Disclaimer: Naruto belongs to Masashi Kishimoto, I'm not getting paid, and the only character that belongs to me is Nara Kouji.
Notes: Yet another side story to White Dog Night, but also to Hyuuga Secret Arts. It's partially to provide background for the time skip, and to tell parts of the story that have little to do with Hinata (and therefore would seem out of place as chapters of WDN). At the same time, it's told from the viewpoint of characters that don't play a large role in HSA, so it wouldn't fit there, either. However, it will set the stage for the state of Konoha after the timeskip, so it helps a great deal if you're curious about what happens there while Hinata's away. In particular, this story involves Kakashi, Hanabi's cell, and the next Hokage... so to speak.
Summary: An assassination attempt on Konohamaru sets into motion the winds of change in Konoha, and Kakashi finds that the beckon of destiny can no longer be ignored.
Rise of the Rokudaime
Companion to White Dog Night, and Hyuuga Secret Arts
Part 1: Roots and Ladders
A Naruto Fanfic by
Nate Grey (XMAN0123-at-aol-dot-com)
"Damn, I hate Mondays."
That was the only thought running through Hatake Kakashi's mind as he gazed at the bland white wall of the hospital room, blinking slowly, lazily.
He was trying to convince himself that he was still at home, that he had never received a late night summon to appear at the hospital, that Shizune hadn't told him the bad news in person, and that today was any other day but Monday.
Yet, the inevitable reminder from the portion of his brain that dealt exclusively in reality shattered all of those illusions. For all of those things really had happened.
And it was still fucking Monday, damn it all.
Kakashi sighed quietly and shifted his weight, his right eye sliding over to take in the other side of the room.
Hyuuga Hanabi and Nara Kouji were both still hovering protectively over their sleeping teammate, as they had been for the past few hours. He knew this was at least partially out of guilt: Konohamaru had been alone when he was attacked, although it had occured during the early hours of the morning, when most people had the sense to be relatively safe in bed. Naturally, Konohamaru had been out training, alone, and thus made himself easy prey for the group that had ambushed him. He was alive only because of a prolonged session with Tsunade, and even now wasn't completely out of the woods.
But what really troubled Kakashi was what Hanabi had told him (and only him) after Tsunade had left the room. Rather, it was what she'd showed him that told him all he needed to know about the attack.
She had brushed her left shoulder, her eyes locked with his so that there could be no mistake as to her meaning. Kakashi hadn't needed to see under the tattered brown robe that Hanabi seemed to prefer while on duty. He had seen her bare shoulder only a few times, and even if he hadn't, the message was still clear.
This had not been a random attack. Even a random killer would have probably gone out of their way to avoid killing Konohamaru, grandson of the late Sandaime Hokage, and thus in line to be Hokage in the future. No, this was a planned assassination.
And, if Hanabi was to be believed, an ANBU hit.
At least, the shinobi involved had been ANBU, but Kakashi knew there wouldn't be any record of any such orders being issued. Someone wanted Konohamaru out of the way, and if they had used ANBU to get it done, then all of Konoha was in trouble. But Tsunade had kept news of the incident on a need-to-know basis, not wanting to alarm the entire village. The downside to this was that no one knew just how much danger they were all really in. ANBU was composed of Konoha's most lethal ninja, and if anyone other than the Hokage was controlling them, the only likely survivors would be certain jounin, and those with experienced Hyuuga blood.
Nothing about the present situation would allow Kakashi to sleep at all tonight, so it was probably for the best that he'd been dragged out of bed to spend his night guarding someone who already had two devoted bodyguards. He hadn't really felt like complaining, and at this point, he doubted that anyone who might've heard would even care. You almost never got preferences when people decided to go and get themselves damn near killed.
Absently, he wondered if it would really take a group to bring Konohamaru down, or if that had just been overkill. No matter what, it was sloppy. Why send a group to do the work of one or two? At the height of his ANBU career, Kakashi knew for a fact that he could've taken out ten chuunin of Konohamaru's skill level before breakfast, by himself, easily. Surely ANBU hadn't lowered their standards that much in just a couple of years?
