Hinata's Story: Underneath Your Clothes

Chapter 9: Into the Forest of Death

See Chapter 1 and if you're hiding in a forest, because you've charged someone to read this, be sure to watch out for chakra draining leaches and other types of lawyers…I mean bloodsuckers.
Hinata and Sakura were finally arriving at Training Area 44, The Forest of Death. As soon as they'd gotten out of the academy Sakura ordered Naruto to go ahead of them. While she dragged Hinata off down a side street, taking a more round about way so she could grill Hinata for information about why she and Naruto had been acting so funny when they had arrived. Had he held her hand? Had they kissed?

Hinata had done her best to play down her being in the hospital. She didn't want anyone to know why she was in there. And she definitely didn't want anyone other than Naruto to know how often she was there. But Sakura had managed to drag out the story about the nurse that had teased them. Then Hinata had to wait for Sakura to finish laughing. Sakura even said she was going to track down that nurse to ask how Naruto and Hinata had looked when she'd done it.

Hinata had hoped that would be the end of it, but Sakura had smelled more. She questioned her doggedly until Hinata gave in and told her about Moegi and what, or more correctly who, Moegi had asked her to consider. Sakura only laughed at that one for a moment before she made sure Hinata hadn't told Moegi about how she felt. Then she made Hinata discuss all of her insecurities and fears about losing Naruto-kun. Then Sakura suggested several ways she could tell him or show him how she felt.

By the time they arrived, and Sakura was forced to relent, Hinata had been emotionally exhausted by everything Sakura had forced her to admit and completely embarrassed by all of her suggestions. So, now that they were finally at the edge of the Forest of Death, she had hoped that the emotional rollercoaster she'd been going through would come to an end. She immediately looked around for Naruto-kun. With a practiced HinhhhHhlkjaslkj

eye, she searched the crowd for the flash of orange that would reveal to her the location of her beloved teammate. And immediately she saw him, talking to that vulgar with the whip and some other girl with two quivers full of arrows!

That was it! She'd waited too long and now she'd lost her chance; other girls were starting to realize how wonderful he was. She should have told him as soon as they got out of that classroom now that she realized that that…that…that HUSSY was after him. She couldn't lose him to a vulgar girl like that. Naruto doesn't need some vulgar girl like that hussy. He needs someone who will love him and cherish him and lavish him with affection. And Hinata was willing to ravish him with affection.

Sakura was livid. She had just spent she didn't know how long trying to help Naruto get together with the girl that has been in love with him since forever, only to find him using that same time to get close to a couple of Janie-come-latelys. She recognized the tramp with the whip, but she didn't know who the floozy with the quivers full of arrows was.

Inner Sakura didn't know who she wanted to stick those arrows in more; Naruto for ruining all of her hard work or those two sluts that were after Hinata's man! But one thing was for certain she needed a new pincushion! Shah!

"Naruto!" Sakura yelled as she stomped toward her wayward teammate heedless of the blushing girl following her. "After all the time I just spent…" Sakura stopped herself. She'd just told Hinata that she had to be sure that she was the one that told Naruto about her feelings. It wouldn't be good if she went and ruined it now. Sakura had to stop herself several times as she tried to berate Naruto for ruining everything before she finally settled for, "What do you think you're doing?"

"I was just talking to Kei-san and Yumi-san here while I was waiting…" Naruto replied penitently.

"We need to talk to you," Sakura glared at the two tramps, "alone."

"So are you and Hinata finished with your girl Taaaalk?" Naruto screeched when Sakura grabbed him by the ear and began to drag him away from the poachers.

"Sorry, team business, gotta go," Naruto smiled and waved seemingly oblivious to the manhandling Sakura was giving him or the glares the two girls were giving his teammates.

Sakura didn't let go of Naruto's ear until they'd gotten to a secluded spot where she could chew him out without being overheard by everyone. "Those girls aren't right for you," Sakura said after making sure the other girls hadn't followed them.

"Huh?" Naruto was confused

"You might think those girls are pretty, but they're not the type of girl for you," Sakura tried to explain without giving anything away she shouldn't.

"You don't have to remind me Sakura-chan," Naruto started studying the dirt under his feet. "One glimpse of what I keep imprisoned and they would probably just run away like all the rest."

Sakura was sorry she'd said anything. She couldn't believe how depressed Naruto suddenly looked. She'd never seen him like that. He was always so loud and obnoxious and happy. But more than that he always had this determined glint in his eye and now he just looked so…defeated.

"I'm sure they wouldn't…" Hinata began, but the look in Naruto's eyes when he looked at her stopped her cold. It hurt her.

"It's all right Hinata," Naruto forced himself to smile. "You don't have to…"

"But Naruto-kun…" Hinata said weakly meeting his eyes to try and say what she couldn't.

"Thank you," Naruto's smile softened.

Sakura looked at her teammates dumb struck. The looks the two of them sent back and forth seemed to speak volumes. When had they learned to communicate with their eyes like that?

"Anyway," Naruto cleared his throat and was suddenly all business. "That girl Kei-san, the one with the whip, is on Hinata's sister's team. The third member of their team is a boy who uses mud jutsus. He usually attacks first with a mud jutsu that traps their opponents' feet while Kei-san walks on top of the mud to attack her opponents with her whip, which she can channel chakra through. Hinata's sister usually expels chakra out of her legs to walk through the mud and disable their opponents with Hyuuga style Jyuuken. So we'll want to watch out for mud and be sure we stay on top of it, but if we get stuck we should be able to get out by expelling chakra from our legs. They've never taken the exam before so they don't have a strategy for how they're going to take the test yet.

"Yumi-san wasn't so easy to get information out of. She wouldn't tell me how she used her bow and arrows, but she did promise to show me what she could do after the exam was over." Naruto paused for a moment when he thought he heard Hinata growling, but decided to continue with the information he'd gleaned. "She's on a team with two other guys. One of them is the one with all the concealed weapons that said he had to use the bathroom during the test. She wouldn't say, but from the looks of it he probably did steal that guy's paper. She wouldn't talk about her teammates, but she did say that the other one spends all of his time training and gets banged up from it a lot. I'm guessing he's a real tough customer. This was their first time taking the test too, so they don't have a strategy, but her teammates were trying to get information from some of the older participants."

