Yeah sorry I took forever to update. Basically real life, being overseas for a while and a major writer's block tends to kill my writing mojo. To make up for it I wrote an extra longish chapter where nothing much happens... I'm fairly busy at the moment so my updates aren't going to be very regular but don't worry I love this story and I still have ideas for it so I won't be abandoning it. A big thank you to everyone who has been following this story especially to Yume-Shoosetuka who wrote me the most AWESOME review and it really made my day when I read it.
Yume-Shoosetuka, this chapter is dedicated to you!
Disclaimer: I do not own any of the Naruto characters.
"We're going to follow their trail, they had a good few days headstart on us but we can catch up with them," said Kurenai curtly as they began making plans.
"The rains have washed away their tracks and scent. It is impossible to pick it up in the city, we need to find out which gate they departed from to work out which direction they are travelling," pointed out Shino, pushing his hands into his pocket and slouching.
"We'll have to leave the wagons behind; they'll slow us down too much," Kurenai murmured.
"We can store them at the Hungry Boar. We will have to ask the soldiers if their guards know which gate they left from," added Gai seriously, which was a change from his usual demeanour.
"No," the red-eyed woman said sharply. "I don't want them to know our business and interfering."
Kiba finally stopped his pacing, a haunted look on his face. "Akamaru and I will make a last sweep around the city to see if we can pick up her scent anywhere. I'll be back by sundown." He whistled the huge, white, shaggy dog over to him and set off.
Tenten whose face had been buried in her hands the entire time finally looked up, her face tear stained, "It's all my fault, I should never have left Hinata by herself!" She choked back a sob, the bandits could be hurting Hinata right this moment and it would be all her fault for failing to protect her friend.
Lee and Gai quickly bounded towards her and enveloped her in a group hug. "Tenten," Gai's voice boomed, "It wasn't your fault, it was the best option you had at the time. Besides, what's done is done and feeling guilty about it is not going to help Hinata in any way at all." He patted her back comfortingly as she choked back a sob.
"Gai's right Tenten, don't beat yourself up over it," Lee added. "We will find Hinata!" He then gave her his good guy pose.
"She's more valuable to them alive than dead anyway so it is unlikely they would hurt her," pointed out Shino suddenly.
Tenten nodded and tried to pull herself together, "You're all right." Wallowing in self-pity wasn't going to save Hinata.
Somehow by some miracle, Akamaru had been able to pick up the bandit troupe's trail at the West Gate. The bandits were probably headed towards the coast since they had taken that route. The Army's control, and thus the Governor's control, of the coastal towns were tenuous so they would have to be careful there. All the gypsies were on horseback and were dressed in civilian clothing and in sombre colours for once. It was quite a change. They had also packed very lightly so they could travel fast and every single gypsy was well armed. Tenten pulled up the hood of her cloak to protect her head from the slight drizzle. The rains signalled the end of Summer and the beginning of the month of Rain. The bandits would be travelling at full speed as well if they wanted to leave any of the coastal towns by ship, or else the storms at the end of the month of Rain would force all ships from sailing out for another month.
The little bay mare that Tenten rode tossed its head and snorted indignantly. It did not like being forced to travel in the middle of the night. They left through the West Gate in a single file. Kurenai had managed to pull a few strings so that they were allowed to pass unchallenged. Tenten surveyed the dark road before her, there was no telling what lay ahead of them.
"The Guard records show that the bandits left the capital through the West Gate. It looks like they are making a run for it, towards the coast. There is no information as to what their plan is but I am guessing that they are planning to make their getaway by ship so that they can lose anybody following them," Captain Asuma drawled. He blew a smoke ring out of his mouth and glanced around the room with half-lidded eyes. "Captain Kakashi and his dogs will be leading the search and Lieutenant Hyuuga will be assisting him in tracking. The rest of us will be providing back-up and manpower if we happen to come in contact with the targets. Any questions men?"
"No Captain," the four other soldiers of lower rank chorused dutifully.
"Ok good, now go get packed and ready your horses, we leave at the crack of dawn which is in a few hours. I will see you at the West Gate," boomed Asuma's deep voice.
Neji, Naruto, Shikamaru and Chouji saluted before filing out of the room. When it was just the two of them remaining in the room, Kakashi turned to Asuma and studied him thoughtfully with his good eye. "I heard something rather interesting recently," the silver-haired man said quietly.
"What?" Asuma replied gruffly. If this particular mission was long enough that he ended up running out of cigars, he might have to go cold turkey and he wasn't looking forward to it.
"I heard that the Governor's Chief Spymaster left the capital today by the West Gate a few hours ago."
Asuma's head jerked around sharply to stare at Kakashi, "Why would Kurenai be going after the bandits? It's too dangerous for her, it's not part of her job!"
