Author's Note: It's set in an alternate universe, but only because it wavers from the timeline so much. It has some very…odd things in it, so beware.
Important Variations from Timeline:
Sasuke got stopped by Naruto from leaving for Orochimaru.
Naruto never met Itachi or Kisame.
Kakashi killed Kabuto after he threatened Sasuke in the hospital.
Orochimaru hasn't left the Akatsuki yet.
Deidara hasn't joined the Akatsuki yet.
This novel begins at the beginning of the timeskip.
Once upon a time...
Team 8 raced through the treetops, normal breakneck speed for shinobi. They were finally done with patrolling the borders for the past month, heading back to report to the Hokage. Hyuuga Hinata had her Byakugan activated, more as tradition and practice for her stamina than to look for actual danger. Kurenai was proud of her kunoichi; she had improved greatly since they all became chuunin. Their teamwork had skyrocketed, even more than she could've hoped possible. It almost made her think that something happened in those chuunin exams.
Kiba and Akamaru were chatting animatedly, but aside from that, the forest seemed silent. Unusually silent, but then again, a dog the size of a horse and four shinobi usually managed to scare most wildlife out of the area.
Shino stopped suddenly, chakra gluing his feet to the tree branch and halting his forward momentum. Kurenai was proud of her team; she, Kiba and Hinata stopped only a millisecond later, Hinata even on the same branch as the Aburame. "What is it, Shino-kun…?" she asked quietly. No stuttering, but then again, she successfully stopped stuttering around her teammates about a year ago.
Shino was holding out his hand, and on his palm a small butterfly had alighted. It fluttered its wings a few times, then flitted off without a sound. "There is news from Konoha. My father states that Tsunade-sama is expecting two Konoha shinobi back from an extended mission."
"Extended mission, huh?" Kiba said, cocking his head. "I don't know of any shinobi on any extended missions 'cept that brat, Naruto. He's been gone for awhile, hasn't he? About time he got back." The brunette absently patted Akamaru's shoulder, while the canine sniffed around idly. Hinata squeaked and immediately reddened at Naruto's name, and inwardly, Kurenai sighed. The kunoichi had made so much progress in other areas…except concerning Naruto. In fact, if anything, her infatuation with the blonde had worsened with the years.
"K-Kurenai-sensei?" the Hyuuga asked hesitantly, her voice a few notes higher than it usually was. And the stammer was back as well. "Could we pl-please speed up a bit? I-I would like to…um…be th-there to greet Naruto-kun, if at all possible…"
Well, at least that's brave of you, Hinata, Kurenai thought with a smile. "If it's alright with your teammates. It's alright with me," the black-haired jounin allowed. What harm could come from a bit of a sprint? Of course, the two guys couldn't say no to her.
Deidara had done it. Finally, finally he had tracked down one of the illustrious Akatsuki members. And better yet, he had engaged him in battle and won. So now the blonde was slowly making his way back toward where the rumors stated the Akatsuki's hideout was, all the way across several countries. Several counties currently in a not-so-good relationship with Iwa. Sure, he was a missing-nin, but he was an Iwa missing-nin. It wouldn't do to get caught by any shinobi in any of the two countries he had to cross. So far, he was giving the hidden village Konoha suitable distance.
The explosives expert yawned and decided to take a break. Who knew that summers in the Fire Country would be so hot? He dropped down onto the ground, throwing his 'passenger' and bag down into a random bush beside him. It just felt so good to lay there on the cool dirt. He liked the dirt, and had never liked it so much as now, lying in it after three scalding days and three freezing nights without sleep. Especially living on soldier pills and lugging the body of the former Akatsuki-nin around. (He'd need proof of his kill, and he'd rather carry a whole body than just the severed head. That was just plain disgusting.) Deidara rolled around in the earth for a bit, getting dust and filth all over his clothes, skin and hair. But he really didn't care. For the first time in a long while, he was happy.
Until he felt the chakra of some unknown, likely Konoha, shinobi approaching at a very high speed. He barely had time to suppress his own chakra and stuff his things in a bush before the ninja themselves came into sight. It appeared to be a team of four Konoha shinobi. One, a woman with black hair and red eyes, appeared to be the leader of the squad. Deidara's eyes widened. Is she an Uchiha? He zoomed his hawkeye onto her face. She definitely had red eyes, but he couldn't make out how many pupils. The blonde crouched down into the undergrowth, actually almost nervous; and he didn't even get a good look at the other three!
That was when the giant dog came out of nowhere and latched onto his shoulder.
"There she is!" Hinata pointed down to where Akamaru had just successfully ambushed the enemy. Her Byakugan had been on the whole while, and she had barely noticed the ninja before she suppressed her chakra. Obviously a skilled opponent. The cobalt-haired girl had notified her teammates beforehand of it, and they had just enough time to mask Akamaru's chakra to successfully pull off the attack.