Sakura was shocked speechless. Naruto hadn't been flirting with those girls; he'd been pumping them for information. The old Naruto could never have done that. It took her a couple moments after Naruto was finished briefing his teammates before she could speak again. "When did you learn how to do that?"

"Well…um, Ero-Senin taught me a lot about how to get information from people," Naruto blushed thinking about some of the ways he'd done that. The old pervert had made him watch while he chatted up girls in bars; then made him practice doing it too. "And getting information from flirty girls is actually pretty easy." Naruto didn't dare look his teammates in the eye.

"Wait a minute," Sakura said suspiciously. "That girl with the arrows didn't suspect you were trying to get information about her team did she?"

"No, I don't think so," Naruto replied nervously. "She seemed to just know better than to give anyone much information about her team. And she seemed to think I was some kind of proctor for the exam and kept trying to get information about this part of the exam from me."

"What did you tell her?" Sakura asked accusingly.

"Nothing, I said I'd only ever taken the exam once before and all I remembered was that we had to do something in the forest last time that put the teams against each other. When she asked for more I told her how we'd walked into a genjutsu trap that made us run around in circles. I bragged about all the clones I fought off before we finally got the real ones. They ate it all up. Yumi-san kept trying to get more information about the test, but she just kind of pouted and begged; like that would work on me." Naruto grunted dismissively.

Sakura's eyes sparkled mischievously at that last comment. "That reminds me, how did you gather the information for the last test?" Sakura smiled and clasped her hands in front of her. When Naruto only mumbled unintelligibly she pouted. "Please Naruto, you can tell me. Please…Please."

"Well ehh," Naruto put one hand behind his head nervously. "I knew most of the answers already, so I figured it would be best to just leave the ones I didn't know blank rather than risk losing points."

"What?" Sakura was shocked. There was no way that Naruto could be that smart.

"Ero-sennin mainly taught me how to talk to people and subtly get the information I wanted, but I couldn't talk to anyone about anything in the exam or someone would have thought I was cheating whether I was or not."

"Eh…?" Sakura was too shocked to speak intelligibly. It was hard to believe that Naruto could have changed this much. Jiraiya-sama must have been a great teacher to transform Naruto this much.

Sakura came out of her shock-induced stupor when she detected two new people arriving. All of cell alpha turned to look toward the two puffs of smoke that heralded the arrival of two ninja.

Shikamaru looked around at the genin teams through the smoke that was quickly dissipating, revealing his companion and himself. He'd taken this job hoping that no one would make it this far. He knew Kakashi had only ever passed one genin team so he'd hoped that after he took charge of the first exam there would hardly be anyone passing. He secretly hoped there wouldn't be any at all. Even he could be wrong it seemed. "Troublesome," he muttered quietly.

"I can't believe there are nearly thirty teams left. You said this Kakashi guy was even tougher than the one we had to take that test from." Shikamaru's companion, Temari of the Sand complained.

"He's known for having only ever passed one team on to become genin." Shikamaru replied lazily while inwardly complaining about annoying blond women with short skirts and giant fans strapped on their backs. "How was I supposed to know that one of them would come back six months early?"

"That Naruto he was complaining about was his student?" For some reason Temari seemed surprised.

"Uh-huh," The lazy chuunin muttered.

"But isn't he the one that beat…"

"So you keep saying," Shikamaru mumbled while looking over the assembled genin who were all silently watching the newcomers.

Seeing that he had everyone's attention, Shikamaru decided that the sooner he got started the sooner he'd get this job over with. "All right everyone who hasn't already done so needs to step over to that table and fill out one of those waivers."

"What kind of waivers?" a voice from the crowd asked.

"Read them if you want to know," Shikamaru was definitely too lazy to go over everything they entailed. "They just keep me from having to fill out all kinds of paperwork for the people that die in there." Shikamaru pointed with his thumb over his shoulder at the fenced in forest behind him.

"After that last test you expect us to believe that this place is that dangerous?" a voice mocked.

"Like the last test there are several aspects of this test designed to test your strength, skill and other merits." Shikamaru sounded bored as he began to explain. "Just surviving this forest is one of them. Only those strong enough to survive in there meet the absolute minimum level of strength needed to become a chuunin."

"Oh are there kitty-cats in there? I didn't know it was so dangerous." Another voice in the crowd jeered getting nervous chuckles out of the crowd.

"That's enough," Temari yelled. Unlike her partner she demanded respect. "Once you've filled out your waivers, each team that has decided to take this test will turn in their forms and receive one of these two types of scrolls."

Temari pulled out two scrolls, one green the other white, and held them out where everyone could see. One scroll had the sign for heaven and the other for earth. "The Forest of Death is five kilometers of forest surrounding a tower in the center. The area is fenced in with 44 gates unevenly spaced around it, from which individual teams will enter. Housed in this forest are a multitude of deadly plants and animals.

"Each team will have to brave not only the dangers of the forest, but also the other teams as they approach the tower. Your entire team will have to make it to the tower with one of each type of scroll before the time limit of exactly 120 hours after entering the forest to pass. You are further forbidden to open either of your scrolls until you arrive at the tower. Doing so will cause you to fail on the spot. And if any of your teammates die or are grievously injured before you arrive at the tower you will fail."

Inazuma Raika closed his eyes and smiled in anticipation. Soon it would be time to fulfill their mission. The Leaf pacifists hadn't given permission to kill the other teams, but in such a massive forest it would be hard to catch anyone that did. These waivers obviously weren't for any legal or political reasons. The treaties between nations that established these pacifistic exams would have covered any problems due to fatalities. No, these forms are meant to subtly let everyone know that the leaf examiners wouldn't be able to protect them in there.

Raika had been so pleased when he'd been summoned away from his team by the Raikage to perform an S class mission. He'd been mildly disappointed when he learned that he'd been put on a new team with two other chuunin. That was ok as long as they did what he told them. He and his teammates were chosen because they were the youngest and most powerful chuunin in all of Lightning country. They, along with a team of the youngest and most powerful Jounin, led by the Hakumei clan prodigy, were to infiltrate the Konoha Chuunin Exam posing as genin.