He blinked, a bit startled to find Hanabi standing directly in front of him. Then he remembered why he hated it when Hanabi addressed him that way. It reminded him of a past life, a past him, one that he wanted very much to leave behind. She had no doubt heard all about his legendary exploits as a member of ANBU, and he assumed that was where her respect originated from. Hanabi was of the opinion that no one really left ANBU or its teachings behind until they were dead.
That was why he hated her calling him that. Because deep down, he knew that she was absolutely right.
"What is it, Hanabi?" he asked wearily, hoping she took the hint that he was in no mood for conversation.
Naturally, Hanabi ignored the hint. "I require a favor," she replied at once.
That made him pause. Tsunade had already asked him to watch over Konohamaru, in case the assassins decided to try again. What could possibly be more important to Hanabi?
"I am forming a small team to capture those responsible for this crime. I request that you join me."
Kakashi stared at her, more than a little curious. "Why?"
"If Naruto-san were here, he would do the same. Also... you are one of the few people I can trust to stop me from going too far with this."
He could tell by the way her eyes slipped away from his that she was completely serious. Hyuuga Hanabi was actually worried about losing control... and had even admitted it aloud. And only seconds after mentioning Naruto, of all people, by name, without contempt in her voice.
At this rate, the world would end in a matter of hours.
And there was certainly no point in watching from the sidelines. Kakashi figured that nearly anything was better than standing here, watching them watch Konohamaru sleep. He was far more interested in finding out what and who had gotten into ANBU lately, and Hanabi was currently the one operative he knew for sure wasn't out for Konohamaru's blood.
"I'm in," he agreed with a slight nod. "So who else is on this team?"
The answer was not one that pleased him.
Hanabi simply glanced at her only conscious teammate. "Protect him, Kouji-kun. We will return as soon as we can." She looked back at Kakashi, almost defiantly. "Our team is complete."
He sighed heavily. "I was afraid you were going to say that..." Yet he still followed her out of the door and into the deserted hospital hallway willingly enough.
Kakashi waited until they reached the main floor to ask the one question that was still bothering him.
"There's something I need to know, Hanabi," he said casually as they approached the exit. "What makes you so sure that ANBU was responsible?"
"I was the one who found Konohamaru," Hanabi murmured. "I... arrived during the attack."
Kakashi grabbed her arm roughly. "And you don't think that was-"
"I couldn't afford to become a suspect," she interrupted, narrowing her eyes. "I recognized some of the unique jutsu used. I'd worked alongside some of them. How could I avenge Konohamaru if I was connected to the attack?"
"Just tell me what you were doing there, Hanabi."
Her eyes shut tightly, and a few seconds passed in silence.
"I intended to respond to a question," she said at last.
"What question?" Kakashi demanded, sensing it was important.
Her eyes slid away from his again, only this time to scan the immediate area, before she answered. "Konohamaru asked me to be his wife earlier this week."
Kakashi could almost feel his brain coming to a complete halt, right before it kicked into overdrive. If someone had seen Konohamaru propose to Hanabi, heiress of the Hyuuga Clan, a connection like that would more than solidify his appointment as the next Hokage... assuming she was going to say yes, anyway.
"It's my fault," Hanabi whispered. "Konohamaru almost died because he insisted on loving me. If he hadn't, I never would've had to pledge myself to his dream..."
"You were going to marry him just so he could become Hokage?" Kakashi asked in surprise. "You mean you don't love him at all?"
"I love him enough," Hanabi replied softly. "And certainly more than enough to bring his would-be killers to justice. But I cannot trust myself to allow them to live."
"Which is where I come in," he added bluntly.
She nodded stiffly. "We must go now. There isn't much time."
