your last review of "Dimensional Exchanges". Please try again — or, e-mail me; I updated my profile. I really want your suggestions and such, so answer in any way you can!
If you have questions, comments, or suggestions, please tell me! If I suck, by all means tell me. In an intelligent manner.