But ever since he'd gotten here, he'd had to take a second seat to that Hakumei and his team. Raika had worked hard to get where he was, especially at his age. He had only been fifteen when he became a Chuunin of the village hidden in the clouds. And if he'd had the advantage of a powerful clan he'd be a jounin like that Hakumei that everyone worshipped. Raika didn't have some clan bloodline or clan jutsu to fall back on. He'd had to study and create his own techniques and fighting style, but now was his chance to show everyone that it was skill and hard training that mattered. Blood and the name of your clan can't save you on the field of battle.

A sick feeling filled Raika's stomach every time he thought about how he'd had to arrange it, but now he had the first shot at their target. He'd had to swallow his pride when he'd suggested that his team, being the weaker of the two should soften the target up and measure their skills before the jounin team engaged the first target. But it didn't matter now that he'd be able to show up that insufferable Hakumei and take back the war reparations that Konoha had cheated the Village Hidden in the Clouds out of.

Since they knew who their first quarry would be it was a simple matter to see which gate they'd gone to, plot out their most likely course and determine where they could intercept them. Instead of heading straight toward the tower when the buzzer rang and their gate had opened, they had veered off and moved quickly through the trees to get ahead of their target and prepare an ambush. And it seemed that everything went without a hitch.

The three of them were moving briskly through the forest completely oblivious to the danger that waited above them in the forest canopy. The all white eyes of the girl in the middle revealed her to be a Hyuuga. All she would have to do was activate her bloodline-limit and she would know immediately that they were there. But what good is even the greatest of all doujutsus if it's not used? The girl's teammates seemed to see how the girl's bloodline was wasted on her. They didn't even ask her to use her power to keep a lookout and they kept her in the middle where they could protect her.

Smiling predatorily the tree-bound stalker silently signaled to her other teammate in the trees. She would take the one in front. Only a fool of a ninja would wear such brightly colored clothes. She would take down the orange clad fool while her teammate would disable the pink haired one. That would leave the Hyuuga whose eyes were wasted on her for last. She wanted to see the look in those eyes when the girl realized that she'd lost her entire future. And once she had completed this mission, her status in her clan would be ensured.

The targets passed the appointed place. She jumped off her branch and sprung off the other to land behind her target, confident that her teammates were springing their attack at the same time. She landed gracefully on top of her teammate's mud trap just like her father taught her and struck out at the orange-clad blond.

Hanabi knew she was in trouble when the blond emitted a massive electrical pulse blowing her back against a tree and causing her body to jerk wildly for a moment as the electricity coursed through her. Looking up she saw the pink haired girl jumping away from Rensa Kei's whip and using a water jutsu to blow balls of water out of her mouth at Hanabi's sister's feet to free her. And her weakling sister was attacking Kei-san with the same jutsu knocking her back through the air before her feet had even touched the ground.

Looking back at the ninja she had attacked, Hanabi saw him stalking over Deido's mud and smirking savagely at her. "The cunning ninja chases his prey from in front," he said as he came to a stop with his hands on his hips. "He lets his prey believe themselves the predator and leads them to the battleground of his choice where he pounces on his unsuspecting victims."

"I don't know what bad blood you have with this team," The blond ninja continued, but his appearance was suddenly becoming hazy. "But once we knew who you intended to attack it was child's play to figure out your intended course and place ourselves in it." The images of the three Konoha ninjas distorted until it was just a mist surrounding three cloud ninja that evaporated away like fog in the sun.

In place of the obnoxious orange clad ninja stood a cloud ninja covered head to toe by a thick black body suit covering everything but his eyes. He had a strange metal disk tied to the middle of his chest with several wires coiled all over his body and wore a short staff on his back.

The other two opponents were much less interesting. In place of her sister, Hanabi saw an ordinary looking girl wearing a simple black jumpsuit with dark blue wraps. She didn't even appear to be armed with anything more than common kunai-knives and shuriken. And the pink haired girl didn't even turn out to be a girl at all. In her place stood a man wrapped in a grey high collared cloak concealing his face, clothes and any weapons he might be carrying from view.

Since the cloud ninja were being so accommodating as to let them recover Hanabi used the opportunity to get up slowly to give Kei-san time to limp back toward the group of attacking ninja. The girl stopped short of the group and began swinging her whip around her in a defensive pattern that would strike anyone that got too close. That was her signal that she was ready.

Hanabi sadly didn't have to fake the pain she was in. That electric shock made most of her muscles ache, but she'd never let something like fatigue and sore muscles stop her before. She wobbled on her feet before she settled into a battered looking fighting stance and smirked. That was her signal that she was ready.

Instead of attacking immediately the wire covered cloud ninja who seemed to be the leader started to lecture them. "A wise ninja never…"

Suraido-san's timing was perfect. The wall of mud from his doronami/mud wave/ no jutsu washed right over the unsuspecting cloud ninja. Hanabi and Kei charged back toward the cloud ninja, their apparent injuries no longer evident.

But the Konoha ninja weren't the only ones less affected by their enemies attack then they let on. Hanabi's byakugan watched the wire covered ninja leap high into the air where the mud wave was thinner. He grabbed the metal buckle on his waist and channeled chakra in it just as the wave hit causing it to explode as a massive pulse of electricity was emitted off the cloud ninja's body allowing him to land unscathed in front of Hanabi.

The Cloud ninja's teammates weren't quite so impressive. They fired several more of their water bullet attacks breaking through the thin wall of mud. Suraido's attacks wouldn't normally have been so easily breached, but he'd had to make this attack too tall and wide for the enemy ninja to avoid which spread his attack a little thin.

Once through, the cloud ninja fired several more water bullets in hopes of hitting one of their opponents, but the shots were blind and Kei didn't have to slow her charge to avoid them. Suraido's techniques were best suited for long-range attacks. He didn't even leave the shadows of his hiding place.

Hanabi didn't have any more time to worry about her teammates. Her opponent had just landed in front of her and this time the electrical ninja didn't waste any time before attacking her. Hanabi blocked his first punch and was electrocuted for her efforts. The shock left her open for a moment and the electrical ninja's next punch got through sending a massive jolt of electricity into her body causing Hanabi to nearly loose consciousness. If she hadn't leapt away the next attack would have finished her.