Kakashi had understood from the start that he was only meant to interfere if Hanabi forgot herself. Whether or not she would need or even accept his help otherwise had not been discussed. But in the whole time that he'd known her, Kakashi never had seen Hanabi walk into a fight she couldn't (and didn't) win. He wanted to believe that she was still in her right mind, and that her thinking wasn't being consumed by an overwhelming need to avenge Konohamaru.
There was also a question of if Kakashi would even do anything if Hanabi decided to go on a rampage. Better that she unleashed her fury on shinobi who deserved it, than to keep it bottled up until it exploded at the worst possible moment. He had to keep reminding himself that Hanabi wanted Konohamaru's attackers to be punished by the law, because if she'd really wanted them dead, she would be doing this alone.
Kakashi didn't realize how long he'd been out of the loop, however. In his day, ANBU had been secretive, but they were no secret themselves. Yet Hanabi led him to the shopping district, into an unassuming perfume store, and straight through a door marked "Employees Only" with barely a glance at the elderly woman behind the counter. The only reason Kakashi didn't ask questions, ironically enough, was because he'd never actually smelled any perfume on Hanabi. Whatever she was here for, it didn't come in a bottle.
Beyond the door was a short hallway, which opened up into a small but crowded break room. Kakashi saw at once that the people standing around the meeting table were not were not mere employees, but battle-hardened shinobi fresh off of a mission. A mission, from the looks of it, that hadn't gone well. Almost all of them were splattered with blood, and more than half were unable or unwilling to stand up straight because of their wounds.
As one, they immediately turned to the door, and Kakashi was surprised at how tense they were. He knew instantly that something was wrong. This was no ANBU unit, or at least, not a good one. They were sloppy, they were fearful, and more than likely, they were young.
Hanabi glared at each one in turn before locking gazes with the obvious leader. "Did you really think I would not finish what I started? Or that you could get away with this undetected?"
The leader removed his half-crimson wolf mask, and Kakashi just barely managed to avoid shaking his head in disgust. He had known they were young, but the boy staring at them couldn't have been more than an unusually tall sixteen. Kakashi remembered him from the previous year's chuunin exam, but the boy had been eliminated minutes into the second stage. If this kid was ANBU material, then Kakashi would burn his entire collection of Icha Icha Paradise books.
"Your opinion is of little concern to us now, Hyuuga-sama," the boy replied. "It is unfortunate that you were unwilling to accept the glory that was so readily offered to you. Let all those who would oppose the true will of Konoha be scattered to the winds."
Hanabi took a step forward. "You dare speak to me of death, when even I now I hold your lives in my hands?"
Probably more out of instinct than anything else, they backed away from her. Not one of them made any attempt to flee, however.
"Do with us what you will," the leader challenged. "Our deaths would only strengthen our cause."
For a long moment, Hanabi only stared at them in silence. Then, never taking her eyes off of the ANBU unit, she reached up and began to untie the Leaf headband around her neck.
There was something odd in the way her fingers moved. The action seemed so... deliberate, and practiced. Sensing he was missing something rather important, Kakashi pushed up his own headband, revealing his Sharingan eye. The sight awaiting him very nearly took his breath away.
Hanabi was not just untying her headband, she was actually performing tiny hand seals behind her neck, but with such limited motion that it was nearly impossible to tell, even when standing right behind her as Kakashi was. And when the strip of cloth was finally removed from her neck, something impossibly dark flowed out of her, blanketing the entire room in a cloud of inky blackness. Even more amazing, not one of the shinobi staring at Hanabi seemed to notice it.
Kakashi realized at once that he was the only one who could see the cloud, and while his Sharingan made it visable, he still had no idea exactly what he was looking at.
Around that point, Hanabi finished re-securing her headband on her forehead. Instantly, the cloud took on a more definite shape, and looked for all the world to be unusually long extensions of Hanabi's own dark hair. Each swiftly-waving tendril ended just above the head of one of the shinobi, poised to strike at a second's notice.
"Your first mistake," Hanabi said softly, "was ever laying hands on him. Your second was blindly believing that any reward could be worth the price I now demand of you all."