"I was wondering the same thing actually and the only reason I can think of is Hyuuga Hinata."
Asuma furrowed his brows worriedly, "Should we tell Neji?"
"He may act rashly, I don't want to risk it especially with the targets at stake. They are extremely dangerous."
After inspecting the road closely, Shino finally stood up straight and dusted his hands before walking back to his horse. "They are travelling towards the coast and they are pushing hard. We might still be able to catch up to them before they reach the coast."
"Let's go then," Kiba growled impatiently. Akamaru paced agitatedly before the gypsy boy and his mount.
"It's too dark to see their trail anymore," Kurenai stated tiredly. "We might as well take a rest, the horses are tired."
"Akamaru can keep tracking them in the dark," the hot-blooded boy insisted.
"They were smart enough to leave false trails, do you really want to run off in the wrong direction in the dark?" asked Shino bluntly.
"This is rocky country, we could end up walking off a cliff in the dark," Gai added sternly. "We will all be refreshed in the morning and will be able to move faster after a rest Kiba."
Pursing his lips together tightly, Kiba scowled before dismounting. "Fine."
Kakashi rolled some loose dirt between his gloved fingers casually, "The gypsies are a day's travel ahead of us but the bandits are another four or five. It will be near impossible to catch up to them."
Asuma looked up at the night sky, "Well looks like it's time to turn in then men. Naruto you will be scouting tomorrow, just before dawn, I want you to pinpoint where exactly the gypsy troupe is. Don't let yourself be discovered."
"Yes sir!" Naruto saluted him.
Neji stared into the blackness that they were headed into. He was very worried for Hinata. The topography was hilly and rocky. It was going to be hard on their mounts. He wondered why the bandits hadn't abandoned their caravans yet, it would make their travel faster and easier. But in any case, it meant they had a greater chance of catching up to them.
It was early dawn as Naruto moved quietly through the forest. He made sure to stay high up on the slopes to ensure he had a good view of the terrain. The blonde haired soldier heard running water and he grinned, he needed to fill up his water bottle. He made his way towards it but then he paused in his tracks, he could hear some low voices and he crept forward stealthily to take a closer look. His face split into a wide grin as he saw that it was two good looking women about to take a dip in the river. Their backs were turned so he couldn't see their faces but they had bodies that were very easy on the eye indeed.
He had to stifle a giggle that threatened to erupt as he crept even closer for a better look. He would just claim that this was part of his scouting duties. The bush he was behind rustled slightly as he shifted to make himself more comfortable and he cursed silently, watching the women carefully to see if they had hurt him. It appeared that neither heard him as both were stripping and were only in their undergarments. One bent down to fold her clothes, and Naruto sighed happily. Suddenly knives came flying out of nowhere and the peeping tom yelled in surprise as he found himself pinned firmly against a tree.
"So what have we got here?" asked an annoyed female voice. Both women were approaching him now and he could see their faces…it was those troublemaking gypsy women. He was in a lot of strife now.
The terrifying one called Tenten who attacked him previously was scowling at him as she twirled a knife in her hand. "What are you doing here?" she hissed at him. "Why are you spying on us and following us?" She pressed the point of the dagger against his throat.
"I-I-I s-stumbled upon you b-by accident I swear," Naruto managed to stammer out. He could feel the point slowly digging into his skin.
The red-eyed woman suddenly slammed him against the tree and lifted him off his feet by his collar, ripping his clothes pinned by the knives in the process. She was frighteningly strong. "Did Asuma send you after us?" she snapped.
Naruto shook his head vigorously now that the knife was safely away from his throat. "It was an accident, I was just sent to scout ahead." He quickly shut his mouth after realising that he had probably revealed too much information to the gypsies.
"Accident my arse, I know exactly how long you were watching us for you pervert!" Tenten snarled menacingly. "Do you know what we do to perverts like you? We cut off their b-"
"Tenten, that's enough. We'll take him back to camp with us and then we'll decide what to do with him there," Kurenai said sharply.
Naruto sweated nervously. He really hoped that his comrades would come after him soon. It was the first time he had really feared for his life.
"Where on earth can Naruto be?" Neji growled under his breath as he paced back and forth. Everyone was waiting for the blonde haired soldier to return so they could continue tracking the bandits.
Kakashi and Asuma both had tight expressions on their face as they both discussed the next best course of action to take. The silver-haired Captain finally nodded, stood up and whistled his pack of highly trained dogs to him. He turned to the rest of the search party, "I am going to go ahead to ensure that we have a trail to follow. Neji you had better track down where Naruto has gone, he may be in trouble. Asuma, Shikamaru and Chouji, you'd better follow Neji in case he needs backup." Kakashi then disappeared into the woods.