She dodged his next punch instead of blocking it, but electricity still arced off of his arm shocking her. This time the surprise and slight pain didn't prevent her from dodging two more blows and countering with one of her own. Her palm shot forward under his guard and slapped him in the stomach. Pain jolted all the way up her arm.

Inazuma Raika smiled under his mask as the Hyuuga girl, Hanabi jumped away from him. He hadn't been able to block her attack, but he had managed to pump some extra chakra into his belt buckle so when she hit him she took an even larger than average shock from his suit. It worked better when he used his hands to charge his suit, but it had been a desperate move.

Despite his smirk, however, Raika wanted to beat the fool that told him about how much Hyuuga Jyuuken strikes hurt for not describing it nearly well enough. He didn't want to let the Hyuuga girl know that she'd hurt him so he let her get away for a moment to rethink her strategy. He wondered if she'd realize that it was hopeless. His suit gathered static as he moved and once he flipped the switch in his belt anyone that touched him, whether to block his attacks or attack him in some way, would be shocked by it. And the rings he wore were perfect focuses for his electric chakra making his punches devastatingly powerful. Beating him with taijutsu alone would be impossible, and if taijutsu was all that the girl could do she was going too lose painfully.

Hanabi tested her arm as she retook her stance. It burned like she'd been standing on her hand for an hour, but she could definitely still use it. Her attacks might be slightly slower and less precise, but that was all.

For some reason the cloud ninja wasn't charging after her. She could see the satisfaction in his eyes as if he'd some how tricked her. Then his eyes moved showing he was remembering a pain from his past. So he was trying to hide how much her attack had hurt him. The fool, Hanabi thought, she knew that her attack hurt him no matter how he acted. There was no way to block Jyuuken!

The suit he was wearing obviously shocked anyone who touched it or came with in an inch of it, but his attacks were stronger, so they must be different. The secret when blocking a Jyuuken strike was to intercept the attack below the hand and push it away from your body to prevent yourself from being harmed by the chakra in your opponent's hand. But here she wouldn't be able to avoid being shocked by her opponent if she blocked or attacked. And because the defense was electric it would jump to her and cause her muscles to jerk before her blow connected. Hanabi bet that with conventional taijutsu the muscle spasms would cause the blow to be significantly weakened, but that wouldn't affect her Jyuuken. As long as she avoided the blows from his fists she could defeat him.

Suraido had been sending dense gobs of mud at the two ninja attacking Kei, which was the only thing keeping the two Kumo-nin from overpowering her despite the range advantage her whip gave her. He kept moving, staying out of sight to prevent detection and allowing him to keep an eye on the whole battle. Hanabi-chan wasn't doing any better than Kei. The electric Kumo-nin had forced her back and she looked ragged. He seemed to have her outmatched one on one. So watching her for the perfect time, he used his Dorohane /mud spatter/ no jutsu, and launched several mud balls at Hanabi's opponent just before she leapt into action.

Hanabi's ever present smirk widened as her opponent, his attention too fixed on her was struck by several mud balls knocking him back. His guard wavered and Hanabi attacked, ignoring the pain from the ninja's electrically suit.

Suraido turned his attention back toward his other teammate who was about to be overcome. He heated the mud underneath one of the enemy ninja causing it to bubble knocking the female Kumo-nin off her feet and giving Kei the room to jump away from the onslaught.

Hanabi was unconcerned. She was sure she didn't need any more cover to beat the electric ninja. In fact now that she knew what to expect from him and how to beat him she didn't really need the distraction Suraido-san had just provided, but she wasn't going to complain this time.

Now that she wasn't jumping back or losing concentration every time she was shocked Hanabi found it easier to get in attacks on her opponent and the fight became much more even. Hanabi knew she was getting hurt, but she figured she could withstand a lot more of these electrical attacks than the electric ninja could withstand from her Jyuuken.

Raika seemed to agree with her. Deciding he didn't like the way the fight was going he leapt away from the Hyuuga girl and pulled out the staff he'd been wearing on his back and started to spin it rapidly around his body.

Hyuuga eyes can see chakra in all its forms. Even when that chakra has been turned into one of its elemental forms a Hyuuga can tell the difference. But the Byakugan of the Hyuuga cannot see real electricity. But maybe if Hyuuga Hanabi could have seen the massive static charge the staff was collecting inside itself due to all of the cloud ninja's spinning she would have been more hesitant to attack him.

But she didn't and just like Inazuma Raika had planned she charged straight at him hoping to finish him off. The only warning she got was a small pulse of chakra into the staff before it doubled in size and came straight at her. She managed to cross her arms in front of her to block the force of the blow, but the massive amount of electrical current contained in the staff continued unimpeded into her and blasted her back.

Channeling electric chakra into the staff to recharge it Raika charged his prone opponent. That was the staff's main weakness. Any movement through the air recharged it, but it took a short time to gather enough charge from air friction as it moved to be useful for an attack. So if he wanted to use its electric power on sequential attacks it had to be charged by the user's chakra. Seeing his chance the cloud ninja leapt into the air and swung his staff at the Hyuuga girl who was still twitching on the ground. Once she was gone he would send his teammates Genzou and Mumei after the mud user while he defeated the whip girl.

But he didn't get the chance. Before his blow landed a foot impacted his shoulder sending him past his opponent and skidding across the grass.

"NARUTO!" Sakura yelled at her teammate who was standing where the electric Kumo-nin had been before Naruto had effortlessly knocked him away. At the sound of her voice all of the fighting stopped as everyone reevaluated their position, trying to determine whether this new team would be friend or foe. "What were you thinking? If they lose their scrolls then Hinata will win without even having to face her sister. Then neither of you get that death mark and Hinata's clan can never do anything to her again."

Sakura stood glaring with her fists clenched and pressed into her hips. Hinata prowled gracefully behind her.

"If Hinata doesn't fight her sister one on one and in front of everyone nothing will be solved," Naruto responded. "Deal or no deal, the Hyuuga will never leave her alone until they respect her for how powerful she really is. Besides, that little girl is Hinata's sister." Naruto pointed at Hanabi, who was climbing back to her feet. "Hinata would never want anything to happen to her."

"Thank you Naruto-kun," Hinata said quietly.

