Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto. When you recognize anyone or anything from the anime, I'm just borrowing.
Company Chapter 23
There. To the left, not far from a stream. A little tent with a single occupant. Neji sighed with relief when he recognized Hanabi's slender form wrapped up in her sleeping bag. Had he ever sighed this much in his life? Even with Maito Guy as a sensei and Rock Lee as a teammate? He leapt down lightly and entered the peaceful clearing.
Neji carefully pushed aside the tent flap and peered in at his cousin's sleeping form. No watch, no precautions. An eleven year old girl all alone in the woods. He would have to berate her for being so careless.
He was tempted to shake her awake and scold her right now, but he didn't have the heart, or the energy. Hanabi looked so innocent in her sleep, and because of that, it was when she most resembled her sister. With another quiet sigh, Neji unrolled his own sleeping mat and lay down in the spot next to her. When he turned on his side to get more comfortable, he realized she was blinking in his direction.
Instead of jumping up in surprise, as Neji would have expected her to, the youngest Hyuuga merely smiled sleepily at him and said, "Took you a while," before falling back to sleep. For several moments, dozens of questions whizzed through his head, but then he decided to let them all go and get some rest. To deal with Hanabi in the morning, we would probably need it.
Rika hurried into camp, her box carefully tucked under one arm, and sneered at her cousins on the way to the Inago Clan Head tent. They ignored her. It seemed there were less of them than normal. Then she realized why. There were a number of people gathered in front of the Clan Head's tent. When she caught sight of her sister lying in a broken heap on the ground, her blood froze.
"Mika," she mouthed. Then louder. "Mika!" She shouldered past numerous Inago men and dropped to her sister's side. "Neesan, who did this to you?" she sobbed. "Those Aburame bastards! I'll kill them. I'll kill them all!"
"Rika," a harsh voice stated from the tent opening.
"Father! Mika needs medical aid immedi–"
"Rika," her father's voice cut across the clearing. "Stop your hysterical babbling and tell me where the Supaichuu are."
"But, Father, Mika–"
"Unless you want the same punishment as your sister, you will report the whereabouts of the Supaichuu immediately!"
"Same punishment…?" Rika stared at her sister's wounds in horror. Not the Aburames? Her own family had done this? "Wh-Why?"
"Rika, they were found," Mika whispered, her voice hoarse with pain. "That girl. She killed them both. They're gone."
"No! They can't be!"
"They're gone," Mika insisted with a small sob.
"Stop lying!" Their father raised his hand to strike Mika once more, but Rika leapt in the way, snarling like an angry cat.
"Shino-kun," Hinata whispered against his lips as they snuggled secretly. "Won't Shibiki be back soon?"
"He's probably met someone in the village," Shino reasoned logically, punctuating each word with a kiss.
"But wouldn't he still come home?" Hinata wondered in confusion.
"He might be…with someone."
"So late at night?" Hinata continued.
"If they are…together."
Hinata stared at him curiously. Shino looked at her with obviously affectionate amusement until realization dawned on Hinata's face along with a ferocious blush.
"O-OH!" Hinata once more buried her face in her pillow.
Shino chuckled gently and trailed his fingertips lightly over her back.
"I love you, Hinata."
Hinata peeked up at his smiling face and pulled off his sunglasses to cover him with her own kisses. They cuddled close and wrapped their arms around one another, each enjoying the other's warmth as they drifted toward slumber.
"A-are you sure I shouldn't check on him? What if something bad happened to him?" Hinata frowned and looked toward the screen. "Remember how Tachoro-kun was upset that no one went to look for him."
Shino thought quietly for several minutes. His brother sometimes went out and didn't come home until the next morning. It didn't happen often, but it happened occasionally. Hinata, however, had no experience with much older brothers.
"I think he's fine, but if you feel we should check on him, I will leave that decision up to you."
Hinata sat up and activated her Byakugan.
To Inago Gurodo, pride was everything. He would sooner sacrifice his own clan members than admit defeat. The head of the Inago Clan finally turned back to the men waiting in rows behind him. If he was upset or unnerved by the scene that had just occurred, he didn't show it, though the faces of the rest of the men displayed their unease.
