COME FULL CIRCLE
AN: Rookie 9 are 19, Sasuke is a Konoha shinobi, and Gaara was captured and successfully revived.
"Get up, Hinata."
Sweat beaded down her forehead, making the dust stick uncomfortably to her skin. The young girl curled her slim legs, gingerly rising to her feet. The sun beat harshly on her black hair and she felt as if its rays burned straight to her skull.
Chakra flared at her fingertips and they rushed forward. She dodged his first attack, his second, third, and pivoted on the ball of her foot to pierce his defense with a sharp, snapping kick. His outline flickered, and Hinata found herself gasping for breath, yet again on the ground.
Hinata flipped to her feet and barely avoided his fist. She dropped to her palms, black cloak swirling about her limbs as she whipped into a flurry of combinations that he himself had taught her. He evaded them smoothly, as Hinata had expected. But then she suddenly kicked up, outside the pattern, vaulting her body forward into a midair roundhouse kick that was followed immediately by a hard elbow strike.
He was forced to block.
All motion in the forest clearing ceased. The wind stirred by their battle slowly stilled. Several flame-hued leaves fluttered lazily to the ground, buoyed by the breeze. As the dust settled with the leaves, Itachi stepped back, allowing the girl to lower her arm. Approval glinted in his eyes.
"Your speed has increased."
A small blush darkened the sun's flush on Hinata's cheeks and she bowed in acknowledgment of the rare compliment. The Uchiha, who appeared as if he hadn't been training for several hours under the late summer sun in dark clothing, nodded tersely and retreated to the shade of a nearby oak. Kisame was already seated there, leaning comfortably against his enormous weapon. Their expectant eyes made Hinata cringe; she still had to train even more in this heat, and in this dark, cumbersome cloak that seemed to devour the warm rays like Naruto devoured ramen. Shaking her head of all distractions, as training this way would accustom her body to fighting in less than optimal conditions, Hinata slipped into her fluid taijutsu katas with a small sigh.
Surprisingly enough, silence held only for a few minutes for the usually taciturn group.
"There has been a development in our objective," Itachi began, his Sharingan-less eyes unreadable in the dark shade.
"Raise your right arm a little more," Kisame told Hinata in the small pause of his partner's sentence. The girl complied and Itachi continued, knowing that the both of them were listening.
"Uzumaki is leaving the walls of Konoha for a prolonged mission within a week." As he revealed this, Itachi watched Hinata's expression carefully, cognizant of her admiration for the blond ninja. Kisame gestured to Hinata's feet and Itachi pressed on as she adjusted her stance.
"However, further information is not available. We will need to attain the details of his mission ourselves. The Kyuubi vessel needs to be collected within this year." Hinata nodded solemnly. If her Byakugan had been strong enough, Shukaku's vessel, Gaara, wouldn't have nearly lost his life. The other Demon vessels just may survive the severing of their souls with her help. A burst of renewed determination fueled Hinata's limbs. She blinked away the stinging sweat in her pale eyes and finished the rest of her katas flawlessly.
She must get stronger…
If either of her partners sensed the change in her chakra, they gave no sign of it. When Hinata finished, Kisame gave her sharky grin as she took to the cool shade and handed her a skin of water. She inclined her head in thanks, and then threw her head back to down the cool water. The Uchiha rose to his feet with silent grace, an act that clearly signified his command for them to follow. Hinata quickly recapped her flask and trailed after him with Kisame.
As they left clearing with no sign of previous human existence, Hinata glanced back at the sinking sun in the horizon. The moon, bloody with the hues of fiery sunset, was already visible in its eagerness to traverse the bruising sky. It, too, will follow Itachi in their journey tonight.
They did not pause that night, save only to gather some supplies, as none of them required rest at the fast but easy pace Itachi set. Nonetheless, the birds were already waking in the leafy canopy of the forest when they were within 10 some miles of Konoha. Abruptly, Itachi halted the trio on a large branch high above the ground.
"Uzumaki's mission is of a secretive nature. We may require the entire week." He glanced briefly at Hinata. She understood, and reached up to press her thin fingers to the small diamond seals at the outer corners of her white eyes. Her eyes snapped shut in pain as the seals unfurled across her temples and then dissolved into her skin, chakra roiling behind her eyelids. After several minutes, the sharp sting of the flood of chakra faded to a simple throb. Hinata opened her eyes, squinting until her watering eyes could focus properly. Her distinct Hyuuga eyes were now a deep violet.