Sakura was shocked. Ever since she had learned about what Hinata's family had been doing to her she had hated them for it. When she first saw Hinata's little sister, Sakura knew that the stuck up little shrew was just as guilty as the rest of the family. Sakura had never thought that despite all that the Hyuuga were still Hinata's family and despite everything she might still love them. Had the time that Naruto spent with Hinata brought him close enough to the shy girl that he knew her better than Sakura did? Or was it that due to his not having a family Naruto couldn't possibly understand how people that were related could possibly hate each other?

Hanabi got over her surprise at Naruto's actions fairly quickly and unlike Sakura she was not feeling introspective. The young Hyuuga was furious. "I don't need help to defeat my sister or anyone else who is in the range of my divination!" And with that statement Hanabi wobbled and charged after the cloud ninja she had been fighting.

Raika stood up slowly as he attempted to determine the intentions of the new players on the field of battle. But the sound of the little Hyuuga girl screaming drew his attention. He was suddenly terrified as he watched her wobble in the stance the bingo-book described as the one the Hyuuga used just before they sealed away all of their victims chakra. She stood sideways, facing him over her shoulder, both knees bent with both arms extended out from her sides palm up.

Then she charged, rushing straight for him before she planted one foot and spun around to strike him with her fingers. Desperate Raika grabbed his belt with both hands and channeled as much chakra as he could as quickly as he could into his belt buckle to defend himself. He felt two immense stabbing pains, then four more before he was able to gather enough electrical chakra for his Juudenki Denpa /Electric Pulse/ no jutsu.

The cloud ninja emitted an even more powerful electric pulse than he had previously and Hanabi was blasted away. Her body bounced off a tree and tumbled lifelessly onto the ground.

"Hanabi-chan!" Hinata squeaked.

"Kiri Ranshin /Traitor's Mist/ no Jutsu!" a female voice yelled out without warning. Sakura was just able to see the enemy ninja's forms blur and become mirror images of her team before a massive bank of fog rolled in.

"I'll take care of your sister," Sakura said as she dashed toward where the girl had fallen before the mist got too thick for her to see. "They've henged into us, try not to fight anyone but yourself," Sakura yelled.

The mud user, Suraido seemed to have a different idea. "Doton ookiku doronami no jutsu /Earth Style grand Mud Wave Technique/," his voice boomed.

Sakura jumped into the air remembering what Naruto had said about this team's mud techniques. She landed on top of the bog of mud right next to Hanabi just in time to carefully pull her out of the sludge from her apparently uncaring teammate's jutsu. Sakura didn't want to move the girl before she ran her diagnostic jutsus for fear of spinal injuries or possibly exacerbating some other injury. But if the girl drowned in mud it would be very difficult to get her lungs cleared out.

Trying to pay as much attention to what was happening around her as she could, Sakura confirmed that Hanabi was still breathing and laid her teammate's sister on the mud as gently as she could before she ran her diagnostic jutsus. It was very dangerous to heal someone on the battlefield, especially with none of her teammates nearby. Normally she'd be able to count on them to protect her, but with this thick mist she couldn't see them and didn't know if they even knew where she was or that she wouldn't be able to defend herself for a couple of minutes.

"How is she?" Naruto's voice caught Sakura off guard. She looked up to see him approaching her.

"Nothing life threatening. Her muscles are severely fatigued and burned, but that will heal with rest." Sakura stopped her diagnosis, when she heard her own voice swearing viciously through the fog. "Naruto, do you remember that password that Sasuke-kun used during our last chuunin exam?" Sakura asked casually hoping that whoever was in front of her, the real Naruto or not wouldn't be able to tell she was suspicious.

"That was so long ago, I can't remember," he whined, as he continued to walk toward her.

"Stay back," Sakura heard Hinata's voice yell as two kunai passed through where Naruto's chest had been. Naruto had jumped back doing a flip in the air and allowing the knives to pass harmlessly underneath him and out of sight through the fog.

"Hinata wait!" Sakura yelled, racking her brain trying to think of things she could ask her teammates that only they would know. Not knowing who her real teammates were, if either of them were, she grabbed Hanabi and jumped into a near by tree.

"Hinata-cha-an," Naruto whined. "Why did you have to…?"

Naruto's voice was cut off by Hinata's yell as she charged straight at him. "You don't talk like Naruto-kun!"

"You don't act like Naruto-kun," Hinata punctuated her sentence with a kick the blond was barely able to avoid.

"You don't smile like Naruto-kun," Hinata's managed to strike her target's arm with her fingers this time.

"You don't move like Naruto-kun," This time Hinata managed to strike him in the chest.

"You don't fight like Naruto-kun," Both of Hinata's arms made it through his defenses this time.

"How do you expect to fool me?!" Hinata screamed as she spun around and pounded the blond haired ninja in the face with a glowing fist that launched him into the air.

Sakura was about to try to reason with Hinata when she heard Naruto's voice booming through the fog, "As if Hinata could ever be so weak!" A loud slapping, crunching sound of flesh on flesh and then the gurgling sound of something falling into the mud followed his voice.

The mist immediately began to clear and the Naruto that Hinata had been pummeling reverted back into the electric cloud ninja as he slid through the mud. Looking to the side Sakura saw the last Cloud-nin shackled in some kind of mud jutsu. He had that whip-girl's whip wrapped around him and she was using it to drag him through the mud. Her teammate, the mud user casually walking beside her didn't seem inclined to so much as offer to help her.

Before the other two leaf ninja could get too close Naruto skidded up next to Hinata sending mud at the approaching shinobi. Then without a glance or even a word between them Naruto and Hinata backed up against each other.

Sakura was shocked. Just a month ago she would have told you that if Naruto and Hinata had so much as accidentally brushed up against each other Hinata would faint dead away. Even earlier today she would have sworn that there was no way Hinata could intentionally touch Naruto unless they were fighting each other. Just talking to Hinata about Naruto touching her had been known to cause her to lose it. But here they were intentionally standing back to back, each in a relaxed stance as if they'd been fighting that way forever!

The sound of whirring shuriken brought Sakura's attention back to the fight. Kunai in hand Hinata was ready to deflect them before they got to their target. But these shuriken weren't normal. As soon as they touched her knife blue streams of energy arced off of them. Hinata was barely able to deflect all of them before the pain of the electric shock brought her to her knees and forced her to drop her blade.

