One Summer's Day
Left, right, left, right, jump, duck, grab, jump, left, right, jump, grab, left, grab, right, jump, jump, jump…
The last thirty seconds of monotony was a breath of freedom to Naruto. He and Shikamaru glided stealthily through the trees, hurrying to meet the end of their defensive line. After the brief skirmish with the sound-nin Naruto let his senses carry him through the trees, leaving his attention to survey the forest around him, waiting for the next enemy engagement.
Samurai fought on open planes, drawn by honor and a sense of personal integrity. Naruto couldn't help but thank the kami that he was born shinobi. Shinobi fought from the shadows, they had no binds of honor, and they relied on more than just their will.
Naruto grit his teeth and spared a glance back at his partner. Shikamaru hadn't said much since seeing the unconscious form of Choji disappear through the trees. Naruto hoped that the ANBU were able to dispatch a shinobi to bring both Choji and the captured sound-nin back to the village. Naruto knew that ANBU were capable of making severe choices; and he hoped, for both Shikamaru's and Choji's sake, that the ANBU hadn't chosen to forsake Choji in their efforts to get the poison-nin back to the village speedily.
Naruto didn't know what he'd do if it were Sakura, or even Kakashi-sensei, who was unconscious and left in the hands of another.
"Our line should have been broken by now," Shikamaru's coal like eyes flashed as he muttered the words loud enough for Naruto to hear.
"What?" Naruto demanded, he stopped himself from being cut across the cheek by a branch, and landed resolutely on a thick branch, turning to Shikamaru who landed beside him.
"It's been hours since the battle started, right?" Shikamaru scoffed, a hand balanced on his right hip. His lips were twisted in caustic irony. "Sound destroyed Sand, quickly. Sand's battle was over by now."
"So?" Naruto countered, his shoulders hunching "Maybe Konoha is better at keeping Sound out of the village."
"No," Shikamaru's statement wasn't out of disregard to his village, or even bitter anger. It was out of cold logic. "Suna's built like a fortress. Konoha has always been stronger, but more open as well. It's a tradeoff. We should have seen our forces struggling by now."
Naruto's face tightened and he cut back a sharp retort. No matter the blind faith he had in the shinobi of his village he had a deeper faith, one bred over past experiences, of Shikamaru. "You think something's up?"
"I'm sure of it," Shikamaru scratched the back of his head frustratingly "There are so many possibilities…"
Naruto glanced around at the trees as if they might offer him an answer. He sighed, "I wish Kakashi-sensei was here."
Shikamaru only nodded once in agreement, the uncanny ability of the silver haired jonin to adjust to a change of any situation in battle (all the while 'cool and hip') was a trait they could have used just then.
"Let's go on," Naruto said brashly. At Shikamaru's skeptical face he continued "Look, we don't have many other choices right? We have a plan for what we're doing now, if something happens we can take care of it when it happens. We're strong enough for that, believe it Shikamaru."
"Troublesome…" Shikamaru smirked and trailed off, however he took to the trees again with Naruto; though he was still unable to shake the feeling of imminent problems coming toward them.
Hinata steadfastly tried to ignore Sai as she surveyed the forest around them. After having been ambushed by sound-nin trying to break their line she was understandable anxious. However, Sai's peculiar brand of conversation with the captured sound-nin was distracting to say the least.
"You know," the stoic boy was saying to the enemy shinobi boxed in an ink cage, stronger than any iron one. He had a thoughtful finger put to his chin "Many professionals agree that lack of love as a child leads to psychopathic behavior…I read it in a book."
Hinata sweat dropped and redoubled her efforts in surveying the forest. She'd have to allow Sai his quirks for now; neither of them could leave to bring the captured nin to the village for interrogation.
Suddenly, moving fast towards them, Hinata picked up two chakra signatures.
"Sai!" she called quickly, her normally soft voice cutting through his pandering "Two, due west; one hundred yards."
Sai didn't bother to show any change in emotion, he just smiled into the forest around them, taking a step back in preparation.
"Wait," Hinata murmured. Her eyes swept past trees, through them, past animals, around stone and boulder, and then they found what she was looking for "it's Naruto-kun and Shikamaru-san!"
"Hm," Sai rolled his eyes to look at the enemies. "You're in luck! You get to go to the village."
The enemies were gagged, and they were depleted of chakra but one with a particularly nasty bruise already sprouting on his face had enough anger to scream muffled shouts back at Sai.
"Now, now," he said, his eyes going into wide semi circles as he smiled "If you get the chance, due try some of the village's dango, it's especially good."
When Sai chuckled and looked away from them he met Hinata's disapproving eyes, but their pearly quality had no effect on him. He shrugged at her and Hinata turned back to the forest, his mouth set in a thin line.