The seals were no genjutsu. They had simply increased the amount of pigments in her pale eyes. With such a distinctive trait, and her identity yet to be widely known, it was a necessity to have a way to alter Hinata's white eyes. Even the Sharingan, Itachi grudgingly admitted, is unable to note the presence of an unnatural change in her eyes. And after five years' time, her black hair now brushed her elbows and training had stripped away the childlike roundness of her face. In other words, even the observant Neji will be incapable of recognizing her.
Perfect for infiltration of her old village.
Hinata rubbed at her smarting eyes one last time before removing her even more distinctive Akatsuki cloak and slashed headband. Itachi did likewise and handed it to Kisame, who shoved the items into his pack. It had been decided earlier that Kisame would wait outside Konoha perimeters to help Itachi and Hinata in a clean exit. But it was more so to avoid the overwhelming hassle of disguising his shark-like features. This particular exploit required a large amount of civilian and ninja exposure, namely Sharingan exposure, so genjutsu wouldn't work. Gills, unfortunately, would give away their identities quite quickly.
There was no doubt that the Godaime is aware of Naruto's numerous enemies, the Akatsuki being near the top of the list. The nature of S-class missions themselves are a delicate matter. Extended S-class missions are prime time for ambushes, and Tsunade would take extra pains to conceal the scroll that held such integral information. It would not be beyond her to transport Naruto and his partners away from Konoha so that others will not be able to follow them. It will take the finesse of Itachi's superior intelligence and the powers of Hinata's sharp Byakugan to extract what they seek. Not to mention, every bit of the raw advantage that the both of them possess as former Konoha nin.
Hinata smoothed down her robe, which was cut in the common style of a young lady from the Wave country. The pale blue hues of the fabric washed out her complexion, making her seem sickly and weak, a harmless little civilian on vacation with her elder brother. Her low, loose ponytail added years to her features.
For Itachi, his transformation from missing-nin from Konoha to guileless foreigner took more than an eye-color shift. Hinata helped him rearrange his silky black hair so that it concealed half of his face. The rest, he tucked into a navy bandanna, over which he placed a straw hat. Itachi had abstained from shaving for a few days, and the light shading of hair on his chin blurred the sharp line of the Uchiha jaw. Still, the elegant features of his family shone through, even without the Sharingan. Reluctantly, the Uchiha allowed Hinata to fashion decidedly thicker brows for him. She was careful to touch nothing but the fake caterpillars as she secured them over his arching eyebrows.
Kisame coughed in the background, swallowing what sounded like a snorting laugh. Itachi ignored him, and concentrated on removing his black nail polish. Once satisfied with his appearance as a fisherman, one of the few professions that would explain his calluses, the Uchiha leaped to the ground. Hinata joined him, the choking laughter of Kisame stilled echoing in her ears. The shark man wisely left to scout the area before Itachi decided follow any murderous urges. The pair waited in silence until morning fully awoke over the target village and the thick wooden doors of Konoha creaked open to embrace those that could find it.
As soon as the two stepped out of the lush greenery, their transformation was completed. Itachi's ghostly glide gave way to the loud steps of commoner, firm shoulders now slouched with lack of discipline. His eyes curved into the eerie crescents of a smile. Hinata forced herself to take smaller steps as they approached the gates, and one thin arm snaked up to hook on to Itachi's. He gave no response, and the normalcy of it calmed Hinata's heart.
Five years…it's been a while. Outside these walls, she had learned to hold her head high as she walked, to not stutter in her confidence, to fight for herself. Yet, the home of her earlier self folded around her like too thick a blanket and Hinata found herself unconsciously lowering her gaze. Itachi, again, said nothing as her past weaknesses came to surface, though Hinata was unsure whether it was due to his laconic nature, or the part of the oblivious sibling he played.
The guards let them in with the flood of merchants, asking only their names and country of origin.
"Akegatano Keikoku, Akegatano Kaeru, Wave Country," Itachi told them. Hinata almost smiled at his choice of names: "Warning of Dawn, Transformation of Dawn…" And they entered, easily.
Hinata looked up at the familiar buildings and pursed her lips, determination steeling the violet hue of her eyes. She had a mission to accomplish. There was no room for past insecurities to hinder her. Precious peoples' lives rested on her shoulders.
Itachi turned to her, and Hinata's thoughts scattered from her musings. He smiled that eerie smile. If Hinata did not know of his true visage, she would have been fooled by the utter sincerity of his gentle disguise.