A volley of knives came next. Without any hesitation Naruto threw his own kunai and jumped over Hinata's still quavering form and charged at her attacker. The knives met in mid air but instead of being knocked aside the cloud shinobi's weapons exploded sending large arcs of electricity in all directions. Naruto had to stop his charge to keep from being electrocuted leaving him flatfooted and unable to see the cloud ninja charging or the next volley of knives he threw.

"Naruto!" Sakura yelled, trying to warn him of the impending danger, but it was useless. By the time Naruto saw the blades flying through the smoke it was too late. Naruto wrapped his arms around himself to try and protect himself and Hinata from the deadly projectiles. But it wasn't necessary.

"Kaiten," Hinata yelled as she lunged past Naruto and started to spin. She planted her foot, and leaning back, spun around on that leg. The knives exploded on impact with the white dome Hinata's chakra created. The electricity however wasn't completely deflected and shocked her leaving her to fall on her knees screaming in pain, but not before the charging cloud ninja was blasted up in the air by the force of her divine whirl.

The cloud ninja, Inazuma Raika had cut it too close. He waited to throw his explosive throwing knives until he would be just outside the blast radius when they hit Naruto. But when they were intercepted early, he was hit by their electric shockwave and left helpless as he was blasted by the girl's technique up into the air.

Raika was unable to move as Naruto arced gracefully toward him in the air. And the ringing in his ears kept him from hearing Naruto's cry of "Hinata and Naruto Rendan/Combo/," as Naruto twisted in mid air and sent his heel down on Raika's head. The cloud ninja landed head first before slumping unconscious into the mud.

Naruto didn't waste a moment when he landed and immediately rushed to Hinata's side. "Hinata, are you all right?" He asked as he helped the shy girl up out of the mud.

Hinata for her part struggled against her aching muscles to get up; embarrassed by her weakness. Without a thought Naruto reached around her and pulled her up. "Come on; let's get you over to Sakura so she can check you out. Then we can get somewhere where you can clean up and rest."

Hinata blushed, but she couldn't enjoy the close contact she currently had with Naruto. "I-I-I'm sorry for getting you dirty," she said instead of what she really wanted to apologize for.

"It's ok," Naruto said nervously and then lowered his head in silence as they slowly walked back toward their remaining teammate.

Screwing up her courage to finally tell him what she'd been meaning to say she called his name softly only for him to speak hers at the same time. Hinata lowered her head, causing her not to see Naruto do the same. Afraid of what she wanted to say, Hinata waited for Naruto-kun to speak hoping to delay what she needed to tell him. After several moments of silence except for the sound of their footsteps sloshing in the ankle high mud, Hinata was about to speak again when Naruto finally spoke.

"I'm sorry," Naruto muttered causing Hinata to turn her head to look at him blankly. "I'm sorry I let you get hurt like that."

"It's not your fault," Hinata replied quickly before looking back down. "It's mine," she said after a pause. "I couldn't keep up with you, I was too weak and I got hurt…a-a-and I got in your way."

"You weren't in my way," Naruto replied softly. "That was great teamwork! We protected each other. Didn't you see how we double-teamed him? You set him up and I knocked him back down. We beat that guy like the chump that he is," Naruto's voice kept getting louder until he trailed off. "I just didn't want you to get hurt protecting me like that…"

"But I could never let you get hurt Naruto-kun," Hinata said earnestly before quickly looking away.

"Thank you, Hinata." Naruto kept his face turned away from Hinata so only his voice revealed the depth of his emotion.

"Ehem," Deido Suraido coughed loudly. "I hate to interrupt this touching scene, but we're on a battlefield and would like to collect our teammate and leave."

Naruto and Hinata would have jumped apart if Naruto hadn't been holding her up. As it was they jerked and looked away from each other. Sakura was furious. They had been making so much progress! "Be quiet and maybe in a million years you'll grow up enough to understand."

Suraido was about to retort when Naruto, fearing for the boy's life if he kept annoying Sakura, interrupted. "Wait a minute, which scroll do you have?"

The mud user jerked around to scowl at Naruto. "Hold on a minute. We may have an unconscious teammate, but neither of us is beat up as badly as you two have been. If you fight us, it will be us taking your scroll!"

Naruto just shook his head as he walked past Sakura to set Hinata down on a tree root. "Will you take a look at her Sakura? Between that punk's kunai and being electrocuted when I was punching him my body hurts like I've been training hard for days, but I think the blast Hinata got might have been worse."

Then, still ignoring a now fuming Suraido, Naruto trudged over to where Sakura had laid Hanabi and begun to rummage through her belt pouch.

"What do you think you're…?" Suraido yelled.

"So you have an earth scroll," Naruto exclaimed as he threw the scroll straight at the yelling mud user, shutting him up.

Not wanting to deal with the mud anymore Naruto stepped on top of it and began walking toward the lightning user. Everyone watched Naruto in shock wondering just what he was doing. Apparently oblivious to everyone's questioning looks Naruto heaved the cloud ninja out of the mud and began rummaging through his pockets until he pulled out what he was looking for and held it over his head. "Well these guys had another earth scroll."

Naruto stood and reached back into the pouch on his back and, leaving the cloud ninja to sink back into the mud, began walking back toward his teammates. "Here, you guys take our Heaven scroll and we'll keep their earth." Naruto threw his team's Heaven scroll to the mud user, because his teammate had her hands full dragging the cloud ninja they'd beaten.

"What?" Sakura yelled. Hanabi's two teammates were in shocked silence.

"I already said that nothing will get better if Hinata doesn't defeat her sister in the final round, so they," Naruto pointed his thumb at the still stunned leaf shinobi, "have to make it to the tower with both scrolls. Besides, we won't have any trouble getting a scroll from any of the other teams."

"So you," Naruto turned to face the now fuming mud using ninja. "Take those scrolls and your teammate and get going already."

"I'm not giving back your scroll one way or the other," Suraido growled. "But I'm not doing it for you." And with that he stalked past the ninja that dared to underestimate him, threw his unconscious teammate over his shoulder and leapt away into the trees.

With practiced ease Rensa Kei jerked her whip free of the still mud bound and unconscious cloud ninja and twirled it so that with a deft movement of her hand she had it coiled and resting on her hip. She placed her hands behind her back and coyly walked over the mud to stand in front of Naruto. Then looking up demurely she spoke. "Thank you for helping us Naruto-sama."