"We want to capture, not kill! Hokage-sama may want to question her!" Kurenai barked out orders as the four descended upon the shinobi, who was fiercely wrestling with Akamaru.
"Her?!" the blonde snarled, and it became awkwardly apparent that he was male. At least, it would've been awkward had it not been a fight. Even with the giant canine on top of him, it was interesting that he had the audacity to shout at them.
"He's a missing-nin!" Kurenai yelled suddenly, and jumped back into a tree, already making hand signs. Hinata saw the tell-tale score across his hitai-ate as she also leapt back. It was her job to hang back unless it came to close-ranch combat or if one of her comrades got seriously injured.
He threw Akamaru away from him, a shower of kunai following the dog. Kiba jumped in and skillfully blocked nearly all of them, at the same time reaching into his bag for some soldier pills. Shino's kikai swarmed out from his sleeves, buzzing loudly and toward the blonde missing-nin. A pair of Gatsuuga also streaked toward him, and Kurenai was meanwhile disappearing into a tree in one of her genjutsus. Hinata just waited on the sidelines, taking it all in with her pale eyes and subconsciously already putting her hands in the starting stance of the Juuken. But for the moment, she felt rather useless with her lack of longer-range jutsu.
Deidara was flat-out shocked that they had managed to spot him, much less send that great beast of a dog after him without him noticing. (And then the fact that they managed to spot him, but mistook his gender. What was the world coming to?) Still, so far, it was mediocre at best. The dog was large and had the element of surprise, but it only managed to give him a flesh wound. The dog's owner seemed loyal to him, and they worked well together. But their strange, spinning jutsu was easy enough to dodge. One of the kunoichi seemed to stay back, probably looking for a weak spot to attack later on. And the Uchiha, she had disappeared with some genjutsu, most likely.
So much for powerful Konoha shinobi.
Three of the other shinobi, the one wearing so many layers that it made Deidara sweat just to look at him, dropped down. But the Iwa-nin had heard the buzzing; this was one of those bug users. So one was the real one, and the other two were clones made of some insect. Probably to throw him by making him think they were shadow clones.
Deidara threw a punch with a broad grin. He loved seeing through opponent's strategies then pretending to fall for them. But his fist collided with nothing. His visible eye widened in shock as his punch arced through the coated shinobi's chest. This was just a regular clone, an illusion. And he had fallen for it. Too late to stop his forward momentum, Deidara just dove forward and turned his fall into a somersault, and popped up again behind the other two. He began to second guess himself, breaking one of the shinobi rules. If that was a regular bunshin…but I knew I heard ninja insects…heh, 'nin-sects', Deidara stopped dead and chuckled at his mental joke. Not only did this confuse his opponents, it completely threw them off in their strategy. And although accidental, that was exactly what the blue-eyed blonde wanted.
The Uchiha kunoichi suddenly appeared behind him, and he felt a kunai pressed against his neck. Still, Deidara didn't tense or panic, like a good little shinobi. Instead, he blew up.
As the pieces of flaming clay rained down, Deidara snickered mentally from his hiding spot. Those idiots fell for a simple bunshin (albeit a clay one), and now he had all the experience and knowledge of their jutsus as he needed.
Plus, it turned out that the woman wasn't an Uchiha after all, and she was currently lying in a puddle of her blood, face-down. She was out of this battle, unless she turned out to be a medic-nin.
As the other four (counting that infernal dog) looked around wildly and noticed their sensei, Deidara sent down a little doll for them to play with, grinning gleefully. It exploded near that dog (he was really beginning to hate it, and he was never a dog person to begin with) and the brown-haired shinobi, successfully separating them.
He jumped down behind the other kunoichi, placing a kunai at her neck. Unlike his clone, he felt her stiffen slightly at the cold metal. "Alright, you two." Even though there were still two of the dress-like-it's-negative-twenty-out shinobi and the growling, doggy one with his hellhound. "You keep heading towards your little village, and I won't kill the girl. You try anything, and I kill her, yeah." He had to wonder just how well-trained the Konoha shinobi were these days. If they were anything like his own village's, they would continue fighting regardless of a hostage.
Until he felt a gentle smack (it was more like a soft touch, or maybe even poke) in his stomach and suddenly his chakra system died. Deidara didn't have to worry about that, though; at the moment he was worried about the large bag of clay hidden in the bushes and the one strapped to his leg that were suddenly uncontrolled by his chakra. In short, he had about three seconds to get away before the whole forest detonated.