"You cannot intimidate us," the leader replied smugly. "We are Ne."
"You are not Ne. You are children and pawns... and neither can save you from my wrath."
As Hanabi spoke, the black tendrils lowered and wrapped around the necks of the shinobi. One by one, they each collapsed bonelessly to the ground. But the tendrils still did not release them.
"Hanabi," Kakashi said sternly. "Enough."
The tendrils remained a few seconds longer before they let go, sinking back into Hanabi's hair. Immediately afterwards, she undid her headband and retied it around her neck.
"What did you do to them?" he asked.
"Not much," she answered. "I merely let them feel the anguish they caused me. I can hardly be blamed if they can't deal with what they cause others to suffer through."
It didn't take long to have Konohamaru's attackers taken into custody. Hanabi refused to let anyone other than Morino Ibiki take them in, and after the night she'd had, Kakashi could understand why. Ibiki was probably the only ANBU operative she still trusted completely, and frankly, the whole incident left Kakashi wanting to trim his address book a bit, too.
Yet Hanabi didn't look satisfied as they headed back to the hospital, and he knew why.
"You know this isn't over," he said at last. "That was too easy, and it felt... off. Whoever set this up is still out there."
She nodded slowly. "I was meant to find them. And even though they were following orders, they will proudly confess to the attack. Most of them hadn't been in ANBU for more than a year, if that. Why throw their careers away for this?"
"They were trained to," Kakashi concluded. "To carry out the attack, and then to be caught. They knew going in that it was their last mission. But in spite of their fear and inexperience, someone convinced them that it was something they had to do... that it was the right thing to do. That Konoha would be better off if Konohamaru never lived to become Hokage."
"He loves this village even more than he loves me," Hanabi murmured. "How could he possibly be bad for it?"
Instead of answering, Kakashi placed his hand on her shoulder. "I am curious about one thing. Exactly what did you expect me to do if you had lost control? Because I can assure you that I've never seen anything quite like that."
"I suppose I simply trusted the idea that you would come up with something," Hanabi admitted. "I couldn't bear to imagine that you wouldn't. I have had enough uncertainty today to last a lifetime."
Hanabi had been doing a great deal of thinking as Kakashi escorted her back to the hospital. More specifically, she thought about the day Konohamaru had first kissed her. They had talked about his dreams and desires, and he'd made it very clear that one day, she would be his wife. So when he'd asked her earlier this week, it had come as no real surprise. They both understood what marriage would mean, for them and their families, and Hanabi had known for a long time that if she were ever to consider marrying anyone, Konohamaru was her only hope for a stable, lasting relationship.
She wasn't sure why Konohamaru wanted to marry her for reasons completely unrelated to his one day becoming Hokage. It was as if he thought she would find someone else, or leave him. Hadn't he realized by now that there was no one who could hope to know her the way he did, and that she was forever bound to Konoha by the duties to her clan?
Hanabi had meant what she told Kakashi earlier. She did love Konohamaru, in a way that would not allow his attackers to go unpunished. The idea of marrying him, simply because it would make him happy, had crossed her mind more than once. But along with marriage would come the pressure to bear children, and that was something Hanabi desperately wanted to avoid.
But as she walked into the hospital room and watched Konohamaru sleeping, she knew there was only one thing that would ultimately keep her from being his wife.
As if sensing her presence, Konohamaru grunted and slowly opened his eyes. "Hanabi-chan?" he murmured, turning to face her.
"I am here, Konohamaru," she answered softly, brushing her fingers over his forehead.
"Where'd you go?" he whispered. "Kouji would only say you were busy."
Hanabi glanced over at the corner of the room and gave Kouji a small, grateful smile. "I was keeping you safe, in my own way."
Konohamaru smiled at her. "Yeah? Thanks, Hanabi-chan. But there's something else I need from you." He reached out and grasped her hand firmly. "I need an answer."
"As you wish," Hanabi sighed. "I will not marry you, Konohamaru. Just considering it has proven nearly fatal for you."