Smiling shyly she turned toward Naruto's female teammates, and in her mind rivals for his affection. She made sure to sway her hips as she sauntered toward them. Kei had thought that the pink haired one was the one to be worried about the way she had dragged Naruto-sama away from her and Yumi, but the way that Hanabi's sister had been talking to Naruto had made Kei nervous. And the loud girl hadn't been upset until Suraido-san had interrupted. Did the pink haired girl want Naruto to run off with Hanabi's sister? But who would be willing to let an incredible ninja like Naruto-sama go? Could they have decided to share? No, the pink haired one must not like boys or something.

Leaning down, while making sure that Naruto-sama had a good view of her butt, Kei whispered in Hinata's ear. "I'm going to make him mine." And while Hinata was stricken speechless she sauntered off a few more steps before jumping into the trees to join up with her teammates.

Team Alpha spent the rest of the day and the first night resting. Hinata's muscles had been badly damaged by the cloud ninja's electrical attacks. She'd needed constant attention and a lot of protein to get her back into top fighting form. Hinata had been very apologetic about it even after Sakura had explained that in a normal situation she wouldn't have had to do much, but it would have taken a week for her to heal completely and she didn't want to wait that long while they were in the Forest of Death. So she was just doing a lot of extra work to speed it along.

The repeated procedures had left Sakura very tired so only Naruto was left to guard them if someone found them. He'd also provided the large amount of protein he and Hinata had needed for their muscles to rebuild when he killed a couple of bear size tigers on their way to their current hiding spot. They'd picked a concealed grove near the river and the fence at the edge of the training area where it was unlikely someone would be passing through and it would be impossible to be attacked from behind.

Sakura had tried to get Naruto and Hinata to give each other a massage with some of Hinata's healing ointment. After all it's important to make sure the muscles are relaxed when they've been strained so they can heal. But in the end she had to do it for both of them. Hinata was too beaten up even after her first healing session and Naruto wasn't willing to invade Hinata's privacy to give her the kind of massage she needed unless he absolutely had to. And Sakura didn't have a good enough an excuse so she got the job. At least Naruto recognized Hinata was a girl enough to be shy about seeing her body, but it was annoying to Sakura that he kept resisting all of her attempts to get him to notice Hinata as even more.

Naruto had risen with the sun the next day, feeling completely healed as usual after a good nights sleep. Then after checking over his sleeping teammates and thanking the frogs he'd summoned to watch over all of them as they slept he headed to the river to catch their breakfast.

Sakura woke up shortly there after finding herself and Hinata alone. The gentle splashing sounds coming from the river told her where Naruto was. Looking down at her shy teammate, Sakura noticed that the girl even blushed in her sleep.

For a moment Sakura wondered what she was dreaming about. Then she decided she didn't really want to know the details. Naruto was an ok enough guy, and she was doing her best to see that he found love in his life, or else, but she didn't want to scar her mind with the sordid details. Though she might like to see Naruto's face if he could tell what she was dreaming, especially if it was particularly kinky, it's always the quiet ones after all. But what was she thinking? This is Hinata! The poor girl can't even talk about Naruto kissing her without becoming incognizant. What would a dream like that do to the girl? Probably put her into a coma.

Smirking to herself Sakura decided to let the girl sleep in. Who was she to interrupt the girl if she was having a pleasant dream? Besides Hinata needed as much rest as she could get to help her heal up from her injuries the day before.

Hinata was having a very pleasant dream, one that she didn't want to wake up from. So she did her best to stay asleep, but just like every other time eventually her dream faded and she woke back to reality. The harsh reality where Naruto was just her teammate and didn't return her passionate desires unlike his dream counterpart. But Hinata didn't want to just have Naruto-kun in her dreams. She wanted the real thing. Though there was something to be said about having Naruto-kun in her dreams. The real Naruto-kun couldn't possibly have stomach muscles like that could he?

Just moments later Naruto returned to the clearing that team Alpha had made their camp carrying a dozen fish in a loop of ninja wire wearing only his boxers. "Isn't Hinata up yet?" he asked Sakura-chan.

"I thought I heard her get up," Sakura replied as she and Naruto both looked at their unconscious teammate unaware that the Naruto-kun in Hinata's dreams had just proven to fall short of the real thing. And who knows? If she'd have woken Hinata up right then, Sakura might have been able to convince Hinata to give Naruto that massage.

Hinata woke up later to the smell of cooking fish and once team Alpha had filled their bellies they took off toward the tower. Determined to prove that she wasn't a burden on her teammates Hinata used her byakugan to not only find a nearby team, but to confirm that they had the correct scroll as well.

It was around midday when they caught up to a team of grass-nin that had the correct scroll. In fact they had both scrolls. They were each shrouded in brown cloaks and were making good speed along the ground toward the tower. Hinata wondered why they weren't moving through the trees as most Konoha shinobi would, but she noticed that they were making better progress on the ground than anyone she had ever seen. They seemed to move effortlessly around the trees, bushes and other obstacles. Was it the result of some sort of special training developed in grass country because it was mostly open fields?

Hinata was a little nervous about their plan, or lack there of. When she'd been on Kurenai-sensei's team her sensei had made them plan things in detail. Their current plan was to attack them from above.

They jumped at the same time. But instead of jumping toward their enemies Sakura jumped straight down and punched the ground causing tremors in the ground that tripped up the Grass ninja. Hinata landed next, having jumped mostly forward. She landed in between the two male ninja and began to spin the moment her foot touched the ground. The blast from her chakra knocked both the boys away.

Naruto had jumped as high into the air as he could, so he and his clones landed on the enemy grass ninja just after Hinata was finishing her whirl. Just in time to land on the blond haired kunoichi that had been about to throw senbon needles at Hinata.

Someone that didn't know better might have thought that Naruto had something personal against people that used senbon. Every time Naruto saw someone fight with the needles, he thought of the first person he'd ever fought that used them. And for a moment he relived the pain of the loss he'd faced when he'd thought that Haku had killed Sasuke. Well suffice it to say that this grass kunoichi had a beating coming if she thought Uzumaki Naruto was going to let her throw those at Hinata. At least he assumed the ninja was a she. At least if this ninja was a boy, he wasn't as pretty as Hinata, Naruto thought before the senbon needles the ninja threw hit him in the chest causing him to explode in a puff of smoke.