"Without the Supaichuu, we will have to act quickly and decisively. A full scale assault. We descend two hours before daybreak. That is when they will be the most vulnerable. Be prepared."
"Sir, will we have a clean up crew for any that might escape the nets?" asked one of Gurodo's many nephews.
"None will escape," Gurodo stated with finality.
"Besides, Kiraku's traps will get any that manage to crawl all the way back to Konoha," laughed another.
Gurodo faced the errant speaker with a cold glare. "None will escape."
"I've found him," Hinata sighed. "He's asleep."
Shino paused his gentle massaging of her shoulders and raised an eyebrow high.
"Perhaps we shouldn't intrude on their privacy?" he suggested.
"Alone?" Shino frowned.
"Perhaps his date left early," Shino shrugged.
"It looks like he's in a hotel room, not a room in a family home. There's just a bed and nothing else, no knick knacks or books or anything. Why do you suppose he hasn't come home yet?" Hinata worried.
"Perhaps he is…sleeping it off," Shino offered vaguely.
"There's something strange about his chakra signature, too."
At that, Shino frowned. "What do you mean?"
"It's a slightly strange color."
Shino drew in a sharp breath. "You don't think he's been poisoned, do you?"
"I don't know."
"Come. We must find my father at once and then go and help Shibiki."
It took both Shino and Tachoro's strength to carry Shibiki's unconscious form back to the resort. Hinata had already taken a blood sample and hurried back to see what she could throw together. At this time, most of the Aburames were asleep. Shibi and Shiribi, however, stood guard, alert to any possible attack.
Neji awoke to the feel of someone's slender hands shaking his frame. He absently slapped the hands away. Then someone was poking and tapping his cheeks and forehead protector. He smacked the hands away more forcefully. A swift kick to the shin jolted him upright.
"Whuzzarit?" he mumbled incoherently. The moon was still distinct in the sky.
"Wake up, Neji-niisan! We've got to get going already."
"What are you talking about? Go back to your own bedroom, Hanabi-sama," Neji muttered before rolling over to face away from her.
Hanabi looked down at him skeptically. "Are you always like this on missions? I know it's still early, but you're a shinobi, a jonin shinobi, too."
Neji's even breathing informed his young cousin that he was already fast asleep.
Shibiki blinked his bleary eyes at the candlelight floating across his vision. The kikaichuu could break down most toxins with ease—and they had worked on the one in his system with speed and determination—but he still thought he might be better off unconscious.
Hinata's kind eyes gazed worriedly down at him, and she gently stroked his hair as she changed the compress on his forehead.
"Shibiki?" she whispered. "Are you alright? What happened?"
Shino's elder brother merely closed his eyes with a grimace. Several minutes later he sighed with defeat.
"Hinata, please go and get my father. I have some important things to tell him."
Neji pulled the covers tighter about himself. He found himself drifting into an exquisite land peopled entirely by Tentens. The lovely nymphs clad in soft flowing gowns danced enticingly out of his reach. Then they twirled and leaped, moving in intricate steps around him. One jumped high to execute that spin he so loved to watch during their training sessions together.
"Neji-kun," cooed one that sounded surprisingly close by. "Wake up, sweet Neji-kun."
Neji blinked. Neji-kun? Tenten never called him Neji-kun.
Then he looked over and got an eyeful of his teammate's lithe feminine body clad only in tiny wisps of silk and lace. Pink silk and lace.
"I have something very important to tell you," Tenten whispered seductively.
Tenten's perfect face was right in front of him. He smiled sleepily and reached for her just as she leaned down to his ear.
"WAKE UP!" Tenten screamed at the top of her lungs.
Neji went from lazily prone to frigid and standing in a split second. He gaped in wide-eyed horror as sexy Tenten poofed out of existence, leaving a disgruntled Hanabi in her wake.
"About time! I've been trying to wake you up for hours!"
"NEVER DO THAT AGAIN!!!"
1) It's a short chapter, I know. I'm having trouble deciding who Shibiki is going to end up with, so please take my poll and let me know what you think. It will actually affect the rest of the story.
2) As always, reviews make me so very happy!