"Ah! Dickless-san!" Sai called merrily as Naruto's form burst from the trees. The other boy made an arc in the air before landing stealthily on the ground, a small cloud of dust rising from impact. Shikamaru followed the next second.
"Shut up, Sai!" was the only response Naruto gave as he took quick notice of the prisoners.
"What happened?" Shikamaru questioned Hinata quickly. He took note of the injury to her left arm that she was trying to hide, but a moment's glance into the quickly brightening sky told him they didn't have the time for idle chatter.
"Three attacked from the East," Hinata began to report quickly. Both of them ignored Sai's next statement to Naruto, and the blonde's violent response. "They were easy to neutralize, but they had unusual powers."
Shikamaru nodded "Go on."
"They made weapons out of condensation in the air."
Shikamaru quirked an eyebrow in response to her, he turned to consider the prisoners. That was a trait that could be used well in the main force of any battle, why would a commander waste such power? Shikamaru thought hard about why anyone would send such ninja as an independent team. The bruised and alert prisoner stared unnervingly back at Shikamaru.
"How bad is your injury?"
Hinata's eyed widened, though Shikamaru scoffed. It didn't take a Byakugan to know when someone was injured.
"Eh? You hurt Hinata-chan?"
"N-no, Naruto-kun!" Hinata's face went red, and while Shikamaru smirked at watching it happen he glanced at the sky again, quickly. Something was bothering him, and his mind was connecting circumstantial facts, telling him they couldn't loiter here.
Shikamaru broke into the argument that had hatched between the two, Naruto pressing for Hinata to show him her injury, even though the knucklehead ninja could do nothing for it medically.
"How is it that it took the Hyuuga so long to notice the impending attack on the walls, Hinata?"
All three faces turned to look at him. When he received no response he repeated the question a second time.
"I-I don't know, Shikamaru-san," Hinata said apologetically. "I wasn't on the squad watching the walls."
Shikamaru waved away her apology; he already knew her answer anyway. But he wanted to make the question known. He was sure that more highly ranked shinobi were tracking that answer in the village now.
"What a drag," he muttered, then louder "And why would they waste unique abilities like those idiots have?"
Naruto followed Shikamaru's jutted thumb, his eyes landing on the prisoners. The bruised one was still watching the group, this time a smug glint was reflecting in his eyes. Naruto furrowed his brow.
"We should join the main attack."
Shikamaru nodded an agreement. "We don't want to be the last to know if anything happens, blindly defending the weak spots of the forest when the village could be in danger."
"But w-what about leaving our posts?" Hinata asked startled. The shinobi paused though, and listened to the wind rustle the leaves around them, making sure that they weren't being snuck up on. Hinata confirmed it a moment later with a quick observation of the forest.
"Our posts don't matter anymore," Shikamaru said dismissively "Not to the village anyway. This line is holding strong and there's been nothing of true significance to report back to the Hokage in hours. It's time for a change in strategy."
Sai was silent.
"Let's go then," Naruto said "The quicker we get there the better, ne?"
Hinata stepped up next to Naruto but he waved her back. "You should take the prisoners back to the village, Hinata-chan, and get your wound looked at."
Shikamaru stymied her protest, adding to Naruto's statement "The hospital may need you soon anyway, Hinata."
"Hai," before she could point out the problem of transporting the captured a puff of smoke indicated Sai's jutsu.
"My mice will carry them," he said simply, and after a moment of watching the mice overtake the cages, their bulk beginning to be carried across the forest floor by hundreds of mice, Hinata followed at a faster pace.
"Be careful Sai-san, Shikamaru-san….Naruto-kun."
Sai flicked Naruto in the forehead, leaping over him in a quick movement. Naruto turned angrily from watching Hinata's dissipating form. "Oi! Where do you get off? Asshole."
"The frontline is going to need us, Naruto," Shikamaru said, tightening his glove and arm bracers. "We need to be prepared."
"No need to tell me that, Shikamaru," Naruto said, his whiskers widening with his smirk "I'm prepared."
Shikaku appeared with his hand fisted over his chest; the salutation was a sign of just how deep the Nara had his mind buried in the battle. Kakashi appeared beside him, his lazy slouch much more expected than his comrade's respectable crouch.
"The Kazekage has just left for the front," Tsunade said in halting, clipped tones. Shikaku rose quickly, the flickering behind his eyes signaling his mind was already running through the possibilities.
"I noticed," Kakashi said; his tone offhand. "Do we have other villages fight our battles now?"
Tsunade ignored him soundly. Her gaze was on the Nara's stony face. "You're angry?"
"Well," Shikaku drawled "It is normally easier to lead a battle when you're actually in the battle."
The ANBU at Tsunade's side chuckled, and Shikaku ignored the mad swirls of color on the man's face mask.