"But I did survive," he pointed out with a pained smile.
"This time. I suggest you take comfort from the fact that I care enough to protect you."
"I will always be with you," she interrupted, gently pulling her hand from his grip. "But I will never be your wife. I am sorry, Konohamaru. I refuse to watch you die before your time."
"You know, you shouldn't give people bad news when they're recovering," he muttered dully.
Without warning, Hanabi leaned over and kissed Konohamaru deeply, leaving him stupefied when she finally broke the kiss. "I will not be your wife," she whispered against his lips. "And I will always be with you. So I sincerely hope that you'll think of something better to do than complain."
"I'll get right on it," Konohamaru promised, staring up at her in wonder.
"See that you do." Hanabi nodded to Kouji as she straightened up. "I will check on you tomorrow morning. You had better be alive."
He grinned. "After a kiss like that, there's no way I'm dying anytime soon! But... hang on a second, Hanabi-chan." His voice became more serious. "If it wasn't for... this whole mess. What would your answer have been?"
"Surely you don't believe me so cruel as to burden you with that now, Konohamaru? I would rather you never knew, than to find out and regret my choice. Until tomorrow." She brushed his cheek gently with her fingers before quickly moving to the door.
Hanabi's mood lasted until she was just outside the hospital room. Then the full weight of what she had just done felt as if it had slammed into her chest, and for a terrifying moment, she could not breathe. It took all her strength just to lean against the wall, and even then her legs began to give out.
That was when a hand came down on her shoulder. "I have you, Hanabi."
"Oniisan?" she whispered brokenly, looking up into Neji's face as his arm slid around her waist. "But... you were on a mission."
"You needed me here," he said simply, apparently ignorant of the small cuts decorating his face. "Tell me what I can do for you."
That he hadn't asked after Konohamaru was somehow a huge relief. "I can't stay here," she stated. "I need to go home." Hanabi offered no protest when Neji scooped her into his arms as if she weighed nothing. Her body still felt like lead, and she suspected it would for some time.
"Hanabi... you're trembling."
She looked up to meet Neji's concerned gaze. "I can never marry. I can never bear children. But it's only now that I realize... I wanted to."
Neji seemed sad, but not surprised. "So you've finally experienced it."
He closed his eyes briefly. "You understand perfectly why Hinata had to run from this place. And you wish, if only for today, that you had gone instead." Neji opened his eyes and smiled faintly. "It will pass," he assured her, but even that he followed with a warning. "But it won't be the last time."
"I was afraid you'd say that," Hanabi whispered, resting her head lightly against his shoulder.
End of Part 1.
As I've explained before, Hanabi's "empty technique" can transfer her feelings to other people, so long as she has some "physical" contact with them. Obviously, it's grown quite a bit since its first appearance, as has Hanabi's control over it. She can now summon the more advanced form of the technique at will, although she must use chakra (hence the hand seals) to do so. Hanabi only wears her headband on her forehead in battle, at all other times it's around her neck, so the movement from one place to the other has become a signal for both her and the technique itself.
After being summoned, the talent emerges from specific points on Hanabi's body (fingers, hair, etc.), and can be molded into various forms, which are only visible when completely saturated with chakra (for increased power), or to Sharingan or Byakugan users (since they can see through genjutsu, I think they could also see chakra even in trace amounts where others couldn't).
If you're wondering why no Ne notables like Danzou showed up, that's because he'se not stupid. You could even argue that the whole attack was more of a warning that wasn't even expected to succeed. In the end, the message was received, and that's all that matters. So please don't think Ne is a bunch of incompetents.
Nope, you still don't get to find out for sure why Hanabi is refusing herself children, but now you know why she won't get married.
Next Chapter: Tsunade names a successor. Kakashi flirts shamelessly. Anko finds herself caught between a rock(head) and a hard face. The Council of Elders gets an offer they can't refuse. And Naruto is pissed because he was out on a mission the whole time.