"Damn it!" Deidara let go of the girl as if burned, but he couldn't leave behind the body; it was his ticket into the Akatsuki. He couldn't let this whole thing go just because of one lucky punch. The kunoichi twirled around gracefully, though, and Deidara saw that it wasn't such a lucky punch. She was a Hyuuga. Changing his plans meant thinking, and thinking cost time, which was something he didn't have at the moment. So instead he just grabbed the girl's wrist, and ran in the opposite direction, shouting over his shoulder, "Get out of here, yeah!"
Then the world exploded.
Deidara had no idea why he had grabbed the enemy's hand, or even warned them. By all rights, he shouldn't have. But he did.
He tumbled head over heels at the force of the blast, and, unfortunately, having jumped up into a tree to try to escape, it sent him right into a branch. The tree folded him like paper, knocking every ounce of air out of his body. The blonde fell down into a (thorny, of course it had to be thorny) bush, and heard a rustle beside him. Probably the Hyuuga. Then there was a loud yelp (if he'd had the energy or oxygen, he would've cackled), and the explosion finally died down. Deidara was already scrambling up, still trying to breathe. That woman was so much ashes by now, but he didn't know about the other two, or that damn dog. The Hyuuga kunoichi was probably still alive, though.
The missing Iwa-nin stumbled over to his original hiding place, digging through the bush's leaves. Miraculously, the body was still recognizable; just goes to show how durable that particular Akatsuki member had been. Deidara didn't have much time now, and it was time for a decision. The Hyuuga would make a nice gift for the Akatsuki, since they might not be too keen on letting him in after killing one of their own. Did he dare kidnap a Hyuuga, piss off Konoha, and deal with her and her rescue team until either he joined the Akatsuki or got killed?
Sure, why not.
So Deidara took out a kunai and made his decision.
Hinata groaned, and wondered what just happened. She cut off chakra circulation to the male enemy's entire body, and suddenly he panicked and told them all to run. Worse, he had grabbed her and jumped into the air to escape just as something large and volatile exploded. She saw him crash into a tree branch, double over, and fall below, just before she was thrown into that same branch. Only the tree caught her thigh instead of waist, so as she heard a crack, she flipped over and landed on her head in the bush. And even after that, somehow her Byakugan remained activated, though significantly weaker.
Hinata struggled to get herself upright, wincing at the pain that shot up through her leg. But she would heal herself (she had picked up some basic healing jutsu, after all, she was still friends with Sakura) only after she checked on her teammates. The pale-eyed chuunin heard Akamaru yelp loudly, and then the enemy shinobi somehow managed to get up and rush over to the remains of a bush. He checked something, but his body was shielding it, so she couldn't tell what it was. It wasn't one of her teammates, that was for sure. Shino was getting up in a tree several yards behind her, and Kiba and Akamaru had both been thrown into the same tree as each other, cracking it. Neither one appeared to be moving.
Then the missing-nin (Iwa? she thought dazedly) came back over to her, a filled backpack on his back. He stared down at her for a moment, and Hinata would've shivered, had she been able to. His one-eyed stare (his long blonde hair hid half his face) seemed to look into her mind, or her soul. The irony was that people told her that her eyes supposedly made them feel the same.
Then, shockingly, he knelt down, and checked her for injuries. Even more shockingly, his chakra network was already starting to revive itself. Hinata struggled to raise her arm, hand in the Juuken form. He grabbed her wrist firmly, halting that and nearly breaking it at the same time. She felt something sharp cut her (it was more like a pinch, or even a bite), and her eyes widened. Oh no, he's injected me with something, she panicked, and tried to increase her chakra circulation. Hopefully that could stop enough of the toxins…
But then he drew his hand away, and it wasn't a needle, it was a mouth on his palm. He had bitten her with a mouth on his hand. The tongue slid out and licked up the few droplets of blood, then appeared to chew for a moment. Then, it spat out a tiny, miniscule clay bird. The man made a few hand signs with his other hand, and the bird sprang to life, soaring over toward the bush he'd been visiting earlier. It blew up with only a small explosion, and appeared to be creating some sort of rain.
My blood. He's sprinkling my blood over the area…throw off pursuers…Hinata thought wildly, and this time pumped chakra into her other hand while he was intent on his jutsu. She brought it up to collide with the bottom of his jaw, and she heard his teeth click together. Then, she pushed her other, chakra-filled hand into his chest, right over his heart.
The blonde missing nin jerked forward, eyes widened. He stared down at her with a mixture of shock and…joy, it almost looked like. Then he coughed, and droplets of blood landed on her face. A few ran down his chin, and the man grinned. He just ran his fist over his chin, only managing to smear the blood, and coughed again. Then the enemy picked Hinata up, threw her over his shoulder, and escaped.