Hinata stood serenely in the middle of the small battle. Light on her feet, with her hands held at ready in front of her Hinata could see the entire battle around her through her byakugan.

Naruto-kun had made too many clones. She knew he normally fought better than the clones were doing right now. They were getting in each other's way. This worked well against the golden haired kunoichi when a pair of clones exploded; blocking the needles she had thrown and the remaining clones piled on top of her and started pummeling her while the other Naruto's did the same to her teammates.

Hinata stood as still as a statue ready to move as soon as she had an opening. Behind her the largest of the Grass ninja managed to stand up, still covered in Naruto-kuns. Grabbing them by whatever part he could get a hold of the mountain of a man started throwing Naruto-kuns at the ground or at the oncoming press of clones.

To her left the last ninja managed to some how cause a small explosion blasting away the clones that were on top of him. Distracted, Hinata didn't see the Naruto-kun that the large ninja threw at her until it was too late to dodge.

The blow bowled Hinata over and made her lose her concentration for a moment. She heard another explosion as she got back up and reactivated her doujutsu so she could see the fight. The girl was still struggling under the Naruto-kuns. The smaller ninja had round, lit paper bombs in each of his hands and was throwing them at several Naruto-kuns. And the large one had finally knocked all of the Naruto-kuns off of him. The ninja somehow lost his cloak in the struggle revealing a gruesomely terrifying sight. The ninja's muscles were massive and covered in jagged scars crisscrossing over his arms, face and bare chest. Now that one of them was open Hinata didn't hesitate a second; she ran straight at the behemoth.

Naruto bounced on the ground where the big, scarred guy had thrown him. The rest of his clones were dispelling all around him as they were thrown off the tough guy. He was about to get up and charge the guy again when Hinata ran past him. Deciding to let Hinata take the ugly one Naruto immediately sprinted at the bomb-throwing boy to cover her back.

Crossing his fingers Naruto prepared his jutsu as he ran through the dust of the explosion that had destroyed the last of his clones. He braced himself for the inevitable explosion if his clone had failed to stop the grass-nin's next bomb. Then he grinned when along with the sound of an explosion, the clone's memories of the look on the bomb boy's face when the clone grabbed his arm mid throw reached him. Naruto couldn't wipe the smile off his face as he rushed through the air to punch out the boy who was still recovering from his own bomb exploding in his face.

The mountainous grass ninja threw an ungraceful punch straight at Hinata's face. Without breaking her charge she twisted herself under it and struck his unguarded chest with her fingers trying to only channel enough chakra into the brute's lungs to weaken him without doing any permanent harm. Then before he could counter she twisted and twirled under his arm until she was behind him and slapped his back over the same lung before twisting away to avoid his sluggish counter attack.

Hinata's movements almost looked like ballet to Sakura if it weren't for the dirt and grass she was kicking up as her feet slid powerfully over the ground. The golden haired grass kunoichi Sakura was sneaking up behind, however didn't seem to share Sakura's appreciation for Hinata's grace. The now battered and bruised girl was preparing to throw senbon needles at the Hyuuga girl. A swift blow to the back of her head and her attack was prevented.

Sakura noticed the kunoichi's throwing needles as she gently laid her unconscious opponent on the ground. The needles were wet. Apparently this grass-nin didn't have the pinpoint accuracy needed to kill or disable with senbon like Haku did. She used it as a delivery system for whatever drugs or toxins she coated the needles with. This made the kunoichi dangerous despite her lack of accuracy, Sakura thought as she carefully picked her way out of the strange thorny vines that surrounded the golden haired girl. It was bad luck to have been knocked into them.

Hinata stood two steps out of the scarred man's reach, staring emotionlessly as he struggled to breathe. He was now the only grass ninja still conscious. She knew it had to hurt just to draw breath. He was tough. Many wouldn't be able to make themselves stand in his condition.

"Your teammates are unconscious and it's three on one," Sakura yelled. "You can't win, give us your scrolls and we'll leave."

Hinata glared at the giant of a man as he turned his head away from her as if she didn't matter to look at Sakura.

"I don't need their help," He said as firmly as he could manage with the pain in his lungs. "It doesn't matter how many of you there are. No one can defeat me until they've suffered more than I have. I won't stop fighting until I've beaten you all." And with that he turned back to face Hinata, who was by far the closest to him.

The grass ninja hadn't noticed Naruto moving closer to him while his attention was focused on Sakura. Nor did he see Naruto pull out a knife and start to silently run toward him now that he was staring at Hinata. But Hinata saw it and to make sure the grass ninja didn't notice she screamed and ran toward him.

Distracted the scarred man didn't see Naruto move up behind him and cut his supply pouch off his belt until it was too late to stop him. But when he did the distraction gave Hinata the opening she needed to attack him any way she wanted. The giant of a man braced himself for the pain of her blow, but it never came. When he turned around both Hinata and Naruto were jumping onto the branch of a tree above their last teammate.

Naruto rummaged through the pouch for a moment before he pulled out the white heaven scroll and leaving the green earth scroll inside threw the pouch back at its owner. "Sorry about all that," Naruto yelled at the stunned ninja. "But you shouldn't have much trouble getting the next scroll. Good luck!"

The grass ninja was shocked Apparently not believing what he'd seen rummaged quickly through his pouch to confirm that the leaf ninja had actually left the earth scroll. "We don't need your pity or your help!" he snarled.

"Maybe not, but we don't need your earth scroll either," Naruto yelled before waving his teammates on. And without another word the three left the glowering ninja with his teammates and left for the tower.

End Chapter: 9

I apologize for those of you that checked my profile and have had to wait a couple more weeks than I promised. I've meant to get this chapter up sooner but I'd gotten busy and didn't get to it.

I had intended to put a preliminary round in, but due to length I decided to stop here. I can't say yet whether the preliminary round will be short or long or whether or not it will get its own chapter. There are a few important things I'm going to reveal there and I'm looking forward to it.

So stay tuned for next time when rivals will clash and some inner demons will come out.