"I want you and Kakashi here," Tsunade said, the barely recognizable sound of hurriedly running feet drew the lady Hokage's attention to the other side of the roof. "I want you temporarily in charge of things."
Shizune appeared over the rooftop, rushing towards Tsunade as if hell hounds were on her heels.
"Here they are," she said, shoving the tightly wrapped package in her hand into Tsunade's hands. She was gasping in air, and Ton-Ton was nowhere in sight.
Tsunade moved the string wrappings aside and let the paper fall to the grounds, revealing what was inside.
"You're going to wear bracers?" Kakashi's tone was not only incredulous, but the raised eyebrow that was visible was mocking.
"Made of toad bone," Jiraiya called, landing beside the group. His clogs made a clear wooden note of noise, and then clattered as he began striding towards them.
"The only thing that withstand my force," Tsunade said, her voice rising haughtily "These won't break like common guards."
A beat of silence, and then…
"You're going into battle?" Shikaku's voice raised loud, his displeasure clear in every way. "You mean to leave the village without a present leader?"
"I told you that you and Kakashi will be in charge of things," Her tone was casual; her eyes flashed "Temporarily."
Jiraiya put one hand to his waist; raising the other arm in a muscular pose. "I'll be with the hime-chan!"
Shikaku's eyes finally settled themselves on the robed man beside the two sannin "What about him?" he managed to wring the syllables out one by one "Are you taking him too?"
"I have my own business to take care of," It was obvious that it was Minato behind the mask, but Kakashi hadn't made acknowledgement of that until the next moment when he said:
"It's just like my sensei to not want to miss a fight, isn't it?"
The mask shifted a fraction, but other than that there was no response from Minato. Kakashi believed the man to be smirking behind the mask; the thought made Kakashi's own lips twitch upwards in amusement.
"Jiraiya and I belong to a war that has long ceased to rage," Tsunade's words were level, though her gaze oddly avoided the faces of her men "We are going to this battle to put certain chores to rest. You have your orders. Obey your Hokage."
Shikaku nodded, looking as if he were fighting boulders weighing his chin down the entire time. Kakashi turned, hoping lightly onto the ledge of the building and peering over the side and at the village below. "Jyaa…" he said "Try not to get too roughed up, hmm?"
The sannin leapt over his head without a dismissive word, but Minato let his cloak trail over Kakashi's shoulder. The weight of its fabric left a clear message for the silver haired man to be careful. The motto he had learned as child reverberated in Kakashi's mind.
"Look underneath the underneath."
Naoya hadn't been a chunin very long. He had a couple years of experience, most usually as the backup guard on an escort mission. He'd subbed at the academy a few times, and he'd helped out with the weapon makers a few times too.
He'd never faced battle before.
A chocked cry of anguish proved it when Naoya narrowly avoided the off-the-mark shuriken of a nearby fight. He'd briefly participated in a couple of skirmishes when the battle began, but since then he'd attached himself to larger groups of nin, making sure to stay out of the brunt of the fights when they began. He didn't know where his commander was at the moment, but he didn't much care anyway.
Naoya's eyes scanned the hedge where he was crouched, and after he affirmed there wasn't anyone close by he turned and headed squarely back for the forest. His breath came out in anxious puffs, and his thoughts had trouble communicating with his mind.
He ran, branch by branch, all the while thinking that both his parents had been civilians, and that he should have just owned a Nikiyaka store like his old man. This death, this destruction, it wasn't what he wanted.
The branch swayed when he landed on it, harder than he had intended, and he rested a hand against the trunk. He slouched over to catch his breath. He could still hear the sounds of the shinobi battles being fought just a hundred meters back.
He looked over his shoulder. Years of academy training, genin training, and words of his comrades all urged him to go back to that battle. He was a Konoha shinobi, his place was in defense of his village.
Naoya slumped against the trunk, turning to look back into the heart of the forest. He couldn't hear fighting in that direction and he figured that going that way would save more of his skin.
But he was a shinobi right? He had a duty, right?
Naoya's eyes flickered from one direction to the other, from battle to safety. He clenched his eyes and gripped his hands against the trunk. With a strangled cry of desperation and nervous anxiety he made a quick choice and hurled himself in the direction of safety. He forsook his duty.
Naoya didn't make it off the branch though. A hand gripped the back of his vest and jerked him backwards. A man that he hadn't even sensed was standing there. Naoya's first thought was that a Konoha shinobi had caught him, but no, this man was an enemy. Naoya's hand flew out to steady himself; catching against a branch and drawing blood.
Naoya's eyes crept up the man's white ponytail and ended on the stranger's wide smirk.
"What's this?" the man said, watching Naoya back up into the trunk in fear. He tsk-ed as he saw that the Konoha-nin hadn't even bothered to draw a kunai. "You're not abandoning battle are you? Is this what Konoha teaches now?"