"Sister," – and even his voice sounded sincere – "I'll go look for hotels. Why don't you search for the ingredients for dinner?" His Wave country accent was perfect.
"Very well, Brother," Hinata replied with the giddy smile of a tourist. "I'll be sure to make your favorite dish tonight."
"Please get some water, Kaeru, the road must have made your throat dusty. I meet you at that ramen stand, Ichiraku, in three hours at noon."
If he knew of the significance of that particular restaurant, Itachi gave no sign of it. Since they understood each other perfectly, the two parted ways in the growing crowd of people. Hinata headed to the marketplace, inwardly wincing. Her rusty accent must have grated terribly on Itachi's ears for him to hint so blatantly at her lack of practice. She will have to practice more later; for now, she'll scrape by with the excuse that she spent her childhood elsewhere.
Hinata strolled along the busy street, her pretend browsing leading her from one shop to the next. Ninjas mingled with the civilians; some distinguishable only by the way they seemed to float across ground. She took care to make her steps clumsy as she bought a few items here and there.
"Here Ma'm! I have the best carrots of the entire village; fresh n' juicy, with that sweet taste Konoha is famous for!" a vendor called out to her. Hinata approached the teeming rack of orange vegetables. She hated carrots. As a child, her father had forced her to eat plate after plate of the vegetable steamed. He hadn't even bothered to try to change the variety (Hinata was rather fond of carrot cake), claiming that the beneficial properties for her eyes would be disrupted in any other form. But the vendor looked to be a talkative one, so Hinata would buy some carrots today.
"Good morning." Hinata greeted as her slim fingers searched for the freshest bunches of carrots. As if on cue, a running child bumped her elbow and she stumbled as a civilian would. The vendor, an old grizzly man who might have been a ninja judging by the scars on his face, grinned kindly at her as he asked if she was okay.
"Yes. Is your village always so lively?" Hinata inquired with an embarrassed laugh.
"Oh no! The village is just excited about the upcoming autumn festival."
"Oh?" Hinata said with a small frown. "I don't believe I've ever heard of such a thing in Konoha."
"I'm not surprised," the old man said with a nod. "The Godaime declared this week a time of celebration only recently in honor of the Sandaime's favorite season."
"Wow, that is very exciting!" She handed him two bunches of carrots and he bagged them deftly.
"You're from the Wave, aren't you?" he asked as money exchanged hands. Hinata nodded. "Stay for a few days. The best day is the last day, two days from today. There's a parade honoring the partnership of the ninja and the civilians of Konoha."
"Really!" Hinata exclaimed. "I really must stay for that. I'll asked my brother about it. He holds much respect for ninja." The old man nodded excitedly.
"Almost all village ninja will be there, and after that, there'll be basic technique demonstrations in the marketplace. And all the vendors will be selling their wares at a discount." Hinata allowed a delighted smile to curve across her face, even giggling slightly at the exaggerated wink the old man used to hint at his hope for more carrot consumers.
"Thank you for telling me about this. I look forward to a festival," she said as she received her bag. After they exchanged the usual farewells, the girl bowed and continued her browsing. Very soon, she amassed a basket full of food items like a small carton of eggs and several tomatoes.
Though not certain, Hinata considered it a possibility for Naruto to slip away from the village in the midst of such a parade. He would be able to simply disappear with his team and no one, including his colleagues would know. Then again, the entire situation could be a decoy to lead potential enemies astray. Naruto might not leave until the day after. Either way, it was a certainty that he would leave within a day's deviation from the last day of the festival; it was no coincidence that Naruto would be dispatched the week of the event. That meant that they had no more than three days to obtain the details of this mysterious mission, significantly less time than she had believed that they had. Itachi might have already arrived to similar conclusions.
Lost in her thoughts of pity for Itachi's informant, Hinata did not notice the group of children played tag until it was too late. They were too close and too fast for a civilian to realistically evade. With a very real cry of pain, Hinata let two boys plow into her tiny frame. Her basket went flying, the eggs splattering with the tomatoes to create a soupy mix that clung to her clothing. Hinata rolled away from the stampede of feet, settling to her knees. She reminded herself not to spring to her feet, and stared at her decimated groceries with shock. Inwardly, Hinata wryly smiled as she noticed that only the carrots remained intact.
"Oh gosh! Are you okay!" A hand appeared in Hinata's field of vision. She looked up and audibly gasped.