Asuma swore and crushed his cigar butt under his boot. "Lead the way Neji, we can all kick Uzumaki's ass when we find him."
Neji cast his eyes over the ground swiftly looking for signs of Naruto's passage before leading the other soldiers briskly into a different part of the woods.
She had been given the task of keeping an eye on him while the other gypsies discussed what to do with Naruto. Her opinion had been that they just leave him tied to a tree until one of his friends found him. Gai had thought it was a little harsh since there were wolves in the area. He stared back at her and she wondered if his eyes were normally that wide or was he actually afraid of her… Tenten bared her teeth at him as she slowly and luxuriously began to sharpen her long knives. It made a wicked sound.
His dark blue eyes widened even more and a muffled whimper managed to escape from his gag. Tenten, continued to smile menacingly at him as she sharpened her knives. This could turn out to be fun, playing mind games with the blonde soldier. Also, this was payback for when he left her bound and gagged when she was his prisoner. Lee would probably say that she might have been taking it a little bit far but that perverted soldier had been spying on her and Kurenai when they were about to take a bath and he needed to be taught a lesson anyway.
The hairs on the back of her neck raised, and she knew she was being watched. Careful to keep her stance casual, she glanced around casually around the woods surrounding them but she couldn't see anything out of place. Tenten unconsciously tightened her grip on the hilt of her knife. She would have to be extra careful.
Neji had made sure he was well hidden in the foliage of the bushes. He stared intently at the scene before the both of them, the little gypsy girl was completely terrorising Naruto. If it hadn't been a serious matter, it would have been amusing. He tried to come up with a plan but all he could think of was grabbing Naruto and running. One of Shikamaru's plans would come in handy. The pale eyed man noted the way her hand tightened around her knives as she glanced casually around. Had she sensed him? But it was probably best to make a retreat and let the other soldiers know that he had found Naruto. Neji disappeared silently back into the woods.
Hinata bowed her head listlessly. When her captors had finally revealed themselves to her, she had been shocked that it had been the new gypsy troupe who had kidnapped her. She had also become very afraid, from the way they acted and talked, she could tell they weren't gypsies after having spent enough time with her adopted troupe. Hinata was naïve, but she wasn't a fool. She suspected that these gypsies were criminals on the run, possibly even the bandits that had been terrorising the country recently. She wondered where they were taking her.
The fire-twirler approached her with a bowl of food. He had ended up being assigned the job of feeding her since the pink haired flautist had kicked up a fuss, cursing loudly at all the other males complaining that just because she was female didn't mean that they had the right to give her all the menial jobs. No one had introduced themselves to her or bothered talking to her at all but after observing them, she knew all their names except for the fire-twirler. She figured that he must have been new to the troupe since he was the youngest and he was given the worst jobs to do. The others also watched him more carefully, as if unsure whether to trust him or not. He spoke little and scowled a lot, ruining his handsome looks. He reminded her of somebody though, but she just couldn't place who. It had been frustrating her for a few days.
"Here," he said monotously, placing the bowl and spoon in front of her bound hands.
She stared at it expressionlessly, she wasn't hungry. "I-I'm not hungry," she finally told him quietly.
Usually he had shrugged and mumbled that she could suit herself but today he frowned and pushed the bowl towards her. "You haven't been eating properly for days, you should eat or else you'll be ill," he growled gruffly at her.
Hinata shook her head stubbornly at him. The fire-twirler sighed and sat down next to her. He picked up a spoon of the questionable looking stew and half-heartedly waved it in front of her face, "It tastes better than it looks."
She turned her face away from it and he swore quietly under his breath. If she didn't know better she would have thought he had said something like 'idiot noble brat'. Not usually the antagonising type, she had quietly tried to resist everything her captors tried to make her do so far. It wasn't that she was asking for trouble, but she certainly wasn't going to make it easy for them.
The young man grimaced at her reaction and suddenly gripped her chin with one hand firmly and forced the spoon of food into her mouth and kept it closed while she struggled futilely until he was sure that she had swallowed. The Siamese twins walked past and sneered at the pair. "Sasuke, you'd make a good nurse maid."
Dark eyes glared after him before turning back to the prisoner. Hinata gaped at him, finally realising who he had reminded her of. "Y-you're Uch-"
Sasuke clamped her mouth shut before she could say any more. "You say anything about who I am and I swear I will kill you," he hissed angrily. "Understand?"
Hinata nodded wordlessly, her pale pupiless eyes large with fear. The Uchiha slowly released her and thrust the bowl into her bound hands before standing up to leave. "Eat."
"W-why are you here?" she murmured quietly looking down at her hands.
"To save your arse from my brother."
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