"N-no…" Naoya's stutter trailed off, his eyes going as wide as saucers when he watched the white haired man pull a small blade. It was humming with green tinted chakra. "A medic?" Naoya muttered in confusion.
"Not quite," the stranger replied. In the next moment Naoya stared down at his own chest in confusion, a scalpel was sticking out of it. It looked like the blade the man was just holding, but no that's not right….wasn't the man just holding it? Naoya had just enough life left to realize that the stranger had stabbed him, severing an artery, before Naoya died.
Kabuto let a gratifying smile steal across his face.
'For Konoha,' Naruto's thought reverberated even to the farthest recesses of his mind. All around him were images of battle. They were beginning to cross abandoned battle fields on their way to the front. Dead bodies littered the forest floor around them, and iron decorated the trees like morbid ornaments. 'For Konoha,' Naruto repeated.
The ground was over saturated with blood. It made a morbid squelching noise as they crossed the area.
"There's too many of the enemy," Shikamaru muttered; his glance over the bodies "Where's all our dead?"
"One would think less of our men dead would be a good thing," Sai's eerie smirk tilted toward Shikamaru. "Why the long face?"
Shikamaru's eyes ran speculatively over the other boy. Sai was one person that Shikamaru had never brought himself to trust. His manner was off putting, and Shikamaru hadn't seen a single aspect of the battle off set the boy. He was uncanny.
"We're missing something; something annoying," Shikamaru replied; his statement was customary and it gave away not a single bit of what Shikamaru was thinking.
"We have to hurry, Shikamaru," Naruto said, his gaze had swept across the area, but his body was reverberating with anxiousness. He wanted to hurry on to the front.
"That's the only thing that's for certain," Shikamaru followed Naruto back onto their route, the sounds of battle already making themselves known. "I swear I'm retiring when this is over."
Far ahead of them they saw a fireball take to the sky. Neither one was impressed by the jutsu. A ninja needed to be more discreet in battle. Both of them doubted the fire user would still be alive by the time they reached the fight.
"Naruto!" The scream was long and shrill; by the time they had whirled Sakura was already in front of them, kneeling and out of breath.
"Sakura-chan?" Naruto's eyed widened "What's wrong?"
"Kabuto," she coughed, her breath was ragged. She'd been in a fight, and had been pushing hard to find them it seemed. "He's suddenly shown up. But something's wrong, the battle suddenly turned to chaos."
"Kabuto?" ground out Naruto. He clenched his fists in front of him, unresolved tension and anger towards the man stealing out across his face.
"Why did Kabuto cause such a commotion?" Shikamaru overrode Naruto "He was expected."
"I don't know," Sakura rose to her feet unsteadily, her bright eyes sweeping around the forest suspiciously. Shikamaru's anxiety over the simple nature of the fighting up until now swelled at a suddenly alarming rate.
"This has something to do with what they're planning."
Sai had been silent, and Sakura was only looking at Naruto and Shikamaru. Sai, however, was looking intensely at Sakura.
"We have to go then," Naruto exclaimed "To the front; to fight Kabuto."
Shikamaru hesitated with reservation; he didn't want them to wind up in a situation that was half unexpected. Though, his genius mind was already running through ideas at leaps and jumps.
"We have to!" Naruto repeated. He turned to Sakura "What's it like, what's the old woman said?"
"There haven't been any orders from Hokage-sama," Sakura said "The commands are coming down from Kakashi-sensei and Shikaku-taichou."
"My father?" Shikamaru dismissed his statement with a shake of his head. Stupid that that was the first thing that came to mind "What about the Hokage-sama though, does this mean she's outside the village?"
"The Hokage should never be exposed." Sai broke in suddenly. All of his customary facial expressions melted back into quick stoicism; his face looked suddenly paler than usual. Was he afraid of the possibility of someone taking advantage of the Hokage while she was outside of the village?
Sakura didn't have an answer, but the doubt in her eyes was enough to convince anyone that Shikamaru's guess was correct.
Suddenly Shikamaru's mind went white, his anxiety coming to its climax.
"Shikamaru, are you alright?" Sakura asked, afraid.
"They had to have been expecting this," Shikamaru's urgent statement was hardly above a whisper. His wide, suddenly decisive eyes turned to Naruto. "You're right, Naruto. We have to get to the front. Now."
Naruto nodded "The old hag will be fine, Shikamaru. Let's go."
Sai was the first one to leap towards the battle; an unusual amount of fire in his movements. Shikamaru's eyes never left Sai's profile; but he and the rest followed Sai without further comment.
I know. I am so sorry. So many of my fanfictions are behind at this point. Real Life hijacked me for a few months, I feel terrible. The only good news is the summer will be here soon, and I will certainly be able to write more.
Thanks for reading! I really do appreciate comments on what you may think about where the story line is going or any mistakes you may spot in the chapter.