Chapter 17

For what seemed like the millionth time that day, Kiba cursed his shitty luck. The way he was going lately he was pretty sure that there couldn't be another person on the planet with shittier misfortune. How the hell had Ino lost the damn kid? Gaki was practically glued to her hip at every given moment, so maybe a genjutsu had been used he speculated. Then he quickly dismissed the idea completely, now at jonin level the pride of the Yamanaka clan could be trapped by nothing less than an Uchiha illusion. So what had happened?

He could smell the distinctly metallic tang of blood in the air. Wrapped within it was the salty musky scent of fear along with the unique smell of Gaki himself and Kiba hoped the kid was okay. As much as he'd turned out to be a royal pain in the ass he was still just a child and Kiba would never wish anything bad to happen to him. Despite the boy's shortcomings Kiba was as sure as Ino that if he tested positive for manipulating chakra he would one day make a great shinobi, something Kiba wanted him to live to see.

Suddenly the heavy smell of sweat filled Kiba's nostrils, indicating a spike in the boys' fear, at his side Akamaru growled angrily indicating he too had noticed it. A glance behind him revealed Ino to be catching up but with the boy's scent as it was he knew he had to move faster if he was going to make it in time to save the kid. Signaling to Akamaru to lead Ino to him and Gaki, Kiba quickly performed the seals for the Shikyaku no jutsu; transforming to his four legged state. Now in his practically animal form he could move at speeds no human could hope to match and he sped off after the boy's trail hoping he wouldn't be too late.

Arriving at their charge's location Kiba was glad to see Gaki was still alive, though he did look a bit worse for wear. Surprising him greatly, he found the boy's assailants wearing the forehead protectors of Kumogakure, not Iwa as he had expected. Fortunately this meant Shino's cover had not been blown as he'd feared with the discovery of Gaki's capture. On the other hand it meant that Kiba had no idea why he'd been captured at all. There was no apparent explanation for Kumo ninja to want anything to do with them. Gaki's face looked bruised, especially around the eyes, his nose was bloodied, and his lip swollen; indicating that they'd been beating him. His shirt had been torn off and several small cuts marred his underdeveloped chest muscles. The blood from the shallow slices on his torso was still running freely which meant they had just started this particular form of torment (otherwise it would have started to coagulate), which must have been when his fear had peaked. Clearly they meant to torture the boy for information, but what could he possibly know that Cloud would be interested in?

Kiba decided that didn't matter, Gaki was under the protection of Konohagakure and regardless of what he knew or didn't know Kumo would not lay another hand on the boy who was already terrified and in pain. He needed to get him out of there as soon as possible. As far as he could see, and smell, the Kumo contingent was composed of three members and Kiba hoped Ino and Akamaru would be arriving soon. The ninja standing closest to Gaki, holding a thin blade that undoubtedly was the one that had made all the cuts on his chest, had the strongest chakra signature of the group and Kiba identified him as the leader. He was short and stocky, solidly built, but Kiba doubted he spent much time training as his stomach had a bit of a paunch that hung over the waistline of his pants. His sandy blonde hair was receding over both his eyes but not over his nose, leaving a narrow peninsula of hair remaining on the top of his head. Dark sunglasses hid his eyes from view and his mouth scowled menacingly at the unwanted intruder.

A second Kumo nin stood behind Gaki in a fixed position obviously maintaining a jutsu that was preventing the boy from running away. He had a dark olive complexion and a thick bushy mustache designed to hide his practically nonexistent upper lip. His dark hair was cropped close to his head and he had black eyebrows reminiscent of Rock Lee's before he'd grown up and looked in a mirror. The third squad member was a small blonde female wearing a short purple skirt and midriff baring top. At first he'd thought her a twin of his partner but closer inspection revealed she was nothing but a poor man's version of his Ino. Her hair hung loose and limp, holding none of the shine Ino's was known for. Her eyes were a dull brown without a hint of the sparkle in Ino's baby blues, and where the Yamanaka's smile was bright and captivating (her best feature in Kiba's opinion) this girl had more of a sneer which only served to exasperate her chipped and yellowing buck teeth. None in the three man squad had chakra stores higher than chunin level, and Kiba was sure in a fight he could take out all three. However, they were in possession of Gaki and he'd have to be far more careful in battle not to let them hurt him or hurt him himself and just fight them off until his backup arrived.

"Give me the kid back now and I promise not to kick the shit out of you and kill you," Kiba demanded, deciding to try a more diplomatic approach to Gaki's retrieval. Originally, on his way over, he'd wanted to just gatsuga his way in and hope for the best, but he'd changed his mind after seeing the boy. Gaki had been banged up pretty bad and he might not be nimble enough in that condition to get himself out of the way. Even with all the enemies dead their mission would be a big fat "FAIL" if he killed their client.

"Pfft, you can't be serious mate," the blond leader, and the one closest to Gaki, responded cockily with a grin on his face. "We out number you three to one; you don't stand a chance."

Kiba grinned right back at the man, "Well mate you can't say I didn't give you a fair shot at getting out of this alive. Just remember it was you who threw it away and made this get ugly."

"Taicho," the ugly mustached man spoke in a strained voice, indicating to Kiba he was starting to feel the stress of holding his jutsu for so long. "I can feel his teammate only about 2 miles away and gaining pretty quickly."

"And just what about that is worrying you Norio?" the homely female scorned. "The kunoichi is useless and stupid. It's obvious she cares too much about her appearance and looking good to actually be a strong ninja. I can't believe Konoha would even let her on any missions, let alone one of such importance."

"Hehe, I can think of quite a few good reasons to put her on missions," the Cloud captain sneered disturbingly. "I bet she's fun to have around camp; keeps the morale up right?"

Inside Kiba was fuming about the way they were talking about Ino. Nobody was allowed to talk badly about an Inuzuka's mate, least of all these worthless no-name shinobi in front of him. He wanted to bite off their heads and rip off their arms to beat them with the bloody stumps, but if they all thought of Ino as inconsequential it could only work in their favor. So outwardly Kiba smirked knowingly at the enemy squad captain and winked, drawing out the conversation to give her and Akamaru time to get there.

"You have no idea just how entertaining she can be. Don't be mean though just because you're jealous that my partner's so much better looking than your own. Although I'd scowl too if I had to wake up next to that every morning," he said, gesturing to their female teammate.

Kiba could feel Akamaru in his mind and knew he and Ino were only less than a mile away, which should take them less than five minutes to cover. About to make his move, he was actually startled when a Japanese Sparrowhawk, with a wingspan over two and a half feet, came streaking down from the sky digging its wicked talons into the scowling kunoichi's face and pecking at her eyes. If the woman had been homely before, she would only be described as grotesque after this. If she'd been jealous of Ino before, now she'd never want to even look in a mirror again. Assuming she could actually look in one again, it was doubtful though, Kiba thought, that bird was certainly doing a number on her. It took a few minutes for Kiba to figure out why a bird would attack his enemy, and then he realized his backup had arrived.

A/N: Thank you to Sir Greatness, oztan, silentE, and Sakura Shidou for the reviews and for sticking around for such a long time. I know it was an eternity before I began updating this again and I am so grateful to all of you who managed to remain interested in it. Thanks for reading! And please leave a review if you feel so inclined.